Businesses jumps into the big unknown as they reopen

By: 
Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, the weather is warming up fast, local trails are becoming snow free and local rivers and creeks are beckoning.
It’s getting increasingly hard to remember a deadly virus, even one that had killed some 100,000 Americans by the times the Times went to press this week, is still out there, lurking, with many places in the country still seeing an increase in both Covid-19 cases and Covid-19 deaths.
But after months of staying at home and not only ‘flattening the curve,’ but “crushing it” according to local medical officials, Mono County has ‘earned’ the right to reopen, local business owners said.
“We haven’t had a hospitalization in months,” one business owner said at a recent meeting, an accurate statement, according to Mammoth Hospital.
And, business owners said, they know how to do two things at once; open their businesses and keep their clients and the local residents, safe.
If they cannot open soon, they say with near unanimity, the impact will be disastrous.
“This is my life,” said an owner of a June Lake-based business at a recent meeting. “We have four months to make out money. If we lose June, we will likely not be able to survive.”
“You should we not be fighting for our economic development,” said another attendee. “... we are dying economically and seeing our lives work destroyed.”
Just in time – or too late, according to many – the state did allow most remaining businesses that were still closed to open this week, including retail stores, shopping malls and swap meets; dine-in restaurants (other amenities, like bars or gaming areas, are not permitted in Stage 2); jewelry, toy clothing shoe home and furnishing, sporting goods, antique, music and florists; supply chains supporting the above businesses in manufacturing and logistical sectors; childcare for those outside of the essential workforce; office-based businesses (telework remains strongly encouraged); car washes, pet grooming, and landscape gardening, and outdoor museums, and open gallery spaces and other public spaces with modifications.
Fishing season also opened in Mono County last Friday, after a surprise 3-2 vote by the Mono County Supervisors week, and private (non-federal) campgrounds and RV parks were highly expected to be allowed to open this week – although that was not assured at press time.
When that occurred this week, Mammoth and Mono’s businesses were not caught surprised, but they did have questions, many captured at a recent Zoom ‘Business Forum’ hosted by Mammoth Lakes Tourism and the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce and attended by dozens of the county’s business owners and advocates.
“Why are the county and town and county enforcing the states guidelines, when nearly every other county in the state is using them as guidelines,” asked one person at the forum, noting other counties have opened businesses and even lodging in defiance of the state’s orders.
Mammoth Lakes Town Administrator Dan Holler said it’s a legal issue.
“When the state issues a guideline, it carries the same weight as a law,” he said. “The same elements are in there, the local sheriff sand police are authorized to enforce them,” he said. “Most agencies have not done this but... the governors’ office... has sent letters to different counties and business, and they have reached out to a number of bars with threats to yank their liquor licenses.... when something is prohibited, this can result in fines... so, it is a risk that some places are willing to take.... we have not chosen to do that.”
The county’s medical officer, Dr. Thomas Boo, also weighed in.
“I know people are frustrated, but please, you need to lobby the state, not us. If we could, we would be open based on our own metrics,” he said. At the same time, he noted when the county fully reopens, there will inevitably be more Covid-19 cases in the county, just because of the nature of the virus and because Mono County is a destination for travelers from all over the state and world.
“It is unfortunate for businesses in this case that we are an economy that is based on being a travel destination (and that the Stay at Home order is still in place),” he said.
That said, there will be consequences to reopening. “When people travel, they will bring some disease,” he said. “We have tried to get ahead of this, we have tried to mitigate as much as we can, but the bottom line is, with everything we have done, we still just do not know what the impact will be.”
There were also solutions proposed.
“We have over a thousand gallons of hand sanitizer on hand,” said Ken Brengle, the Chamber director. “We need to know a place we can hand it out... a distribution place in Mammoth where people can come by (see below how to contact Brengle as this situation might have been resolved by press time).
Officials also noted that the “Mono County Business Self-Certification Portal” was up and running, as required. This allows businesses to “self-certify’ they can open safely.

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE
• Contact your local Chamber of Commerce for information or resources related to your business operating during the Coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, businesses can contact the Unified Command Emergency Operations Center at 760-932-5650.
• The Mono County Health Department has published “Interim Guidelines for Businesses during the COVID-19 Pandemic” to help guide businesses through the reopening. The Guidelines can be found online, at: https://webapps.mono.ca.gov/COVIDDocs//PublicResources/Business%20Guidel... English.pdf
• To get supplies for your business, contact Ken Brangle at ken.brengle @gmail.com

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