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NRF Seeking Records on California’s Coronavirus Retail Closures

Kali Hays
·4 mins read

The National Retail Federation feels mall retailers in California need more information as to why such shopping centers have been subject to operational restrictions during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

During a July surge in California of people infected and hospitalized with COVID-19, after the state largely lifted restrictions on indoor operations of restaurants and retailers, Gov. Gavin Newsom moved to retighten such restrictions. While individual retailers could continue operating indoors at limited capacity, indoor areas of restaurants, hair and nail salons and indoor malls were again closed, seeing as they put people in close proximity and do not allow for enough fresh air, both proven risks when it comes to COVID-19 transmission.

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“We’re moving to a modification mode of our original stay-at-home order,” Newsom said in July. He said the goal was to look at “activities happening inside and moving them outside.” And to a large degree, that’s how businesses across California have been operating for more than two months. In L.A., there are manicures and haircuts happening outside, as well as dining and the proliferation of curbside pick-up for just about every consumer-led business.

Since July, the daily number of new COVID-19 cases in California, as well as positivity and hospitalization rates, have dropped, but the state, like many others, is still seeing thousands of new cases a day. On Monday, the state reported nearly 3,000 new cases for the previous day and a positivity rate of just under 3 percent for the previous two weeks. In early April, about three weeks after California was one of the first states to go into lockdown, there were fewer than 1,000 new cases a day.

But the NRF seems to want to know why indoor malls, which typically have no access to outside air or operations given their design, are being left closed in some parts of the state.

“California’s retailers are making the safety and well-being of employees and customers priority number one and they deserve transparency in the reopening process,” Stephanie Martz, NRF’s chief administrative officer and general counsel, said.

Although the state has had coronavirus operating guidelines for retailers and other businesses available for months, Martz said California businesses “cannot effectively plan and prepare to serve their customers when the government can adjust the playing field weekly based on unknown sources of information.”

California has not made any major changes to its coronavirus mandates since July and officials have released daily updates on the virus and new cases, consistently highlighting the rise in infection numbers.

The state has also left it largely up to individual counties to decide what level of reopening to enact, so long as they fall below certain thresholds for new daily infections and positivity rates. Orange County, for example, has allowed nearly all businesses, including indoor malls, to reopen, with only limits on capacity. For most retail, capacity only needs to be kept to 50 percent. Face masks are not even required in the county.

Nevertheless, the NRF is seeking state public records around decisions during the pandemic, calling it a push for “transparency.”

“Retailers are committed to continuing to follow all federal, state and local public health guidance and recommendations,” the NRF said. “However, they need to understand the basis for which government officials are making decisions that ultimately impact retailers’ ability to serve customers and provide jobs in this economy.”

A company spokeswoman confirmed that California is the only state the NRF is seeking public records from on its coronavirus response, but said it is “prepared to file similar requests in additional states as needed.” She did not say why exactly California is being targeted for the current request. Nearly all state governments in the U.S. have put some level of operating restrictions on retail due to the pandemic.

And the NRF is seeking a wide array of records from California. The spokeswoman said the group filed requests with the Office of the Governor and several related entities; The City of Los Angeles; the L.A. County Department of Health; California State Department of Public Health; the Orange County Department of Public Health; the San Diego County Department of Public Health; and the San Fransisco Department of Health.

A representative of the governor’s office could not be reached for comment.