Riverside County residents and several supervisors Tuesday expressed contempt for the coronavirus-related public health regulations keeping many businesses closed, suggesting that open defiance of the governor and California Department of Public Health may be an option.
“We shut down our lifestyle, shut down our businesses,” Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said. “Now we’re in a weird area. Maybe defying the governor or regulations … may not be so strange in the future.”
Nearly 30 people spent an hour in the board chamber in downtown Riverside, alternately decrying the state’s ongoing public health restrictions or calling on the supervisors to end the local public health emergency declared in March because of COVID-19, and thereafter ignore the state’s actions.
“The ball has been dropped big time by the people who are here to protect us,” said a woman identified only as RT. “This has been a huge fail. You talk over and over about cases and tests while overlooking the foremost important issue — people. When do you realize that the virus is not worse than the ramifications?”
The board in early May rolled back a series of local emergency regulations, including requirements on face coverings, but weeks later, the state implemented the same requirements.
Kira Thompson, a fitness instructor who lost her job because of the state public health lockdowns, broke down in tears while trying to address the supervisors, saying she could not believe how easy it has been for the government to “take our freedom.”
Mike Noriega noted that this week marks the 233rd anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, and said he found it difficult to believe that the document intended to control arbitrary government power seemed to be of little consequence now.
“Open Riverside County, and suspend the penalties that have been imposed on businesses,” Noriega said.
A number of speakers pointed out that the county had been serving cease-and-desist orders on private sector entities that opened their doors, despite the governor’s executive orders.
Operators and members of the Rock Fitness Climbing Gym in Wildomar were among those who complained about being forced to endure impacts on operations and live in constant fear of a court-ordered closure.
“Physical health promotes mental health,” said the facility’s manager, Jennifer McArron. “People are grateful for a place to come and maintain their sanity. We would like to keep our facility open.”
The county is in the “purple tier” of the state’s four-tier color-coded system announced last month by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It is the most restrictive tier, with gyms and other businesses largely prohibited from indoor operations.
The county was advancing into a wider economic re-opening in June under the governor’s previous “four-stage” de-regulation plan, which he replaced with the color designations. However, a surge in COVID-19 infections documented in Riverside County and more than two dozen other counties prompted an abrupt strategy switch.
When he unveiled his Blueprint for a Safer Economy in August, Newsom said it was necessary to “live differently … to minimize exposure for our health, for our families and for our communities.”
“I think that all businesses are essential, not just some,” Steve Gardner told the board. “I think it’s very unfair of our governor to say, `well, this business is essential, and this one is not.’ People have bills to pay. People are losing their homes. Landlords are losing rent, not to mention all the other social problems that are occurring because of this shutdown. I would urge you people to imagine what it would be like to go three or four months without a paycheck and try to buy groceries.”
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries described the state’s requirements permitting Riverside County to move forward in the de-regulation scheme as “artificial.”
“They keep moving the goal post,” Jeffries said. “They’ve put us in that spot again of not being able to let businesses open. History shows a couple of times this is working against us.”
He wondered openly about telling the state, “we’re not going to enforce closures anymore.”
County staff replied that the state could demand a return of all funds for coronavirus relief measures, numbering in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“We’ve far exceeded the key metric, and as soon as we got to the next step, the game changed,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. “One in five people in the county have been tested (for COVID-19). We’ve done a good job testing. Now we have to exceed that? It’s very concerning to continue to wait (for reopening).”
At least one speaker pointed out that the original premise for the lockdowns was to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by virus patients. The county is now at the lowest point in coronavirus-related hospitalizations since April, according to data.