California governor announces new guidelines for state’s reopening as COVID-19 data improves

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (NewsNation) — Most California businesses were forced to shutdown again in July amid soaring case numbers. With limited liftings, outdoor dining and salon services have become a new normal in much of the state. It will stay that way for awhile in L.A. County, the state’s most populous.

New guidelines for reopening businesses announced by California Governor Newsom Friday are measured and aim to avert another sudden shutdown from too much, too soon.

The new rules create a four-tier, color-coded system that counties will move through based on their number of cases and percentage of positive tests. It will rely on two metrics to determine which tier a county is in: case rates and the percentage of positive tests.

The color-coded tiers include: widespread, substantial, moderate and minimal.

Under a widespread county risk level, many non-essential indoor business operations will be closed in that county. Under a minimal county risk, most indoor business operations are open with modifications.

A complete map of California counties and their status is available on the state’s website.

Cindy Nguyen manages a nail salon in Santa Monica. She anxiously awaited the new guidelines announced by Governor Newsom today only to be disappointed.

“It’s so confusing.. The way he said, girls could be inside. Thought maybe a couple weeks. I really don’t think so,” said Nguyen.

The new process will put more power with the state instead of the counties.

Gov. Newsom explained, “You have 4 tiers, 4 colors, those tiers attach to specific capacity within sectors where those sectors can open up with modifications.

As of today, 87 percent of California’s counties are in the top purple tier due to COVID positivity rates above 8 percent. Counties cannot move into a lighter tier without continued improvement and a 21 day wait time.

At Clutch Restaurant in Venice, manager Chatan El says she understands the need for caution and hopes LA County will move up in tiers soon.

“I don’t think that we can go faster, but if we’re taking all the right precautions, I was hoping we could open up by November, at least,” said El.

Moving into the red and orange tiers will allow for business to move back inside at levels of 25 and 50-percent, including at gyms and salons.

While some understand the stringent and slow approach, others believe it’s too slow.

Shanna Mota, a restaurant patron thinks restrictions should be modified.

“We’re out at a restaurant, sitting out here verses sitting inside to me, isn’t much of a difference if we’re maintaining the distance and taking the protocols. I don’t see the difference of sitting here verses there,” said Mota.

Governor Newsom insists the slow and steady approach has to be the way.

“We’re going to be more stubborn this time and have a mandatory wait time between moves. We didn’t do that last time and that is a significant distinction between what we’ve learned from the past and what we are now advancing,” said Newsom.

The new rules come nearly two months after Newsom shut down bars, restaurants for indoor dining and a slew of other businesses following a surge in cases after the state’s first reopening attempt.

Under the new process, counties will have to meet certain metrics for three weeks before they can reopen certain businesses. Newsom didn’t immediately say which businesses will be included in which color tier or what the reopening will look like.

The state will now report virus statistics, such as case numbers, on a weekly basis.

On Wednesday, Newsom announced the state had signed a contract worth up to $1.4 billion with a company that will more than double the state’s daily coronavirus testing capacity.

Newsom said the state’s new contract with Massachusetts-based PerkinElmer will increase the state’s testing capacity to 250,000 per day by March 1 with each test costing about $31.

“We can’t thank the Governor enough for securing this contract for timely and cost-effective testing,” the California State Association of Counties said in a statement. “Counties appreciate the state’s commitment to increasing testing while keeping an eye on the bottom line. This contract is a win-win for all Californians,” he said. 

California has the most confirmed virus cases in the nation, with nearly 700,000, and the third-most deaths — 12,550. But since the closures last month, the average number of daily cases has been falling along with the infection rate and hospitalizations, which peaked at 7,170 on July 21 and since dropped to about 4,300.

Most of California’s 58 counties, including the most populous — Los Angeles — remain on a state monitoring list because they are above one or more of the benchmarks for cases, infection rates and hospitalizations. Inclusion on the list restricts what businesses can operate, whether schools can offer classroom instruction and limits other activities, such as attending indoor religious services.

But as the state’s coronavirus data has improved in recent weeks, some counties have gotten off the list, including San Diego and Orange, the second- and third-largest counties by population.

Back in July, as cases and hospitalizations climbed, Newsom changed course and again ordered sweeping closures, including shuttering bars and indoor restaurant dining statewide. For those on the watch list, inside religious services and indoor businesses including gyms, malls and hair and nail salons were also ordered off-limits.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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