Too little, too late for some as Santa Clara County allows more businesses to reopen
San Jose leaders agreed allowing outdoor business activity, including dining, to remain open until midnight through winter will help merchants survive. Photo courtesy of Federal Realty Investment Trust.

California health officials announced Santa Clara County is now in the red tier reopening phase, which allows more businesses to operate indoors.

The county is still under a substantial risk for COVID-19 spread, according to state guidelines, and local health officials urge people to wear masks and take social distancing precautions.

Here’s a quick look at what changes are in effect.

What’s open indoors

The county’s shift to the red reopening phase allowed nail salons, gyms and shopping malls to operate indoors with a limited amount of people inside.

To reopen, businesses must submit social distancing protocols to the county’s website.

“Before anybody just runs out there and opens up, you’ve got to have all your practices in place, your I’s dotted, T’s crossed, to keep your workers and your customers safe,” said County Counsel James Williams.

Some nail salon owners say operating indoors will be a relief for their establishments and workers but others say they already have lost their client base and a reopening will do little to alleviate financial woes.

“A lot of my clients, they get their nails done every two weeks and for the last six, seven months they could not come in so they grow out their nails for a while and for some reason I feel like they get used to it, so they really don’t need it anymore,” said Tina Le, owner of Nail Elegance in San Jose.

Under the new tier, nail salons can now bring a limited amount of people inside while following stringent sanitary procedures, according to state health guidelines.

Linda Do, the owner of Blossom Nail Spa in San Jose and Campbell, said the reopening will allow more employees to be at work and give more flexibility for customers to get manicures and pedicures away from the heat and poor air quality outdoors.

“We just started back in the outdoors, struggling with the weather, the heat, the thunderstorm, the wind. It was just so chaotic. So being able to operate indoors was just great news for us,” Do said.

However, Le said since the county’s botched reopening in June, significantly fewer clients have called to make appointments.

“Two months ago when we get to be open to two days, the day before I got 100 phone calls,” Le said “But then, this time, today I had five phone calls so the damage is already there.”

Louie Pham, owner of Orchid Nail Lounge in Santa Clara, said she represents a group of 65 nail salon owners in Santa Clara County and that local official communication has been insufficient about reopening indoors.

“They promised to meet with us and never really gave us a concrete date,” Pham said. “At first they talked with us a lot and then afterwards they just kind of left us behind and they only spoke with one or two nail salons they already patronized.”

What’s not open indoors

Although state guidelines allow restaurants to reopen indoors at limited capacity, Santa Clara County has not given the green light for indoor dining, Williams said.

Another exception to state guidelines is in-person worship, which is still forbidden indoors within Santa Clara County, Williams said.

He added counties can impose stricter guidelines than the state.

Masks and social distancing

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s testing chief, said people still need to take the same level of health precautions, such as wearing masks and washing hands, despite moving to a lower-risk tier.

“COVID-19 is still here. It hasn’t gone away, and the fact that we’ve moved into the red tier at this point doesn’t change that,” Fenstersheib said. “We still have to remain vigilant. We still have to wear our masks. We still have to socially distance ourselves.”

What’s next

Counties will remain in each tier for at least three weeks, said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, and can only move tiers if they maintain a designated case rate and testing positivity rate for two straight weeks.

Santa Clara County must reduce its case rate to one to 3.9 new infections per day and its testing positivity rate to 2 to 4.9% within the state’s timeline to move to the orange tier, the next lower-risk level.

Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

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