Assemblyman James C. Ramos

Assemblyman James Ramos, working with state and local agencies to address a variety of business and health hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, drafted two bills Assembly Bill 1552 and AB 1035 to help small businesses and assisted constituents in hundreds of cases relating to unemployment claims.

If passed, AB 1552 will provide financial relief to California small business owners and others who pay hundreds of billions of dollars in business interruption insurance premiums, but whose COVID-19 claim applications were denied.

If passed, AB 1035, “Would exempt a small business with 25 or fewer employees from liability for an injury or illness to a person due to coronavirus based on a claim that the person contracted coronavirus while at that small business or due to the actions of that small business.”

Small businesses would have to apply for this exemption to be covered by the proposed law and would have to “abide by all applicable state and local health laws, regulations and protocols.” Both bills are being reviewed in the State Senate.

On Monday, July 20, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new guidance for services that can be provided outdoors such as hair, nail and massage services. This decision came after San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, along with San Diego County officials, wrote a letter to Newsom to ask him to modify the state guidelines for the aforementioned services.

According to KSWB-TV in San Diego, less then an hour later Newsom confirmed that his administration was updating its guidance to make it clear what those services can and cannot do outdoors. Electrology, tattooing and piercing services may not be provided in outdoor settings because they are invasive procedures that require a controlled hygienic environment to be performed safely.

The county of San Bernardino provided the following guidelines for businesses operating outdoor services based on state guidelines and Cal/OSHA regulations:

• Outdoor operations may be conducted under a tent, canopy or other sun shelter as long as no more than one side is closed, allowing sufficient outdoor air movement.

• Salons and barbershops should not perform a service that would require a customer to have to enter the establishment.

• Ensure any outdoor shade or outdoor working area has the same ventilation and airflow as the outdoors. Outdoor shaded areas can be configured to block wind but cannot be enclosed or partially enclosed on more than one side in a way that otherwise restricts normal airflow.

• Rewiring and the use of electrical extension cords can increase the likelihood of electrical hazards, including fire and electrocution. Ensure that outdoor operations comply with Cal/OSHA and all code requirements.

• Ensure there are no tripping hazards from cords or other equipment in outdoor work areas.

• Use skin protection when not under shade.

• Stop operations, move away from electrical wiring and equipment, and seek indoor shelter if there is lightning within six miles of your location.

 On the second shut-down, Ramos said the public needs to follow what their public health officials are telling them regarding social distancing and face masks. However, he believes there should be some “empathy” for those not able to wear masks due to underlying health conditions and people with disabilities.

He also said, “California may have reopened too soon,” and that it was important that we listen to health officials and not mix politics in such decisions.

The county of San Bernardino is one of many counties facing a nationwide testing shortage according to County Public Information Officer David Wert. He said that the county signed two new contracts providing more testing resources beginning earlier this week.

Ramos’s office has handled more than 300 cases regarding the issues plaguing the Employment Development Department (EDD) and has over 200 open cases. Ramos said, regarding the delays, that the EDD was not prepared for the influx of claims that have been filed since the pandemic started.

He believes that the EDD should go through an audit and see how things could have been better handled.

On mental health, Ramos in February introduced AB 2112 to create a statewide Office of Suicide Prevention. That office would be charged with the following:

•  0Providing strategic guidance to statewide and regional partners regarding best prevention practices;

• Requiring the new office to focus resources on the highest risk groups such as youth, Native American youth, older adults, veterans and LGBTQ people;

• Conducting state evaluations of regional and state suicide prevention policies;

• Reviewing data to identify opportunities to reduce suicide, including documenting aborted suicide attempts and crisis service interventions; Marshaling the insights and energy of medical professionals, scientists, public health experts and others to address the crisis;

• Disseminating information to achieve statewide progress, including coordinated and culturally appropriate campaigns to reach populations with high suicide rates;

• Reporting to the legislature on progress in reducing suicide rates.

Toby Ewing, executive director of the Mental Services Commission, said, “Research does suggest the number of lives lost to suicide will increase as a result of COVID-19, yet results of the commission’s work on the state’s Suicide Prevention Plan also show that lives can be saved.”

He continued, “Putting in place the state-level leadership to support our counties, school districts, private sector and community-based partners is foundational for the work that needs to be done.”

Ramos said he has observed over the past several months that California and the nation are facing huge spikes in calls to mental health hotlines.

“More than ever, the state needs a focused, coordinated, forward looking approach to suicide prevention.”  

In 2017, California saw more than 4,300 violent deaths caused by suicide and 34,371 emergency room visits linked to suicide attempts, according to a report published last year by the California Mental Health Services Oversight & Accountability Commission.

Ramos added that even as COVID-19’s physical isolation lessens because people can spend more time with loved ones or on the job, impacts from the pandemic still pose a threat to the mental health of California residents.

Grief from the loss of family members and friends remain after the immediate crisis passes. Also, financial uncertainty will pose ongoing burdens.

“Unfortunately, with the crisis we’ve also seen spikes in other mental health related issues that may cause additional increases in thoughts of suicide – substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse.”

Many of Ramos’s constituents have complained on social media about their First Amendment rights being taken away, such as the right to practice their own religion. Ramos said while he “respects” people's spiritual beliefs he thinks “public health” is more important than religious rights.