‘Things will look different’: Newsom shares plans to eventually reopen state

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom began to lay out the road map for gradually reopening California in his media briefing Tuesday, though plenty of hurdles remain before a return to normal in the state.

Most businesses, all schools and places of worship remain closed due to the state’s stay-at-home order, but Newsom has shown some cautious optimism about the number of COVID-19 cases in the state “stabilizing” in recent days.

The process needs to be gradual, because moving rapidly back to business as usual could cause another spike in illnesses, the governor explained.

Dr. Sonia Angell, the state health officer, said it was important not to think of changes as an “on-off” proposition. Instead there will be a series of tweaks to the existing guidelines as people are allowed to move more freely.

“Things will look different,” a slide in the presentation read. Restaurants will reopen, but with fewer tables and disposable menus. Face coverings will become more standard in public, and temperature checks before entering businesses could become a fact of life, officials explained. Schools could have students attend class in “shifts,” with some attending in the morning and others getting in-person instruction later in the day.

Eventually, the population will develop herd immunity to the virus and scientists will develop a vaccine, Newsom said. In the meantime, the state will start easing restrictions on gatherings and other activity, once it is confident it can sufficiently do six key things:

  • Monitor and protect communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating and treating people who are positive or exposed
  • Prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe virus symptoms
  • Handle surges in hospitals and public health systems
  • Develop new therapeutic treatments
  • Introduce new ways to allow for greater social distancing in businesses, schools and child care facilities
  • Determine if and when to reintroduce certain measures

The state did not release a specific timeline for the start of the process. “In two weeks, if we continue to see a decline” in hospitalizations, plus a continued surge in medical equipment, “ask me the question then,” the governor said, with a slight smile.

Newsom emphasized that lifting restrictions would not work like a “light switch” but instead like a “dimmer,” with restrictions being lifted and potentially put back in place depending on how public health data reacts.

Newsom said he understood people all over the state were hurting because of the stay-at-home order, and urged a bit more patience. “This can’t be a permanent state,” the governor said. “And it’s not.”

California’s plan will be coordinated in part with the other West Coast states, which entered a pact this week to create re-entry strategies that work in tandem. Newsom, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee have pledged their strategies will put residents’ health above any other factor in decision-making, and ensure those decisions are “guided by science, not politics.”

Calif. coronavirus tally

As he does each day, Newsom updated California’s official tallies on virus cases across the state. The state’s estimates typically lag behind independent case counts by news organizations, as they use different methods for counting.

The number of people being cared for in intensive care units declined “modestly” — .1% — to 1,177 patients, Newsom said. Meanwhile the number of people hospitalized increased 3.6%.

The state saw a record number of deaths in a 24-hour period, 71, bringing the state’s total to 758. “We are not out of the woods,” the governor warned.

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