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Officials Address ‘Social Distancing’, ‘Nonessential Business’

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Sonora, CA – Concerns about social distancing and what constitutes an “essential” business or service are generating multiple calls to public health and law enforcement offices.

Addressing rumblings about crowding at certain local stores, Tuolumne County Public Health spokesperson Michelle Jachetta refers everyone back to the mandates in place. “At this time, the state and local authorities ask the public — and expect of them — to exercise self-governance and comply with local and state health officer orders, including the current statewide stay-at-home order. This will aid in the reduction of the spread of COVID-19 and protect them, their families, and their community.”

As the situation continues to change daily, she acknowledges that policies could as well, when necessary to protect the public.

As far as businesses that remain open to fulfill essential products and services as defined in Governor Gavin Newsom’s order such as food, other supplies, and pharmaceutical needs, Jachetta emphasizes that the exercise of social distancing is up to individuals to maintain.

So, in the event a business appears to be too busy with customers to maintain six feet of space in between people and does not have its own crowd monitoring in place, the best self-regulating response would be simply to leave and return at another time or visit another business to fulfill the current need.

She says Public Health officials continue to work closely with local law enforcement on addressing issues as they come up regarding reports of gatherings and other concerns. Sonora Police Chief Tutu VanderWiel reports that so far, his department has not had to disburse crowding at a local business.

With regard to COVID-19-related call volume, the chief replies, “We are getting plenty of complaints — several a day – and some are a misunderstanding of what [business] is authorized and what is not.”

He describes one call reporting a mechanic’s shop being open, which does fall within one of the state-approved “essential” business and service sectors under repair of transportation. Anyone with questions about what constitutes an essential business allowed to remain open can click here for the Governor’s list.

As reported here, Calaveras County Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita in his Thursday-issued clarifying order, illuminated the difference between essential and non-essential among lodging operators by describing under what instances they could operate in compliance with the Stay At Home Order. It was a pretty clear litmus test: in order to be considered essential, the operators had to be solely serving (in this case, isolating or quarantining) persons exposed to or infected with COVID-19, displaced persons such as the homeless or workers performing jobs deemed essential to maintaining critical infrastructure.

In cases when a non-essential business is still showing signs of operating, the chief says that city officials will initially reach out to deal with the matter ahead of a uniformed police officer.

“It is to minimize the confrontational aspect and get people to hopefully comply and self-regulate…we, fortunately, have not had to involve law enforcement there yet and hope we don’t. We want people to say, ‘this is the right thing to do’, comply and be a good neighbor.”