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Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Some California businesses could begin reopening in ‘many days, not weeks’

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano

UPDATE (5/4): Gov. Newsom announced on Monday that some retail and manufacturing businesses in California will be allowed to reopen on Friday, May 8. Clothing stores, florists, bookstores and sporting goods stores will all be allowed to operate with curbside pick-up. However, this does not include places like offices, malls or restaurants (which will still be limited to takeout service only, and not seated dining). It’s unclear yet if or when L.A.’s local ordinances will be amended to accommodate the changes.

UPDATE (5/1): In his Friday address, Newsom hinted that more news would be coming next week about reopening certain businesses, including retail, hospitality and restaurants. “I just want folks to know, we’re getting very close to making really meaningful augmentations to that stay-at-home order,” he stated. “I said ‘weeks, not months’ about four or five days ago. I want to say “many days, not weeks,’ as long as we continue to be prudent and thoughtful in certain modifications, I think we'll be making some announcements.”


Governor Gavin Newsom previously outlined a six-point framework for reopening California, including one that addresses the ability of schools and businesses to adapt to physical distancing guidelines. To that specific point, in a Tuesday address he said “We believe we are weeks, not months, away from making modifications to that indicator and in this space.”

Newsom attributed the decision to gradually reopen some businesses to a stable trend in hospitalizations, though he noted that “we by no stretch are out of the woods” and could have to take a step backwards at any moment, if science and public health policy dictates so. That said, since California hasn’t seen the same surge in hospitalizations as other parts of the country, Newsom offered cautious optimism over the move.

So what exactly could we see reopening in a few weeks? Retail spots could start serving customers again if they offer curbside pickup. Manufacturers of non-essential items like toys, clothing and furniture could resume operations. Offices could modify their work environments to make them safer—though telecommuting would still be preferable. And public spaces like parks and trails could reopen with modified plans to make them safer. We might even see school starting in the middle of the summer; the state is considering a late July or early August opening to account for the recent learning loss. 

Stage 2
Courtesy California Department of Public Health

California Department of Public Health director Dr. Sonia Angell dove into a four-stage plan for returning California to normal—or something close to it. The short of it: We’re currently in the first stage, one focused largely on preparedness, but could begin moving to the second stage (the scenario outlined above in which lower-risk workplaces reopen) within weeks. 

CA reopening roadmap
Courtesy California Department of Public Health

Those third and fourth stages, however, are still “months, not weeks” away, according to Newsom. Stage three includes personal care services like hair and nail salons, gyms and spas—basically anywhere that you’d be within close proximity to someone else. That also includes entertainment venues like movie theaters, religious services and sporting events—albeit sports without a live audience. Stage four would see the stay-at-home order lifted, with concerts, conventions and sports with audiences returning. Getting to that stage would specifically require the introduction and availability of effective therapeutics

Restaurants and bars—which are currently operating on a takeout and delivery-only basis—are not specifically mentioned in any of the stages. Nor is it clear where in this plan museums would fall.

There’s one very important caveat to this whole plan: While we’ll reach stage two through a statewide amendment to the stay-at-home order, local governments can choose to tighten or relax stricter local orders at their own pace. In other words, California could say on a certain date that low-risk businesses may reopen, but Los Angeles may not feel it’s quite ready yet to do so and could extend its own order. A report in the L.A. Times on Tuesday summed up a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, saying that the county is planning to ease the restrictions set forth by its “safer it home” order (currently set to expire on May 15), but that it could be a very gradual process.

Back at the state level, Dr. Angell described the conditions that would need to be met to move from the first stage to the second as a mix of government, business and individual actions, including more forgiving sick leave policies and work-from-home accommodations. And, specifically, the move to that stage will depend on stable hospitalization trends and maintaining sufficient hospital, testing and contact tracing capacity as well as a supply of PPE.

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