San Diego businesses prepare to reopen as Newson lifts COVID-19 stay-at-home order

India Street closure in Little Italy
Before the stay-at-home order, some areas of the city, like Little Italy, were able to get permits allowing them to close down a portion of a street in order to add more seating for outdoor dining.
(Courtesy of Little Italy Association)

Governor says dropping infection rates influenced his canceling of the weeks-long order, which will allow hair and nail salons to reopen and restaurants to resume outdoor dining


After nearly two months of operating under a strict stay-at-home order, San Diego County businesses are cheering the news Monday that they can at least partially reopen following Gov. Newsom announcement he was lifting restrictions across California and returning to the state’s tiered, color-coded system for stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

With his latest action, San Diego will return to the purple tier, meaning that restaurants will be able to resume outdoor dining; nail and hair salons, as well as zoos and aquariums, can reopen; and retail stores will be allowed to slightly increase their indoor capacity.

While acknowledging “we’re not out of the woods yet,” Newsom said, “We can lay claim to seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”

The governor said that his decision to cancel the stay-at-home order comes from mathematical modeling that indicates, based on current trends in infection rates, that hospitalization and intensive care rates will continue to drop.

Projecting forward four weeks, Newsom said further decreases in the number of people becoming infected will inevitably cause drops in hospitalizations and intensive care burden.

“We are anticipating still more declines in hospitalizations and more declines in ICUs, and that’s why we’re lifting the stay-at-home order effective today,” Newsom said.

State modeling, he explained, projects that Southern California’s collective intensive care capacity will reach 33 percent by Feb. 21. When it entered the previous state of stay-at-home stasis, the threshold for shutting everything down was 15 percent.

The original stay-at-home order was announced Dec. 3 by Newsom amid soaring infection rates that led to a corresponding surge in hospitalization and ICU rates. Restaurants, whipsawed by on-again, off-again business closures dating back to the start of the pandemic last March, had been restricted to takeout and delivery, although some had chosen to defy the latest order and remained open to outdoor dining, even as they were issued cease and desist orders.

Upon learning Monday’s news, many restaurant owners were scrambling to meet with their top-level staff to plot out how they would reopen. The popular Puesto restaurant group, which just a little over a week ago announced it was temporarily shutting down all its California locations and would furlough hundreds of workers, was rushing to reopen its La Jolla location by this weekend, with the newer Mission Valley location to follow shortly thereafter, said co-owner Eric Adler.

“We plan to open everything as soon as possible and bring people back on furlough, but first we have to reorder all the food, prepare everything, so at minimum it takes a week,” said Adler. We’ll do as many as we can together. Hopefully, we never have to re-close, so that’s really good news.

“It is exciting to be open legally, but restaurants do need to be open for more than just outdoor. We lost so much money the past 10 months, which is really crazy because up until last February, our sales were up 20 percent, so it’s just been a nosedive.”

Restaurant owner Chad Cline, like many others in the hospitality business, had questioned the logic behind shutting down outdoor dining in the first place, believing that it was not a contributing factor to the quickening pace of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

“As arbitrary as it was shutting down, it seems arbitrary to reopen now,” said Cline as he was heading over to The Waterfront Bar & Grill, one of his several dining venues, to discuss plans for reopening outdoor service starting Tuesday. “In four weeks we expect the numbers to go down? That has so much spin on it. I’m happy, don’t get me wrong.

“I’ve already had a couple of texts with people who work with us and will we be ramping up shifts. And then we’ll build a schedule based on that. I do expect Waterfront to be busy this weekend. I was losing $4,000 a week when everything was only takeout. With outdoor dining back, I should break even with a small amount of profit at The Waterfront.”

Newsom underscored a couple of times in his Monday news conference that while the lifting of the stay-at-home order will ease restrictions, it is by no means a return to pre-pandemic conditions.

“It’s not a light switch going to back to the way things were a year-plus ago,” he said. “ We are still in these tiers, tiers we believe have served us well as it relates to modifying activity and behavior. There are certain conditions that need to be met.”

As of Sunday, the California Department of Public Health said in its daily COVID update that three major regions of the state did not meet criteria for exiting the stay-at-home order. Sunday’s update did not list specific intensive care readings for Southern California, San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area, the three regions that, just one day ago, were deemed still too impacted to go order free.

San Diego County’s most-recent COVID report, released Sunday, showed that 702 of 788 available ICU beds were occupied, leaving only 11 percent of beds available, still four percentage points below the 15-percent threshold. More importantly, bed capacity alone is not a full picture of hospitals’ ability to treat patients with severe illness. Though there are said to be 86 available ICU beds available in San Diego, the county’s latest report indicates that, as of Saturday, only 48 of them were deemed “staffed and immediately available” to receive patients.