In mid-March, county mandated stay at home orders upended life as we know it in sunny southern California. The order shut down schools and large gatherings and many industries, and with them the ability for families to earn a living. By late May, the county began reopening businesses as it prematurely celebrated, having flattened the Covid-19 curve. But on July 1st, San Bernardino County, once again, started shutting down. For local businesses, a second closure could be disastrous.
Melissa Hight has lived locally for over 20 years and is employed at Red Mango Grill. Throughout the pandemic, she’s worn her mask, but only when mandated. After St. Patrick’s Day, the restaurant closed for approximately six weeks, then reopened with limited staff and only for to-go orders. It was not until around May 23rd that when San Bernardino County allowed the reopening of dine-in restaurants, she returned to work. “It’s really sad. It’s hard for business owners. I think it’s hard for everybody,” she says of the possibility of the county shutting businesses down again.
The day after the interview with Hight, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the closing of indoor operations at dine-in restaurants, wineries, movie theatres, card rooms, zoos and museums, and family entertainment centers for 19 counties in the state; including San Bernardino.
By July 2nd, things in the local community had changed. At My Hero Subs, several tables were placed outside to seat customers. One of the tables seated three patrons enjoying a lively conversation, as the fourth in their party parked his vehicle and walked in their direction. Inside the restaurant, all chairs were placed on top of the tables to prevent customers from sitting.
Bobby Martin has lived in the High Desert for 25 years and is the owner of My Hero Subs. In his opinion, face masks are something we all must comply with. When businesses closed in March, he was able to stay open for take-out orders. But revenue was affected by as much as 40 percent. At one point, he even downsized his staff, only to eventually bring them back. With businesses starting to close a second time, he says, “the local community right now- they’re angry.” When things closed the first time, he saw worry and confusion from residents. “This time around, I see nothing but anger…because they were very happy that things were back to normal as normal can be.” During these times, Martin says his business is operating at no profit. “All we’re doing is just surviving. It was so nice that when it stopped, just three weeks ago, it stopped, and we seen [sic] the turn. The place was very busy, and everyone was happy.” With Covid-19 cases spiking and forcing closures, Martin admits he does not know who is to blame.
At J&D’s T-Bird, a local eatery and bar, things appeared normal. But the discussion among the clientele was on current events. Heidi Gray is a bartender at the T-Bird and has worked there for four years. To her, face masks being mandatory is “fine.” When businesses closed the first time, her income was affected, but she managed. If the T-Bird closes again, she does have worries. “It’s just real hard for small business owners to make it. Everything was opened up for three weeks. That doesn’t barely give [sic] you time to make enough to pay the rent. And then you used all your savings to pay the three months we were just shut down.”
Wendy Acosta works at Georges Barber Shop and has lived in Phelan for 16 years. “I agree,” she says when asked about face masks being mandatory. When businesses are forced to close, “we still have to pay rent in here. We still have to pay the bills even though we’re not using them,” she explains. “How are we supposed to pay them if we’re closed down.” If forced to close again, she doubts her business could make it because her savings were drained the first time.
What Acosta wants people to keep in mind is that wearing a mask is a personal decision. “You can’t force people to do something they don’t want to do. You can recommend to them to wear a mask, but ultimately it’s up to the individual. And so, because it is up to the individual, we shouldn’t all pay the consequences.”
UPDATE JULY 13, 2020:
In response to significant increases in positive test results, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions, Governor Newsom announced further mandates to help control the spread of COVID-19. Closures that were previously only required for counties on the state’s monitoring list are now in effect for the entire state. Currently, indoor operations for many businesses are suspended. Businesses include dine-in restaurants and family entertainment centers (for example bowling alleys, miniature golf, batting cages, and arcades), museums, movie theaters, cardrooms, wineries & tasting rooms. Additionally, in all counties, bars, breweries, and pubs are required to close indoor and outdoor operations unless they are offering sit-down, outdoor dine-in meals, and alcohol can only be sold in the same transaction as a meal.
Within the 31 counties on the state’s monitoring list, the state now requires the shutdown of additional industries or activities unless they can be modified to operate outside or by pick-up. Those industries include fitness centers, worship services, protests (indoor), offices for non-essential sectors, personal care services, like nail salons, body waxing, and tattoo parlors, Hair salons, barbershops, and malls (indoor). As of July 13, 2020, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, Imperial County, Riverside County, Orange County, and San Diego County are among the 31 counties affected by these new mandates.