County whipsawed for two days as conflicting reports say its COVID-19 rate will close it, then say it won't

The beginning of this week has been a roller coaster ride for businesses wondering if they'll be allowed to remain open as coronavirus cases increase throughout the state.

At first, the state announced Kern County would be included in a list of about 30 other counties that would experience restrictions on out-of-home activity to combat the increase in COVID-19. Then, Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Kern was only included in the list erroneously.

But local officials announced later rising coroanvirus numbers within Kern meant local residents only had until the weekend before the shutdowns would be enacted.

That all happened Monday.

On Tuesday, the latest twist in the ride took place. Kern County’s official Twitter account said late in the day the county was no longer on the state’s coronavirus watchlist, and would thus not be subject to more restrictions this weekend.

For the moment, at least, it seems businesses that have just reopened with coronavirus modifications in place can breathe a sigh of relief.

However, Supervisor Mike Maggard said the county would likely end up on the state’s watchlist at some point in the future, bringing the state’s restrictions to Kern.

“It’s a horrible circumstance for (businesses) to be in. It’s frustrating and whatnot, but I think every day helps them survive a little bit longer,” he said. “It’s just a perfect storm of uncertainty hitting our businesses.”

The state monitors metrics like the percent change in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and per capita case rate, putting counties that score too highly on such metrics on the watchlist. Maggard said the county reported metrics higher than the state’s requirements for two days in a row, just a day shy of being placed on the watchlist.

The county had expected Tuesday to be the third day of reporting above the state’s required level, but Maggard said the county just barely met the state’s threshold.

“Since we did not break it today, the clock starts over,” he said, adding that all but the most remote counties in California will likely report metrics higher than the state’s requirements at some point.

Once the clock does run out, that means the state will require indoor activity to cease at places like churches, malls, hair salons, gyms, noncritical offices and other personal service providers.

Once those restrictions are put in place, the state has no timeline for when they might begin to loosen. For the moment, however, the county is off the watchlist, and the current level of economic activity can continue.