40 of California’s 58 counties get OK for more robust reopening

Busy Bee Cafe on Main Street in downtown Ventura
Roger Anderson and son Trey, 11, enjoy breakfast at Busy Bee Cafe on Main Street in downtown Ventura Thursday morning. “This is one of our favorite paces to eat so we made a point to swing in.” Said Anderson
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

More than two-thirds of Southern California counties have received approval to more quickly reopen their economies as the state continues to loosen coronavirus-related restrictions.

Those that have received the green light to move deeper into Phase 2 — clearing them to reopen restaurant dining rooms and more retail businesses for in-store shopping, with modifications — include San Diego, Kern, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, according to the state.

Local officials cheered the development, which will allow them to more broadly restart segments of their economies that have been shuttered under California’s stay-at-home order.

Ventura County Executive Officer Mike Powers said he was “so happy for our county, businesses and employees,” adding that there’s still “a long way to go, but this is a major milestone.”

“COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on both community health and our economy,” he said. “We want businesses to be able to reopen, and we believe they can and will do so safely.”


Cafe Fiore
Eddy Guevara power washes the sidewalk of Cafe Fiore on South California Street near Main Street in downtown Ventura Thursday morning in preparation for reopening as Ventura County has become the largest county in Southern California to resume dine-in service.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

This doesn’t mean it’s back to business as usual in those counties, however. Officials cautioned that residents should still follow measures meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus — such as physical distancing and wearing face coverings — and that stores need to abide by the guidelines for reopening.

“The county is enormously grateful for the public’s effort to date,” San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said.

To contain the spread of COVID-19, parks, restaurants and stores are slowly reopening.

Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County’s health officer, said that before retail businesses can open their doors or restaurants can start offering dine-in service, they must perform a risk assessment, train their workers to counteract the spread of the virus and perform temperature checks on employees and, in some cases, patrons.

The county will inspect businesses that reopen to be sure they’re in compliance, she said.

She also asked tourists to stay out of San Luis Obispo County. While officials have performed “spot checks” with local hotels to deter tourism, Borenstein said the county would cite visitors only in the case of “egregious violations.”

New rules will allow restaurant dining rooms and shopping malls to open in counties that meet new criteria.

All told, 40 of California’s 58 counties had received state approval to more quickly reopen certain businesses as of Thursday morning.

Here’s the full list: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Mono, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Ventura, Yolo and Yuba.

The list of counties that have been cleared to more fully enter Phase 2 does not include Los Angeles — which continues to be the epicenter of California’s coronavirus activity.

Officials there have set a goal to more fully reopen by July 4.

The goal to more fully reopen in the next six weeks comes as Los Angeles County reports 76 new deaths related to COVID-19 and more than 1,100 new cases.

Nor does the list, at this point, include Orange County — where officials said earlier this week they planned to petition for permission to reopen quicker even if they didn’t meet the exact letter of all the new rules.

Gov. Gavin Newsom foreshadowed the avalanche of attestations when he unveiled the state’s new reopening criteria earlier this week. On Monday, he said the revised rules would allow 53 California counties to move further into the second of four stages toward reopening if they so chose.

Under the state’s earlier criteria, the ability to reopen quicker was effectively restricted to more rural, less-populated counties that have not seen the same level of coronavirus activity as their urban counterparts.

Conceding that more California counties are in a position to slowly reopen businesses, Gov. Gavin Newsom loosened his coronavirus benchmarks.

A Times data analysis earlier this month found that 95% of Californians lived in counties that didn’t meet those previous standards.

The new rules, however, made it easier for urban counties to qualify.

For instance, under the revised metrics counties are no longer kept from loosening the shutdown rules if there have been COVID-19 deaths in the previous two weeks.

Counties also will be able to move toward a more expansive reopening if they can show fewer than 25 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days, or show that fewer than 8% of residents tested for the virus over a seven-day period were positive.

Despite the relaxed criteria, some counties have still opted to reopen faster and more broadly in defiance of the state’s orders.

Times staff writer Matthew Ormseth contributed to this report.