Restrictions on construction, real estate may be loosened as Sonoma County revamps stay-at-home order
As Sonoma County enters its sixth week of restrictions on public activity to slow the spread of the coronavirus, county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase faces a critical decision: How much will she relax the stay-home order that she has already signaled will be renewed before it expires Friday?
Various proposals were circulating last week through county offices, where Mase was widely expected to approve revisions that would restore some public access to local parks and allow a wider range of construction projects and real estate transactions to resume.
But the majority of restrictions will remain in place. The directive to stay home, apart from essential business or errands, and to wear masks in public settings will be extended to continue preventing the coronavirus from spreading widely within the community, Mase said.
She did not say how long these orders must stay in place but noted the state directive is indefinite and the county aims to align local rules with those set by California public health officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“We’re under an executive order from our governor,” Mase said. “Regardless of what happens, the governor needs to be the one to lift shelter-in-place.”
Local leaders have been urging Mase to ease restrictions where she can. Fielding a ––– barrage of concerns from residents, some county supervisors want Mase to allow some people to return to their jobs and businesses to resume operations in order to lessen some of the financial hardship falling on thousands.
Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt said he believes local businesses are highly motivated to institute new protective physical distancing measures in order to operate again, and the county should prioritize financial recovery over recreation in risk-benefit analyses.
“I’d err on the side of giving people the opportunity to earn a paycheck before getting the opportunity to get fresh air in a park, and that’s not saying that parks aren’t important,” Rabbitt said.
California’s sweeping isolation order supersedes any county public health rule, meaning local jurisdictions can add restrictions but cannot loosen them compared to the state’s order.
While the county is expected to allow access to local parks, it cannot open up Trione-Annadel, Armstrong Redwoods, Jack London or the Sonoma Coast among the 11 state parks closed to the public.
Sonoma County’s public health order puts greater limits than the state on some business sectors, such as only allowing construction for affordable housing projects or wildfire rebuilds. But Mase said that most businesses are closed due to the governor’s order “so there’s nothing we can do for over 95% of business facilities.”
Newsom announced the first iteration of the state’s stay-home rule on March 19, one day after Sonoma County’s first public health stay-home order went into effect and three days after six Bay Area counties became the first to shut down public life.
The directive has sharply limited commerce, closed schools and isolated millions from friends and family.
Epidemiologists have credited these measures for dramatically decreasing the spread of the novel coronavirus in California and so far preventing the type of devastating surge that has overwhelmed hospitals in places like New York City.
California and the virus
Since the first cases were detected in February, 1,562 Californians have died from complications of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, including two Sonoma County residents. More than 5,100 people have died from the respiratory disease in New York City alone.