Sonoma County health officer set to fully reopen restaurants, stores for indoor shopping, churches by Saturday
Barring a spike in coronavirus cases or people needing hospital care for the highly contagious infectious disease, Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said Tuesday she plans to reopen a big portion of economic activity by Saturday.
Mase expects to allow the resumption of indoor dining at restaurants, wineries and brewpubs, in-store shopping at malls, and haircuts at barbershops and hair salons. Also, religious leaders will be able to again welcome people into churches, up to 100 at a time, for religious services.
She described the COVID-19 outbreak in the community as stable, and said if the situation holds steady the remainder of the week, she'd allow this critical portion of the county's vast services industry to fully reopen for the first time since her original stay-home order went into effect on March 18.
'If our epidemiology holds and we're still at 40 per 100,000 (residents) case rate and we don't see a big spike this week and we don't see a lot of hospitalizations and other negative outcomes, then we plan to open the things the state' gave the green light for restarting at the beginning of last week, Mase said during her daily press briefing.
The anticipated return of indoor restaurant dining was exactly the news Josh Silvers, owner of Jackson's Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square, was patiently waiting to hear. Silvers said even if it doesn't occur Saturday because of an unforeseen setback, he can start planning for full operations.
'I'm so happy that at least they're making a plan,' the restaurateur said. 'I'm super happy about this. I called my manager. … We're trying to get a meeting together tomorrow to plan how we go forward.'
Undoubtedly, Silvers's reaction on Tuesday speaks for many county operators of food and drinking establishments that have lost millions of dollars and shed tens of thousands of workers since having to close in early March at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak — save for some who kept offering takeout meals and beverages for customers.
Mase said the reopening of more businesses would bring Sonoma County in line with steps taken by other counties that are restarting quicker than the entire state. Two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom gave the go-ahead for more economic activities to resume, but Mase decided this county wasn't ready. County health officers statewide can keep public health restrictions more stringent than state rules, but not more relaxed. Sonoma County is one of many locales in California that sufficiently curtailed the risk of coronavirus so state health officials have allowed them to move faster, if ready, to reopen business and industry.
After Memorial Day, the health officer said she wanted to evaluate for two weeks the public health effects of the resumption of outdoor dining and drinking at restaurants, wineries and breweries, which began during the holiday weekend, to be sure people moving about more freely in public didn't lead to a spike in new virus cases. Also, when Mase hit the brakes for two weeks on allowing more economic activity, she expressed concern about a sharp increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases during the prior 14-day period, a cluster of recent workplace outbreaks and a handful of infected residents in serious condition at local hospitals.
Last week, The Press Democrat pressed Mase for details about the workplace outbreaks of the coronavirus. Over the ensuing few days, she revealed the outbreaks included an unnamed local winery where 14 workers tested positive, an unidentified water filtration plant and a group of farmworkers.
This week, the newspaper has continued pushing Mase to reveal more information about the workplace-related outbreaks, and she said Tuesday more details would be released on Wednesday. She did say workplace outbreaks amount to only 5% of the county's total cases of COVID-19.
Earlier Tuesday, Mase telegraphed her reopening intentions when she told Sonoma County supervisors local virus conditions have reached a 'plateau' and 'steady state.'
Still, businesses offering personal services, such as nail salons, tattoo parlors, and gyms, fitness or massage therapy studios, will remain closed. They would be in the group of business sectors next in line for reopening, but there's no definitive timetable for that.
Meanwhile, during her daily briefing, Mase again discussed the disproportionate effect the virus is having on the local Latino community. County data shows Latinos comprise 71% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, which dwarfs their 27% share of the local population. That disparity has worsened since three weeks ago when county health officials first started reporting an ethnic breakdown of COVID-19 cases and infections of Latinos were 59% of the county's overall cases.