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shower curtain
A shower curtain at the cash register of Manteca Mart Liquor is designed to protect customers and employees

What constitutes an essential business?

That was a topic of debate Monday as the death count in San Joaquin County from the coronavirus reached six while after 15 cases were confirmed in the previous 24 hours to bring the total to 136. At least one of the six persons that died was from Manteca.

Interim City Manager Miranda Lutzow posted “non-exhaustive lists” of businesses that may remain open as well as businesses that shall close based on orders by Gov. Gavin Newsom. That followed an announcement by the Manteca Police Department that— if need be — they will take steps to close businesses that don’t comply with a formal directive from law enforcement to close.

Those manning the Manteca Emergency Operations Command have been receiving complaints that businesses ranging from cigarette stores to nail salons were staying open. Those contacted by police have been voluntarily complying.

The ante was upped when President Trump over the weekend made it clear national recommendations for social distancing would stay in place until April 30. That was taken as a likely sign Newsom would keep much of the California economy shut down at least through then meaning many businesses will be out of commission for six weeks at a minimum.

The fact a business class operated by one council member was listed on the “business shall close” list with a qualifier triggered some questions. Gary Singh operates Manteca Mart Liquor in the shopping center anchored by Grocery Outlet on East Yosemite Avenue at Northwoods Avenue.

The city posting on its official Facebook page lists liquor stores as a business that shall close but immediately afterwards states “grocery and convenience stores permitted.”

The state is allowing liquor stores that have meet the criteria to be part of the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) to remain open. That is what was meant by the convenience store reference. Liquor stores that essentially aren’t SNAP qualified are required to close.

To qualify as a SNAP merchant liquor stores have to offer grocery items such as dairy, cheese (that is listed separately from other milked products), and certain canned goods among others.

Singh also carries toilet paper but hasn’t had it in stock for nearly three days.

Singh noted that many of his customers that buy SNAP qualified items reside in a nearby neighborhood where many lack the transportation to reach a traditional supermarket or are often in need of an item after Grocery Outlet closes.

Singh, like other merchants, has taken steps to protect customers and employees.

The store is limited to three customers at a time. There are marks taped to the floor for six foot spacing at the cash register as well as six foot spacing outside when a que forms to enter the store.

Employees are wearing masks. Given a sheet of acrylic didn’t work at his counter Singh was able to rig a clear shower curtain to provide a barrier.

Singh said the city is doing everything possible to ensure the public’s health and to minimize the impacts on businesses as well as people depending upon their jobs. He said the best way to do that is for people to observe social distancing rules and not to make unnecessary trips outside of their homes so the prospective of the virus spreading is reduced. Once new cases trend downward for a number of days, the state will relax rules that have caused much of the economy to shut down.

Given that healthy people of all ages can be affected and not show signs but can pass the virus on to others who could become ill — some so severely they could end up dying — is why Singh and other municipal leaders are imploring people to comply with the emergency orders established by Newsom.

Singh was disappointed groups were still gathering to play basketball at Woodward Park despite the courts, playground, and other exercise being posted with signs that they are closed.

“The goal is to contain this as soon as possible,” Singh said, noting that will require things such as pickup basketball games to end for a while.

Singh said he would favor the city removing rims from backboards if necessary to implement the ban o basketball games.

Across Manteca on West Yosemite Avenue, Minor Mart was another liquor store that is lawfully remaining open due to the fact they have qualified for the SNAP program as well.

Mike Morowit, who has a somewhat larger store than Singh, is limiting customers to six in the store at a time. Instead of a “clear screen” at the counter, Morowit has widened the width of the counter to get in the six-foot distancing.

“The main thing is to keep everyone safe,” Morowit said.

Manteca Police indicate they may

shut non-complying businesses

The decision to use police power to shutter businesses that do not voluntarily comply was made Sunday.

The police department made a copy of the cease and desist order available that also comes with a potential misdemeanor charge that carries a fine and possible jail time. The order includes language stating if police were not provided with written confirmation by April 2 with complete compliance and the shutting down of the business in question that police “will move forward with tools at our disposal” to shutdown businesses. They did not elaborate on how exactly they would go about shutting down businesses or what “tools” they had at their disposal.

The police have yet to issue such an order as they indicated those they have contacted have voluntarily complied.

Police said they have been fielding numerous calls from citizens about businesses the public believes should be closed.

Manteca Police are encouraging people to report businesses they believe are in violation by emailing information about the business in question to

Police indicated the reminder about not violating the governor’s order is directed primarily at bars/pubs/taverns, dine-in restaurants, personal training facilities/gyms/health clubs, nail salons/barbershops/hair cutters, and non-essential retail stores.

City parks remain closed and all non-essential travel has been prohibited based on emergency orders issued by county health officials.


City maintaining center

to answer questions


The City of Manteca emergency command center is operating daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to try and answer what questions they can from citizens emailing or calling in as well as to monitor the ongoing situation.

The phone number for questions related to the coronavirus emergency is 456-8854 while the email is

The City of Manteca is also maintaining a coronavirus update site on its website at

It is on top of the home page. Click on the banner and it sends you to resources dealing with the pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control to state and county agencies. There is also information regarding what businesses can remain open as well as possible help with virus related financial issues.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email