May 29, 2020 – As most California counties accelerate their reopening pace, some of the first to do so are now hitting the brakes or backpedaling as coronavirus cases mount — a potentially cautionary tale for the rest of the state as restrictions loosen.

Sonoma County said Wednesday it would not reopen in-store retail, hair salons or places of worship, even though the state had given it permission to do so. The county’s coronavirus cases doubled from 20 to 41 per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days.

And Lassen County on Tuesday closed dine-in restaurants and in-store retail after the remote area saw its first confirmed cases since the shutdown began. But Thursday afternoon, it moved to reopen them again — along with places of worship and hair salons.

The decisions came after Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday and Tuesday cleared (you guessed it) hair salons, barbershops, places of worship and in-store retail to reopen in most counties — a rapid-fire pace that alarmed some public health officials.

Newsom on Tuesday acknowledged that “we are walking into the unknown, the untested” but reinforced his commitment to “be guided by the data.”

A Sacramento Bee analysis found the first 22 counties to reopen restaurants and stores saw cases, hospitalizations and deaths grow faster in the two weeks after reopening than in the two weeks before — though these largely rural counties were still doing better than the rest of the state.

It’s a potential warning for large, urban counties like Los Angeles, the epicenter of the outbreak, which this week began to accelerate its reopening after weeks of holding back. San Francisco also unveiled a phased reopening plan Thursday, though other Bay Area counties are keeping tight restrictions in place.

  • David Relman, Stanford Medicine microbiologist and immunologist“If something fails, we have two problems: One is we’re not going to know for a little while, and during that lag time things are worsening without us knowing it. And the second thing is that you then have to be able to … restore stability.”


The Bottom Line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 98,980 confirmed coronavirus cases and 3,707 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

CalMatters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.