Driven by a series of positive COVID-19 disease metrics, Contra Costa County health officials loosened operating restrictions on nonessential retailers and their suppliers this week.
County retailers may now reopen for curbside sales and other outdoor pickups, provided they implement a series of coronavirus-controlling measures.
Retail goods manufacturers, as well as retail warehousing and logistical support operations, were also allowed to restart — with their own disease-controlling safeguards in place.
“We are counting on businesses to consistently follow social-distancing protocols and our public health guidance so they can operate safely and protect both their employees and their customers as these activities resume,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County public health officer.
The new regulations are a stark contrast to the county’s recent business landscape.
Since mid-March, only essential businesses, like grocery stores and pharmacies, had been allowed to open — a drastic step to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
The new stipulations dictate that customers may not enter reopened retailers. Merchants may not display for-sale goods on tables or outside their stores. And businesses must employ reasonable measures to ensure that customers comply with social-distancing requirements at pickup areas, including marking locations at 6-foot intervals for customers waiting in line.
“We are hoping (these new regulations) are something that protects the community’s health and also tries to avoid the worst impacts on the economy,” said District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis.
Many East County businesses started to re-emerge early this week, but area leaders conceded that store location, available merchandise, staffing levels, the ability to conduct transactions and other factors would guide their reopening timetables.
Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery said he believed some of his city’s businesses will reopen, but it was unclear which businesses, and when.
In Brentwood, Assistant City Manager Terrence Grindall said he thinks his city’s reopenings will be case by case.
“It will allow most retailers to reopen if they can handle curbside. That’s not everybody,” he said. “Certain businesses, like Ulta, have already indicated it will work for them, because women know what makeup they want and can drive up and ask for it. But if you are shopping for a dress, I doubt you will buy it sight unseen.”
Burgis noted that business owners she spoke with are all trying to reopen.
“Hopefully, for those businesses that do get to open up, there will be enough traffic to make it worth opening, and they have the staffing to be able to do it,” she said. “Frankly, some people are not ready to physically distance — they want to stay home. It’s going to be, can the business come up with a model to make that doable? Will they have the staffing and the customer base to make it happen?”
A handful of East County businesses reached by The Press this week confirmed they are open for businesses, including Two Amigos Western Wear in Oakley and Ulta in Brentwood.
An employee at Two Amigos noted the store had only been able to sell essential items in recent weeks, such as work wear. Other items, such as clothes, hats and other fashion accessories had to remain on the shelf.
Meanwhile, Ulta representatives expressed optimism about its reopening.
“With increased safety measures in place, we are excited to offer curbside pickup service,” said Eileen Ziesemer, an Ulta company representative.
Aside from a modified retail resumption, merchants are expected to benefit from the relaunching of retail goods manufacturing, as well as retail warehousing and logistical support operations, officials said.
Restarting those businesses will allow retailers to conduct key sustaining activities, such as ordering additional merchandise and scheduling deliveries. Retailers had legally been allowed to order only essential goods under previous health department orders.
“That will help businesses, probably more than the actual sales curbside,” Grindall said. “They could actually start planning their inventories.”
The modified retail resumption guidelines come on the heels of several key countywide coronavirus-controlling metrics that allowed health officials to relax the lockdown on nonessential retailers, Farnitano said.
Countywide COVID-19-related cases, hospitalizations and hospital capacity are stable, and coronavirus testing, case investigation and contact tracing is on the upswing, Farnitano said.
There are currently 19 COVID-19-positive patients in Contra Costa hospitals, down from a high of 44 in mid-April, and daily testing has ramped up from 300 a few weeks ago to as many as 600, although 2,200 would be ideal, Farnitano said.
County health officials did not see a surge in cases after implementing relaxed construction, outdoor businesses and outdoor recreation guidelines in early May, which also hastened the new retail rules, Farnitano said.
Despite the positive indicators, Farnitano said residents must still follow strict disease-controlling measures, which include social distancing, wearing face coverings in public, practicing good hand hygiene and staying home as much as possible.
“We realize this is not easy,” he said. “These stay-at-home measures have been difficult for all of us, but we must all work together to ensure we do not see another surge, another increase in cases, as we increase the amount of activities and businesses in our community,” he said.
For more information on the county’s regulations, visit https://www.coronavirus.cchealth.org.