The Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to approve a measure that could result in restaurants and retail locations opening their doors to the public by the weekend.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has said individual counties will be able to move more quickly through Stage 2 of his four-part reopening plan if they meet certain requirements. During the afternoon portion of Tuesday’s board meeting, the County Administrative Office said the county met the state’s requirements and presented supervisors with a COVID-19 attestation form substantiating their claims.
Supervisors voted to send the form to the state, along with a letter of support signed by Chairwoman Leticia Perez. If the state approves the form — a process county officials say takes one to three days — certain businesses will be allowed to reopen with social distancing modifications.
In addition to destination retail and dine-in restaurants, Stage 2 includes manufacturing, offices, summer school, childcare facilities and additional public spaces. The state has issued guidelines businesses must follow in order to reopen.
Restaurants in particular will be required to provide adequate space for social distancing and follow strict sanitary rules.
“It’s going to be different than you experienced than the last time you were in that (establishment),” Supervisor Mike Maggard said during the meeting. “I just ask the public to be as cooperative and mindful of that as they can be.”
The governor has said the entire state may soon be ready to move into Stage 3, which includes hair salons, gyms and movie theaters. As of Tuesday afternoon, 23 counties had received regional variances from the state, allowing them Stage 2 at an accelerated pace.
The CAO’s Office hoped to send the form to the state Tuesday afternoon, which could allow businesses to open by Memorial Day Weekend.
“I’m happy to see how far along Kern is,” Perez said. “It’s encouraging.”
As early as last week, Kern County didn’t meet state requirements to receive a regional variance. It was only when the state relaxed the criteria by which it judged counties’ readiness to advance through Stage 2 that Kern qualified.
The county, backed by local hospitals and health officials, had lobbied the governor to switch the criteria from measuring deaths and rate of infections to hospitalizations. Apparently, the state listened.
Under the new metrics, the county needed to demonstrate that COVID-19 hospitalizations remained stable and less than 8 percent of tests returned positive over a seven-day period, in addition to other coronavirus containment and readiness measures.
During Tuesday’s meeting, CAO Manager Jason Wiebe reported hospitalizations had decreased by 0.8 percent over the last seven days and 218 tests out of 3,552 had come back positive over the same time period, about 6 percent.
While acknowledging the approaching milestone of being able to allow more businesses to reopen, Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine urged caution.
“Even though we are optimistic we can open up some of these businesses, it’s imperative that we stay strong and don’t lose any ground that we’ve made,” he said during the meeting. “This is a good first nod to the hard work in Kern County and how we’ve all done a good job at making sure we’re safe.”