El Dorado and Butte Counties Meet California Guidelines For Reopening

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For weeks, officials have said California’s reopening will be incremental and varied across the state. On Tuesday, it became a little clearer what that actually looks like.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the first two counties, Butte and El Dorado, had met the criteria for easing some restrictions ahead of the rest of the state and that more were expected to follow. (Indeed, as of Tuesday night, five other counties had been added to the list.)

That means restaurants in those counties may be able to open for dine-in service, as long as they take precautions; the state released lengthy guidelines for doing so on Tuesday.

[See which California counties have the most coronavirus cases.]

They say restaurants should take steps like adding partitions to areas where it’s difficult to stay apart, implementing temperature or other symptom checks for workers, and prioritizing outdoor seating. Customers should wear face coverings when they can.

“If we love our community and our restaurants, let’s protect them,” Mr. Newsom said, adding that if consumers and workers feel unsafe, reopening more places won’t do much good.

The guidelines serve as a kind of preview for diners in the Bay Area or Los Angeles, where stricter orders are expected to be in place longer than in other parts of the state.

Testing capacity continues to be a major hurdle to lifting restrictions, officials have said.

Mr. Newsom said that as of this week, the state was averaging about 35,000 tests per day — many more than the 2,000 tests per day on average about a month ago, but still short of the roughly 61,000 per day that experts have said should be a baseline.

My colleague Brian X. Chen, who writes about consumer technology, tried to figure it out for himself. Here’s his dispatch on what happened:

My journey to getting tested for Covid-19 started with a text message. I had opted to receive texts from the San Francisco government about the pandemic, and last Monday my phone vibrated with an alert: “SF is offering Covid-19 testing for anyone who lives or works in SF. For more info at sf.gov/GetTestedSF or call 311.”

I took this to mean universal testing had reached the city. That would be a major development, because pandemic experts have said that as many people as possible need to get tested to get a clear picture of Covid-19’s spread.

So even though I lacked symptoms, it seemed like a civic duty to accept the city’s invitation to be tested. I quickly clicked through the website to schedule an appointment. So did my wife.

A day later, my wife had second thoughts. She saw that the city government’s website about the test had conflicting messages. While it said anyone in the city could get tested, another portion of the site said: “Check if you can get tested,” stating that essential workers or people with at least one symptom were eligible.

So did this mean that my wife and I, who don’t fit the criteria, were taking a test away from others? My wife called 311, and a city worker said only essential workers or people with symptoms should be taking the test.

[Read more about California’s testing expansion plans.]

She left a voice mail message with Color, the test lab, asking to cancel her appointment. A Color employee called back and reassured her that there was an abundance of tests available, and if people wanted to contribute to the city’s data gathering, they should do so. We kept our appointments.

On Friday afternoon, we drove to the test site in downtown San Francisco. The lab had set up several white tents in a large parking lot, divided into two sections, for drivers and for pedestrians. People with cars drove through a lane of orange cones and rolled down their windows to be swabbed. Pedestrians stood in line to take the test, with markers to keep them six feet apart.

When it came our turn, we drove up to the swab station. A medical worker asked whether I had a preference for a nostril (I chose the left). Then he took a giant Q-tip and jammed it up there, holding it for 10 seconds.

It was painful. Stinging and mushy at the same time. (Was I actually swabbed in the brain?) After repeating the process for my wife, the worker handed us bar codes that we could later check on Color’s website for the results. We drove off in tears.

While the test was simple, I was still confused about the city’s “Get Tested” website and whether we had done the right thing. I asked the mayor’s office for clarity.

Tyrone Jue, the senior adviser to the mayor who oversaw the Get Tested SF campaign, said my wife and I had inadvertently taken the test. It was meant for essential workers and people with symptoms.

So why say anyone can get tested?

Mr. Jue explained that the city faced a challenge. There are economically disadvantaged groups that are more likely to be exposed, and many avoid getting tested in fear of unemployment. To encourage those people to get tested, the city worked with community organizers to come up with inclusive messaging: Anyone living or working in the city can get tested. (Not just anyone though.)

[Read more about why the virus is deadlier for black and Latino Californians.]

“The language, while confusing, is true,” Mr. Jue said. (Since last week, the Get Tested website was updated to make the city’s eligibility requirements more clear, but it still states that anyone can get tested.)

Since the introduction of this language, test numbers are up, Mr. Jue said. But that’s in part because people who were ineligible for testing — like me, my wife and a dozen of our friends who got the memo — were swabbed. Thankfully, our results were negative.

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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