As we head into the third month of sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is growing pressure for our County to reopen many economic and social sectors. Believe me, I hope we can restore as many businesses, services and other activities as possible – with new safety measures and protocols – in coming weeks and months.
Please join me from 6-7 p.m. June 3 for a telephone town-hall meeting to discuss the latest developments, including efforts to open up. My guests will be Sheriff Jim Hart and Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall, and there will be time for questions. Call 831-454-2222 and use passcode 570170 to join.
As a County Supervisor, I continue to support a cautious, balanced approach that puts public health first as we reduce restrictions, which I believe we can do without compromising our strong response to the novel coronavirus. We are far from winning the battle, and it will require a great deal more patience, cooperation and learning before we see the end of this.
Recent clusters of new cases in South County caused by large gatherings are a reminder how quickly the virus can spread when folks come into contact in ways that are either prohibited by the health order or are otherwise not safe. That said, people’s livelihoods, physical wellness and mental health are equally as important as reducing the risk of disease transmission – of which we have otherwise done an excellent job here – and now we have a path for opening up.
On May 26, Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel issued a new health order that allows for activities outlined in the State’s early Stage 2 process of recovery and prepares the County to follow future State action. The Order will allow office workspaces, in-store retail, religious services and cultural ceremonies, manufacturing, limited personal services, protests and outdoor museums to resume, though social distancing and face coverings requirements remain in effect.
Further, based on promising local data, Dr. Newel will ask the Board of Supervisors on June 2 to support her pursuit of a variance from the State to enter into late Stage 2 activities, such as opening dine-in restaurants, sooner than the State’s overall move to do so. Counties can only move as quickly as the State allows though State action is happening at an increasingly fast pace.
Understandably, many of you will have questions about how to interpret the changes in both the State and Local guidance. I encourage you to visit the State and County’s COVID-19 recovery websites to track the changes at covid19.ca.gov/roadmap/ and santacruzhealth.org/coronavirus.
A key part of our local recovery will be tourism. It is a vitally important part of our economy, but also can pose a public health threat when thousands of visitors come from other counties with higher infection rates – or even other states for that matter – to enjoy our coastline, forests and open spaces. It can also cause crowding, illegal parking and other enforcement challenges that tax our sheriff’s and police departments and rightly upset our residents.
Under Dr. Newel’s May 26 order, which expires July 1, beach closures will remain in effect from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., as are certain prohibitions on lodging. However, because we know visitors will still come, we must be diligent about following the guidelines we are all quite familiar with now, including staying home if you’re ill, maintaining a minimum six-feet of social distancing, wearing face coverings in public other than while recreating outside, and washing our hands thoroughly and often.
As always, I want to thank our community for persevering together through this unprecedented period, especially as we see some aspects of life reopening while others remain closed. Not to mention the cancelled community events, digital graduations and other modified social and recreational activities.
Please keep up to date on our local response and recovery by visiting the websites mentioned above, call 211 or text “COVID19” to 211211. Residents may also reach our COVID-19 Call Center at 831-454-4242 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., seven days a week.
Bruce McPherson is the Fifth District Supervisor for the County of Santa Cruz, including the San Lorenzo Valley and parts of the cities of Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley. McPherson previously served as California’s Secretary of State and two terms each in the California Assembly and Senate.