Marin seeks variance to reopen indoor dining, short-term rentals by end of June

06/17/2020

Cases of Covid-19 have doubled over the past month in Marin, but testing capacity and the number of contact tracers have also expanded. Now, Marin is asking the state for a variance to allow it to move forward with opening indoor dining, hair salons, gyms and short-term rentals on June 29. The request for a variance is a necessary step to move beyond current restrictions, and by applying, public health officials are attesting that they have built the capacity to respond to the virus. Still, Dr. Matt Willis, the public health officer for Marin, said residents must not mistake reopening for safety. “Just because it is allowable does not mean it is safe,” he said. “We are putting responsibility into all of our hands. It’s a more mature way of approaching the pandemic response, and a more sustainable way.” Dr. Willis stressed that mask wearing is the number-one tool to prevent transmission. Earlier in the pandemic, California’s criteria for obtaining a variance was tied to case rates, hospitalizations and deaths, and Marin did not qualify because its case rates were among the highest in the state. But the process has been revised to allow counties with adequate hospital capacity, testing and contact tracing ability to reopen. Out of 58 counties, 52 have been granted a variance. The state’s standard reopening pace is set by the most burdened county, so places like Imperial County at the southern border, where there is a dramatic outbreak and hospitals are transporting patients outside the county, are holding up Bay Area counties that don’t have a variance. The California Department of Public Health should respond to the request by next week. Marin has over 700 cases, and 18 people have died, all but one over the age of 65. Thirteen of the deaths occurred in people over age 80. Cases have disproportionality affected the Latino population, which represents 16 percent of residents and 70 percent of cases. Later this week, the state health department will release guidance related to “social bubbles,” defined as 12 or fewer people who agree to spend time with each other only. The guidance is intended to encourage a safer way of spending time with family and friends, because health officials are aware that people are already gathering. Businesses that are still blocked from opening fall into two categories: those in which two or more people have extended periods of contact, like tattoo shops, massage parlors and nail salons, and those where crowds gather, like movie theaters, community centers and bars.