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Nevada County, cities collaborate to reopen safely

Sam Corey, Liz Kellar and John Orona
Staff Writers

By the numbers

As of May 14

Number of COVID-19 cases in Nevada County: 41

Number in western county: 12

Number in eastern county: 29

Number of active cases: zero

Number of recoveries: 40

Number of deaths: 1

Learn more at http://www.theunion.com/coronavirus

In recent weeks, many states and communities have begun slowly reopening, albeit under different and more cautious conditions, from coronavirus shutdowns.

In California, 12 counties have begun shifting into Stage Two of opening up, which is part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-stage plan for reopening the state. In order to move forward under the governor’s plan, counties must maintain adequate hospital and testing capacity and they must have the ability to conduct tracing of those who have been in contact with individuals infected by COVID-19.

Following the orders from the state, Nevada County — with 41 coronavirus cases, 40 of which have recovered — has begun moving into Stage Two while grappling with its orders, as well as those from the state and federal government.


On March 13, the Trump Administration declared the novel coronavirus outbreak to be a national emergency. The administration, under the direction of infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control, assembled a set of rules to allow for states or regions to open up under certain conditions. The federal guidelines are not a top-down plan, but, rather, an outline of how states and regions can open back up on their own timeline. The approach has led states to open up at different times and at different speeds.

The specific federal criteria that states and localities are supposed to follow for phasing into normality includes a downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period, with hospitals able to treat people without it being “crisis care,” and robust testing made available.

In phase one, vulnerable individuals are meant to shelter in place, physically distance themselves in public and minimize non-essential travel. In phase two, vulnerable individuals should remain sheltered in place, people can gather in groups under 50 and non-essential travel can resume. In phase three, most things go back to normal, but low-risk populations should consider not spending time in crowded environments.


In April, Newsom laid out a four-stage recovery road map the state would move through based on its ability to prepare for, contain and trace the virus.

Indicators like hospital testing and contact tracing capacity; ability for businesses to support social distancing; and the ability to reinstitute more stringent measures would determine how quickly the state moves forward.

Last week the state moved into early stage two, where retailers can open for curb side pickup and delivery only, along with related logistics and manufacturing businesses and some office-based workplaces.

Nevada County was among the first to get the green light to move further into the second stage this week, due to the low volume of cases and its readiness to handle a surge.

Yuba, Sutter, Placer, Plumas, Butte, El Dorado and Sierra counties were also approved to move further into stage two, which allows more dine-in restaurants, destination retailers, and all office-based businesses to reopen.

All businesses must modify operations to institute social distancing and disinfecting protocols, and follow industry-specific guidelines before reopening.

During stage three, more higher risk environments including entertainment venues, personal care businesses and religious services can open. The state has not announced a timeline for stage three but said stage four, when live audience events could resume, would come once therapeutics have been developed.


Nevada County was approved to reopen more businesses Tuesday afternoon, and some businesses were prepared for customers that evening.

After the Board of Supervisors held a special meeting Monday to get the necessary forms filed to move forward, county officials worked with businesses the following day to get ready in anticipation of a positive reply.

Before any business can reopen it must perform a detailed risk assessment and implement a site-specific protection plan; train employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19, including how to screen themselves for symptoms and stay home if they have them; implement individual control measures and screenings; implement disinfecting protocols; and implement physical distancing guidance.

Guidelines and checklists for these businesses can be found on the state’s COVID-19 website: http://www.covid19.ca.gov.

The county rescinded its local stay-at-home order last week, but Newsom’s order remains in place statewide.


On Tuesday, Grass Valley City Manager Tim Kiser was prepared to show off the Guidelines to Green Light Grass Valley to the City Council for approval. But the guidelines already were out of date by 7 p.m., Kiser noted, after the state approved Nevada County moving forward with the next phase of stage two reopening.

“We’re here to help businesses with a summation of documents on how to move forward in this ever-changing time,” Kiser said, adding the guidelines will be updated as the process changes.

“We must still abide by state and Nevada County orders,” he cautioned.

Mayor Lisa Swarthout said Green Light Grass Valley has been collaborating with business owners from different industries, giving input on their needs and how the city can help.

Having had a downtown business for many years has given her “a good understanding of what people are going through,” Swarthout said. “This is their livelihood.”

Grass Valley’s mayor applauded the county for pushing the reopening, adding, “I still think it’s going to be a long time before we get back to some sort of normalcy. … Businesses are reopening and there will be an initial flurry of activity because people have been cooped up — but will that be consistent?”

Grass Valley Police Officer Zack LaFerriere, the department school resource officer, is currently acting as liaison between the city and local businesses to address concerns and respond to complaints, said Capt. Steve Johnson.

“It’s been a moving target, every day if not a couple of times a day,” Johnson said. “Everyone (has been) trying to figure out what’s going on.”

With multiple orders from the federal, state and county levels, Johnson said, businesses have been looking to the city, which in turn has looked to the council for direction.

“To say there has been confusion is to put it mildly,” he said. “As an agency and a city we have been trying to weigh, and understand what is allowed and what is not in light of the health (concerns). The most important thing is public safety, but we are completely aware that people’s livelihoods are on the line.”

Johnson said the city has worked with businesses on a case by case basis.

“People are trying creative ways to reopen and do business,” he said. “Some are within the guidelines, and others we thought were pushing it a little too far. We have issued no citations, no cease and desist orders — some notices were made in response to complaints.”

Nevada City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Whittlesey said she has been working with the Grass Valley Downtown Association and the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce to ensure their messaging is consistent.

“Everyone is in this together,” she said.

The Nevada City chamber has put together a packet of information for its businesses that includes a checklist for retail and restaurants and a list of resources like masks, sanitizers and plexiglass, Whittlesey said.

“South Fork Vodka donated bottles of sanitizer,” she said. “That is fantastic they did that.”

Nevada City Film Festival Director Jesse Locks has put together a list of resources that was emailed, and also has been continually updating the chamber’s website, Whittlesey said.

‘There’s so much information, it’s hard to comprehend,” she said. “But if people take the time to study it, they will know what’s expected.”


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Coronavirus Guidance for Businesses/Employers

Nevada County Relief Fund for Covid-19

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com. Contact Staff Writer Sam Corey at scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219. Contact Staff Writer John Orona at jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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