Coronavirus

How to Stay Safe and Social Distance as Santa Cruz Retail Reopens

Time, space, people, and place are the key elements to assessing safety

As some businesses receive clearance to reopen, the county will require safety measures such as posting social distancing guidelines.

As California moves forward to Stage 2 of the state’s Covid-19 recovery program, Santa Cruz County’s Health Services Agency extended the shelter-in-place order to July 1 and announced social-distancing protocols for businesses to reopen.

The latest order went into effect at midnight on Tuesday, continuing the daily beach closures from 11am to 5pm, except for water-related activities, along with around-the-clock prohibition of “sedentary” activities such as sunbathing and picnicking.

The county also mandated that retail and other businesses open to the public must post social distancing protocols that conform to county guidelines. These are aimed at preventing the gathering of crowds and unnecessary person-to-person contact, as well as offering protections for employees and customers.

The order comes on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that counties that have met variance requirements and have received approval from the state may allow barbershops and hairdressers to open.

“Please note that this excludes massage services, nail salons, and other personal services,” says county communication manager Jason Hoppin. “It only affects barbershops and hair salons. The rest of personal services remains in Stage 3, for which there is, as of yet, no timeline.”

Santa Cruz County has met the state requirements for Stage 2 and will apply for the variance on Friday, May 29, pending approval by the Board of Supervisors. State review may take up to a week, county officials said.

In the meantime, customers venturing out to newly reopened businesses should be prepared for their own assessments for safety, says Susan True, the executive director of the Communication Foundation, which has been working closely with the county on the long reopening process.

“What we’re trying to do,” says True, “is to get people to really think about how they can go into the environment while minimizing their own risk and the risk they may present to others, and how they can spot businesses that are working hard to keep their spaces safe.”

The guidelines are built around what is becoming a common incantation of epidemiologists: “Time, space, people, place.”

Time: Transactions with other people in public should not last more than a few seconds, to minimize risk. “This is not the time to chat with your bank teller,” True says. “Tell her ‘Thank you’ and move on.”

Space: The six-feet rule still applies. Shoppers, who have already become somewhat savvy to space between people, need to assess how businesses are allowing people to keep their distance.

People: Are employees respectful of risk management? Are they wearing masks? Health officials have consistently asserted that masks are most effective in protecting others, which means it is unwise to confront someone not wearing a mask. Interactions that involve a lot of speaking are likely to raise the risk of spreading the virus.

Place: Enclosed spaces without a lot of air flow are the most risky environment. This is an element that retail spaces have limited control over. Health watchers suggest that if a customer has to do business in a small, enclosed space, even more attention should be paid to the other elements of safety. “What we don’t want,” says True, “is sustained minutes of unprotected—people not wearing masks—and close, less-than-six-feet apart contact in enclosed spaces.”

The public can also look for signs that a business is complying with the county health order and safe practices: Are hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes readily available? Are employees behaving in a way consistent with safe practices?

The county’s new social distancing protocol for reopened Phase 2 businesses are codifying many of these elements, mandating that businesses work to minimize the number of customers in their store at one time, for instance, as well as placing limits on amount of goods that can be sold to one person in order to avoid lines, encouraging contact-less payment, doing away with self-service food, among other requirements.

Staff Writer at Good Times |

Wallace Baine has been an arts writer, film critic, columnist and editor in Santa Cruz for more than 25 years. He is the author of “A Light in the Midst of Darkness,” a cultural history of the independent bookseller Bookshop Santa Cruz, as well as the book “Rhymes with Vain: Belabored Humor and Attempted Profundity,” and the story collection “The Last Temptation of Lincoln.” He is a staff writer for Good Times, Metro Silicon Valley and San Benito/South Valley magazine.

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