New ‘Blueprint’ for reopening

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

New ‘Blueprint’ for reopeningA new four-tiered system, detailed metrics and a more easily navigable state COVID dashboard were part of the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” unveiled by Gov. Gavin Newsom last Friday.

While officials have expressed appreciation for the added clarity in adaptations and requirements for reopening different sectors in the 58 counties across California, many expressed dismay that a return to “normal” operations is further away than struggling employers imagined or hoped for.

“Gov. Newsom yet again moved the goal post and is now extending our shutdown even longer,” said Assemblyman Vince Fong, a Kern County Republican who is among the opponents of California’s approach to mitigating effects of the pandemic.

“By lengthening the timeline for safely re-opening businesses that are already on the brink of closure, the governor is putting a death nail into so many jobs and small businesses that cannot hang on any longer.”

Fong noted that based on the new timeline, many businesses in Kern County will not be able to operate at a sustainable level before next spring — at the earliest.

“This is unacceptable,” he said.

Some of Kern County’s top officials held a press conference Monday to address some of the impacts of the new plan.

Matt Constantine, director of the county public health department, said that the new plan is a significant shift from the previous model.

Counties are now classified in four color-coded tiers according to risk, from severe to mild, in “Widespread,” “Substantial,” “Moderate” or “Minimal.” Kern County — along with 37 other counties representing some 87 percent of the Golden State population, are all listed under the “Widespread,” or purple, tier. (See covid19.ca.gov for more information.)

Constantine noted that only two metrics are monitored under the new system — daily new cases, and testing positivity rates. Data is averaged over seven days and updated each Tuesday.

Counties that have more than 7 new cases per day, out of each 100,000 residents, and a positivity rate higher than 8 percent are listed in the “Widespread” category, and subject to the most restrictions.

Constantine further reported that Kern County’s case rate is about 13.4 per 100,000, and our positivity rate is just more than 10 percent.

“We are trending down over the last couple of weeks, so that is good news,” he said.

Counties must spend a minimum of 21 days in each tier before qualifying for advancement. Further, they must demonstrate measurements of each reduced tier for a minimum of 14 days before moving to a more relaxed category.

Along with the metrics that counties must meet to qualify for those relaxed restrictions, residents can search by county or sector what the mandates are for each type of business in their region.

Ryan Alsop, the chief administrative officer for Kern, said that the new framework specifically ties numbers to how and when business activities in the county will be allowed to resume.

“That is clarity counties have been seeking for months,” said Alsop. “For the first time, Kern County residents have a single online source to look up whether an activity is allowed where they live.”

Clarity aside, he acknowledged that the steps toward reopening would be a “slow and stringent process.”

Under the new guidance, indoor shopping centers are still allowed to remain open, so long as they adhered to restrictions and keep below 25 percent capacity.

“We were also pleased to hear [Newsom] announced that salons and barbershops can open indoor operations with adaptations and restrictions. These are people who have been hit hard.”

Nail salons must remain closed for indoor operations, as will gyms and fitness centers. Bars are also closed for indoor and outdoor service, and restaurants are only allowed to seat customers outdoors (see related story, Page 3).

Kern is moving toward the red tier, also known by its “substantial” categorization. But a significant amount of work remains to be done to improve our numbers in order to be eligible. Under that category, nail salons, restaurants and other key sectors can re-open indoor operations within 25 percent capacity.

“Which is better than 0,” said Alsop.

“There could be future changes, for better or worse, made by the state,” said Alsop. He said that as we enter flu season, the ongoing impacts of COVID could be difficult to predict.

“This is the world we are living in,” he said. “And the state is calling all of the shots.”

Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Ostash said that local administrators are still working with county and state agencies to obtain a waiver that will allow limited in-person instruction for those with special needs, but he has not yet received any guidance about when to expect a return to campus.

“Based on everything I’m hearing, I believe we are going to be leaning on the Distance Learning model for quite some time. But we continue to work and plan for the campus model when it is safe and allowed.”

“We all need to take individual responsibility to get our businesses and schools open and keep them open,” said Ridgecrest Regional Hospital CEO Jim Suver.

“That includes wearing masks, observing social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and staying home if you are sick.”

He urged those experiencing COVID symptoms to seek help from a healthcare processional.

“At this juncture, doing more and more testing for folks without symptoms is not going to help our COVID status,” he said.

“What will help is following the precautions. Our community has proved that our efforts can slow the COVID impact down. Let’s keep doing what is working for our community and continue to take individual responsibility. We must get back normal quickly and the path to get there is beyond healthcare providers but rests with ourselves.”

At the level of the state legislature, Fong has co-authored a resolution to terminate the emergency powers afforded to Newsom, which took effect in March when California first declared a state of emergency.

“We must have a government with fundamental checks and balances. It is our constitutional obligation to restore accountability in California.”

Story First Published: 2020-09-04