The Kern County Public Health Services Department has issued a new order banning all public and private gatherings, and will soon begin increasing enforcement against nonessential businesses that remain open despite the ban.
The new order, issued Thursday by Kern County Public Health Officer Kristopher Lyon, reinforced Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order from early March, and introduces misdemeanor criminal charges and fines to those who violate.
On Thursday, the county said it would not enforce the part of the order that relates to private gatherings, but would focus on nonessential businesses that remain open.
"We continue to educate those businesses who are non-compliant by following up with education,” health department spokeswoman Michelle Corson wrote in an email. "If businesses continue to disregard the Governor’s executive order and put our community at risk, we will invoke the options within this order."
Those options include an up to six month stay in jail and a $1,000 fine, along with a misdemeanor charge.
The order also mandates people who are over the age of 65, or have a compromised immune system or a chronic underlying condition, to self-quarantine.
The Bakersfield Police Department has been meeting with the county health department to discuss potential enforcement of the order, said BPD spokesman Nathan McCauley. A timeline has not yet been set on when it could start.
"Public Health has already begun notifying different businesses in trying to get voluntary compliance prior to this," McCauley said. "There should hopefully be more information coming out in the near future."
City Manager Christian Clegg said many businesses had already voluntarily shut down. He added city staff would be available to help the health department enforce compliance with the order.
As the county moves forward with enforcing the business closure rule, some businesses remained confused about who gets to remain open and who must close.
To provide clarity, local governments teamed up with business leaders to create an emergency hotline. Businesses can call 336-6860 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to direct questions to the newly created business resources response team.
The public also has been asked to get involved.
The county has released an online map where local residents can report noncompliant businesses. Available at kernpublichealth.com/2019-novel-coronavirus/, the map gives members of the public a tool to report instances of businesses holding public gatherings, not complying with social distancing rules or simply remaining in operation.
On Thursday, the map depicted dozens of businesses across Kern County, including alleged violations of the county’s order with some.
Despite the pressure put on businesses, Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nick Ortiz complimented the health department’s approach to the necessary shutdowns. He said that unlike other cities and counties, Kern officials had moved at a deliberate pace, starting with education before moving to more drastic measures.
The quicker COVID-19 can be vanquished, the faster local companies can get back to work.
“Business planning ultimately relies on certainty, which is currently in short supply,” Ortiz said in an email to The Californian. “The only certain thing is that our economy can’t function under lockdown and we won’t be able to get back to normal operations before the public health threat subsides.”