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California residents have some relief from shelter in place orders that took effect mid-March, with the state and several counties relaxing certain restrictions in early May. Despite those welcome changes, employers have much to track as they reopen businesses throughout California. A patchwork of state and local public health orders and guidelines confronts employers as they emerge from the original highly restrictive shelter in place orders.

At the state level, Governor Gavin Newsom has outlined a gradual four-phase framework to allow “non-essential” businesses and public spaces to reopen. We entered Phase 2 on May 8, 2020, meaning additional retailers (curbside), including bookstores, clothing stores, music stores, toy stores, florists, and others, as well as manufacturers and suppliers for those retailers, can theoretically resume limited operations. Recently, Governor Newsom also has invited feedback from business owners, workers, and customers as the state prepares to reopen different sectors of the economy.

On May 18, 2020, Governor Newsom released somewhat loosened criteria for counties that want to allow businesses to reopen more quickly than the state. For example, counties are no longer required to have zero COVID-19 deaths in the previous two weeks to move forward in stage 2. Instead, counties should continue to track hospitalization numbers and positivity rates (the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive). Governor Newsom estimated roughly 53 out of 58 counties currently meet the new criteria, but not all will reopen at once. Each county must file documentation showing it meets the new criteria and that officials have plans in place to ensure social distancing and reinstate restrictions if necessary.

But there’s one critical hitch: Governor Newsom has stated that “counties can choose to continue more restrictive measures in place based on their local conditions.”

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