Though California this week experienced two of its deadliest days since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Phase 2 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan is well underway.
By Friday morning, a total of 43 of California’s 58 counties had been approved to loosen their stay-at-home restrictions to allow for in-restaurant dining and on-site retail shopping, with a number of rules put in place to maintain social distancing, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Among those 43 counties is Sacramento, but local health officials again had to backtrack on a reopening. After earlier in the week saying Sacramento County’s amended health order could allow for outdoor social gatherings of up to 10 people and some fitness centers to reopen, county health chief Dr. Peter Beilenson said Thursday that state officials rejected those elements of the revised health order.
Restaurants that adapt to meet state criteria for sanitation and social distancing, as well as stores and strip malls that do so, will still be allowed to open once the new order is issued. That’s expected to happen midday Friday, according to Beilenson.
Across California, a total of more than 88,000 people have been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious coronavirus, and more than 3,630 of them have died, according to a Bee survey of counties’ health departments midday Friday.
Wednesday and Thursday’s updates each included more than 100 new deaths, and 82 more died between Thursday and Friday. Los Angeles County, which now has reported more than 2,000 coronavirus fatalities and 42,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, accounted for 46 of the fatalities in Thursday’s update, according to the county’s public health website.
Still, for the less densely populated parts of California that include those 43 approved counties, infection, hospitalization and death rates have remained low enough for state and local government and health leaders to approve partial reopenings of businesses considered low risk for virus transmission.
The shutdown of numerous economic sectors propelled the U.S. and California economies into recession levels at nearly unprecedented speed.
California’s unemployment rate soared to 15.5 percent last month, worse than the peak of the Great Recession. As recently as this February, the state was enjoying an unemployment rate of just 3.9 percent.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday 2,344,700 Californians lost their jobs, leading the unemployment rate to jump by 10.2 percentage points. That’s the largest one-month increase since the Great Depression, when unemployment soared to an estimated 25 percent.
What Sacramento County businesses are opening?
What can open in Sacramento County? Once the local health order is revised, restaurant dining rooms, some retail stores and malls will be able to join essential businesses, parks, golf courses, outdoor art galleries, pet groomers and more in reopening.
Over 90 restaurants across the county have announced plans to open for dine-in service between Friday and Monday, which is Memorial Day. Others will take more time to prepare and adjust to the governor’s office’s 12-page, 99-bullet-pointed list of health and safety measures.
And other restaurants, from longtime mainstays of the local dining scene to eager upstarts that barely got started, have closed for good, as the coronavirus pandemic restricted eateries to takeout and delivery service only.
According to an Arden Fair spokesperson, the mall will open after Memorial Day weekend because officials there want to make sure they understand and properly implement the new county restrictions first.
The city of Sacramento this week announced 800,000 disposable masks provided by the state will be distributed to businesses. Up to 10 masks per employee will be allocated; local chambers of commerce will distribute them to businesses within their organizations, while independent businesses can pick up masks curbside from one of three community centers in the city.
Surge of filings overwhelms state unemployment department
California’s unemployment department plans to hire 1,800 people — including 600 phone agents — over the next two weeks, as the COVID-19 pandemic has sent unemployment claims through the roof in the past two months. The state Employment Development Department has processed a total of 4.7 million claims since mid-March.
California Assembly and Senate members at budget hearings Thursday shared constituents’ frustration and issues getting in touch with the agency for unemployment insurance matters.
“You can hear the desperation, the frustration, it’s extreme,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale. “One of the biggest frustrations I’m having repeated over and over are hangups, for Pete’s sake ... Even (on) some of the live calls we’ve had hangups. That is really unacceptable.”
EDD Director Sharon Hilliard responded to Assembly members concerns by saying she agrees the problems are unacceptable, but that the agency is “addressing all the concerns as quickly as possible.”
Group grad photo, church services among acts of defiance
Violations of Newsom’s statewide order have not been hard to spot across Northern California.
More than 100 students of Lincoln High School in Placer County gathered for graduation photos Sunday morning, with no social distancing or masks in sight. Western Placer Unified School District officials said the photo session was not sponsored by the district or the high school.
“We continue to stress to the public the importance of adhering to physical distancing and avoid gathering with anyone not in your immediate household, in line with state guidelines,” Placer County Health Officer and Public Health Director Dr. Aimee Sisson said in response to the photos, which were first posted by Gold Country Media on Monday in an article celebrating the graduating class.
Meanwhile, thousands of churches throughout California are expected to hold in-person services May 31, with churches’ attorneys saying Newsom’s stay-home order and the loosening of restrictions, as implemented, have restricted First Amendment rights.
Robert Tyler, one of the lawyers fighting for the right of Lodi’s Cross Culture Christian Center to reopen, said the churches that choose to reopen will practice physical distancing and other safety guidelines the state has outlined to allow restaurants and other businesses to begin reopening.
“We are not trying to say that churches are somehow exempted from engaging in protective measures that are required of secular enterprises,” he said. “We are simply saying that it’s unconstitutional to require that churches stay closed when they can engage in the same protective measures as a grocery store, restaurant or other similar businesses.”
Latest in Sacramento area: 90 deaths, none since Monday
The four-county Sacramento region plus nearby Yuba and Sutter counties have reported a total of 90 COVID-19 deaths and more than 1,700 lab-confirmed cases.
Sacramento County public health officials have reported 1,272 cases of the coronavirus and 56 deaths, last updated at 9 a.m. Friday. One newly reported fatality came Sunday and another Monday, with the latest reported in the city of Sacramento. A note on the Sacramento County website continues to say that all deaths have come in individuals who were either age 65 or older; had underlying health conditions; or had other risk factors.
Eight additional cases were reported Monday, five more on each of Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 in Thursday’s update and six more Friday. Growth has slowed since April, when daily confirmed case increases ranged from 10 to a few dozen for much of the month.
Yolo County had one new COVID-19 confirmed case reported Thursday afternoon in Woodland, with the countywide total of people infected standing at 186. The county has reported 22 deaths tied to the virus. Fifteen of those deaths — including at least one staff member — have come at Stollwood Convalescent Hospital, located within the St. John’s Retirement Village campus in Woodland, according to the county website.
Placer County reported 184 cases and nine deaths, last updated at 11:15 a.m. Friday. The county on Friday reported its first death in over a month, dating back to April 15. Eight new cases were also reported. Placer County has only reported more than three new infections one other time dating back to April 8.
El Dorado County reported no new COVID-19 cases on Thursday afternoon. The county total remains at 67 cases, and its death toll remains at zero. The county added three new cases Monday.
Sutter County reported no new COVID-19 cases on Thursday; its total remains at 40. The county had one new infection reported Saturday and two on Sunday. Two people have died there due to the virus.
Yuba County had no new COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, and its total remains at 28 cases. The county reported two new cases Monday. One person has died there due to the virus.
World totals: One-third of a million dead from COVID-19
The worldwide infection total for COVID-19 has surpassed 5.1 million as of early Friday, and more than 333,000 people have died from the virus, according to a data map maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
The United States as of Friday morning was nearing 95,000 dead and 1.6 million confirmed coronavirus infections. New York state continues to make up more than one-quarter of the nation’s fatalities, at nearly 29,000. New Jersey is approaching 11,000 dead, Massachusetts has passed 6,100 and Michigan is above 5,100 deceased.
Connecticut, California, Illinois and Pennsylvania each have reported between 3,500 and 5,000 coronavirus fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins. Between roughly 1,000 and 3,000 people have died in each of Washington state, Virginia, Colorado, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Maryland and Louisiana.
After the U.S. next four highest national death tolls come in Europe: 36,000 dead in the United Kingdom, nearly 32,500 dead in Italy and about 28,000 fatalities in each of France and Spain. Brazil as of early Friday had reached more than 20,000 dead, according to Johns Hopkins. The Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, Iran, Germany and Belgium all report between 5,000 and 10,000 COVID-19 deaths.
What is COVID-19? How is the coronavirus spread?
Coronavirus is spread through contact between people within 6 feet of each other, especially through coughing and sneezing that expels respiratory droplets that land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The CDC says it’s possible to catch the disease COVID-19 by touching something that has the virus on it, and then touching your own face, “but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
Symptoms of the virus that causes COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath, which may occur two days to two weeks after exposure. Most develop only mild symptoms, but some people develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. The disease is especially dangerous to the elderly and others with weaker immune systems.
Sacramento Bee reporters Tony Bizjak, Benjy Egel, Dale Kasler, Sawsan Morrar, Phillip Reese, Darrell Smith and Sam Stanton; and McClatchyDC reporter David Lightman contributed to this report. Listen to our daily briefing: