As California readies to reopen some businesses Friday, the state’s coronavirus-linked death toll continues to creep higher and likely will surpass 2,500 before the day is done.
The dichotomy is at the heart of the delicate dance that Gov. Gavin Newsom and other elected and health officials must perform as they seek to restart certain sectors of the state’s battered economy while avoiding a potential second wave in the number of coronavirus infections.
Newsom announced earlier this week that the state will ease some of its strict stay-at-home rules, allowing bookstores, music stores, toy stores, florists, sporting goods retailers, clothing stores and others to reopen for curbside pickup Friday.
Factories that supply those businesses would also be allowed to resume operating.
It will be far from business as usual in California, though. Offices, shopping malls and dine-in restaurants are still ordered closed, and the second phase of Newsom’s reopening plan also excludes personal grooming businesses, entertainment venues, live concerts and sports.
Following the state’s lead, some municipalities announced plans to reopen certain businesses in the coming days.
In Los Angeles County, florists, car dealers and other types of brick-and-mortar stores — including those that sell toys, music, books, clothing and sporting goods — will be allowed to open for curbside pickup only starting Friday. In-store shopping will not be permitted.
“This list is less about what products are sold and more about the ability to maintain social distancing,” said county Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
The modest loosening comes even as the county continues to be the hotspot of coronavirus activity in California. L.A. County accounts for nearly half of the state’s more than 60,000 confirmed infections and the region’s almost 1,400 coronavirus-linked fatalities make up a majority of the state’s total death toll.
Curbside pickup will soon also be available at bookstores, clothing stores, florists and sporting goods stores in Ventura County, officials there said.
The Bay Area is taking a more conservative stance, however, with officials saying stay-at-home orders will continue to be enforced and most stores will remain closed even as statewide guidelines are relaxed.
Riverside County, on the other hand, is considering whether to rescind its health orders — which are among the strictest in the state. That county’s Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to delay a decision until Friday, pending further guidance from Newsom.
With California entering its eighth week under Newsom’s stay-at-home order, calls to relax those restrictions and allow some businesses to reopen have grown increasingly loud as the coronavirus continues to hammer the economy.
The state now projects a record $54.3-billion budget deficit through next summer — a COVID-19 cash crater formed through a noxious mix of plummeting revenues and skyrocketing expenses.
And it’s not just California that’s suffering. Nearly 3.2 million laid-off U.S. workers applied for unemployment benefits last week, meaning roughly 33.5 million people have now done so in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces.
Amid the coronavirus-fueled economic crisis, some counties — such as Yuba, Sutter and Modoc in Northern California — have allowed businesses to reopen in defiance of state health orders.
Among the establishments that took advantage were restaurants, some of which resumed offering dine-in service for the first time in weeks.
The state hasn’t taken the counties’ defiance lying down. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control visited multiple locations in Yuba and Sutter counties this week and warned restaurants that they could lose their state license to serve alcohol if they don’t close their dining rooms.
Defiance of the statewide order, the agency said, “endangers public health and safety.”
“They’re making a big mistake. They’re putting their public at risk. They’re putting our progress at risk,” Newsom said of those counties during a briefing Tuesday. “These are real exceptions. The overwhelming majority of Californians are playing by the rules doing the right thing.”
By Luke Money, Hannah Fry, Marisa Gerber, Maura Dolan, Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times
Times staff writers Priscella Vega, Kailyn Brown, Phil Willon, John Myers, Taryn Luna, Emily Alpert Reyes and the Associated Press contributed to this report.