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California counties waiting for Newsom’s reopening rules

Eight California counties have slowed the spread of the the coronavirus, but are unable to reopen businesses until Gov. Gavin Newsom releases new guidelines.

Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared to deliver welcome news on Monday to counties that have slowed the spread of coronavirus and been removed from the state’s watchlist only to find themselves in limbo as they await his long-promised reopening rules.

The governor said counties must wait two weeks to reopen businesses after they come off the state’s list, a timeline that would allow Santa Cruz to open later this week and Placer and San Diego to follow the week after.

“There has to be a 14-day period between the application [and] implementation of not only schools but reopening any sector of the economy,” Newsom said Monday. “So, there’s no delay in that respect for these counties moving forward.”

But later an aide sought to recast Newsom’s comment and it became clear that he misspoke. The fumble only added to the confusion county officials across California are feeling about the directives — or lack thereof — coming from Sacramento since the pandemic began. While Newsom has preached the importance of local control, the state has taken the lead on California’s response and announced public health guidelines with little notice and less explanation for how counties should interpret the rules.

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“I know these are unprecedented times,” said Placer County Supervisor Bonnie Gore. “I know they are busy, but we have residents who are very concerned and I don’t have answers. We don’t have the freedom to make our own decisions so we have to ask the state for direction. I want to be sympathetic to the state, but we have residents asking us and we feel like our hands are tied.”

Under a system developed by the state, counties are added to the monitoring list and must shutter additional businesses if they experience three days of elevated disease transmission, increased hospitalizations or limited hospital capacity. Counties drop off the list if those trends reverse and they meet the state standards for another three days.

Eight counties in California have been removed from the list and are waiting for state guidelines to instruct them on how and when they can begin reopening some of the businesses and sectors they had been forced to close, such as indoor church services, gyms and malls.

Though the governor said Monday that the process would begin two weeks after a county falls off the list, he meant that no counties had been off the list for more than two weeks, the length of time they must wait before opening schools, said Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for California Health and Human Services.

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“Our revised framework to be released later this week will give more clarity on how long of a pause is required between tightening and loosening restrictions on sectors,” Folmar said.

By most measures, California’s first reopening didn’t go as well as Newsom had hoped.

The state ultimately allowed counties to reopen before they met state thresholds for contact-tracing staff and daily targets for testing. Newsom also loosened rules that had barred counties with COVID-19 deaths in the previous two weeks from reopening, one of several…

Taryn Luna, Melody Gutierrez

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