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Impatience amid a pandemic: When is the right time to reopen the Kern economy?


Visitors are unable to gain access to the Department of Labor due to closures over coronavirus concerns, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in New York. Applications for jobless benefits are surging in some states as coronavirus concerns shake the U.S. economy. The sharp increase comes as governments have ordered millions of workers, students and shoppers to stay home as a precaution against spreading the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Growing unrest from coronavirus stay-at-home orders in place across the country have resulted in organized protests and the creation of several anti-quarantine organizations. 

Protests this week in Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Michigan and elsewhere underscored the fact that Americans are chafing at the restrictions. Impatience is evident everywhere.

The COVID-19 crisis has crashed the national economy but there are signs of hope. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom put forth some plans and goals that will hopefully turn things around when we’re ready. Are we ready in Kern County though?  

Nick Ortiz of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce has been fielding those questions and he says … not quite.

“We need the economy to reopen, and we need a recovery, and we do need to focus on what are the public policy steps to get there, and what are the implications and what are the strategies for recovery,” Ortiz said. “But again, I really believe that the best way out of this is, instead of setting hard target dates, hearing the indicators that are going to tell us that it is safe for sectors of the economy, geographic areas of the country or state, to start to reopen.”

As serious as the threat may be, still, Dr. Ronald Reynoso, Chief Medical Officer at Adventist Health Bakersfield, said the health department’s recommendations should be enough. No mandatory enforcement should be necessary — he hopes.

“The recommendations are there for us to do the best way possible based on evidence,” Reynoso said. “I think we are in a free country that allows us to do a lot of things and the best way to gain the trust of the people is, getting the advice and taking the recommendations.”

They’re taking things much more seriously in New York — but then they have to — COVID-19 cases have devastated the state. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday mandated the wearing of masks in public settings when social distancing is unrealistic, saying civil penalties are possible. The order takes effect Friday. 

Do we want to do that kind of thing in Kern County? Sheriff Donny Youngblood told me he does not deal with hypotheticals well. But District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer reminded me that violations of the Governor’s Executive Orders or orders of the local health department are punishable as misdemeanors, but she’ll leave those decisions up to the policy makers but she’ll enforce what needs to be enforced.

Meanwhile, Ortiz, of the Chamber, says that, even though he and his staff are working from home, they’re keeping busy apprising member businesses of available loan and emergency funding programs.

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