SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- Hair salons, barbershops and retail stores were allowed to resume indoor operations Monday in Santa Clara County while many other business sectors remain shut down due to the novel coronavirus.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that state health officials gave a green light to hair salons and barbershops to reopen indoors with modifications statewide, regardless of the virus' rate of spread in certain counties.
California's new simplified, four-tiered COVID-19 guidelines for counties to reopen specific business sectors is based in part on what health officials have learned about the pandemic in recent months.
The new system marked the first major change since a surge in coronavirus cases in July forced officials to shut down a number of activities across the state.
The governor said that the new four tier color-coded system would match a color to each of the four tiers with purple representing the highest "Widespread" risk level for a county with more than seven new cases per 100,000 residents and more than 8 percent positivity rate. Red will represent "Substantial" risk, while orange represents "Moderate" risk and yellow the lowest level, "Minimal" risk, with those lower levels being determined by reduced numbers in case and positivity rates.
The governor said the state COVID-19 website now has an updated section that allows users to look up exactly what is allowed to reopen by county. Santa Clara County is one of 38 counties in the state's highest tier of viral spread due to a case rate per 100,000 residents of 8.6.
Counties must have fewer than seven new cases per 100,000 and a test positivity rate below 8 percent to move out of the "Widespread" infection risk tier.
The San Jose Journeys chain shoe store has been surviving through online sales, but owners of the location were thrilled when they got word last Friday to get ready to reopen.
When asked what she wanted to tell customers who are nervous about coming into the store, manager Tosha Gustafson said, "We're actually doing everything that we can do by way of wearing our masks, sanitizing in between customers chairs, making sure that if there are any returns or exchanges that we're setting them aside for the appropriate time. So we're taking the necessary precautions."
It was mostly empty before lunch, but many customers like Scott Jackson just happened to be in the area and strolled in.
"We felt safe and everything in there," said Jackson.
Customer Mark Lara was one of the first customers in the door.
"I'm nervous, but I try to keep my distance. I try to listen and I try to follow the rules," said Lara. "But if it's a very packed area I wouldn't, I wouldn't put myself in that position."
Many businesses remain closed in Santa Clara County, however, and are still struggling financially or may be unclear about the reopening guidelines in their specific industry, according to county officials.
County spokeswoman Betty Duong said the county is working with business owners to save small businesses and put out clear health guidelines for industries that are allowed to reopen in some form.
"We take an education-first approach," Duong said. "We know that businesses are struggling during this time. We can't control exactly what (COVID-19) will do."
County officials admit they are still trying to define what the stipulated 25-percent capacity actually means.
"In the name of transparency, we're still trying to figure out what that exactly looks like operationally," said Duong. "So we're working with the state, we're working with the industry leadership to make sure that what we put out is clear. Because clarity will will promote compliance on the part of employers and also on the part of customers."
At Tracy's Salon in downtown San Jose, owner Tracy Nguyen said the new order allows her to do hair indoors, but nails must still be done outside.
She says it's frustrating with the heat and smoke, because customers want to be indoors.
"To me it's not making any sense," said Nguyen.
The county's order still prohibits services indoors that involve touching the face.
Julie Dewhirst, the owner of Ritual Day Spa in Campbell, claims the restriction is unfair and unreasonable. She says she can't hold out much longer.
"I have maxed out all my credit cards. I used my PPP loan a long time ago," said Dewhirst. "I have asked for rent reduction. I've gotten a little bit, not much, but my savings are drained. To be honest, most of us are not going to be able to last much longer."
Yuliya Vasudev, a sales executive with the San Jose-based catering company Tony Caters, said the company is one of many in the hospitality industry that has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue since the start of the pandemic, which scuttled large events.
"There's nothing coming on the books for even the next year or next half of a year," she said.
Vasudev said the company has pivoted to selling cooking ingredient kits to virtual event attendees.
Tony Caters also plans to partner with local companies seeking to send a holiday meal kit to their employees in lieu of holding a traditional holiday party.
Hospitality industry leaders have dealt with the pandemic by collaborating, Vasudev said, and strategically planning for what public events will look like when the pandemic wanes.
"It's been a hard time for our industry but it's been amazing to see how supportive the community has been," she said. "And instead of competing with each other, we're now working together and trying to see how we can safely start doing events."
A full list of industries that are allowed to operate in Santa Clara County can be found at covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy.
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