Tulare County supervisors voted to broadly reopen businesses on Tuesday, far exceeding COVID-19 guidelines authorized by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The action came as the county’s health department reported more than 100 new coronavirus cases and 4 new deaths.
The 3-2 decision gives almost all local businesses and organizations in the county a green light to open, including dine-in restaurants, churches, hair and nail salons, movie theaters and shopping malls. Under Supervisor Dennis Townsend’s motion, the board decreed that Tulare County is now fully into Stage 3 of Newsom’s four-stage reopening plan, the Visalia Times-Delta reported.
The board’s chief of staff said the action is “effective immediately.”
State Sends County a Warning Letter
State officials sent a letter to Tulare County Administrative Officer Jason Britt after the vote on Tuesday saying the “county’s actions could threaten Tulare County’s eligibility for disaster funding,”
The letter continued: “If Tulare County believes there is no emergency, such that it can ignore the Governor’s Executive Orders or the State Public Health Officer’s directives, the county would not be able to demonstrate that it was extraordinarily and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. This could jeopardize its disaster funding.”
Decision Lifts Almost All Restrictions
Only large scale live attendance events such as concerts, conventions and ticketed sports events are excluded from the state’s Stage 3 framework.
Supervisors Amy Shuklian and Eddie Valero voted against the motion, expressing concern about the legality of the move and possible consequences from the state.
But Chairman Pete Vander Poel said it was “frustrating” that Newsom referenced Tulare County in his live briefing Monday, as a county that would likely need to reopen more slowly. The governor said large COVID-19 outbreaks at multiple nursing homes in Tulare County were among the factors. Newsom also referenced COVID-19 clusters at meatpacking facilities in Kings County.
“I don’t want to be a county or one of the two counties that the governor can actually mention in a press conference as being one that’s going to be restricted,” Vander Poel said Tuesday, according to the Times-Delta.
Tulare County Sheriff Joins Anti-Enforcement Group
Earlier this week, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said on Twitter that his department will not take action against anyone violating COVID-19 orders. Boudreaux specifically referenced in-person church services, which are listed as resuming under Stage 3 of Newsom’s plan because of higher person-to-person transmission risks.
“I received a call from a Church goer asking if they could hold services,” said Boudreaux. “As Sheriff I will not enforce stay at home orders. I explained the importance of a good social distancing plan which they agreed. MJ stores open but churches closed don’t add up. Enjoy your first amendment.”
I received a call from a Church goer asking if they could hold services. As Sheriff I will not enforce stay at home orders. I explained the importance of a good social distancing plan which they agreed. MJ stores open but churches closed don’t add up. Enjoy your first amendment.
— Mike Boudreaux (@MikeBoudreaux4) May 17, 2020
County Sees Triple-Digit Jump in Cases Tuesday
Tulare County has reported 1,539 total COVID-19 cases and 71 deaths since the pandemic began. Many of the fatalities have been associated with the nursing home outbreaks in Visalia, Porterville and Lindsay. The county health department says 1,022 people are currently under self-quarantine as a result of coronavirus infections.
Tuesday’s jump in cases was one of the county’s largest single-day increases.
Merced County Moves to Ease Lockdown, Also
Merced County also appears poised to move forward with lifting lockdown restrictions on restaurants and other businesses while keeping social distancing in place.
The county’s health department sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s team saying the county meets the state’s less-strict guidelines, which were announced Monday.
“Every business is essential, every business is providing food for the table not just for the owners but the employees as well,” Supervisor Daron McDaniel said during Tuesday’s board meeting.