California eases into reopening amid coronavirus fight

California eases into reopening amid coronavirus fight

More hiking trails and recreation areas reopened Saturday as California continued to ease into the recovery phase of its fight against the coronavirus.

The Angeles National Forest on Saturday reopened 23 popular trails, four trailheads and 19 roads in the San Gabriel Mountains. Forest officials also will begin gradually reopening campgrounds, picnic areas and other “developed recreation” sites off-limits since early April.

That was preceded by the reopening of Los Angeles city and county trails May 9, followed by L.A. County beaches Wednesday.

The city of L.A.’s Slow Streets initiative, which limits street traffic to neighborhood residents so people can walk, run and bike, launched in Del Rey and Sawtelle on Friday.

“Learning to live with COVID-19 means finding creative ways to get outside while staying close to home,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.

The locations were chosen for plans they created to adhere to public health guidelines, officials said in a news release. People using the streets are required to engage in active recreation, wear a face covering and keep six feet away from others at all times.

California is currently moving through Phase 2 of relaxing its stay-at-home orders. Along with many outdoor areas, businesses deemed lower risk have been gradually permitted to reopen, with retailers offering curbside pickup only.

Many retailers are still adjusting to the new rules, which also require that they put in place physical-distancing guidelines and infection-control protocols.

At the Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles, Kip’s Toyland reopened Friday with only one worker per shift.

“But today is the first real day of this new schedule,” employee Eli Margolis said Saturday.

The store was not allowing anyone inside, but that didn’t stop customers from trying.

“We have had a surprising amount of people that have actually come up to the door even though we’ve been trying to do mainly phone orders,” Margolis said, “so I’ve been doing this kind of crazy thing of having to run around the whole store and show them something they might like. And they go ‘Yeah, no, eh.’”

“It was kind of difficult. But that’s on to me to kind of figure out and make suggestions.”

He said he assisted a number of customers but made just one sale in the first hour of being open.

“For the most part I think it’s still kind of this weird stagnant period right now, especially with everyone still trying to re-figure out — especially stores like us trying to redo our whole game plan and figure out how to kind of function in this new world,” he said. “It’s strange for sure.”

Flowers by Eugene in La Puente was permitting customers to come inside Saturday but requiring them to wear masks. A manager there also described the attempt at moving toward normalcy as surreal.

“It’s still kind of weird,” said the manager, Liz, who declined to give her last name. “I feel like it’s slowly getting better because we do have people coming in and calling.”

The store has been physically open since last week but had been taking online and phone orders before that.

While customers were slowly returning, the florist was facing a different hurdle.

“The problem is we’re limited in our flower supply because of what’s going on,” Liz said. “Flowers, it’s pretty scarce out there right now. The few people that have flowers out there now are asking for a lot.”

Still, some businesses said it was difficult to serve customers remotely.

“It doesn’t feel normal,” said Donna Tabut, assistant manager of Book Alley in Pasadena. “We’re primarily a used-book store. A lot of customers, they like to look at the book.”

Browsing is a key part of the store’s business model, she said.

“Someone will come in, they can’t find the book that they were looking for and they’ll come up to the register with 10 books that they weren’t expecting to find.”

Still, the store was taking orders through its website, as well as by phone and email. Customers were also able to walk up and look at the display window.

“As long as you’re six feet away from the store wearing a facial covering, we’ll try to assist you in whatever way we can,” Tabut said. “But we can’t allow anyone into the store at this moment.”

Counties that meet certain criteria can apply for a variance to move more quickly through Phase 2, allowing for the opening of additional businesses like dine-in restaurants and shopping malls.

Riverside County notified Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday that it was requesting such an acceleration, saying that it had met six of the seven criteria to reopen more quickly.

The county has a plan to protect essential workers and expand contact tracing capabilities; it also has ample testing capacity, the ability to protect vulnerable residents, and enough surge capacity in its health system, the county Board of Supervisors wrote in a letter to Newsom.

When it comes to the seventh requirement — that a county must demonstrate that it has contained COVID-19 by having no deaths in the past 14 days, and no more than one case per 10,000 residents over the same timeframe — county officials said it was not attainable.

“In our opinion, the metrics are unrealistic for urban counties, and Riverside County in particular, where our geographic size and population make it impossible that no deaths from COVID19 will result in a 14-day timeframe,” they wrote.

Instead, they wrote, it would be more appropriate to adopt federal benchmarks, which the county is already meeting due to downward trends in cases, positive test results and flu and COVID-19-like symptomatic cases.

Butte County is one of 22 counties that has certified to the state that it meets the conditions for additional businesses to reopen.

But after a person who attended an in-person religious service on Mother’s Day tested positive for the coronavirus infection, public health officials issued a strongly worded warning to residents not to speed too quickly through the process.

The person received their positive test results the day after the service, which had more than 180 attendees, officials said Friday in a news release.

Gatherings of any size remain prohibited, even in counties that are reopening more quickly than the rest of the state. But the organization that held the service chose to open its doors despite the rules, exposing the entire congregation to the coronavirus, officials said.

“This decision comes at a cost of many hours and a financial burden to respond effectively to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19,” the release said, noting that health officials are working to notify all those who attended the service and instruct them to self-quarantine. The county health department also is working with healthcare partners to obtain testing for all attendees, officials said.

“At this time, organizations that hold in-person services or gatherings are putting the health and safety of their congregations, the general public and our local ability to open up at great risk,” Danette York, county public health director, said in a statement urging residents to follow stay-at-home orders.

“Moving too quickly through the reopening process can cause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures,” York said.

Butte County’s public health officer, Andy Miller, announced Saturday he was resigning effective July 10. The decision was not related to any particular incident or disagreement, the county public health department said in a news release.

Miller’s contract was up for renewal in the fall, and he wanted to give the health department more time to recruit a replacement, the release said.

“We are prepared to recruit for a Health Officer who, like Dr. Miller, will lead us as we bring our economy back and keep this virus at bay,” Shari McCracken, the county’s chief administrative officer, said in a statement.

In Los Angeles County, which is home to nearly half the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases and more than half the related deaths, officials have said that it’s extremely unlikely they would attempt to apply for a variance to reopen more quickly than the rest of the state.

But like the state, the county has seen varying impacts from the virus, with some areas much less hard hit than others.

For that reason, L.A. County officials are trying to determine whether it’s possible for individual cities that meet the benchmarks to move to the next stage of reopening before other parts of the county do.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Friday that the cities of Santa Clarita, Lancaster and Palmdale have approached the county to inquire about reopening and appear to meet Newsom’s criteria.

She said she’s asked county counsel and the Department of Public Health to provide an analysis of whether there’s anything in the governor’s order that would permit the cities to do so.

“I think it’s important for cities to be able to meet their own benchmarks and safely reopen so they are not dependent only on the county,” Barger said.

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