Communities around California demand action plans from leadership

Tensions across the country grind as the fears over coronavirus spreading subside due in large part by the sheltering efforts of the nation’s citizens, and other practices, directly result in a flattening of the curve.

Reported cases of COVID-19 are finding a plateau, and discussions by governors about reopening states are met with small protests of people who demand a plan.

Social media discussions rage between those who fear a resurgence of cases and those who reference further economic damage and curtailing of freedoms.

“I typically refrain from commenting on Facebook,” Paso Robles resident Bob Rollins told The Paso Robles Press. “[But] there has got to be a better way and a better approach. If you follow the current thought process, we are stuck indoors until we have a vaccine.”

Spring Fever Reigns as Concerns Dissipate

As communities begin the process of reopening, loosening restrictions is on everybody’s minds. 

Ventura County reopened beaches, parks and certain businesses, and groups of up to five people are currently considered safe. Jacksonville, Fla. reopened beaches to relatively large crowds and plenty of criticism. Meanwhile, San Clemente filled a skatepark with sand.

As the idea of enjoying life returns, the plan to reopen remains hazy for local residents. Regardless, the questions need answers and patience is running short for many, and protests surge with cardboard signs of “Freedom over Fear.” At the same time that communities connect over compassionate actions to serve the greater good, tensions erupt over economic and personal frustrations. Such is the substance of America, and the dilemma local leaders face in the recovery process.

In regular updates, SLO County Administrative Officer Wade Horton and County Health Officer Penny Borenstein have expressed cautious optimism about the reopening of the economy and community.

In coordination with a panel of local business leaders, Horton and Borenstein have promised a plan to begin reopening. The plan has yet to be publicly presented, but expectations and tensions are high for the week ahead.

SLO County has continually hit numbers that speak to readiness for reopening, and business owners and others anxiously await the plan — some more cautious than others.

Rollins, a longtime resident of Paso Robles, who served on the City Planning Commission and Downtown Main Street board, is retired military and a college professor.

He admitted he is not as impacted as others who have life savings invested in their business, or who are facing economic disaster, but agrees with many that the time to act is short.

“If we come out too early,” Rollins said, “we might have a resurgence, and if we wait … our economy can’t take 12 to 18 months of this.”

Decisions, Decisions

Communities around the globe are pitched between a rock and a hard place, but not all counties are facing the same public health dangers. SLO County COVID-19 stats continue to underscore the community’s readiness to reopen. With one new case on Sunday, April 19, the past 14 days have run an average of 2.65 new cases each day, and a low strain on local healthcare.

“I listen to Wade Horton and Penny Borenstein, and we are unique,” Rollins said. “In order for them to keep their job, they need to be risk-averse. A business owner, you inherently embrace risks. If these businesses don’t have the capital to continue after this is over, the business won’t be able to continue.”

Rollins expanded on the economic impact, indicating that when a business goes down, subsequently, the employees of that business are also economically injured, leading to a longer, more difficult recovery process.

Officials, leaders, and community members confirm that opening the community will be a gradual process, but some actions can be taken immediately.

“We can identify the people at most risk and provide them the opportunity to continue to shelter,” Rollins said, “even if that means a public agency. We certainly can’t put them at risk, that would be irresponsible.”

Some businesses, deemed “essential services,” have continued to operate unabated, albeit with a dwindling customer base, and reopening would bring back other services that have been forced to close.

Specifically, service-based industries, hygienic services, and accessory industries like dog grooming have been named to lists submitted to The Paso Robles Press as a priority for inclusion in the first phase of reopening.

“There are so many service-based businesses that should be open right now,” Rollins said. “They are often at the bottom of the pay spectrum and can hardly afford this.”

Other industries considered “nonessential,” like optometrists and dentists, have high levels of hygiene that attract attention when comparing what is essential and what is not.

“It amazes me that dentistry is closed when a smoke shop is open,” Rollins said. “I understand why a smoke shop should be open, but a good dentist is extremely clean to begin with.”

Along with nonessential businesses, the County has closed beaches and parks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I think it is unfortunate that the County has closed a lot of the recreational facilities,” Rollins said. “Getting outside is important to a person’s mental health. At some point, [officials] are overreaching, and that needs to be rectified immediately.”

Initial Steps and the Plan to Reopen

In the early onset of COVID-19 in California, the residents of SLO County jumped into a defensive position, risking economic security in exchange for the health of the most vulnerable.

“We took the initial steps, and it was important,” Rollins said. “We did it on faith, and we did it on the idea that the numbers were going to be devastating.”

After four weeks of sheltering, global research into the spread and outcomes of varying approaches, and results of personal hygiene and physical distancing to review, the curve has been flattened for SLO County and others.

“The numbers are not reflective of what we were told,” Rollins said, “and now it is time to back it off and take steps to get back on track.”

Looming expectations are demands that are felt by Horton and Borenstein, as communities around the state begin to host protests against shelter orders.

“There needs to be a definitive plan and timeline,” Rollins said. “People are going to be far more tolerant of that approach.”

County officials are scheduled to provide an update in a public briefing from the Joint Communication Center in SLO. The briefing will stream live on the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department Facebook page at 3:15 p.m. on Monday.

For up-to-date information about COVID-19 in SLO County, visit our dedicated page.

Publisher’s Note: It is our position that reopening the economy is a top priority, and that operating the opening safely in respect to protecting our vulnerable populations is mandatory. We must open, safely.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles