Restaurants are starting to serve more customers, worshipers have returned to church, people have left their homes to take advantage of the good weather and local recreational opportunities, and even the Colusa Casino has reopened for business, most with virus-related protocols in place.
Although California Gov. Gavin Newsom did not give Colusa County the green light to reopen, the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on May 27 to take no further action that violates the Constitutional rights of local businesses and citizens, and asked local law enforcement to stand down.
Supervisor Gary Evans, who made the motion allowing the people of Colusa County to go about their business as they see fit, quoted the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment that reads, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
Evans added that both state and county law also requires that the rights and privileges of citizens be protected.
Colusa County had asked the state to move into Phase 3, in a revised letter penned by Supervisor Chair Denise Carter, on May 21, there had been no reply as of last week. However, Newsom acknowledged in a press conference on May 18 that all counties were not the same and that county officials understand their local communities and conditions better than the state.
Supervisors said at the special meeting last week that the data surrounding coronavirus in Colusa County just does not support a continued lockdown that has devastated the local economy.
There have been seven confirmed cases of COVID-19, now that Public Health has expanded testing for the virus.
Although more than 100,000 people in the U.S. have died from or with COVID-19, multiple studies now suggest the mortality rate of the disease may be far lower than originally thought, and is less risky for young and healthy people.
“I understand that COVID-19 is a real threat and should be taken seriously but our county’s statistics reflect a situation that doesn’t align with the Governor’s orders that should apply to more populated areas – and our economy cannot wait,” Supervisor John Loudon said.
Evans, in making the motion to ease restrictions, asked the Colusa County Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Police Departments of Williams and Colusa to stand down and allow people to go about their business as they see fit without threat of fine or penalty.
“I can’t speak for the police chiefs but speaking on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department, I fully support the motion,” Colusa County Sheriff Joe Garofalo said. “As I’ve said from day one, I’m here to support the county. We’ve waited long enough, we’ve been more than patient, and simply put – the numbers don’t support shelter in place, stay at home or whatever you want to call it.”
Williams officials, however, said they still consider the parks closed, even though youth are anxious to play organized soccer, and plan to keep restrooms closed.
“If individuals or small groups of citizens want to use the park they are welcome to do so,” said City Manager Frank Kennedy. “If we see large organized gatherings, we will dispurse them.”
While county staff last week were concerned that the governor would withhold federal disaster relief funds if Colusa County didn’t stay his course, supervisors believe it is an empty threat.
While the Sheriff’s Department would be impacted if disaster funds were withheld, Garofalo said his department was “resilient enough to adapt and overcome whatever barriers we face.”
While the motion to open Colusa County paves the way for retail, restaurants, and gyms to open and operate unimpeded, the owners of businesses that hold state licenses, such as bars and hair salons, said they would comply with state restrictions.
The county will place no restrictions on churches nor restrict the number of people who can assemble at any gathering in the unincorporated area, although Public Health officials asked people to be mindful that coronavirus is still considered a general health risk.
Officials said people should use their own judgement when it comes to wearing masks and physical distancing protocols, and that vulnerable people especially should take whatever precautions they need to protect themselves.
The Colusa County Public Health Department will continue to track cases and perform contact tracing as prescribed by state guidelines.
Loudon suggested that if the county saw a spike in cases, then the Board of Supervisors could reevaluate the need for further action at that time.