Santa Barbara County Cracks Down on COVID Safety Violations

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Photo courtesy of Pexels

Zoey Jia

National Beat Reporter

On Tuesday Oct. 20, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that allows local law enforcement to fine community members in violation of public health orders, such as not wearing a mask and hosting large gatherings during COVID-19.

The ordinance would be applied to unincorporated areas such as Isla Vista. If adopted, the ordinance would enter into force within 30 days and remain in force until the local pandemic emergency declaration is terminated or the ordinance is revoked by the board.

Gref Hart, chair of the Santa Barbara County Board, said that the ordinance was passed due to a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, particularly in Isla Vista. 

“A few months ago, the second wave of virus was a fear for the future, it’s now reality,” Hart said in a press hearing. “If cases or the test positivity rate were to increase significantly, the progress we’ve made together as a community could be reversed, business … operating restrictions and closures.”

Public health officials are leading contract tracing and education outreach efforts in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Isla Vista.

After gathering opinions and comments from approximately 40 community members, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved the public health ordinance on Nov. 10, which passed by a vote of 3-2.

The board previously did not pass the ordinance when they took the first vote in August. At that time, they focused on educating and persuading community members, such as handing out masks to them instead of imposing a fine. 

“The county enforcement process is still focused on education and outreach, but it incorporates enforcement for individuals who continue to violate local health orders,” said Kelly Hubbard, the director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management. 

According to student organization Gauchos4Transparency, the ordinance imposes fines ranging from $100 to $500, with a maximum fine of $1,000 or a 90-day jail sentence if a public health misdemeanor is reported and verified.

“The county enforcement process is still focused on education and outreach, but it incorporates enforcement for individuals who continue to violate local health orders.”

Kelly Hubbard, the director of the county office of emergency management

During the past month, there have been two separate clusters of positive COVID-19 cases identified by UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (SBCPHD). Both discovered in privately-owned fraternity and sorority houses in Isla Vista. UCSB did not disclose which Greek organizations were affiliated with the outbreak, but said that the COVID-19 positive-individuals were isolating from others and houses were quarantined by SBCPHD. 

Many community members have expressed outrage over the recent uptick in cases. Eric Sun, a senior international student majoring in mathematics, expressed his disappointment: “I was shocked by this news. Two separate clusters of positive COVID-19 cases mean it is not at the level of several individuals, it is that a large proportion of the student group is not paying enough attention to the second wave of the pandemic.”

Bruce Fan, the AS Program Board (AS) student representative, also presented his opinion, “Students should be responsible to not only themselves, but also to each other. The ordinance is trying to stop the spread of the scope.”

Public health officials are leading contract tracing and education outreach efforts in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Isla Vista. “The culture we’re trying to promote is education. We only transition to enforcement if that doesn’t work,” said Das Williams, the first district supervisor.

The ordinance has been widely supported by UCSB students and Isla Vista community members. More than 25 UCSB students sent in letters and over 10 people spoke in public comment, Gauchos4Transparency said in its Instagram post last Tuesday. 

“I highly support the ordinance. Although I think the ordinance may not be sufficiently effective in private-owned areas, it is worthy to take an important step,” Sun concluded.

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