As the sole county open for business, San Mateo County braces for possible new restrictions – The Mercury News

For months, San Mateo County has been a haven amid some of the most heavily infected counties in California, as it recorded a lower rate of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, earning the latest distinction of being the only place to get a haircut indoors, go to the gym or escape other restrictions in the Bay Area.

Due in large part to its heavily suburban and affluent communities, the number of cases in the county had risen by just over 1,000 from 1036 to 2,304 from April 1 to June 1.

But since then the number of cases have risen to a total of 4,551 as of Sunday, compared to nearby counties which have much higher figures: 5,305 in San Francisco and 7,795 in Santa Clara County.The new cases come just a week after California began to mark grim milestones in coronavirus hospitalizations and cases, prompting public officials to renew restrictions on social gatherings in an effort to stop the spread.

San Mateo County Officer Scott Morrow said in a statement on Monday that though he understood that people are frustrated by having to take precautions “you can’t let your guard down, or be careless, even once, especially if you are at high risk.”

“Why is the virus spreading here at it’s current higher level now? I don’t know exactly, but it appears to me that there are three major factors,” Morrow said, which included lack of precautions, the structure of the US economy and complacency. “We don’t have the wherewithal to do case-control studies given the enormous burden on all the staff at the health department at this time, but we can take some educated guesses based on patterns that we are seeing here.”

“Please note, your seemingly innocuous get-togethers are driving the spread and are a major reason why you can’t go to a restaurant, why you can’t go to the gym, why you can’t go get your hair cut, why kids can’t go to school,” Morrow said.

Though San Mateo County has managed to stay off Newsom’s watchlist list — which has been growing rapidly and now includes more than 30 cities including all Bay Area counties — Supervisor David Canepa said he expects new restrictions will come this week.

During an interview on Monday, Canepa said in his district — which encompasses most of Daly City — people are continuing to go to work in service jobs across the Peninsula.

For them, Canepa said, losing out on more income after already suffering deep financial loss at the beginning of the pandemic is likely to force people underground or increase the county’s unemployment rate which already sits at 10.8 percent.

“We’re going toward shelter-in-place 2.0,” Canepa said. “I think we were able to hold it off for a while but as I’ve said many times this virus doesn’t know county lines and my heart breaks for the kitchen workers, small business owners and people who are just trying to give a haircut because they’re going to face the brunt of this.”

According to San Mateo County figures, the county’s case rate of 110.4 cases per 100,000 people as of Friday may exceed the state’s benchmark of 100 per 100,000 residents — and if it stays that way it could ultimately make the state’s watch list. Counties are placed on the state’s watch list if not below 100 for three days in a row. Around the Bay Area, the rate of cases is about 124 per 100,000 and in California overall it is about 224.1.

Local officials also are keeping a close eye on  the three-day average of COVID-19 patients in San Mateo County hospitals. As of Friday that was 12.1 percent, greater than the state benchmark of 10 percent variability.

But though the county appears to already meet the requirements for renewed restrictions, Canepa said he believes “there should be more conversation with the state before being automatically put on the watchlist.”

For awhile, it seemed like Northern Italian restaurant Pranzi in San Carlos was back to normal when in June the county allowed it to go return to in-person dining with social distancing restrictions.

But just two days after Gov. Newsom announced on July 13 that all indoor dining must immediately close, General Manager Sedric Gun had to cut two of his front-of-house staff and two kitchen workers. If the county shuts down again and more people stay home, outdoor dining won’t be enough to keep Pranzi to the standards it had pre-pandemic.

“We had to let them go right away because we cannot afford to pay them,” Gun said. “The restaurant doesn’t make enough money. 80 percent of our business goes down the drain if we take away indoor dining. You pay at least your rent, but that’s it.”

Gun said he could close down the restaurant for a couple of months, but people “don’t come back to you anymore if you leave.” Forced to stay open with limited returns, Gun is resigned to closing down again if needed.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Gun said. “If it’s good for our community then it’s good for me.”

Taking care of several clients on Monday, Daly City’s Black and Gold Barber Lounge owner Derrick Pecson, 34, stood with his barber friend JJ Tupas.

Pecson said Tupas had to shut down his own Cut to Contrast barbershop in the Ingleside Terraces neighborhood of San Francisco on Friday after Mayor London Breed announced new restrictions last week and the county was placed in the governor’s watchlist.

“He’s here now with me to take care of his clients because he can’t open his own shop so I gave him one of my chairs here,” Pecson said. “He’s trying to get through it day by day, especially, with all the new orders that come out all the time.”

But for Pecson, any income is better than no income.

“For us, we took a big cut,” Pecson said, noting that before the pandemic he did between 15 and 20 haircuts a day. “Now it’s down to about 8 haircuts or 10. If we shut down again, well, desperate times call for desperate measures. People will do what they have to do to survive.”

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