Earlier this week, the announcement by California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly that San Diego County and Sacramento County would be moving to the state’s most restrictive COVID-19 restriction tier has been met by consternation and frustration by many business owners in those counties.
On Thursday, the Globe talked with many affected business owners on what the change would mean for them and what they had to lose in the switch from red tier restrictions to purple tier restrictions that are due to take effect midnight Friday.
“Well, we had to move everything outside,” said San Diego gym owner Ryan Shaw. “There goes, you know, most of my parking lot.”
“I’ve said before that going to the purple tier would kill my business, but I benefitted, if you want to call it that, from another gym closing up nearby, so I’ll have just enough customers coming by to break even. I hope.
“And I’m also putting up huge tents, because rainy season is coming and it would not make any sense to keep bringing equipment in and out.
“We’ll be operating like this for at least two weeks. After that, we’ll see if cooler temperatures start to scare people away or if I decide it just isn’t worth it anymore. I’m really that pessimistic. A lot of business owners are.”
Francesca Perez, a restaurant co-owner nearby San Diego’s Old Town, also agreed.
“Ok, think of your house or apartment or wherever you live,” said Francesca. “Now imagine that you lost 90% and you still had to live with 10% of your home left. That’s, what, one room and maybe a closet at most? And now imagine that you’re still outside for most of it.
“It may not be the best analogy, but that’s the only way I can think to compare this to. Maybe if you only got 10% of your paycheck coming in, or 10% of your retirement or social security. We’re still getting something this way, we still have customers, but it’s digging into us.
“With purple, all we are allowed are a few tables outside, and pickup and delivery orders. That’s it. Most of the waitstaff is gone, and the kitchen shrunk too due to less orders. And this is Old Town, which means we rely on tourists a lot. We’ve had to change up our approach just to get the reduced business we’re getting now.
“We’re not just struggling. We’re scrambling.”
An appeal denied by the state, business owners continue to struggle
San Diego had appealed California’s decision this week to moving them to the purple tier, noting that there were issues over what sectors were counted and how they contributed to the total number of cases, as well as how restaurant reductions were ‘not optimal’ for restaurant owners in the county.
“San Diego’s increased cases are not due to the sectors impacted by moving into a more restrictive tier. County has interviewed cases to identify potential exposure settings and tracked community outbreaks,” said San Diego County officials earlier this week. “Additionally, the closure of indoor restaurants, especially during the wintertime where outdoor dining is not optimal, will move individuals into homes and encourage gatherings, which is one of the high-risk areas for cases.”
However, California denied the request, maintaining their health-first based approach.
“They’re killing us in other ways instead,” said San Diego County bowling alley manager Lucas Sawyer, whose alley recently had to close after many years in business. “We tried to continue on, but all the restrictions made it hard. And with the purple tier saying you could only do it outside? That was it. Game over. There’s no way the operation could move outside like that. So we’re done.”
With tier levels now restricting customers even more, and PPE doubling and even tripling in price since March, the purple tier is leading many business owners to wonder if they can survive for as long as the tier lasts in their county.
“We don’t know. We don’t really know,” added Shaw. “We’re all just expecting the worst. But hey, we’re still fighting for our livelihoods. They can’t say we didn’t fight this.”
Due to how tier changes are measured, all purple tier counties have to remain in the tier for at least two weeks before COVID-19 rates and positivity percentages can be reevaluated.