The state of California is moving to allow some retail to reopen this week, but San Mateo County rules still prohibit those retailers from opening here. The county clarified the distinction between the two orders in a press release today and said residents should follow county, not state orders.
“The Bay Area orders do not currently permit curbside pickup from non-essential, nonoutdoor businesses, and that is not allowed to begin on Friday, May 8,” the statement reads.
Some local business leaders and owners say the discrepancy has created confusion.
“From the jump, the information coming out from all of the different agencies has been so confusing and so conflicting,” Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors' Bureau CEO Krystlyn Giedt said. “The rule of thumb has been, whatever you hear the strictest rule is, go with that.”
Margaret Stow, owner of local gift shop The Paper Crane, said she’s abiding by the county order that extends until at least May 31 and clearly prohibits nonessential retail business. But Tokenz owner Sheila Edwards-May, who is also following the county’s order, said the many messages coming from national, state and local entities have created confusion. She said she is no longer holding her breath for every new update.
“It’s definitely confusing,” Edwards-May said. “Because things have changed so much and so quickly, I haven't become attached to one particular thing.”
On Monday, the county revised its shelter-in-place order to extend it until May 31 and to allow for some expanded recreation options. That same afternoon, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state would move to “Stage 2” of reopening, allowing some nonessential retailers to conduct curbside business starting Friday.
The general message seemed to be one of gradual reopening. But a more careful look at messages from the county shows the local government isn’t moving to loosen any restrictions on businesses yet. It is tracking progress from five key indicators — widespread testing, sufficient hospital capacity and PPE, flat or decreasing cases, and robust contact tracing — before meaningfully revising the current order.
San Mateo County Health Officer Scott Morrow’s May 4 statement extending the shelter-in-place order did not explicitly say that Newsom’s “Stage 2” announcement does not apply to the county, even though it was released after Newsom’s announcement. A later statement from the local health officer clarified that county rules supersede state ones.
“The governor made it clear that local jurisdictions can retain more health protective policies based on local conditions,” Morrow wrote.
Finally, today’s statement, just one day before some retailers are authorized to reopen across the state, made clear: Retailers in San Mateo County cannot begin curbside business.
Edwards-May said she is keeping her eye on the news while reorganizing and sanitizing her shop for an eventual socially distanced reopening. She said it’s frustrating to watch as other businesses — like those she considers nonessential but that technically serve food and thus are allowed to operate — are prioritized over hers. She thinks the real differences are negligible. She said the seemingly arbitrary rules make it hard to take them seriously.
“That's what will make people open unofficially, the fact that there are so many conflicting messages,” Edwards-May said.
LuzLuna Imports owner Gina Fisher said that the order may be revised before the May 31 date or extended well beyond it makes planning for a safe reopening difficult. She too is working to reorganize her store to allow for social distancing, but said she’s not counting on a June 1 reopening.
“I haven’t heard anything formal yet,” Fisher said. “It’s really difficult because here I am, we may open in two weeks and I have to be ready, or who knows. … We are in limbo.”
For now, Fisher said she is relying on information from the Chamber of Commerce to guide her reopening plan.
Geidt said she’s been getting information out to local businesses through newsletters and information sharing among local leaders like the city of Half Moon Bay. She said the penalty for reopening before the shelter-in-place order is modified or lifted would be a fine, up to $1,000, issued from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. So far, Geidt said she has not heard of any businesses opening illegally or being fined.