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A user’s guide to navigating life in Phase 2 of San Diego’s reopening

User's Guide
Geovani Droege, bar manager at Bleu Boheme, speaks to customers Marguerite Elicone and Ray Elicone as the restaurant prepares to reopen in the Kensington neighborhood on May 21, 2020 in San Diego, California. Restaurants began reopening for dine-in patrons on Thursday as the state and county began easing restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Answers to your questions on shopping, dining out and returning to public life safely

After months with seemingly no end in sight to the stay-home orders, San Diegans were hit by a surprise tsunami of news this past week when the state rapidly approved the county’s plan to move deeper into Phase 2 of its reopening plans.

With so many announcements, and many details changing from day to day, we’ve pulled together some of our readers’ most-asked questions in a handy user’s guide to navigating life in Phase 2.

So what is Phase 2 again?

In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a four-phase plan to reopen California called the Resilience Roadmap. Tied to declines in the number of active COVID-19 cases being diagnosed county by county, the plan gradually allows the reopening of businesses, recreation areas, schools and cultural spots.

Patrons play blackjack on opening day at the Sycuan Casino on May 20, 2020 in El Cajon, California.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Restaurants and retail stores were allowed to reopen Thursday as part of Phase 2. Most of the county’s casinos — which are on tribal land and not required to abide by county measures — also reopened this past week. The Roadmap allows for closures to begin anew if another surge in COVID-19 cases occurs.

So what’s not included in Phase 2?

Sorry, Memorial Day sun-lovers, beach parking lots are still closed, and sitting and lying on beaches is prohibited. There is no date set for the start of Phase 3, which will allow the reopening of hair and nail salons, public swimming pools, fitness clubs, hotels and Airbnb venues.

Large-capacity venues like bars, nightclubs, sports arenas, concert halls, theaters and convention centers are in Phase 4, which would be implemented when the pandemic ends or a vaccine is developed.

Religious services, except for funerals performed with social distancing, are also still prohibited, despite President Trump’s call to governors on Friday to reopen all houses of worship.

Does that mean all restaurants have reopened their dining rooms?

No. Many of the county’s restaurants are taking their time as they work to meet the county’s reopening protocols and see how much demand there is for dine-in service. Some restaurants are also still awaiting loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program so they can hire their workers back.

User's Guide
Jesus Pizarro of Chula Vista eats at Saffron Thai on May 21, 2020 in San Diego, California. Restaurants began reopening for dine-in patrons on Thursday as the state and county began easing restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In order to reopen, restaurants must submit a four-page plan to the county detailing how they have re-trained employees, moved tables six feet apart or outdoors into parking lots, posted required signs, bought thermometers, masks, gloves and other safety gear for staff, installed hand sanitizer dispensers in various locations, taped line queue markers on the floor, closed self-serve salad and salsa bars and soft drink machines, removed condiment dispensers, and more. When in doubt, call your favorite restaurant or visit their website to determine if they have reopened.

How safe am I from COVID-19 if I dine at a restaurant in San Diego County?

San Diego County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said Friday that of the 6,434 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in San Diego County since March, not one has been traced back to a restaurant offering takeout food.

Do I need to make a reservation before dining out?

The county has asked restaurants to use a reservation system to avoid overcrowding, but it is not required. Call ahead to your favorite restaurant to double-check. Even with a reservation, customers may be asked to wait outside in their car until their table is ready. Showing up without a reservation could mean a long wait outside in a socially-distanced line.

User's Guide
Diners eat at Karina’s Ceviche & More on May 21, 2020 in San Diego, California. Restaurants began reopening for dine-in patrons on Thursday as the state and county began easing restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

John Resnick, owner of Campfire and Jeune et Jolie restaurants in Carlsbad, has not yet reopened his venues but said that when he does, it will be by reservation only, so that customers are informed in advance of the safety precautions that will be required when they arrive to avoid any confusion or hurt feelings.

Do I need to wear a face covering in a restaurant?

Yes. Customers are required to wear a face covering when they arrive, leave and move about inside restaurants, including when they order at a counter or go to the bathroom. They can remove their masks only when they are seated at their table.

But what if I don’t want to wear a face covering at a restaurant?

You may want to stay home. Restaurants are private property and their owners are following legal and prescribed safety protocols to ensure the safety of their workers and customers. After two months with no income, their priority is keeping the doors open, even if it may mean turning away a regular customer exercising their anti-mask freedom beliefs.

If a customer has a diagnosed medical issue that makes it unsafe for them to wear a mask, such as a lung disease or developmental disability, they should contact the restaurant owner in advance to discuss a reasonable accommodation.

User's Guide
General manager Brenda Oropeza delivers a takeout order as diners return to Saffron Thai on May 21, 2020 in San Diego, California. Restaurants began reopening for dine-in patrons on Thursday as the state and county began easing restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Some restaurants owners have expressed such deep concerns about customers causing disruptions over the face covering rule that they’re sticking with takeout for now to see if these problems occur at other locations.

What changes can I expect to see when I dine in a restaurant?

Customers showing any visible signs or symptoms of COVD-19 infection, such as shortness of breath, fever, chills or sore throat, will not be allowed to enter. Employees are required to wear masks and safety gear.

Seated parties are limited to one server per table and the server will not be permitted to linger and chat.

Regular menus have been replaced by single-serve paper versions.

All self-serve stations (salad and salsa bars, soft drinks, condiments, frozen yogurt and toppings) are closed. Salt and pepper shakers, toothpick dispensers, breath mint dishes and other high-touch items have been removed.

User's Guide
David Contreras-Curiel, the owner of Saffron Thai, wipes down a table on May 21, 2020 in San Diego, California. Restaurants began reopening for dine-in patrons on Thursday as the state and county began easing restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Tableside food preparation is now prohibited. Entertainment items like board and arcade games, pool tables and bowling lanes are off-limits. Customers must pack their own leftovers.

Some restaurants are installing touchless point-of-sale systems to avoid handling cash or credit cards. Disinfecting requirements are so strict that customers should expect to see an employee working at all times cleaning high-touch surfaces such as door handles, counters, bathrooms and credit-card terminals.

What happens if a restaurant violates the public health orders?

Just hours into day one of the Phase 2 reopening on Thursday, a video was posted online at the El Prez Restaurant in Pacific Beach, where hundreds of people could be seen packed inside mingling with drinks, most with no face coverings. On Friday morning, El Prez was shut down until further notice by the county’s public health officer.

Mike Barnett, undersheriff for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, said Friday that officers don’t have the time or the manpower to respond to every complaint, but he hopes that education and self-policing will reduce violations and incidents like at El Prez will be rare.

Are all retail stores now open again?

Many retail stores have reopened, but not all. Like restaurants, they are required to file a safe reopening plan with the county before they can open their doors. Shopping malls are also reopening gradually.

Westfield will reopen its shopping malls in Escondido, Mission Valley, Bonita and the UTC area on May 29 with limited hours and expanded cleaning protocols. Simon Property Group reopened its Fashion Valley mall, Carlsbad Premium Outlets and Las Americas Premium Outlets on Saturday. Select stores are now open at The Shoppes at Carlsbad and Grossmont Center in La Mesa.

What can I expect to see when I go shopping?

All employees and customers are required to wear face coverings. Smaller shops may require an outdoor queue to ensure that there is a safe six-foot distance between customers inside at all times. All high-touch surfaces will be disinfected frequently. Floors will be taped with queue lines and store clerks must maintain a six-foot distance from customers. Customers showing any visible signs of symptoms of COVD-19 infection will not be allowed to enter. Many stores are installing touchless point-of-sale devices.

User's Guide
Shoppers at The Grossmont Center mall in La Mesa are greeted with signs “Welcome Back! We Missed You.” The mall opened to the public today with a few gift shops, formal dress shops and some small dine in restaurants. The State of California approved San Diego County’s plan for Phase 2 of the reopening plan late Wednesday night.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Can I still try on makeup, jewelry and apparel at stores?

Safety protocols vary by outlet. Some retailers, like Best Buy, are only allowing customers inside by appointment. Sears has announced it will temporarily close its fitting rooms, limit returns and install sneeze shields at checkout counters. Kohl’s is temporarily closing its changing rooms and it won’t re-shelve items that have been returned for at least 48 hours. J.C. Penney is closing its beauty salons and limiting the number of customers in its stores. Macy’s has announced the suspension of bra fittings and in-store try-on of men’s dress shirts. Macy’s is also prohibiting sampling of beauty and makeup products, requiring the use of hand sanitizer before trying on jewelry and watches, and it is suspending ear piercing, alterations and other spa-like services. Ulta beauty stores have suspended makeup sampling.

Can I catch the coronavirus from the clothing I try on at stores?

The Centers for Disease Control doesn’t have any research on how long the virus can survive on clothing, though a recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found it could be detected up to three days after it was applied to surfaces such as cardboard, plastic and stainless steel. Clothing purchased at a store should be laundered immediately and the wearer should wash their hands and wipe down the washing machine and dryer buttons afterward. The CDC recommends washing clothes in very warm or hot water, depending on the fabric needs, and drying them thoroughly.


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