Food court restaurants, a nail salon, a tuxedo rental shop, clothing stores, and a florist all reopened for business Monday at the Yuba Sutter Mall in Yuba City, California, after the county public health officer gave his sign-off to do so on Friday. Governor Newsom calls the move "premature" and "a big mistake," but he hasn't gone as far as to order a crackdown.
Residents of the rural Yuba and Sutter counties tell the Associated Press today that they're glad to have the mall open — as one shopper puts it, "It’s always the big box stores that can stay open, and not the small ones," and Walmart was already clean out of clothing to fit her eight-year-old son.
The mall opened with the rule that there be only one shopper per 50 square feet, though it did not seem to be enforcing that according to the AP. A line grew outside the nail salon, Nail Tech, leading to the mall's general manager asking that the shop do business by appointment only. Some people were reportedly masked, others were not.
In comments Tuesday, per the East Bay Times, Newsom said the counties are "putting their public at risk" by making this move. According to orders he outlined on Monday, California counties could begin reopening certain types of retail with curbside pickup this week — but his orders specifically said malls had to remain closed.
Dr. Phuong Luu, the health officer for both Yuba and Sutter counties, issued his order Friday in recognition of the fact that the counties still have a combined total of 50 confirmed coronavirus cases, and just three deaths. "COVID-19 is dangerous and scary but it is not the only health issue," Luu said. "We cannot wait for a vaccine without seeing extreme economic damage done to our community. The consequences of waiting will be additional health concerns brought on by stress and the very real dilemma for those with limited resources whether to buy life-saving food or life-saving medicines. As the bi-county health officer, I have to think of the totality of health for the entire community."
Luu's broad order allowed everything from gyms and massage parlors to tattoo shops and hair salons to reopen this week, so long as each business drew up a safety plan, adjusted how they did business, and regularly disinfected their premises.
Speaking for other rural counties where infections have stayed low, Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher said in a statement, "In the North State, our communities have met the scientific criteria for re-opening, and we’re not going to wait for San Francisco and Los Angeles in order to re-open." Gallagher added, "If this is truly about science and not politics, the governor shouldn’t push back against local public health officers."
This is just the first of what could be many examples in the coming weeks of cities and counties in this very large state deciding to go their own way as fears of the coronavirus — and infections in this wave — seem to have peaked. Many health experts have admitted that the spread of the virus would, at least at first, be largely an urban problem. However, there are likely to be outbreaks and pockets of infection throughout the less dense parts of the country in the coming months which county health officers will then have to address, or answer for.
Tiny, rural Modoc County, up near the Oregon border, has already let its schools and churches reopen, but it has yet to report a single case of COVID-19 in its 10,000 residents.
After announcing last week that all beaches in Orange County would have to close, Newsom has since backed down and compromised with the cities of Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and Dana Point to allow their beaches to reopen.