City to close San Benito St. to vehicles

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Kenneth Kim, owner of Colonial Cleaners on South Street in Hollister, is one of several business owners that began to open up shop starting last week. (Juan Reyes)

As county and state officials begin to slowly open up business, the Hollister City Council voted unanimously last week to shut down San Benito Street to vehicles in order to allow shops and restaurants to serve customers outdoors. 

The street closure—which will give employees and customers more room to socially distance while they eat or shop—will start this Friday, May 22.

“The idea is if it works we can have more open space for the restaurants or eventually the stores,” Mayor Ignacio Velázquez said. “It really gives the public a chance to get outside and go enjoy their local businesses in a safe manner.”

Also last week, the San Benito County Public Health Services department took the next step to assisting the reopening of local businesses and facilities that have been shut down for nearly two months.

County Interim Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci said the county is advancing well into stage two of California’s Resilience Roadmap for modifying the statewide stay-at-home order.

On May 13, Ghilarducci issued a press release that featured a chart that outlines the businesses and activities that may reopen. It also includes the timeline and the measures that must be in place before reopening. 

“The goal is a safer environment for workers and customers,” said Ghilarducci in the press release. “Businesses may use effective alternative or innovative methods to build upon the guidelines.”

Velázquez noted that a majority of the shops and restaurants can open up, but with a limited number of guests.

According to Public Health Services, the California Department of Public Health recently posted on its website the San Benito County Covid-19 Variance Attestation Form that was filled out.

The form states that, “a county that has met certain criteria in containing Covid-19 may consider increasing the pace at which they advance through stage two, but not into stage three, of California’s roadmap to modify the Stay-at-Home order.”

Shopping malls, destination shopping centers, strip and outlet malls and swap meets are ready to be open. Dine-in restaurants are fine but other amenities such as bars and gaming areas are still not permitted.  

Other limited services include full-service car washes, pet grooming, tanning facilities, landscape gardening and childcare for those outside of the essential workforce.

Manufacturing, logistics or warehousing facilities will reopen, while office-based businesses are encouraged to operate remotely from home or some other flexible workspace. 

Outdoor museums along with open gallery spaces and other public spaces are also open with modifications. 

San Benito County is asking the business and restaurant sectors that were able to open or expand their business to use the provided forms to self-certify compliance with the industry standards. 

Ghilarduuci mentioned that businesses have to prepare a plan based on the guidance of the industry. 

When finished, they have to display the industry-specific checklist along with the county’s self-certification window placard to show that they’ve reduced the risk and are open for business.

San Benito County will not require an inspection prior to restaurants or businesses reopening. 

Before reopening, all facilities must perform a detailed risk assessment and implement a site-specific protection plan. They must also implement individual control measures and screenings, disinfecting protocols and physical distancing guidelines. 

Industry specific guidance for newly approved business sectors can be found at https://covid19.ca.gov/industry-guidance/.

Employees must be trained on how to limit the spread of Covid-19 including how to screen themselves for symptoms and stay home if necessary.

Mass gatherings are not allowed by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order. Examples of mass gatherings include concerts, conferences, sporting events, in-person church services, gyms and theaters.

Personal services such as hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and fitness studios are still listed as higher-risk, according to the State Resilience Roadmap. The county does not have the ability to authorize these businesses to open at this time. The list also includes hospitality services such as bars, wineries, tasting rooms and lounges.

Entertainment venues such as movie theaters, gaming, gambling, arcade venues, indoor museums, zoos, libraries, community centers, public pools, playgrounds and picnic areas are on the higher-risk list too. 

Velázquez said he’s still unsure when the county will be moving into stage three. But he stressed that once they do he hopes residents continue to do it safely.

“Most people are willing to do that and if we can, we can avoid having to go back through this whole thing again,” Velázquez said. “Please, wear your face covers. We don’t really want to go back to shutting everything down, do we? A little help goes a long, long way.”