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California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday announced a broad six-point plan to reopen the state’s economy and relax strict Safer at Home guidelines. California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell joined him in revealing the framework, and after both had taken turns at the podium and 30 minutes had ticked by, Newsom knew they’d avoided the most obvious question: When?
It’s still too early to say.
“I hope all of us are sobered by the reality of the moment but left with a little optimism that this is not a permanent state,” the governor explained. “You’ve met this moment in a remarkable way for us to present a roadmap, but it is all conditioned on us staying the course, staying at home and continuing to practice appropriate social distancing.”
Newsom and Angell then walked through the six points, with both quick to point out that the reopening is not like a light switch — “It’s more like a dimmer,” Newsom said, “this toggling back and forth between more restrictive and less restrictive measures” — but rather a strategy that requires modified behavior by residents and businesses in helping prevent a possible surge weeks or months from now.
The framework includes:
• the ability to monitor and protect communities through testing, tracking positive cases, properly isolate and support individuals who are positive and/or exposed to COVID-19.
• the ability to prevent infection in high-risk groups, including older residents, the homeless and those with underlying health conditions.
• the ability for hospitals and health care systems to handle a potential surge in cases through adequate staffing, hospital beds and supplies including ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment.
• the ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand.
• the ability for businesses, schools and child care facilities to support physical distancing guidelines as well as provide supplies and equipment to workforces and customers to keep them safe from illness.
• developing guidelines to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as Safer at Home guidelines, if necessary, based on relevant data.
Newsom said they will have teams of officials focused on each of the six areas, and he plans to provide weekly updates on how those questions are being asked and answered in an effort to shed more light on a timetable “in real time.”
“I recognize what you recognize,” said the governor. “That through extraordinary behavior, millions of you have bent the curve in the state of California. The models have changed because of your behavior, and that puts us in a position to make public these conversations. We do so soberly. We had a record number of deaths — 71 since our last reporting. We are not out of the woods yet. We are not spiking the ball, but we also extend a recognition in that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and this cannot be a permanent state.”
Angell touched on the many modifications to normal life that are on the way, including how restaurants will be impacted. Once reopened, business owners will be asked to follow physical distancing guidelines and, for eateries, that means fewer tables so customers can be 6 feet apart while waiters and staff may be seen wearing gloves and face masks. Face coverings, she added, will likely be common in most public settings. Other notable mentions: the use of disposable menus at restaurants, continued teleworking and distance-learning opportunities, and redesigns in retail stores and businesses to accommodate physical distancing.
Newsom first teased rollout of the plans at a press briefing Monday, during which he said California has entered into an agreement to work in tandem with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee “on a shared vision for reopening their economies and controlling COVID-19.” The pact followed a similar one announced by governors on the East Coast serving New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island; Massachusetts joined the ranks shortly after the initial announcement.
The agreements seemed to be in direct response to claims made Sunday by President Donald Trump on Twitter and repeated multiple times Monday (via Twitter again and later during a press conference at the White House) in which he said that he had ultimate authority over when to reopen the economy. “When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total,” said Trump, who has pivoted several times during the pandemic over strict social distancing and shutdown guidelines, once saying that the country would be opened back up by Easter. “The governors know that.”
For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2020
Newsom made it clear that California is taking its direction based on science, data and coronavirus modeling — not from politics. “The West Coast is guided by science. We issued stay at home orders early to keep the public healthy. We’ll open our economies with that same guiding principle,” the governor tweeted Monday afternoon.
California, home to the world’s fifth-largest economy and a population close to 40 million, became the first state to issue mandatory safer-at-home guidelines, an order that went into effect March 19 calling for the closure of all nonessential businesses such as dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms and convention centers, while essential services like grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, food banks, convenience stores and delivery restaurants have been allowed to remain open. Local officials at the county and city level in Los Angeles extended the order through May 15.
Newsom addressed those actions again on Tuesday when he said that he will be applying the same discipline in easing the restrictions as he did in putting them in place: “As we begin to transition out of this, it’s incumbent that we take that same spirit as we process into this next phase. This is an imperfect science; there’s no playbook that someone else put together.”
The state’s economy has been decimated during the pandemic as unemployment claims have skyrocketed in recent weeks to record levels. Last week, Newsom estimated that 2.3 million residents have filed for unemployment benefits since March 12, more than the entire number processed during the 2019 calendar year, per a release from his office.
Health officials across the state have expressed optimism that the strict shutdown and social distancing measures have worked in bending the curve of coronavirus cases and preventing a surge on California’s health care system. The state has not reported anywhere near the high numbers of coronavirus cases or deaths encountered as New York, the hardest hit state in the U.S. As of press time Tuesday, New York reported 202,208 positive cases and 10,834 deaths, while California has 22,348 positive cases and 687 deaths.
Asked how summer and upcoming celebrations will look during the season, the governor said life will continue to be restricted for months to come. “The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and a vaccine. [Events that host] hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands is not in the cards based upon our current guidelines and expectations. Things can change radically. … June, July, August, it is unlikely.”
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