California Businesses to Open as Early as Friday as State Prepares to Enter Phase 2 of COVID-19 Recovery

An aerial view of downtown Los Angeles, California - Getty - H 2020
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Bookstores, clothing stores, florists and sporting goods stores fall into the "low-risk" business categories that can open as the state makes its first major move to relax safe-at-home mandates.

Select businesses across California may open as early as Friday as the state prepares to enter phase two of its COVID-19 recovery plan. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the news Monday from Sacramento, where he called it "a very positive sign" that's only being announced now "for one reason — the data says it can happen."

Businesses that fall into a "low-risk" category, and will thus be allowed to open Friday, include expanded retail (with curbside pickup) and associated manufacturing and supply chains that support those businesses. Cited as examples in those categories are bookstores, clothing stores, florists and sporting goods stores, per Dr. Sonia Y. Angell, California Department of Public Health Director and State Health Officer, who joined Newsom at Monday's briefing. Those businesses still required to stay closed include offices, seated-dining restaurants and shopping malls. 

Newsom pointed out that when businesses reopen, modifications will have to be in place to accommodate social distancing guidelines. He promised to provide specifics on those modifications Thursday. 

Last week, the governor first revealed the four-phase plan for reopening the state. The first phase, currently in place, allows only essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies to stay open. The second phase will be separated into "low-risk" and "medium- to high-risk" categories as mentioned above. Phase three will include higher-risk workplaces like movie theaters, gyms, hair salons, nail salons, in-person religious services and sports without live audiences. The final and fourth phase will see the reopening of concert venues, conventions, sports stadiums and larger entertainment venues, which could take months to occur. 

During that briefing, Newsom said the state was "weeks, not months" away from the modifications and on Monday he acknowledged that it became "days, not weeks," due to the state's efforts to improve testing, tracing and surge capacity at hospitals: "This is a sober announcement and done on the basis of health directors in local communities guiding our efforts here at the state." 

Angell said California "is in a really good place" in terms of surge capacity at hospitals, with 2,072 beds currently available and 14 facilities ready to accept new patients. There are also 10,000 ventilators currently available and the state is reaching its goal of administering 25,000 tests per day across 86 testing sites, she added. Newsom said there have been 39 deaths across the state of California over the past 24 hours due to COVID-19 illness for a total death count of 2,172 to date.

Monday's news follows a weekend of protests from Orange County to Rancho Cucamonga as some California residents have grown frustrated with the pandemic-related closures, including O.C. beaches, as well as mass unemployment. The governor acknowledged the frustrations and said they had to wait for tracing and testing capabilities to meet the moment. 

"This is an optimistic day as we see a little bit of a ray of sunshine on the horizon," Newsom said. 

The governor's briefing was followed by an update from Los Angeles County leaders, during which Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer reported an additional 28 COVID-19-related deaths for a total of 1,256 in the area during the pandemic, 15 of whom were health care workers. Over the past 24 hours, there have been 568 newly diagnosed positive cases, a figure she pointed out is typically lower on Mondays due to certain labs not reporting results over the weekend. To date, 26,217 positive cases have been reported in the county. 

Like Newsom, Ferrer promised to share more details on the county's recovery plan later this week. She was quick to point out that while some businesses will be reopening, residents are still encouraged to wear cloth masks in public, practice social distancing and self-isolate and quarantine when necessary. "The virus has not changed. The virus remains deadly," Ferrer cautioned. "We have slowed the spread but we need to continue to do our part."