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California Shutdowns Stymie Retail Reopening

Despite hopes for a fruitful holiday season, businesses across California will now be forced to pull back on their plans.

The California Department of Public Health revealed that the coronavirus is spreading at a staggeringly high rate, reporting 8,743 new confirmed Covid-19 infections on Monday alone. There have been roughly 1.04 million cases across the state to date, and 18,299 fatalities. Governor Gavin Newsom’s office, along with state health officials, sprang into action to address the growing crisis, announcing a plan to slow the spread of the virus.

Beginning Tuesday, the state is “pulling an emergency brake” on its reopening plans, dubbed “The Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” bringing more than 94 percent of California’s population into the most restrictive tier of shutdown orders. About 37 million people will be subject to the augmented protections, which include instructions to wear face coverings outside of the home with very limited exceptions.

The reopening rollback will have massive implications for retail businesses and malls, which, in areas where risk is characterized as “widespread,” will only be able to open at 25 percent capacity. Indoor dining at restaurants will be prohibited, and businesses like gyms, movie theaters and museums will be closed. Grocery stores will be allowed to open at half capacity, and almost all businesses will be subject to limited hours.

Orange County, Ventura County, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo are among the highly-populated SoCal locales to have fallen back into the tier of most elevated risk, joining areas like Los Angeles, San Bernadino and San Diego. Bay Area counties like Napa, Solano, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda have also joined the grouping.

“We are sounding the alarm,” Governor Newsom said Monday. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet—faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer.” A peak in cases occurred in July as Californians, eager to return to normalcy and enjoy the warm weather, flocked to beaches and outdoor restaurants and shopping areas in droves. State officials hope to head off what appears to be an emergence of a second wave of infections by mandating that businesses shutter or drastically limit their foot traffic.

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The governor added that if the spread is left unchecked, the state’s healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed, leading to “catastrophic outcomes.”

“We have been through one wringer of a year,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told constituents in a briefing on Monday, noting that the county has seen cases double since last month. On Monday alone, L.A. county saw 2,795 new confirmed cases of Covid-19. Beginning Friday, restaurants and “non-essential” storefronts must shutter before 10pm, county officials announced Wednesday evening.

The mayor implored all California residents to rethink in-state and out-of-state travel over the course of the coming weeks, and to refrain from hosting visitors from outside of the region as well. “If you don’t have to take a trip as an essential worker, or because of a family emergency, don’t travel,” he said.

The city of Los Angeles will also ramp up enforcement of the county’s current public health rules, he said. “I have directed our city and departments to expand enforcement efforts for businesses that are still not in compliance with our public health protocols,” he added, “and we will issue citations under the administrative citation enforcement program and revoke permits for businesses who violate our requirements and put all of us at risk.”

The news has been sobering for some of the area’s retail businesses. “Everyone is very nervous, understandably, because cutting back for any of these businesses is going to be extremely difficult,” Todd Johnson, president and CEO of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce told Sourcing Journal.

Johnson said that the reopening rollback will severely impact his city’s retailers’ ability to leverage holiday sales that would “help close the gap of this year’s losses. Instead, many may be “pushed to the brink.”

“Small businesses are going to suffer the most,” he said, with a lack of “corporate overhead to lean back on.”

According to the governor’s office, the state is taking steps to prepare for the likely sustained increase in cases by developing additional testing capacity at a new laboratory in the Southern California community of Valencia, which has been processing thousands of tests per day. The state has averaged 164,345 tests over the last seven days.

California health and human services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly called the newly emerging data from counties across the state “very concerning,” and echoed the L.A. mayor’s calls for personal accountability. “We are in the midst of a surge, and time is of the essence,” he said. “Every day matters, and every decision matters.”