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California Governor Gavin Newsom Announces Phased Reopening of ‘Lower-Risk Workplaces’

The plan will be rolled out slowly “in weeks, not months,” and with different timelines across the state

California governor Gavin Newsom
Photo by AGUSTIN PAULLIER/AFP via Getty Images
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Today California governor Gavin Newsom and Department of Public Health leader Dr. Sonia Angell outlined a broad plan to reopen the state’s economy, including the limited reintroduction of in-room dining for restaurants and other openings for non-essential businesses like manufacturing, childcare facilities, retail, and even gyms and hair salons. Newsom continued to decline to give an official reopening date, but noted that “we believe we are weeks, not months away, from making meaningful modifications” to the state’s stay-at-home directive.

Newsom outlined four broad phases that California is working through during the current coronavirus pandemic, saying that the current lockdown represents phase one. “As we move into phase two, where businesses can begin to reopen,” Newsom said, “we need to make sure that guidance is abided by, and is organized in a very deliberate way.”

Phase two includes lower-risk spaces like restaurants and retail, which could be modified for more consistent curbside pickups and limited physical interactions. As for schools, Newsom said that the state is considering moving up the fall 2020 school year to “July or early August,” with restaurants and retail expected to reopen before that.

It remains crucial to “make the essential workforce environment as safe as possible” for both customers and employees before an official reopening rollout, said Dr. Angell, though she did note some “cautious optimism” with the current flattening of the curve statewide. Part of that safety included the continued practice of physical distancing, wearing face masks, and wage security for those employees who fall ill while still employed.

“During phase two, counties may choose to relax stricter local orders at their own pace,” Dr. Angell said, echoing calls from counties like Ventura and San Luis Obispo to reopen in limited ways ahead of the greater Bay Area and Los Angeles basin. Orange County reopened its beaches during a heatwave last week, and saw upwards of 40,000 people crowd its shoreline. “We do have a regional variance for people that want to go even sooner” than other areas, said Newsom. “We’re not going to just blithely do that.”

“The Bay Area announced today extending their Safer at Home initiative through the end of the month,” Newsom added. “I am not here to overrule that.”

Newsom and Dr. Angell were cautious about the third phase of reopenings, which could require “significant modifications” before taking place. These included close-encounter facilities like gyms and hair and nail salons, as well as church gatherings. The fourth phase, considered to be many months away, consists of “larger public venues, concerts, and events,” Newsom said. Phase three and four are months, not weeks away, Newsom said in his closing remarks.

Newsom’s statewide Safer at Home mandate has been in effect since March 19, with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti eventually extending the local order to at least May 15. The effort closed all but a handful of essential services like grocery stores and gas stations, and mandated that restaurants offer takeout and delivery only; bars and nightclubs were closed outright, and have yet to be given a timetable for a return. Further state and local orders have mandated additional cautions during the current coronavirus pandemic, like strict physical distancing and the use of face masks for employees and customers alike.

Most restaurants that have remained open (and many have closed, some permanently) have done so as a hybrid takeout/delivery service, often selling pantry staples as well. The ability to sell off-premise cocktails has helped, but financially most small business restaurants are still struggling to make ends meet, particularly after being largely shut out of the first round of PPP federal stimulus funding as part of the CARES Act.

California’s economy is the fifth-largest in the world, if measured as its own country. Other states like Georgia and Texas have begun their own reopening efforts, though some restaurants have chosen to remain closed to dine-in services out of continued caution surrounding COVID-19. The United States now has more than 1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus nationwide, with nearly 2,000 deaths in California alone.

This story is being updated as it develops.