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California

L.A. County and the Bay Area take a conservative approach as California eases stay-at-home rules

Anthony Frank and his wife, Melia Campbell, of Plumas Lake enjoy their first night out in weeks May 5 at Silver Dollar Saloon in Marysville, Calif.
Anthony Frank and his wife, Melia Campbell, of Plumas Lake enjoy their first night out in weeks May 5 at Silver Dollar Saloon in Marysville, Calif.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

With parts of the California economy poised to reopen Friday, it’s becoming increasingly clear that major metropolitan areas are going to be taking it slow over concerns that the coronavirus remains a significant public health threat.

L.A. County officials Wednesday laid out modest first steps toward easing stay-at-home orders, which have been credited with slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The county remains the primary hotbed of the outbreak in California, with more than 1,300 deaths and 28,000 confirmed cases, including about 800 new ones reported Wednesday alone.

Under the county plan, florists, car dealers and other types of brick-and-mortar stores — including those that sell toys, music, books, clothing and sporting goods — will be allowed to open for curbside pickup only starting Friday. In-store shopping will not be permitted.

“This list is less about what products are sold and more about the ability to maintain social distancing,” county Supervisor Kathryn Barger said.

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The San Francisco Bay Area is taking an even more conservative stance, with officials saying closure orders will be enforced even as Gov. Gavin Newsom prepares to loosen statewide guidelines.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the city had been working to learn details of Newsom’s new guidelines, but she stressed that Bay Area health officers could continue to order tighter restrictions.

The reason has “everything to do” with the numbers of cases and deaths in the Bay Area, she said.

“The numbers are still going up,” Breed said. “The number of deaths are still going up, and we have not lowered the curve, and we have to be mindful of that.”

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She added: “The more that people have interactions with other people, the [greater the] likelihood that other folks will continue to get infected.”

Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s public health director, said one of the goals that needs to be met before reopening is the ability to trace contacts of infected people and test them for the coronavirus.

“We are still building our surveillance system,” he said. To do that, local officials are working with scientists from the city’s public hospital, UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley.

“We must hold steady and let the data guide us.”

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Newsom has announced that some stay-at-home rules will be modestly eased by Friday. Bookstores, music stores, toy stores, florists, sporting goods retailers, clothing stores and others can reopen for curbside pickup as early as Friday. Additional businesses could be named later this week, also with curbside pickup. Factories that supply those businesses would also be allowed to resume operating.

Otherwise, only essential businesses such as grocery stores, drugstores, medical offices, gas stations and auto repair shops are open, with social distancing rules in place.

Offices, shopping malls and seated dining at restaurants are still ordered closed. Personal grooming businesses, entertainment venues, live concerts and sports are also not included in the first phase of Newsom’s reopening plan.

Some rural counties and suburban cities in California have demanded to reopen with social distancing restrictions, and three counties in Northern California — Yuba, Sutter and Modoc — have defied Newsom and opened on their own.

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But now, the health officer for two of those counties is expressing grave concerns that businesses are not following the modified rules. Dr. Phuong Luu, the health officer for Yuba and Sutter counties, north of Sacramento, said in a letter that a “number of businesses” are not enforcing rules on social distancing and face coverings.

“I understand that some of your customers may strongly object to a facial covering requirement, but the long-term safety of our community is at stake. We do not want to take any steps back in our phasing-in efforts,” Luu wrote, expressing concern about public health if the rules are not followed.

Los Angeles and Bay Area officials say they are trying to avoid these problems.

Under the Los Angeles County plan, recreational amenities including golf courses and trails will also reopen Friday. People still must adhere to physical distancing requirements and wear face coverings when they’re in proximity to others.

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But city leaders are also considering more restrictions.

Los Angeles officials are exploring whether to require Angelenos to have masks or other facial coverings whenever they leave their homes, a proposal championed by Councilman Paul Koretz as a way to prevent new infections.

“The last thing we need is another spike in cases to set us back as we’re trying to move forward,” Koretz said. “People still walk dogs. They still ride bicycles. They still may stop and chat with their neighbors. This would reduce the spread.”

The City Council has not decided to draft such a law, but it voted Wednesday to ask city staffers to report back on health guidelines for wearing face coverings, what requirements have been imposed by other cities and how such rules might be enforced.

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And beginning Monday, anyone traveling through Los Angeles International Airport must wear a mask or face covering, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced.

Health officials on Wednesday also outlined for the first time a five-stage plan for reopening L.A. County. Though the first retailers will be permitted to reopen with conditions this week under Stage 2, the county hopes to soon allow other low-risk business — including manufacturers, offices and larger retail — to also open their doors.

Stage 2 also allows for the reopening of libraries, museums, cultural centers and galleries. The county has not provided a proposed date when those spaces could again be accessible.

Los Angeles County beaches will remain closed for the time being, despite other coastal stretches reopening — with limitations — this week in nearby Orange County with the state’s blessing.

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Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money contributed to this report.


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