Corporate america has rounded on authorities in california over coronavirus restrictions, complaining they are being too slow to allow the countrys largest economy to reopen as case numbers fall.
Almost seven months since california became the first us state to issue shelter-at-home orders, officials are under mounting pressure from exasperated companies, which have taken to the courts to push for restrictions to be lifted.
Mall owner westfield is suing los angeles county, complaining protracted closures are unjustifiable. theres no clarity, jean-marie tritant, the companys us president, told the financial times.
A coalition of almost 300 gym chains is also taking legal action against the state governor, arguing that restrictions on the sector are unfounded. the national retail federation, meanwhile, has submitted a public records demand for officials to disclose the evidence behind policy decisions.
The number of new cases each day in the state has fallen below3,000 down from more than 12,000 as recently as late july, according to thecovid tracking project.
But officials remain cautious, given that about 830,000 californians have so far tested positive and more than 16,000 have died.
Mark ghaly, californias health secretary, said this week that he was hopeful of a true downward trajectory in most of the state. but he expressed caution about relaxing the rules, pointing to rising case numbers in some areas.
In august gavin newsom, californias governor, introduced a reopening system based on four colour-coded tiers signalling the risk in each county within the state. the tiers range from minimal, when the positive test rate is less than 2 per cent, to widespread, when the rate is above 8 per cent.
Authorities in each county have leeway to adopt their own policies. this system was supposed to avoid top-down measures that might be inappropriate in some areas. but for some businesses the varying rules have added to confusion and fuelled a sense that some policies were randomly applied.
Los angeles county, which accounts for almost a third of all cases in the state, has come in for particular criticism.
This week the county said it planned to allow indoor malls to reopen from wednesday, albeit with occupancy limited to 25 per cent capacity and food courts remaining closed.
Mr tritant said that while he welcomed the reopenings, westfield was pressing ahead with legal action because it was concerned the reprieve could be shortlived. theres no business that can operate without being able to plan.
Westfield malls in the area had previously been allowed to open in june, he said, only to be ordered to close again two weeks later.
Fitness clubs have been particularly hard hit, with indoor gyms in la and other areas closed for months. in san francisco they were allowed to reopen in mid-september, but only at 10 per cent capacity.
Francesca schuler, chief executive of in-shape, a fitness club chain with 60 outlets in california of which only about 20 are open complained that local authorities had not provided evidence that gyms are riskier than other businesses that had been allowed to reopen. she called the restrictions completely insane.
Don dickerson, vice-president of fitness sf, said the group lost about $20m when all its eight locations across the san francisco bay area were forced to close for six months.
He said officials were ignoring the benefits of gyms. the bestpreventive medicineis not having people stay at home for six months, he said.
Some of the biggest us companies have also been critical. disney, which recently announced it would cut 28,000 jobs in theme parks in florida and california, said uncertainty had been exacerbated by the states unwillingness to lift restrictions.
Bob iger, disney chairman, last week resigned from mr newsoms coronavirus task force, a sign of mounting business pressure that the governor said he unequivocally would not be swayed by.
We are not putting the health and safety of people visiting the state or recreating in the state at the parks at risk, mr newsom said at a media briefing.
California requires people to wear masks whenever they leave home, especially if they are indoors or on public transport. masks are only required outside when staying six feet away from others is not possible.
There are parts of california that are still maintaining retail store density at 25 per cent; there are parts that are requiring indoor malls to stay closed but allowing large stores to open, said stephanie martz, general counsel to the national retail federation. its that kind of decision making that, six months into the pandemic, starts to feel a little arbitrary.