As some businesses prepare to reopen under the second stage of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-part plan, several roadblocks have emerged that could complicate local goals of kickstarting Kern’s economy ahead of the state.
On the same day the Kern County Department of Public Health Services announced 60 new novel coronavirus cases and two deaths, Newsom unveiled guidelines counties must follow if they want to allow businesses to open before the state as a whole.
The guidelines are an acknowledgement that COVID-19 impacts various areas of the state differently. The first part of the second stage of the governor’s plan permits various retailers to open with curbside pickup and delivery, along with the manufacturing and logistical businesses that support those retailers.
A later part of Stage 2 will see shopping malls, dine-in restaurants, schools and childcare facilities reopen. But if counties want to move through Stage 2 at a faster rate than the state, they must meet certain criteria defined by the governor.
Although local leaders have professed a desire to allow as many businesses to open as possible, the governor’s criteria could keep Kern County at the first part of Stage 2 for the foreseeable future.
The California Department of Public Health says before counties can move through Stage 2, they must provide clear evidence that no COVID-19 deaths have occurred within the last 14 days and no more than one COVID-19 case per 10,000 residents has been reported over the same time span.
Kern County could struggle to attain those benchmarks. With two deaths announced Thursday, it appears the soonest the county could be eligible to move beyond the state’s limits is late May.
Over the last two weeks, the county has reported 371 COVID-19 cases, which is approximately 4.2 cases per 10,000 residents (based on the population estimate of 883,053 provided by the U.S. Census Bureau), or more than four times the state’s requirement.
In response to The Californian’s questions regarding the state's requirements, Kern County spokesperson Megan Person called the guidelines incredibly complex and said the county would issue a statement as soon as possible.
The governor’s update comes as some local businesses have started reopening despite the statewide stay-at-home order.
During a press conference Thursday morning, Kern County officials said businesses that opened prior to state authorization would do so at their own risk. While the county does not appear willing to arrest or heavily fine business owners that defy the state order, County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said state agencies have many ways to regulate businesses outside of law enforcement.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in this state. It doesn’t matter what city you’re in,” he said. “The state is in charge. The orders by the governor are law.”
It was unclear Thursday how long California could expect to remain in the early part of Stage 2. During the governor’s press conference Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services Secretary, said while progress had been made, risk remains.
“We still know that the virus is alive in California, and that your good efforts have helped us suppress it quite a bit, but it is still spreading,” he said.
Ghaly cautioned that moving into Stage 2 did not equal a return to normal.
It appears the process of moving on could be longer and more difficult than some anticipated at the start of the pandemic. While local leaders may say they feel the pain of businessmen shut out of their companies, they stressed they were subject to state law.
And the state appears to be moving at its own pace.
“This, by no stretch of the imagination, is over," Newsom said during his remarks. "We're not out of the woods."