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Small business owners' dilemma amid coronavirus pandemic: defy state orders, or lose it all

While Sacramento County extends its public health order, relaxing only a few restrictions, some small businesses are still in limbo.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — As weeks go by, small business owners who have had to close their doors completely due to the coronavirus pandemic are now facing the possibility of losing their livelihood, or defying state orders by re-opening early.

Sally, who requested ABC10 not use her last name, owns a small hair salon in Citrus Heights that has been closed for the past few weeks. Without income, she recently filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which gives unemployment benefits to freelancers, contractors and the self-employed.

If she gets denied, Sally says she will most likely have to resort to defying state and local stay-at-home orders, something that other small business owners have begun considering.

"[Small businesses] have to survive," Sally said. "They have kids to feed and bills to pay."

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Sacramento County announced Wednesday that it is extending its public health order through May 22, forcing many businesses to remain closed as the country continues to work to mitigate COVID-19 spread.

The county is loosening some restrictions, none of which involve hair salons or most other small businesses. Among the changes are allowing doctor and dentist visits, opening several sporting facilities with social distancing and disinfectant processes, and property viewing with occupants still in the home.

Still, despite the relaxed restrictions, Sacramento County Public Health Director Dr. Peter Beilenson urged people to stay cautious.

"While there has been some relaxation of rules as they relate to recreational activities, it is absolutely vital that we maintain social distancing," Dr. Beilenson said. "The intent of the order is to ensure that the maximum number of people stay home as much as possible while enabling essential services to continue, and that has been a significant factor in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in Sacramento County."

Sean Covell, the owner of three Fitness System gyms in Sacramento, West Sacramento and Lodi, said he plans on opening his gyms at midnight on May 1, defying Sacramento, Yolo and San Joaquin County stay-home orders.

RELATED: Sacramento-area gym owner says he'll reopen facilities this weekend

In a three-page letter posted on the gym's Land Park doors, website and Instagram account, Covell says that the coronavirus pandemic has led to people losing their constitutional rights. He added that he's prepared to file suit in federal court if their ability to work — and workout — continues to be restricted.

Meanwhile, Sarina Paulson and her husband, who own three local hair salons — all of which are closed — is worried more about safety than reopening too early.

She's had to furlough over 50 employees but does not feel that defying the state order is the answer.

"As business owners, I feel that we don't have as much information as the governor has — he has access to health professionals," Paulson said. "But I do feel that there is a way to move forward that doesn't require us to be closed for months."

No announcements of individual confirmed cases or deaths​ will be made. The case counts are updated dail​y (see date/time stamp above)​. ​​​​​​​The datasets are dynamic and information may be revised or updated.​​ der; Ethnicity; and LocationDashboard of Confirmed Cases Includes Data on Age Group; Gen Case Map by ZIP code Map is interactive.

Both women do agree on keeping employees and customers safe. Sally said if it comes down to it, she would gladly wear a mask and gloves, as well as request her clients do the same.

Meanwhile, Paulson said she's already planning on lowering the amount people in her salons in order to ensure there is social distancing inside. She's also planning on removing the waiting areas and magazines.

RELATED: California's pandemic unemployment program offering same online issues for those seeking help

So while one salon owner is ready to take a stand against state orders, the other is idling waiting, hoping that she won't have to go to those lengths.

"The uncertainty of tomorrow makes me more scared than catching COVID-19," Sally said.

Paulson said her salons will "be OK for a little bit of time. But probably like most of Sacramento, we are not prepared to go months without being open."

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Mayde Gomez.

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