VISALIA, Tulare County (CBS / AP) — As restaurants and stores were cleared to open for customers in more than half of California’s counties on Wednesday, one county tried to push even farther, allowing barbershops, churches and movie theaters to open without the state’s permission.
Tulare County’s board of supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to move further into the state’s four-stage reopening plan than is allowed. That means nearly all businesses and churches could reopen, though county officials said businesses should adhere to state guidelines on social distancing and other health measures.
In response, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration threatened the county’s ability to access state and federal disaster funds, similar to a warning it gave recently to three northern counties that defied state orders.
“Should Tulare County experience a surge in COVID-19 cases as a result of hasty and careless actions, the county may be ineligible for reimbursement” through state and federal dollars, Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services wrote in a letter to the county administrator dated Tuesday.
It’s the latest conflict between the state and counties over how swiftly to ease stay-at-home orders imposed in mid-March to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Newsom on Monday set guidelines that will allow most counties to reopen restaurants for dine-in and other services like child care and even schools if they can meet certain benchmarks on hospitalizations, case loads and testing. But it still bans the opening of churches, gyms and other large gathering spaces.
Robert Link, the mayor of Visalia, the Tulare County seat, said the city has barely enforced state and county guidelines on business closures, except in the case of gyms and large gatherings.
“We had already come to the point where we were allowing some businesses to reopen,” he said, adding the city didn’t plan to fine them if they broke state or county rules.
County officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The vote to reopen came as the county, home to 442,000 residents in the Central Valley, reported a spike of 101 new coronavirus cases and four more deaths.
Tulare County’s nursing homes in particular are struggling with the coronavirus: 51 deaths and infections among nearly 30% of the more than 1,100 residents. Local officials blame the state, which regulates nursing homes.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Among those counties given the go-ahead to open as of Wednesday were San Luis Obispo, the southernmost county yet approved; Napa County in the heart of California’s wine country; and Merced County in the Central Valley. Each is taking their own approach to easing restrictions.
Napa is following the state’s guidance for dine-in seating, requiring restaurants to obey a laundry list of 60 new rules.
Some of the more noticeable things customers will see include restaurants prioritizing outdoor seating, using pre-roll utensils in napkins and disposable or digital menus and having customers wait in their cars for their tables.
All bar areas will remain closed off during this stage of reopening as well.
On the first day of the new Stage 2 rules in Napa County, most places KPIX 5 visited were open, but not ready for indoor seating.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.