Merced County given approval to move to stage 2 of reopening businesses

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- UPDATE: Tuesday evening, Merced County was given the approval to move to phase 2 of reopening businesses.

The County Health Department submitted an attestation to the state at midnight on Tuesday requesting approval to move into what's become known as stage 2.5, which allows dine-in restaurants, retail, and other facilities to re-open.

Other counties that have been given approval to move into stage 2 are Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, El Dorardo, Glenn, Humboldt, Inyo, Lassen, Mariposa, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Benito, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne and Yuba-Sutter.

The original story follows below.

Merced County Supervisors say they are ready to start lifting restrictions on businesses, with social distancing practices in place.

Supervisor Daron McDaniel said during Tuesday's Board meeting, "Every business is essential, every business is providing food for the table not just for the owners but the employees as well."

The County Health Department submitted an attestation to the state at midnight requesting approval to move into what's become known as stage 2.5, which allows dine-in restaurants, retail, and other facilities to re-open. Public Health Director Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp, DrPH, says the county meets the more relaxed guidelines Governor Newsom announced on Monday.

She explains, "I don't want to be overly confident, but we meet the requirements, we meet the criteria, the state knows, we're on its map, we're not silent about wanting what's best for the community especially when we meet requirements."

But the Board voted unanimously to move into that next phase on Wednesday at noon regardless of if the county has received approval by that time. This comes after Sheriff Vern Warnke wrote a letter to the state saying he would not enforce any COVID-19 violations, which then led a group of UC Merced professors to write their own op-ed calling his decision dangerous and urging caution moving forward.

That includes Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza who told Action News, "Based on our expertise in public health and social science, we're aware of research that shows that the stay at home order has been working. Communities are able to carefully re-open when there's enough testing, contract tracing, and a significant reduction in cases."

Supervisor McDaniel fired back during Tuesday's meeting.

He said, "It's pretty easy to sit behind your computer when you're get paid for your profession for you to sit home and point fingers at our sheriff or me for advocating on behalf of everyone who isn't working and isn't getting a paycheck."

Action News has also confirmed that Merced County was told on May 8 that it would be getting an additional COVID-19 state partnership testing site in Los Banos. However, local health officials received a call on Sunday from a state representative letting them know that will not happen after all.

No official reason has been given, but Supervisor McDaniel says it was political.
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