​‘Soft re-opening’ imminent; Humboldt may be allowed to ‘accelerate’

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

The state is poised to allow a “soft reopening” of some retail and manufacturing businesses, with rural counties like Humboldt potentially able to do more than urban areas.

An initial phase of loosening restrictions geared to preventing coronavirus spread was described at the May 5 Board of Supervisors meeting, which was done via video conferencing.

In an update, Humboldt County Health Officer Teresa Frankovich summarized what California Governor Gavin Newsom had announced the day before – that moving into stage two of a four-stage reopening plan will begin on Friday, May 8.

Retail businesses – Newsom’s office has mentioned those selling items like clothing, books, toys and sporting goods as examples – will be able to open in a limited way. Frankovich said sales will be done through curbside pick-up and delivery.

Each business is required to draft a plan outlining how social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, masking and monitoring employees for COVID-19 symptoms will be done.

Businesses that aren’t eligible for re-openings include offices and shopping malls. Restaurants are now allowed to do take-out and the new phase generally won’t include expanding service to dining.  

But Frankovich said that Newsom’s announcement included “really big news” for rural counties. “We will have the ability to accelerate more through this stage two and get more people up and operating based on our preparedness levels,” she continued.

The county will submit a re-opening plan to the state and “we will have that ability to tailor things a bit on our local level.”

Newsom will announce further details on implementation of the first phase of stage two on May 7.

The degree to which re-opening can occur through stage two will be based on each county’s preparedness to absorb new COVID-19 cases. Testing capability is one of the key aspects and Humboldt County is the first to set up a state-sponsored mobile testing site, which opened to the public on May 4 and includes online appointment-setting.

The state is also requiring counties to be able to handle a “hospital surge” of up to 25 percent, which “we can comfortably do,” Frankovich said.

The county is awaiting a formal “guidance document” from the state that will more specifically detail the reopening protocol, she continued.

As supervisors talked about Humboldt’s readiness and the prospect of accelerating into stage two, Public Health Director Michele Stephens advised caution.

She noted that some nearby counties are “testing deserts,” which could impact Humboldt. “How it looks in other places in terms of readiness, and those places having no testing capability, is really going to influence what happens in other jurisdictions and how it impacts us regionally,” Stephens said.

Sheriff Billy Honsal said the county’s plan will be aligned with the state’s and re-openings will be done under an “online certification process” that is expected to launch on May 7.

The Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting on changing the local shelter in place ordinance once the state’s directives are firm.

There was mixed input from business owners and residents during a public comment session.

A McKinleyville resident supported reinstating operation of short term vacation rentals but a downtown Eureka business owner said that “myself and a lot of other small business owners that I know, they don’t want to reopen yet – it feels really scary and it feels really dangerous for ourselves, our employees and our customers.”

Another caller to the meeting said re-opening is “a little short-sighted” and offsets the goal of limiting viral spread.

A Ferndale business owner strongly supported a broader reopening, however.

She said the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce met the night before and “we are not happy with the stay in place orders and there are many small businesses that are not going to survive this closure.”

She said there’s appreciation for Honsal and Supervisor Rex Bohn, who she said are “stepping up and saying this is not okay,” and “not everybody feels the stay in place order is constitutional.”

Bohn had agendized the consideration of a letter to Newsom asking him to lift the state’s shelter in place order and allow counties to make decisions that allow us to navigate the reactivation of our economy while still ensuring the protection of our most vulnerable populations.

But with Newsom’s announcements, Bohn said the letter is “moot” and he agreed to drop it.

Also at the meeting, supervisors discussed plans to re-open some county departments to employees and customer service. County Administrative Officer Amy Nilsen said a plan to do so has been reviewed by the health officer and will be reviewed by employee unions.

The timing of re-opening county operations to the public will be dependent on accessing supplies for employee “health screening stations,” Nilsen said.

Supervisors approved Nilsen’s recommendation to have all county departments resume operation once the state moves more fully into stage two. That phase will include re-opening schools and child care facilities.



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