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Officials Have No Timeline to Reopen Businesses
4:13 Fitness Center co-owner Terry "Deuce" Robertson (far right) pleads with members of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors to allow his business to re-open during public comments of the board meeting April 28. Supervisors Ryan Kelley (from left) and Luis Plancarte, board chairperson, listen in person as the rest of the board listens from home over teleconference. | COURTESY PHOTO

Local, State Officials Have No Timeline to Reopen Businesses

IMPERIAL COUNTY — Despite last week’s announcement from Imperial County to reopen outdoor recreational areas for limited use, Dr. Stephen Munday, Imperial County Public Health Officer, said he has no timeline for lifting all social-distancing restrictions.

Nor is there a timeline for easing up on restrictions that would allow businesses to fully re-open.

“There is no timeline. There are the beginnings of a plan at the federal and state government level to put something out. I was on a call with state deputies last week on ways of how to move forward. We discussed the types of things we need to evaluate and measure regarding these decisions. Decisions will need to be made at local and regional levels,” Munday said during a telephone press conference April 27.

No official date has been set by the state to reopen all businesses. In a press conference April 22, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “I wish I could prescribe a specific date to say, well, we can turn up the light switch and go back to normalcy. We have tried to make it crystal clear that there is no light switch. And there is no date in terms of our capacity to provide the kind of clarity that I know so many of you demand and deserve.”

Meanwhile, Terry “Deuce” Robertson, one of the owners of 4:13 Fitness, which is deemed a nonessential business, made a desperate plea to reopen when he addressed the Imperial County Board of Supervisors during its April 28 meeting.

Robertson asked board members not to look at his business as a gym; rather, as a physical and mental health aid when deciding whether his business should be allowed to reopen.

“Never did we thought this would be a day we would have to fight to reopen a health and fitness facility,” Robertson told the county board.

Robertson held up a chart comparing his 25,000-square-foot facility to Johnny’s Burritos’ 2,000-square-foot location in Imperial.

“Johnny’s has a capacity to have 10 customers (to pick up food) plus all of its cooks and employees. 4:13 Fitness allows greater social distancing than Johnny’s when it has less than 50 customers,” he said.

Johnny’s announced via its Facebook pages that it would re-open its three locations April 29, although its dining rooms would not be part of that opening, the same as all essential businesses that serve food.

Robertson next played a professionally filmed promo video to persuade board members to allow him to reopen his gym.

Board members did not comment after the presentation because it was part of the public comments portion of the meeting.

On April 27, Munday loosely outlined the plan to fully reopen society. Opening parks would be the first phase, with essential and non-essential businesses opening during the second phase, and ultimately, allowing public gatherings to resume as the third and final phase.

“In general, it will look how I described it. Mass gatherings will be the last things to come on board. When stadiums reopen, they will have fewer people or people wearing face coverings in between all that. There will be an attempt to get everyone back to every job not just non-essential ones,” Munday said.

The public health officer recognized the factors that could influence any proposed timeline are numerous.

“The way we will measure it is the way we are looking at the outbreak, whether we see more people in the community who have contracted the virus, rises in numbers and our ability to protect people. We will be paying close attention to COVID cases among nurses, jails and the elderly. We have got to be prepared to protect them as we move forward. We will be working with our partners, government, the (county) Board of Supervisors, community members and employers to figure out the best way forward,” Munday said.

The tail seems to be wagging the dog within the state of California’s restraints, as Munday explained:

“The way this has been rolled out to us is that the governor will set the ball in motion, but the actual decisions and the pace to do it at will be made at local and regional levels.”

Meanwhile, Luis Plancarte, chairman of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, explained why parks were the first places to open with limited use.

“At parks you can clearly practice social distancing while having the benefits of both physical and mental health. … Parks allow you to be separated.”

Imperial County officials have taken steps to involve local businesses in the conversation of how and when to open, including those in the nonprofits and religious sectors, service organizations, schools, colleges, chambers of commers, cities and special districts, such as water districts and sanitation districts, Plancarte said.

“All of them will be coming into the fold as we decide how to open what to do next,” he added.

Plancarte said business owners interested in being a part of the conversation can contact the county.

Meanwhile, the Brawley Chamber of Commerce, El Centro Chamber of Commerce, Imperial Valley Joint Chambers of Commerce, Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp., the Imperial Valley Small Business Development Center and Imperial County Workforce and Economic Development have joined forces to create the Imperial Valley Business Recovery Task Force to assist local businesses struggling with the mandated closures.

“With a cross-section of local partners, we are supporting efforts to understand the impact of COVID-19 closures and respond quickly with programs, resources and policy shifts,” Brawley chamber Executive Director Katie Luna said.

The task force hosts webinars to educate business owners, Luna explained.

“We have had our webinars viewed over 4,500 times collectively. We are providing information for how businesses can absorb the impact that COVID-19 is having on our local economy. Topics include, ‘How to Attain Federal Relief,’ ‘Workforce Development Programs,’ ‘Non-profit funding,’ and ‘Family/Sick Leave.’”

Luna encouraged local business owners to take advantage of this new and evolving resource by visiting the I.V. Business Recovery Task Force website at www.ivbizrecovery.com, or by calling 442-253-0217.

This story is featured in the April 30, 2020 e-Edition.