Kings County is poised to open up late Friday afternoon while Tulare County might lag one or two weeks behind.
Keenly aware of the pain suffered by local businesses, and the county’s dire economic outlook, Kings County Supervisors are holding an emergency meeting Friday at 1pm to approve the documents needed to open up their economy.
On Monday Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state will be moving into Stage 2 of reopening such businesses as shoe, sporting, toy, and book stores, along with florists and car dealerships.
The state provided certain metrics that each county needs to meet before it can open up these retailers.
Public Health Director for Kings County, Ed Hill, is at the ready to complete the necessary paperwork as fast as possible after Newsom’s announced press conference on Thursday giving further guidelines. The paperwork, referred to as an attestation, needs to be officially certified by the board of supervisors.
Because Hill and the supervisors have been discussing the state of Kings County in the face of COVID-19 over the last few weeks, nothing in his anticipated attestation will be a surprise, and the supervisors are expected to quickly approve it.
Kings County will then forward the attestation to the state. The state will not be approving or denying each county’s attestation, but will merely post it on its website. Newsom has said he is leaving it up to the individual counties to certify or deny the attestations that claim the county meets certain metrics.
Leaving the decision up to the counties is not a magnanimous gesture by the governor. His hand has been forced by Modoc, Yuba, and Sutter Counties, which have simply informed the state that they are opening up. The City of Parlier decided Monday to open all barber shops and salons in defiance of state law. Barber shops and salons are considered problematic in terms of public distancing and are not expected to open until Stage 3, which might happen in late summer.
Tulare County not ready
At the May 5 Tulare County Supervisor meeting, both Supervisor Amy Shuklian and Chair Pete Vander Poel stated that an emergency meeting on Friday was in order.
“If (Newsom’s) guidance says OK you can move into Stage 2 I’m ready to have a board meeting at 8am to make sure we are open….I don’t want to be behind looking at them. I want to be one of the first in the Valley, if not the first county in California, that opens,” said Vander Poel.
But by the end of Agency Director of the Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA), Tim Lutz’, presentation on COVID-19, the supervisors did not vote to call an emergency meeting.
Lutz and the Tulare County supervisors are taking a different path concerning reopening the economy than how Kings County is proceeding.
Lutz said that HHSA was actively requesting clarification from the state, but that it was his opinion that phase I of Stage 2 would happen automatically without any action from the county. Two supervisors who attended an emergency meeting Monday after the governor’s press conference came to the same conclusion.
Kings County is taking no chances though and is pushing through to the second phase of Stage 2 in reopening by sending its attestation to the state Friday afternoon.
The second phase of reopening includes dine-in restaurants, malls, schools and offices that cannot telecommute. A county cannot proceed to this stage without proving it complies with six metrics provided by the state.
According to Lutz’ May 5 presentation to the supervisors, Tulare County may not qualify.
“Hospitalization numbers look really good where case numbers look really bad,” said Lutz.
“Our plan at this point was not to submit any attestation until we have a firm grasp of the metrics and then come back and discuss where we are at. We know we do not have the adequate contact tracing measures in place and we need to expand our testing capacity.
Lutz said that the county needs to meet those metrics before expanding into phase 2.
On the other hand, Hill says that Kings County meets all six of the states metrics in order to qualify for phase 2.
Tulare County has been experiencing a spike in COVID – 19 cases over the last two weeks. “We were on a downward trend,” said Lutz,” but then we spiked.”
At press time Tulare County has reported 916 cases of COVID-19. That is slightly higher than the per capita rate of San Francisco County.
Kings County has 211 cases reported by the county’s Department of Public Health, of which 138 are connected to Central Valley Meat Company. The source of the infections was quickly discovered through Kings County’s contact tracing.
Cities versus Counties
The Visalia City Council came close at its regularly scheduled Monday night meeting, under the suggestion by Council Member Brian Poochigian, to defy the governor’s order and reopen the city’s businesses on Tuesday. Kenneth Richardson, Visalia’s City Attorney, quickly put a halt to the motion. “I would avoid a formal motion that contradicts the state.”
The stay-at-home order is state law and cities and private businesses that don’t comply are exposing themselves to litigation.
In addition, under Newsom’s order cities do not have the authority to reopen. That responsibility is firmly under the auspices of the county public health department.
Hanford City Council and the Kings County Supervisors have been working together on re-opening the economy and supports Hill writing up the attestation. Hanford City manager has been directed to craft a letter asking Hill to push for reopening salons and barber shops among other considerations the city needs.
Hanford City Council has scheduled an emergency meeting Friday at 5:30pm to review the Kings County Board of Supervisors final attestation and the state’s response. A late Friday afternoon opening of most retail businesses in Hanford is expected.
Visalia City Council has also called an emergency meeting Thursday at 5:30pm, presumably to discuss Newsom’s press conference scheduled for earlier that day.
The agenda item reads:
“Discussion and potential action regarding City of Visalia operations, programs, projects, actions, and communications in any way related to the COVID-19 pandemic situation and its impacts on the Visalia community. (This agenda item is intended to allow discussion, deliberation, and potential action on a broad range of matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications and recovery actions.)”