Hair salons, libraries and shopping malls in Kern County can reopen as soon as Monday with certain restrictions under a new process for reopening businesses unveiled by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday.
The newly announced four-tiered, color-coded system is the state’s second attempt at finding a way to allow businesses and other activities to resume in California in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, though this time Newsom said it will happen in a “slow and stringent” way.
"We’re going to be more stubborn this time and have a mandatory wait time between moves. We didn’t do that last time," Newsom said.
The new system ties the extent of businesses reopening to how well a county can bring down its COVID-19 case rates and test positivity.
"The nexus is back and now we are in control of our destiny," said Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine. "That tie is good. It provides direction and encouragement. We can do it and we’re in control."
The colored tiers indicate the severity of a county’s COVID-19 outbreak: Purple for widespread, red for substantial, orange for moderate and yellow for minimal. Kern and 37 other counties are in the purple category. They also correspond to the extent reopening is allowed. For example, restaurants in counties in the purple tier can only offer outdoor dining, but in counties in the red tier a limited amount of indoor dining is allowed.
Counties will have to meet case rate and test positivity metrics for three weeks before they can advance to a less restrictive tier, meaning it will be at least three weeks before businesses in Kern will see greater flexibility to reopen. Counties that advance can also fall back into more stringent tiers if their cases increase again.
"(The governor has) made clear that local numbers in each county will inform how and when local businesses reopen in each county," said Ryan Alsop, Kern County's chief administrative officer, while also noting it will be a slow process.
The idea is to prevent a surge in infections, like the one between Memorial Day and July 4 as the state began reopening the first time around. In Kern County, a dramatic spike in cases during that time drove up hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients. Local hospitals were filled to capacity, at one point prompting the state to send in National Guard nurses and doctors to assist with treating patients. The county subsequently signed a $12 million contract to secure additional ICU nurses.
Even though Kern is in the most restrictive tier, restrictions on certain business sectors have been loosened. Hair salons and barbershops can open indoor operations starting next week as long as they adhere to certain guidelines. Malls and shopping centers, which could only do curbside pickup, can open at 25 percent capacity but common areas and food courts must remain closed. Libraries can also open at 25 percent capacity.
Wineries can also now open outdoors but bars must remain closed.
Restaurants must still serve diners outdoors for now, and worship services, gyms and nail salons are also restricted to outdoor operations only.
Supervisor Mike Maggard bristled in response to the governor’s announcements, saying he was frustrated at what he perceived as Newsom picking winners and losers.
"He’s arbitrarily deciding which jobs will survive and which will not. He’s arbitrarily deciding your child is safe in Walmart but not at school," Maggard said. "No one’s life will be changed if you can’t go into a Walmart but if you’re suicidal your life will change if you can’t get into church and can’t get counsel, if you can’t rediscover why you can feel hopeful."
The decisions on which business sectors could reopen seemed to have no evidence behind them, Maggard said.
"You can’t tell me a hair salon is any different than a nail salon," he said. "One is protected and one is not."
Schools will be allowed to reopen two weeks after a county moves from the purple tier into the red, state officials said Friday.
Kern's public health officials said they will continue to review the new guidance and provide more information at a news conference Monday morning.