For Malls and Others, Reopenings in Limbo

Monday, May 11, 2020

Main News Photo

(Orange County Register)

Macy’s, Kohls, and Nordstrom are sanitizing their stores and getting ready for customers as some of the nation’s businesses start to thaw after two months in a coronavirus deep freeze.

And new rules Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled May 7 outline parameters for how California businesses like restaurants, tanning salons, and stores may soon be joining them.

But don’t make plans to visit Southern California’s shopping malls anytime soon.

There’s a long laundry list of benchmarks California counties must meet to reopen ahead of a yet-to-be-announced statewide schedule. And, so far, Southern California counties fail to meet the two biggest criteria right off the bat: Reducing the number of COVID-related cases and COVID-related deaths.

Under the state’s new criteria, counties can seek to reopen faster when they go two weeks without a single coronavirus death and just one new case for every 10,000 residents.

That’s the equivalent of zero deaths and fewer than 1,800 new cases in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties combined.

Instead, there were 15,634 new cases — nine times the state benchmark — and 778 deaths in the two weeks ending Friday, May 8.

“We do not meet that,” said Dr. Nichole Quick, Orange County Health Officer. “What that means is we will move through Stage 2 at the pace the state does. We do not qualify to move faster.”

Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries complained on Facebook that only a very rural, low-population county has a shot at achieving a zero death rate.

“If you are not one of the few lucky businesses that the state is allowing to reopen with restricted curbside service, well then your business and employees may not see any customers for a long time,” Jeffries wrote. “This is NOT the news and future that the county of Riverside needed to hear.”

Florists And Book Stores

On Friday, California officially entered the initial phase of “Stage 2” reopening, meaning florists, music and book stores, clothing stores, toy stores, and sporting goods stores can re-open now, but only for curbside service or delivery and in a socially distanced way, with masks, gloves required and hand sanitizer outside the door.

Manufacturing and warehouses that support early Stage 2 retail also can reopen with workers spaced 6 feet apart, open-air break rooms and delivery truck personnel wearing masks and gloves.

More advanced “Stage 2” reopenings will include shopping malls and swap meets, logistics businesses, car washes, pet grooming, tanning salons, offices, outdoor museums, childcare facilities, galleries, and dine-in restaurants – all with added precautions to prevent the virus from spreading.

Counties that have reduced cases and deaths will be able to move into that advanced phase more rapidly if they also meet such criteria as having sufficient hospital capacity, a two-week supply of protective gear for all nursing homes and capacity to house at least 15% of its homeless population.

For example, local hospitals must be able to accommodate a 35% surge in COVID-19 cases.

In addition, counties must have the capacity to test 1.5 people for every 1,000 residents and must have 15 staff members to trace COVID-19 contacts for every 100,000 residents. That’s the equivalent to having the capacity to test almost 27,000 people and to having nearly 2,700 contact tracers in the local region.

Newsom said about two dozen counties started the process of applying for accelerated reopening by Friday.

“The rest of the state will gradually move through Stage 2,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services.

Most Bay Area counties are also far from meeting Newsom’s new criteria for reopening many businesses. Only one out of 10 Bay Area counties — Santa Cruz County — had had just one coronavirus case per 10,000 residents the last 14 days, and just two — Santa Cruz and Napa counties — had zero deaths.

Leading the State

Meeting the state benchmarks is particularly challenging in densely populated Southern California, which leads the state in coronavirus transmission, positive cases and deaths, Ghaly said.

“Southern California counties certainly have many more cases compared to Northern California at the moment,” he said. “ … That data should certainly cause local officials to pause. Until they meet that criteria, they can’t move forward rapidly.”

Quick, the Orange County public health officer, could not predict when Orange County would get to the benchmark of zero deaths and one new case per 10,000 residents in a two-week period, although she believes it will be in weeks, not months.

She said Orange County has the state-recommended surge capacity for hospitals, but the county still is trying to determine if it meets other Stage 2 benchmarks, such as testing, contact tracing, and homeless housing capacity. The county has 50 tracers but would need 476 tracers to pass the benchmark.

San Bernardino County increased testing capacity six-fold in the past few weeks and more than doubled its number of contract tracers to about 50, spokesman David Wert said. Under the state’s Stage 2 benchmark, it would need a capacity to do 3,270 coronavirus tests and employ 327 contact tracers.

“The zero deaths over 14 days is not achievable in the foreseeable future for any large county, including San Bernardino County,” Wert said. “Which is perhaps why the governor is hinting that he is flexible on that benchmark and some of the others.”

Riverside County has a capacity for just over 3,200 tests and about 70 contact tracers, with a goal of hiring about 300, said Jose Arballo Jr., a spokesman for Riverside University Health System-Public Health. The county would need a capacity for 3,705 tests and 370 contact tracers under the state criteria.

Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner said the new criteria angered supervisors throughout Southern California and across the political spectrum, who felt it moved the goalposts from demonstrating adequate hospital surge capacity to handling infection spikes.

“This is not a legitimate metric,” Wagner said. “It’s just not justified by the science. The whole idea of flattening the curve was not about eliminating the disease … it was about managing cases so you didn’t overtax the health care system, and you’re in a better position for helping people survive.”

But Newsom continued to praise the detailed state metrics released this week at his daily press briefing, saying more announcements about reopening would be coming in the next few weeks.

“Not every part of the state will move (to reopen) at the same time,” Newsom said Friday. “And that is very healthy because it shows it’s a data-driven approach. I know everyone would like to move very quickly.”

Category: Economic News, COVID-19, Business News