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Ventura County Executive Officer Michael Powers. (Courtesy photo)
Thursday, May 21, 2020

By Chris Frost


Ventura-- The Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved its plan to move into an accelerated stage 2 for reopening the county.


The move comes right before Memorial Day Weekend as Governor Gavin Newsome changed some of the guidelines that larger cities have struggled to achieve.


The county needs to send the request to Sacramento for approval but still needs some guidance to make sure everything runs well.


Ventura County is currently in stage 2 of the resilience roadmap, which allows lower risk workplaces to adapt and reopen. 


The expanded stage 2 program will allow dine-in restaurants (not including other amenities like bars or gaming areas), which are not permitted in stage 2. 


It will also allow destination retail (retail stores) along with malls, swap meets, and schools with limitations. 


Ventura County Executive Officer Michael Powers said he attributed the item to the work of the community, local businesses, and public health leadership, as they continue to follow the stay well at home orders.


The county can gain a regional variation to move through stage 2 quickly if it meets the readiness criteria.


"We met most of these criteria, but there are a few that are at a high bar level that only rural counties can meet, and that's what happened," he said. "Approximately 24 of those smaller counties did get approved to move through stage 2 quickly."


The county is preparing an application for verification of the criteria so it can get a variation, he said, so Ventura County can continue to move forward.


On May 18, Governor Gavin Newsome said he is changing the criteria, so counties like Ventura that may have a hard time meeting the criteria can do so. This change gives the county the ability to pivot and move forward. 


"The business community has been such great partners and made such a great sacrifice and followed the orders," he said. "They come to the table in the spirit of compliance. They want to protect their workforce employees and customers, and they have wonderful ideas about how to do that."


In stage 2, Powers said the county has moved into curbside retail, manufacturers logistics, and office businesses, car washes, pet grooming, landscaping, outdoor museums, and open galleries.


"What we understand is curbside retail is better than being closed," he said. "It puts them at a disadvantage to big-box retail or online retailers."  


The county will send the approved attestation to the state right away.


"We've had a lot of good talks with the state," Powers said. "We're really dialed in on what's needed and what they'd like to see here, locally.


Businesses that want to reopen must register and have all the requirements in place to open their doors, but they don't require an inspection. The county will have an ambassador program to check-in and make sure everything is okay. 


As of May 19, 2,386 businesses have registered," he said. "Reopening is happening, and we're excited to see that. We are asking essential businesses that are already open to register. That is important because by industry practicing some physical distancing standards have been developed."


Chairman of the Board Kelly Long said county residents want to open as much as the supervisors want it to happen.


"On our Sunday night call, we talked about faith-based offices, our Recreational Vehicle Parks, youth sports, as that comes with the camps, and also the schools," she said. "What are those regulations? The beaches, with the parking, what are the regulations for opening them up, and going to the beach and actually sitting and enjoying lunch?"


Dental was just put in, along with gyms, and hairdressers.


She wants to reinforce the fact that the supervisors are having those conversations.


"How can we get those open as quickly as possible," she said. "What are the procedures? We know that Memorial Day weekend is coming; however, that doesn't mean that we don't socially distance. We have questions about when do these open? Is it in a day, is it in a week? We're working with the state on those."


Supervisor Steve Bennett asked Powers to review where the religious communities sit, as far as reopening and what is and isn't allowed.


Long interjected that they are getting information about the churches, and once they receive that information, they'll get it out to the public.


"It's the amount of people that are being brought together," she said.


Powers said the governor would have new guidance on that in the next couple of weeks.


"It's still streaming services and limited to no more than 10 people," he said. "Counseling services can be open."


Supervisor John Zaragoza said he's getting a lot of calls about opening hairdressers, barbershops and nail salons.


Powers said he recognizes the need to open cosmetology-related businesses.


"We were on a call with the state and talking about these very issues and raising them, as they are important to be reopened," he said.  


Newsome told the supervisors that stage 2 does not allow those businesses, but he hopes to provide more guidance in the next couple of weeks.


Supervisor Linda Parks said it's terrific that Ventura County has met the thresholds that allow them to do the attestations for an expanded stage 2.


"A lot of that has to do with the good procedures we have in place," Parks said. "Some are being modeled elsewhere. I see now that all retail is available to our constituents. I see some big steps here. One of the things the governor mentioned was shopping malls, so it allows for a significant opening of our economy. We don't want more people to end up in the food lines."


Supervisor Bob Huber appreciates seeing more things open for residents to be out and active.


"One of those things is to be active at the beach," he said. "I have voiced before that you can control the crowds and open up some of the spaces for beach parking. Maybe you can allow parking on half or a third of the spaces. Each space will create a situation where people aren't able to use the beach at all. My understanding is that preventing people from parking at the beach does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. On a practical level, prohibiting disabled people from parking at the beach is discriminating."


Long appreciates the comments made by the supervisors, and she wants people to resume their lives, return to work, and be safe.


"I think local control is extremely important for us," she said. "We can adapt better. Thank you to everyone whose been on those calls and supporting our community."


Public Health Director Rigo Vargas said 12 people have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus on May 19.


"We are also reporting the 453 new residents have been tested," he said. "They are not positive, but they have been tested. We are increasing our testing capacity."


He also reported four deaths, which bring the Ventura County total to 29 people.


"Yesterday, we reported that we had 26 COVID-positive people in the hospital," he said. "Those are people who hopefully will get out of the hospital, but it is a serious health condition."


The state changed the Epidemiologic Data, and the county fully meets the requirements to move into accelerated stage two.


"You can have either a less than 5 percent increase of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the last seven days or no more than 20 patients in the hospital," he said.  "We meet the first one, and I am happy to report that in our hospitals we are showing a 3.5 percent decrease in our numbers. As long as we show no more than a 5 percent increase, we will be able to move forward."


The county is also meeting the less than 25 people per 100,000 people testing positive for the virus in the last week.  The current total is 16.6 people per 100,000.


"We're meeting both metrics," Vargas said. 


Protecting essential workers and vulnerable populations, he said, and the county issued social distancing protocols.


"All businesses need to assess, train and monitor all their mitigation plans to make sure there is social distancing, health, and safety plans at each one of these sites, " he said. "We also are requiring all businesses to post a COVID-19 compliance number in a visible place and have a person identified that we be responsible for any complaints and concerns."


To register your business to reopen, go to vcreopens.com.