Bay Area may lag behind state’s plan to lift stay-home restrictions
California Gov. Gavin Newsom stopped in Santa Clara County to announce nearly 11,000 hotel rooms have been secured for homeless residents. Photo courtesy of Supervisor Susan Ellenberg's office.

Californians are “weeks, not months” away from seeing some loosening of the state’s stay at home order and schools could bring kids back later this summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom and California health officials said Tuesday.

Certain retailers, including those that can offer curbside pickup, manufacturers, offices where working from home isn’t possible and some public spaces, will be among the next businesses and amenities to open — likely in May, officials said. Even so, Newsom called out the Bay Area specifically as a region that could take longer to lift such restrictions as local residents wait for a revised and extended shelter in place order to be released this week.

“I am not here as governor preempting their right at the local level to be even more stringent,” Newsom said of Bay Area health officials’ orders. “I’m going to respect that, and I want folks to know, not just in those six Bay Area counties … but all across the state of California.”

The announcement comes a day after Bay Area health officials from six counties and the city of Berkeley extended the region’s restrictive shelter in place order to the end of May, but said they’d also start some “limited easing” of low-risk activities.

State officials didn’t specify when the statewide restrictions would loosen, but said California’s stabilized hospitalization rates have offered optimism that it could happen soon.

“We are not out of the woods, stable as those numbers are relative to so many other parts of the country. We still need to see the downward movement,” Newsom said. “We are going to monitor that data on a daily, hourly basis over the next few weeks before we move forward with these modifications.”

State officials are working on determining when California is ready to loosen restrictions on the statewide stay-home order.

On Tuesday, Santa Clara County reported 2,122 confirmed coronavirus cases and 106 deaths. Meanwhile, 45,031 Californians have tested positive for the virus and 3,455 are hospitalized with 1,181 of those people in intensive care units. To date, 1,809 have died due to the virus across the state.

Details of the revised local mandate to stay home is set to be released later this week. Many San Jose and Santa Clara County elected leaders on Monday specifically called out construction as one industry that could resume work with new safety precautions. Some construction and trades unions have lobbied state and local leaders to push for construction sites to reopen, arguing that many safety precautions have already been implemented to ensure the virus doesn’t spread from worker to worker.

But Bay Area health officials also stressed that the region could lose its gains in “bending the curve” or slowing the spread of the virus, if the order is lifted too early.

“Hospitalizations have leveled, but more work is needed to safely reopen our communities,” the Bay Area health officials said in a joint statement Monday. “Prematurely lifting restrictions could easily lead to a large surge in cases.”

Local health officials are empowered to make their own determinations about when and how restrictions would be lifted, Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, said Tuesday.

“Counties can choose to relax stricter orders at their own pace and that’s very much what we’ve been talking about in the Bay Area,” she said, adding that such measures “will be supported.”

While California’s so-called “stage two” plan to reopen some businesses may be weeks away, state officials are likely months from loosening additional restrictions after that, Newsom said.

State officials are working on determining when California is ready to loosen restrictions on the statewide stay-home order.

The third stage of the state’s plan would open up more retail, service and commercial businesses, including hair and nail salons, gyms and movie theaters, and it would allow sports teams to play without live audiences. In-person religious services, including weddings, could also resume during the state’s third stage in reopening the economy.

California’s fourth and final stage to getting back to normal would come once the population can gather freely, which means finding a way to ensure herd immunity or waiting until a vaccine is available, according to Angell. Then, concerts, convention center events and sports games with fans in the seats can resume. Angell did not give an estimate of when that would happen, except to say “COVID-19 is not going away soon; this is going to be a while.”

In the meantime, state officials are asking those with expertise in how businesses can implement safe practices to open back up in the near-term to share that feedback. That input can be provided to the state through an online survey.

“If you’re somebody who has particular insight, if you are a business person yourself, you are going to be invited to provide information,” Angell said. “We want to hear from you because ideas you have about how you can create safe workplaces are ideas that we want to know about.”

Newsom also suggested schools in California could restart as early as late July or early August, rather than the typical September start date. The discussions happening now to bump up the school year is a response to the children who may be falling behind while learning from home, he said.

“There’s been a learning loss and you can either just roll over and just accept that, or you can do something about that,” Newsom said. “If we could maybe start up the school year a little earlier that could maybe help … close that gap a little bit, but it’s a deep concern.”

Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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