by Alison de Grassi, Communications Consultant

The pandemic has had a dire economic effect on businesses throughout the State of California. From mom and pop storefronts to major department chains, the consequences of a lockdown and Shelter In Place orders that have persisted since mid-March 2020 have left no one untouched. In Mendocino County, businesses and citizens have been vigilant about keeping the virus at bay but, as California gradually begins to reopen its doors to commerce, the County of Mendocino faced a question: How can the County best ensure that businesses commit to and implement safe opening practices that will protect the health of employees and consumers and inspire confidence as we begin to move more freely?

With the advent of the pandemic, the County formed an Ad Hoc committee to address COVID19-related issues. The committee consists of Supervisors Williams and Gjerde, and West Business Development Center CEO Mary Anne Petrillo. Since its formation, the committee has worked with the Public Health Officer and industry leaders to find innovative ways to help the business community survive. In late April 2020, the County Ad Hoc and West Center held a series of business-specific roundtables to “take the temperature” of lodging, wineries, retail stores, and food and agriculture businesses; one outcome of these roundtables is a weekly meeting of lodging properties to discuss their common concerns and preparations for a new future.

The State is gradually moving through its Resilience Roadmap with phased openings of a variety of business sectors. Accompanying the reopening announcements by Governor Newsom, the State issues business sector-specific sets of health and safety guidance and best practice that businesses are to follow as they open their doors. In Mendocino County, the Public Health Officer is tracking the State’s reopening lead by issuing a series of orders that reflect the State guidelines and, in some cases, contain more stringent protocols designed to keep County residents safe. Dr. Doohan and County counsel has worked closely with industry to fashion reopening protocols that would strike a balance between protecting public health and supporting the economy. But getting these guidelines out to business sectors in a consistent format and ensuring that businesses actually read and understood the directives posed a challenge.

On May 12, 2020, Governor Newsom moved the State into Stage 2 of the Resilience Roadmap, opening up lower risk businesses such as auto dealerships, limited retail operations, restaurants for takeout and delivery, among others. The County needed a swift response to alert businesses how they could reopen safely. It turned to the County Ad Hoc committee for a solution. Working with a team from West Center, the Ad Hoc focused on creating a website and streamlined process for businesses to download the state and county guidelines, create a reopening protocol plan for their business, and self-certify their compliance.

The site launched on Monday May 18 consisting of a set of Business Reopening Worksheets for each permitted business sector, a protocol checklist to use as a guide, and a set of questions for businesses to respond to and self-certify. In this first wave, more than 820 businesses certified their compliance and proudly posted their certificates at their place of business. Certification is a great two-way street: it gives consumers, especially those who are more vulnerable, the confidence to patronize businesses that are following the guidelines, and businesses will gain and retain the support of customers and clients who appreciate their health and safety practices.

With the Governor’s next order on June 5, 2020, higher risk businesses were permitted to reopen effective June 12. These sectors include lodging, winery tasting rooms, bars, campgrounds, gyms, and more. The County Ad Hoc committee quickly realized that with a wider swath of businesses opening and the certainty of travelers entering the county, the certification process needed to be more stringent. Again, under the direction of the Ad Hoc committee, the West Center team set to work and on June 12 launched a revamp of the site. West Center turned the “worksheets” into a set of sector-specific health and safety forms that require higher-risk businesses to draft and upload their required health and safety plan, and check the self-certification questionnaire. A nimble response such as this is required in this age of COVID19 as we all navigate the uncharted waters of these troubled times. County residents and visitors can be assured that businesses displaying the “Safe Mendocino” certificate are doing the right thing and taking everyone’s health and safety into account.

For more information contact Mendocino County COVID-19 Call Center Number: (707) 234-6052