Coronavirus in California: The State’s Plan for Reopening


Good morning.

On Friday, more than a month after the state ordered most indoor businesses to close again, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled California’s second attempt at a comprehensive plan to reopen.

“We’ve learned a lot over the last number of months,” Mr. Newsom said.

Gone is the county “monitoring list” system, which was rolled out piecemeal and has been criticized as confusing and fragmented.

In its place going forward, the governor said, is a framework that sorts each of the state’s 58 counties into a tier, which will determine how much businesses are restricted.

Unlike the monitoring-list model, which was based on a matrix of numbers that was difficult to parse, the new system is based largely on new daily case numbers per 100,000 residents, as well as positivity rates.

[Track coronavirus cases in each California county.]

Gone is leeway for county public health officials to make their own case to reopen; counties now won’t be able to move to a less restrictive tier unless they have met that tier’s criteria for at least two consecutive weeks. And each county must stay in its current tier for at least three weeks before it can move.

If a county’s numbers worsen for two weeks in a row, it will be moved to a more restrictive tier.

“We’re going to be more stubborn this time,” Mr. Newsom said.

The state’s earlier moves to reopen businesses were criticized for being too hasty and driven by the impatience of some businesses and some smaller, largely rural counties, rather than by evidence. (This month, for instance, The Los Angeles Times published this timeline showing how a rush to reopen businesses in Los Angeles County contributed to the virus’s alarming spread.)

Still, experts have said that the intense focus on whether to reopen nonessential businesses like restaurants, bars and movie theaters has come at the expense of what should have been more stringent enforcement of restrictions at large essential workplaces, where lower-wage workers were never able to stop working.

That is true particularly in the Central Valley, which has become the state’s most troubling and persistent hot spot.

[Read more about the state’s move to focus on the Central Valley — and why some said it should’ve come sooner.]

Mr. Newsom said on Friday that enforcement “strike teams,” including officials from various state agencies, have been doing spot checks aggressively for months, but that an expansion of enforcement capacity is “being negotiated” in the state’s Legislature.

Here are answers to questions you might have:

How did we get here?

All the way back in April, Mr. Newsom laid out what he described as a science-driven, deliberate phased process for reopening based on metrics such as hospitalizations, case growth and deaths.

But over the months that followed, the complexity of reopening a state with 58 very different counties spread across vast and varied geography became apparent.

Ceding to pressure from some businesses and officials mostly in smaller, more rural counties, Mr. Newsom announced a process for certain counties to move more quickly to reopen businesses than the rest of the state, effectively loosening the restrictions and adding complexity.

Then the state shifted to the “monitoring list,” which eventually came to encompass 90 percent of the state’s population.

In July, as cases surged, state officials announced that bars, which had been allowed to reopen indoors in many places, would have to shutter. Indoor operations of restaurants, card rooms and movie theaters were also ordered to close.

The result was a kind of emotional and economic whiplash.

So what do the tiers mean?

There are four color-coded tiers ranging from most restrictive to least: purple, red, orange and yellow. (There is no green, the governor noted — no county should see this as an opportunity to go back to normal.)

Counties have already been placed in a tier based on their recent new case numbers and positivity rates. They’ll be able to reopen businesses that are allowed in their given tier as early as today.

But not a whole lot will change immediately for the vast majority of Californians. The most restrictive tier, the purple, applies to 38 counties, including Los Angeles and Orange, that are home to more than 80 percent of the state’s population.

In these counties, many kinds of businesses must remain closed, unless they can operate outdoors, including restaurants. All bars, breweries and distilleries must stay closed, too, even if they have outdoor space. Hair salons, barber shops and malls can reopen indoors with modifications, however.

Nine counties are in the second most restrictive tier, the red, including San Diego and San Francisco, where some indoor dining will be allowed starting today. Gyms, houses of worship and movie theaters will also be allowed to reopen indoors with limited capacity.

About a dozen mostly smaller and more rural counties are in the two least restrictive tiers, which allow…



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