SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Business owners across California anxiously awaited new guidelines Thursday from Gov. Gavin Newsom that will outline the first widespread changes to a statewide stay-at-home order that shut most retail shops to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Newsom was expected allow businesses such as clothing stores, florists, bookstores and sporting goods shops to open their doors for the first time in nearly two months, with some restrictions. The governor has said the order won’t include other close-contact businesses, such as dine-in restaurants and hair salons. However, he also has said some local governments could receive variances.
Since the stay-at-home order was issued on March 19, more than 4 million people have been thrown out of work in the nation’s most populous state.
The guidelines are part of Newsom’s four-step plan to reopen the state. Thursday will be phase two. The next phase, which could reopen salons, gyms, movie theaters and in-person church services, could be months away. Phase four would end all restrictions and allow for large gatherings at concerts and sporting events.
The Newsom administration is tracking six indicators to determine when to ease restrictions. They include the state’s ability to test people for COVID-19 and trace who might have been exposed to it and the capacity of hospitals to handle a potential surge of new cases.
So far, Newsom has said the state is on track to meet its goals.
Newsom’s order had been universally accepted until recently.
But three Northern California counties with few confirmed COVID-19 cases have allowed a variety of businesses to reopen. Tiny Modoc County permitted its only movie theater to open its doors. Yuba and Sutter counties allowed in-store shopping and the restarting of gyms and fitness studios, salons, spas and tattoo parlors, libraries and playgrounds.
Yuba Sutter Mall General Manager Natasha Shelton said about 18 of the roughly 50 stores were open Wednesday and estimated about 200 people were inside at noon. The mall had reduced hours to allow for additional cleaning overnight. Tables in the food court were spaced 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart and food trays were banned.
Amanda Benjamin, 28, was hoping to find summer clothes for her nearly 8-year-old son, who she said “shot up like a weed” during their weeks at home. She said Walmart has been sold out of her son’s size, forcing her to journey to the mall from Beale Air Force Base, where her husband is stationed. She brought along her three children, all wearing masks.
“I don’t feel like we need to stay in our houses all the time,” she said. “We can figure out how to not spread the disease.”
Newsom has cracked down on rogue counties before, ordering the temporary closure of all beaches in Orange County after a few local governments refused to close them or impose public health restrictions. He lifted some of those orders after negotiating with local governments.
This week, state regulators contacted a handful of businesses in Yuba and Sutter counties, warning them to comply with the statewide order, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee reported.
Agents of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control asked the locations to voluntarily close in-house dining “until it is safe to reopen, in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” ABC spokesman John Carr told the Bee.
On Wednesday, Yuba-Sutter Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu issued a public warning to businesses to make sure their employees and customers were practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings, as required by the local orders.
“It has become clear a number of businesses are not enacting required protocols to ensure the safety of the community,” Luu wrote.
“I understand that some of your customers may strongly object to a facial covering requirement, but the long-term safety of our community is at stake,” Luu added. “We do not want to take any steps back in our phasing-in efforts.”
Other cities and counties have signaled their intention to reopen in the coming days. Fresno Mayor Lee Brand said some businesses in his city could open on Monday, including electronic and camera stores, furniture stores and auctions, the Fresno Bee reported.
In Los Angeles, county officials outlined a plan allowing some reopenings beginning Friday, provided safety precautions are in place. Golfers can hit the links again, and trails will be open with county employees on hand to remind hikers of social distancing rules, Board of Supervisors Chair Kathryn Barger said.
Some Los Angeles County retailers can reopen with curbside pickup only — including florists and stores that sell toys, books, clothing, sporting goods and music. The county, the state’s largest with 10 million residents, has accounted for more than half California’s more than 2,500 virus deaths.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Associated Press reporter Don Thompson contributed.