The numbers are grim, in California as of Wednesday, April 15, there were 25,712 cases of persons testing positive for COVID-19 and 779 Californians who had lost their lives. In Los Angeles County there had been 10,047 cases with 360 Angelenos who had died. But, undeterred, California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom in his daily press conference Tuesday, April 14, laid out his road map for recovery for the state’s economy as well as public health.
Newsom’s strategy revolves around six key factors to bring back the state to a sense of normal albeit the governor cautioned that ‘new normal’ meant serious changes in how the public and businesses went about their daily routines. He also warned that until procedures and protocols were able to alleviate the risks and dangers of the transmission of the virus, for the immediate future there would be no large gatherings of the state’s residents in any setting.
The governor cautioned that when things reopen, they won’t be the same. Restaurants will have fewer tables and waiters will wear gloves and masks. Thermometers will be common in public spaces, as will masks and other protective gear. Schools could stagger arrival times of students to enforce physical distancing.
Large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts and fairs are “not in the cards,” Newsom said.“This can’t be a permanent state. It’s not it will not be a permanent state,” he added.
“This is not about going back to where we were before. It’s about going forward in ways that are healthy for all of us. But it won’t look the same,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, who was also present at the briefing, in response to a reporter’s question.
California’s six indicators for modifying the stay-at-home order are:
• The ability to monitor and protect our communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting those who are positive or exposed;
• The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19;
• The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges;
• The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand;
• The ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing; and
• The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary.
For the past week, the Los Angeles Blade has been speaking with business owners, workers, suppliers, real estate companies, government officials and others directly impacted in West Hollywood especially.
Many of the participants asked to not be identified in fear of their remarks jeopardizing their individual or company’s situation and in some cases because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly to the media.
In simplest terms, even with an incremental reopening of the economy, the practical aspect for many of the businesses and their employees is survivability. Larger businesses have cash reserves or credit lines that will allow for a throttled return to operations, that however is not true of smaller and single-owner establishments.
The considerations are more than just rent or mortgages, it is paying staff, suppliers, taxes, and then having money to advertise to draw in customers. In the cases of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, which are the No. 1 draw to West Hollywood’s tourist-based economy, the new restrictive guidelines mean dramatic alterations to their routines and operations.
“It’s a practical matter to how I operate — well, will be forced to operate,” a restaurant and bar owner told the Blade. “I’m going to have to make sure that there’s enough space around my customers for this social distancing, means less tables, and frankly less wait staff. Oh then my bar, I’m not sure how that will work, like on Fridays or the weekends before this, it was wall-to-wall crowded. Now?” He paused then went on to note, “I’m going to have to train my security guys to what? Temp check plus check ID’s?”
Even now as businesses make plans to reopen, the past three weeks have taken a heavy toll on service workers, especially bartenders, wait staffers, drag performers, dancers and kitchen staffers. Looking ahead, many are scared that even if their employers reopen, they may not have a job to go back to if staffing needs are lessened by the reality of the new restrictions cited by Newsom and public health officials.
Kevin Spencer, a former bartender and West Hollywood resident has been leading a private effort to fundraise for service workers furloughed or laid off by the COVID-19 crisis. “The fundraising effort is to provide support for nightlife workers who are affected,” he told the Blade. “It’s money for food, medical, you know, essentials — I want to foster a sense of community.”
Spencer via social media and Zoom virtual community meetings alongside a working partnership with the Alliance for Housing & Healing set-up ‘WeHo’s Nights In.’ The website campaign from April 10 until its scheduled end on April 19 (helpweho.com) has already raised $9,387 of its $10,000 goal. Spencer told the Blade that his efforts were also partnered with the website wehocollective.com and that both were focused on small-dollar donations.
While his efforts are focused on the current state of affairs, Spencer acknowledged he is very concerned about the path forward. “I plan to keep this effort going as long as the need is there,” he said.
The severity of the economic impact has some WeHo business owners wondering if they’re able to even consider reopening. “What about rent — are the landlords willing to defer payments or even breakdown past due rent in smaller chunks spacing them out until the debt’s repaid?”
That question was asked by one owner who admitted that he just didn’t have the cash reserves and that even though he’s applied for the federal relief program passed by Congress, the Paycheck Protection Program, a $350 billion fund for direct business loans as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Stimulus Package signed into law last month by President Trump, his operating costs meant that even pre-pandemic margins are razor-thin.
“If I’m restricted to the number of customers- especially during lunchtime which is my busiest time, I’m just going to lose money. People only have a certain amount of time and I’m not going to set up to a bunch of carry-out and I can’t afford delivery,” he said.
“Everyone is going to have to rethink how business will be conducted moving forward,” WeHo City Council member John Duran told the Blade. “There’s not going to be this ‘magical day’ when everything returns to normal,” he said.
Duran acknowledges that while WeHo’s larger retail operations will be able to return to normal operations, others, the smaller individual businesses likely won’t. “Property owners, nightclubs, restaurants, they are all going to have to manage a new way of working with how to manage to live with COVID-19.”
He reflected that the current pandemic will simply mean that WeHo as a community will have to adapt.
“There are three things that historically change things. War, famine, and plague, which if you look at the history of our city, it was founded during the AIDS pandemic and we survived because we adapted to a new reality. The LGBTQ community, which is a greater part of our city, can and will adapt, so will our businesses,” Duran said.
Gov. Newsom’s edict on large gatherings, in addition to directly impacting nightclubs, especially also affect conventions and large business meetings.
Charles Chan Massey and his husband Joseph Chan co-own Los Angeles-based SYNAXIS Meetings & Events. Charles weighed in regarding the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their business.
“The majority of the events we manage are multi-day conferences. We have had three events that have had to shift dates so far: one in the finance industry, held annually in Chicago, originally scheduled for this month, that we have moved to August; a second for a segment of the cancer community, scheduled to be held this year in the LAX-area, where physicians, patients, and caregivers attend, originally slated for July, now rescheduled for October; and a third in the international tourism market, also scheduled for August in Los Angeles, that we’ve moved to late October. In all three cases, we have built contingencies into the revised venue contract addendum(s) in case we need to postpone yet again.”
“Conferences and events are by very their nature spaces where people go to interact with others who share common interests. The events industry is having to rethink what we’re all about. We started our company in 1994 so we’ve held events all over the world through civil disobedience, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, SARS, and 9/11 but we’ve never experienced anything quite like this. We really are in uncharted territory,” Chan Massey told the Blade.
John D’Amico, the mayor of West Hollywood, told the Blade in an emailed statement on April 15: “The city’s response to the Covid-19 crisis continues to develop, along with Gov. Newsom’s, even as we are committed to assisting our business community to reopen when we can, modify their current business models and to adapt to new challenges with respect to proper public health guidelines. Times will be tough, but I think we’ll see West Hollywood continue to lead the way in creating new entertainment and community experience options.”