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East Quincy barber reopens — how will the county respond

By Debra Moore

Plumas County District 5 Supervisor Jeff Engel receives a haircut at the East Quincy Barber Company while owner Steve Betts takes a photo April 26.

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At least one business owner and county supervisor have had enough. When Steve Betts reopened his East Quincy Barber Company on April 27, one of the first customers to get a haircut was Plumas County District 5 Supervisor Jeff Engel.

“I told him I would be there,” Engel said in an interview today. “We have to find ways that we can let these things open responsibly. Engel, a business owner himself, said it’s imperative that businesses be allowed to reopen, albeit in a safe manner.

Engel said that Betts and fellow haircutter Joel wear masks and gloves and limit the number of individuals in the shop. He said that was also one of the reasons he wanted to be among the first customers — “to see how they’re going to do it.”

In addition to those precautions, Betts said that he also “sprays everything with 91 percent alcohol between customers.”

“It’s been awesome,” Betts said of the response he has received during an interview on his second day of operation. At the time of the interview, one customer was in the chair and two were waiting. When another tried to enter the shop he could be heard telling the individual to wait outside. Betts had advertised his planned reopening on his Facebook page.

Betts said that he was busy with his regular customers on his first day of business, but he also received a visit from Sheriff Todd Johns, who advised him of the governor’s order that only businesses deemed essential were allowed to be open.

“I told him no one could override my constitutional rights,” Betts said.

When asked if he expects to receive a return visit, Betts said he did, but it wouldn’t change his decision to remain open. Betts said that Sheriff Johns asked if he would be amenable to operating by appointment only or to accommodating only one person in the shop at a time. “I would, but nobody has approached us about this,” Betts said, whose business typically operates on a walk-in basis.

District Attorney David Hollister said that Betts would receive more visits. “We have an enforcement plan,” Hollister said that involves three visits. The first visit would include the business owner receiving a packet of information designed to educate the individual about the rules. The second visit would be to encourage the business owner to adhere to the rules. The third would be to plead with the business owner, but if that were unsuccessful, the business owner could be cited and asked to appear in court.

Can the county compel a business to close?

Hollister said it’s difficult. Civilly, because the governor’s order would result in a misdemeanor, that wasn’t likely. Criminally, it could be a condition ordered by the court as a condition of an individual’s release. Hollister doesn’t want it to come to that and was scheduled to meet with public health officials today to discuss options. “But when it’s our citizens’ health and safety at stake, and others are following the restrictions, it’s our last choice, but we would do it,” Hollister said.

Engel, who also had a conversation with Hollister today, said he understood the district attorney’s viewpoint, but thinks it’s time to reopen. Engel doesn’t think that the amount of cases in Plumas County warrants a continued shutdown. (To date there have been four positive cases, and those four have recovered.)

“I told Andrew (Public Health Director Woodruff) yesterday that we have to lean on the government,” Engel said. “Whatever happened to the pursuit of happiness?”

Engel also noted that there is a push to open golf courses May 1 and wondered how that could be considered an essential business and getting a haircut wasn’t. “A lot of people are getting frustrated,” he said.

Engel wants to reopen business while finding ways to mitigate contact with people. “There is a risk to everything,” he concluded.

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