California eases some stay-at-home rules; 17 NorCal counties could move forward with reopening plans sooner

California

California Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Wednesday it will “defeat the point” of letting some counties reopen more quickly than the state if they start attracting visitors from other areas with more restrictive measures still in place.

“This is the big challenge: You open up in a dense, urban environment right next door to a community that’s not open, people start rushing into that dense urban environment and coming back into their community,” he said. “That’s why we want a regional focus.”

The state has approved reopening plans for 17 mainly rural Northern California counties. They may move ahead more quickly than the state in reopening businesses during the second of Newsom’s four-stage plan for rolling back the stay-at-home order he imposed on March 19.

Approval is based on counties affirming they have had no virus deaths in the last two weeks and minimal confirmed cases, along with meeting other state requirements for testing and hospital capacity to handle a possible surge of infections.

Counties that meet the standards can do things such as allow customers in stores and diners in restaurants. Churches, hair and nail salons, gyms and concert venues must remain closed for now.

In Southern California, four of the state’s five most populated counties — San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino — want to move more quickly than the state but can’t meet all the requirements, most notably the zero deaths mandate. They sent a letter to Newsom asking for a meeting to discuss their situations.

Curt Hagman, chair of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, said the counties face different issues than smaller, less populated counties to the north. The four Southern California counties have a combined population of more than 11 million people.

“We have strength in numbers,” he said. “We just want to make sure we’re part of the equation.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said local businesses have been preparing for weeks to safely reopen. Workers are ready to get back to their jobs, and customers are aware of the new rules they will need to follow.

“The current requirements could keep many businesses shut down indefinitely,” he said. “We have safe plans to reopen. It’s not about going back to normal. It’s about the new normal.”

He said local officials should be empowered “to develop, implement and monitor local plans to be able to adapt quickly based upon the facts on the ground.”

Under Newsom’s reopening plan, the state controls when counties move faster than the state while counties are able to control if they want to go more slowly. That is what has happened with the six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, which imposed their stay-at-home orders three days before Newsom and have been slower to relax it.

Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of California’s nearly 40 million residents but more than half the state’s more than 2,900 virus deaths, also is moving more cautiously. It reopened its beaches Wednesday, even as officials said their stay-at-home order will be in place for months.

It was no usual day at the beach. They are open only for “active recreation” such as walking, swimming and surfing. Sunbathing, picnicking, volleyball and other group sports are still banned. People who don’t know each other must stay well apart, and everyone is supposed to wear masks when they’re out of the water.

Turnout was mixed Wednesday morning: Surfers caught waves as locals walked the waterline at Manhattan Beach while windy Venice Beach was all but empty. Some mayors warned that the state or county could close the beaches again if people disobey the restrictions.

Los Angeles County also announced that all retailers not located in an indoor mall or shopping center are able to reopen for curbside pickup or delivery. Manufacturers that supply retail businesses may also reopen, said Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

The state’s patchwork of rules are reflective of its size and the reality the virus has not spread uniformly.

San Bernardino County’s Hagman said he agrees with Newsom that not all businesses should open immediately. But he said he has a hard time explaining to his constituents why they can shop at big box retailers but not smaller local shops, and why homeless residents are being housed in hotels, yet they can’t stay in hotels.

To the north, county officials in the Sacramento region have regular calls to discuss their approaches to reopening, said Carla Hass, an El Dorado County spokeswoman. El Dorado, like nearby Placer, Amador and Yuba counties, has been cleared to reopen restaurants, but nearby Sacramento and Yolo have not.

El Dorado is urging people to follow all physical distancing and other guidelines if they come from elsewhere, Hass said. The county also banned non-essential travel to the Lake Tahoe tourist region. Counties driven by tourism have similar worries about visitors bringing in the virus.

“We’re hopeful that whether you are a resident of El Dorado County just going from one spot to another, or if you happen to be a resident in a different county, that you’ll maintain those disciplines so that we don’t see a spike in our cases,” she said.

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