The dramatic change in the governor’s COVID-19 approach signals wider reopens by the first week of June
As cities and counties in California grow more anxious to reopen local economies, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a drastic relaxation of public health criteria to reopen the state in a move that could allow most counties to reopen in a matter of weeks.
In a daily briefing on Monday, May 18, the governor stressed the graduality of the state’s reopening but significantly departed from his ironclad approach to “flattening the curve” and only reopening a county if there are no new deaths and no more than 10 cases per 100,000 residents within a two-week period.
Under Newsom’s new guidelines, counties are now required to have at most 25 cases per 100,000 residents, or they must possess a virus positivity rate of no higher than 8%.
But the governor stressed that the state must continue its overall downward trend of COVID-19 cases and deaths for counties to receive approval for moving forward in the state’s reopening plan, which Newsom previously said is based on physical distancing and scientific data.
“Bottom line is people can go at their own pace, and we are empowering our local health directors and county officials that understand their local communities and conditions. We’re going to start seeing a lot more activity, [so] let’s just make sure we do it thoughtfully and very, very strategically,” Newsom said at Monday’s press conference from Mustards Grill in Napa.
Newsom attributed the slackening of the rules to a decrease in state hospitalizations in the last two weeks, the increase of personal protective equipment distribution for medical workers and the wider availability of testing.
According to state health numbers, there have been a 7.5% decline in hospitalizations and an 8.7% decline in the number of ICU patients in the last two weeks.
Newsom also said that in-store retail patronage, as well as church-going and getting hair cuts, may resume, and he suggested that professional sports could also return without the fan presence by early June.
Back in March, Newsom was the first governor to announce a statewide emergency declaration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which put forth strict shelter-in-place measures that have upended daily life for Californians as well as the financial health for nearly every industry.
The governor’s latest remarks show a dramatic acceleration of the state’s 4-stage reopening plan. Currently, the state is transitioning from Stage 1 (wherein all residents except for essential workers must stay at home) to Stage 2 (slow reopening of businesses with lower risks of spreading the virus).
Newsom said that 53 of California’s 58 counties (“give or take a few counties”) are eligible to move into the second stage of reopening. Moreover, his remarks suggested that counties could soon be shifting to Stage 3, saying that Californians may start going to hair salons and gyms in “weeks, not months.”
As previously reported in the Asian Journal, California is currently in the early second phase of reopening: certain retail businesses are now allowed to open for curbside and delivery. The slow reopening of the state came after certain counties, namely Orange and San Diego counties, insisted on lifting the state’s shelter-in-place measures.
As of Tuesday, May 19, California has 82,302 cases and 3,334 deaths related to the COVID-19 virus. Los Angeles County makes up for nearly half of that count at 39,573 cases and 1,913 deaths.
LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement released Tuesday that she hopes that the county will reopen by July 4, citing the financial consequences of lockdown measures.
Officials across the state have been looking to avert an economic downturn amid the pandemic, which has caused unemployment to soar and businesses losing money despite government aid efforts.
“The economic and sociological impacts created by the COVID-19 shutdown have hurt our vulnerable populations the most,” Barger said.
LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer welcomed the governor’s changes to the rules, but she noted that because of LA County’s drastic numbers, it may be among the last of the counties to fully reopen.
“It would be great if we could all reopen at the same time, but literally half the cases and half the deaths [across California] are here in LA County right now,” she said.