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California Transitions Into Stage 2 Of Reopening The State

California transitioned into the early phases of Stage 2 in reopening the state on May 8. The implementation of this phase comes after California  released a Pandemic Roadmap on April 14 that outlined the stay-at-home order into a structured, transitional plan with four stages.

As of May 12, Los Angeles County has seen 32,269 confirmed cases, all of which amounts to 46% of collective cases in California. This past week, California has had new confirmed cases and averaged 70.3 new deaths per day. Gov. Newsom remains hopeful, but urges Californians to remain alert of and compliant with all COVID-19 related updates as restrictions slowly lift. 

“We’re moving forward but we’re doing it, always, with an eye being led by the data, by the science, by public health,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said

Stage 2 of the Pandemic Roadmap allows lower-risk workplaces such as bookstores, clothing stores, florists and sporting goods stores to reopen. These workplaces are encouraged to stay mindful of certain restrictive measures that may vary according to their respective county’s conditions. With curbside pickup, expanded retail will also reopen alongside manufacturing and supply chains. Seated dining restaurants, offices, and shopping malls remain closed until Stage 3 of reopening. 

The decision to transition into Stage 2 applies to the entire state, but counties that meet the state’s readiness criteria are allowed to progress more quickly through Stage 2 than other counties. These counties must ensure their preparedness in the case of an unprecedented surge of cases, implement plans to assist vulnerable populations, and meet certain criteria on consistent testing and tracking of COVID-19 victims. The California Department of Public Health authorized 7 countries to progress more quickly through Stage 2; Los Angeles County and Orange County are not included. Los Angeles County is likely to remain behind other counties in moving forward due to its population of 10 million people and it being the hotspot for COVID-19. Orange County has seen an increase of COVID-19 cases this past week, which brings the county total to 3,749, far from the state’s benchmark. 

“We do not meet [the state benchmark]. What that means is we will move through Stage 2 at the pace the state does. We do not qualify to move faster,” said Dr. Nichole Quick, Orange County Health Officer. 

Stage 2 is being implemented after careful assessment of the progress of stability of hospitalizations, PPE inventory, health care surge capacity, testing capacity, contact tracing capability and public health guidance in place. The rate of COVID-19 related ICU hospitalizations over the past few weeks have stabilized. Since the decision to move into Stage 2, the PPE inventory on-hand included 18.2 million surgical masks, 5.8 million face shields and 7.2 million gloves, all which were sufficient to neutralize the dramatic deficit of PPE. The criteria for California’s health care surge capacity have been met with the active 14 statewide facilities, 2,072 open beds and more than 10,000 ready-to-use ventilators. Testing capacity has made progress with 25,000 tests a day, and contact tracing capacity to mitigate the virus has been made through efforts including virtual academies.  

Unemployment rates have been on the rise since the emergence of COVID-19, and Newsom anticipates California’s unemployment rate to soon reach 25% at a rate faster than that of the Great Depression. Stage 2 will open 70% of the economy again, likely softening the damage from COVID-19’s detrimental economical impact. Nonetheless, some people refuse to comply with the restrictive measures placed to support the eventual defeat of COVID-19. Southern Californians gathered in protest at Newport Beach in early May, many of them not wearing masks. In spite of recent news of protests around the country, a recent poll discovered that 60% of Americans were worried that lifting restrictions too soon would make a negative impact on the progress thus far. 

“Phase 3 is not a year away. It’s not six months away … It may not even be more than a month away,” Newsom said. “We just want to make sure we have a protocol in place to secure customer safety, employee safety and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.”

Kaitlin Hwangbo is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at hwangbok@uci.edu.