The world looks different than it did four months ago. When you venture away from your home for groceries, there’s usually someone outside sanitizing basket handles and inside there are reminders everywhere in the store to practice social distancing; to stay six feet apart from one another.

You go to check out and pay with a credit card and oops, you have to touch the same keypad to punch in your PIN as everyone else. It’s cringe worthy, in the times of COVID-19, to think just how many fingers have touched those numbers. Some keypads have protective plastic over them, others don’t. And while most wear masks to the store, not many are wearing gloves anymore.

Many have voiced concern over safety measures being taken as Sacramento County has begun Stage 3 of its plan to return things to “normal” and reopen more things. To regulate how those safety steps are being implemented, the County is looking to hire approximately 25 business “reopening navigators” who, according to Director of Health Services Dr. Peter Beilenson, will work to make sure area businesses meet the new standards for operating.

The focus, Dr. Beilenson said, will be on small and moderate-sized businesses, as there are already entities like Code Enforcement and the Environmental Management Department (EMD) that regulate large businesses.

“Fitness studios and gyms to pools and tattoo parlors, hair salons and barbers, these are not enforced by Code Enforcement of EMD, so those are the kinds of businesses we’ll be going to,” Dr. Beilenson said.

The County approved the navigators on Tuesday and the Sierra Health Foundation is contracted to do the hiring. The job pays $20 an hour and the work, Dr. Belienson said, is expected to go on for 20 weeks. The $440,000 to pay the inspectors, he said, will come from federal CARES Act funding.

“They’ll be helping people understand what the guidance is for their business so that people can be safely dealt with, for both the client and the operator,” he said.

Fitness centers, for example, will have the number of members they allow in regulated by the square footage, there’ll be no sharing of equipment and only one person can go to the bathroom at a time. In area card rooms, playing cards must be routinely cleansed and plexiglass barriers in some spaces. Navigators will also be visiting thousands of barber shops and nail salons as well. Black owners have been vocal about the need to reopen and recoup losses caused by COVID-19 closures and the lack of resources for small businesses and minimal access to information.

“Clearly there are a lot of people who haven’t heard what the guidance is or wouldn’t necessarily follow them, so that’s the idea of the navigators, showing people what actions to take,” Dr. Beilenson said.

While the navigators will help businesses avoid future inspections, they won’t immediately be responsible for enforcement.

“We really want to take the tact that we’re trying to educate people, we don’t think people are purposefully trying to mess around, but if we find that someone is routinely flaunting (their disregard of) the guidance, then we would pass it along to code enforcement,” Dr. Beilenson said.

Up until this point, he has been fielding complaints that have come into the local 311 hotline about individuals or businesses that are not practicing social distancing or aren’t employing safety measures.

“It’s actually been quite successful and the police and sheriff, as far as I know, have not been involved in any of the incidences, so again, the education seems to be working,” Dr. Beilenson said.

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer