COVID clampdown partly reverses reopening

Case leap renews ban on bars, indoor activities as summer socializing beckons

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The state has reeled back some of the business openings it previously green-lighted and county enforcement of a new public health order began on July 17.

​Governor Gavin Newsom announced the new order on July 13. It responds to the state’s escalating COVID-19 case rate and orders the statewide closing of bars and some previously-allowed indoor activities.

​Restaurants, wineries, family entertainment businesses and museums must move their operations outdoors or close.

​Thirty-one counties – up from 19 earlier this month – are on the state’s “monitoring watch list.” In those counties, gyms, fitness centers, places of worship, non-essential offices, personal care businesses and malls must also move outside or close.

​Humboldt County has hit one of the primary thresholds for being listed. Its 14-day average number of cases per 100,000 people is almost 26, which Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich describes as being “clearly an increase.”

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​Briefing the Board of Supervisors at its July 14 meeting, Frankovich said the county’s not on the state list because it falls below a second threshold.

Humboldt’s testing positivity rate is at 2.5 percent and has peaked at four to five percent, while the state’s listing trigger is eight percent.

​But there is concern about viral transmission as summer progresses. Supervisor Virginia Bass said there’s been word of “extremely large weddings” happening and she’s gotten phone calls reporting unsafe operation of a restaurant/brewery.

​Celebrations and family gatherings are “not an easy thing to try and enforce,” Frankovich said, adding that recent cases have stemmed from “relatively small gatherings.”

​Moving things outdoors will help because “indoor spaces are higher risk than outdoor because of ventilation,” she continued.  

​Sheriff Billy Honsal said the county’s Joint Information Center (JIC) will advise restaurants and other businesses on how to apply for encroachment permits allowing use of sidewalk and street space.

​Responding to Supervisor Rex Bohn’s question on whether the governor has the authority to declare the new order, Honsal said Newsom is relaying an order of the state’s health officer and it is a law that must be followed.

​Naming July 17 as the date when enforcement begins, Honsal said the JIC is working with the county’s Code Enforcement Unit to develop a “compliance protocol” for businesses operating in violation of state and county rules.

​“It’ll be a code enforcement-type action with notice provided – corrective notice, ‘Correct your violation or you could be subject to a fine,’” said Honsal.

​Bohn asked for more time before starting enforcement, saying July 17 is “a little extreme” and he described an atmosphere of desperation.

​“There’s a lot of anger and frustration but I don’t think either one of those equate to the fear factor that’s out there from these small businesses that don’t think they’re gonna make it,” he said.

The day before, he had gotten multiple phone calls and “I didn’t hear anger and frustration yesterday, I heard fear for their livelihoods, the idea that they’re not gonna be able to afford the basic necessities for their children.”

Bohn added that affected businesses don’t have time to wait for relief funding.

​County Administrative Officer Amy Nilsen said the arrival of CARES Act funding to the county is “in progress” and the timing of its grants and rental assistance for businesses will be outlined at the July 28 board meeting.

​The county’s economic development director has said that Humboldt’s anticipated share of CARES Act funding is about $13 million.

​In a public comment session during the videoconferenced meeting, a caller upheld the need to guard against a surge of COVID-19.

“Rex Bohn, you scare me,” she said. “You need to protect us as well and I understand you care about people that are having challenges with their businesses but you’ve got to refer them to the CARES Act, we’ve got to protect ourselves and believe in this public danger.”

Bohn’s call for further stalling enforcement wasn’t taken up. Public Health Director Michele Stephens said state funding could be held back from the county if it “does anything that contradicts the governor’s and state health officer’s order.”

At the time of the board meeting, the county’s total number of confirmed cases was 165. By the end of the week, the count was 181. There have been 16 hospitalizations and four deaths.




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