A pivotal week for California reopening, as communities and businesses revolt against Newsom

Tribune Content Agency

LOS ANGELES — This is shaping up to be a pivotal week in the efforts to reopen California as Gov. Gavin Newsom said there could be some easing of stay-at-home rules even as several communities and individual businesses were taking matters into their own hands.

Newsom’s bid to keep Orange County beaches closed this weekend appears to have worked. While the beaches drew some protesters and much media attention, they were not overrun by visitors, and officials said those who did venture out, usually practiced social distancing.

Polls have shown support for the governor’s stay-at-home rules, even as they have devastated the economy.

The Democratic governor has urged Californians to stay the course, saying the state is moving in the right direction but needs more time in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

“I just want folks to know we’re getting very close to making really meaningful augmentations to that stay-at-home order,” Newsom said Friday. “I want to say many days, not weeks, as long as we continue to be prudent and thoughtful.”

The governor has described the next phase of his stay-at-home order as allowing some lower-risk businesses to reopen in communities across California, including retail locations, manufacturing sites and small businesses.

“The only thing that’s gonna hold us back is the spread of this virus,” Newsom said. “And the only thing that is sure to advance the spread of the virus is thousands of people congregating together. Practicing social distancing or physical distance, we can avoid that.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, also urged caution in reopening.

“Federal guidelines are a pretty firm policy of what we think is important from a public health standpoint,” Birx said Sunday on Fox News. “As states reopen, we really want them to follow the gating criteria.”

Birx said people still need to practice social distancing.

California has not yet seen a steady two-week decline in cases. The weekly number of new infections appeared to flatten for several weeks in early April, with between 8,000 to 8,500 cases every week. But between April 19 and April 25, the state recorded 11,777 new cases, and in the last seven days ending Saturday, 11,041 new cases were recorded.

California has started to see a week-over-week decline in deaths. Whether that trend will continue, however, is uncertain. Between April 19 and April 25, 547 coronavirus deaths were reported in California, and last week, 497 fatalities were reported, a 9% decrease.

Yuba and Sutter counties in Northern California are set to allow many businesses to reopen Monday in defiance of Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order.

The two counties near the state’s capital would join a sparsely populated county in California’s northeastern corner in reopening. Modoc County, with fewer than 9,000 residents, allowed all businesses, schools and churches to reopen Friday as long as people inside could stay six feet apart.

The move by Yuba and Sutter counties — with a combined population of 171,000 people and just 50 coronavirus cases and three deaths — comes as other California counties on the Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley are demanding to reopen more businesses.

In Victorville, 24-hour fitness studio the Gym reopened Friday with an 8-by-10-foot printout of the Constitution posted by the front door. Employees changed the colors of the studio’s sign to red, white and blue and hung banners that read #GymsAreEssential and #ReopenAmerica, according to owner Jacob D. Lewis.

Lewis said he chose to reopen after hearing from members who were struggling with issues ranging from flare-ups of chronic health conditions to declines in mental health since they had been unable to patronize his gym.

He also feels that some media outlets and government officials have exaggerated the scope of the COVID-19 outbreak to justify what he views as an overblown response that infringes on people’s personal freedom.

San Clemente restaurant Nomads Canteen reopened for dine-in service at noon Friday. The owner, Jeff Gourley, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The restaurant has been outspoken about the reopening on its Facebook account.

On Friday, it posted a meme of a flag recalling the “Don’t tread on me” logo, except the snake was wrapped around a bottle of tequila. “Take back your freedom, go for a surf, open your business, have a cold beer with your friends,” it read.

In San Clemente, sheriff’s deputies on Friday visited Nomads Canteen with officials from the Orange County Health Care Agency, said Carrie Braun, spokeswoman for the county sheriff’s department.

“Our Environmental Health division was able to reach the owner, who understood that he is operating in violation of the governor’s order,” Jessica Good, public information manager for the Health Care Agency, wrote Sunday in an email. “A written warning will be issued, which could lead to permit suspension.”

Newsom’s stay-at-home order, issued March 19, was the first to be issued by any governor in the nation, and experts credit that with helping California see a fraction of the deaths of places like New York state, which has recorded than 24,000 fatalities. That compares with more than 2,100 deaths in the Golden State, with 55% of those occurring in Los Angeles County.

A poll from the University of California, Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies last week showed that California voters give broad approval to Newsom amid the coronavirus crisis, despite widely felt economic pain.

Voters want officials to take their time in ending restrictions on business and public gatherings. By 70% to 30%, the state’s voters say they’re more worried that shelter-in-place orders will end too soon, causing the illness to spread more, than they are that such orders will continue for too long and damage the economy.

Two weeks ago, 75% of people 75% of people surveyed wanted the order to continue as long as it’s needed, according to a California Health Care Foundation/Ipsos survey. Only 11% wanted to stop the stay-at-home order, while 13% had no opinion. Among low-income residents, support was even stronger: 78% supported the stay-at-home order and only 3% opposed it.


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