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Governor Gavin Newsom. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

California to Reopen Dine-In Restaurants, Most Retail Businesses in Approved Counties

LA County to remain locked down until July, will not follow Phase 2 reopenings

By Evan Symon, May 12, 2020 6:51 pm

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that dine-in restaurants can now open in a limited capacity in counties that meet all public health benchmarks and are approved by the state.

Phase 2 reopenings and new public health rules

Joining dine-in restaurants in completing Phase 2 of California’s reopening are outdoor museums, shopping centers such as malls, in-store retail, all office-based places of work and all industry supporting retail.

“Today we’re announcing additional modifications statewide,” announced Governor Newsom in Sacramento. “As we begin these modifications — and we already have reopened 70-plus percent of the economy — as we begin to modify with these dine-in opportunities, let’s make sure we do so cognizant not only of our own health but the health of our most vulnerable and those are our seniors.”

According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Governor, restaurants will have a list of requirements needed to be fulfilled before reopening. Requirements include:

  • Social distancing of six feet between restaurant workers and customers.
  • Restaurants cannot pre-set tables with utensils such as dishes, silverware, and napkin holders. This will also include all condiments and spices normally set on tables.
  • Face coverings will be required for all restaurant workers who interact with customers.
  • Takeout boxes with leftovers can only be requested and filled by customers.
  • Menus must be either be disposable or digital. If neither can be fulfilled then menus must be disinfected after each use.
  • Bars and pubs are to remain closed unless they offer sit-down dining or contract to bring in dine-in meals.
  • Toothpicks and mints will no longer be provided unless ‘by request’.
  • Tablecloths and cloth napkins need to be replaced after each customer use. When being removed they must be in sealed plastic bags.

Other businesses being reopened under the second half of Phase 2 will include similar health-protocols, such as museums needing to keep capacity low, ending tour groups, and creating different entrances and exits.

The Governor also confirmed that, in addition to restaurants being reopened on a county basis, that restaurants can have some flexibility in the rules. For example, smaller restaurants or those with outdoor seating may need to alter protocols to meet the new guidelines.

“One thing I recognize is one size doesn’t fit all,” noted Governor Newsom. “Each restaurant is different and distinct and as a consequence the guidelines we put out provide flexibility.”

Los Angeles and other counties can follow their own reopening timelines

County authority was also confirmed to supersede state authority on the matter, as different counties are at different levels of readiness and have different numbers of coronavirus cases and percentages.

The Governor specifically noted the case of Los Angeles County. LA County, which has over 33,000 coronavirus cases to date, announced on Tuesday that county-wide lockdown measures could be in place as late as July. High numbers of coronavirus cases and public health risk have been the main factors in Los Angeles County, San Francisco County, and other counties deciding on a slower reopening.

“I do think recovery will be months-long, based on the tools we have at hand today,” said Director of Los Angeles County Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer during a County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. “The order will, with all certainty, be extended unless there is a dramatic change to the virus and tools at hand.”

Newsom fully backed LA County in their plans.

“There should be no pressure, on local officials down in L.A. or anywhere to feel that they have to move into this space sooner, because their conditions are very different from some of these rural counties,” added Newsom.

While the new reopening orders will not effect any approved local or state-approved counties, it will invalidate any counties that reopened before the announcement and were not approved, such as Modoc and Sutter counties. Not only that, but on Monday those counties were notified that they may lose some federal aid because of them reopening without approval and waiting for the second half of phase 2 to begin.

Cautious optimism from restaurant owners

Despite the slow reopening, many restaurant owners celebrated the announcement.

“I can’t tell you how close we were to losing everything,” said Bakersfield restaurant owner Don Bowman. “Kern [County] hasn’t been badly affected by COVID-19, so we’re expecting to get approval soon.”

“I can’t say I’m jumping for joy, because these have been a hellish few months and we’re still not opening immediately, but this is a really good sign. And with take-out stringing us by right now, we have no where to move but up.”

“It also means I can get a few more waiters and waitresses back, maybe add a few more in the kitchen I had laid off. We have to comply by those new rules, but I called around earlier today and everyone seems on board with it.”

“It’s a start. A lot of restaurant owners are very mad, very worried, or both. This is the first good news in a while. What can I say?”

Phase 2 openings are expected to start in state approved counties, which currently consists of Butte and El Dorado counties but is expected to grow quickly to more populated areas, as soon as possible.

Phase 3, which includes movie theater, barbershop, salon, and religious service re-openings, is expected to start in the near future.

Evan Symon
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