Kings County Declares Local Businesses Can Open If They Can Follow the State’s Health Guidelines

After receiving news that Kings County does not meet the criteria for California’s Stage 2 re-opening, the supervisors made a proclamation encouraging local businesses to open their doors.

At a special meeting called by the Kings County Supervisors on May 15 the vote was 4-0 to craft an official statement in support of local businesses opening if they feel they can do it safely.

Supervisor Richard Fagundes was not in attendance.

“We need to learn to live with it and not fear it,” said Supervisor Joe Neves. He said that this virus may be with us for 24 more months. “We need to give people their lives back.”

The meeting was held remotely so it wasn’t always clear which supervisor was speaking, but all were in favor of moving Kings County into Stage 2 even if the state didn’t agree.

Neves said, “I have tip-toed around this issue for eight weeks…I’ve had enough.” He said that he works for his constituents, not the state, and if residents are healthy and can follow the state’s guidelines, open up.

CAO Rebecca Campbell warned the supervisors that a blanket declaration to end the state’s shelter-in-place (SIL) order would expose the county to “excessive liability.”

Supervisor Doug Verboon said that Sutter and Yuba Counties did it without consequence, with which Campbell disagreed. She said both counties encountered problems with the state after declaring they were no longer following the SIL.

If businesses spend a significant amount of money complying with the state guidelines, such as purchasing protective equipment and disinfectant, they may sue the county if the state shows up and closes them down or takes away their license, said Campbell.

The same would be true if a resident patronized a business then acquired the infection, said Campbell.

Supervisor Richard Valle responded by saying that businesses are opening up today, regardless, and, “I don’t want to act like I don’t know what is going on.” He encouraged the supervisors to come up with something that would support local businesses opening while not exposing the county to litigation.

Frustration has boiled over while watching families and large groups of people shopping at Target, Costco, and Walmart without masks and going about their business as if there were no SIL order. The supervisors were angry, asking, “if 90% of the population was not following the rules then why were small businesses forced to follow them? A person working at a salon might see 20 people in a day, whereas a checkout clerk at Walmart might see that many in 20 minutes.”

While supportive of the proclamation, Valle said he didn’t want to see what happened in Wisconsin when that state’s Supreme Court struck down the state’s SIL order. Within an hour the bars of Wisconsin were packed shoulder to shoulder with patrons.

Valle reminded the residents of Kings County what they have been through with the shut down and to act responsibly so it does not happen again.

State Will not Accept County’s Attestation

The supervisors’ proclamation came in response to Public Health Director Ed Hill’s report that Kings County did not meet the state’s criteria for entering Stage 2, and probably would not qualify for a long time.

Hill said that, during a phone call with the state’s technical advisor on May 12, he was informed that the county did not meet the requirements, and, until it does, the attestation will not be accepted. Nevertheless, Hill recommended that the county vote to submit its attestation to demonstrate how it has met the other criteria and to lay the groundwork with the state for eventually re-opening.

He said that even though the document will not be accepted, the state has to give a written response to every attestation submitted.

At issue is the state’s first criteria, which says that a county can only have 15 new cases of COVID – 19 over a span of 14 days. Kings County has experienced a spike in cases well over that number, which is not expected to abate any time soon.

The second criteria is having only one death in the last 14 days. Kings County complied at the time of the meeting, but Hill said that could change any day given the fact that the county has 251 active cases. At press time one more resident has died of COVID – 19 making the total 2 deaths.

Dr. Milton Teske, health officer for Kings County, stated that the number of cases in Kings County are irrelevant. He said the number of hospitalizations should be the criteria and also if the county can handle a surge in patients. Teske said that there is no surge going on in Kings County, and even if there were the county can handle it.

Teske declared during the supervisors’ meeting on April 28 that, in his opinion, the county was ready to open up.

When asked what the science was behind the state’s number of 15 cases over two weeks, Teske said that the state merely picked a number to slow down the opening. A tech advisor told him that the number will change if the state wants to open faster.

The lack of science and inability to meet the state’s criteria did not sit well with the supervisors.

Valle lamented that the governor told counties that one size did not fit all and gave everyone hope. Verboon was angry that the governor kept moving the goal posts and said that Kings County might never meet the criteria until there is a vaccine.

Campbell concurred, saying that the state initially said each county could self-certify and that, “you submit it and we will post it,” referring to the attestation. Campbell said now the state “clearly has an approval process” that wasn’t apparent when the Newsom first announced moving into Stage 2.

State Senator Melissa Hurtado has suggested that Kings County work with Tulare County and Fresno County, both of which have experienced the same hurtles. The senator then said she would forward the joint request for a waiver of the criteria to State Senator Shannon Grove, who represents Kern County.

Kern County has also experienced a spike in infections mostly due to its prison and is working on a waiver of the first two criteria so the county can move forward.

Of the Central Valley Counties, only Mariposa has qualified to fully implement Stage 2. Nineteen of the 58 counties have met the criteria.

The vote was 4-0 to complete the attestation and send it to the state.

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