California governor Gavin Newsom declined today to give a specific timeline for easing social distancing mandates and reopening the state’s economy, the fifth-largest in the world if counted as its own country. Newsom did discuss a “clarity of indicators” that he said were pointing in the right direction towards a limited summertime reopening of non-essential businesses, including the dining rooms of restaurants. But he continued to caution that those reopened businesses would likely look and feel very different during the current coronavirus pandemic than they had before.
“We won’t just open things,” Newsom said of the targeted easing of restrictions likely to come in the following weeks. “We’ll have to open things slowly, and modify how we conduct business.” Other states like Georgia have announced broad plans to reopen large sectors of the economy as soon as this coming Monday, which health officials have cautioned could lead to a renewed rise in cases.
Newsom said that his office has been bombarded with questions about reopening ever since his April 14 press conference, in which he first proposed the idea of a limited easing of statewide Safer at Home mandates. “The pressure to answer that question is very real,” Newsom said. “Nobody wants to give you that answer more than I do.” However, he said flatly that “we are not prepared to do that today,” but that an answer could come in “days, not weeks or months” if the curve of overall COVID-19 cases continued to flatten and other indicators were met, including more testing and tracing of confirmed cases.
“There is no light switch,” he added directly. “There is no date. What happens if we overcompensate? What happens if we see a surge in new cases?”
Among the indicators on Newsom’s list is an abundance of availability surrounding personal protective equipment, or PPE, for workers inside of businesses to wear while conducting operations. While many local governments have already mandated that workers wear masks and other protective equipment at places like grocery stores, food delivery drivers and others have been slow to adhere to the rules, in part because of out-of-pocket costs and a limited supply of available PPE.
As a result, some prominent Los Angeles restaurants have turned off the use of delivery apps altogether, citing a fear for the health and safety of their own employees as well as those of drivers and diners. Restaurants also await clear guidance on what protocols staff and diners will need to take once they’re allowed to reopen, such as masks, temperature checks, and distanced tables.
Newsom has already outlined a number of safety measures and economic packages to provide for restaurant industry workers, including an increase in sick leave pay for grocery store, farm, and delivery workers, plus a $125 million package to be paid out specifically to undocumented workers, which make up roughly 40 percent of the Los Angeles restaurant workforce.