Some Santa Rosa business leaders say they were never consulted before Sonoma County released its health order banning large public gatherings — even though it will cost local businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars or more loss of income.
Peter Rumble, chief executive of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, told The Press Democrat on Thursday that he and his members were particularly furious with the brutality of the 30-day order, which went into effect Wednesday.
The order has left many businesses scrambling — especially those in the events industry — and led to a spike in sightseeing cancellations, which Rumble called “absolutely infuriating.”
Dr. Sundari R. Mase, the county health officer, issued the order Monday afternoon. It prohibits indoor gatherings of 50 or more people and outdoor events of 100 or more people.
Since the pandemic, the county has typically issued such public health orders in concert with other Bay Area counties, but this time it acted unilaterally in the face of the alarming spike in cases.
“I think people are trying to figure out what’s going on because the county decided to do this without talking to anyone and not understanding what kind of impact it will have,” said Rumble, who previously worked as the county’s deputy administrator. .
“Somehow they think all knowledge and ideas would be within the four walls of the county compound.”
Rumble pointed out that the House supports health protocols to limit the spread of the coronavirus and that his organization is in favor of requiring employees to be vaccinated.
His comments came on a day when the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from implementing requirements for large private companies to require their employees to be routinely vaccinated or tested.
Rumble, however, said he would like to see more focus on targeting unvaccinated people, especially since 78% of eligible county residents ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated and an additional 8% are partially. vaccinated.
Rumble said the effects of the order have gone beyond the tourism industry, where group bookings are now under threat for the foreseeable future, as headlines about the order have emerged across the state and across the country. -of the.
“We even have local businesses that aren’t dependent on tourism and travel getting members and customers canceled because of this message…but (also) an extremely mixed message suggesting you shouldn’t even leave your house. And it’s absolutely infuriating for businesses and other organizations trying to adapt to this,” Rumble said.
In addition to the county health order, authorities have asked residents to voluntarily shelter in place and limit themselves to only essential trips, such as work, school or the doctor.
Rumble said he had had “very limited” discussions with Mase over the past two years, but had made his position clear to board supervisors, although he noted that the five members don’t usually get much warning either.
“I quite often express my frustration to the supervisors,” he says.
An attempt to reach Mase for comment by cellphone failed Thursday night. Her voicemail was full and she did not immediately respond to a text message.
Supervisor James Gore, chairman of the board, and supervisor David Rabbitt said county communication about the order could have been better.
The Sonoma County Economic Development Board, which reports to the county government, was also not notified prior to the health order, Gore said.
“This is something that needs to be fixed immediately,” Gore said.
The board is expected to hold a public, virtual meeting on Wednesday to review the current health order. They should review the details of what prompted the order and discuss potential process improvements.
Supervisor Chris Coursey said business owners have contacted him with concerns since the health order was announced.
“In hindsight, yes, absolutely, I think it would be better for our many businesses, our trade associations if we tried to get the word out directly to people rather than having it read in the headline of the morning paper,” Coursey said. noted.
Rabbitt and Gore said they are looking to establish more clarity regarding the county’s information-sharing process.
Rabbitt said he understands the companies’ frustrations, but added he’s “not frankly sure if there’s an alternative.”
“We can’t make it stupid for people, and we really have to put all the facts and data on the table and say ‘here’s what’s going on right now, here’s why this is a good decision, this is how it is that we will measure success in this moving forward and tracking this,” Rabbitt said. “If we do that, we’ll get a lot more buy-in.”
He also noted that he was concerned about the impacts of the order, particularly on after-school school programs, including sporting events.
The order has had a particular effect on companies that hold events even during the slow winter of the tourist season.
Most notably, Russian River Brewing Co. delayed the release of its popular Pliny the Younger beer until the end of March, with co-owner Natalie Cilurzo making the announcement Wednesday after consulting with Gore.
The Epicenter sports and entertainment complex in Santa Rosa had to cancel two upcoming comedy shows and lost upcoming corporate events due to the order, Chief Financial Officer Brad Bergum said in an email.
Bergum declined to comment on the order itself, but noted that Epicenter would comply with it.
The order also puzzled Rohnert Park Councilman Gerard Giudice, who is also a co-founder of SOMO Village restaurant and coffee company Sally Tomatoes. He said he was most concerned about the rules for organizing outdoor events and noted that the local Rotary club had planned a crab festival at its site next Saturday.
After reading the full order, he doesn’t know if he will be in breach, even though he has a four-acre site where he can enforce social distancing protocols. He said Rabbitt gave him Mase’s phone number, but he hadn’t heard from her as of Thursday afternoon.
“It absolutely crushes us. I don’t know how to proceed. The county hasn’t contacted us, especially single businesses,” Giudice said. “I need clarity.”
Staff writer Martin Espinoza contributed to this story.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited to add comments Friday from Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt raising concerns about the new public health order.