County Begins Approving Some Retail to Re-open to Walk-in Customers


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The Humboldt County Emergency Operations Center approved at least 45 retail business health and safety operational plans yesterday, giving them the green light to re-open to walk-in customers.

Yesterday, the state approved the county’s certification that it is ready to exercise local control over stage two of reopening and easing shelter-in-place restrictions, giving the county the ability to move faster than the rest of the state if officials deem it prudent. Stage two of reopening began last Friday, when Gov. Gavin Newsom gave the OK for retail businesses to open for curbside pickup, and proceed gradually to see retail businesses, childcare centers, offices and dine-in restaurants allowed to re-open once their revised operational plans are approved by the county.

Meanwhile, the county confirmed another positive COVID-19 case yesterday, continuing a recent spike that has seen 13 new cases over the past six days, with nine of them related to an outbreak at Alder Bay Assisted Living. The county currently has 15 active cases and has deemed a total of 13 cases to have been the result of community transmission, meaning the the person who tested positive had no known contacts with other cases, hadn’t traveled outside the area and is believed to have contracted the virus through an unknown source in the community. Humboldt County Public Health Officer Teresa Frankovich has said officials are monitoring the situation at Alder Bay closely, as well as general infection rates, and are prepared to “pause” or even roll back the easing of shelter-in-place restrictions as needed. The estimated incubation period for the virus is five days, so it’s likely at least the bulk of the recent spike — if not all of it — is so far unrelated to the soft re-opening that began last Friday.

The Emergency Operations Center received more than 85 operational plans from businesses to review yesterday, according to its Facebook post yesterday evening. Frankovich said a team has been assembled to review these plans and, if needed, provide feedback.

“We have, as part of that team, people who do enforcement, code enforcement, people who do business development, and people who are more on the public health end,” she said. “For instance, some of our registered environmental health specialists may be part of that group to look at specific industries. And so, they'll be reviewing your plan, they will understand what the Governor's guidance is all around those sectors, and then they'll be able to look at it and think, this fits, this is perfect, or be able to look and go, this piece might not be quite right, here's what you can do to fix that.”

Frankovich and Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal have been urging businesses of all types — even those listed in stage two of re-opening plans, like nail salons and movie theaters, and are thus prohibited from re-opening in any capacity for the foreseeable future — to begin crafting health and safety plans so they are prepared when the time comes. And the county wants all local organizations — even those allowed to continue operations while providing “essential” services under shelter in place — to develop new operational plans to minimize risk to employees and the public.

The county has said it wants to address four basic elements: how the organization plans to maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing for all employees and customers at all times; protocols for monitoring employees for symptoms and making sure they stay home when ill; plans for frequent cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces; and access to hand washing facilities

Currently, the county has put templates for reopening plans for 22 separate sectors up on its website and is encouraging people to fill them out as soon as possible, regardless of when their sector is slated to open. But Honsal has also cautioned that people should give their plans some serious thought and read up on Centers for Disease Control and California Department of Public Health guidelines before filling out the forms, which he said can take up to 90 minutes.

The county has also posted four sample plans on its website — for agriculture and livestock, construction, office workspaces and retail businesses — to give people a sense of what needs to be included in a suitable plan. The retail plan, for example, includes provisions to conduct pre-shift health checks of every employee, the use of disposable utensils, condiment packages and menus, contactless payment methods, protocols for sanitizing fitting rooms between use and requiring employees to wear facial coverings. The sample office workspace plan, meanwhile, states the office will implement health screenings for employees and members of the public entering the office, prohibit congregating in common areas, limit meetings and implement staggered schedules to minimize the number of people in the office at any time, while employees will be required to wear facial coverings and will be urged to avoid sharing workspaces and phones. The sample plan also would “limit self-service and common food and beverage items (e.g., coffee station).”

It’s unclear just how quickly the county intends to move through the re-opening process, but the governor’s plan allows it to begin allowing retail, manufacturing, logistical, childcare, office-based and select service businesses, like car washes, pet groomers and landscapers, to begin re-opening when the county approves their plans. (Dine-in restaurants and shopping malls are not yet cleared to re-open, but will come later in stage two, while businesses like bars, salons, movie theaters, casinos and hotels, as well as in-person religious services and indoor museums, come in stage three.)

In a press release, Frankovich indicated the recent case spike will slow the process down, at least temporarily.

“We have to acknowledge that two weeks ago our case numbers looked different than they do today,” she said in a press release yesterday. “Although clearly many, but not all, of our recent cases have been related to the same case cluster, we have to move forward more gradually than we had originally planned. Today, under the expanded stage two, our first step will be to allow those businesses currently open for curbside pickup or delivery to begin serving customers indoors once they have plans for in-store service in place. Some lower risk outdoor retail businesses with approved plans may also open. We will move forward balancing health and safety with the clear need for social and economic recovery within our county.”


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