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SACRAMENTO — The most significant reopening of the California economy during the coronavirus pandemic started Friday with tens of thousands of businesses cleared to open with limitations and Gov. Gavin Newsom expressing optimism it might not take long for the state to reach the next level that includes eating in restaurants and shopping in stores.

“We want to see counties work with us to move a little bit quicker. I know there’s deep anxiety that people are feeling, a desire to reopen.” — Gov. Gavin Newsom

Nearly two dozen counties want to move further, which the state will allow if they can meet strict criteria on the number of cases, deaths and tests, Newsom said. Statewide, he hopes to ease restrictions regularly, even for counties that can’t meet those requirements.

“We want to see counties work with us to move a little bit quicker,” Newsom said. “I know there’s deep anxiety that people are feeling, a desire to reopen.”

The governor gave his daily news briefing from a Sacramento flower shop, one of the retailers opening for curbside pickup under the new order, just in time for Mother’s Day. Retailers such as book, clothing and sporting goods stores can also open for pick-up only. Manufacturers and logistics businesses can reopen as well with limitations.

It’s part of a detailed four-stage process Newsom has outlined, with the state now in “Phase 2.” If counties can demonstrate they’ve had zero deaths and just one case per 10,000 residents during a two-week stretch, as well as robust testing and tracing and an ability to house up to 15% of the homeless if needed, they can allow the reopening of restaurants, malls, office buildings, childcare facilities and services such as car washes and pet grooming.

Los Angeles County Has More Than Half California’s Roughly 2,700 Virus Deaths

Many small- and medium-sized counties may already meet those requirements, said Graham Knaus of the California State Association of Counties. Twenty-one, mostly rural, counties have reported no deaths in the past two weeks. Larger counties, meanwhile, won’t be able to hit that and other criteria and will have to wait for the state to loosen restrictions in order to move forward.

“This pandemic is going to be a long dance between safety and rapidly changing conditions on the ground,” Knaus said.

In Los Angeles County, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said there’s no chance for the state’s most populous county to move faster than the state.

“This may apply much more easily for those very small counties that already have in fact seen a significant decrease or may have had no deaths at all to date. But for the larger counties, we will only be able to apply for a variance under these conditions when the pandemic is over,” she said.

Los Angeles County, the state’s largest with 10 million residents, has more than half California’s roughly 2,700 virus deaths.

Smaller counties were already drawing up plans Friday, including in Sutter and Yuba counties, which already opened a mall, hair salons and restaurants. The Sutter County Board of Supervisors plans to meet Saturday to vote on a proposal to the state saying the county public health officer, who also handles neighboring Yuba County, attests that both counties meet the state’s criteria for a broader reopening.

Newsom Warned That Businesses That Open Prematurely Could Face Consequences

While malls and restaurants are likely to be deemed OK for now with limits, the state considers hair and nail salons high-risk and isn’t ready for them to open anywhere. Newsom did provide a glimmer of hope that “Phase 3,” which includes such businesses, isn’t far off. That phase would also allow for the reopening of churches, movie theaters and some hospitality services.

Newsom warned that businesses that open prematurely could face consequences like fines or the elimination of their business license, if they have one.

“Phase 3 is not a year away, it’s not six months away, it’s not even three months away. It may not even be more than a month away,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we have a protocol in place to secure customer safety, employer safety, and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.”

Newsom warned that businesses that open prematurely could face consequences like fines or the elimination of their business license, if they have one. Alcoholic Beverage Control and the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology have already offered warnings, and on occasion filed disciplinary action, against businesses disobeying the state order.

“It’s really important that we work together as business leaders, as a broader community, and work with our public health officials,” Newsom said.

He said he hopes to start gradually allowing more businesses to open across the state.

“I’m confident we can do that as long as you maintain your confidence in yourself and in your capacity to protect your community by practicing that physical distancing that has bought us time,” he said.

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