A Norco pancake house joined a handful of other local businesses in reopening Sunday in defiance of state orders meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Patrons queued outside The Original Pancake House Norco early Sunday morning, even before it opened its doors, eager for a breakfast at a restaurant.
“I’m pregnant and I’m not afraid. I think it’s time,” Norco resident Mary Weller said as she stood outside the restaurant. “I understood the lockdown in the beginning and now I’m like, it’s time. We can’t kill local businesses.”
The restaurant’s staff wore face masks as they maneuvered between the tables at the busy restaurant, some of which were kept empty to allow for social distancing.
And though the restaurant said it’s taking precautions and following guidelines posted by the Centers for Disease Control, it drew outrage online from those concerned about the spread of the virus, with many calling the move irresponsible and illegal.
“I think we’ve been locked down too long. It’s gonna destroy this country if they don’t open it up soon,” Norco resident Bill Prether said.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Dianna Pecoraro said the department isn’t enforcing the closures and is directing those with concerns to call the county health department.
Health experts and officials have warned that reopening too much too soon, especially without safety restrictions in place, would risk a spike in infections and force more closures.
Gov. Gavin Newsom adopted a phased approach to reopening the economy, beginning with locations deemed at “low risk” for the spread of the virus. During the current stage, state officials allowed curbside retail, manufacturing, childcare, pet grooming and car washes to operate, and reopened many outdoor public spaces — all with strict social distancing and public safety restrictions.
But the pandemic has hit each of the state’s 58 counties differently — having the most devastating effect on densely populated urban areas — so state officials are allowing counties that can attest they can reopen in a way that minimizes risk to do so at a faster pace than the rest.
So far, 22 counties that applied were given the green light to move more quickly through the current stage, allowing them to reopen retail stores, shopping malls, swap meets, dine-in restaurants, bars and schools.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors sent a letter and attestation to the governor Thursday, saying the county has the ability to “meet, exceed or plan to achieve” six of the seven criteria described by the governor to accelerate through the current stage.
But the county asked for a variance on a state requirement that there be no COVID-19 death for a 14-day period.
“In our opinion, the metrics are unrealistic for urban counties, and Riverside County in particular, where our geographic size and population make it impossible that no COVID-19 death would take place during the 14-day period,” the county said in a news release.
With over 5,600 known coronavirus cases, Riverside County has the second-highest number of cases in the state after Los Angeles County.
As of Friday, 242 people had died of COVID-19 in Riverside County and another 184 were hospitalized for the respiratory illness — 68 of them in intensive care.
The county reported an average of six deaths each day during the past two weeks.
County officials amended local health orders last week, rescinding guidelines put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic that were more restrictive than the state’s. Face coverings were once mandated, but are now “strongly recommended.”