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Nearly 1 million cases, 4.2% coronavirus positivity rate force California to roll back reopening plans

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 11/12/2020 Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY
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LOS ANGELES – It took months, but Ruth Henricks was finally reaching the point when business at her San Diego restaurant was closing in on levels unseen since before the coronavirus struck.

Then came the announcement this week that San Diego County was being forced back to the most severe of four color-coded levels, and now Henricks is worried anew about how to manage The Huddle diner.

"How can you plan ahead when you don't know from week to week whether you are going to be open or closed or whatever?" she said.

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Her quandary is being faced throughout the state after a U-turn in the effort to fully reopen California.

The state is seeing a boost in coronavirus infections, like much of the rest of the country, as colder weather sets in and people are forced out of the fresh air of being outdoors. And some jurisdictions across the nation are starting to implement more drastic measures.

Chicago on Thursday inched closer to a lockdown with a stay-at-home advisory that goes into effect Monday and ordered nonessential businesses to close at 11 p.m.  New York is going to require bars, restaurants and gyms to close by 10 p.m. starting Friday. The governors of Iowa, Ohio and Utah, all Republicans, imposed mask mandates. The moves come as Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus tracker shows the U.S. had a record 143,241 new cases Wednesday.

In California, 11 counties were ordered this week to drop a notch on the state's tiered reopening schedule. San Diego and two other counties, Sacramento and Stanislaus, join Los Angeles County on the lowest rung of the four-step ladder. At the bottom, restrictions include no indoor dining at restaurants or indoor church services.

California had the first week in which not a single county was able to advance to a less restrictive tier, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state's Health and Human Services Agency.

"A number of counties are experiencing quite a high number of cases," Ghaly said at a briefing this week.

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The number of tests registering positive for the coronavirus rose to 4.2% over a seven-day period in the latest survey, having not crossed the 4% mark since at least early September, Ghaly said. The rise has accompanied a 31% increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the past 14 days.

It's a turnabout in a state that has prided itself on trying to be at the forefront of preventing the spread of the virus: Gavin Newsom was among the first governors to issue a stay-at-home order.

Yet today, California finds itself close to joining Texas as the only states with 1 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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San Francisco, which has had fewer COVID-19 cases than other large cities in the state, took the unusual step this week of voluntarily moving itself down to a level that requires indoor dining at restaurants be curtailed.

U.S. coronavirus map: Tracking the outbreak, state by state

The move will leave many with what few outdoor tables they can manage and takeout business.

"The problem is the timing of this," said Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and herself an operator of two eateries. "The weather is changing up here, and it's cold. Nobody wants to sit outside."

She notes San Francisco's lower overall cases reflect its more aggressive approach, but it's coming at a cost of increased stress and mental health implications. And since workers need their jobs for health insurance coverage, facing layoffs worsens their predicament.

It's not just restaurants. In Sacramento, east of San Francisco, the Rev. Bob Balian, pastor of Bayside Midtown Church, had been able to welcome back worshippers for on-site services only about five weeks ago. 

"Now that the new mandate is in effect, we are temporarily ceasing our on-site services and going back to strictly online," Balian said. "Some of our people are incredibly disappointed with the change, but most of our people thoroughly understand and support our decision."

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In San Diego, Henricks is doing her best to save The Huddle, the diner she has owned since 1986. Stopping indoor dining will cut capacity by a quarter to a third, she said.

She said her customers are loyal, and indeed some of them are sticking up for her on Facebook.

"These orders are ridiculous and endanger the lives and livelihoods of small business owners and employees. If Home Depot and other hardware stores can stay open, so should restaurants," says one post.

But it's not easy.

"I don't know what to do," Henricks said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nearly 1 million cases, 4.2% coronavirus positivity rate force California to roll back reopening plans

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