May 5, 2020 / 3:39 AM / a month ago

California sees 'ray of sunshine,' takes first steps toward reopening

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California on Monday announced the state’s first tentative steps to reopen from a lockdown designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, giving a green light for retail stores to open this week, though with restrictions.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the nation’s most populous U.S. state, among the two dozen that still has full restrictions in place, would allow some counties to go further if they met certain testing and protection guidelines.

“This is an optimistic day, as we see a little bit of a ray of sunshine,” Newsom, a first-term Democrat, said at his daily coronavirus briefing.

Newsom said he was able to loosen the sweeping restrictions that he imposed March 19 because testing of Californians for the virus had ramped up to more than 25,000 people a day and reports of new cases of COVID-19 were no longer surging.

California has recorded 2,215 deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus, and nearly 55,000 cases, according to a Reuters tally.

Under the governor’s new orders, which will take effect on Friday if new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise only slightly or flatten, most retail businesses can reopen with social distancing modifications.

Those modifications will be spelled out on Thursday, Newsom said, but would likely call for “low-risk” stores selling such items as books, clothes, music and toys to provide curbside pickup by customers. Restaurants would still remain closed for in-house dining.

The governor, sounding conciliatory toward some of California’s 58 counties that have resisted the sweeping “stay-at-home” orders because they have fewer cases of the disease than big cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, said local leaders could seek to further lift those rules.

FILE PHOTO: Surfers walk into the Pacific Ocean at sunrise on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, as the global outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Huntington Beach, California, U.S., April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Doing so would require that the counties show they have a sufficient containment and monitoring system in place, he said.

In Sutter County, where officials had defied Newsom’s orders in recent days to partially allow businesses to reopen, pedestrians walked the streets of downtown Yuba City without masks, browsed at a pawn shop or dined at the Happy Viking restaurant and bar.

Sandee Drown, who owns the Happy Viking with her husband Chris, wore a mask and required face coverings for her employees but not diners. The restaurant, which has removed chairs from tables in the bar area to create more space between customers, had served about 60 meals since opening three hours earlier.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Yuba City, California and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Sandra Maler, Sonya Hepinstall and Cynthia Osterman

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