In the first step toward reopening an economy decimated by coronavirus, retail stores throughout most of California can reopen their doors Friday.
Keeping his promise to begin gradually restarting a state that has now seen more than 4 million workers file for unemployment, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced “non-essential” retailers, manufacturers and warehouses that have been shuttered since March can resume limited operations. Retail stores, for example, can reopen with a focus on curbside pickup and delivery. At the same time, Newsom, who has already seen some local officials begin to defy his orders, said he would grant some counties the option to open up more quickly — as long as they can prove their coronavirus case counts and deaths have flattened and that they have adequate testing and hospital capacity.
“We’re moving forward,” Newsom said, “but we’re doing it always with an eye of being led by data, by the science, by public health.”
After slamming Yuba and Sutter counties earlier this week for reopening restaurant dining rooms, gyms and shopping malls and battling with Orange County over opened beaches, Newsom on Thursday softened his stance, saying some counties could be allowed to move faster than the state’s current orders lay out starting next week, and restaurants might even reopen in certain areas. He said the state would release additional guidelines for counties next week.
But the governor acknowledged that opening the doors is just the first step. “Just because you open … doesn’t mean a customer is going to show up,” he said. “Nor does it mean your workers are going to show up. That’s why all this is focused not just on the business opportunity but the responsibility we have to each other.”
So far, 62,247 Californians have tested positive for COVID-19, and 2,541 have died of the virus, according to this news organization’s analysis of data individual counties had reported as of Thursday evening.
To move at a quicker clip, counties must attest that they’ve had no more than one coronavirus case per 10,000 people in the last 14 days and no COVID-19 deaths during the same period, explained Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services. Counties also must test at a minimum daily rate of 1.5 tests per 1,000 residents and have at least 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents.
As retailers reopen, Newsom laid out a lengthy list of social-distancing and sanitation precautions they should take, providing a road map for what local residents can expect when they are allowed back into their favorite stores. Stores must establish a COVID-19 prevention plan to be implemented by a specific employee; get rid of bulk product bins, public seating areas and product samples; take the temperature of everyone entering the store or screen them for symptoms; provide personal protective equipment and clean high-traffic areas regularly. Newsom also said retailers should consider installing portable air cleaners or upgrading their building’s air filters. And if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, the business must identify all people the infected employee came within six feet of for 10 minutes or more.
Experts worry all that will be challenging — and costly — for retailers.
“It is a pretty steep price tag to comply with all of these things,” said Dennis King, executive director of the Small Business Development Center Silicon Valley. “But the message is that as steep as the price tag is to open, not doing these things and not opening is even more expensive. The longer the businesses stay closed, the more likely they’re going to stay closed forever.”
Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association, called it “short-sighted” to let retail stores reopen in other parts of the state but not the Bay Area. People living here likely will drive to other counties and spend their money there — contributing sales tax revenue to those counties’ coffers instead of their own, she said.
There was some confusion Thursday as to what, exactly, Newsom was allowing retailers in the rest of the state to do. In his news briefing, he focused mostly on allowing curbside pickup and delivery, but the state’s written guidance seemed to allow in-person shopping as long as stores were never more than half-full.
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The written guidance is meant to cover all retail stores throughout the state — including grocery stores that have been open for weeks — and to continue to be applicable to stores as the state and individual counties continue to loosen their shelter-in-place orders, Rodger Butler, spokesman for the California Health and Human Services Agency, wrote in an email when asked about the discrepancy.
“I think tomorrow will be interesting to see how it plays out,” said Michelin.
Harriet Blair Rowan contributed to this report.