California paves way for reopening offices, malls and restaurants

Offices, shopping malls and restaurants received guidelines Tuesday from Gov. Gavin Newsom on how they can eventually reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

But before such businesses can welcome back employees and customers, Newsom said that counties must meet 14 criteria showing that the outbreak is under control.

Newsom said his administration is in talks with 27 counties to reopen, but he has yet to give them the green light. At this point, only Butte and El Dorado counties have been given the OK to move through Stage 2. Health officials in each county attested that they have had little local impact from the pandemic.

Newsom said he is meeting with two other counties on Tuesday afternoon that are close to receiving permission to move ahead with some degree of reopening. 

Areas like the Bay Area and Los Angeles counties, which have been more restrictive in their approach, may remain under the more cautious shelter-in-place order, which has been extended several times. 

Hard-hit restaurants await word on California reopening

Newsom also emphasized that these guidelines are fluid and will be modified as the death rate from coronavirus fluctuates. 

The state will allow counties to go beyond the state’s plan, but only if they meet strict standards that include no coronavirus-related deaths and no more than one confirmed case per 10,000 residents in the past two weeks.

"We are not in Phase 3 yet," Newsom said at his daily news briefing. 

The 12-page restaurant guideline booklet includes instructions on how to physical distance and clean kitchens and eating areas.

The guidelines include telling employees to wash hands, wear face masks, stop sharing equipment and stay six feet from each other.

Specifically for restaurants, the guidelines state: Dirty linens should be removed and instead of shared condiments, single-serve should be used instead.  Restaurants should also ask customers to wait in their cars and tell them their table is ready through their mobile phones. Seating should be outdoors. Customers should be screened for symptoms. 

The California Restaurant Association had already drafted recommendations that include limiting tables to no more than 10 people. Salad bars, buffets and shared bread baskets would be out.

A similar booklet offers guidelines to shopping outlets, which can reopen for pickup only. 

Of note, California's guidelines state that shopping centers with movie theaters, bars, spas, salons, or other personal care services "should keep those areas closed until each of those types of establishments are allowed to resume modified or full operation."

Employers should fill out a checklist when they are completed with all their tasks. 

In terms of offices, guidelines include staggering employee breaks, limiting the number of people who can ride in an elevator and reconfiguring office spacing. Employees are still encouraged to work at home if they can. 

Newsom's guidelines say that failure to follow them could result in workplace illnesses that may cause operations to be temporarily closed or limited.

In other related news, Newsom said the state of 40 million residents has surpassed 1 million COVID-19 tests so far, averaging about 35,000 tests a day. It's still not enough, Newsom said, adding that his goal is to be "north of 60,000 to 80,000 tests a day."

He also announced that an additional six sites will be set up in rural counties. These will be in addition to what Newsom announced last week, when Verily has launched eight testing locations statewide, and 80 OptumServe sites will be launched by next week in 36 counties.

Plus, many pharmacies around the state will be able to test people for coronavirus. "All of this can't come soon enough," Newsom said, adding that the testing is a crucial step in reopening the state. 

This story was reported in Oakland, Calif.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.