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Gov. Newsom Announces California Will Begin Easing Coronavirus Closures This Week

Gov. Gavin Newsom, pictured last month, announced Monday that improvement in pandemic conditions allows more steps toward opening California businesses.
Rich Pedroncelli
Gov. Gavin Newsom, pictured last month, announced Monday that improvement in pandemic conditions allows more steps toward opening California businesses.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California will allow some retail businesses to reopen with modifications as early as Friday, amid encouraging coronavirus benchmarks.

"We are entering into the next phase this week," Newsom said in his daily press briefing Monday. "This is a very positive sign and it's happened only for one reason: The data says it can happen."

The businesses will include places such as book, clothing, toy and sporting goods stores, as well as music shops and florists, the governor said.

This phase of California's reopening will not include malls, offices or sit-down service in restaurants.

Those businesses that can reopen Friday will have to abide by restrictions, such as physical distancing and delivering orders curbside. Detailed guidelines about the Phase 2 reopening will be released on Thursday, according to Newsom.

As part of easing restrictions, Newsom announced Phase 2 includes giving local officials more flexibility to move further into reopening. But those regional plans will have to be certified and meet "criteria that includes the capacity on testing, their capacity on tracing, the capacity on physical distancing and sanitation, and their capacity to protect the most vulnerable residents in their community," including seniors, the homeless and those incarcerated.

The announcement comes after a rocky couple of weeks in the state: unemployment reached record levels, Newsom chided beachgoers for not heeding distancing orders, local officials expressed frustration about stay-at-home and beach closure orders, and protests broke out. In the past couple of days, three rural counties in Northern California went ahead with reopening parts of their economies without Newsom's approval.

Newsom stuck to the message he has stressed since stay-at-home orders went into effect six weeks ago: Any policy decisions made regarding the pandemic are guided by data and science.

During Monday's announcement the governor said the state met key health metrics and that's what drove the focused easing of the stay-at-home orders.

The number of Californians hospitalized for the coronavirus has stabilized, the state is "progressing" in its personal protective gear inventory; and testing capacity has increased, as have the number of hospital beds and ventilators, according to Dr. Sonia Angell, the director of the California Department of Public Health.

Newsom also announced a partnership with the University of California, San Francisco and Los Angeles to amp up contact tracing. The goal is to bolster public health systems across the state with 3,000 new tracers a week, Newsom said.

The governor stressed a major strategy in California's battle in the pandemic is to test, trace and quarantine people with COVID-19. That tracing component has lagged behind; only 23 of 58 counties are currently conducting contact tracing.

Newsom emphasized that the modifications announced Monday were not one size fits all; as the pandemic continues, some counties may need restrictions and other regions may be able to move forward, he said.

"We are not telling locals that feel it's too soon, too fast to modify," he said. "We believe those local communities that have separate timelines should be afforded the capacity to advance those timelines."

The governor also warned that if coronavirus cases tick up, the state could rein in the gradual reopening.

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Hannah Hagemann is a 2019 Kroc Fellow. During her fellowship, she will work at NPR's National Desk and Weekend Edition.