Kern officials are considering asking Gov. Gavin Newsom for permission to reopen parts of the local economy ahead of other counties harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
County Supervisor Zack Scrivner, who expects to call for a board vote on the matter next week, said the idea would be to open certain businesses in phases under the guidance of county public health officials and in consultation with local business leaders.
The proposal would be made in recognition of the relatively mild impacts that COVID-19 has had in Kern and other counties, Scrivner said.
"There has to be a request to the governor's office to consider allowing counties to evaluate their own situation in this pandemic and working with their own industry leaders, different business sectors, etcetra, to see what we can safely do to move the process forward,” he said.
The county's chief administrative officer, Ryan Alsop, said it would be up to the full Board of Supervisors whether to make the request of the governor. He noted in an email that he and Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine support any action by the governor that gives "increased flexibility and latitude to Kern County in getting our local economy moving again."
"We would also strongly encourage the Administration to approach this with the same zeal and all-hands effort that he’s put into his response to COVID-19 to date," Alsop added.
The proposal has come as local business owners and consumers have expressed growing frustration at Newsom's March 19 order to close all non-essential businesses as a way of enforcing social-distancing measures designed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
Alsop said the idea seems to fit with guidance Newsom delivered this week regarding "regional variations" in how long his stay-home orders are carried out.
Scrivner's proposal grew out of the Board of Supervisors' formation last week of an ad-hoc committee, composed of him and Supervisor Mike Maggard, for convening business leaders who would offer input on how to reopen the full economy safely and responsibly.
That effort continues, Scrivner said, and it may contribute understanding of how to properly reopen businesses without undue risk of new COVID-19 infections.
He said that before permitting the reopening of non-essential businesses or those in the "gray area" between essential and non-essential, the county must be able to demonstrate it has sufficient capacity to test for COVID-19 and that local health-care providers will be able to handle a possible surge in coronavirus cases.
Grocery and home-improvement stores have been open since the start of the lockdown, Scrivner noted. If they have not experienced a widespread outbreak, he said, it seems reasonable to allow other businesses to open as well.
"The sooner we’re able to do that safely," he said, "the better for everyone.”
Alsop noted the county has begun allowing some activities to resume during the stay-home order, including golf courses and tennis courts, so long as they operate under guidelines provided by the county Department of Public Health Services.
He said the focus now is on a handful of industries that fall into the "gray area" of Newsom's order.
"We are engaging those industries now and are establishing guidelines for their opening and operations, with the goal of opening as many of those businesses as possible, as soon as possible, in the safest and most responsible manner," Alsop wrote. "We also feel there are a number of businesses currently listed as non-essential that could safely reopen under the right operating guidance."