Tulare County defies California health orders with reopening

Dozens of clergy gathered in Oakland on Thursday to demand the governor of California allow churches to reopen despite the pandemic.

Defying state health orders intended to prevent spread of COVID-19, leaders in California’s Tulare County have voted to allow businesses and churches to immediately reopen.

The 3-2 vote Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors allows reopening of nearly all businesses that fall under Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the state’s plan, including dine-in restaurants, barbers, movie theaters and shopping malls, the Visalia Times Delta reported. Churches also are included.

The vote came as the Central Valley county of 442,000 residents reported a spike of 101 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths.

The Times Delta said county officials later clarified that businesses should adhere to state guidelines on social distancing, restaurant capacity and other health measures but did not say whether there will be enforcement.

Tulare County’s nursing homes in particular are struggling with the coronavirus: 51 deaths and infections among nearly 30% of the more than 1,100 residents. Local officials blame the state, which regulates nursing homes.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom, under increasing pressure to give local governments more latitude, relaxed health standards the state’s 58 counties are required to meet to move deeper into the second phase of reopening.

Staying within the governor’s process, San Diego County supervisors voted Tuesday to ask the state to allow California’s second-most populous county to be a test case for more rapidly reopening businesses and allowing more gatherings and recreational options.

The plan would let the county jump ahead to stage three in Newsom’s four-stage plan and reopen such things as apartment building swimming pools along with gyms and hair and nail salons, all with strict safety rules. It also would green-light outdoor religious services with restrictions and bring back youth sports but without games or spectators.

Health officials said San Diego County meets the new criteria to go beyond the takeout and curbside retail service now allowed and supervisors approved submitting a request to be given that exception. Officials said restaurants could be serving diners as soon as Wednesday.

Newsom has made it clear that no county can move into stage three yet but also has said he wants to give more discretion to county governments and what they believe best reflects the interest of their residents.