Associated Press

More than two dozen California counties have asked for permission to loosen their stay-at-home plans beyond what the state allows, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday, promising a speedy review as more than 4.5 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in a coronavirus-induced economic downturn.

Newsom relaxed restrictions last week to allow for curbside pickup at most retailers and for manufacturers to resume operations with some limits. But he said counties could go further if they meet strict state standards, including no coronavirus-related deaths and no more than one confirmed case per 10,000 residents in the past two weeks.

Newsom said his administration has talked with 19 counties, with nine more planned. Some could have their plans approved by Tuesday. But it’s been difficult for some highly populated counties to meet state standards. Officials in Kern County, where one nursing home has accounted for most of its deaths, have asked Newsom to reconsider those rules.

“We’re open to argument, interested in evidence,” Newsom said during his daily news conference. “There is a lot of really interesting nuance within these large counties and that obviously needs to be taken into account.”

San Luis Obispo County, which stretches along the Central Coast north of Los Angeles, meets the infection requirements if it only counts new cases that are “community or travel-related.” It doesn’t meet the requirements if it includes cases with a “known source or household contact,” which includes 10 cases at the California Men’s Colony prison.

“All of this is sort of uncharted territory for all of us,” said Michelle Shoresman, spokeswoman for the county’s health officials.

Yuba and Sutter counties in Northern California easily meet those standards but have defied the governor by allowing dine-in restaurants, hair salons and gyms to reopen. Last week, the Newsom administration warned the counties they could forfeit federal disaster dollars if they keep ignoring the governor’s order.

But Monday, the Democratic governor called the two counties “incredibly cooperative” and said “we’re having some very good conversations.” He predicted that they will “be able to work through a lot of the differences we may have.”

Newsom said more than 4.5 million Californians have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March, when a statewide stay-at-home order went into effect and shut down most businesses.

County leaders across the state have been clamoring for Newsom to let them move more quickly in reopening their economies. They were joined by at least one big business Monday when a Tesla plant in Alameda County resumed operations in defiance of that county’s public health orders.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been in a spat with local officials about when he could reopen his plant, highlighted by a series of tweets over the weekend where Musk threatened to move the company to another state. Newsom said he has “great expectations” that county leaders can work it out with Musk and said “we look forward to many, many decades of that relationship.”

California has more than 68,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 2,700 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because of a shortage of testing.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed.

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