Jessica Cejnar / Monday, May 11, 2020 @ 6:27 p.m. / Community, Emergencies, Local Government

Public Health Officer Issues Guidelines on Outdoor Seating at Restaurants; Prepares Reopening Plan for Del Norte

Del Norte’s public health officer has issued guidelines on outdoor seating at restaurants, stating that it may ease the burden for those that were forced to discontinue indoor dining.

Dr. Warren Rehwaldt’s “interpretation” of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s March 19 order that restaurants should only be open to drive-through, pickup or delivery options due to the COVID-19 pandemic comes as he prepares to make the case that Del Norte can relax safety measures at a faster pace.

On Tuesday, Rehwaldt will give an update on the novel coronavirus to the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors. He said he will also tell supervisors that he’s working on Del Norte’s plan for getting through Stage 2 of California’s reopening plan at its own pace.

“We hope to have a version close to final by tomorrow for (supervisors) to review,” Rehwaldt said, adding that roughly 30 other counties are going to be submitting their own reopening plans to state public health officials. “Mostly we need a letter of support covering the main part of our submitted stuff that we’re going to send in to the state and then after that, just take the next step and send it to them and see what they say.”

Though Rehwaldt is on Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors agenda to give a presentation, he said he’s not sure if Del Norte’s reopening plan will be available for the board to review by then.

California entered Stage 2, the second of a four-phase roadmap for lifting the March 19 stay-at-home order, on Friday. In this stage, retailers, manufacturing and logistics businesses could gradually reopen. This included bookstores, clothiers, florists and sporting goods stores, though retailers were only able to offer curbside service.

Counties can move through this stage quicker if they meet criteria determining that they have low COVID-19 presence, can meet testing and contact tracing guidelines and that their healthcare system can withstand a sudden increase in cases. Plans to protect the elderly and those with underlying immune system, who are at risk for severe illness from the novel coronavirus, must also be in place.

Del Norte County has only had three confirmed cases of COVID-19 with the third diagnosed on April 27. All three patients have recovered, according to the Public Health Branch.

In Del Norte County, a total of 466 tests have been administered as of 9:54 a.m. Monday. The results for 11 cases are pending and 452 are negative, according to the Public Health Branch.

In a notice to the community Monday, Rehwaldt said he wanted to provide guidance both to restauranteurs and enforcement officials on what “in-restaurant dining means.”

“It is the interpretation of the Health Officer that where restaurants provide outdoor seating for their establishment, consistent with the following conditions, such outdoor seating shall not be considered ‘in-restaurant dining,’” Rehwaldt wrote.

According to Rehwaldt’s order, restauranteurs must ensure social distancing is maintained by keeping tables eight-feet apart in all directions. The restaurant must take orders from outside their establishment by phone or other means and have hand sanitizer available when exchanging money.

Customers can’t wait inside the restaurant to pick up orders or use restrooms or other facilities. Food and drink is ordered to-go and may be eaten at outdoor tables.

Under Rehwaldt’s guidelines, table service is prohibited. Plates, cups and utensils provided by the restaurant must be disposable and customers must bus their own tables. Restaurants must have adequate trash containers accessible to customers. Their staff must wear personal protective equipment and clean and disinfect tables after each use.

A maximum of six adults can be seated at each table, though families with small children may increase that number as space allows.

Rehwaldt said he addressed outdoor seating at restaurants in response to requests as the weather has been getting warmer.

“It’s not really allowing outdoor dining,” he said. “It just allows seating in case people wanted to order something else or order dessert. It allows them to remain there and take advantage of the restaurant.”

According to Del Norte Emergency Services Manager Kymmie Scott, along with getting a letter from county supervisors, letters from Sutter Coast Hospital, the local skilled nursing facility and emergency medical responders also need to be submitted to the state to relax safety measures faster. To make sure Del Norte’s health system isn’t overwhelmed, she said, there are also triggers in place to enable the public health officer reinstate safety measures if necessary.

One challenge when it comes to determining whether safety measures can be relaxed at a quicker pace has to do with the number of COVID cases Del Norte has had, or rather hasn’t had.

With only three positive cases identified, Rehwaldt said COVID-19 activity in Del Norte may have been effectively shut down.

“I’d like to be assured that we still have COVID-19 in the community. As we relax things we can measure the effect right away,” he said. “We could be approaching stage 4 in the middle of the summer or at the end of the summer. Disease activity is not here and all of a sudden a bunch of stuff hits us.”

According to Rehwaldt, his proposal allows for some reopening of vacation rentals and RV parks that are more self-contained and self-isolating than a hotel. But, he said, he’s not sure whether CDPH will accept that argument.

“A lot of what we’re doing is depending on whatever folks at the state level are going to include in their planning,” he said. “They’re trying to be as careful and cautious as they can be. That’s part of the nature of this. I’m trying to cut them some slack about being cautious. It does create frustration, but there are sound reasons for doing things certain ways.”

The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday. For instructions on how to participate via Zoom, click here.


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