La Catrina Mexican Grill in downtown Hollister was one of several businesses to have outdoor dining shut down due to the state's shelter-at-home order that was issued last week. Photo credit: Juan Reyes

The City of Hollister came up with the idea to allow business owners to keep their places open under all of the state’s Covid-19 guidelines with the help of building new outdoor parklets along San Benito Street.

But any plans to utilize the outdoor spaces and keep downtown open during the winter were ruined as Gov. Gavin Nesom announced a new stay-at-home order that began on Dec. 6 in response to the continuing surge of Covid-19 cases, forcing small businesses to limit capacity or restrict both indoor and outdoor services.  

Kathina Szeto, owner of San Benito Bene on San Benito street, mentioned that she was saddened upon hearing about the state’s announcement to switch to a regional stay-at-home order, which San Benito County is now part of. The new order was enforced due to the declining availability of hospital beds that may be needed to treat the growing surge of Covid-19 patients. 

“My neighbors are not able to serve their customers and I’ve been accustomed to seeing them enjoying having their breakfast and lunch outside, it creates such a nice environment,” she said. 

Under the new order, Szeto can keep San Benito Bene open as a retail establishment and may remain open indoors, but only at 20 percent capacity. 

But restaurants such as La Catrina Mexican Grill will have to go back to pick-up orders or deliveries under the new order as indoor and outdoor restaurants must remain closed for service. 

General Manager Gustavo Gonzalez said the first thing he thought of was the employees and their jobs at the restaurant. He mentioned that four of his employees have already voluntarily left their position to allow others to work. 

Gonzalez said it’s been frustrating for the businesses and all of the customers because they were looking forward to having somewhere to dine. 

“Even if they can’t eat inside, at least have a spot to dine outside because sometimes it’s necessary for people to go out and not be stuck indoors all the time,” he said. 

Others affected by the state’s order—which encompasses eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley region—include hair salons, gyms and indoor recreational facilities and bars, breweries and distilleries. Church services and protest activities may resume outdoors, and overnight stays at campgrounds are prohibited.

The regional order will remain in effect for at least three weeks, or until Dec. 26 at the earliest. The order urges residents to stay home as much as possible to limit mixing with other households, which can lead to increased community transmission of Covid-19. 

Although Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital is full, staff announced on Dec. 9 that it has experienced a surge of emergency room patients over the past 10 days. The hospital is at 100 percent capacity on the medical/surgical and intensive care units, but they’re still able to accommodate all pending admissions.  

“I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking care in the case of a medical emergency,” said Dr. Michael Bogey, director of Emergency and Trauma Medicine. “Delaying care can worsen your condition and and in some cases may lead to an adverse outcome.”

As of Dec. 9, there were five Covid-19 patients admitted, while an additional two positive patients were held in the ER pending admission, according to the hospital.

They reported that Covid-19 patients account for approximately 30 percent of the hospital’s inpatient admissions. Both Hazel Hawkins and the San Benito County Public Health Department are working on future “Surge Plans” and will activate them accordingly as the need arises, said the hospital. 

Business adapts       

STAY LOCAL Kathina Szeto, owner of San Benito Bene, encourages the community to shop local. Photo: Marisa Duran Photography

Szeto has evolved her business by offering curbside pickup and learning a lot about onsite presence. They also feature a website where customers can see what the shop has in stock and call to have it ready for pickup or have it shipped.

She’s offering special hours from 9:30-10am for seniors and those who are more vulnerable to Covid-19. There’s also a time slot from 5-6pm for personal appointments.  

She encourages people to do take-out orders and buy gift certificates from some of the self care businesses.
“That would mean the world to them at this time,” Szeto said.

Gonzalez said they introduced “Family Meals” to their menu as an attempt to encourage families to eat dinner at home instead of going out. The meals, which can feed up to five people, can range from $40 to $50 depending on what’s ordered. 

They offer cheese or chicken enchiladas, chicken or beef fajitas, pork chile verde, carnitas (shredded pork) and birria (beef stew). All the meals include rice, beans, tortillas, chips and salsa.

The idea is that he wants to make it affordable for guests. Plus, it makes the staff’s job easier because they can focus on one meal instead of five different ones.

Gonzalez said at this point they’re not remaining open to make a profit but instead they want to take care of their staff by keeping as many of them employed as possible. 

“I also think if we completely close it’s going to be that much harder for us to start over,” he said. “For now we can take care of our clients, the staff and we won’t make money but at least we’ll still be working.” 

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