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Tuolumne, Sonora, Hold COVID-19 Business Recovery Remote Meeting

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Sonora, CA — While somewhat limited on details, local leaders were upbeat and eager for input during their inaugural public Zoom webinar addressing COVID-19 business recovery plans.

As reported here, Wednesday’s remote meeting was intended to open up a forum with local business owners. Plans are to hold weekly sessions and additionally engage business in various sectors such as lodging, restaurants, retail and services.

Among the resource details provided was basic information on the federal phased approach to reopening the economy. There was also a first stab at draft local guidance for businesses and restaurants to operate during the phase-in. The latter was drawn up using public health and government input from Tuolumne County and Sonora officials as well as from Mariposa and Madera counties who are part of the recently forged Yosemite Gateway Area Coordination Team. The working drafts, which will be regularly updated, can be read by clicking here.

The meeting itself, which lasted over an hour, was facilitated by County Innovation and Business Assistance Director Cole Pryzbyla, and hosted by Board Chair Sherri Brennan and Supervisor Karl Rodefer. Also on hand to comment and answer questions were Public Health Officer Dr. Liza Ortiz, Sonora City Administrator Mary Rose Rutikanga, and City Councilmember Colette Such.

Although the total number of folks accessing the meeting was not clearly evident, several dozen questions could be seen typed in from those attending via the web platform. A good many indicated frustration both at the vagueness of the draft local plan and using the webinar platform itself. Pryzabyla multi-tasked, additionally fielding email and text queries to his smartphone.

Among the major concerns were when and how short-term vacation lodging and outdoor recreation might resume; whether stringent social distancing rules under the draft plan of 120-square-feet per person are possible for many businesses; if such rules expected of “mom and pop” stores are going to be enforced at certain big box stores that have been allowed to remain open as “essential” businesses.

State Action Required For Local Restriction ‘Loosening’

Dr. Ortiz reiterated several times that the reopening of local businesses is contingent on federal and state orders and that Governor Gavin Newsom has yet to officially give a roll out date. She was quick to give kudos to the community for its huge sacrifices during the Stay At Home Order.

“The initial [COVID-19 spread] model scenarios looked really bad, so the decisions this community has made has saved lives, and slowly getting out of it will take cooperation and sacrifice,” she stated. She also warned against being too hasty in working through the phases because increases in transmission rates, COVID-related deaths and burdens to the local health care systems would trigger having to go backwards and close businesses again.

Brennan, Rodefer, Rutikanga and Such worked to reassure their audience that they were listening, would incorporate their input and get back with answers and ideas. Addressing concerns of how operations rules would be enforced, Rodefer replied it would take community enforcement, including the businesses themselves who would be expected to fully comply.

Evoking Pres. Trump’s and Gov. Newsom’s recent words, Rodefer stressed that the process for reopening the economy was federally supported, state-managed and locally executed with localism being determinism. “I think we are going to have as much flexibility as they can give us. We want to have a plan in place to show them.”

Brennan urged the attendees, “The next 14 days is going to be critical in the governments’ phasing and if we can keep our numbers like we have, it is going to be beneficial to our ability to start coming out of this.”

She added that local officials have ongoing opportunities to continue advocating on the community’s behalf and having a solid, workable local plan is key. “Let’s put some meat on the bones — stay engaged. We need your help. It is critical to this process.”

Trump Administration Releases ‘Phased’ Plan To Reopen Economy

The federal guidelines state that Phase One of the process may begin in areas that show a downward trend of influenza-illnesses and COVID-19 cases within two-week periods. Phase One allows medical providers to treat all patients without crisis care and requires instituting a robust testing program for coronavirus, including antibody testing.

Local jurisdictions must have the ability to set up screening/testing sites and ensure adequate surveillance for asymptomatic cases, specifically for vulnerable populations and having adequate PPE supplies and surge ICU capacity. Plans must also be in place for protecting workers, vulnerable populations, mass transit personnel and users, and monitoring conditions for rebound or outbreak evidence.

Under Phase One, vulnerable populations must remain at home with no physical visitations. Maximum social distancing must still be observed. Groups or people gathering in one place must be less than ten individuals at once. Non-essential travel is minimized. Businesses are encouraged to keep workers teleworking when possible and when not to stagger shifts so fewer people are in the same physical work environment. Common areas remain closed along with schools and camps. Bars should remain closed.

During Phase One as long as there is no evidence of increasing COVID-19 cases, elective surgeries can resume and gyms can open if they adhere to strict distancing and sanitation requirements.

Under the federal guidelines, Phase Two loosening still requires vulnerable populations to stay at home with no physical visits and for everyone to maintain maximum social distancing. Teleworking when possible and staggered shifts are still in place and common areas remain closed.

Gatherings must remain under 50 people. Non-essential travel can resume and schools and camps can reopen. Bars may operate with mitigation measures in place. Large venues such as dine-in restaurants and movie theaters may operate with mitigation measures.

Under Phase Three, everything may open and operate with mitigation measures.

Prepare For More PPP Funding Opportunities

On Tuesday the Senate approved more funding to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and on Thursday, the House plans to convene and pass the legislation. Local banks have shared once they receive funds they will disperse them to applications already in their queue, which could be as soon as next week if the vote is held and passes the House.

Pryzbyla advises those in need of financial assistance not to wait to reach out to a local bank and has provided an updated list of local/national banks offering PPP loans available here.

The PPP is a federal loan program that helps small and medium-sized businesses impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) to assist with covering costs related to payroll (including healthcare and certain related expenses), mortgage interest, rent, leases, utilities and interest on existing debt.

It is part of the largest small-business relief package in history and an approximately $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package known as the CARES Act.

PPP loans are available to small businesses under 500 employees, sole proprietors, and as of earlier this month, they opened up to independent contractors and self-employed.

It is an SBA 7(a) loan and features a 1.00% fixed interest rate with loan amounts up to 2.5x average covered monthly payroll costs, not to exceed $10 million. There are no fees or prepayment penalties. No business collateral or personal guarantee is required. Payments are deferred for six months. Additionally, it offers loan forgiveness for eligible payroll, mortgage interest, rent and utilities during the covered eight-week period after the loan origination. For more details, click here.