Yosemite Reopens Next Month. Here's What to Expect

Yosemite National Park officials have drafted a plan to reopen as early as June. The famous Sierra Nevada landmark, which drew 4.4 million visitors last year, has been closed since March 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan to reopen hasn't officially been made public yet, but it calls for opening the park some time in the next few weeks, with some significant changes. KQED’s Mina Kim spoke with Paul Rogers, the managing editor of KQED Science and a reporter on environmental issues for the Mercury News, about what people might expect when the park is open again.

What still needs to happen for Yosemite to reopen?

Paul Rogers: Yosemite's acting superintendent, Cicely Muldoon, has said she hopes to open again sometime in the next few weeks, but she doesn't have an exact date because she still needs to get approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior. She's also rolling the plan out among local officials to get feedback.

Muldoon has told park employees that Yosemite couldn't really open until nearby local counties moved to stage three in Gov. Gavin Newsom's four-stage plan for reopening. Many of those counties are nearing that stage now.

Read the full KQED interview here.

San Francisco May Resume Indoor Restaurant Dining by October

San Franciscans may be able to dine indoors at restaurants as soon as October.

That's a part of the city's new reopening plan announced Friday, but there's a catch.

The timeline relies on San Francisco being assigned an "orange" level by the state of California under its four-tier, color-coded system to assess each county's risk, San Francisco officials say, which could happen as early as the end of September.

The state's tiers start at the highest risk level, purple, then go to red, orange and yellow, with each specifying different types of businesses and activities allowed in a county.

San Francisco is now at a red tier, the second-highest risk level. Should the city (which is also a county) be downgraded to an orange tier, city officials said they would then allow restaurants to have indoor dining at 25% capacity, up to 100 people.

If San Francisco's pandemic-related metrics, like positive cases and hospitalizations, do not remain stable, restaurant-goers will be in for a longer wait.

“Restaurants have been hit hard by COVID-19. Many have adapted with takeout and outdoor dining, but they’ve still been barely hanging on and, sadly, some have closed for good,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “We are laying out the next steps to make sure restaurants are ready to reopen as safely as possible."

Restaurants across San Francisco have been hammered financially by the pandemic. In Chinatown, for instance, a recent survey showed nearly 60% of restaurant jobs there have been eliminated and less than a quarter of Chinatown restaurants say they can maintain their businesses, KQED previously reported.

Restaurants have turned to app-based delivery services to stay afloat, but have often complained publicly that the fees are too high to be sustainable. Likewise, while some restaurants have expanded their outdoor dining options, many have not.

— Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez (@FitztheReporter)

San Mateo County Rolls Out New 'Mask Mobile' to Deliver COVID-19 Supplies

San Mateo County on Thursday unveiled its new "Mask Mobile" (think Batmobile, but in the form of very colorful minivan) to pass out hand sanitizer, gloves and — you guessed it — masks to communities hardest hit by the coronavirus.

A project of the county’s Office of Community Affairs, the van will frequent certain neighborhoods in various cities throughout the county for the foreseeable future, distributing free hygiene supplies.

"This is an incredibly fun, exciting and educational way to promote the mandate that face masks must be worn in public," said county Supervisor David Canepa, who introduced the initiative. "It might look a bit like Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine but we're calling it the 'Mask Mobile.' "

He added, “It’s free, everything is free. This is one of the best investments that the county can make.”

Throughout the pandemic, the overwhelming number of reported COVID-19 cases in San Mateo County have been centered in Latino communities in the peninsula, with the virus particularly afflicting lower-income essential workers living in crowded conditions, according to county data. The Mask Mobile will primarily serve these communities, expanding on the county's ongoing efforts to deliver supplies to small businesses, service workers and community centers there, Canepa said.

“If we are going to beat this virus, we have to depend on people to be responsible,” he said. “But at the same time, the county is dedicated to providing resources to those people to make sure they have it.”

— Marco Siler-Gonzales (@mijo_marco)

Santa Clara County Orders Faster Timelines for COVID-19 Testing

Santa Clara County officials issued a public health order Wednesday requiring health care providers to increase the accessibility and speed of COVID-19 testing. The order, which goes into effect Sept. 25, states:

  • People with COVID-19 symptoms, those who report that they have been exposed, and anyone referred by the county’s Public Health Department must be given testing “at the time the patient presents for care.” For those requesting a test online or over the phone, an appointment must be given by the end of the next day.
  • All essential workers requesting a test, even if asymptomatic, must be provided with one within three days. However, health care providers can require that an essential worker wait 14 days between tests.
  • Test results must be provided within a maximum of three days.
  • Penalties for noncompliance range as high as $5,000 per incident.

“Testing is really foundational to our ability to prevent COVID,” said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody during a press conference Wednesday.

The order also requires that health care providers better publicize the availability of testing and make the process “easy and straightforward.”

“We are grateful that the county has announced an order that is going to demolish the labyrinth that too many of our residents have found themselves in” when seeking testing, said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco described his experience seeking a COVID-19 test from Kaiser Permanente as “frustrating, discouraging” and “burdensome.” He called for increased testing “so that we can open up our businesses, open up our schools and open up our faith community.”

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Kaiser has made and continues to make "major investments in equipment, resources and people" to expand its testing capacity, said Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager of Kaiser Permanente San Jose, in a statement.

"We are committed to making testing timely and accessible for our members. We are following the direction of the California Department of Public Health and Department of Managed Health Care and are in compliance with state orders on testing in California," Chavez said.

A compliance and enforcement team including attorneys from the County Counsel's Office and the District Attorney's Office will investigate complaints of noncompliance, which can be reported online, said county counsel James Williams.

— Monica Lam (@monicazlam)

Some Bay Area Movie Theaters Are Reopening

Movie theaters are slowly reopening in some corners of the Bay Area, as some counties move into a less restrictive tier of California's COVID-19 business reopening plan.

In Napa County, the Century Napa Valley and XD opened its doors again on Sept. 11 after more than six months in the dark.

“We had some really avid moviegoers who were excited to be off the couch and back in the theater,” said Chanda Brashears, vice president of investor and public relations at Cinemark, which owns the Napa movie house and more than 25 others in the nine county Bay Area.

Further up the Napa Valley, the independently owned Cameo Cinema in St. Helena is preparing to open Friday. The single-screen theater will have, among other safety measures in place, limited seating and one show daily instead of the three it featured before the pandemic.

The Cameo and the 12-screen Century were permitted to open because Napa County — based on metrics measuring the spread of COVID-19 — moved into the red level, the third most restrictive of four color-coded tiers that govern which businesses can reopen and under what restrictions.

Movie theaters in those red-level counties are allowed to open but can only fill their auditoriums to 25% capacity, or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

Other health safety protocols that Cinemark has put into place include automatic distancing: Once tickets are purchased, two seats immediately to the left and right are blocked from sale, and unless the theater has reclining seats, tickets are sold only in every other row.

Additionally, face masks will be required for all moviegoers and employees, and auditoriums are sanitized after each show, among other safety measures.

In Marin County, which state health officials this week moved from purple, the most restrictive tier, to red, Cinemark plans to reopen its San Rafael Northgate 15 on Friday, said it would soon also reopen theaters in Larkspur, Novato and Mill Valley.

The six-screen Fairfax Theatre in Fairfax, owned by Petaluma-based Cinema West will also open Friday.

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, though, San Francisco and Santa Clara, the only other regional counties to have moved from purple to red, are maintaining their own tighter restrictions and prohibiting movie theaters from opening.

— Jeremy Hay, Bay City News

Marin Expands Reopenings as It Moves to Less Restrictive Risk Category

State health officials announced Tuesday that Marin County had moved from the most restrictive, or purple, tier to the less-restrictive red category of California's color-coded reopening system, which assesses the level of COVID-19 risk in each county.

The state bases a county's reopening status on the number of new coronavirus cases and on its test positivity rate.

The upgrade will allow retail stores and other businesses now open to  operate with more customers, while indoor movie theaters, museums and gyms can restart with limited capacity. See Marin's reopening schedule here.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, and this gives us more choices as residents,” said Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis, in a statement. “But more freedom also brings more risk. Our challenge is to move forward without increasing transmission. We’re at a critical juncture.”

The state on Tuesday also moved Inyo and Tehama counties from purple to red.

— Peter Arcuni (@peterarcuni)

Gyms and Fitness Centers Sue California Over COVID-19 Closures

A group of California fitness centers have filed a lawsuit alleging Gov. Gavin Newsom's measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 unfairly target the industry and are demanding they be allowed to reopen.

The California Fitness Alliance, which represents nearly 300 businesses, filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, said Scott Street, a lawyer for the group, on Tuesday.

The suit accuses state and Los Angeles County officials of requiring gyms to close without providing evidence that they contribute to virus outbreaks and at a time when staying healthy is critical to California's residents. The prolonged closure is depriving millions of people of the ability to exercise as temperatures soar and smoky air from wildfires blankets much of the state, said Francesca Schuler, a founding partner of the alliance.

“We are not looking for a fight,” said Schuler, who is chief executive of In-Shape Health Clubs. “We are committed to being as safe as possible. We are in the health business. That’s what we care about more than anything.”

The alliance also questioned why fitness centers are facing more restrictive measures than restaurants, when gym equipment can be spaced out and patrons required to wear masks.

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A message seeking comment was sent to the California Department of Public Health.

The suit is one of many filed by California sectors walloped by closures due to the pandemic.

Under state rules, fitness centers can reopen indoors at 10% of capacity when a county's COVID-19 infections drop from “widespread” to “substantial,” as determined by state health officials. In counties with “minimal” infections, gyms can reopen indoors at 50% capacity.

As of Tuesday, 30 of the state’s 58 counties still had “widespread” infection levels, which require schools to only offer distance learning and most businesses to limit indoor operations.

— Associated Press

SF Will Allow Salons, Gyms, Museums to Reopen for Indoor Service

For the first time since March, folks in San Francisco can finally get a haircut, lift heavy in a gym or take in the sight of an abstract painting — all inside.

Nail salons, gyms, massage services, tattoo shops and barber shops in the city will be allowed to reopen for indoor operation starting Monday, with "limited capacity."

Gyms will be allowed to open at 10% of their normal capacity, while barbershops and salons will allow customers at a social distance. Masks are required for everyone inside any business.

Museums will be able to open, with restrictions, as early as Sept. 21, after submitting health and safety plans.

That's according to San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who on Thursday jointly announced the next phase of reopenings with the Department of Public Health.

“I’m so glad we can move forward earlier than expected to reopen more businesses that have been closed since March. These businesses have been struggling, and starting Monday, they’ll finally be able to serve customers again, with the necessary safety precautions and modifications in place,” Breed said in a statement.

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Just where in the Bay Area you can get your bangs trimmed during the pandemic, or hop on a treadmill, has been a fluid, ever-changing source of befuddlement. Cities and counties have opened businesses and closed them back up again. The patchwork response in myriad California counties has meant, for months, people across the bay could get haircuts, while San Franciscans were left growing unintentional mullets.

In late August, Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a new strict reopening plan using a four-tiered, color-coded system to more easily communicate what types of businesses could open in which counties, depending on local risk factors.

Danielle Rabkin, owner of CrossFit Golden Gate, said her gym has been hammered financially by the pandemic closure. She's relieved to be able to finally open her doors again.

"Every day matters after almost six months of closure," Rabkin said. And while her business was allowed to operate outside, that's changed with the recent wildfires. "We absolutely need to move it inside with this air quality."

San Francisco’s own city-run gyms are also allowed to officially reopen, although many of those staff-only facilities at police stations, fire stations, and the Hall of Justice had been open throughout the pandemic without the knowledge of health officials.

After it was made public that those city-staff gyms were still operating, even as private gyms were told to close, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón on Wednesday ordered them to close - just a day before Breed's announcement.

"It is critical for each department to play its role not only in protecting its own workforce but in also modeling best practices to the larger community," Aragón wrote.

Hotels, outdoor family entertainment centers, drive-in entertainment — like outdoor movies — and outdoor tour buses and boats will also be allowed to reopen in the city on Sept. 14 under rules Breed previously announced. Hotels have been open only for essential workers and unhoused people since the beginning of the pandemic.

This post has been updated to reflect new information on the rules for salons and barbershops from city officials.

— Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez (@FitztheReporter)