SONOMA (CBS SF) – Sonoma County is following in the footsteps of its North Bay neighbors and moving deeper into Phase 2 of reopening.

The California Department of Public Health made the announcement to allow the county to advance to late Stage 2 on Friday afternoon, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. Sonoma joins two other Bay Area counties already in the more advance stage of reopening, Napa and Solano.

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Sonoma County, along with dozens of other California counties filed a Variance Attestation with the state, saying it meets the criteria established by Governor Newsom for Phase 2 reopening.

According to the attestation, the county has some 446,000 residents, requiring 670 tests per day and currently exceeds that capacity.

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“It’s because our residents have done such an amazing job following the County and state health orders that we’re able to allow for the phased reopening of some businesses here in Solano County,” said Supervisor Erin in a statement.

Under the new rules, more low risk businesses such as dine-in restaurants and shopping malls will be able to reopen under state guidelines that call for social distancing. Facilities such as wineries, breweries and bars may also open for outdoor dining if meals are served, according to the county.

The outdoor activities are allowed as they pose less of a risk of virus transmission than indoor activities, according to health officials, and patrons are limited at a table to members of the same household or living unit.

While the announcement also mentioned the reopening of schools, the Sonoma County Office of Education had previously announced that the county’s schools would continue with distance learning through the end of the academic year.

The expanded reopening does however apply to summer day camps and other educational or recreational institutions or programs providing childcare and supervision for children of all ages.

Among the businesses still not allowed to open are businesses offering personal services such as nail salons, gyms, museums, zoos, bars that do not have food service, clubs, concerts and other live venues.

So far, there have been 444 cases of COVID-19 in Sonoma County. Four people have died.

It’s been exactly two weeks since Sonoma County entered Phase II of the coronavirus shelter-in-place easing. When KPIX checked in on May 8th very few businesses had taken the opportunity to take those early reopening steps. So what do things look like two weeks later?

“Slowly, and very hesitantly, people are coming back out,” says Regina Leoni. “It’s still nowhere close to what it usually is at this time of year.”

On the first day of of Phase II, most businesses in downtown Petaluma were still closed. Now, visitors will find more ‘open’ signs since business owners have a better handle on the rules.

“How to comply with them, without running afoul of the law,” laughs Leoni, one member of the family behind I. Leoni Kitchen & Home Essentials in Petaluma.

But while more stores have opened up over the past two weeks, most business owners say nothing here resembles normal.

“Downtown is a little ecosystem,” Leoni says. “And what we’ve had is this massive disruption in our ecosystem.”

“I think there’s a little bit more foot traffic downtown,” says Greta Youngblood, owner of Passeggiata Shoes. “But the nature of my business is that people want to try on shoes. And legally, they still can’t do that.”

Youngblood’s shoe store is now open, but on a very limited basis. She says without restaurants and bars drawing crowds, store owners will not see reliable foot traffic.

“Yeah, I think a lot of us are looking at how this could affect us long term,” Youngblood says. “We’ve made it a couple months, but this is the end of our reserves.”

So two weeks into Phase II things are picking up, but not enough to inspire much confidence here.

“It’s better, and we’re hopeful, but we’re also very cautious right now,” Leoni says. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

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