TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Tulare County Supervisors say businesses can now reopen if they choose to do so.
With a vote on Tuesday, supervisors say they moved the county through stages two and three of the state's reopening plan.
Tulare County still leads all Valley counties in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and does not officially meet the state's criteria to reopen more businesses.
One of those metrics is having less than an 8% positive test rate over the past week.
Even without including positive cases from skilled nursing facilities, the county still does not meet that 8% percent mark.
On Monday, Governor Newsom said Kings and Tulare Counties are not yet ready for a variance-something supervisors took issue with on Tuesday.
"I don't want to be a county or one of two counties that the governor can actually mention in a press conference as being one that's going to be restricted," Supervisor Pete Vander Poel said. "That's very frustrating to me."
Supervisors also say there's an important piece missing from the state's reopening plan-regional consistency from one county to the next.
If Fresno County starts to reopen businesses, what's to stop people from going there to eat and shop?
"I mean, we have communities that live right on the border," said Supervisor Kuyler Crocker. "You live on one side of the road, you can't do that. But I'm going to drive across the street and I can do that, so how is that keeping our county safe? It's not."
"So I want to revise our local variance attestation to include all of phase three, to rescind the PHO (Public Health Order) order or override it to stop all enforcement, letters, calls, e-mails, etc., visits," Supervisor Dennis Townsend said. "And to shift all of our efforts to the elderly, the vulnerable, businesses, employee recovery, hospital ICU beds if needed to help increase that and then to assist businesses that are having outbreaks."
County counsel told Supervisor Dennis Townsend that he didn't have the authority to make this motion, and Supervisor Eddie Valero asked for a separate, special board meeting.
But the motion passed 3-2.
Later on Tuesday, Supervisor Townsend released a statement clarifying that the action means that all businesses can now reopen if they choose to.
Today the Board of Supervisors, on a split 3-2 vote acted to move our opening guidelines to stage 3 of the Governor's reopening plan. Up until today, the County has followed the state order with the Public Health Officer issuing conforming orders essentially mirroring the state's order. Close to 2 weeks ago the Governor issued an order which allowed individual counties to "accelerate" through the steps of stage 2 if they met certain metrics the state determined. When many counties and associations of counties complained that the metrics would be impossible to reach the governor relaxed some metrics but added additional language. When asked yesterday which counties would not be eligible to accelerate their business openings, his first words were "Tulare and Kings counties." Given the certainty that we would not be eligible for any acceleration and the indefinite period of time businesses could remain closed if Tulare County waited on the Governor's plan, we took action today. There was much discussion and public comment before the vote but the motion carried resulting in the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approving a reopening plan and which:
1. Declares the County "open" completely through stage 3 of the Governor's plan.
2. Overrides the Public Health Officers orders including halting all civil enforcement related to stay at home orders contained in the order.
3. Directs the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) of the County to issue guidance mirroring the state's guidance for stage 3 opening.
4. Directs the HHSA to shift its efforts from attempting to meet state metrics to assisting with problem areas and populations in the County including but not limited to: The elderly and health compromised, Skilled Nursing Facilities, Hospitals and ICU's and businesses or agencies with reported outbreaks.
5. Went into effect immediately after the vote today.
Here are some thoughts on the actions and their consequences:
1. The County is not demanding that all businesses, churches, restaurants, bars, etc open but the option is now available and all the safety precautions which have been and will be published should be carried out to protect employees, congregants and patrons.
2. The County can not take action on businesses which are operated under state licenses and those business should weigh their options carefully since the County is disagreeing with the state on this action.
3. Once open, businesses have the right to enact or leave any safety precautions in place as they choose.
4. As always, we should consider others when practicing our freedoms and do all we can to prevent sickness or injury.
5. With this action comes heightened individual responsibilities.
As stated before, the Board was split due to continued concerns for the health of the public. The situation we find ourselves in is unprecedented as was this action. The County is committed to continue to do all in its power to help with this recovery. Please partner with us in reopening in a manner which intentionally does no harm and is a benefit to all.
Please pray for wisdom and protection for all.