Sonoma County extends stay-home order indefinitely, but eases some restrictions
Sonoma County health officials on Friday began peeling back local coronavirus restrictions, paving the way for more people to go back to work in areas such as construction, auto sales, landscaping and other outdoor businesses while maintaining key stay-home rules and bans on gatherings of any size.
The new directive, which becomes effective 12:01 a.m. Monday, when the current one expires, has no end date and aligns the county’s rules with California’s indefinite public health order. Both are aimed at continuing to slow the spread of the coronavirus and prevent a surge of seriously sick people from overwhelming hospitals.
Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, unveiled the changes during her daily Facebook Live address. She said the county was able to begin easing restrictions because of successful local compliance with public health measures.
“This loosening of restrictions in our new shelter-in-place order is possible because of the significant interruption of community transmission of the virus,” Mase said.
Under the new order, all kinds of construction will be allowed to resume, not just fire rebuilds or affordable housing projects permitted by the prior order. Real estate agencies, landscaping companies, car dealers, bike shops, florists, golf courses and pool cleaners will also be able to restore parts of their businesses.
But in easing restrictions and allowing some people to go back to work, new anti-coronavirus protocols will now be required, such as keeping strict social distancing, maintaining effective hygiene protocols and requiring protective gear.
“Nobody knows how this is going to go until we get the ball rolling and get people back to work,” said Boyd Stockham, owner of Stockham Construction, a big union metal stud and drywall taping company based in Cotati.
Stockham, who has nearly 600 employees, many of them temporarily laid off, applauded the loosening of restrictions on construction because it will hopefully let him get many workers back on the job in the coming weeks. He said that while there are likely to be added costs to all the safety precautions, the safety of his employees is his priority.
Sonoma County has all but quashed the spread of the virus within the community by keeping most people home and tracking all those who test positive for COVID-19. As of late Friday, tests had confirmed 248 cases in a county of a half-million residents. Of those, 128 have recovered and 118 were still active. Two people in the county have died from the disease. More than 6,000 tests have been conducted, 96% of which were negative.
Mase said the order was indefinite to allow officials who are “constantly reevaluating” the impact of shelter-in-place to make changes on the fly, such as if statewide rules suddenly change.
“If things are loosened up a lot more quickly, we’ll have to immediately modify the order to allow for the retail places to open, that sort of thing, and I’d rather not be locked in to a particular date,” she said. “It allows us to be a lot more flexible, either with tightening or loosening.”
Mase said the initial order had an end date because at that time no one knew how long the emergency would last. Now, she said, “We know it’s going to be with us a while, it doesn’t make sense to have end dates on orders.”
Allowing more construction projects to resume is expected to be the most significant of the changes because the industry directly employs more than 17,000 ?people in Sonoma County and fuels commerce with related sectors like supply warehouses and even gas stations.
In addition to construction, Mase eased restrictions on industries such as landscaping, tree and gardening work, home repair, real estate showings and retail sales at plant nurseries - which were supposed to be limited to food production or urgent repairs.
Golf courses can reopen. During her daily press briefing, Mase called golfing a “low-risk activity,” explaining that she allowed golf courses to reopen because they’re more conducive to social distancing than other activities, such as basketball.
Florists will be able to reopen for retail sales, just in time for the May 10 Mother’s Day crush. Auto dealerships and bicycle shops can now operate beyond maintenance and repairs and offer retail sales.
Faith-based organizations can provide food, shelter and services to the needy, but counseling and religious services must remain online. Real estate and rental viewings can move forward with stringent sanitation and distancing protocols, especially with occupied dwellings.
David and Erika Rendino, co-owners of Re/Max Marketplace in Cotati, welcomed the opportunity to show occupied homes, which represent a significant share of homes listed and sold each month. Erika Rendino said that because the virus continues to be transmitted, there’s still likely to be a good deal of anxiety. “We’re not going to be stampeding into homes left and right, we’re going to be very careful,” she said.