Coronavirus impact: Sonoma Co. business owners battle with insurance during COVID-19 outbreak

GURENEVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- After devastating wildfires, many Sonoma County business owners bought insurance for the next time an emergency would force them to close their doors.

But now, many of those business owners say they're caught in a battle with insurance companies over whether the coronavirus pandemic counts.

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Main street in Guerneville has become a lonely place.

The shutdown, here, looks much the same as in many small towns across America. One word, posted in countless windows tells the story succinctly and sadly.


"I haven't see a customer in two weeks," said hairstylist Berlin Fisher.

"I have two employees who depend on me for their living," bemoaned Jilla St. Germain, who owns two storefronts

"We have insurance," added Artemis Louis, who owns a boutique.

All three thought they were covered for closures after buying business interruption insurance.

In theory, it guarantees income lost in the event of a fire, flood, or natural disaster. But now, we're in new territory and that's the rub. Is a pandemic from a virus a natural disaster? Insurance companies say no.

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"I think the disconnect is insurance companies don't want to pay out," said Berlin.

"Insurance is a ridiculous hoax, anyway," said Louis.

This new reality threatens the very existence of a business community already hit hard by natural disasters. This time last year, Guerneville was recovering from a flood.

Then came the power outages. Those events prompted these business owners to buy interruption insurance from State Farm, Farmers, and Hiscox.

ABC7 News reached out to those companies on Thursday but none responded.

The California Department of Insurance is investigating. Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins is also in the loop. "This is an unacceptable situation. What would you call a virus if it were not a natural disaster? The federal government is calling it a natural disaster. Insurance companies need to do the right thing.

Until then, the front line in this battle, remains closed and frustrated.

"What do I think of fine print?" mused Jilla St. Germain? "I need better glasses."

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