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Restaurants, gyms slam California virus rules, see closings

LOS ANGELES – Owners of restaurants, gyms and nail salons criticized California's new rules guiding when businesses can reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the plan will bring financial misery to their industries and further weaken the state's battered economy.

The California Restaurant Association said in a statement Friday that restaurants will continue to close permanently around the state because Gov. Gavin Newsom's plan will continue to keep most indoor dining rooms closed, while others will have strict limits on capacity.

The group called on Newsom to hold a special session of the Legislature to work on an aid package.

Restaurants "are closing for good, by the thousands,” association President Jot Condie said in a statement. The group estimates as many as 1 million restaurant workers have been furloughed or laid off during the pandemic.

Francesca Schuler, an advisory board member of the California Fitness Alliance, called Newsom's revised rules a step backward that would devastate the struggling industry. She said she was perplexed why health clubs are being slapped with stricter limits on capacity than restaurants, especially because customers can work out individually, on spaced-out equipment and wear masks.

“We will not survive this as an industry,” she said.

Newsom's color-coded system for reopening California businesses moves slower and more gradually than the state’s first attempt last spring. Counties will move through the system based on their rate of coronavirus cases and the percentage of positive tests. Previously, the state used several other metrics, like hospitalizations and testing capacity, to determine whether counties could reopen.

But the result for many businesses in a state that has a nation's highest number of confirmed cases is continued restrictions that will cut into their bottom line.

For example, beginning Monday, hair salons and barbershops can open statewide, including indoors, providing they follow physical distancing and other requirements. But in most of the state, nail care only be done outdoors.

“Separating hair from nails-skin services is arbitrarily discriminatory, dividing our barbering-beauty industry along gender, racial and industry-sector lines,” said a statement from the Professional Beauty Federation of California.

Since the start of the pandemic, many restaurants have been limited to takeout and delivery, and in other cases outdoor dining. Under the new rules, counties with the highest infection rates would continue to be limited to outdoor dining only, along with takeout and delivery.

If a county improves and moves to the next tier, restaurants could operate with 25% capacity indoors or 100 patrons, whichever is fewer. But even if they get to the tier with the lease restrictions, indoor capacity can only reach 50%.

“Restaurants cannot sustain themselves or their employees when they operate with strict capacity limits," said the restaurant association's Condi.

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Taxin reported from Orange County, California. Associated Press Writer Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed.