California’s Newsom on Reopening State: ‘There Is No Light Switch, There Is No Date’

COVID-19 Update

As promised, California Governor Gavin Newsom provided an update on reopening the California economy in his daily press conference: There is no answer to “when?” Amid numerous governors promising specific business reopenings as early as this week and protestors throughout the state demanding the right to return to work, Newsom stood firm that relaxation of his stay-at-home Executive Order (Order) will not be driven by politics or pressure but by “health, science, and real data,” and reopening plans will continue to be coordinated with the states of Oregon and Washington. Recent statewide polling suggests that the governor is still on firm political ground with the state’s voters—his approval rating stands at 83% and a strong majority prefers continuing the stay-home policy if ending it would result in higher infection rates.

Governor Newsom did relax current restrictions on elective surgeries, a significant first ray of light for California’s hospitals.

The Governor affirmed that there is an architecture and deep analysis driving the administration’s consideration of future modifications to the Order in the form of six critical indicators:

  • The ability to test, track, isolate and quarantine
  • The ability to protect the most vulnerable populations
  • Hospital capacity
  • Therapeutics (e.g., herd immunity and vaccine)
  • The ability of businesses, schools and facilities to maintain social distancing
  • The ability to reinstate restrictions as required

After the announcement of the elective surgery decision, which is based on the evaluation of the hospital capacity factor, today’s press conference focused heavily on the first indicator, especially with regard to testing. To give concrete context to how measurable progress on each of the indicators will lead to relaxing the Order’s stay-at-home and other mandates, the Governor provided these existing metrics and future goals for testing (“testing” here refers to testing for active infections, not to antibody testing):

  • At the end of March, California was conducting 2,000 tests per day. At that time, the state set a goal to increase the number of tests per day to 10,000 by April 14; in actuality, by April 14, the state was conducting 14,500 tests per day.
  • Today the state is conducting 16,000 tests per day.
  • The state’s current goal is to conduct 25,000 tests per day by the end of April.
  • The overall goal for this “Phase One” of working toward relaxation of the Order is to conduct 60,000–80,000 tests per day.

In an apparent pushback on states that are making specific commitments to reopen particular businesses or economic sectors in the near term, Newsom said he had no such grand announcement, as much as he would like to. The Governor promised to continue to provide at-least weekly updates on the progress forward as to each of the six indicators, but won’t delay any further decisions on re-opening state businesses, which he promised to announce “in real time.”

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