Over Memorial Day weekend, Ventura County is bringing back dining at restaurants and shopping inside stores for the first time in several weeks.
As of Friday evening, the county has reported 912 known cases of COVID-19 and 30 deaths.
The mass reopening of businesses closed over COVID-19 risks comes with some restrictions in accordance with state health guidelines. Stores and restaurants must have exterior-facing entrances, giving outdoor shopping centers an advantage over indoor malls. And they must practice increased infection control and cleaning measures, make masks available to employees and perform health screenings on them before work, among other new conditions.
Businesses have to register to reopen by filling out paperwork. Ventura County has provided a list of these forms organized by industry, from food packing and manufacturing to dining and real estate.
On the form for in-dining restaurants, for example, businesses must state how they will screen employees for COVID-19-like symptoms. They are also asked to stop pre-setting tables, disinfect chairs and tables after every use and consider installing new air filter systems.
Some other state health standards vary by industry.
Retail therapy, dining return
One of the county’s largest shopping centers, the Camarillo Premium Outlets, reopened Saturday. Nearly two dozen of the outlets’ 160 retailers opened over the weekend, with most still preparing for their return.
The shopping center has released a statement outlining what new measures are in place due to COVID-19, from infection control and cleaning practices to screening of employees.
Another outdoor mall, The Collection at Riverpark in Oxnard, reopened a handful of stores by Friday while keeping many closed to further prepare. REI, Urban Outfitters and The Container Store are among a dozen establishments now allowing customers inside.
“While the shopping center remains open and operating, certain stores may need to make the difficult decision to modify hours or close,” The Collection said in a statement, explaining there’s been a reduction in hours among other new measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Farther north, in downtown Ventura, more than two dozen establishments have fully reopened in a popular area near Ventura Pier — among them a surf shop, thrift store and a handful of restaurants and bars, according to a list from a local tourism website.
Ventura among first counties to reopen
Ventura County was the first county of its size in California to get state approval for reopening restaurants, stores and other establishments as part of moving further into Stage 2. The state has created a four-stage plan for reopening — dubbed California’s Pandemic Resilience Roadmap — with the last stage being the comeback of concert venues and nightclubs.
After the county won state approval Wednesday, nearly 3,700 businesses registered to reopen by Friday. Among them are office spaces, car washes, outdoor museums, galleries and pet groomers.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve hit some big milestones this week,” County CEO Mike Powers said on Friday.
Meanwhile, although public parks and beaches have been reopened for days, the county continues to keep their bathrooms and parking lots closed. People can only visit these areas for “active use” like walking and swimming, not lounging or setting up picnics, officials have said.
On Saturday, Orange County also got approval to reopen, while neighboring Los Angeles County has lagged behind with about half the state’s known COVID-19 cases and a much denser population and infrastructure than its more suburban Southern California neighbors.
To reach each stage and reopen accordingly, every county must meet requirements regarding rates of infection and hospitalizations. That includes developing less than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days, having the hospital resources and capacity to handle a surge of at least 35% in COVID-19 cases, and establishing testing sites within a 30- to 60-minute drive for 75% of residents.
Other requirements for reopening are explained on the state’s COVID-19 website.
Gov. Gavin Newsom eased these restrictions last Monday in a step toward allowing many larger counties to reopen sooner. His announcement came the same day leading researchers at the University of Washington predicted California will see more than 6,000 deaths by early August, a higher projection than earlier estimates.