California malls, offices get Newsom’s OK to reopen, but Bay Area’s closures can stay in place

Malls and outlet centers will now be allowed to provide curbside pickup for customers, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday, calling it a sign of progress in efforts to speed California’s reopening.

The governor said he was allowing enclosed malls, strip malls and offices where telework is impossible to reopen, a change from the statewide coronavirus shutdown he imposed March 19. Offices will have to make several safety changes under the modified state order — and places with their own shelter-in-place requirements, such as the Bay Area, do not have to reopen offices or malls yet, Newsom said.

The state also laid down guidelines Tuesday that restaurants will have to meet before they can accommodate seated customers. They include physical distancing, face coverings for employees, regular cleaning and disinfection, and employee training for preventing coronavirus spread.

The governor stressed at his daily news conference that while the state is allowing counties across California to relax some of the guidelines put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, he was not requiring them to ease those constraints.

“Local governments can be more restrictive,” Newsom said, which means residents of most of the Bay Area and Los Angeles must wait for their counties to make their own adjustments.

Also Tuesday, officials said six Northern California counties had become the first in the state to meet requirements that will allow them to move more quickly to reopen businesses.

Butte, El Dorado, Lassen, Nevada, Placer and Shasta counties have shown they are meeting state goals, such as a stable or falling number of COVID-19 cases, adequate hospital capacity, and trained people to track those who have come in contact with residents who have the virus.

Butte County, for example, has had two confirmed cases in the past two weeks and no deaths, as well as three hospitals that can handle the patients, with enough ICU beds and ventilators to deal with any surge in cases.

Counties that meet those requirements will be allowed to move toward opening malls for in-store shopping, dine-in restaurants and schools that have been modified to allow social distancing.

The state has been in touch with 27 additional counties looking to meet those requirements and move closer to full reopening, Newsom said.

“We’re making progress … but I don’t anticipate all 27 counties” will be able to certify that they can meet those tougher rules, the governor said.

That also leaves 31 California counties that haven’t begun talking with state officials about matching those requirements.

“This is a phased approach,” Newsom said, with certain goals that must be reached before the state can ease more restrictions and allow the opening of such gathering places as churches, community centers, colleges, movie theaters and libraries.

“The worst mistake we can make it to take our face coverings off” and act as if the coronavirus is gone, the governor said. “The disease is still ubiquitous.”

Despite complaints from some county officials and demonstrations across the state from people and groups calling for all restrictions to be lifted so California can return to business as usual, that’s not going to happen in a hurry. On Tuesday, health officials told Los Angeles County supervisors that the local stay-at-home order will almost certainly be extended into July.

Of the six Bay Area counties that acted as a bloc to issue stay-at-home orders in March, only San Francisco and Marin have announced plans to take advantage of Newsom’s offer to allow curbside pickup for nonessential businesses to resume. Both counties have said that can begin starting Friday. Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have announced no changes to restrictions that are now set to last through May 31.

Reopening businesses won’t mean anything if customers don’t feel safe and employees don’t believe their health will be protected to go back to work, Newsom said.

“There’s a deep eagerness from people to reopen and go back to work,” he said. “But we have to work through a panoply of issues.”

California is making progress in expanding testing across the state, Newsom said. The state has now done more than 1 million tests for the coronavirus and has averaged about 35,000 a day for the past week.

The governor also announced that the state will allow pharmacies to administer virus tests, although it’s unknown how many will take advantage of the opportunity. It’s part of the effort to expand testing across the state.

“This is all part of the road map to reopening,” Newsom said, adding that increased testing will make it possible to speed up that process.

John Wildermuth is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: jwildermuth@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jfwildermuth