That didn’t take long.
Just days after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared the state of California was entering the beginning of stage two of the reopening of nonessential businesses, counties throughout the state began to petition for variances to take opening a step further. El Dorado, Nevada, and Placer counties all gained approval to proceed into the latter phase of stage two; reopening 2.2 if you will.
With its formal paperwork submitted to the state May 9, just two days after Newsom announced that California as a whole would enter stage two, El Dorado became the first of two counties statewide permitted to progress to a more advanced phase of stage two. To date, 20 counties have received such approval.
“It’s a good day for El Dorado County, its residents, and its economy,” board of supervisors chair Brian Veerkamp said in a press release. “We’re very happy for our business owners, their employees, and patrons that we are in the front of the state’s approval line so they can reestablish their livelihood and return to some semblance of normalcy.”
The former part of Newsom’s directive, announced May 7, paved the way for the reopening of some retail entities to operate with curbside pickup and delivery only, something many local businesses had all along been doing on the down-low anyway as a means to try to maintain some flow of income. The approval for this group of counties to enter the latter part of stage two relaxes restrictions in retail, as and permits the reopening of some childcare facilities, lower-risk offices, limited hospitality, some personal services, and dining in at restaurants.
Hair and nail salons, fitness centers, tattoo parlors, bars, gaming areas, public swimming pools, and playgrounds among other closer contact-type facilities are not to open until phase 3. The opening of smaller group gathering sites like movie theaters and religious gatherings, will also be part of stage 3, while stage 4 will open up large gathering sites like stadiums, arenas, concert halls, and convention centers. High-risk individuals are encouraged to stay home until all restrictions have been lifted.
“We are fortunate that we met the criteria to advance through stage two and can now allow for certain businesses to open sooner than they would if they had to move at the pace of the state as a whole, but this should not be viewed as an indication that we are now risk-free,” said Jill Blake, Nevada County public health director. “In fact, there is a greater responsibility on businesses and customers to work to reduce the risk of disease transmission as we reopen stage two businesses in Nevada County.”
Residents are reminded that the state’s stay-at-home mandate remains in effect. Social distancing, personal hygiene precautions, and the wearing of face masks when in public spaces continue to be strongly advised.
Kevin Drake is a proud optimist, looking forward to the day his customers at Alibi Ale Works can sit outside and relish in the “pure enjoyment of drinking a beer outside.” Fortunately for Alibi fans, that day will arrive sooner than later, as the Incline location opened for in-house dining last Friday and outdoor dining scheduled to open this week.
As is required of food and drink establishments in stage 2, Alibi opened with a limited number of tables — about half of the norm — and has plans to adhere to strict social-distancing and sanitizing guidelines. So while Alibi is reopening with fewer tables, Drake is having to hire more staff to oversee these measures. He’s now created the position of full-time sanitizer. And despite less revenue coming in, he does not foresee the cost of labor following suit. Labor, in fact, is the reason the Truckee location did not open in line with Incline, although he noted that the Truckee Public House is set to open in the coming week with approval pending for an outdoor beer garden there as well.
“We’re competing with unemployment,” said Drake, explaining that he could not get enough employees to come back to work because with the additional $600 per week in unemployment from the federal government, many people are making more money collecting than if they were working. “I never expected to be competing against the government, but here we are.”
Drake said that throughout the closure, the community has been nothing short of supportive, demonstrating such through ordering takeout. Despite opening for in-house dining, Alibi will continue to offer takeout at all locations, from noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays, with the dining room open until 9 p.m.
“We appreciate the community rolling with us as we reinvent our business model,” he added.
In Tahoe City, Pineapple gift shop owner Tammy Werntz isn’t quite sure just yet how reopening is going to work for her.
“Pineapple is a touch and feel store,” she said, explaining that people want to pick up items like candles and hold them up and take in their fragrance. “I have no idea how to operate.”
Like others in the retail and food service industries, Wentz figures she’ll learn what does and does not work as things progress. With a retail space that is a mere 15 feet long, enforcing social distancing seems a bit daunting.
Throughout the nonessential business closure, Pineapple joined other stores in the Cobblestone Center in offering curbside pickup for customers who had specific requests.
“I am not a curbside pickup as I do not have an online store, but if someone needed or requested something specific, I was able to provide,” Werntz said.
She recently had a customer from the Bay Area call seeking to purchase gift baskets of personal care items for some of her employees. The woman told Werntz that she wanted to support local business and that was why she opted to call one of her favorite stores in the area.
“No one can stay in business doing curbside pickup,” she said. “Especially when you’re on Main Street America.”
Werntz did open the doors for a limited time on Mother’s Day weekend but there wasn’t much in the way of people out looking to shop.
“[I] somewhat feel like I am starting all over, not knowing what to expect,” she said, explaining that although she plans to reopen in time for Memorial Day weekend, the uncertainty is daunting. “It’s hard as summer is our busy season and there is so much unknown. Until people feel comfortable [going out in public], retail won’t come back.”
With the opening of businesses that were recently considered nonessential, it means more people are going to be needing care for their children as they return to work. Fortunately for them, going deeper into stage two also means that childcare facilities may reopen, albeit with restrictions on the number of children per teacher and, of course, mighty strict sanitizing and hygiene guidelines, including face masks for workers.
Truckee-Donner Recreation and Parks Department staff members were hard at work at the Community Recreation Center Friday morning, prepping classrooms for the return of their little charges. Under the current guidelines, TDRPD may run the Grasshopper and Butterfly preschool programs as well as a childcare program for school-age children in kindergarten through fifth grade because they were fortunate enough to already have in place a pop-up waiver from the state, which allows them to start up emergency childcare provisions.
State licensing approval was granted earlier Friday, enabling the preschool to be up and running today, with the Grasshoppers, for children age 2 through younger 3-year-olds, and Butterflies, older 3- and 4-year-olds, split among three separate rooms at the Community Recreation Center at a student-teacher ratio of 9 to 1, lower than the state-mandated ratio. Care for school-age children through grade 5 will be held at the Community Arts Center in downtown Truckee. Register online at tdrpd.org.
“We’re able to open safely,” said preschool director Kristin Henry, who has gone into the classroom several days a week to hold livestream singalongs and story readings for the little ones since their school was abruptly closed in late March.
According to Henry, both facilities will have extra teachers on hand to cover break times and assist with extra sanitizing measures throughout the day. Use of playgrounds — which will remain closed to the public — will be on a rotating basis with structures and equipment disinfected between groups.
“At heart, it’s about enrichment, recreation, and development of the kids,” TDRPD director Sven Leff said of the district’s preschool program. “But we know we also fill a childcare role in the community for working parents. It’s more than a warm body watching a kid.”
Leff said the district has worked hard to meet and maintain health requirements set forth by the state and will continue to let the programs grow in numbers and offerings as permitted. “We’ve been working our tails off to mitigate the risk,” he said.
Since this would normally be a time for programs to be winding down in number as the school year draws to a close, it is a good opportunity to use this period to fine-tune protocols and learn which systems work and which do not. It’s like the preseason run before summer programming really kicks into gear. Summer camps are full-speed-ahead at this time, although they will start off with fewer campers. Trudaca, for instance, which is open for kids entering first through fifth grades as well as those who this year were in transitional kindergarten, will have 45 kids per day rather than the usual 70. If things continue to follow in a positive trend, the number will be increased throughout the season.
Leff said the response to the reopening of the golf course and boat launch was enthusiastic, which portends what might happen with the opening of locations or events that would entice larger groups. This is why three-quarters of the department’s facilities and programs remain closed.
“It’s the quantity of people that would show up to an attraction,” he said. “Chances are, summer is going to be [continued] small group activities.”
Thus it’s unlikely that residents will see the opening of amenities like the Aquatics Center, fitness facilities, and West End Beach at Donner Lake. Another sure bet is that athletic sports will remain a no-no. As such, there will be no AYSO soccer camps this year.
Leff reassured parents hesitant to sign-up for summer and other programs that if the offerings are canceled on account of any future mandated closures that they will receive a full refund or opt for a full credit, particularly in the case that a child begins showing coronavirus symptoms.
“We’re not going to do a money grab for something people can’t control,” he said. “We are sensitive to [people’s] personal fears when it comes to being comfortable with risk.”