SACRAMENTO (AP) – Much of California has seen a significant slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus and Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday his administration is working with local health officials on rules for businesses to reopen in counties with case counts that have declined enough for them to come off a state monitoring list.
San Diego, Placer and Santa Cruz counties came off the list this week and San Francisco is poised to join them Thursday. Another major county, Southern California’s Orange, could soon follow.
When cases were spiking, Newsom closed bars and indoor dining statewide early last month and shut indoor gyms, salons and other businesses and forbid inside religious services at churches for counties on the watch list, which includes thresholds for infection rates, cases per capita and hospitalizations. He also barred K-12 schools in those counties from holding in-person learning until they are off the list for 14 consecutive days.
Newsom said the public can expect more details next week on what will be required to reopen businesses when counties are removed from the list.
“We’re working with local health officers up and down this state on new criteria, more prescriptive criteria, more dynamic criteria as it relates … to reopening certain business sectors,” he said, adding authorities are considering whether to use a 21-day period instead of 14 days to evaluate the impact of reopenings on virus transmission.
Even those not so close to coming off the list are starting to look ahead. Los Angeles, the state’s largest county with 10 million residents, said it was hoping to soon be able to consider waiver applications for elementary schools to hold in-person learning, while Riverside County asked Newsom for permission to reopen businesses including restaurants, malls and gyms next month even though the local virus numbers exceed the state’s standards, citing a need to get cash-strapped residents back to work.
On Wednesday, the state reported 6,164 new virus cases — its lowest level in the past two weeks — and 181 virus-related deaths. About 6.6% of tests over the past 14 days were positive for the virus, well below the state’s stated goal of 8%, and hospitalizations over the past two weeks have declined, Newsom said. To date, California has performed more than 10 million tests for the coronavirus,
“We will see a decrease in the transmission,” Newsom said. “We are seeing a decrease in the transmission.”
Forty of the state’s 58 counties remain on the monitoring list. The largest to exit is San Diego, which has about 3.4 million residents, the second-highest population in the state.
San Diego officials say they are awaiting the state guidance before making any statements about their plans for indoor dining and workouts inside fitness centers and opening up entertainment venues and churches.
Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s health officer, said health officials throughout the state had a call with state officials Tuesday night and are still working to develop a strategy on which businesses will be allowed to reopen. In San Diego County, moving dining outside worked to decrease virus cases, she said, and the county may decide to wait longer before allowing diners back inside.
The county recently opened its parks to churches, gyms and other businesses to use to keep running their businesses outside.
In Riverside County, officials have asked the state to modify the rules to reopen business sectors. The county proposed reopening in phases starting on Sept. 8 with restaurants, churches and salons, followed by indoor malls, and finally gyms, movie theaters and bars with a two-week evaluation period between each.
George Johnson, the county’s executive officer, said the hope was to start a conversation with state officials about how to get people back to work so they can pay their bills and feed their families while fighting the virus.
He said the county has found gatherings of friends and family, often in private homes, were the main source of virus transmission and that people shouldn’t be meeting up in restaurants, gyms or other places with members of other households and must wear masks, practice physical distancing and wash their hands to prevent infection.
“We have to collectively be careful who we attend these different places with,” he said. “You should only be going to those places with people you live with.”