Essential California: The new new new new reopening rules

People install heaters at an outdoor restaurant
Ayman Karn and Kyle Alwani install heaters along the outdoor dining area of the Waterfront Bar and Grill in San Diego’s Little Italy. Restaurants can provide outdoor dining after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the stay-at-home order on Monday.
(Jarrod Valliere / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Jan. 26, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the lifting of all regional stay-at-home orders in California, clearing the way for a wider reopening in many regions, including Los Angeles County.

[Read the story: “Newsom cancels California’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders” in the Los Angeles Times]

The governor’s announcement was made amid promising signs that the worst wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to recede, though the state is “not out of the woods” yet, as Newsom reminded Californians on Monday.


[See also: “The risk of reopening California as new strains spread, vaccine rollout slows” in the Los Angeles Times]

The sudden announcement came as a shock to much of the state, and the governor’s team appeared to have been operating on a need-to-know basis in the hours immediately preceding it. Those in the know included leaders of California’s powerful restaurant lobby, which sent an email to its members Sunday night informing them of the impending announcement.

But that circle of trust did not appear to extend to the mayor of the state’s largest city. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday morning that he learned of the decision “as quickly and as suddenly as the public.”

What the new rules mean

With the regional stay-at-home order lifted, the state is reverting to the four-tiered, color-coded system Newsom introduced in August. That system assigns local risk levels based on case numbers and rates of positive test results for coronavirus infections.

As of Monday, all but four counties in the state fell under the state’s most-restrictive tier, purple. But the purple rules are substantially looser than the stay-at-home order was.


With necessary modifications, restaurants can reopen for outdoor dining, nail and hair salons can reopen indoors, and certain youth sports competitions can resume.

The state rules serve as a baseline; while local jurisdictions can be stricter, they cannot be more lenient. According to Newsom, the tiers will be reassessed Tuesday, meaning some counties may move into less restrictive tiers.

In Los Angeles County — where an outdoor dining ban that predated the state stay-at-home order has been hotly contested — officials clarified that outdoor dining would resume Friday.

[Read the story: “L.A. County to resume outdoor dining after COVID stay-at-home order is canceled” in the Los Angeles Times]

The decision comes as the number of new daily cases and hospitalizations in L.A. County continue to decline, even as deaths — a lagging indicator — remain near their peak. An emergency order was issued last week to temporarily suspend air-quality limits on cremations in order to deal with the backlog of dead bodies in the county. That order remains in effect.

But even though the average number of new daily cases in the county has significantly declined since a December peak, the figures remain extremely high — far higher than they were in November, when the county’s outdoor dining ban was first triggered.

[Read more: “From restaurants to hair salons, What you need to know as L.A. County lifts stay-at-home COVID-19 rules” in the Los Angeles Times]

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer urged caution as people move forward with new activities, stressing that if the situation starts deteriorating again, “we’ll be in the horrible position of once again needing to backtrack.”


How was the decision made?

The decisions are based on projected ICU bed availability.

“We project forward, over a four-week period,” Newsom explained, with an order being lifted when the state’s models show that a region’s projected ICU capacity will be at or above 15% in a month’s time. The models the state uses to make its projections are not shared with the public. But Newsom said the projections show all five of the state’s regions having ICU capacity well over 15% a month from now.

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

In a significant reshuffling of eligibility guidelines, California officials will shift who is prioritized in the next round of COVID-19 vaccinations to focus on age rather than on high-risk occupations. The modifications announced Monday don’t change the current priority list, which focuses on healthcare workers and residents 65 or older before expanding to teachers, farmworkers and first responders.

But there will be a shift in who gets the vaccine after them. Under the new plan, the next priority would be people under 65. No details about the criteria were released Monday, but it could end up focusing first on those over 50. Los Angeles Times

California would extend eviction protections to June 30 under a new proposal. Newsom and state legislative leaders have agreed to a proposal to extend through June protections against evictions for California tenants financially harmed by the pandemic, an effort that would head off what some warn could be a housing crisis in the state, officials said Monday. The proposed legislation would also create a rent subsidy program using up to $2.6 billion in federal rental relief dollars. Current state protections against eviction expire Jan. 31. Los Angeles Times


A powerful atmospheric river storm barreling toward the Bay Area and Central Coast is expected to drench the region starting Tuesday night, with more rain than earlier anticipated. The storm raises the risk of potentially deadly mudslides in the days ahead, particularly in areas where steep slopes burned last year. Evacuation orders have been issued for several thousand people in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burned 86,509 acres last August. Mercury News

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander was sentenced to 14 months in prison and fined $15,000 for lying to federal authorities about secret cash payments and a debauched night in Las Vegas provided by a businessman seeking introductions to developers. Englander is the first person to be sentenced in a sprawling federal investigation into corruption at Los Angeles City Hall. Los Angeles Times

Mitch Englander walks with his wife Jayne Englander
Fun fact: Mitch Englander is far from the first former L.A. city councilperson to plead guilty to doing bad things, but he does hold the distinction of appearing in the first-ever episode of the HGTV show “House Hunters.”
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Meet Amanda Gorman’s mentors: These are the teachers who nurtured the inauguration poet. Los Angeles Times

Death in a crosswalk: The killing of a 4-year-old girl by a driver making a left turn illustrates L.A.’s failure to stop traffic violence. LAist


CBS suspends top TV station executives after an L.A. Times investigation: ViacomCBS has suspended the two powerful heads of its TV station group, Peter Dunn and David Friend. Los Angeles Times

Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


The House delivered a Trump impeachment article to the Senate. Democrats hope strong Republican denunciations of Trump after the Jan. 6 riot will translate into a conviction. Los Angeles Times

California’s huge unemployment claims backlog is back. The numbers reflecting long delays for people seeking unemployment benefits have exploded this month. Sacramento Bee

“Tech money could turn a quixotic recall attempt into a real threat to Gavin Newsom.” Some major Silicon Valley donors are mobilizing behind the recall effort. ReCode


Federal court partially OKs California’s COVID-19 limits on indoor worship: A federal appeals court struck down California coronavirus rules limiting indoor church attendance to specific numbers but allowed the state to continue to ban indoor worship during times of widespread infection. Los Angeles Times



In Santa Clara County — where vaccinations are limited to healthcare workers and those 75 and older — a hospital is in hot water for inviting teachers to get vaccinated. School staffers were told to represent themselves as healthcare workers to get vaccinated. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that vaccinations at the major San Jose hospital were suspended after the county learned of the move. San Jose Spotlight

The harbor porpoise population rebounded along California’s coast after the state banned indiscriminate fishing nets. Los Angeles Times


California’s unemployment rate surged in December as the COVID-19 pandemic spun out of control and more businesses were forced to shut down, reversing a months-long economic recovery. Los Angeles Times

Disneyland will remake the Jungle Cruise after years of complaints of racism: “While the ride is meant to be a collage of Asia, Africa and South America, human figures of the regions are presented as exotic, violent and dim-witted, humor that in the 1950s and 1960s was troublesome and today reeks of racism.” Los Angeles Times

A poem to to start your Tuesday: “If I Could Mourn Like a Mourning Dove” by Frank Bidart. Ronnow Poetry

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at



Los Angeles: sunny, 57. San Diego: sunny, 57. San Francisco: rain, 52. San Jose: rain, 54. Fresno: cloudy, 54. Sacramento: fifty-fifty shot at rain, 52.


Today’s California memory comes from Juli Lynne Charlot:

At a Hollywood party in the early 1950s I met a wildly attractive young man who told me he had been arrested for vagrancy in Beverly Hills the evening before while walking back to his hotel from 20th Century Fox studio, who had brought him over from England to test for a role. We had a brief romance before he returned to England. I am now 98 but still remember him well, even though I never saw him again. His name was [name redacted because we have no confirmation of this decades-old dalliance, but we promise it’s a name you would recognize].

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.