Seven counties in northern California have been cleared to start reopening parts of their economies faster than the state as a whole.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his daily press briefing that Butte and El Dorado counties could begin allowing restaurants to serve customers indoors, open schools with modifications, and allow malls and swap meets to operate. Later in the day, the California Department of Public Health added Amador, Lassen, Nevada, Placer and Shasta counties to the list.
The seven counties are the first in California to move through the second phase of Stage 2 of the governor’s four-part reopening plan before Newsom’s office allows the state to do so as a whole. All counties met required criteria under Newsom’s plan that allows them to move ahead of their neighbors.
The announcement comes at a time when Kern County officials have voiced concerns over certain aspects of the governor’s criteria. The state says counties cannot move into the later phases of Stage 2 if a novel coronavirus death has occurred within two weeks or the rate of COVID-19 cases exceeds one per 10,000 residents. Kern County doesn’t currently meet either benchmark.
Still, Newsom appeared open to a special arrangement between the state and Kern that could allow aspects of the county to reopen even if it fails to meet certain requirements.
In comments during the meeting, Newsom said his office had been in communication with Kern officials, discussing conditions within the county that could allow a modification of the rules.
“I said this 10 days ago when we rolled this out originally,” Newsom said. “We are not ideologues… We are in the spirit of collaboration and partnership. We want to address those issues, and we’ll be doing so to the extent possible. Possible, again, on the basis of public health.”
Local leaders have advocated for greater flexibility in deciding which businesses should be allowed to reopen and which must remain closed. Supervisor Zack Scrivner took the governor’s remarks as a positive sign.
“This is the second time in as many days that Governor Newsom has mentioned Kern County, specifically, in the context of recognizing regional variations among counties dealing with COVID-19 within the state,” Scrivner wrote in an email. “His acknowledgment is evidence that the efforts of Kern’s elected officials, as well as professional staff on the county level, to advocate for local control have been effective.”
When businesses are allowed to reopen, many will do so under new health and safety restrictions. On Tuesday, the governor’s office released guidelines restaurants must follow in order to reopen once the state clears them to do so.
Those include strict social distancing rules like maintaining a six-foot space between customers and employees, and encouraging customers to wait in cars until their tables are ready. While restaurants must balance the need to do business with the health of employees and patrons, the state’s guidelines are meant to provide a method to keep both parties safe.
Foti Tsiboukas, owner of The 18hundred and Fabulous Burgers, said he would consider implementing safety measures beyond the state’s guidelines when he reopens both restaurants to dine-in customers.
He said his cousin in Southern California had died from COVID-19 complications after being on a ventilator for 22 days, underscoring the seriousness of the pandemic.
“You never really put too much thought into it until it hits home,” Tsiboukas said. “The day I found out my cousin was in a coma and on a ventilator, I closed both restaurants because I didn’t want staff getting sick.”
While Fabulous Burgers remains open to drive-thru customers, The 18hundred has temporarily closed.
The state is gradually allowing certain aspects of normal life to return. On Tuesday, Newsom announced offices that can’t accommodate telework can reopen, along with car washes and pet grooming. Malls can also begin implementing pickup procedures, the governor said.
For restauranteurs like Tsiboukas, the shutdown has caused strain, yet he urged patience. While staying closed can create financial turmoil, opening too early could be worse.
“We’re going to have a new normal,” he said. “There are just tough times ahead and we all have to be ready for it and be patient. Because the impatience is what could make the second wave really bad.”