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Claremont businesses stay flexible adjusting to Omicron

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Kicking off 2022, Claremont received troubling news. As of Wednesday, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recorded 628 new COVID-19 infections in the city over the previous two weeks. The winter surge is likely driven by holiday travel, winter weather and the less dangerous but still deadly Omicron variant.

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“Given what we’ve seen over the last few weeks with Omicron, I’m not surprised that number’s that high,” City Manager Adam Pirrie said about the surge. “I think there was a period of time prior to the holidays where people let their guard down a little bit. I think this is an opportunity for people to be reminded of the importance of those protocols that [Los Angeles] County and the health authorities have recommended. Things like social distancing [and] masking, particularly indoors.”

The rise in cases has prompted many questions for Claremont business owners. How will the surge affect business traffic? Will these new infections prompt closures? Are we in for another year-long rollercoaster ride like 2020 and 2021? Unfortunately, only time will tell.

It is still too early to accurately ascertain the impact this wave will have on local businesses, but Pirrie told the COURIER on Wednesday that fortunately no closures were on the table — yet. He said as usual, the city will continue following guidelines outlined by county health officials. To view L.A. County health guidelines, visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/index.htm.

“We’re subject to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health mandates as they relate to business restrictions. We haven’t heard any closures are on the horizon but I wouldn’t rule them out at this point,” Pirrie said. “We’ll continue to work with L.A. County and implement any protocols that they recommend for keeping people safe. I’m not sure if it will come to this but if it means imposing restrictions on businesses … we’ll follow L.A. County protocols and enforce them.

“We have a mask ordinance that’s in effect that also gives us the ability to enforce any directives from the county of L.A. So if we find that people are not complying with L.A. County health orders, we do have the ability to enforce compliance,” he added.

A recently updated statewide mandate requires people to wear masks inside public spaces and businesses until February 15 with narrow exceptions. To read the mandate and view a list of those who are exempt from wearing a mask, visit www.covid19.ca.gov.

Pirrie mentioned that while Omicron is not as dangerous as previous strains of COVID-19, the public should still be wary of the latest variant when shopping locally.

“Although it appears the Omicron strain is a little less dangerous in terms of risk of hospitalization and death, I think there are still vulnerable members of our community who are more susceptible to more adverse effects,” Pirrie said. “I still think we need to be vigilant with safety protocols with encouraging vaccinations, with masking, with disinfecting protocols and social distancing, I think those kinds of things are things that L.A. County still requires in order to make sure those vulnerable members of our population can remain safe.

“Our business community has responded really well over the last year and a half to the pandemic in making sure their employees and customers are safe. My hope is they’ll continue to do so and that the city will support them as much as we can in making sure they do that,” Pirrie said.

The city council recently approved a small business grant program, which likely will be available beginning early February, and will be administered through L.A. County, to provide assistance to Claremont businesses, Pirrie said.

While Claremont businesses have not been forced to close so far this year, only asked to enforce masking protocols, some have taken independent measures to help slow the spread of the virus.

After consulting with staff last Wednesday, Claremont Craft Ales decided to close its tasting room and patio due to the recent surge, however they are still offering curbside pickup.

“We did not have to close our tasting room, we chose to close our tasting room,” Simon Brown, CEO of Claremont Craft Ales, said.

Brown said he knew that the New Year’s Eve holiday would likely draw numerous people to the brewery and potentially result in a super spreader event.

“Everyone knew a bunch of people that had [COVID-19], which is a new phase of the pandemic where suddenly everybody knows plenty of people that are currently infected and that just started to freak them out. Essentially … our employees wanted to take a step back and we wanted to support them and agreed with that,” Brown said.

The main problem that remains for the brewery, along with other mom and pop shops, is that they don’t know when this winter surge will cease.

COVID-19 has also affected Claremont gyms including Fit Rituals, a 3,000-square-foot indoor studio. The virus has pushed co-owners, Tasha Bell, and Bernadette LeGrant into voluntarily reducing class sizes by 50% while also ensuring the small studio has proper air circulation.

Bell speculates that due to the Omicron variant, “people are still holding back from those health-based new year’s resolutions and getting back into the gym,” adding, “[Omicron] is definitely lengthening that time” before people get back to the gym.

Ever since Fit Rituals opened in November 2019, the duo said it has been hard to get the community through their doors due to the pandemic. Now, thanks to the recent surge, it is even harder, Bell explained.

On Wednesday evening, the studio held an aerial yoga course led by instructor Devyn Craine. While the class’s maximum capacity is currently eight, only two participants, Nickki Sanchez and Stephanie Swisher, signed up.

“We normally see a lot of people back in the gym, a lot of bookings for January and right now our bookings are not where we would normally expect them,” Bell said.

The recent surge has not dramatically impacted the retail industry, though it has prompted more employee testing, according to The Diamond Center owner Ray Lantz.

“Omicron specifically has affected us in that we really ramped up testing of staff,” Lantz said. “It’s been our goal from the beginning [of the pandemic] to have 100% safety for our staff and customers and zero spread at work.”

Recently, Lantz notified his employees via email that no one can work while sick regardless of vaccine status. Lantz also explained that the recent surge has strengthened his resolve to take safety seriously.

“Something we’ve wanted to avoid from the start is, [having] to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey you were exposed in my business,’ to a list of customers on a given day,” Lantz said. “We’ve been really vigilant about [customer safety] from the start and will continue to be because I never want to make those phone calls.”

Shortly after our interview, Lantz sent the COURIER a Facebook message in which he shared, “I’m grateful and aware that it’s feasible in my specific business to be proactive about safety while we continue doing what we do. Certainly, some businesses have a much tougher set of circumstances and I see so many of my small business neighbors in the Village make the best of things and keep moving forward.”

It seems that the public is aware of the protocols and willing to step up to the plate, and customers rarely make much of a fuss about wearing masks indoors, according to Lantz.

While still significant, overall the recent increased caseload has not been a game changer for Claremont’s businesses. However, only time will tell.

 

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