Though a lot of details are still being worked out, many of Trinity County’s small business owners will be able to start reopening by the end of this week under new orders issued Monday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom lessening the state’s stay at home restrictions for all but essential workers, in place since March, to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Newsom announced that beginning Friday, May 8, the state will enter Phase 2 of a reopening plan allowing low-risk businesses to resume operations with modifications in place to protect public health against spread of the coronavirus. The state’s more rural counties with few or zero COVID cases, including Trinity County, will be allowed to reopen businesses on a more accelerated pace than their urban counterparts experiencing much larger numbers of cases.
In an update to the Trinity County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, County Administrative Officer Richard Kuhns said the county has been adhering to the governor’s orders, “and we know the stay at home order has been very difficult for the public unable to venture out to work, but we have been confident of reopening around mid-May so we prepared a plan to mitigate risk factors to the public.”
He said the county remains at zero positive tests for COVID-19 and because of that “we are able to participate in the accelerated reopening allowing more freedom, but we are bound by state orders. If we did violate the orders, as some counties have, state assistance for the entire county could be eliminated and that’s a risk not worth taking. If a county in violation of the orders sees a surge in cases, it can also be held personally liable, so we are moving forward on May 8 with an accelerated plan.”
A crowd of protesters waited outside of the Weaverville Library where the Board of Supervisors was meeting via teleconference inside, hoping to persuade the board to let Trinity County businesses reopen immediately.
Businesses allowed to reopen in Phase 2 include retail stores able to provide curbside services and other operations that are conducted outdoors. Restaurants may be allowed to reopen for dining in if they meet certain requirements including reducing their table capacity by half. Motels and resorts may also reopen under Phase 2 if they meet public safety requirements.
Bars and personal care salons are not yet allowed to reopen under Phase 2. It is unknown yet when the state will allow Phase 3 reopening of bars, salons, entertainment and sports venues, theaters and religious gatherings. Phase 4 will be when the governor releases stay at home orders entirely and business returns to normal.
“Phase 2 is still very limited, but Northern California counties are doing much better than elsewhere in the state. We are asking businesses to continue to work from home whenever possible, operate with closed lobbies if they can and limit customer contact through online orders,” said interim Trinity County Health and Human Services Director Liz Hamilton.
Kuhns noted the state has not lifted its ban on nonessential travel so visitors to Trinity County are in violation of that, but the county’s own ban on nonessential travel will likely be lifted when hotels and resorts are allowed to reopen.
Businesses planning to reopen under Phase 2 are being asked to register with the county online at www.trinitycounty.org where there will be a form to fill out indicating plans for protecting workers and customers through cleaning and social distancing measures. In return, they will receive a certification from the county’s Environmental Health and Public Health Services officers that they meet the state’s public health guidelines and limits.
Sup. Judy Morris said she doesn’t see any good reason why retail shops should be limited only to curbside service as long as they follow the safety guidelines, adding some are so small they are not set up for online sales and they require some walk-in traffic to survive.
“I know what it means for our businesses, but we want to manage this safely. I understand frustrations on either side. Businesses want to reopen, but a large part of our demographic is terrified to return and go out. We want freedom, but we also need to monitor,” Hamilton said.
Kuhns said a press release will be issued as soon as the registration process is available online which he expects to be by Friday. He added that stores will be able to allow customers inside on a limited, case by case basis under the accelerated reopening that provides for those decisions to be made at the local level.
He said he believes there will also be some Phase 3 businesses allowed to reopen during Phase 2 such as workout gyms where capacity may be limited to no more than 10 people at a time.
“In other areas, the gyms may have 100 people inside so they are Phase 3, but ours can mitigate down to 10 people and I think we can make that case with the state. We hope for flexibility,” he said.
Sup. Morris urged him to make the same case for local barber shops and salons where there may only be one chair.
“We are really struggling with that one. It’s not the number of people there, it’s the close proximity,” Kuhns said.
Trinity County Public Health Director Marcie Jo Cudziol said the issue with the barber shop or salon chair is that it is within six feet of another person for longer than 15 minutes which is long enough to transmit disease from a barber or cosmetologist to a patron.
“And one person can spread it exponentially, resulting in a COVID outbreak. We need to ensure protection of those most at risk. We need to be clear about the importance of that six feet of distance as we reopen businesses,” she said.
“As we move more aggressively to open up, the risk also increases. We run a greater chance of receiving positive tests and we’d have to tighten up our restrictions again, but we do run some additional risk,” Kuhns said.
“You are violating our rights to assemble and freedom of religion to congregate. You are working to restore our freedoms you had no right to take away,” said Diane Richards of Hayfork, calling into the meeting to speak under the public comment agenda.
“You can buy shoes at Walmart in Redding, but not here where we have no cases. We need to get our people back to work. You can buy cannabis, but you can’t buy a pair of shoes or go to church,” she said.
Other callers noted they are disappointed in some of their fellow citizens who do not comply with the guidelines by wearing face coverings in public places or observing social distancing. Some asked that masks be mandatory in indoor spaces.
Some resort owners noted they are booked through the summer season, but they still don’t know what to tell their customers without any firm reopening dates to go by.
“Each and every one of us has someone impacted by all of this. The county has responded. The fact that we’ve had no one testing positive for COVID doesn’t mean it isn’t here. Citizens have stepped up to the mark, but this is a marathon and it isn’t over though we want to be up and running,” said Board Chair Bobbi Chadwick.
The discussion was only scheduled as an update to the board on Tuesday’s agenda, and board members agreed to hold a special meeting this Friday, May 8, to consider a possible action item to endorse the accelerated reopening plan. Time is to be announced.