California is preparing a move toward allowing some retail businesses to reopen, to a degree, as soon as the end of this week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking in a daily teleconference, said starting this Friday, some retailers and related manufacturing/logistics operations could begin reopening in a limited capacity.
Businesses like apparel retailers, sporting goods stores, florists and bookstores will be able to reopen, but only offering curbside pickup. Any operation that is allowed to reopen will have to follow social distancing guidelines for workers, meaning they have room to work at least 6 feet apart and be supplied with things like masks and gloves.
Newsom characterized this as a “gradual” move into the second phase of a four-phase plan outlined just last week to lift the state’s lockdown order, in place since mid-March. Citizens are still being urged to stay at home when possible, however, and public venues like beaches and parks are closed, meaning the lockdown is still very much in place.
Newsom said the move toward flexibility for some retail was based on California’s “progress” with efforts in testing for the coronavirus (tests are now at more than 30,000 a day) as well as a leveling off of hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths over the last three weeks, increased access to personal protective equipment and the acceleration of digital “tracing” of people with or exposed to the virus.
“We’re finally seeing some real movement on testing and PPE and that gives us the confidence that we can do this,” the governor said.
Any business that is allowed to reopen will need to follow state guidelines, set to be issued on Thursday. These will likely include directives on worker safety, ensuring social distancing and provisions for PPE.
“If the guidelines are met and necessary modifications made, some businesses can reopen,” Newsom said.
He added that the retail businesses being selected for reopening with curbside pickup have been identified as having a “lower risk of transmission.” However, this start of phase two does not include reopening operations like offices, seated dining in restaurants or shopping malls.
For these other businesses, seen as higher risk for the spread of COVID-19 given their design for large groups of people in close proximity, reopening is further out on a statewide level. But Newsom conceded that certain localities may be able to move toward a fuller reopening sooner, so long as they have the capacity to deal with reopening with modifications.
“Plans will need to be locally certified by a local health official and the county supervisor, and will depend on criterion like the capacity for testing, enforce physical distancing and the protection of our most vulnerable communities,” Newsom said. “If those criteria are met…we will allow additional movement through phase two.”
Newsom singled out restaurants as possibly being able to reopen, depending on the region they are in and local officials, as well as hotels, but did not mention shopping malls.
“This has to be done in a very thoughtful and judicious way,” he said. “But this is a very positive sign and it’s happening for only one reason: the data.”
As for the broader allowance of curbside pickup, speaking last week Newsom referenced the method of shopping a number of times. It’s something nearly all restaurants in the Los Angeles area are already doing, while keeping any seating inside off-limits. But apparel stores have not been allowed the option, instead pushing online shopping (along with discounting), even as shipping times have been delayed by many days, if not weeks, given limits and closures of warehouses.
While California’s move toward opening of retail through pickup only is a small step — and one that may not seem too different than how businesses are currently able to operate — it is something. All nonessential businesses have been closed for just under two months, leading to nearly unprecedented levels of unemployment and most businesses looking seriously at whether or not they will be able to reopen.
In the weeks and months to come, Newsom has said he expects to keep loosening restrictions on how retail businesses can operate, so long as there is not a resurgence of the virus. If there is, he’s made clear that the state would revert to any lockdown measures necessary. Even as things begin to reopen, it does not mean a return to pre-coronavirus ways of operating. Social distancing as well as face coverings are expected to be in place for the foreseeable future.
“The possibility of community spread as we reopen is real…and if we don’t have the ability to control it, we will have to make modifications anew,” Newsom said.
Although he insisted that the move into phase two was a “very positive sign,” he added that overall, “This is a sober announcement.”
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