Some Calaveras County businesses are scrambling to open their doors after new guidelines issued by the state have allowed restaurants, movie theatres and gyms to serve customers indoors at limited capacity.
California’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” was unveiled Friday to replace its previous COVID-19 reopening plan for businesses, the “Resilience Roadmap.”
According to county Economic and Community Development Director Kathryn Gallino, the new plan is much more detailed in its categorization of industries and, for the most part, will be good news for some long-shuttered businesses that have been chomping at the bit to reopen.
However, the largest source of confusion with the Blueprint has been capacity restrictions within restaurants, gyms, movie theatres and even grocery stores, Gallino said.
With 41 active COVID-19 cases and a positivity rate of 3.2%, Calaveras County has been classified in the “Substantial” Tier 2 of the Blueprint, second only in severity to the “Widespread” Tier 1. In Tier 2, indoor dining, movie theaters, and churches may reopen at 25% capacity, while gyms and fitness centers may operate at 10% capacity and personal care services may operate with safety modifications.
Grocery stores, which have remained open during the pandemic, must also limit their capacity to 50% in Tier 2, along with retail stores.
Among the seven other counties currently in Tier 2 are El Dorado, Napa and San Diego, while the majority of counties have been classified as Tier 1, including Amador. However, Tuolumne County has been classified as Tier 3, allowing less restrictions on capacity, the reopening of outdoor bars, and the addition of other indoor activities such as bowling.
Prior to the new Blueprint, Calaveras County was categorized in Stage 3 of the state’s reopening process, which prohibited now-permitted activities including indoor dining and theatergoing. Under that system, the county was also placed on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list for several days in August, shutting down hair and nail salons, churches, gyms and other indoor venues.
Now, each county must remain in its tier for three weeks before moving into a less restrictive tier, in a system that has been described as “stringent and slow” by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Metrics for determining tiers rely heavily on testing positivity, which must stay between 5 to 8% of the total tested population on average for a county to remain in Tier 2.
Current Calaveras County data show a positivity rate below that required for Tier 2. However, Health Officer Dean Kelaita, MD, on Tuesday warned residents that if the county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned to the more restrictive Tier 1, which prohibits indoor dining, movie theaters and some other indoor activities permitted in Tier 2.
For Dustin Ybarra, co-owner of Mike’s Pizza in Angels Camp, the reopening of his indoor dining space for Labor Day weekend will be a welcome boost to his business, which has managed to get through the pandemic thus far on a delivery and pickup-only model.
“Luckily, pizza is one of the things where getting it to-go or delivered is something we’ve been doing for years,” Ybarra said, though the loss of children’s birthday parties and other diners at the popular venue has put a dent in profits.
In preparation for the weekend, Ybarra and his son removed some tables and chairs from the restaurant, which must now seat no more than 35 people at a time to remain at 25% capacity.
Co-owner of El Mezcal Restaurant in San Andreas Rodrigo Gomez is also looking forward to welcoming in diners after the whiplash of ceasing and restarting seated service multiple times during the pandemic.
“Business has been kind of down without people dining in. We’re excited to get people in,” Gomez said. “A lot of people ask if they can sit, and they can’t.”
Gomez said he isn’t too concerned about the capacity rule, which will allow no more than 12 people seated at a time in his restaurant.
“If that’s the only people we can do, that’s fine,” he said. “Little by little.”
Gallino is also optimistic that the county is “moving toward” the “Moderate” Tier 3 category.
However, she has concerns about local grocery stores and retailers having to control their traffic and restrict capacity to 50%.
“I’ve never seen a restriction on the number of people in a grocery store,” said Gallino, who added that she was going to seek clarification from the state.
On Friday at 2 p.m., Gallino will be participating in a live, virtual roundtable discussion with the county’s Chamber of Commerce, Public Health, the Health and Human Services Agency and the Environmental Management Agency to answer questions about the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
The discussion will be recorded for later viewing dates. Follow this link to participate.