Marin County eyes indoor retail, religious services reopening June 15 from coronavirus restrictions

If COVID-19 cases don't spike further, Marin County plans to allow indoor retail and outdoor religious services to resume under pandemic protocols on June 15, with potential for hair salons and restaurant indoor dining to return in weeks to follow.

That would be the first in two weeks of sequential reopenings, based on the pace of the outbreak, Matthew Willis, county health officer, told the Board of Supervisors on June 2. County officials are working with the Marin Recovers advisory group of local businesses on protocols for reopening each sector of the economy from lockdowns that started in mid-March.

Like Sonoma County, Marin held back further reopenings because of a jump in coronavirus cases. The county had confirmed 501 local cases and 15 deaths, the most recent of which happened June 1, Willis said. Most concerning to him, he said, was that 155 of the cases came in the past two weeks.

"We've seen an acceleration of cases in Marin County," Willis told the board.

The county's number of cases in the past two weeks per 10,000 residents - one of the state's 14 metrics for phasing economic reopening - was 60, he said. That's well above the state's limit of 25 cases per 10,000 for counties that want to attest they can move faster with reopening.

Marin is in phase 2 of California's four-phase reopening plan, but the county hasn't moved into the expanded second phase that allows counties to also permit inside seating at restaurants and patrons to return to hair salons. All North Bay counties but Marin have been state-approved to move faster into phase 2, but Sonoma County had lagged its neighbors in formally announcing such a move until this week.

Of the Marin cases of the virus, 76 are traced to residential living and skilled nursing facilities, but more workers (43) came down with the disease than residents (33), Willis said. And of the 14,000 residents tested so far, the “vast majority” come from low-income households where someone was working at an “essential” business that was remained open during the county shelter order, also mentioning employers such as grocers, housekeeping services and hospitals.

While the countywide positive-test rate is 3.6% since March, that rate was 7% in the lower-income Canal District of San Rafael, where households average six people, Willis said. The county plans to increase mobile testing there and at higher-risk job sites that want to participate.

Marin on June 1 moved into the third stage of reopenings since the first one May 4. Most recently allowed to reopen were “nonessential” offices, while still encouraging remote work; outdoor dining and retail; child care facilities; and parks, beaches and summer camps.

County of Marin offices are reopening in two phases, Administrator Matthew Hymel told the board of supervisors June 2. Half the county offices opened that day, implementing pandemic best practices and continuing to encourage residents and businesses to take care of as much as they can with officials via online.

Next week, county services that involve more public interaction will reopen, Hymel said. Those departments include health and human services, community development, assessor, and agricultural commissioner.

“We're still about a week out from finalizing those protocols,” county spokeswoman Laine Hendricks said, referencing the new re-openings.

In the meantime, she reminded businesses considering making the move to complete a site-specific protection plan that outlines the layout and processes involved with inviting people on the property.

As part of the Marin Recovers advisory group guidance, about 75% of the document addresses general protocols for businesses and organizations. The remainder will cover industry-specific regulations. More announcements that seeks to clarify how hair and salons will open will be due later in the week, Hendricks added.

With outdoor church services allowed in the mix of upcoming re-openings, it's unclear how many places of worship will take advantage of this new relaxing of Marin County's shelter-in-place rules.

The Rev. Patrick Michaels of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church plans to take up the matter Wednesday night with the parish council.

Issues ranging from maintaining adequate spacing of chairs for social distancing to having ample parking for parishioners to even attend will need to be determined if the allowance “is realistic,” the Catholic church priest explained.

If Our Lady goes forward with a plan to conduct an outside Sunday service, the only logical place to host it would be the parking lot that accommodates 40 vehicles.

But where would attendees park?

“Parking in Marin (County) poses all sorts of problems on a good day,” Michaels said.

Parking on the street around the Mill Valley house of worship at 3 Oakdale Ave. is metered. That's why motorists have turned to the church's parking lot for other means.

The priest also expressed a concern with the layout of the chairs in the lot.

“We'd have to figure out the spacing,” he said, pointing to the various family sizes as complicating matters.

Plus, what church wants to have “a police state” of sorts?

“We can't tell people what to do,” he said.

Besides, the priest shared that the church has seen much success in having digital services via live streaming.

“It's been far better received than I ever dreamed of. We're attracting people we've never heard from before,” Michaels said.

Perhaps, technology has paved a new path for religion.

With Michael's parish dominated by people over age 60, he predicts to not see them return to in-person services until the COVID-19 crisis has passed because of the difficulties it brings to the table.

“Our primary concern is for the safety of our parishioners,” he said.

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