State approves county COVID-19 variance request

Terrance Vestal
Managing Editor

On the very day that the Inyo County Board of Supervisors signed off its letter attesting to the preparedness of the area to begin to slowly reopen, it received word of the state’s approval of the county plan.
Inyo County received approval from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to move forward with reopening additional businesses in Inyo County. With this approval, Inyo County businesses that have completed an industry-specific checklist and submitted the Inyo County Business Attestation Form may receive approval to reopen. Copies of the form can be found on the county’s Reopening Inyo Businesses webpage.
This means Inyo County has officially moved to phase two, Stage Two, of the governor’s four-stage recovery road map. 
 Provisions in the Stage Two early phases allow for the opening, with modifications, of curb-side retail, child care for those outside of the “essential workforce,” office-based businesses (telework remains strongly encouraged), select services, such as car washes, pet grooming and landscape gardening, outdoor museums and open gallery spaces, manufacturers and logistics and “essential” businesses specified in Stage One. With the state’s approval, shopping centers and dine-in restaurants would be allowed to re-open with health and safety modifications in place, such as the ability to maintain social distancing. Bars and gaming areas are not permitted. 
Those businesses not permitted to reopen under Stage Two include personal services such as nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and fitness studios, entertainment venues, such as movie theaters, gaming facilities, pro sports, indoor museums or gallery spaces, zoos and libraries. Also not permitted to open yet are hotels/lodging for leisure and tourism, commun~ centers, public pools, playgrounds, and picnic areas, hospitality services such as bars, nightclubs, wineries, tasting rooms and lounges, religious services and cultural ceremonies, concert venues and live- audience sports, festivals and theme parks
According to the Resilience Roadmap for the state of California, before reopening, all facilities must perform a detailed risk assessment and implement a site-specific protection plan; train employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19 (including how to screen themselves for symptoms and stay home if they have them); implement individual control measures and screenings; implement disinfecting protocols; and, implement physical distancing guidelines. 
All businesses that are currently operating, as well as businesses that are permitted to reopen, must certify that they have met the industry-specific reopening requirements by filling out the Inyo County Business Attestation form located at Reopening Inyo Businesses webpage. Industry checklists are also located on this webpage. The submitted Inyo County Business Attestation form will be reviewed within 24 hours. Businesses may open immediately after county approval.
Bishop City Administrator Ron Phillips stated Monday that the city is “here to help.”
“So if a restaurant abuts against a city-owned lot or property, call us and we’ll be happy to see if we can work out a temporary encroachment permit to allow for outdoor seating (so a business can increase its capacity beyond the reduced indoor capacity).” Phillips stated. “As we know, the time lag to see the effect of our actions is two weeks to determine if these safety precautions are effective. So, let’s make sure we do it responsibly, keeping to health orders, so we can minimize any sort of relapse in our case load which would set us back on our path to re-open.”
Tawni Thomson, executive director for the Bishop Area chamber of Commerce, said Monday said her organization is happy Inyo County has obtained the state’s permission to move through Stage 2 at a pace that fits the local situation.
“We’re also very grateful to Inyo County Administration and Public Health departments for their hard work,” Thomson said.
She said Inyo County’s Reopening Business website is a terrific tool that clearly spells out the requirement for each sector.
“Now, all businesses and patrons need to do their part to ensure safety as we move through the reopening process and on to economic recovery,” Thomson said. “Shoppers should be patient with businesses as they implement new procedures to keep everyone safe and healthy. People may not love wearing the face coverings, keeping physical distance and it might take a little longer to make your purchase, but it’s worth it to keep our businesses open.”
Kathleen New, executive director of the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, said her members think that reopening in Stage Two makes sense in Lone Pine.
“We have lots of room for distancing, sunshine that seems to be an enemy of the virus, and the good sense to take care of our employee, our customers and our selves,” New said.

Masks available
A key requirement to reopening will be to comply with the Public Health order already in place that calls for universal face coverings while in public settings.
New said Inyo County has provided free masks for businesses that are able to reopen and are to be used by employees. She said people can come by the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce and pick them up between 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or call (208) 863-6975.

Bishop grant program
The Bishop Chamber of Commerce hosted a new grant program to benefit small businesses in Bishop that have been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to a generous private donor, an emergency fund had been established with $20,000 available to provide immediate financial assistance.
Applications were accepted through May 17 and if volume says anything, the need is apparently dire.
“We have 42 grant applications requesting more than $200,000,” Thomson said. “I sure wish we had enough money to help all of them. The committee will review and score the applications this week and send out the checks by the end of next week.”
All businesses with a physical location inside Bishop city limits were eligible.
All applications will be reviewed and scored by a committee utilizing a two-stage process to ensure equality and fairness, Thomson stated.