Even as concerns rise, San Mateo County is allowing some daylight into the monthslong shelter-in-place restrictions designed to curb the spread of COVID-19. Residents can now go to church, get a haircut and go on vacation. Face coverings and social distancing are still required. And as jurisdictions reopen, increased cases are following.
From the county’s perspective, the ball is now in the citizens’ court. It’s up to each resident to take responsibility for stopping the spread of the pandemic. The county has hit its metrics. Health officials say they have enough personal protective equipment, tests, contact tracing and hospital beds to handle a new surge. As cases rise nearby, so far there has yet to be a notable uptick here.
Today’s reopening experiment is a test of those systems, to see if residents’ actions combined with county preparedness are enough to minimize mass deaths as the virus continues to circulate.
“I want to dispel any confusion that reopening means less spread of the virus,” Deputy Health Chief Srija Srinivasan said. “It is in our community, so it’s incumbent on all of us to take action. It’s a long slog and we have to keep with it.”
For Senior Coastsiders Executive Director Sandra Winter, the question of whether to reopen — specifically their dining room — is complicated. She’s weighing the health risk of seniors dining together in a room against the clear benefits of social interaction, and said any decision will be guided by input from the community and will remain flexible for people who prefer home-delivered or takeout meals. If they do reopen the dining hall, it would likely include health screenings, temperature checks and strict rules on movement around the room. For her, these questions aren’t new.
“Even before this happened, we had a responsibility to serve safe and healthy meals,” Winter said. “That has not changed at all. We are still very aware of our responsibility to older adults so they feel healthy and safe.
But these questions are new to local business owner Rachel Ortolan, who owns Main Street store Abode. Running a furniture shop has now become a bit more complicated. She reopened June 1 with all the new county and state protocols in place, and has been sanitizing her shop regularly, wearing masks and rearranging the shop to aid social distancing. She said it wasn’t hard to implement the measures, but it put her in a role — protecting her customers from a global pandemic — she never expected to fill.
“It’s definitely a different way of thinking,” Ortolan said. “Health and safety are our No. 1 priority right now. You’re not going to get people coming in and supporting you if they’re worried about it.”
Ortolan said she’s not sure people even know that businesses on Main Street are open. The confusion is part of the push and pull local businesses are grappling with as they reopen. Having been closed for weeks or months, they need business now more than ever, but crowds bring the virus. The Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau website includes both travel warnings as well as articles encouraging tourists to check out the family-owned businesses on Main Street while they take advantage of the outdoor attractions along the coast. “The coast is open for business,” it says.
Meanwhile, local leaders are concerned about an onslaught of tourists this Fourth of July weekend. Half Moon Bay Mayor Adam Eisen partnered with Pacifica Mayor Dierdre Martin to specifically ask Bay Area residents to stay away during the holiday weekend — and county officials agreed.
“This pandemic knows no holiday,” county Manager Mike Callagy said.