SLO County releases reopening guidelines

May 2, 2020

San Luis Obispo County officials have released a framework for reopening the county—called the START guide—emphasizing that it's a draft outline. At times contradictory, nevertheless the guide is designed to “give our business partners, our organizations, places of worship the best ideas about how they can begin planning in the days and weeks to come,” said the county’s health officer.

“I know that people will read this plan and say, what the heck am I supposed to do with this if you don't give me a recipe?” Public health officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said at Friday’s now-regular afternoon briefing. “I want to address it head on to say that you will not find absolutes in this plan.”

The framework is outlined in three phases; San Luis Obispo County is not yet in phase one.

Any countywide reopenings will only begin when California’s governor lifts the current statewide stay-at-home orders, and if certain public health metrics have been met for the previous 14 days.

“I don’t want to say that today is the start date for our plan—it's not,” Borenstein said.

Despite mentioning a 14-day meeting-of-public-health-metrics requirement to move into phase one, Borenstein also said that once the governor lifts statewide restrictions, San Luis Obispo County could immediately launch phase one, when businesses and institutions like restaurants, museums and churches may reopen.

Hair salons, tattoo parlors, offices and manufacturing facilities are also included among the first reopenings, but customers will need to be spaced apart and the number of customers inside limited at any given time. Same goes for ensuring physical distancing and that face coverings are worn by all in cases where distancing is not possible. Gatherings would be limited to ten people.

In one place on the county’s readyslo.org website, it states that in phase one, campgrounds will remain closed. In the START document itself, it states the campgrounds will be allowed a “modified reopening,” in phase one. Similarly, the START guide website says phase one will include partial reopenings of K-12 schools summer school and special education, but at Friday’s briefing, Borenstein said those school and summer camp reopenings will happen in phase two, so the distinctions can be confusing.

Speaking about the new guide, Borenstein, county administrator Wade Horton and START guide project lead Andrew Hackleman emphasized it’s a “living document” that will undergo revisions as time goes on.

County officials also stressed that at any time during the coming weeks and phases, if there is “slippage” in terms of meeting reopening criteria and metrics, the guideline outlines criteria for “moving backwards,” said Borenstein.

“If we see a doubling of cases in less than five days, that would be an epidemiological marker that would give us pause,” Borenstein said. “In the healthcare arena, if we see our inability to keep up with the surge of patients in hospital beds or the ICU that exceeds a 30% increase, that’s one of the metrics,” that would prompt a return to restrictions.

Yet if everything works out according to the guidelines, 30 days after the initiation of phase one, the county could move to the next phase.

That's when there would be modified reopenings of K-12 schools, gyms, parks and playgrounds. It’s still unclear if community colleges and universities like Cal Poly would still remain closed at that point, but there still would be no visits allowed to senior facilities or hospitals.

In phase two, gatherings of up to 50 people would be allowed, along with further relaxing of restrictions on businesses and institutions.

Finally, in phase three—60 or more days since the start of phase one—most current restrictions on large gatherings would end and there would be a full reopening of all businesses, schools, clubs, gyms, events, venues and so on.

Even after the county moves beyond phase three, there are preventative guidelines and actions that will continue to be in place indefinitely—like hand washing, using face masks when ill, isolation of cases and quarantines of people who come into the county from high-infection areas, say county health administrators.