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Gov. Newsom eases rules on reopening in parts of California

By
Jean Lotus & Darryl Coote
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced eased restrictions of the numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths for counties to reopen if they choose.  Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced eased restrictions of the numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths for counties to reopen if they choose.  Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

May 18 (UPI) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced an easing of rules that will allow the majority of counties to advance toward reopening after the state's stay-at-home order.

During a speech at a Napa restaurant, Newsom said some counties may be able to move to the second stage in the path to reopen. He announced lower benchmark numbers of active coronavirus infection cases and death rates for at least 53 of California's 58 counties to move ahead, if they chose to.

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Statewide, hospitalizations have declined by 8 percent and tens of millions of masks have been distributed statewide, Newsom said.

"We recognize the conditions across the state are unique and distinctive depending where you are," Newsom said.

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Previous rules said counties that wanted to reopen must show no deaths from COVID-19 in the previous 14 days.

Now, counties that want to advance toward reopening must remain below 5 percent in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last week on average, the governor said.

Counties would also need to show that they had a positive test rate of no more than 25 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in the previous 14 days, or less than 8 percent of positive tests.

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Twenty-four, mostly smaller counties, have met the rules to start reopening, Newsom said Monday.

The next step statewide is for in-store retail shopping, the opening of hair salons and barbershops and the reopening of professional sporting events without spectators, the governor said.

Demonstrators in early May protested Newsom's stay-at-home orders at the capitol in Sacramento. On May 8, retail stores in some California counties were allowed to open curbside pickup and some restaurants were allowed to begin inside dining.

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As of May 16, the California Department of Public Health reported a total of 78,839 positive cases and 3,261 deaths in California.

While counties in northern California saw their infection rates drop, Los Angeles County was still among the top U.S. infection hotspots with more than 450 new daily cases and 18 daily deaths, according to the county health department. Los Angeles county has recorded a total of 38,011 confirmed cases and 1,839 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the last U.S. states to remain in lockdown mode, announced plans Monday for partial reopening.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced a plan beginning Monday to reopen manufacturing facilities, construction sites and churches, with certain restrictions.

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"We've all been doing our jobs to fight back, and as a result, positive case rates are moving in the right direction and hospitalizations are down," Baker said.

Office spaces outside of Boston will be allowed to re-open May 25, with 25 percent of employees on site. Boston offices will be allowed to reopen June 1.

Also next week, retail stores can reopen for curbside pickup and barbershops and hair salons will be allowed to reopen within new rules.

Public transportation riders will be required to wear face masks and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will run limited schedules with trains being disinfected frequently, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Monday.

Massachusetts has been a coronavirus hotspot with the fourth-highest infection rate and third-highest death rate in the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus pandemic online tracker.

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday will be the first day that outdoor restaurants, offices, retail stores, outdoor museums and zoos will be allowed to reopen, with restrictions.

Personal service businesses, such as hair salons and barbershops will open in June, along with those in neighboring Rhode Island.

Also on Monday the governors of Michigan, Texas and West Virginia announced further reopenings in their states.

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In Michigan where protests have continued against orders barring closed non-essential businesses, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced parts of the state can reopen by week's end.

Through an executive order, Whitmer permitted the reopening of retail businesses and offices as well as restaurants and bars to limited seating in 17 counties across Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

"This is a big step, but we must all remember to continue doing our part to protect ourselves and our families from the spread of COVID-19," she said during a press conference. "It's crucial that all businesses do everything in their power to protect their workers, customers and their families."

According to the order, retail stores must enable customers to maintain at least six feet distance from one another and stores of less than 50,000-square feet of space must limit capacity to 25 percent as set by the fire marshal while larger stores must limit the number of customers to four per 1,000-square feet.

For restaurants and bars, capacity must be limited to half of its normal seating and six feet of separation between tables must be provided. Servers must also wear face coverings, the order read.

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The state's chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, said the decision was made to open the regions due to data showing consistent downward trends in cases and deaths, which, according to the state's Department of Health, neared 52,000 infections and 5,000 fatalities.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the second phase of the state's reopening that includes restaurants and bars as well as daycare centers.

Through an executive order, Abbott permitted childcare centers, massage parlors and youth clubs to reopen Monday and horse events, bowling alleys, bingo halls, aquariums and bars to open on Friday.

"Today, tomorrow and every day going forward is one step closer to medical discoveries that can treat and protect people from COVID-19 -- but until that day comes, our focus is keeping Texans safe while restoring their ability to get back to work, open their businesses, pay their bills and put food on their tables," he said.

Professional sports may also resume without spectators, he added, from May 31.

The Republican governor said public schools will have the option to provide in-person summer school from June 1.

Additionally, restaurants, which were permitted to open earlier this month, will be able to expand capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent on Friday when bars will be allowed to open at a quarter its regular limit.

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According to the Texas Department of Health, there are nearly 50,000 confirmed cases in the state resulting in more than 1,340 deaths.

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice announced several more industries will be able to reopen, including indoor shopping malls from Thursday.

"From the standpoint of our specialty retail opening back up and our big stores opening back up, naturally, our malls should be open," Justice said during the press conference. "Working with our medical experts, we now have additional guidelines on our indoor malls and we feel very comfortable with them."

Museums, visitor centers, zoos and bars limited to 50 percent capacity will also be permitted to reopen on May 26, he said.

From May 30, spas, massage parlors and limited video lottery retailers can open while casinos can resume operating from June 5.

"As we continue to go forward and as we continue to get closer and closer with dates, we're monitoring our numbers all the time," Justice said. "We very well could have to change these dates if our numbers change but hopefully we won't."

Justice had previously announced indoor dining at restaurants, large retail stores and outdoor recreation rentals, among other businesses, could reopen on Thursday.

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On Monday, fitness centers, gyms and sports training facilities reopened to the public.

According to its department of health, West Virginia has confirmed more than 1,500 cases of the virus and 68 deaths.

The states announced the moves on Monday, as the live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University counted the number of infections exceeded 1.5 million and deaths had surpassed 318,000.

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