California governor warns 3 counties could lose disaster aid

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is warning three counties that they could lose disaster funding if they continue to defy his stay-at-home order.

Officials in Yuba, Sutter and Modoc counties have all allowed businesses to reopen because they have fewer coronavirus cases than other parts of the state.

The director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services sent a letter to the three counties on Thursday warning they might lose their eligibility for the funding.

A spokesman for Yuba and Sutter counties said local leaders are working to do what is best for the overall health of their communities.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Earlier story follows below.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The most significant reopening of the California economy during the coronavirus pandemic started Friday with tens of thousands of businesses cleared to open with limitations and the governor expressing optimism residents may soon be able to eat in restaurants and shop in stores.

Nearly two dozen counties want to move further, which the state will allow under strict criteria on the number of cases, deaths and tests, Newsom said. Statewide, he hopes to ease restrictions regularly, even for counties that can’t meet those requirements.

“We want to see counties work with us to move a little bit quicker,” Newsom said. “I know there’s deep anxiety that people are feeling, a desire to reopen.”

The governor gave his daily news briefing from a Sacramento flower shop, one of the retailers opening for curbside pickup under the new order, just in time for Mother’s Day. Retailers such as book, clothing and sporting goods stores can also open for pickup only. Manufacturers and logistics businesses can reopen as well with limitations. Roughly 70% of the state’s businesses can now open with restrictions, Newsom said, but on Friday the reopening appeared to happen gradually as businesses looked to meet all of the modifications outlined by the state.

It’s part of a detailed four-stage process Newsom laid out, with the state now in phase two. If counties can demonstrate they’ve had zero deaths and just one case per 10,000 residents during a two-week stretch, as well as robust testing and tracing and an ability to house up to 15% of the homeless if needed, they can allow reopening restaurants, malls, office buildings, childcare facilities and services such as car washes and pet grooming.

Many small- and medium-sized counties may already meet those requirements, said Graham Knaus of the California State Association of Counties. No deaths have been reported in 21 mostly rural counties in the past two weeks. Larger counties, meanwhile, won’t be able to meet criteria and will have to wait to move forward until the state loosens restrictions.

“This pandemic is going to be a long dance between safety and rapidly changing conditions on the ground,” Knaus said.

Smaller counties were already drawing up plans Friday, including in Sutter and Yuba counties, which already opened a mall, hair salons and restaurants. The Sutter County Board of Supervisors plans to meet Saturday to vote on a proposal to the state saying the two counties’ public health officer attests they meet state criteria for broader reopening.

Tiny Sierra County, with just 3,200 residents, plans to submit its reopening plan next week, said county administrator Bruce Swingle.

Calaveras County’s health department is drafting its plan, said Merita Callaway, chair of the board of supervisors.

“We’re hoping that before Memorial Day we can say you can have customers inside your door” instead of picking up merchandise outside, she said. “And if by chance there is a huge surge, we’re set up for that.”

San Luis Obispo County, along California’s Central Coast north of Los Angles, sent the state its certification Friday that it can meet the governor’s requirements, and is waiting to get the green light.

But in Los Angeles County, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said there’s no chance for the state’s most populous county to move faster than the state.

“This may apply much more easily for those very small counties that already have in fact seen a significant decrease or may have had no deaths at all to date. But for the larger counties, we will only be able to apply for a variance under these conditions when the pandemic is over,” she said.

Los Angeles County, the state’s largest with 10 million residents, has more than half California’s roughly 2,700 virus deaths.

While malls and restaurants are likely to be deemed OK for now with limits, the state considers hair and nail salons high-risk and isn’t ready for them to open anywhere. Newsom did provide a glimmer of hope that phase three, which includes such businesses, isn’t far off. That phase would also allow for the reopening of churches, movie theaters and some hospitality services.

“Phase three is not a year away, it’s not six months away, it’s not even three months away. It may not even be more than a month away,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we have a protocol in place to secure customer safety, employer safety, and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.”

Newsom warned that businesses that open prematurely could face consequences like fines or the elimination of their business license, if they have one. Alcoholic Beverage Control and the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology have already offered warnings, and on occasion filed disciplinary action, against businesses disobeying the state order.

“It’s really important that we work together as business leaders, as a broader community, and work with our public health officials,” Newsom said.

He urged Californians to shop at their newly opened local businesses, noting the major retailers that have remained opened have had an advantage over small businesses.

“Look out for your neighborhood business. They need your support. And they haven’t gotten the kind of support they deserve. You will be determinative of whether or not they will survive,” he said.


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