EL CENTRO — After nearly two months under highly restrictive conditions that forced most economic activities in Imperial County to the curb, many local leaders appeared to see Tuesday’s announcement the state had given the OK to proceed into all phases of Stage 2 of the Resilience Roadmap as positive news.
However, they didn’t necessarily see it as a meaningful solution for many businesses that have been shut down for several months.
County officials, surrounded by representatives of the city governments, held a press conference Tuesday morning confirming that the state had accepted the county’s attestation report, meaning it had qualified to move into Stage 2.
“Our community has experienced difficult times over the past several months, including illness, loss of lives, economic hardships, and concerns due to COVID-19,” said Chairman of the Board and District 2 Supervisor Luis A. Plancarte. “Amid the adversity we have faced, we are sharing this exciting news in an effort to provide some hope for our community.”
The state’s blessing allows many businesses to reopen, with modifications. However, county Health Director Janette Angulo explained, because Imperial County remains on the state’s COVID-19 data monitoring list, several business sectors will be allowed to conduct operations outdoors only.
This latter category includes churches, barbershops, nail salons, restaurants and gyms.
The Imperial County Public Health Department posted an updated local health order on its website Tuesday afternoon. The order took effect 5 p.m.
Angulo said the outdoor restrictions on selected business sectors are state mandated. She said Section 3 of the state’s July 13 health order restricts those businesses to outdoor operations until the order is rescinded or modified. She said discussion is underway at the state level to do just that.
“The state has said it is working on updating the order,” she said.
Under the county’s amended health order, businesses that will be allowed to resume indoor operations under industry-specific safety guidelines found at https://covid19.ca.gov/industry-guidance/#top are:
- Counseling services at places of worship
- Retail stores
- Higher education (in-person classes limited to specialized courses)
- Day camps
- Music, film and TV production
- Youth sports
Sectors restricted to outdoor services only are:
- Places of worship/religious and cultural services (the limit of 100 persons has been lifted, and overhead tarps will be permitted; however, no walls or blowers are allowed)
- Campgrounds, RV parks, outdoor recreation (playgrounds, conference spaces and meeting rooms must remain closed)
- Restaurant services
- Family entertainment centers
- Gyms and fitness facilities
- Movie theaters
- Zoos, museums and galleries
- Beauty shops, barbershops and nail salons
- Racetracks (without spectators)
- Wineries and tasting rooms
- First amendment protests (crowd limit lifted, shading allowed, but no walls or blowers)
- Card rooms
Sectors that remain closed are:
- Bars, breweries and pubs, unless they offer outdoor dining
- Convention centers
- K-12 classrooms (at least until county is off state’s data monitoring list for 14 days)
- Public events and gatherings
- Recreational team sports
- Saunas and steam rooms
- Tattoo, piercing and electrolysis businesses
- Theme parks and festivals
“I’m extremely proud of the progress our county has made,” said Dr. Stephen Munday, Imperial County health officer. “I do understand, given our weather conditions, it may seem less than ideal for some businesses to be limited to outdoor operations at this time. However, this is a sign of significant improvement for our county. And with our continued diligence, I’m hopeful that we can continue to move towards regaining a greater sense of normalcy in our community.”
Imperial Chamber of Commerce CEO Susan Paradis acknowledged the new health order was “a step in the right direction,” but added “it doesn’t do very much for our businesses,” particularly those being asked to operate outdoors in the heat of summer.
She questioned why the recovery plan doesn’t appear to take into account the amount of time and safety training someone like a hair stylist has to put into getting his or her license. “Everyone should be open,” she said. “It should be a level playing field.”
Imperial Assistant City Manager Alexis Brown said the county’s announcement Tuesday has no impact on that City Council’s decision Friday not to stand in the way of local businesses that decide to resume operations despite health orders.
“We are happy to see that progress is being made throughout the region, especially for members of the Imperial business community who prefer to follow the local and state health orders,” she said in an email. “The action taken last week by the Imperial City Council still stands, and was meant to give our community the option to open if they so choose. Each business must weigh their own risks in re-opening, and we encourage all businesses to follow the re-opening framework issued by the state Department of Public Health.”
Katie Luna, executive director of the Brawley Chamber of Commerce and coordinator of the Imperial Valley Business Recovery Task Force said the task force was “thrilled” with the county’s progress.
“However,” she added, “we can’t stop now and we don’t want to go back. More than ever, respect the mask. Social distance. The coming weeks are risky ones with the advent hunting season, Labor Day and (eventually) fall’s cooler weather. But COVID is still around and things can quickly come apart.
“This is not about politics or personal rights,” she continued. “It’s common sense. We urge everyone to wear your mask, social distance, and allow our businesses to stay open. Our continued success is up to everyone.”
Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, also issued a statement Tuesday:
“I would like to acknowledge the diligent efforts and good faith collaboration between the County of Imperial and State of California to mitigate the surge of COVID-19 cases in our community,” he said. “This next step comes after an enormous amount of coordination and sacrifices from our local partners. While we have made significant progress, we must remain vigilant and continue to observe all personal safety measures and public health orders, such as using facial coverings and maintaining physical distance from others. I am grateful to everyone who has been doing their part to help save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19. We cannot lose the sense of urgency.
For additional information, visit the Imperial County Public Health Department website at www.icphd.org.