Kern County officials hope to allow as many businesses to open on Friday as possible following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement that counties could begin doing so by the end of the workweek.
At a meeting Tuesday morning, the Board of Supervisors discussed the steps the county would need to follow in order to move through stage 2 of the governor’s four-part plan to reopen the economy as quickly as possible while maintaining public safety. One of those steps is the development of readiness and containment plans to counter the coronavirus's spread as the economy begins again.
The plans are needed to move ahead of Newsom's pace, a county spokeswoman said via email.
However, the state has said it will not release the guidelines for what those plans must contain until Thursday, causing the Kern County Public Health Services Department to caution supervisors on how quickly those plans could be finalized.
“We don’t even know what is in the document, what they want,” Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine told supervisors during the meeting. “We know generally what they’re looking for but there are a lot of components to it that have yet to be developed.”
At the meeting, supervisors directed the County Administrative Office to partner with the health department to develop the plans. Work began at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Constantine said. However, he could not provide a timeline for when the plans would be ready.
County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop estimated county staff would need through the weekend to ensure the plans meet state requirements, making Monday the earliest the supervisors could meet for an approval.
“We will be working hard on this,” he said. “You can bet that when this is ready to go, we’ll be reaching out to you to schedule this special meeting and get it done.”
The two plans will detail the county’s strategy for addressing an array of COVID-19 responses, from testing capacity to protecting vulnerable populations in jails and senior centers, as the county moves into stage 2 of reopening. The governor's plan for stage 2 involves allowing certain low-risk workplaces to begin operating, albeit with certain precautions, such as curbside and delivery services. In remarks, the governor has indicated stage 2 could itself have multiple phases, the details of which are not yet available.
Supervisors expected a Thursday update from the governor to provide more clarity on which businesses could open on Friday, as well as what the phases of stage 2 could look like.
The health department and supervisors must approve the plans before they are sent to the state for certification.
Supervisors said they intended to hold a special meeting as soon as the plans were ready, yet Supervisor Mike Maggard cautioned county staff from moving too quickly.
“This is not a game. We are not recklessly running headlong to blindly open businesses. If this readiness plan and this containment plan are not completely adequate, I do not want you to feel any pressure to certify it,” he told Constantine during the meeting. “It must be done safely or we can’t go forward because lives are at stake.”
NEW TESTING SITES
At the meeting, supervisors formally acknowledged the creation of the Kern County Back to Business Ad-Hoc Committee. Supervisors Zack Scrivner and Maggard had been appointed to the committee during a meeting April 21, and have been working with different industry leaders to come up with strategies to safely open businesses as soon as the state allows.
As part of that strategy, supervisors directed county staff to establish three to four new coronavirus testing sites. These sites would be located in Delano, Taft and the Kern River Valley, and would complement the four free testing sites that were slated to open this week in Bakersfield and Mojave.
The county hopes to expand testing capacity to about 900 to 1,000 people per day. The county has thus far not publicly disclosed the current testing capacity.
Additionally, supervisors moved to send a letter to the governor requesting local flexibility in developing a plan to allow businesses to reopen. Although Newsom has announced regions throughout the state will be given flexibility in rescinding aspects of the stay-at-home order at their own pace, supervisors have expressed a desire to further distance themselves from state control.
“Every day that goes by prolongs the economic hardship for our community,” Scrivner said during the meeting. “Unfortunately, I think there is still a lot of micromanaging in this process that’s occurring in the administration.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that some businesses will be allowed open Friday in line with the governor's guidance.