A defiant Kings County Board of Supervisors began its emergency meeting on May 8 with a call for defying the state, with some members calling for reopening businesses even if state COVID-19 requirements weren’t met. After airing their frustration, supervisors eventually told the county health officer to ask the state to issue variances on some of its requirements.
Later that afternoon, a more subdued Hanford City Council also called for a reopening and supporting the county’s efforts to get the state to change its mind.
Leading the charge during the supervisors’ meeting was Chairman Jim Verboon, District 3, who said the state was living under a “dictatorship” under Gov. Gavin Newsom. Verboon also called Newsom a “liar” and said the state “keeps changing the rules every two weeks.
“We’re not going to attain the (state’s) goal.” He also excoriated Newsom for predicting more COVID-19 deaths than will actually occur.
Business owners have been calling supervisors and city council members asking them to reopen.
“I have had enough,” said Verboon, adding, “it’s time to not listen to idiots in Sacramento.”
The “livelihood of our people in our community is number one to me,” said Verboon, whose district includes NAS Lemoore, the city of Lemoore and part of North Hanford. Verboon owns a shopping center in Lemoore and is a farmer.
Though Verboon was the most outspoken during the virtual meeting, other supervisors agreed with his position that the state’s requirements were unfair and hurting people economically.
“Before we go rogue here,” said Supervisors Richard Valle, District 2, (let’s) go after the (state) requirements for adjustment.” Valle represents Corcoran and Avenal.
Supervisor Craig Pedersen, District 4, said he could no longer support keeping businesses closed. He said the closure is causing a loss of lifetime businesses. “This needs to change rapidly,” he said. His district includes Southwest Hanford and Armona.
Sheriff David Robinson said his department has not done any enforcement regarding COVID-19 violations that would result in citations and arrest. Robinson said his deputies have educated the public on the virus and investigated price gouging. COVID-19 enforcement would be too much of a burden on his department and county counsel’s office, he said.
Ed Hill, county health department administrator, initially told supervisors that for the county to get to Stage 2 numerous state requirements would have to be met.
The county would have to have no more than 15 new COVID-19 cases per day for 14 days. Currently, Hill said, the number of new cases daily is in the 20-30 range.
In addition, there could be no COVID-19 deaths in the last 14 days. Kings County has had one death, on April 11. The number of total cases is 214 with 50 recovered, according to the health department’s web site.
The county would also have to certify to the state that it can test 225 people per day. This would have to be done one week prior to submission of the data to the state.
A new testing center just opened, and Hill said the county will be able to meet this requirement within a week. To date there have been 2,117 tests, not including those made by clinical providers. The county’s population is 152,940 so the number of tests done represents about 1.38% of the county’s population.
Another requirement is to have 15 staff per 100,000 people to trace people who have had contact with virus carriers. Hill indicated this can be met.
In addition, the county will have to prove that it has the availability of temporary housing for 15% of the county’s homeless population, which has also been met.
Similarly, the county can show that it meets the requirement that 35% of the hospital capacity is set aside for COVID-19 patients.
What hasn’t been met, said Hill, are requirements for timelines and contingency plans if cases increase after a partial reopening.
“The counties and cities have to agree,” Hill said. “It’s a big decision to take steps backward.”
The types of businesses that would reopen during the first stage of Stage 2 are clothing stores, bookstores, sporting goods stores, hobby stores, manufacturing facilities and warehouses. Retail businesses could only offer curbside pickup, said Hill.
During the discussion at the Kings County Board of Supervisors and Hanford City Council meetings no elected official raised the issue of how opening too soon might endanger the lives of many residents, particularly the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
The focal point of both elected bodies’ discussion was how stay at home orders were hurting local businesses.
A recent check of Hanford stores that are busy and open—such as SaveMart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Walmart— showed about 50% of the customers were not wearing masks.
During Visalia City Council’s emergency meeting on May 7, Council Member Greg Collins said that wearing a mask in public was a sign of respect for other people’s welfare.