While Some California COVID-19 Restrictions Ease, Most Bay Area Officials Hold Back

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Closed shopfronts in what would be a normally busy fashion district in Los Angeles on May 4, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Provide outdoor break rooms, carry sanitation materials and enforce physical distancing: These are a few of the guidelines laid out by the state on Thursday as some California businesses prepare to reopen as part of the plan to ease stay-at-home restrictions.

But some Bay Area health officials say those changes will not extend to the revised shelter-in-place orders issued earlier this month, and said that they plan to study the new guidelines "carefully."

"It is important that our local communities understand that the regional Health Orders that took effect May 4 are still in effect," local health officials said in a press release issued shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom's daily press conference on Thursday.

These orders apply to Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, as well as the city of Berkeley.

Newsom first announced on Monday that the state would begin slowly easing into the second stage of the recovery plan, which includes opening lower-risk non-essential businesses like retail stores and manufacturing so long as certain restrictions remain in place. Other businesses included in the full "stage two" reopening, like offices that cannot telecommute, will continue to remain closed for the time being.

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Local health officials further clarified that the Bay Area orders "do not currently permit curbside pickup from non-essential, non-outdoor businesses, and that is not allowed to begin on Friday, May 8."

Newsom said on Monday that counties with stricter guidelines – such as those in effect across most of the Bay Area – will be allowed to continue enforcing their regulations. In their Thursday press release, Bay Area health officials emphasized that if a county order differs from a state order, "the more restrictive order takes precedence."

Statewide Restrictions Ease

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state's Health and Human Services agency, explained that California is within the "range or zone of stability" for COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations, giving state officials confidence to move into this second stage.

"[Stage Two] does not mean a return to normal," Ghaly cautioned. "We still know the virus is alive in California."

Ghaly provided a few basic guidelines for what these newly reopened sectors should be doing when they restart on May 8:

  • Retailers: Increase pick up and delivery, encourage physical distancing during pick up, install hands-free devices
  • Manufacturers: Close indoor break rooms, provide outdoor break areas with physically distanced seating
  • Warehouses: Carry sanitation materials and personal protective equipment (PPE) for each stop during deliveries

Ghaly said this gradual move into stage two means that soon office buildings, restaurants, outdoor museums and shopping malls will be able to open with additional guidelines.

The state also provided a glimpse of industry-wide guidelines, which include requiring all industries to provide risk assessments and to provide training for employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19 and implement protection plans.

The state provided industry-wide guidelines to help businesses get ready for easing COVID-19 restrictions across the state. (Courtesy of the Office of the Governor of California)

Regional Variances

Newsom also noted that some localities would be able to move more quickly into the full roll out of stage two, but will have to meet certain criteria and follow additional guidelines.

"We'll try to provide some flexibility but, again, it's a health-first frame," Newsom said. "And if [counties] can't meet it on the basis of data and facts, on trend lines, on hospitalizations, on ICU data, on death data and positive data, then we're not able to accommodate that. And we'll be compelled to enforce it in a thoughtful and judicious way."

Ghaly said the following regional variance criteria was developed with local public heath officials:

  • Epidemiological stability: Counties must be able to prove they've had no more than one case of COVID-19 per 10,000 people, and no COVID-19 deaths, in the past 14 days
  • Testing Capacity: Counties must have 1.5 tests available per 1,000 residents
  • Protection of Stage One Essential Workers: Localities must be able to support sick or exposed workers, and disinfectant supplies and PPE must be available
  • Containment Capacity: At least 15 contact tracers per 100,000 people and the ability to house at least 15% of county homeless population
  • Hospital Capacity: Regional areas must be able to accommodate a 35% surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Vulnerable Populations: Skilled nursing facilities must have PPE to last more than 14 days and the ability to order more when it runs out
  • Adjusting Modifications: Localities must have metrics that serve as "triggers" to either slow the pace or return to stricter restrictions

The governor again encouraged caution as the state moves toward opening up, saying, "We are making progress, we are flattening the curve ... but we're not out of the woods yet."