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California’s coronavirus testing ground: Is this the kind of place that’s ready to reopen for business?


HANFORD — There was a huge outbreak this month at the local meat-packing plant in this Central Valley community that’s home to miles of sprawling dairies and cattle farms. The number of coronavirus cases has continued to surge over the past week, and COVID-19 patients at the county’s hospitals have been climbing all month long.

Does Kings County sound like the kind of place that’s ready to reopen for business?

That’s exactly what happened this week, when the state surprised even locals by giving its blessing to move ahead with easing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home restrictions — although Kings County is on the wrong side of the state’s latest benchmarks for reopening.

Now, this tiny county, population 150,000 and with 488 recorded cases, has become an unlikely testing ground as California tries to unshackle its economy. What does it take to be safe to reopen?

County Supervisor Doug Verboon insists local businesses won’t be recklessly opening their doors. But even he was surprised by the state’s decision.

HANFORD – MAY 20: Calvin Ross sits down at his shoe shinning business on North Irwin Street in Hanford, Calif., on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)

“It caught us off-guard,” said Verboon, a fourth generation farmer who led the effort to petition the state for a variance to reopen despite Kings County’s rising coronavirus numbers. “We didn’t think we’d ever meet the criteria, but the state kept moving guidelines, so we’re real happy.”

The coronavirus shutdowns have crippled the local economy here, shuttering the civic auditorium and teen center in Hanford and mom-and-pop shops like the Court barbershop and From Head to Toe salon, even as essential businesses like processing plants and prisons have continued to operate. The marquee outside the downtown Fox Theatre still says: “A Very Long Intermission.”

But the coronavirus outbreak at one of the county’s main employers, the Central Valley Meat Company, put tiny Kings County in the state’s top 5 when it comes to confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. Just days before Newsom announced revised rules, Kings County officials had voted to usher in the next phase of reopening and allow retail shops and dine-in restaurants to resume service. They petitioned Sacramento to grant their county an exception.

HANFORD – MAY 20: Workers leave for the day at Central Valley Meat Company in Hanford, Calif., on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)

They argued that 42% of their 399 cases at the time were linked to the meat processing plant, which a Trump administration order to maintain food supply prevented them from shutting down. It was unfair, they maintained, to punish other local businesses and stir-crazy residents in a community working aggressively to contain the virus.

State Public Health officials on Friday didn’t respond to repeated questions from the Bay Area News Group to explain why they granted Kings an exemption. The governor has spent weeks explaining a complicated formula of measuring new cases, testing capacity, deaths, hospitalizations and other thresholds counties must meet to …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Health

      

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