Newsletter: Back to business, not as usual

L.A.'s Grand Central Market
L.A.'s Grand Central Market, where takeout has continued during the lockdown but seating is banned.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

California businesses may begin reopening soon, but in a very different landscape.


Back to Business, Not as Usual

Though health experts say we’re at a critical moment in the fight against the coronavirus, more than 40 states will have reopened their economies in some capacity by the weekend.

In California, businesses may start opening again as soon as Friday — but it won’t be business as usual. Instead, social distancing and sanitation protocols are likely to stay in place until testing, contact tracing and a vaccine become widely available.

The time frame for different categories of business will vary, according to recent guidance from Gov. Gavin Newsom and health officials. In L.A. County, a handful of retail stores will be permitted to reopen tomorrow.


But can businesses even afford to open their doors under these restrictions? Or can they figure out new ways to turn a profit?

The answer depends on the sector. Retail stores might be able to sell enough under social distancing — assuming anyone is looking to shop. Movie theater owners say they can still manage with half-capacity crowds, but not if there aren’t any new movies to screen. Restaurants, which operate on slim margins even in the best of times, might just muddle through as long as the alcohol flows.

Here’s what experts and business owners across the consumer economy are thinking a reopened world will look like — and how it’ll affect their bottom lines.

Citizen ‘Warriors’

President Trump has described himself as a “wartime president” during the coronavirus crisis, and now he seems to have found his army: you.

In recent days, he’s begun describing citizens as “warriors” and suggested some of those fighters might have to die if that will help boost the economy. “We have to be warriors,” he said from his seat behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office. “We can’t keep our country closed down for years.”

Asked if the nation needs to accept greater loss of life, Trump said “hopefully it won’t be the case, but it may very well be the case.” The toll from COVID-19 surpassed 70,000 this week and seems on track to top 100,000 by the end of the month.

But Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said there’s no valor in sacrificing people’s lives to fight the pandemic. “People who are dying of this virus are not dying to protect the American way of life,” he said. “They’re dying because their government has had a completely ineffective response to this infectious disease.”

Meanwhile, Trump backtracked on the White House plan to wind down its coronavirus task force, tweeting that it would continue indefinitely but refocus.

Unmasking the Deals

In a frantic effort to secure face masks and respond to the coronavirus crisis, California has committed to spend more than $3.7 billion on no-bid contracts, scores of them with businesses that have no track record with the state.

A Times data analysis found that nearly a third of those funds — about $1.2 billion — has been earmarked for suppliers of goods and services that do not appear in the state’s database of contracts before the COVID-19 outbreak.

One of California’s largest and least transparent transactions had been a nearly billion-dollar contract for protective masks from Chinese automaker BYD. Then on Wednesday, Newsom abruptly shifted course to release the contract, which revealed the company agreed that same day to reimburse the state $247.5 million for a delay in delivery.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— A set of detailed documents created by the nation’s top disease investigators meant to give step-by-step advice to local leaders deciding when and how to reopen public places such as mass transit, day-care centers and restaurants during the still-raging pandemic has been shelved by the Trump administration.

— Republicans say they won’t support a new coronavirus relief bill unless it protects business owners from lawsuits related to COVID-19 exposure, sparking a lobbying frenzy from business groups hoping to get their industry or priority into the bill.

— Newsom signed an executive order that will make it easier for essential workers who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers’ compensation benefits in a win for labor unions.

— San Francisco city officials said the Bay Area’s stay-at-home orders will continue to be enforced even as Newsom prepares to announce potentially more relaxed statewide guidelines.

— Beginning Monday, anyone traveling through Los Angeles International Airport must wear a mask or face covering.

New Campus Misconduct Rules

Students accused of sexual misconduct will get stronger due process protections under sweeping federal rules announced by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The rules make key changes to former guidelines from the Obama administration, including a tighter definition of sexual misconduct, reduced responsibility of colleges to investigate complaints and the right for advisors on all sides to cross-examine those involved.

Critics say the rules will weaken the fight against campus sexual assaults. DeVos has said the revisions are aimed at restoring fairness and rebalancing the rights of the accuser and accused.


On this day in 1952, Los Angeles residents could be forgiven for thinking dawn had arrived early. At 5:15 a.m., the sky lit up as if the sun was rising. But it was temporary, the result of an atomic test 300 miles away. According to The Times, the bomb had been detonated in Yucca Flat, Nev., as part of a series of tests.

The photo below was captured from a balcony at the Los Angeles Times building.

May 7, 1952
May 7, 1952: View of Los Angeles City Hall at 5:15 a.m. as an atomic bomb is exploded in Yucca Flat, Nev., some 300 miles away. The photo was published in the May 8, 1952, Los Angeles Times.
(Los Angeles Times)


— A study of San Francisco’s Mission District found Latinos there tested positive for coronavirus at overwhelming levels compared to other groups.

— After receiving criticism, L.A. County supervisors will allow real-time public comment at their meetings starting on May 12.

San Luis Obispo was on the verge of passing an ambitious climate change policy when the proposal’s most vocal critic found a trump card: fear of the coronavirus.

— After this week’s near-record heat, California will return to cooler weather in mid-May.

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— Trump vetoed legislation that would require his administration to seek clearance from Congress for any military action against Iran. He called it “a very insulting resolution.”

— The parents of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man slain in a pursuit by two white men armed with guns, have called for immediate arrests in the case. They’re facing the prospect of waiting a month or longer before a Georgia grand jury will consider bringing charges.

— Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro touted a video showing a scruffy-looking American divulging details about a failed invasion as proof that U.S. authorities backed an attempt to forcibly remove him from power. The U.S. has denied involvement.

— The coronavirus didn’t slow down China‘s space aspirations. The country plans to send four crewed space missions and the same number of cargo craft to complete work on its permanent space station within about two years, and has launched a newly designed spacecraft.

— The “murder hornets”? They’re not really called that, and they’re probably not as bad as you think.


— Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” is the L.A. immigrant tale Times television critic Lorraine Ali wishes existed when she was in school.

Florian Schneider, who co-founded the seminal German electronic band Kraftwerk in the 1970s, has died. The 73-year-old was considered a godfather of genres including synth-pop, hip-hop, electronic dance music and post-rock.

— How accurate is the portrayal of Republican women in “Mrs. America”? We investigated.

— It turns out people on the internet have thoughts about Adele’s new body. Who knew?


— The Federal Communications Commission has fined Sinclair Broadcast Group $48 million — the largest financial penalty in the FCC’s 86-year history — as part of an agreement to resolve several investigations into the company’s alleged practices.

— From funerals to doughnuts, drive-throughs and drive-ins were fading. Now the coronavirus pandemic has not only revived them, but made them a lifeline.


Errol Coffey, who is 76 and has been a Dodger Stadium ticket taker for 42 years, has touched fans’ lives — even if he doesn’t know them.

— Some Las Vegas sportsbooks will be back in business this week, opening their apps for wagering for the first time since mid-March. That could help wagering on esports.

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— The Supreme Court needs to rescue birth control access from the Trump administration, writes Jon Healey, The Times’ deputy editorial page editor.

— The pandemic has changed our lives, for better or worse. From doorstep gifts to sidewalk chalk messages, Times staffers say some changes are worth keeping.


— On the same day Sen. Richard Burr dumped stock, so did his brother-in-law. Then the stock market crashed. (ProPublica)

— Before the pandemic, Karen wanted to speak to your manager. Now she’s the meme du jour and the coronavirus villain at large. (The Atlantic)


Before life as we knew it changed, three guys who call themselves the Summit Sippers staked out a position at the top of a Pacific Palisades trail. They dressed like chimney sweeps and set up a small folding table. Their mission: to hand out free refreshments to anyone passing by. Why? Well, why not? These days, “we’re not thinking negatively about how much we miss it,” said one of the Sippers. “We’re thinking about what we’re going to do in the meantime to make it better.”

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