After discussing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shelter in place order at a special Clovis City Council meeting held March 21 at the Senior Center, the city agreed to follow the state’s orders to close non-essential business.
City Manager Luke Serpa, who the council designated as director of emergency services earlier this week, said the city is currently in the process of identifying essential staff and staff who should work from home.
The city has already redirected some of its employees, such as senior center and recreation staff, who are now tasked with sanitizing City Hall to prevent the spread of the virus.
The main topic of discussion was how to interpret Gov. Newsom’s shelter in place order, which went into effect March 20.
The order asks 40 million Californians to stay home and mandates that all businesses that are not deemed essential close. Essential industry sectors include healthcare, food and agriculture, energy, water services, transportation, communications and critical manufacturing. A full list of essential industries can be found here.
Newsom did not indicate how long the order will remain in effect.
The City of Fresno announced a shelter in place order March 18, but Clovis did not follow suit.
Councilmember Bob Whalen questioned whether the state’s order was the best course of action for Clovis and suggested allowing some businesses that were not deemed essential by the state to remain open. He added that he was approached by several local businesses about staying open though the pandemic.
“My view is that we need to broadly interpret the order from the state of California… but we also want to balance ourselves to make sure we do keep our distance from COVID-19,” Whalen said. “I would suggest that as we endure it broadly, the order from the governor, that we allow those businesses to remain open.”
Councilmember Vong Mouanoutoua disagreed, saying that if the city refuses to take action, Clovis could see a surge in COVID-19 cases that would overwhelm local hospitals.
“With regards to the stay at home order, I am all in support of that. We know from other nations what is happening and how we can prevent it,” Mouanoutoua said. “If we don’t stand and let it go, and if it does spread where it rises exponentially, our medical facilities will not be able to handle the number of cases.”
Councilmember Lynne Ashbeck agreed with Mouanoutoua. She said it would be bad form to counter the advice given by health experts.
“I think this is a time when local control needs to be relinquished to the state. I think the state had access to data that we will never know,” Ashbeck said. “In some ways, I think wondering if (the shelter in place order) is the right thing is not constructive… I feel strongly that we need to honor the governor’s orders.”
Councilmember Jose Flores compared going out and socializing during the pandemic to playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun.
“I think we know what our personal risks are and how to act accordingly. I believe we are all intelligent and dutiful enough to do that, but we do have an obligation to educate our people,” he said in response to Whalen. “This is a big revolver with a huge cylinder and a bullet, and every time we go out in public, that bullet may hit home.”
Mayor Drew Bessinger acknowledged the negative impact the order would have on local business and social norms, but said it is important that the city remains in step with the state government.
“On one hand we want to obey these laws, on the other hand we can’t criminalize behavior that is socially acceptable,” Bessinger said. “At this point we need to do what we are asked to do and try to help our citizens by educating them whenever we have the opportunity… I think that as a city, as a county, all of us need to be united in the same mindset and step.”
The council ultimately decided to follow the governor’s order.
Mouanoutoua also brought attention to reports of price gouging and racism against Asian Americans that have followed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. He called on the city to take a strong stance against racism perpetuated against the southeast Asian community in particular.
Multiple media outlets have reported an increase in racist crimes committed against individuals of Asian descent in the last week. Fresno police are currently investigating two hate crimes against southeast Asians that are believed to be tied to the outbreak.
Price gouging during a national emergency is already against the law, though that hasn’t stopped a few Fresno-area businesses from drastically raising prices on necessities such as water. The City of Fresno issued a $10,000 fine against one liquor store earlier this week for price gouging and is investigating other reports at more than 40 businesses, according to the Fresno Bee.
The City of Clovis plans to address both matters in the coming days.
The city council will hold another special meeting March 30 at the Senior Center. City staff said residents will be able to attend the meeting in a digital webinar, though people can still attend the meeting in person if they choose.