Fresno officials host a press conference Thursday to announce the loosening of shelter-in-place rules.
Written by Gabriel Dillard
Restaurants with outdoor dining and retail stores will be allowed to reopen in the City of Fresno under the most sweeping changes to date to the city’s Covid-19 emergency orders.
The announcement was made at a news conference during the Fresno City Council’s regular lunch break Thursday afternoon.
The City of Fresno’s shelter-in-place rule will be lifted effective next Tuesday, May 26. Retail stores can reopen without the current mandate that only one customer be allowed in a store per 500 square feet of space. Instead, state guidelines call for business owners to allow room for social distancing, generally giving people space for a six-foot buffer from others.
Restaurants will be allowed to use current outdoor dining spaces to serve patrons under the new rule. Dine-in service at restaurants will only be allowed once Fresno County receives a special variance from the state to do so. Madera and Kings counties have already been granted these “attestations” that hinge on a number of factors including Covid-19 caseloads and hospitalization rates.
City officials are hopeful the state’s variance would be granted soon. The city’s new order allows for dine-in once the state gives its OK. The state isn’t mandating a set capacity for restaurants to operate at — just that they implement social distancing.
Shoppers will still be required to wear protective facemasks when they enter a store or convene in a common area inside a restaurant. People will still be encouraged to wear masks in public, outside of businesses.
Fresno code enforcement will continue to be the enforcement arm for these rules, but administrative fines would only be levied in the most “egregious and flagrant violations,” said Frenso City Council President Miguel Arias.
Arias anticipated that voluntary compliance would continue, pointing out the fact that out of 1,900 restaurants in Fresno, only one had faced fines. Out of more than 2,600 businesses, only 17 were fined.
Beauty parlors, hair salons, nail salons, tattoo shops, gyms and churches are examples of businesses or institutions that have not received the green light to reopen under the state or City of Fresno’s current orders.
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand said it will be up to citizens to protect the most vulnerable from the coronavirus as the economy reopens.
“We’re taking a giant step forward today in taking our future and our destiny in our hands,” Brand said.
The Fresno City Council has also allocated $10 million to help Fresno County ramp up its Covid-19 testing. Councilmember Luis Chavez said the county is currently doing about 1,000 tests a day. Per the state, that needs to increase to 1,500 tests daily. The funding will also be used to hire contact tracers to help determine who infected people might have come into contact with.
Councilmembers also teased a number of measures they plan to introduce in the coming days to help businesses get back on their feet. For instance, Arias plans to propose spending $250,000 on facemasks to provide small businesses a supply not dependent on the open market.
Councilmember Mike Karbassi said he will propose rescinding fines on businesses cited for remaining open, citing examples such as the Elbow Room, Crazy Bernie furniture store and Fresno Chrysler Dodge. Businesses cited for price gouging would continue to face fines, he added.
Karbassi also wants the council to give restaurants more leeway to use outdoor spaces such as sidewalks and possibly parking lots to increase their outdoor dining space, in accordance with “Temporary Catering Authorization” introduced by the California Alcohol Beverage Control to help restaurants impacted by Covid-19 orders.
Fresno Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer said the new order would allow the city to phase in businesses in a safe and reasonable manner. It will be up to business owners to be responsible for the safety of their customers and employees.
“Now it’s time for Fresno to get back to work,” Dyer said.