Lifting pandemic-related business restrictions that have strained the local economy for weeks will be done gradually and could take time, according to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, who's now forming her economic recovery advisory team.

The governor on Thursday said she will not be easing any restrictions before May 5.

Lifting some restrictions after that date – which could include easing roadblocks – depends on what happens in the next three weeks, including the rate of infection, she said.

As for business restrictions, the governor said she will have a team of economic recovery advisers to help her decide on the best plan of action.

"Based on what our resources and indicators that would trigger that, I would gradually lift restrictions. I have not thoroughly decided what those are. This is something that our recovery panel would be advising me of," she said.

Leon Guerrero cited, as an example, allowing restaurants to resume dine-in service, with conditions.

Those could include limiting the number of dine-in customers to about 50% of the restaurant's maximum capacity, "and no stand-up bars," the governor said.

Restaurants currently are allowed to continue operating, but only for to-go or curbside pickup service, to help prevent the further spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

"I would be very cautious about social gatherings of a large number," Leon Guerrero said, as the virus spreads through social contact.

The government will continue its contact tracing, health surveillance and education campaign about washing hands to fight the virus, for months. Data monitoring will also continue, the governor said.

Her March executive order shut down nonessential government agencies as well as nonessential businesses. Health clinics, grocery stores, hardware stores, banks and auto repair shops are among those exempted.

Slowly reopening

Some exempt businesses have started resuming limited services, while also seeking clarification from the Department of Public Health and Social Services.

Atkins Kroll, for example, had been closed since March to comply with the governor's executive orders.

But because Atkins Kroll has an auto repair service, which is exempt from the shutdown, the car dealership temporarily resumed only that service on Thursday. It is open only from Monday to Friday, for now.

Ernie Gailto, director of Atkins Kroll's marketing and communications, on Thursday said auto repair service is by appointment only, to comply with health and social distancing mandates.

Galito said Atkins Kroll also recently sent a letter to Public Health, seeking clarification on whether car sales can be permitted, at least on a limited basis, while still maintaining social distance and complying with the mandatory wearing of protective masks.

"People have been inquiring by email and by phone about buying a car but, because of the executive order, we're not doing that. The penalty is severe, which includes business license revocation," he said. "But we are seeking clarification from DPHSS."

Economic recovery team

As of Thursday, the governor was still trying to form her team of economic recovery advisers.

But in her daily news briefings, she said the team will include representatives from the government and the private sector including economists, as well as her medical adviser.

She said the economy cannot be restored unless the health and safety of the community can be assured. The health of the economy has always been kept within that focus, she said.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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