County starts to reopen

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La Sabrosa Fine Mexican Cuisine on San Benito Street in Hollister is open for pick-up orders during Phase 2 on the road to reopening local businesses and facilities. (Juan Reyes)

San Benito County is now in “Phase Two” on the road to reopening local businesses and facilities, after nearly two months of closure of all “non-essential” activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

On May 8, Public Health Services issued a press release that stated California is moving into “Stage 2 of the Resilience Roadmap”, which means some lower-risk workplaces can gradually open with adaptations to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 illness. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom on May 7 announced the opening of phase two lower-risk businesses at a press conference. The businesses must include modifications such as curbside pickup.

Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said the community has done an incredible job of controlling and slowing the spread Covid-19, which is allowing local businesses to reopen with ease.

“We moved early, the community participated and we went to face covers and now because of that it looks like we’ll be able to open sooner rather than later,” he said. “But I always stress the importance of continuing doing it the right way and be safe about it. We do not want to go back the other way.”

The list of lower risk business types include clothing and shoe stores, florists, book and music stores, sporting goods, toy stores, jewelry stores, home goods and furnishing stores.

Additional business types that can open later in phase two include schools and childcare facilities, shopping malls and swap meets, office based businesses, outdoor museums and open gallery spaces. Others include car washes, pet grooming, tanning facilities and landscape/gardening and dine-in restaurants with the exception of bars and gaming areas.

Velazquez said they’ve been sharing ideas on opening up San Benito Street to invite local restaurants and store owners to set up shop on the street.

“We can give them more space so they can have their clientele back that they had before this all happened, and at the same time promote the businesses so more people start coming out to support the businesses,” he said.  

Velazquez said he hopes this gives businesses the numbers they need to get back on their feet.

Maria Hernandez is the owner and chef at La Sabrosa Fine Mexican Cuisine at 512 San Benito Street in Hollister.

Hernandez said it’s been a struggle to stay afloat, especially after shutting down for three weeks in April. 

She’s had her restaurant open for just nine months and said she’s walking on a tightrope.

Hernandez said they applied for financial assistance with the county, hoping to get at least $10,000 to pay for four months worth of rent. They received a deposit of $1,000 instead.

“It was disappointing,” Hernandez said.

She also mentioned the landlord won’t cut her any slack on the rent and is making her pay full price. The price of food is also going up, which just adds to the list of frustrations.

“I used to pay $3.99 a pound for carne asada, now I pay $6.39,” Hernandez said. “Everything is going up.”

County Supervisor Pete Hernandez said when the county shelter-in-place order took place it was an open-wound decision to cut off the economy.

“Now with the bleeding out and impacts that it’s causing it’s not just economically but health-wise,” he said.

Hernandez said there’s a lot going on with public health in a negative way because of the shelter-in-place order. He said it’s creating desperation from business owners who have been trying to figure out ways to stay open.

“I knew that was going to happen,” he said. “We need to roll out our economy and roll out a lot quicker because the way it was first addressed was based off of essential and non-essential, which has a lot of elements that could be considered discriminatory…You’re prioritizing one business over another.” 

Public Health officials said phase two expansion will be phased in gradually and some communities can move through faster if they show greater progress.

Counties that have met the readiness criteria and worked with the California Department of Public Health can open more workplaces.

As of May 12, there have been 58 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in San Benito County. The local death count remains at two, according to county officials.

The data from San Benito County Public Health Services’ latest community newsletter shows that 1,260 patients have been tested for the novel coronavirus locally. Of these, 1,175 have tested negative.

Of the 58 positive cases of Covid-19, one patient is in the 0-17 age group; 37 are in the 18-49 age group; 14 are in the 50-64; and six are age 65 or older.

In California, there have been 69,382 total cases reported, and 2,847 deaths from Covid-19. 

Velazquez said San Benito County officials sent a letter to the state to allow the county to move into Stage 3, which is adapting and reopening movie theaters, religious services and more personal and hospitality services.

Velazquez said more than half of the positive cases originated from Santa Clara County from commuters, which gives him even more hope that local business will open sooner than later. 

“If you took those out of the equation you would see our numbers just way down low,” he said.

CORRECTION: The original story reported that San Benito Public Health Services’ latest community newsletter read there were 31 pending results for Covid-19 testing, which is not correct. The newsletter did not list any pending cases in the county.