Newsletter: Inching toward reopening

Passersby walk past retail stores and a gym in San Diego's North Park neighborhood. A California state flag hangs in the window.
(Sam Hodgson / San Diego Union-Tribune)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, May 5, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Amid growing pressure to ease a stay-at-home order that has cratered the California economy, Gov. Gavin Newsom took to the podium for his daily briefing on Monday and made a major announcement: The state will begin “reopening” this week, with some retail stores getting back to business as early as Friday, albeit with modifications.

[Read the story: “Gov. Gavin Newsom says reopening California will begin this week amid coronavirus crisis” in the Los Angeles Times]

But before you hire that celebratory marching band, remember that reopening the nation’s most populous state will be a slow process. Californians can expect change to happen incrementally over a series of months, following a four-stage blueprint for easing restrictions that the governor laid out last week.


What’s happening this week

Bookstores, music stores, toy stores, florists, clothing stores, sporting goods retailers and others will be eligible to reopen for pickup beginning Friday, provided that the businesses make modifications to meet state guidelines. Manufacturing and logistics for the retail supply chain will also be able to resume.

[See also: “These California businesses can reopen this week, and these can’t” in the Los Angeles Times]

How all of this fits into the broader plan

Think of each stage of Newsom’s plan as a stretch of highway with various landmarks along the way, rather than a single discrete destination. The state will begin moving into the second phase of the four-stage plan this week, but not all aspects will happen at once. Shopping malls, dine-in restaurants and offices where telework is possible have also been categorized as part of Stage 2, but they will reopen later. Officials have also said that restrictions will be continually assessed and could be modified based on regional health conditions, including testing capabilities.

[See also: “California reopening would start slow, not be complete for a year or longer, expert estimates” in the Los Angeles Times]


What else you need to know

Rural Californians who’ve been agitating for a faster timetable for loosening restrictions in their communities (or, in some cases, defying those restrictions altogether) will probably welcome the other major announcement from Monday’s briefing. Newsom said that he would allow for regional variation as the plan moves forward, with expanded decision-making at the local level. Some communities will be able to move further ahead into the second phase of the reopening process at their own pace and open more businesses — such as restaurant dining rooms — beyond those outlined in the statewide policy. But if communities want to take that next step, counties must first submit “containment plans” that meet certain requirements for hospital beds, testing kits and the ability to track infected people and trace their contacts.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Amid an outbreak at one of its stores in Southern California, the largest U.S. grocery chain has announced it will provide free coronavirus testing for all its frontline associates who have symptoms or medical needs that make them eligible for testing under guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kroger, which operates multiple supermarket chains, including Kroger, Ralphs and Food4Less, said it will begin offering the testing this month through its healthcare division, Kroger Health. The announcement comes as an outbreak at a Ralphs in Hollywood marks the largest cluster of infections at a retail store recorded by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Twenty-one employees of the Sunset Boulevard grocery store’s 158 employees have tested positive for the virus. Los Angeles Times

L.A. schools will start Aug. 18 as scheduled, but no decision has been made on whether campuses will reopen for in-person classes by that date. Supt. Austin Beutner said the timing for reopening LAUSD’s physical campuses remains uncertain. Los Angeles Times


L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn called for masks to be mandatory on L.A. Metro buses and trains. Hahn’s letter to Metro’s CEO cited a Times story on bus drivers, who said they feared for their health because many riders were not wearing masks and bus yards faced periodic shortages of masks, hand sanitizer and other protective gear. Los Angeles Times

Passengers, some without masks, ride the Line 33 bus last week. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is asking riders to wear masks, but does not currently require them.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

What’s available from L.A.-area farmers and beyond during the shutdown: Here is a list, by no means complete, of area farms, what they grow and how to find their crops. Los Angeles Times

Stars from the Doors to Prince recorded at Sunset Sound. Now, the studio is closed for the first time in 60 years, joining hundreds of others shut down across Los Angeles. As the center of the global music business, L.A.’s professional studios employ thousands of sound engineers, back-line workers and IT experts. Los Angeles Times

How many “Saturday Night Live” cast members fled to L.A. during quarantine? By the looks of their at-home episode sketches, at least a few. Vulture

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Detainees at an immigrant detention center in San Diego say that people in custody who are suspected of having COVID-19 are not quarantined and instead remain in the general population until they officially test positive for the coronavirus, leaving the potential for other detainees to become infected in the meantime. Los Angeles Times



Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will hold his first high-dollar fundraiser, a virtual gathering featuring Gov. Newsom. Newsom’s apparent backing of the presumptive nominee is not surprising, but the governor has yet to formally endorse the former vice president. (Newsom previously endorsed Sen. Kamala Harris before she dropped out and then declined to endorse another candidate before the California primary.) Los Angeles Times


Rep. Devin Nunes’ lawyer is facing the prospect of sanctions after two recent, rare court warnings. Nunes has filed seven lawsuits against media companies, activists and the investigative research firm behind the Steele dossier. Fresno Bee


Coronavirus threatens a South L.A. community clinic that’s long been a lifeline for the working poor. Since stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March, patient visits have fallen by 25% at South Central Family Health Center, costing the nonprofit clinic an unprecedented loss of about $310,000. Other clinics run by community health center organizations across Los Angeles County are also struggling. Los Angeles Times

And it’s not just a problem in L.A. County. Community clinics across the state and nation are on life support — furloughing some employees, laying off others and — far too often — closing locations altogether. Capital & Main

Beaches in two Orange County cities are cleared to reopen: Days after Newsom ordered all Orange County beaches to close to stem the spread of the coronavirus, state officials announced Monday that Laguna Beach and San Clemente will be permitted to reopen their stretches of coastline this week — with certain limitations. Los Angeles Times


Is the future of live music a drive-in concert? While live concerts look to be a ways off in California, a city in Denmark found a workaround that might make some sense for L.A. as well. Los Angeles Times


“We are not infectious disease experts, we are simply furniture people.” As businesses contemplate the return of workers to their desks, many are considering large and small changes to the modern workplace culture and trappings. New York Times

A man was spotted wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood in a Vons in the San Diego County city of Santee on Saturday, igniting outrage from the mayor, the head of the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego and others. Los Angeles Times


The Los Angeles Times won two Pulitzer Prizes on Monday, for art critic Christopher Knight’s watchdog coverage on plans for the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and reporter Molly O’Toole’s audio story about U.S. asylum officers’ discontent with President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. The Times was also a finalist in three other categories. Los Angeles Times

Miss *the sounds* of reading in public? New York Public Library has compiled an album of noises New Yorkers might miss, from the ambient sounds of a taxi ride to the cheering at a baseball game. Also included is a track re-creating the not-entirely-quiet quiet of the library itself — think semi-hushed conversations, the rustling of patrons and even a tour guide briefly passing by. Electric Lit

The L.A. Times’ new podcast “Can’t Stop Watching” features conversations with TV stars who’ve helped make the recent weeks of self-quarantine both bearable and entertaining. Los Angeles Times

Buddhist monks at a temple in Riverside have started making face shields for healthcare workers. The monks typically spend the majority of their day in meditation or prayer. Riverside Press-Enterprise


A poem to start your Tuesday: “Another Elegy” by Jericho Brown, who was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry on Monday.


Los Angeles: sunny, 87. San Diego: sunny, 80. San Francisco: sunny, 66. San Jose: windy, 78. Fresno: sunny, 87. Sacramento: sunny, 87. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Kathleen Harrison:

I was raised on Catalina Island in the 1950s. All our parents served the summer tourism that kept us afloat, but from Labor Day to Memorial Day the island was ours. Despite summertime joys, quiet winters felt more magical. In a golden era for kids, we had freedom to roam, both in and out of the ocean, then we started working too. I’ve returned lifelong, to ‘skin dive’ the undersea gardens and hike the hills. Even in our 70s, old islanders gather there to savor our shared memories, the scent of the chaparral, the unique light and our island’s spirit.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.