Relaxing stay-at-home restrictions will be long process

by Steven Felschundneff |

If you turned on the television or spent any time on social media this weekend then you no doubt saw the images of people flocking to the beaches in Ventura and Orange counties. The resulting commentary—in person and via the media—has resulted in the predicable back and forth between the folks who are itching to relax stay-at-home orders and those who want to see restrictions extended or even strengthened.

That debate will go on for as long as the coronavirus pandemic lasts, and probably after it’s over. However, the country, state and cities will have to reopen at some point. Ultimately, it will be up to local government, L.A. County and the City of Claremont to decide what the process will look like here.

In response to an inquiry from the COURIER, Claremont Public Information Officer Bevin Handel issued a statement providing some details about how the city will proceed with the reopening process.

“The Governor has outlined a four-phase plan with essential businesses already open with safety protocols. The next phase will be lower risk workplaces, retail, manufacturing, modified schools and childcare. According to the Governor, phase two will depend on testing and healthcare benchmarks and will occur through a statewide modification to the Safer at Home order. Counties may choose to relax their orders at their own pace. The third phase will reopen higher risk businesses like gyms, salons, and theaters. The last phase is large gatherings and entertainment venues like concerts,” the statement read.

Establishing an exact timeline here in Claremont is complicated, especially since the county nor the state have provided a clear schedule for the four phases listed in Governor Newsome’s plan.

“With the L.A. County Safer at Home Order set to expire on May 15, city staff has been meeting to develop a reopening plan for City facilities. The plan is still being developed as we work with the County Public Health on safety protocols. The phased plan will slowly reopen City offices to allow some employees to return and facilities to open to the public with physical distancing and masks,” the statement read. “Claremont falls under the County orders and may adopt more strict regulations, but not less restrictive regulations. L.A. County has not issued a timeline for the phases as of yet.”

Claremont’s city parks will be reopened in step with the county and other area cities to prevent drawing crowds to Claremont. Especially given large gatherings need to be avoided. Other cities, such as Redlands in San Bernardino county, opened parks this past weekend.

“Opening the Wilderness Park and Thompson Creek Trail without other nearby hiking trails open would cause greater crowds, like was seen at some So. Cal beaches. The City’s senior centers, events, and group activities will not open in the first phase,” according to the statement.

Mel Boynton sides with the group who wants to exercise caution, particularly to avoid initiating a second, and possibly more severe, wave of the virus.

“First, we need to be guided by the health officials. Second, we need to be patient and be sure we have enough testing and medical resources, especially for our underserved and senior populations,” he said. “We need to remember and learn from history—the 1918 flu and more recent respiratory epidemics often came in waves, with the second wave being more deadly than the first.”

Mr. Boynton, a 17-year Claremont resident, said we need to prioritize reopening a new set of essential services, which includes haircutting, medical visits, libraries, and eventually schools. That could be followed by local community businesses with physical distancing procedures in place. Finally, we could once again allow large group events, and tourist venues.

Longtime Claremont resident Robin Young agrees with the long range approach and says reopening should be done “prudently and wisely.”

“Taking direction from state and county guidelines and assessing the risks associated with a given type of business. Dry cleaners and shoe repair businesses may be better able to operate safely than a bar or a nail salon,” she said.

Sixteen-year resident John Watkins favors a more accelerated approach. He wants to see an immediately reopening of the popular loop trail at the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park and Thompson Creek Trail, with one-directional walking so people can stay at a safe distance apart. He said hikers on Thompson Creek could return home by surface streets.

“If you don’t want to walk streets back on Thompson Creek drop a car on one side. No reason that shouldn’t work with masks required to comply. If need be, man the base with either city personnel or volunteers,” Mr. Watkins said.

Other ideas that have been circulating include opening the trails at the Wilderness Park, but keep the parking lots closed. One resident suggested on social media, the park could be made available to residents only, although that would require some type of monitoring.

Mr. Watkins also has some ideas for supporting our local restaurants through what will undoubtedly be a slow return to profitability. He wants to lobby the state to allow restaurants to offer to-go alcohol sales, including cocktails, through July 2021. He also wants the city to eliminate the parking spot requirement for opening new businesses.

“Reopening with only 50-percent seating capacity, which is probably going to happen, could be really bad if they eliminate cocktail to-go service,” Mr. Watkins said. “Life in the village after this is likely going to be different. Parking is unlikely to be as tight for a while after this, so don’t make it hard to attract investment into the village.”

He would like the city to allow restaurants to begin the process of reopening on Wednesday May 13, giving the staff time to be open for business on Friday the 15th. Restaurants could operate at 50-percent capacity, while bars could be open with stand up service, allowing for 6-foot spacing between patrons.

Almost everyone agrees the transition from where we are today to the unknown future will be unlike anything we have attempted as a country. It may be a very long time before we return to simply walking about the Village without the ever-present masks, or queuing up at the grocery story without the safe distancing.

“The coronavirus will be with us for the foreseeable future, so we must give time for the researchers to learn from the current hot-spots, develop therapeutics, and allow the 18 months or longer needed to test and mass distribute a safe vaccine. Life as we knew it early in 2020 will not be returning before late 2021 or later,” Mr. Boynton said.


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