California Gov. Gavin Newsom Outlines Phase Two of Reopening the State

Coronavirus Pandemic - Los Angeles Streets - Brighton Way Beverly Hills - Getty-H 2020
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Phase two will see "lower-risk" workplaces like retail, bookstores, clothing stores, florists, car dealer showrooms and sporting goods stores, all with curbside pickup where applicable, open doors on Friday.

Hands-free payment devices, open-air break rooms, ubiquitous hand sanitizer dispensers, visible protocol checklists and mask-wearing workers — these are just a few of the sights both staff and customers can expect as California moves into phase two of its COVID-19 recovery plan on Friday.

Alongside Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California’s Health and Human Services department, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday outlined the guidelines from Sacramento, with the latter calling the easing of restrictions "specific milestones" reached based upon "health, data and scientific analysis" of the impact COVID-19 has had on the state. California on Thursday recorded an additional 92 deaths, for a total of 2,504 to date, and 60,614 positive cases. The epicenter continues to be Los Angeles County, where 1,418 residents have died. 

Phase two of the recovery plan will see "lower-risk" workplaces like retail, bookstores, clothing stores, florists, car dealer showrooms and sporting goods stores, all with curbside pickup where applicable, open their doors on Friday. If successful, that could be followed closely by dine-in restaurants, outdoor museums, shopping malls, car washes and other businesses. Phase three includes higher-risk workplaces such as movie theaters, gyms, hair salons and in-person religious services. "I want folks to know this is an iterative process," the governor cautioned. "This is not etched in stone." 

Any easing of restrictions, Newsom added, will be based on the state being able to test, track and trace potential positive cases and/or outbreaks. He stressed that it's not a "return to normal," but a gradual toggling to see what works to find the best path for California moving forward. Dr. Ghaly also spoke at length on regional variance, which has become a hot-button issue across the state as some counties in California have made an aggressive push to open ahead of Newsom’s guidelines. Those include Yuba and Sutter counties, areas that have yet to report a single COVID-19 death.  

News of the guidelines followed the governor’s grim update about the state’s economy and budget deficit. In doing so, he first opted to remind the press that one year ago, California had a $21.4 billion operating surplus backed by 120 consecutive months of net job growth in the state and the lowest unemployment record in history. Just 90 days ago, Newsom said he submitted a budget that roughly had a $6 billion surplus: “People were feeling a great sense of optimism about our faith and our future.” 

Then the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the global economy and sent 4.3 million Californians to the unemployment line since March 12. Now, California’s government is facing its worst budget deficit in state history at $54.3 million, a figure that was released earlier on Thursday. the governor also said the unemployment figures could hit 18 percent this year. 

Newsom expressed some optimism that “we will get through this,” but said that is conditioned on receiving aid from the federal government, and he called on those leaders for help. The governor said he’s in conversations with the legislature and specifically Rep. Nancy Pelosi about the crisis. “This is not a cry by any chance,” he said. “We’re really proud of the work that’s being done to really get California’s fiscal health back in shape, but this is bigger than all of us. We really need the federal government to do more. We punch above our weight in this state. … We cannot do it alone.”

Asked for his take on the news that the NFL would be announcing its schedule and what that means for other sports returning to stadiums across the state, Newsom said his staff is in “working collaboratively and cooperatively” across many leagues, among them the NFL, MLB, UFC and MLS. After acknowledging his own passion for sports as a former college baseball athlete, he would only say those conversations are “very fluid.”

Newsom's briefing was followed closely by the L.A. County press update, during which Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer reported an additional 51 deaths in the area, bringing the total to 1,418 to date. There were also an additional 815 newly diagnosed positive cases for a total of 29,427, including 791 in Pasadena and 501 in Long Beach, areas that have their own independent health departments. 

One of the most significant statistics Ferrer released Thursday had to do with the number of deaths at L.A. County's nursing and skilled nursing homes. Thus far in the pandemic, 718 residents of congregate living facilities have died, representing 51 percent of all deaths in the county. Ferrer's team continues to track 353 facilities where there is at least one confirmed case, as residents in those settings have proven to be most vulnerable. "This work is one of our biggest priorities at the moment," she said. 

During her briefing, Ferrer also spent a considerable amount of time talking about the easing of restrictions as L.A. County prepares for a reopening under similar guidelines introduced by the state. Asked whether she sees this moment as an experiment, Ferrer said she preferred the term "balancing act." 

"It would be very tempting to move much quicker," she said. "If we don't do this well, if we can't really adhere to the guidance, if it's too hard to keep our distance when we're out and about, if it's too hard to keep on the cloth face coverings ... we will see that spike that we don't want to see and we'll need revert to more restrictions. ... We do know that people are anxious to begin to feel, to take steps that allow us to feel like we can recover collectively as a community. But we're are going to go extraordinarily slow. And the reason why is we don't want to do this at the expense of people's lives."