By Len Ramirez

SANTA CLARA COUNTY (CBS SF) — Health officials in Santa Clara County confirmed Tuesday morning that the state had approved the county’s variance application, allowing outdoor dining to continue and a number of new business sectors to reopen on July 13.

The approval from state officials was for the variance that county officials had applied for when issuing a new health order on July 2nd. The new order will allow for the reopening of hair and nail salons, massage therapy and other body care services and gyms for the first time since the pandemic started. Small gatherings will also be allowed.

“As a result, outdoor dining can continue in Santa Clara County,” health officials said in the statement issued Tuesday morning.  “This also means that the new local Health Order announced by the Public Health Officer last week, which puts in place across-the-board risk reduction measures, will now go into effect on Monday, July 13th. ”

The county posted about the variance approval on Twitter.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo tweeted his thanks to state officials for granting the variance.

Over the past week, there was growing confusion and fear among restaurant owners in the South Bay who were caught in a battle between the state and the county over outdoor dining.

A Santa Clara county spokesperson said Monday that outdoor dining will still be allowed just three days after state agents unexpectedly visited several restaurants and told owners the county had not received approval for dining al fresco.

“I’m very sorry for the confusion this has caused. This is our first pandemic, I hope we don’t have another one, but we’re all learning as we’re going,” said Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez.

Indoor dining, bars and nightclubs will still be closed.

“Getting a variance granted does not mean the virus is doing better, it’s not. It’s getting much worse,” said County Executive Jeff Smith.

With the confusion cleared up, there was a huge sigh of relief throughout the county. Karie Bennett, who owns Atelier Salon and Studio in San Jose and Willow Glen, is among the business owners who will be allowed to open their doors again next Monday.

“Is it true, don’t be kidding me,” said Bennett. “I kind of wish they had gotten approval by the state before they had announced it, because we got excited and we announced it, and then we had to say, ‘Just kidding.'”

Bennett has been working behind the scenes since the shelter-in-place order went into effect to improve safety and health protocols in her salons. Bennett said she is not only following the state’s eight page list of restrictions, but she’s also adding her own safety and health measures, such as temperature checks and a hospital grade HEPA filtration re-circulator.

Meanwhile, Campbell city council members on Tuesday night approved to shut down East Campbell Avenue to provide restaurants in the busy downtown location more room for outdoor dining. The pilot program will last a month before city leaders revisit the proposal, and evaluate whether it’s working.

Randy Musterer, founder and CEO of Sushi Confidential, said he can only fit 15 seats on his outdoor patio at his Campbell location. He’s hoping closing down the street will help bring in more revenue.

“Now is the time for all of us restaurant owners to be able to generate as much income as possible, kind of tuck that away, and be able to survive the winter,” Musterer said. “Because it could be a pretty bad winter.”

Hair stylists and massage therapists at the Tranquility Day Spa in San Jose welcomed the news that their shop, closed since March, will be allowed to re-open on July 13th.

“I’m anxious. I’m ready to go, taking all my precautions,” said Nilda Sit, who has worked at the spa for 30 years.

The rush is now on for employees to get tested. While it is something that’s not required, they want to do it anyway.

“That way when I start work, my clients know that I am COVID-free, so there’sno chance of them getting it from me,” said massage therapist Ruth Palfreeman.

Despite increasing case numbers in Santa Clara County, reopening plans are moving quickly ahead, relying on personal responsibility for people to distance and wear face coverings, to limit the spread of the virus.

“We need to do our lives differently. If we don’t do it differently our cases will continue to accelerate and we will be in big trouble,” said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody.

Tranquilty Spa owner Lieu Shultz says she’s ready to re-open and has a garage full of masks, cleaning supplies and plastic barriers to retrofit her salons.

“We want to make sure we have enough for all our clients when we open up the shop,” Shultz said.

More information about the county’s Risk Reduction Order can be found at www.sccgov.org/cv19.

The county also issued a reminder that all businesses, including those currently opened, must submit updated Social Distancing protocols by Monday, July 13 at www.covid19prepared.org.

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