SLO County's COVID-19 case count prompts reclosures

Jul 16, 2020

After three days on the state’s watchlist for COVID-19 cases, San Luis Obispo County is now back under the kind of closure orders experienced in March, April and May. All bars are closed. Starting Thursday, gyms, churches, most offices, salons and malls are ordered to close down all indoor operations.

What’s different from the initial pandemic shutdown is that whatever can take place outside can still do so. Wineries can still do outdoor tastings. Zoos and museums with outdoor attractions can remain open. Restaurants can still serve diners on an outdoor patio, and offer takeout and delivery.

“More and more restaurants are figuring out ways to provide provisions for sit-down table service in the outdoor environment, and that is what they are able to do under this statewide closure,” said San Luis Obispo County health officer Penny Borenstein.

Borenstein also said unless inside a mall, the new reclosure orders don’t cover most retail shopping.

“If you have an entrance to the outside, [the state’s orders don’t] pertain to retail in general and to strip malls as well.

County officials say there is no end date in sight for the new reclosures, and that the reality is it could be quite a long time.

“It is critically important that we continue to be patient and continue to commit to spending months and potentially a year of our lives doing these unpleasant things like wearing masks whenever you are indoors,” Borenstein said, adding other safety measures like hand washing, distancing and staying home when sick.

And with over 4,412 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 32 deaths as of July 15, Santa Barbara County is preparing for the possibility of existing health facilities being overwhelmed by a surge in patients needing hospitalization.

County officials have agreed to lease a vacant Sears department store in Santa Barbara to turn into an overflow care facility. The 72,000-square-foot space could fit 200 beds, and the county worked with Cottage Health, the nonprofit health care system that operates three hospitals in Santa Barbara County, to lease the former department store space and work on turning it into a care facility.

The money to pay for the lease and all the work is coming from the federal CARES Act. At its Tuesday meeting, the board of supervisors also signed off on an agreement with San Luis Obispo County ensuring that if so many people contract the virus at once that it overwhelms Santa Barbara County hospital capacity, the county can bring patients to the care site set up in April at Cal Poly.