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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Claremont, county to reopen, step by step

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

This week brought some contrasting news, with Tuesday’s announcement from Los Angeles County Public Health that church services and in-store shopping could resume, while also reporting 1,843 new coronavirus cases in a single day, the highest number so far.

The county cautioned that the one-day spike in cases was due in part to a backlog of test results and a steady increase in testing capacity. However, with the average daily total of new cases at 1,209 over the previous week (May 20 through May 26), the virus is clearly still spreading.

Also on Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that barbershops and hair salons were cleared to open in much of the state, effectively moving those areas into stage three of his four-stage reopening plan. Forty-seven of the state’s 58 counties were able to reach benchmarks in Mr. Newsom’s order by demonstrating they had increased hospital space, improved testing capacity and provided adequate supplies of protective gear.

Los Angeles is the only county in Southern California that was not able to meet that criteria and will remain in phase two for now. This prompted the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to authorize a request for a variance of the governor’s order that, if approved, would allow LA County to reopen its businesses in alignment with adjacent counties, including San Bernardino and Orange. The variance would allow hair salons and barbers to reopen and restaurants to offer modified dine-in services. 

Because all LA County cities must heed identical restrictions in the health order, Claremont has to keep its barbershops and salons closed while just a few miles to the east similar business in Upland are open.

This, of course, puts Claremont business owners and the city itself into a financial bind and seems unreasonable to some, considering the very low infection rate here.

“We know our businesses are struggling especially with similar businesses opening up in counties directly adjacent to Claremont. Given our proximity to other counties that are already in phase 3 and Claremont’s low case numbers, we are looking forward to opening additional business with safety measures and modifications. The city is also working at ways to accommodate businesses that need additional room to ensure distancing like restaurants,” Claremont’s Public Information Officer Bevin Handel told the COURIER.

In the meantime, the current modifications to the county’s Safer at Home order will allow faith-based organizations to resume services, with the number of congregants limited to 25 percent of the building’s capacity up to a maximum of 100 people.

All indoor and outdoor retail shopping centers may now open for business at 50-percent capacity. All flea markets, swap meets and drive-in movie theaters may also resume operations.

Shared amenities like pools, hot tubs and saunas at multi-unit residences such as apartment buildings or part of a homeowners association may also now open.

Heirloom on Indian Hill Boulevard in the Village is one of many retail establishments planning to reopen under the revised order. The shop, which sells “an eclectic mix of cards, books and gifts” announced on social media this week that they plan to open the doors on Friday.

Co-owner Becky Fikel Morgan was cautiously optimistic about the prospects given that the city has been very quiet for the past two months.

“We will have to see what foot traffic is like in the Village,” she said. “I hope it’s going to be good but we will find out this weekend.”

The shop has remained closed for 10 weeks, so Ms. Fikel Morgan, with her husband and co-owner Rob Lewbel, decided to check up on the computer systems to ensure they were ready. That was a fortunate move because they discovered the credit card terminal was in fact dead. Another one is in the mail but that creates another worry. “Hopefully it will be there by Friday,” she said.

Initially Heirloom will be open Friday through Sunday from 12-6. She wants to limit the hours to only one shift with one employee to minimize that person’s interactions with others. Ms. Fikel Morgan said that she has been coordinating with other Village business so that their hours of operation are in sync.

After they announced the Friday re-launch they have received warm support from the community especially other business owners. “Thankfully the property owner has been patient and worked with us. Everyone is in it together,” Ms. Fikel Morgan said.

This week the state topped 100,000 cases while the national death toll is poised to top that same number. As of Wednesday the county has recorded 48,700 total cases and 2,195 deaths since its first report on March 4. That represents a 16-percent increase in cases and a 10.25-percent rise in deaths in one week. The county has recorded 55 percent of the state’s total 3973 total deaths, a trend that has continued for several weeks.

Also on Wednesday the county reported 38 cases in Claremont, a 13-percent increase from a week ago. There are still no confirmed deaths in Claremont.

While 48,700 is a big number, Los Angeles County’s outbreak is far less severe than other areas when adjusted for population. According to data compiled by the Washington Post, LA County has 473 cases per 100,000 people compared with the Bronx which has 3,095 per 100,000. Even some rural areas have very high infection rates when population is considered. Nebraska’s Dakota County may only have 1,639 confirmed cases, however, that works out to 8,067 per 100,000, one of the highest rates in the country.

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