Last week, San Luis Obispo County officials unveiled a framework for re-opening the county after much anticipation from business owners and community members, but already there is a delay in when that day will come.

The Steps to Adapt & Reopen Together (START) Guide is a phased approach to reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many were hoping that the guidelines would go into effect May 8th following the State’s announcement that California may soon move to an “early Stage 2” of reopening allowing retail businesses to open with curbside pickup and delivery, but no in-store shopping.

It’s unclear if SLO County will be allowed to do anything beyond that on Friday, County officials said.

“It’s unclear whether the State will give us the latitude to move forward in our own measured way with the approach outlined in our START Guide,” said County Public Health Officer, Dr. Penny Borenstein. “This is very disappointing because our community is ready to move forward. We continue to advocate and plan for local control and will revise our START Guide, as promised.”

The County cannot implement the framework until three things happen: (1) the State lifts or modifies its shelter at home order, (2) the State allows for local control, and (3) the County issues another executive order moving to Phase 1. Local officials say the State has not given local control, even with its announcement for “regional variation” to reopening on Friday.

“We appreciate the State’s efforts to move toward reopening, but we would like authorization to move forward with our approach as outlined in the START Guide,” said County Administrative Officer and Emergency Services Director Wade Horton.

The START Guide, which is superseded by the State, is three phases, each with public health criteria for moving to and from phases. Dr. Borenstein, is responsible for determining the guidelines for reopening.

“I am confident that our community will be able to take steps to adapt and reopen together,” said Dr. Borenstein. “This dynamic draft guide provides the public with our desired approach for a phased reopening of our communities and economy.”

The County cautions, “Any reopening may be associated with an unpredictable amount of risk. However, given existing scientific evidence and analysis of SLO County’s risk profile, these guidelines are proportionate but should be utilized in the context of the adaptive response in the event of worsening criteria.”

The guide includes what types of businesses can resume with measures of infection control or modifications to how they can do business. Phases will be a minimum of 30 days. Loosening of restrictions should be considered temporary and could change.

“We hope to be back to almost full normalcy with minimum 60 days after the first phase starts,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Lynn Compton in her daily updates on social media.

Everything will move back to the previous phase should conditions worsen. SLO County is currently in pre-Phase 1.
Phase 1

Many businesses including retail, manufacturing, personal care, body art, food facilities, movie theaters, museums and places of worship will see a phased/partial reopening. Parks, playgrounds, campgrounds, gyms and pools will see a modified reopening. Working from home is still encouraged.

All that reopen partially or with modifications will have to adhere to social distancing, gatherings of no more than 10 people, disinfecting strategies and facemasks among others.

Vulnerable populations will continue to stay at home. K-12 schools will have a partial reopening, but colleges will remain closed.

Phase 2 (Begins at least 30 days after a successful Phase 1)

This phase has the same healthy hygiene practices and distancing practices as Phase 1, but gatherings are increased to no more than 50 people. K-12 schools, childcare centers and summer camps will see a modified reopening as will

massage and spa services. Post-secondary institutions are to be determined.

Phase 3 (Begins at least 30 days after a successful phase 2)

Unrestricted staffing and operations can resume and most institutions and businesses can fully reopen.

However, they must ensure enough hand sanitizer and/or hand washing stations are at strategic locations and common or congregation areas at workplaces must be closed.

Post-secondary, large entertainment and sporting venues institutions will have a modified reopening. Clubs, lodges, and meeting halls will be fully open.

Visits to senior facilities and hospitals can resume with strict physical distancing protocols

Vulnerable populations can resume public interactions, but should practice physical distancing and minimizing exposure.

General population physical distancing will be eased and
gatherings with restrictions on numbers of people is to be determined.

“This slow and systematic approach will help us protect public health and our most vulnerable populations, while also providing residents, organizations, and businesses with a path to reopening our communities and economy with COVID-19,” County officials stated in the report, which can be found on ReadySLO.org.  

Finally, the County adds that, “It is possible that the second epidemic wave of the COVID-19 outbreak could occur between summer and fall 2020. That outbreak could be larger, infecting more people than the first. This is especially possible when preventive measures are loosened following the first epidemic curve and Cal Poly resumes on-campus instruction and activities.”

Epidemiologists, pathologists, infectious disease specialists, county epidemiologists, and an employment law attorney along with stakeholder input from 250 community leaders all worked to put together the report.

Because this is a living document that will be updated based on current situations, the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce is asking for public input so that the can most effectively advocate on behalf of the business community. Let your voice be heard at https://bit.ly/2xrvqKz.

Review the START Guide, provide feedback, and get other coronavirus updates at ReadySLO.org, call the recorded Public Health Information Line at (805) 788-2903, or staffed phone assistance center at (805) 543-2444, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.