Ventura County on Wednesday became the first and largest county in Southern California to get approval for accelerated reopening after Gov. Gavin Newsom eased restrictions earlier this week.
The approval to reopen dine-in restaurants and malls comes as the total number of coronavirus cases in the region reached 858 and the death toll reached 29 countywide.
Newsom announced earlier this week that he was easing guidelines for reopening, and indicated that 53 out of California’s 58 counties can move forward with plans to do so.
Public Health Officer Robert Levin said Wednesday that Ventura County meets all of the updated parameters for reopening. He presented his case to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning, which unanimously approved the move forward. Officials sent in their application later that day and it was approved sometime Wednesday.
As part of the criteria, hospitalization rates in individual counties have to be stable or rising no more than 5% for the last seven days, while Ventura County has seen a decrease of 3.4% in that period, Levin said.
The number of positive test results for the last 14 days in an area must be less than 8%, while Ventura County is at 3.5%.
Additionally, the county has enough hospital beds, ventilators and personal protection equipment in the event of a surge, and officials continue to increase testing and contact tracing capacity. Three new and free testing sites opened in the county Wednesday, officials said, and any county resident can get tested at these sites without an appointment.
Officials in the county have already allowed most retail stores, as well as manufacturing and logistics businesses, to resume operations. And last week, childcare facilities, office spaces, full-service car washes, pet grooming businesses, landscaping and gardening businesses, outdoor museums and open galleries got the OK to reopen.
Ventura County can now reopen dine-in restaurants, with limited and outdoor seating, as well as in-store shopping, with implemented social distancing measures, Levin said.
Stores allowed to reopen to the public under the accelerated phase include shopping malls, destination shopping centers, strip and outlet malls, officials said in a news release Wednesday evening.
Officials are waiting for additional guidance from the state on opening K-12 schools in the fall.
Local businesses must register with the county to reopen, and more than 2,700 have done so, County Executive Officer Mike Powers said Wednesday, before the reopening plan was approved.
“A lot came together very quickly, but carefully and thoughtfully,” Powers said. “Believe me, we are checking regularly. We’re anxiously awaiting to hear back from the state, and we can’t wait to announce the approval when we get it.”
He thanked community leaders and residents for being patient amid the pandemic.
“We’ve been through so much in this county over the last three or four years, and we’ve always rallied,” Powers said. “We’re going to get through this thing, and we’re going to get through it together, and together we are going to move forward toward reopening and recovery here in Ventura County.”
While the county continues to lift restrictions, officials urge residents to still abide by social distancing measures.
Over the weekend, Foster Park in Ventura was closed due to overcrowding.
On Wednesday, officials announced that the U.S. Forest Service will close the popular Punch Bowls/Santa Paula Canyon trail for two weeks beginning Saturday ahead of Memorial Day after too many people gathered there over the weekend as well. The trail will be closed along Highway 150 north of Santa Paula, and parking areas near the trail will be closed or restricted, officials said, adding that citations will be issued and illegally parked vehicles will be subject to tow.