Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that some retail stores across the state can reopen with modifications as early as Friday amid growing pressure to ease the stay-at-home order that has cratered the California economy.
“We are entering into the next phase this week,” Newsom said at his Monday news conference. “This is a very positive sign and it’s happened only for one reason: The data says it can happen.”
Under the new guidelines, the governor said bookstores, music stores, toy stores, florists, sporting goods retailers and others can reopen for pickup as early as Friday. He said more detailed guidelines on the businesses that can reopen would be released later this week.
The governor’s plan also expands decision-making at the local level, allowing some communities to move further ahead into the second phase of the order and open more businesses at their own pace instead of adhering to a uniform policy across the state. But if counties want to do more, they must first meet certain requirements for hospitals beds, testing kits and the ability to track infected individuals and trace their contacts, Newsom said.
Calls for Newsom to lift the restrictions grew in recent days with large protests at the state Capitol and in Orange County as a handful of small rural counties moved to open their communities in defiance of the governor.
But despite the vocal opposition in some parts of the state, recent polls show that the vast majority of Californians approve of how the governor is handling the coronavirus crisis and are more concerned about reopening too early than too late. Health experts expect the state to slowly return to normalcy under a plan that Newsom has said will be carried out over several months.
The governor has said Stage 2 of his stay-at-home order would allow some lower-risk businesses to open in communities across California, including retail locations, manufacturing sites and some small businesses with restrictions for physical distancing or operations limited to curbside pickup.
Late last week, Newsom foreshadowed an upcoming announcement about beginning to lift some of the restrictions of his stay-at-home order on businesses.
“I just want folks to know we’re getting very close to making really meaningful augmentations to that stay-at-home order,” Newsom said at his daily news conference on Friday. “I want to say many days, not weeks, as long as we continue to be prudent and thoughtful.”
One of the key tenets of Newsom’s plan to prepare the state to reopen is expanding government’s capacity to quickly identify infections and trace and quarantine the contacts of those who are infected to prevent rapid spread and additional outbreaks.
The task proved to be daunting during the first identified wave of coronavirus cases in February and March, with small and understaffed county health departments struggling to identify hundreds of potential contacts of infected people at a time when Californians moved about freely before the stay-at-home order was adopted.
The governor said Monday that the state is working with University of California campuses in San Francisco and Los Angeles to launch an online academy Wednesday to recruit and train new tracers, potentially readying as many as 3,000 people per week for the job. He said the state has an initial goal of training 10,000 people, growing up to 20,000 in the weeks ahead. Existing state workers would be redeployed to work as tracers when the program launches, he said.
The governor said 23 counties in California are actively tracing COVID-19 cases.
“This is all foundational, so that we can more quickly move to modify our stay-at-home order,” Newsom said.
The announcement Monday came as Yuba and Sutter Counties began to ease restrictions and days after Modoc County, where there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases, allowed all businesses, schools and churches to reopen on Friday if people can stay 6 feet apart.
By Taryn Luna, Los Angeles Times