COVID-19 spike slows reopening in Tri-Counties
The tri-county region has lost its reopening rhythm.
Surging cases, more aid for small businesses and the possibility of new lockdowns remained dominant themes across the region, where Santa Barbara County is lagging behind Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.
Santa Barbara County paused reopening efforts on June 18, following an uptick of active COVID-19 cases and deaths. Many of the deaths were related to an outbreak in Country Oaks Care Center, where an outbreak has sickened dozens of residents and staff members.
“As we continue to address areas of concern, we encourage the community to practice frequent and thorough hand washing, wear facial coverings, and avoid unnecessary trips outside the home,” warned Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg.
Other vulnerable populations in the Tri-Counties include farmworkers.
Ventura County is working with Backpack Medicine — a nonprofit that works with the homeless and the underserved — to bring health care information directly to farmworkers. Dr. Tipu Khan, medical director of the Ventura County Medicine Group, said that it can be difficult to convince farm owners to let physicians onto their properties.
“They’re used to having regulatory bodies come in and tell them what they’re doing wrong,” Khan said. “We’re not a regulatory body. We’re not here to ask questions or shame you. We’re bringing a doctor.”
The doctors come out to the farms free of charge. A lot of what the doctors do when they get to the farms is clear up basic misunderstandings, like the idea that a flu shot would protect against COVID-19.
“Keeping our pickers clean and healthy helps keep all of us clean and healthy,” Khan said.
Nonprofits in two Central Coast counties can get additional COVID-19 assistance as many small businesses take advantage of a reopened SBA lending program.
In Ventura County, nonprofits can apply for small business mini-grants through the county. The grants are $5,000, and county CEO Mike Powers said the grants were designed to help business and organization leaders, especially those in more disadvantaged areas or those who are part of harder-hit sectors of the economy, like food and tourism.
Powers also said the program will prioritize businesses and organizations run by women and minorities.
Those businesses will be able to use the funds for several uses, including payroll support, rent and lease payments, costs for personal protective equipment, purchases related to business operation and extraordinary business expenses related to reopening. There will be two $5 million rounds of funding, and each round will help 1,000 businesses. There’s only one application period for the rounds, and the application period goes from June 24 to July 8.
“We know it’s not going to be enough, but we know businesses are hurting and we want to get some relief to them,” Powers said.
Business won’t need to reopen to get the grant, but they will need to register at vcreopens.com.
At the northern end of the region, United Way San Luis Obispo is offering grants of up to $2,000 to local nonprofits within the community.
The primary areas the grants will support include funding for food and food supplies, rental assistance, utility payments and other assistance not covered by the other categories, as determined by the Community Impact Committee.
The mini-grants will be funded through the Community Impact Fund. People can apply by going to the United Way SLO website at unitedwayslo.org. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis, depending on the availability of funds, and the funding decision may take up to two weeks.
These resources are in addition to other sources that businesses and nonprofits can draw from, like the Paycheck Protection Program, which was reauthorized through June 30.
Those who didn’t apply can still put an application in, and those who did apply and got a round of funding might qualify for a second round.
For businesses and nonprofits who are seeking funding sources aside from PPP loans, the Small Business Administration is also reopening the Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans program. These loans, commonly known as EIDL, are applied for directly via the SBA web site and, unlike PPP, do not involve a bank lender.
Small businesses and nonprofits can get immediate loans of $1,000 per employee and there is an informal cap of $150,000 per company or nonprofit, experts say. The loans are 30-year, fixed rate loans and repayments do not begin until 12 months after funds are disbursed.
THE ZOO AND COVID-19
The Santa Barbara Zoo officially reopened to the public on June 23 by showing off a few new animals.
One of the animals, Twiga the Masai giraffe, was born while the zoo was closed because of the COVID-19 shutdown. He was the first calf for his mother, Adia, and the eighth calf for his father, Michael. The zoo is expecting another giraffe calf soon — also sired by Michael, with Audrey.
The calves born to Michael, Adia and Audrey are all important parts of conservation efforts to protect their species, zoo officials said.
The zoo also got two new lions during its lockdown: Ralph and Felicia. The lions arrived in early May, and as they came from two different zoos, they spent the first 30 days of their stay at the zoo in lockdown. Their quarantine meant zookeepers could make sure they weren’t sick, and that they weren’t going to pass anything to each other.
Once they cleared quarantine, they were introduced to each other, and the two lions get along well.
“It was one of the easiest big cat introductions I’ve ever been through,” said Misty Gray, the zoo’s director of husbandry and welfare. Felicia, 2, and Ralph, 4, have a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Zoo staff are hoping for lion cubs.
The zoo is taking additional precautions to make sure zookeepers don’t pass anything to the animals, including wearing additional equipment.
The same level of care is being given to protecting zoo visitors.
In order to make sure people can social distance, the zoo created one-way paths and closed exhibits where it would be more difficult for people to maintain six feet of distance from each other.
High-touch areas, especially around popular areas like the lions, are also receiving special attention. Staff members are on hand to regularly disinfect areas people are more likely to touch.
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