Council sends letter to Constantine asking for safety guidelines for hair salons, barber shops and gyms

The Taft City Council is planning to allow many businesses in the city to start reopening in a week.

The Taft City Council unanimously approved Monday evening a plan to send a letter from Mayor Dave Noerr to Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine asking for his assistance in coming up with safety guidelines for barber shops, hair salons, flower shops, gyms and other small businesses to reopen May 4. No comprehensive list of business types was discussed.

A spokeswoman for Kern County Public Health Services could not immediately be reached for comment Monday night. 

Kern County has been suppressing the rates for coronavirus infections and deaths, the letter states, but the city is concerned about the growing negative effects of business closures.

"As the current data shows a flattening of the curve regarding infections and fatalities, the curves for financial and psychological negative impacts are growing at a frightening and unsustainable rate," the letter states.

Citing fears of rising child abuse, spousal abuse and drug and alcohol use, the council told Constantine in the letter that it intends to move toward reopening local businesses with proper precautions.

"Beginning with recognizing that some businesses listed as 'nonessential' are indeed critical to quality of life and psychological well-being of a community, we want to modify restrictions placed on these businesses with new business processes that integrate social distancing, PPE and additional hygiene processes that have become a current lifestyle necessity," the letter states.

The city projects May 4 as the date to have the new processes in place to allow businesses to reopen.

The action came at the end of an 80-minute special meeting. Half the meeting was spent reading public comments submitted in writing or email into the record.

The sentiment ran about 4-1 in favor of reopening the businesses, churches and the Historic Fort.

Many of the comments came from business owners themselves who have been impacted, and some came from the general public.

The council then discussed the matter for 40 minutes before Noerr read the draft of the letter and the other four council members — Josh Bryant, Ed Whiting, Jeff Eveland and Orchel Krier — agreed to sign the letter with Noerr.

During the discussion, Noerr noted that Kern County has had a lower infection rate than many counties and a much lower mortality rate from COVID-19 than many more densely populated counties.

The numerous public comments came from a cross section of people.

Many business owners spoke in favor of relaxing the restrictions. Some spoke of the hardships the closures were having on their families; others spoke of the individuals rights to decide what is safe for them. Others spoke about the effects the isolation is having on individuals.

Those opposed to relaxing the closure rules spoke of the potential cost in human lives if coronavirus begins to spread faster in the community.

A local physician, Dr. Jasmeet Bains, while not coming out against relaxing the closures, cautioned that there is not sufficient testing to determine the true extent of coronavirus in the community.

A safety officer, George Harmer, called for restrictions to be lifted in "a precise and controlled way."