Brand: ‘We Will Be Opening up Businesses We Think Are Low Risk’
Fresno’s shelter-in-place order will extend through May 31, Mayor Lee Brand said Friday morning while also revealing plans for the phased reopening of closed businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the mayor said that residents will be required to wear masks while shopping and entering other public places.
“We clearly understand the health risks, but we also have an economy that is crashing around us. We will be opening up businesses we think are low risk.” — Fresno Mayor Lee Brand
“We have to protect the employees at the supermarkets and other places we shop,” Brand said during a Zoom news conference from his northeast Fresno home.
Brand also provided a few early details about reopening the economy.
“We are still navigating uncharted waters. I believe we have a safe and sensible process to rebuild our economy, get back to work and start restoring our normal lives,” Brand said.
The mayor said that he would have more announcements on business reopenings later Friday and the public could expect more announcements next week.
“We clearly understand the health risks, but we also have an economy that is crashing around us,” Brand said. “We will be opening up businesses we think are low risk.”
“The safety of everybody is in my hands. We have to have a balance between keeping us safe and helping our economy.”
In addition to the extension, Friday’s order directs the closing of all city parks, including Woodward and Roeding Regional Parks, for the weekends of May 9-10 (Mother’s Day) and May 23-25, 2020 (Memorial Day).
Plan to Reopen Business
Brand hopes his phased-in approach to reopening businesses will be a model for the state.
“I recognize that patience is running thin. People want to get back to work and businesses want to open their doors,” Brand said.
Brand’s plan will allow businesses to open in phases based on public health data. Lower-risk businesses will be considered first, based on social distancing measures and risk to the public.
Businesses will be invited to apply to be considered “authorized businesses,” a new category beyond essential and nonessential businesses. Brand said it will be done on a sector-by-sector basis.
Although Brand initially said businesses could apply to be considered, it turns out that step is not necessary. According to the language of the new emergency order, businesses will be considered by category to reopen.
Parameters will be set by the city’s emergency management team — headed by City Manager Wilma Quan — with consultation from the mayor’s Fresno Recovery Advisory Committee, city council, and public health experts.
One goal, Brand said, was to level the playing field between small retailers and big-box operations such as Costco and Target.
Retailers who want to reopen basically would have to follow the same rules as the big-box stores: social distancing of 6 feet, limiting customers, and abiding by the new mask requirement.
Brand said things may change based on conditions.
“If the indicators worsen, we may roll back things. If the indicators are proved, we’ll roll out the next phase of reopening,” Brand said. “This innovative phase process will over time bring back thousands of people to work, restore closed businesses, and start the economic rebuilding of our economy.”
Mandatory Masks Wearing
Brand’s order also requires masks to be worn while out in most public places, particularly shopping.
Some stores like Petco and Costco (starting Monday) mandate masks for customers.
“We want to protect the employees of the store as well as the people who go in the store, the customers,” Brand said.
It would not apply to activities such as walking the dog around the neighborhood or riding in a car.
Brand said he doesn’t anticipate anyone being ticketed for not wearing a mask, just customers wouldn’t be allowed in a store.
As far as those with medical complications such as respiratory issues where mask-wearing may not be recommended, Brand said they would take it on a case by case basis.
According to the posted order, “anyone with a medical condition that precludes wearing of a mask” are exempt.
Recreational Activities Could Expand
Brand said he would discuss with his team adding recreation such as golf and tennis to permitted activities.
Yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded his interpretation of allowable activities, including canoeing and hiking, as long as physical distancing is practiced.
“Those are all things we support to get people out of their houses, get some exercise, have some fun,” Brand said.
This Is Third Extension of Shelter-in-Place Orders
It is the third extension Brand ordered since first declaring a city-wide shelter-in-place that started March 19, three days after a coronavirus state of emergency.
The first shelter-in-place was set to expire March 31; it was extended through April 12, then through May 6. The Fresno order is on top of a state shelter-in-place order by Gov. Gavin Newsom starting March 19 and remains in place.
The order means that Fresnans are allowed to leave their homes for only essential needs, such as medical care or grocery shopping. Outdoor recreation is permitted, as long as physical distancing is practiced. The city has kept its parks open, although it shut down playgrounds and recreational equipment, as well as parking lots.
Businesses deemed essential will be allowed to remain open, while those nonessential businesses will remain closed.
Related Story: Bredefeld Calls for Reopening All Fresno Businesses
Brand Convenes Advisory Committee
Brand convened a Fresno Recovery Advisory Committee, made up of two dozen elected officials, business and health care leaders. The group has met at least twice, including Thursday.
One recommendation put into place was to allow pet grooming businesses to reopen.
Guidelines set by the state calls for four stages to reopen. The first stage is continued COVID-19 testing, and assure hospitals can handle a possible surge.
The second stage would allow “lower risk” workplaces to open such as curbside pickup for retail outlets, offices, and manufacturing jobs.
Stable hospitalization and ICU trends, meeting surge capacity demands, and sufficient personal protective equipment will need to be met in order to advance to Stage 2.
Stage three would allow “higher risk workplaces” such as hair salons, movie theater and other entertainment venues and gyms to open.
The final stage would be the end of the shelter-in-place order.
Calls to Open Up Business, Extend Shelter
Earlier this week, Councilman Garry Bredefeld and nearly two dozen business owners held a news conference demanding they be deemed essential.
Brand said Friday that Bredefeld’s criticism of his handling of the pandemic played no role in Friday’s announcement.
“We’ve been working on this for weeks,” the mayor said.
He was heavily critical of Brand and other leaders for shutting down certain businesses while allowing others to remain open. Bredefeld threatened a lawsuit, calling the practice unconstitutional.
Also this week, Councilman Nelson Esparza called for the order to be extended through May 31.
Related Story: Councilman Wants Fresno’s Shelter-in-Place Order Extended Through May
Read the New Shelter-in-Place Order
[Update, 5/01/2020: this story has been updated after a different interpretation of whether businesses have to apply to be considered to reopen was made. Language of the ordinance was released after Brand’s announcement, clarifying that applications are not needed.]