Downtown Calexico is shown several days into the complete shutdown that occurred in late March due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Imperial County. Downtown streets and sidewalks were nearly empty as businesses were closed and cross-border traffic all but halted when the first federal travel advisories were instated. | CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO
IMPERIAL COUNTY — Several weeks after the pandemic began and Gov. Gavin Newsom and the local Public Health Department ordered nonessential businesses to shut down in mid-March due to COVID-19, the Imperial Valley Business Recovery Task Force emerged to assist affected businesses to get through the difficulties of being forced to close their doors.
When Newsom ordered Imperial County to rollback some of its early business re-openings some weeks ago amid a surge of cases in the county, the task force was there to continue its work to assist a business community hit hard.
Even as Imperial County begins to see improvement in the rate of community transmissions of COVID, the area remains in a modified state of re-opening, with local businesses somewhere between a Stage 1 and modified Stage 2A, meaning there are nonessential businesses that are open today, but to curbside pickup only and there is still no dining inside local restaurants, no bars open, no barbershops, beauty salons or nail salons open, or gyms, for that matter.
The work of the Business Recovery Task Force is still very much needed. The task force helps businesses get in contact with valuable financial resources, but it also helps advocate for the re-opening of businesses in the Imperial Valley through a “pledge” process.
Brawley Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Katie Luna is the de facto leader of the task force, but does this work along with other business advocates in the community, including the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp. and local chambers of commerce.
Luna pointed to the task force’s website for more information on the “pledge.”
In taking the pledge, you are doing your part to abide by state regulations, like wearing a face mask, social distancing and staying home if you do not feel well. With that, this pledge advocates for the Imperial Valley to start re-opening its doors to the public.
It also helps to reiterate that without everyone’s cooperation, the Imperial Valley cannot move forward.
So far, 144 people have taken this pledge and it is available to the public on the I.V. Business Recovery Task Force website (http://www.ivbizrecovery.com/).
“Many businesses have sought the help of the task force. Our partners in the task force have helped hundreds of businesses apply for loans, grants, find (personal protective equipment), connect them to guidelines, rulings, resources, help them with their emergency plans, etc.,” Luna said recently.
“Our task force has a dozen-plus partners that have extensive reach into the business community. I intentionally brought this group together knowing we would be on the frontlines of the economic crisis, interacting daily with businesses that needed help,” she explained.
Out 58 counties in California, the Imperial Valley is one of two that have not yet filed an attestation or met specific criteria to move forward and re-open its doors to the public. The reason: COVID-19 rates.
Even before the recent spike in cases throughout the state, Imperial Valley had the highest number of cases in the entire state.
“Our county health officer and leadership is abiding by the criteria set forth by the Governor. This means that we will not be moving forward until we meet basic health benchmarks in our community,” Luna said.
One of the most basic benchmarks the county has not been able to meet to move forward is epidemiological stability. The state is requiring that fewer than 8 percent of those Imperial County residents tested during a seven-day average turn up COVID positive. While Imperial County reached its lowest percentage to date yet since this became a requirement, (slightly more than 10 percent on Aug. 3), much works needs to be done.
“Many of our businesses have been closed since March and have not re-opened, so they can’t take the blame, but they are bearing the burden. Many (are) facing closures. Many (are) not qualifying for assistance. A business physically can’t give a person COVID, it can only be transmitted from person to person. This is why the economic success of our businesses lies with the actions of the people,” Luna said.
“The people of our community must take responsibility for educating themselves about this virus and how to protect themselves as best as possible,” Luna commented.