OAKLAND — Gov. Gavin Newsom offered his most vigorous defense yet Monday for reopening California’s economy even as thousands of residents each day test positive for Covid-19.
“There’s a certain point where you have to recognize you can’t be in a permanent state where people are locked away for months and months and months on end,” Newsom said, warning of the broader public health impacts of seeing “lives and livelihoods completely destroyed.”
California has in recent weeks authorized its 58 counties to recommence a cascading number of commercial activities, from dine-in restaurants to bars to nail salons. Newsom gave counties the green light after facing weeks of rising pushback from local officials who argued the economic fallout was eclipsing public health risks.
While business owners and many residents have cheered the reopening, some county health officers and public health experts have voiced skepticism about moving ahead as caseloads continue to rise, especially in dense urban epicenters. The seven-day average of new cases continues to climb in California while it has fallen dramatically in other high-impact states such as New York and New Jersey.
Images of packed businesses — especially bar scenes this past weekend — have underscored the anxiety.
Newsom laid out a lengthy series of indicators Monday justifying those decisions, noting that infection rates have stabilized and arguing that California’s health care system retains the capacity to handle a surge of new cases. He also underscored that counties wield the final say in reopening.
“Guidelines don’t mean ‘go,'” Newsom said.
Among those benchmarks are a surplus of ventilators and a hospital system in which only about a quarter of intensive care unit beds are occupied, Newsom said, reassuring state officials that the system is equipped to absorb a likely second wave.
Newsom noted that the positivity rate — the percentage of those testing positive — has declined as test access increases, with California approaching a goal of being able to conduct 60,000 tests a day. He added the state was disseminating personal protective equipment like masks.
“We have a state that is holding strong in terms of stability in case rates,” Newsom said.
Key risks endure, Newsom said. The state is tracking persistent, multi-day red flags around indicators like hospitalization rates in seven California counties, Los Angeles among them. Skilled nursing facilities, which have accounted for most deaths, remain the administration’s “top priority,” Newsom said. Latinx and African-American Californians continue to suffer disproportionately.
And Newsom implored Californians to remain vigilant in the weeks and months ahead, noting that “as we reopen inevitably we’re going to see an increase in the overall number of cases.” He urged people to continue maintaining social distance, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently.
“Do the kinds of thing that are necessary for us to avoid that second wave,” Newsom said.