State Lawmakers Want Proof of COVID Spread by Businesses. Restaurants Say Fight.
State lawmakers, backed by the restaurant industry, want Gov. Gavin Newsom to prove a connection between dining out and the spread of COVID-19 infections.
A restrictive stay-at-home order has been in effect since Monday covering the state’s designated San Joaquin Valley region. That includes restaurants that can no longer offer even outdoor dining, as had been allowed under the previous “color tier” system.
Three week stay-at-home orders are also in effect in the state’s Southern California and Greater Sacramento regions.
At downtown Fresno news conference on Friday, state Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) said he wants Newsom to show the data or ease up on closures.
“If they’re going to issue statewide orders to close businesses, then they must justify them with statewide data drawing a distinct connection between COVID-19 spread and the different industry sectors,” Borgeas said. “The administration is still unable to provide data to justify sweeping business closures.”
Nathan Ahle, president/CEO of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce said “if such data is not available, they need to revert to a tiered system.”
Borgeas: ‘State Does Not Have the Data’
Borgeas communicated with Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary, asking for the data.
“Dr. Ghaly … personally informed me that the state does not have the data and certainly does not have it in an aggregated fashion to understand transmission trends by industry sectors,” Borgeas said.
In response, Ghaly justified the order despite a lack of specific evidence.
“We have reached a point where COVID-19 is so widespread in California that just leaving the house is a risky behavior, which is why we adopted the Regional Stay at Home Order,” Ghaly told GV Wire℠ by email. “This is not about which sector is riskier than another sector, it’s about that fact that any mixing among households presents a risk of disease transmission.”
Newsom has frequently said COVID responses would be based on data and science. His office deferred to Ghaly for a reaction to Borgeas’ news conference.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) also participated in the news conference, and said restaurants are capable of opening safely.
“We are rejecting this haphazard, arbitrary, confusing, costly and destructive dictates. They’re not grounded in science and one size that fits all is hurting everybody,” Patterson said.
Restaurant Industry: Millions in Tax Revenue Lost
Chuck Van Fleet, a restaurant owner and president of the local chapter of the California Restaurant Association, says his industry contributes $977 million in tax revenue to the state. In Fresno County, he estimated there are 27,000 restaurant workers.
He said up to 30% of restaurants might never open again, as takeout and even outdoor dining isn’t enough to sustain them.
“Get up and fight. You have to fight to save your business,” Van Fleet said.
Van Fleet urged restaurants to be creative with takeout, delivery and branding.
This week, a judge in Los Angeles ruled in favor of restaurants there, blocking a county-level health order banning outdoor dining without first having conducted a risk-benefit analysis.
The decision was made somewhat moot by restrictions contained in California’s regional stay-at-home order, which superseded the county rule.
Van Fleet said his organization is considering filing a lawsuit challenging the statewide order.
Small Business Relief Bill Introduced
In the first week of the new state legislative session, Borgeas introduced the “Keep California Working Act” (SB 74) along with state Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas).
The bill would provide $2.6 billion in grants for small businesses affected by COVID-19.
The Fresno Republican said it was “absolutely essential to have bipartisan support.”
“Any consequential bill that is going to come out of a Republican needs to have bipartisan support or it’s just going to go nowhere,” Borgeas said.
Because SB 74 is considered an urgency bill, it could get out of committee and onto a floor vote much faster than other COVID relief bills, Borgeas said.