The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Thursday, May 7, directed county staff to draft and send a letter to Gov. Newsom requesting more local control and that additional business sectors be considered “low-risk” and reopened with mitigations in stage 2 of the state’s coronavirus recovery plan.
This action was taken during a special meeting after the governor announced that just pick-up retail, manufacturing and warehouse sectors were authorized to reopen on Friday, May 8. The limited reopening was less than the county was anticipating and prepared for based on previous statements from the governor.
“After last week’s information we all expected a greater step forward and a promise of autonomy for the counties,” said Supervisor Robert Lovingood.
In addition to the letter of request the county is preparing a detailed reopening plan, expected to be completed early next week. Should the county not receive a favorable response from the governor, it plans to send the plan and a second letter requesting that the county’s plan be approved and the county reopened in accordance to the plan beginning Friday, May 15.
The supervisors hope that by presenting a thorough, well thought out, data-based plan the governor will approve greater local control for the county to implement its own reopening process.
In his report to the board, Chief Executive Officer Gary McBride advised that the governor’s stage 2 recovery plan only permits county local control if a list of conditions is completely checked off.
While the county is ready to meet about half the conditions several others were characterized as “basically impossible” for large counties such as San Bernardino, which has approximately 2 million residents.
Among the “impossible” conditions is going 14 consecutive days without a COVID-19 related death countywide.
“This criteria was not meant for normal counties but light density counties, and it is not a realistic goal for most counties,” Board Chairman Curt Hagman said of the 14-day zero-death condition.
“I feel this virus will be similar to influenza. It will remain with us for the foreseeable future. For an extended period of time it will have the potential, like the flu and pneumonia, to take lives. This new direction will basically keep California locked down three to five years,” Lovingood said.
McBride pointed out that the state can end the coronavirus orders outside of these conditions, but there has been no indication that this will occur.
The state’s conditions for local control and progression into part b of stage 2 recovery include:
• No more than one case per 10,000 people for 14 consecutive days (San Bernardino County needs to hit 16 cases per day. While the county is below its peak, it is averaging 72 cases per day.)
• Testing capacity of 1.5 tests per 1,000 residents, about 3,300 tests per day for San Bernardino County. (This is larger than the county is currently achieving and larger than its 2,500 per day goal based on the governor’s previous statewide target.)
• Fifteen contact tracers per 100,000 residents, 330 for San Bernardino County.
• Plans to accommodate surge capacity in area hospitals
• A plan to retighten restrictions should COVID-19 numbers increase
• Plans for 2 weeks of personal protective equipment on hand for healthcare and vulnerable populations
• Plans specific to protecting vulnerable populations
• Zero deaths countywide for 14 consecutive days
The county sent its first letter on Friday, May 8, requesting the addition of several business sector for inclusion in Friday’s state action. These included sectors the county felt are low-risk with proper mitigations set by the county but were not included⎯such as retail, churches, pet grooming and short-term rentals.
Lovingood said the state’s the inclusion of some business types and exclusion of others did not make sense to him. He pointed out that the governor’s plan considers shopping at a Target, which sells groceries and clothing, under social distancing guidelines a safe “low-risk” activity while shopping for clothing at the Gap next door under the same conditions is considered “unsafe” and prohibited.
Hagman pointed out that county’s residents have proven themselves safe and responsible and have helped prove the county’s preventative measures effective.
“We have people in health care and other essential businesses working everyday, wearing masks, social distancing, practicing good hygiene and returning home to their families who keep themselves and their families safe from COVID-19,” Hagman said. “We can make these safe environments.”
“If we were on the other side of the coin and we were experiencing hundreds of thousands of deaths and people not able to get healthcare they need it would be a different conversation,” Lovingood said. “Instead, we’ve gone through a prolonged period of time with solid numbers and guidance from medical professionals who are indicating we are at much less risk. So now that we’re on this side of the coin it’s our responsibility to insure that our residents and citizens are not going to be choked to death by over regulation and putting them out of business.”
The county’s plan, still being finalized, includes a plan for reinitiating restrictions if needed, a COVID-19 Recovery Coalition, personal protective equipment provisions and more.
A unique measure is a system by which businesses will be inspected by a third party for implementation the county’s best practices identified for specific sectors. Businesses can earn a plaque to be placed at the door to notify the public they are complying with the county’s coronavirus prevention measures.
McBride shared that the county is well prepared for surge capacity, with two-thirds of the county’s hospital beds are currently empty.
Vice Chair Josie Gonzales complimented the plan while advising caution. She also asked that the plan include data specific to unique age and population groups.
“Let’s ensure we move ahead with a well thought out plans so when people ask, ‘What about us?’ we have answers based on data; so people can feel more comfortable and less afraid to start recovery,” Gonzales said. “A data plan will allow is to say, ‘Yes, we can do this and here is why.’”
“I’m very proud of the fact that we’re seeking permission and that we’re offering a plan for consideration that can get us the points, the merits, to do what we are proposing,” Gonzales added.
When Gonzales expressed concern about indemnity from litigation should the county act outside the state’s coronavirus orders and recovery plan, Supervisor Dawn Rowe shared that according to conversations she has had with state officials the state does not offer the county any indemnity from litigation, “not even if the county follows state guidelines to the tee.”