California governor announces new reopening plan

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is announcing a new process for reopening businesses that is slower and more gradual than what the state tried earlier this summer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new, color-coded process Friday for reopening California businesses amid the coronovirus pandemic that is more gradual than the state’s current rules to guard against loosening restrictions too soon.

Counties will move through the new, four-tier system based on their number of cases and percentage of positive tests. It will rely on those two metrics to determine a tier: case rates and the percentage of positive tests.

Newsom said the new system will be simple, slower and steady. It also invests more power with the state instead of the counties.

The changes come nearly two months after Newsom shut down bars, restaurants for indoor dining and a slew of other businesses following a surge in cases after the state’s first reopening attempt.

After being forced to close businesses for a second time, the state is “making sure that we really hold strongly to these buffers in terms of criteria and data, and holding that criteria and data in line for an extended period of time,” Newsom said.

“We’re going to be more stubborn this time and have a mandatory wait time between moves. We didn’t do that last time,” he added.

In simple terms, the rules are about calibrating business activities with how widespread the virus is within counties. The more cases and positive tests, the tighter the restrictions on restaurants, retail shops and other businesses.

However, many details about how the process would work remained unclear.

Under the new process, counties will have to meet certain metrics for three weeks before they can reopen certain businesses. Newsom didn’t immediately say which businesses will be included in which color tier or what the reopening will look like.

The state will now report virus statistics, such as case numbers, on a weekly basis. The approach is aimed at ensuring the state’s cases don’t skyrocket when businesses begin to reopen.

In anticipation of the Democratic governor’s announcement, there was a common refrain from businesses and local governments buffeted by the outbreak: We need clarity.

Counties need to understand clearly “what thresholds to aim for and the public health data that will determine success or failure,” the California State Association of Counties said in a statement.

That was echoed by the California Restaurant Association, which has seen the state’s once-thriving food industry wither under restrictions that have closed indoor dining rooms and left many to survive on takeout, delivery and limited outdoor seating, if they have the space. The association estimates as many as 1 million workers have been furloughed or laid off.

“We’d like to see restaurant dining rooms reopen as soon as possible,” association president Jot Condi said.

“Restaurants in every corner of the state are on life support right now. Every day that passes with a dining room closed, a restaurant owner is more likely to shut the doors permanently,” he said.

Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel, who has recovered from the virus, said she hopes the state plan recognizes different levels of risk that come with different business activities. She’s puzzled why shoppers can fill a Costco while indoor hair salons remain off limits.

Using metrics, the state needs to change how businesses are categorized, Spiegel said. “We have to do more of a risk-based approach.”

California has the most confirmed virus cases in the nation, with nearly 700,000, and the third-most deaths — 12,550. But since the closures last month, the average number of daily cases has been falling along with the infection rate and hospitalizations, which peaked at 7,170 on July 21 and since dropped to about 4,300.

Prior to the new plan, the state had relied on a so-called county watch list.

Most of California’s 58 counties, including the most populous — Los Angeles — remained on a state monitoring list because they were above one or more of the benchmarks for cases, infection rates and hospitalizations. Inclusion on the list restricted what businesses can operate, whether schools can offer classroom instruction and limits other activities, such as attending indoor religious services.

But as the state’s coronavirus data has improved in recent weeks, some counties got off the list, including San Diego and Orange, the second- and third-largest counties by population.

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Blood reported from Los Angeles.