The city of Tehachapi wrote a letter of support to the Kern County Board of Supervisors requesting local control in reopening businesses.
In the letter dated May 5 and addressed to Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner, Mayor Susan Wiggins wrote, "While we appreciate the Kern County Department of Public Health rescinding the emergency declaration to prepare for direction from Governor Gavin Newsom, we feel these actions could be expanded upon to provide the leadership necessary at this time at the local level; we need a local plan to better prepare our small business sector and local government agencies."
Wiggins based this request on the low number of confirmed COVID-19 cases within the 93561 zip code, which stood at 15 at the time she signed the letter, with eight confirmed recoveries.
Wiggins went on to say that the town's rural location posed less of a threat for spreading the virus in comparison to Bakersfield.
"We believe our restaurants, barbers, beauty salons, small offices and small retail shops should be allowed to re-open for in-person service with health precautions outlined by the Kern County Department of Public Health, guidelines which have yet to be released," wrote Wiggins.
In a May 2 news release, the Kern County Public Health stated it had been "working with local businesses to provide education and resources during the Governor’s stay at home order" over the past several weeks.
Earlier that day, the governor announced that the state is “days, not weeks” away from changes to the stay-at-home order. In anticipation of the governor’s transition of re-opening of the economy, Kern County Public Health stated it wanted the county to be positioned so that it could quickly maximize the local response and clear the way for the changes ahead.
"We want to have a sort of normalcy in our town," Wiggins said Wednesday, adding, "We are not going to do anything that puts anybody in danger or puts them in harm's way."
The mayor went on to say that she plans on attending the first farmers market of the year, which opens May 7; however, the annual event will be modified to adhere to safety guidelines.
Asked if she had concerns about reopening the city, Wiggins said, "We are concerned. For those who feel they are high-risk, or are just not comfortable yet. I encourage them to stay home. Those who are not in high-risk groups, if they want to throw on a mask and go out a little bit more, I applaud them."
Although the rate of transitioning should be left up to to the individual, Wiggins advised the public to take precautions when doing so.
"I encourage everyone to follow the guidelines, and I think that if they do that this time, then we can go on to the next step. This is a trial and error," Wiggins said.
In her letter to the supervisor, Wiggins described Tehachapi as possessing "one of the most vibrant and healthy economies for small businesses in Kern County prior to COVID-19.
"The longer we allow a small number of COVID-19 cases to derail these businesses, the tougher it will be to return to that vibrancy anytime soon. We owe it to those that have invested in this community to fight for more control of their destiny," Wiggins wrote.
Finally, Wiggins wrote that for Newsom to place churches as one of the final social gatherings to be reopened was "unacceptable."
"I miss my friends, and I want to be able to worship with them," Wiggins said Wednesday.
City Manager Greg Garrett said that he is proud of the fact that the community of Tehachapi has buckled down and done the right thing.
"It is time to start reopening our economy and our Tehachapi lifestyle, and we will start to live up and continue to lead at the most productive, healthy way that we know how," Garrett said Wednesday.
By midsummer, Garrett said he predicts "we will look back on this, and we will look at is as a giant learning lesson."
On April 21, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to establish an ad hoc committee to review and interpret the Governor’s orders and lists of essential businesses and to provide best practices, guidance and recommendations for implementing necessary changes locally for safely reopening businesses when the governor’s orders are lifted. Scrivner is a member of the committee.
The committee plans to meet next on Thursday, and Wiggins said she is awaiting word as to the result of that meeting.
"Obviously, COVID-19 continues to be a serious health concern, especially for our elderly population and individuals with underlying health issues, and social distancing, hand washing and other best practices to prevent infection need to be followed by all of us.," Scrivner said. "However, preventing a spike in infection which could overwhelm our health care system and restarting our economy cannot be an either/or choice; we must, and can, do both."