Hair salons and barbershops will be allowed to reopen for business in those counties that have received a variance from the state to move ahead faster than the state as a whole, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday.
Los Angeles County, the state’s hardest-hit area in the COVID-19 emergency, hopes to be among them shortly, as the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday determined the county has met the qualifications and will apply for a variance.
“Regional data shows we have flattened the curve, indicating our readiness to move forward in phased recovery,” Chair of the Board of Supervisors Kathryn Barger said. “This will put Los Angeles County on a level playing field with surrounding counties, which have already been granted variances.”
The county will also announce the immediate reopening of in-person shopping and houses of worship, with safety precautions in place.
The Board, also on Tuesday, considered a similar variance for cities within the county, allowing them to move ahead in the recovery road map ahead of the rest of Los Angeles County, should the state approve their application.
With two supervisors in support and two stating they opposed the move, Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas requested the item be moved to the closed session, where another related matter was on the agenda. No Board action on the matter was reported at presstime.
The proposal was offered by Supervisors Kathryn Barger, whose Fifth District includes the Antelope Valley, and Janice Hahn, who represents the Fourth District in the southern portion of the county and adjacent the Orange County line.
“We are so close to being provided that variance that we should leave all options open, recognizing that the (local) application still has to go through the county to the state,” Barger said.
She argued that the economic hit from the Safer at Home restrictions of the past two months have hurt those already the most vulnerable in the county. According to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, more than 750,000 jobs lost are in the restaurant and retail industries, with more than 75% of the affected employees earning less than $50,000 per year.
“They do not have extensive savings to draw on to support them and their families while we address the serious health implications of this virus,” Barger said. “This is not a health versus economy situation. There are serious health implications to keeping our economy closed.”
She said mental health challenges and other issues are increasing during the closures.
Other counties surrounding Los Angeles County have received a state variance and have begun to reopen dine-in restaurants and retail businesses with safety measure in place.
The diversity of Los Angeles County means the virus has hit regions within it differently and calls for variety in how it is addressed.
Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, however, argued that this “creates an ungovernable patchwork quilt” of regulations. In addition, the cities would not be tasked with enforcing them, the county would have that job.
Barger argued “the patchwork is already in play,” with every county abutting Los Angeles already moving forward under variances.
Kuehl also said the variances would further worsen the inequities heightened by the crisis, in which minority and high-poverty areas are hardest hit by COVID-19. These areas are unlikely to meet the requirements for variance and would not be able to reopen, while other parts of the county not affected as greatly would be able to.
“We really need to think of all the cities in our county,” she said, noting the city of Los Angeles in her district would not qualify. “We would be advantaging one over the other.”
Additionally, the overall impact on the county would not be great, only a few businesses would benefit, Kuehl said.
Barger countered that social equity is not being fairly applied, in that people who live in cities that may not qualify work in other cities that could.
In addition, the county is very close to meeting the guidelines to apply for a variance and the motion proposed preparing for and applying as soon as possible.
First District Supervisor Hilda Solis echoed some of Kuehl’s concerns and also stressed that the COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the county, with hot spots where people work that could help spread the disease to where they live.
She citied equal concerns regarding the disproportionate health impacts on minority communities and fears that this could be made worse by reopening too quickly.
“We have to express extreme caution,” Solis said, stating she did not support the motion.
The supervisors also differed on the intent behind the governor’s executive orders which state that “local health officials, appointed by county supervisors and other local authorities,” may attest to the readiness of areas to move ahead in the recovery program.
Barger felt this meant it was not solely the duty of the county public health officer, while Kuehl stood by information from the state Department of Public Health to the opposite.
“They told us time and again we can not apply on behalf of individual cities, we can not fracture the county that way,” Kuehl said.