Restaurants in parts of California can open for sit-down dining

FILE PHOTO: Employees at the Happy Viking Sports Pub and Eatery in Yuba City, California, U.S. check table availability on the restaurantÕs first day open for table service after 50 days of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Restaurants in a half-dozen California counties can host sit-down dining, and shopping malls throughout the state can open for curbside pickup as coronavirus restrictions ease, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday.

Offices can also open with some restrictions, Newsom, a Democrat, said in his daily press briefing. But his latest plan for reopening the world’s fifth-largest economy still does not allow nail salons, tattoo parlors or gyms.

“It’s a mistake to over-promise what reopening means,” said Newsom, who has hesitated to loosen restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus even as other states have done so.

On Tuesday, leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci warned Congress that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed more than 80,000 people in the United States and brought the economy to its knees.

In California, the modest loosening of stay-at-home rules imposed in March comes as infections in the most-populous U.S. state appear to be stabilizing. But the state allows local governments to keep imposing stricter guidelines, and health officials in high-density areas like Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have not yet supported easing restrictions.

Similarly, counties with few or stabilized cases can apply to the state for permission to open more businesses, including restaurants serving sit-down meals, and allow customers inside shopping malls, retail stores and swap meets. Schools can open with modifications.

Six Northern California counties, Butte, El Dorado, Lassen, Nevada, Placer and Shasta, received that permission on Tuesday.

To reopen, restaurants must retool their dining rooms to accommodate social distancing, closing areas where customers congregate or touch food, and stop setting tables with shared condiments such as mustard containers. Menus must be disposable and table-side food preparation is no longer allowed.

California’s slow pace of reopening has been criticized by lawmakers in Republican-leaning rural parts of the state, and a conservative lawyer filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday contesting the state’s restrictions on beauty salons.

Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco-based attorney and the former vice chair of the California Republican Party, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Professional Beauty Federation of California in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.

She has also challenged Newsom’s order closing houses of worship, saying that while she supported the initial efforts to slow the virus’ transmission, the shutdown had gone on for too long.

“The premise was never lock everybody down, deprive them of their livelihoods, their properties, their dreams, everything they built,” she said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney and Richard Pullin)

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