Governor hints at relaxing restrictions

Grove calls on Newsom to “multitask” protections for public health, economic vitality

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Governor hints at relaxing restrictions“Through extraordinary behavior from millions of you, because you have practiced physical distancing and stay-at-home orders, you have bent the curve in the state of California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a noon press conference.

He said that because of collaborative efforts of Californians, the models for the predicted outbreaks of COVID-19 have changed. But even though healthcare infrastructure has been spared the anticipated surges in care, potentially saving thousands of lives, “We are not out of the woods yet.”

Newsom presented a loose outline of what the state still needs to accomplish before relaxing the existing shelter-at-home orders, closures of all but essential services and directives to maintain social distancing protocols and other heralds of a return to normal.

“I’ll talk a little bit more about what ‘normal’ may look like, because ‘normal’ is anything but.”

Newsom cautioned those looking forward to the days when they can enjoy dining out should calibrate their expectations. Their server may be wearing gloves and a face mask. They may be reading from disposable menus. Tables may be permanently spaced out to prohibit exposure. You may even have to allow you temperature to be taken at the door before being seated.

Schools may not function they way they have traditionally. Start times may be staggered. Mealtimes, physical education and even classroom configurations may be modified to increase social distancing.

“Those are the conversations we will be having over the course of the next few weeks and months.”

Newsom acknowledged that Californians have endured several phases in response to the coronavirus pandemic, starting with repatriated flights from mainland China in January.

By early March he had asked seniors and other citizens at high-risk of infection to stay home, while directing businesses to modify practices to accommodate social distancing.

In mid March schools were closed temporarily. Then schools were asked to adopt a “distance” model for the remainder of the year.

In late March, non-essential businesses were closed and citizens were directed, whenever possible, to stay at home.

The current phase, he said, prepares for a transition that will ultimately rely on herd immunity and vaccination.

“We do see light at the end of the tunnel … a ray of optimism and hopefulness that this too shall pass,” said Newsom. But, “it is also, perhaps, the most difficult and challenging phase of all.”

He said that his team is building a framework that will allow expansion of testing, a more reliable ability to track and trace infection and more effective quarantine for individuals exposed to COVID-19.

His plan will increase protection for the most vulnerable populations — including seniors, immunocompromised and homeless.

There is also an ongoing effort to increase the capacity of hospitals and alternative-care clinics to meet the potential need for surges.

Rather than a comprehensive end to mitigation efforts, he told Californians to anticipate a modular approach that would allow the state to toggle back and forth from restrictions as data relating to outbreaks dictates.

“Social distancing and staying at home have gotten us to this point,” said Newsom. “Coming out of this, it is incumbent that we proceed in the same spirit of collaboration.”

While California had the sixth-highest number of positive results for COVID-19, according to the latest data available at press time, California had only 692 cases per million, compared to New York (11,148/million), New Jersey (8,480/million) and Louisiana (4,831/million).

The number of new cases reported has also begun to slow down, said Newsom.

In two weeks, if the state continues to observe not just a flatting but a decline in numbers, the governor would begin unveiling more prescriptive timelines.

“Let’s not make the mistake of pulling the plug too early. I don’t want to make a political decision that puts people’s lives at risk, and puts the economy at even more risk by extending the amount of time before we get moving again.

“This is not a permanent state. We are finally seeing some rays of sunshine on the horizon.”

Before the governor’s conference on Tuesday, rumors were circulating that he would be announcing that social-distancing protocols would be relaxed — particularly on segments of the commercial sector that have been negatively impacted by closures.

“California is the fifth largest economy in the world, and must simultaneously work to protect public health and develop strategies to reopen the economy,” said State Sen. Republican Leader Shannon Grove.

“We cannot simply ignore the economic struggles of our families, job creators, workers and independent contractors who are suffering.”

She called on Newsom to provide a detailed plan on how the state will deal with the economic fallout of coronavirus mitigation measures. “We are in this together and our state must multitask to ensure our residents remain safe and the Golden State can be open for business once again.”

Assemblyman Vince Fong agreed that a discussion of California’s economy should be concurrent with efforts to protect public health.

“Revitalizing the economy requires longterm certainty that includes regulatory relief and a lowering of state taxes and fees so that businesses can grow and rehire.”

Pictured: Gov. Gavin Newsom in an online press conference.

Story First Published: 2020-04-17