The county of San Bernardino submitted its application for advancing further economic reopening through the state’s county variance program to the California Department of Public Health Friday morning, May 22, hoping to have approval by Friday evening or early the next week.

Should the application be approved by the state, the county will be permitted to open additional business sectors including retail stores, malls and dine-in restaurants.

The “variance and attestation form” was completed and submitted after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Monday, May 18, the program that allows counties to move ahead in stage 2 of the California Reopening Plan under their own direction given that they meet listed criteria and complete a state reviewed and approved reopening plan.

The governor’s criteria to permit individual counties to advance reopening beyond the statewide pace were also adjusted on Monday, to better accommodate larger counties, such as San Bernardino, the largest county in the nation.

The first list of criteria was based on countywide totals for COVID-19 cases, deaths and testing capacity, and the thresholds (such as zero deaths in 14 consecutive days) were deemed by many county governments catered to low-population counties and impossible for large counties.

The new list of criteria includes percentage-based targets.

Chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Curt Hagman shared that the county meets this readiness criteria when announcing the county’s submittal of the variance and attestation form during a press conference on Friday.

The readiness criteria requires that counties have less than 8 percent positivity rate for COVID-19 tests, less than 5 percent hospitalization rate increase for 7-day period, minimum daily testing capacity to test 1.5 per 1,000 residents, testing availability for at least 75 percent of residents and at least 15 contact tracing staff per 100,000 residents and hospital capacity for a 35 percent surge in patients.

When reviewing and approving the application during a special meeting on Thursday, May 21, the Board of Supervisors expressed hopefulness that the state would review and approve the application and the county’s reopening plan with urgency and timeliness.

The supervisors also expressed desire to press the governor on relaxing the restrictions imposed on religious activities, which remain more severely impacted by the state orders than similar non-religious activities and are not scheduled for reopening until stage 3 of the California Reopening Plan.

During Thursday’s meeting, Supervisor Robert Lovingood stated that he expects churches and other faith-based activities to be given new direction by the end of the month.

On Tuesday, May 19, the U.S. Department of Justice sent Newsom a letter warning him that California’s coronavirus stay-at-home orders and the California Reopening Plan present “several civil rights concerns,” are discriminatory against faith-based communities and are not comparable to the protections of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The letter pointed out that while the list of nonreligious workers and activities that are permitted to reopen in stage 2 of the state’s reopening plan is expansive, including many activities that are comparable to religious activities, religious activities are held under stricter restraints and are not scheduled to reopen until stage 3.

On Friday, May 22, President Donald Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control have designated houses of worship as essential and provided guidelines for their reopening. Trump issued an order that governors reopen houses of worship as they are reopening business and other sectors.

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