As smoke and ash make it difficult to work outdoors, a coalition of business and community leaders requires Santa Clara County to set guidelines for reopening indoors.
Last week, the county went into the guidelines for reopening lower-risk red levels, paving the way for more businesses to start serving customers indoors. But in Santa Clara County, restaurateurs and estheticians did not make the list.
“Indoor dining is a controlled environment that can accommodate advanced sanitation and safety protocols,” said Randy Musterer, owner of Sushi Confidential. “We know that reduced-capacity indoor dining has worked elsewhere without significantly increasing the spread of COVID-1
Musterer joined a coalition of 15 chambers of commerce and more than 50 faith, business, and political representatives that on September 14 urged Santa Clara County to find ways to reopen the economy.
Nearly 70% of Silicon Valley companies are classified as small businesses and represent the majority of financially challenged employees. Due to the pandemic, almost 30% of these companies have closed permanently or are about to close, according to the coalition.
Indoor dining requires people to take off masks while eating or drinking, which has made counties, state and federal health officials wary of letting bars and restaurants resume their business as usual.
County officials have not said how low rates there should be for restaurants to operate indoors.
“I do not realize there is any threshold,” County Councilor James Williams said Sept. 8. “Here’s the rector: We need to bring our rates down.”
Williams said the county put forward its guidelines based on “risk regardless of sector” and based its guidelines on broader scientific findings that showed that outdoor operations are safer than indoor ones.
But Musterer and others said Santa Clara County should provide more concrete guidelines.
“What we have no clarity about is what would be the expectations beyond what we are currently doing for outdoor dining when we move indoors,” Musterer said. Do they want us to replace our air filtration system with a kind of HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter? Will they want us to keep all our doors open – front, rear, side doors – to create airflow? ”
Restaurant owners are not alone in their demands.
Maya Mansour, owner of the Original Facial Bar in Cupertino and Willow Glen, said the county has kept the bureaucracy up for business while letting other personal care services move forward with indoor surgeries.
“As of today, Santa Clara County is the only county out of all 58 counties in California that has prevented estheticians from working both indoors and outdoors,” Mansour said.
She said health officers did not consider guidelines from the State Board of Shaving and Cosmetology, which has released guidelines for aestheticians to operate inside and outside.
While no health officials were represented in the coalition, several politicians and faith leaders expressed support.
San Jose councilor Johnny Khamis said local authorities need to get out of the way of businesses.
“The government can not be all about saying no because there are no amount of government-run programs that help (the) unemployed stay in their homes,” Khamis said. “There will be no additional funding from the federal government to help support businesses or keep people in their homes.”
Although local and state health officials have said there is still a significant risk of coronavirus spread while at the red level, business owners from the restaurant and personal care industry remained confident in their health and disinfection training.
Musterer, who worked in biotechnology and cancer research before opening Sushi Confidential, said health officials should teach companies to adapt rather than ask them to stay indoors.
“I’ve been working with very infectious diseases in my biotechnology career,” he said, “and when you’re trying to find a vaccine or come up with some kind of cure for cancer, you do not just say, ‘Oh no, it’s too contagious, we will not work with it. ‘ No, you are developing different strategies and guidelines for working with that infectious disease. ”
Mark Turner, president and CEO of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, said the county risks losing businesses whose policies are not loosened.
“When the pandemic first hit and we received the shelter-in-place order, the original goal was to flatten the basket, ensure there were enough fans and avoid overwhelming the health care system,” Turner said. “We did it. We achieved that. We flattened the basket. Let us now not flatten our business by constantly applying such restrictive standards that there is no hope of moving forward. ”
Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.