Shops, restaurants reopen Friday

Gov. grants county petition to allow foot traffic in select businesses

Shops, restaurants reopen FridayA groundswell of advocates from our community, county and state appear to have been successful in gaining approval from the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom to accelerate the next phase of “Stage 2” reopenings, which means that dine-in restaurants and small shops could be receiving indoor customers as early as Friday.

On Wednesday evening, the governor’s office informed Kern County that its application to allow foot traffic in dining establishments and retail shops has been granted. This expands on the reopening of some businesses for curbside service.

However, the acceleration into the second phase of Stage 2 required local officials to negotiate a rule change for the variance. Originally, Newsom said, counties would have to establish no new deaths for 14 days and no more than one positive test per 10,000 to qualify for the relaxed restrictions.

The second requirement was a particular thorn, since the proliferation of free screenings throughout the county was anticipated to boost the reported number of cases in Kern.

Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard, who co-chairs a committee to expedite the re-opening of commercial ventures in the region, said that Kern was struggling to meet those “arbitrary metrics.”

County officials pointed back to Newsom’s original objective to use shelter-at-home orders as a means of flattening the curve. But in the last 10 weeks, each community throughout Kern has achieved the required surge capacity and surplus inventory that the governor required to prepare for outbreaks.

“The reason we locked down our economy was to prevent a surge in hospitals, so we didn’t have to make a choice between one person getting a ventilator and one not,” said Supervisor Zack Scrivner.

“That would be a horrible choice. We saw it happen in countries like Italy.” However, Scrivner noted, by taking swift action, Kern County was able to manage the need for healthcare provisions.

Maggard said that although it was tragic that 25 county residents have died, the numbers “do not reflect whether we have the capacity to serve those who have not yet become ill. They reflect what has happened in the past, not what will happen in the future.”

Based on county reports (kernpublichealth.com/covid-19_dashboard/), the number of patients battling coronavirus has begun to decline for the first time this week.

Ultimately, Newsom revised guidelines to require that counties may not have hospitalization rates that increase more than 5 percent over seven days. The reporting requirements for positive tests must not exceed 25 per 100,000 residents.

The revised metrics made Kern County, along with 52 of 58 counties in the state, eligible for accelerated openings.

In the Indian Wells Valley, the numbers are even more compelling. As of Thursday morning, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital had conducted 488 tests. Only six residents have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 at press time. None of those patients had been hospitalized.

As part of the county’s efforts to advocate for increased flexibility, RRH CEO Jim Suver joined healthcare officials from around the county in signing a letter to the governor’s office.

“We write to respectfully ask that you consider our collective professional and medical opinion as you contemplate modification of your guidance for counties to begin reopening,” reads the letter.

State Sen. Shannon Grove also commended Newsom for making those modifications. “It is necessary to revive our local economies, support businesses and employ Californians.”

Stage 3 businesses — which include gyms, salons, churches, bars and other high-traffic venues — have still not been granted approval to open. At press time there was no known timeline for that stage. However, Newsom has indicated it is “months, not weeks” away yet.

Stage 4 could be a year or more away.

Pictured: My Enchanted Cottage is among many businesses opening to visitors Friday. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-05-22