Experts, owners question California business shutdown policy  <font color="#6f6f6f">Desert Sun</font>

Coronavirus cases surge in California, rising 44% since last week

Second surge:As COVID-19 cases rise, more of California shuts down

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said officials are painfully aware of the harm to businesses and plan to emphasize the plight of the local economy as they plead with pandemic-fatigued individuals to continue safe practices like wearing masks, washing hands and physically distancing.

“Collectively if we do those simple things and we do them well, that many of the businesses that are at risk of returning to lower levels of occupancy or closure may have a chance to stay open,” Ghaly said.

This week, researchers from Stanford and Northwestern universities touted the benefits of occupancy caps after they used cellphone tracking of 98 million people to report that most infections happened at “super-spreader” sites including restaurants and fitness centers, because patrons are close together for longer periods. 

But not even all public health officials in the Bay Area see things similarly. Solano County public health officer Dr. Bela Matyas said the vast majority of cases have been traced back to casual gatherings.

“We’ve had no clusters we can attribute to restaurants, to gyms, to retail shopping, to any of those facilities,” Matyas said. “Because they have licensure on the line, they do a good job of enforcing social distancing.”

In San Diego County, the state’s second-most-populous, owners of four restaurants and gyms filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking an emergency injunction that would halt the order that they move their operations outdoors because the county’s virus numbers have moved them into the most restrictive tier. 

Sacramento County Health Services Director Dr. Peter Beilenson agrees that restaurants and gyms are not at fault and told Capital Public Radio that he wants state officials “to be a little more judicious and surgical on how they made their decisions.” 

Associations representing downtown Sacramento businesses sent Ghaly a letter making the same case. His office did not respond to questions about whether the state is reconsidering its guidelines.

Business organizations say it’s healthier to keep the economy open, crack down on bad actors and reward entrepreneurs who invest in equipment to reduce aerosols and droplets in the air that can spread the coronavirus. 

This is the third time Planet Fitness area director Layna Luchte will have to furlough some 150 employees at eight Sacramento County gyms that were forced to stop operating at 10% indoor capacity.

“There’s been nothing that says gyms are the problem,” she said. “We just want to know what can we do to stay open.” 

John’s Grill, a celebrated seafood and steak restaurant in downtown San Francisco, previously survived the 1918 flu epidemic, owner John Konstin Jr. noted as he prepared an outdoor space with heat lamps, roof and plexiglass.

He said he feels for fellow owners but plans to persevere.

“We’ve been through two pandemics in one lifetime of a restaurant. We plan to push through this one,” he said.