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SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz County Supervisors voted unanimously Friday to apply for state permission to reopen restaurants and hair salons. State officials could approve the county’s application Friday or next week, county health officials said.

“We’re not done,” said Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall. “We’re going to live in this adapt-and-adjust phase until there is a vaccine or immunity or therapeutics. And all good science points to the fact that that will be quite some time: 12 to 18 to 24 months. So we have to elevate our public health capacity to protect our community for the next one to two years.”

The document is called an attestation for a variance to the state’s shelter order. It would get Santa Cruz County to “late Stage 2” in the state’s Resilience Roadmap. Beaches in the county will remain closed 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nonessential travel remains prohibited. 

A map shows counties in yellow that have restaurants and hair salons open. (State of California)

When Santa Cruz County’s application is approved, Hair salons and barber shops could open for hair services but not facials, shaving, eyebrow threading or waxing. Schools will stay closed until Gov. Gavin Newsom gives instructions.

Several residents at Friday’s special supervisors meeting vented about shelter orders that have caused lost wages, mask-wearing requirements and school children that spend too much time indoors in front of screens. After a person made a remark toward County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel, County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios briefly suspended the meeting. 

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Rachael Murphy, owner of Callahan’s Pub on Water Street in Santa Cruz, said at the meeting that she supported the supervisors’ bid to reopen restaurants.

“My employees are broke, I’m broke. My landlord is requiring me to pay rent, just so you’re aware, that’s over five grand a month,” Murphy said. “What we need you guys to do is have a little faith in us, treat us like we matter. I know the people that are going to get sick from this matter. But those of us who are going to die from this, are going to be because we can’t feed our kids, can’t pay our mortgages, can’t pay our car payments. What happens to this county when we all go bankrupt?”

All of the county supervisors said they support the county health leaders’ handling of shelter rules.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold said Friday that he supported county health officials’ handling of COVID-19 shelter orders. (County of Santa Cruz)

“We are helping loads more businesses open up,” Supervisor John Leopold said of Friday’s action.

“I stand strongly behind science and data. I stand strongly behind our health staff, our health officer, who has been an architect of a strategy that has prevented the spread of virus transmission in our community and has prevented people from getting sick and has saved lives. We need to continue on that path,” Leopold said. 

Supervisor Zach Friend agreed.

“There have been a lot of personal attacks leveled toward health directors and officers throughout the state,” Friend said. “It’s a very trying and emotional and difficult and unprecedented time where people are trying to find a balance. And I think that they’re both doing a remarkable job,” Friend said of Newel and Hall. 

Friend signaled that if residents adhere to social distance rules, then COVID spread should remain low and more parts of the economy can open. 

“I think we can continue to have the successes we’ve had … by really putting the trust back in the community’s hands and say, ‘You have the power, we have the power collectively, to reopen the economy.’ But we also need to maintain a respect for our fellow community members,” Friend said.

County leaders said owners of restaurants and hair salons should refer to state guidance and documents if they are cleared to reopen.

Santa Cruz County Board Chairman Greg Caput expresses his support Friday for a state application to reopen restaurants and hair salons. (County of Santa Cruz)

By the numbers

COVID typically causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Public Health Department. For some — often older people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illnesses such as pneumonia.

Hall, the county’s health services agency director, said Friday that county health leaders’ priority is to detect infections among those most at risk with COVID-19, including seniors.

Although at least 46 of the state’s 58 counties already have reached late Stage 2 on the state’s roadmap, six San Francisco Bay Area counties including Santa Clara County have not filed for variances. Monterey County received a variance and loosened rules on shops and houses of worship, only to later tighten those rules, Hall said. 

“They continue to struggle with high case rates,” Hall said of Monterey. Yet despite COVID case counts that have risen with added testing, COVID hospitalizations have remained fairly flat in surrounding counties in recent weeks, according to state data.

Click on the chart for interactive features. (Graphic: Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local | Source: California Department of Public Health)

Since May 17, three have been fewer than 50 COVID patients in hospitals in each of the counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Monterey and Santa Cruz, according to the California Department of Public Health. The combined population of those counties is roughly 4.2 million people.

In Santa Cruz County since April 7, there have been no more than four confirmed COVID patients in hospitals on a given day, according to the California Department of Public Health. 

There have been two deaths and 206 confirmed COVID cases in Santa Cruz County this year, according to county health officials.

Supervisor Bruce McPherson said that the balance between public safety and the county’s economy during the COVID pandemic has been a big challenge. 

“This is the most complex situation I’ve experienced in my public service life,” said McPherson, a 76-year-old former California secretary of state. 

“We will never know how many deaths have been prevented and how many serious illnesses have been prevented because of the steps that we’ve taken,” McPherson said. “One of the problems we have is we live in one of the greatest places on Earth. And it draws a lot of people.”

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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.