COVID-19: A Clovis Year in Review

The iconic “Clovis: Gateway to the Sierras” sign. Photo taken on NW corner of Fifth and Clovis Avenue looking north. (CR Photo)

March 13, 2020 was the day Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the shelter-in-place order to residents across the state of California.

As COVID-19 exposure cases continued to rise throughout the state, the quarantine order was given in hopes of combating the spread of the COVID-19. 

The news of the stay-at-home order was a shock to many people living throughout the Central Valley but hopes that the order would be lifted soon left Clovis residents feeling encouraged to continue living life as they normally would.   

Now over a year into the pandemic, the City of Clovis has done its best to adapt to the constant changes in guidelines and procedures to return to a sense of normalcy for the sake of everyone in the community. 

The City of Clovis in March of 2020 

Andy Haussler, Community and Economic Development Director for the City of Clovis, said that before the pandemic hit Clovis had seen significant economic growth and activity with some of the lowest unemployment rates the city has ever had.   

“We went from there to a kind of a grinding fast all stop,” Haussler said. “We went from about a 3.2% unemployment rate in February of 2020 to our peak, which I think was around 15% in May (2020), so it was pretty dramatic.” 

Haussler said the city was adamantly interacting with businesses in Clovis to help guide them with the rapid changes being announced by the state.   

According to Haussler, for businesses who weren’t deemed essential by the state, the city immediately began working alongside them to ensure they understood what was going on and what they could do during this shut-down period. 

Along with communicating via email and through a website created by the city, Haussler said that aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) out of the federal government’s Small Business Administration began being distributed to businesses too.    

As the shelter-in-place order continued beyond the expected two weeks, Haussler said the city and their partners continued to meet and organize with one another virtually to discuss the various resources being provided to businesses throughout the area. 

“We were working with a lot of community entities in order to bring the resources and get the information out there,” Haussler said. 

The city even teamed up with local Clovis restaurants and worked together to provide a total of 20,000 meals to low-income seniors in the city who had been affected by the pandemic.   

One of the many programs the city created to help provide relief to businesses and families in Clovis is the Emergency Rental Assistance Program which served over 275 families that paid up to three months of their unpaid rent.   

As the pandemic continues the city is still consistently providing information to businesses and families in Clovis to keep them up to date with any new changes the state announces during this time. 

“We’re still trying to be the provider of information possible so individuals, businesses and residents, can make the best decisions they can going forward. We are seeing reopening occur, based on our tier levels, and that’s been really encouraging,” Haussler said. 

“I think we’re on a path out of this. This is just a matter of how long is it going to take?”   

COVID-19’s effect on local businesses   

More than anything, small businesses around the country have taken a massive blow because of the pandemic. 

Being deemed essential or not played a large role in the future of many local businesses’ futures here in Clovis. 

For Tom and Betty Frost, owners of Frost Oak Creek Creations located in Old Town Clovis (OTC), the pandemic caused their business to shut down for about eight weeks. 

“We were are at home for almost two months and of course, you still have bills coming up whether that be utilities or rent, and then you’re trying to judge on what you should do for inventory when you reopen, and it left us kind of in a pickle,” Tom said. 

Tom and Betty opened their small business on August 16 of 2011 and are known for their array of home/garden décor and their gourmet food and baby lines sold in their shop.   

Thankfully, due to good business from the prior Christmas, the Frosts were able to survive this shut down period at the start of the shelter-in-place order. 

“Every time the state or the governor would change directions, it impacts all of us because they [other businesses] have to back off, they have to go outside, people stop coming down and so that has an impact on all the businesses in old town,” Tom said.

Frost Oak Creek Creations attribute their success during the pandemic to their loyal customer base saying many customers came back to intentionally do business with the Frost’s. 

Tom said they were also grateful that the city understood the importance of having small businesses stay open as the quarantine order continued during the year. 

“I think they kind of realized, and Clovis takes pretty good care of Clovis, that if we don’t allow people to start doing some business, we’re going to have a lot of empty stores in Old Town. You just can’t close for two months or more and expect people will still be there in six months.” 

After two months of being closed, Frost Oak Creek Creations has been open six days a week for customers throughout the community to enjoy. 

“I think we’ve picked up some new clientele that wanted that lower key approach to a hands-on shopping experience that they weren’t getting at bigger box stores, that makes them feel a little more comfortable. The year’s off to a good start.”   

The cancellation of some of Clovis’ most beloved events   

For Clovis Chamber of Commerce CEO Greg Newman, Big Hat Days and Clovis Fest were events that both the chamber and community loved to attend and celebrate. 

Although the cancellation of these events was of no surprise to Newman, it didn’t make it any easier or less disappointing having to tell the community that they were cancelled. 

“We would attract vendors and attendees from all over California for Big Hat Days. It was one of the largest two-day festivals in the Central Valley and in parts of Northern California,” Haussler said.   

“To lose that for our whole community, it was a big deal.”

With the cancellation of numerous events during 2020 the chamber found new ways to stay connected to the community and new ways to support the businesses in Clovis too.

One of the main focuses of the chamber was to help Clovis businesses better understand the protocols and guidelines needed to ensure the safety of their employees and customers when reopening, or remaining open, during the shelter-in-place order. 

“We quickly kind of retransformed our model to helping our businesses understand how the pandemic was going to affect them,” Newman said.   

“We developed a toolkit on our website where we would put all the latest information and we held different seminars to talk about HR laws and how the pandemic was affecting HR laws [too].” 

With the cancellation of big fundraising events like Big Hat Days and Clovis Fest, the chamber did lose a fair amount of income, but that didn’t stop them from remaining hopeful about what was to come in 2021. 

“We’ve been around for over 100 years as a Chamber of Commerce…so we can certainly guide ourselves through the pandemic, but now we’re looking forward to emerging out of the restrictions and slowly, carefully, hosting our events again and getting back on track,” Haussler said. 

This year the chamber will be hosting Big Hat Days on June 12 and 13 instead of during the first full week in April.

This is so it, “gives us [the chamber] a little more time for the community to rebound from the pandemic, to get their vaccines, to get out of the purple tier and to get into a more favorable tier,” Newman said. 

Although Big Hat Days will have restrictions in place to ensure attendees safety, it won’t stop the chamber from doing their best to provide the community with an unforgettable, and COVID friendly, experience. 

Clovis Fest will also be taking place later this year on September 25 and 26. 

The chamber is hoping that restrictions from the state will have lessened to a point where the event can be held as years prior.   

Guests can be sure to expect festival booths and hot air balloons if they choose to attend Clovis Fest later this year. 

The Impact of COVID-19 on schools   

For educators, students and parents across the nation, COVID-19 has been a challenging beast to overcome. 

Chief Communications Officer for Clovis Unified, Kelly Avants, said having to transition to an online model after the announcement of the shelter-in-place order last March was, “extraordinarily challenging.” 

Avants pointed out the quick adjustments teachers and employees in the district made to guarantee their students success during such an unprecedented time. 

“Everyone from our bus drivers and campus catering employees who didn’t miss work, were on the ground serving meals and transporting these resources out into the community for our students,” Avants said.

“Our teachers who barely missed a beat in converting their curriculum to online and having to just really turn everything on its ear, is the experience we had March to May of last year.” 

Accountability and grace were the two words Clovis Unified highlighted in 2020 to help students navigate through the pandemic with Avants saying, “Our superintendent routinely used both terms as a way to hold students accountable, still to be engaged in schoolwork, but also recognizing the challenge they themselves were facing as their families were experiencing something they had never experienced before.” 

In communication with the County Health Department, Clovis Unified has been working hard to have their students return to campus.   

As of right now, schools in Clovis Unified each have their own specified school schedule to accommodate what’s best for their students. 

“We understood what it would take to get our schools reopened and that our team invested in doing those things to be able to eventually be able, in October, start to reopen campuses for in-person instruction,” Avants said. 

“We’re still not there yet though, we have a long way to go to getting back to a full five day a week traditional school schedule.” 

Although Clovis Unified isn’t sure of what the upcoming fall is going to look like, they’re sure that they’ll be doing everything they can to get students to return to a sense of normalcy when coming back for another year of school next semester. 

The residents of Clovis a year into the pandemic 

Jaime Brew has lived in Clovis her entire life. 

As a teacher, wife and mother of two children in Clovis Unified, March 13, 2020 was a day that she said she’ll remember for the rest of her life.   

“We had heard that Fresno Unified had closed and I honestly had not heard anything much about the pandemic before Friday the 13 of March. I was in my hallway talking to my colleagues and we were like, ‘Have you heard that Fresno Unified is closing schools? This is crazy,’” Brew said. 

That evening Brew and her colleagues found out that Clovis Unified would be closing their schools too and the ‘long’ spring break that she had expected to be over within the month, was extended until August of the following year.   

Being a mother of a third and fifth grader made this unprecedented situation difficult for her family to adjust to. 

Along with homeschooling their children, Brew also had just started a new job as a teacher at another school in the district.   

With this new transition she said it’s still been a good experience despite the constant changes, but the most challenging part of the pandemic has been watching the impact it’s left on her children. 

“It’s been hard for them to meet new friends at our school. We don’t have recess, we don’t have interactions, they just don’t get to turn and talk to their peers or sit in a group and have conversations like the way you usually make friends,” Brew said. 

As a very social family working through the restrictions and guidelines during the past year has been another struggle Brew said they’ve faced.    

“We’re out and about with friends all the time…but for my kids, the first month, they didn’t go anywhere, and they didn’t see anyone. We just rode our bikes everywhere and what was outside is all that they really saw,” she said. 

One positive the family has taken away from the initial shutdown, was the creation of new memories and traditions that will be continued for many years after the pandemic ends.   

“I think the future is going to be good. It’s going to be different because we’re going to have to still be cautious and still aware of things,” Brew said. 

“I think we also have to at some point know that we’ve got to keep on going…and those that feel comfortable should be comfortable and those that don’t that’s fine too.” 

Halle Sembritzki was born in the small Swedish village of Kingsburg, California and graduated from Kingsburg High School in 2017. She now attends Fresno State and will graduate with her Bachelor’s in Multimedia Journalism in spring 2021. She aspires to use her voice as an outlet for those who can’t use their own and hopes to educate the public on important news topics happening within her community and the country.