Kern County could soon begin allowing dining in restaurants and retail shopping after Gov. Gavin Newsom relaxed reopening criteria Monday.
Under state guidelines, counties can move more quickly through the second stage of the governor’s four-part reopening plan if they meet certain qualifications. Kern County officials had said the state’s qualifications — which required a county to report no novel coronavirus deaths in a two week period — were too harsh.
In a letter sent Friday to the governor, the county asked Newsom to reconsider the criteria counties must meet before loosening business restrictions. The letter was endorsed by 10 hospitals and other health officials.
The letter, along with efforts by other counties, apparently caught the attention of the governor's office.
The new criteria requires counties to keep a stable hospitalization rate over a seven-day period, as well as report less than 25 cases per 100,00 residents over two weeks or report less than 8 percent of COVID-19 tests return positive results.
Shortly after the governor’s announcement, Kern County wrote on Twitter the county was positioned to meet the new criteria. The county tweeted the Board of Supervisors could vote as soon as Tuesday to approve an attestation county officials must complete in order to move forward.
The state must then approve the county’s attestation.
“It is important to note, the County still must be approved before we’re allowed to move through the phases faster,” the county wrote. “We’re optimistic that we’ll be approved, but we need the community’s help to ensure we’re following the guidelines as they’re set now so that our (numbers) continue to hold.”
If the county is successful in attaining state approval, it will be granted a regional variance, allowing dine-in at restaurants and shopping in stores. A total of 24 counties in northern California have already received variances. The governor estimated 53 of the 58 counties in the state would be able to relax restrictions under the new criteria.
The governor also mentioned that if the rate of transmission held within the state, professional sports could return in June without spectators and retail restrictions could be loosened statewide.
“The only thing that will set us back is if we move too quickly,” he added.
Local elected officials praised the governor's decision.
"Over the last several weeks, I have worked with local leaders and submitted numerous requests to the governor to make critical modifications to the stay-at-home Order. The governor's original 'one-size-fits-all' plan unfairly places Kern, Tulare, and San Bernardino counties on the same spectrum as San Francisco and Los Angeles counties," State Sen. Shannon, R-Bakersfield, said in a statement. "I want to thank the governor for making such an important modification as it is necessary to revive our local economies, support businesses, and employ Californians."
State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, encouraged Newsom to approve the local variance.
"As a representative for the southern Central Valley, I’ve experienced firsthand the struggles that rural communities are currently facing due to the pandemic. Local leaders in the communities are grappling with an increase number of unemployment, closure of businesses and limited access to health care services," she said in a statement. "To address these concerns of my constituents, I am choosing to stand behind communities of Senate District -14 who are seeking additional resources to mitigate added on challenges. Working with the four counties in my district, I’m calling on our communities to stand united during this crisis to help find solutions together in creating policies that are in line with the diversity of California."