CALIFORNIA — The state will need to meet six key milestones in its fight against the new coronavirus before officials consider lifting California’s stay-home order and reopening the economy, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.
Newsom’s highly anticipated announcement about the state’s plans did not include a timeline for when restrictions may be lifted. Still, Newsom said he was “optimistic” that the state avoided a worst-case scenario, thanks to social distancing measures.
“We do see light at the end of the tunnel,” Newsom said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
According to public health models, California residents have successfully “bent the curve” of the virus and averted a disastrous spike in COVID-19 cases that threatened to overwhelm the state’s health care system, Newsom said.
But life after the crisis will look much different than before. Restaurants will reopen but may have temperature checks at the door, along with fewer tables inside. Face masks will likely remain common in public settings, according to Dr. Sonia Angell, California’s Public Health Officer and CDPH director, who also spoke at Tuesday’s news conference.
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Most notably, the state may need to reintroduce strict containment measures as long as the virus remains present, Newsom said, describing a “toggling back and forth between more-restrictive and less-restrictive measures.”
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Newsom said mass gatherings will remain banned until a vaccine is developed and the state reaches “herd immunity” — a development that won’t come for at least 18 months, experts have said.
Schools could potentially reopen if they develop plans to stagger student schedules throughout the day and avoid large groups, Newsom said, although he did not provide specifics.
Statewide, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have grown modestly in recent days, and intensive care unit admissions slightly declined Tuesday, Newsom said. Still, the overall number of cases continues to grow steadily, and health experts have warned repeatedly that easing up on social distancing could cause a dramatic resurgence in cases.
The state unveiled six “indicators” Tuesday that officials will consider before lifting current restrictions:
Acknowledging the hardships caused by the state’s frozen economy, Newsom said repeatedly Tuesday that the current paralysis “can’t be a permanent state.” But a premature reopening would be disastrous, he warned.
“I know you want a timeline, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves,” Newsom said. “Let’s not make the mistake of pulling the plug too early.”
The governor said only that the next two weeks would test the state’s readiness to move past the current crisis. By the beginning of May, the state will have a better sense of whether it can afford to ease its restrictions, Newsom said.
A fourth phase
The state’s fight against the coronavirus began in January, when Americans on repatriation flights landed in California after fleeing China, where the virus originated. Newsom described these flights as the state’s first “phase” in its containment strategy, which was followed by the second phase: stay-home orders for seniors, statewide school closures and, ultimately, a statewide stay-home order issued March 19.
The third phase consisted of increasing the state’s hospital capacity to accommodate a surge in COVID-19 cases, Newsom said. That effort remains ongoing, as California continues to open new hospitals and hire medical workers to treat patients.
The reopening plan is the fourth phase — “Perhaps the most difficult, challenging phase of all,” Newsom said Tuesday.
On Monday, Newsom and two other West Coast governors announced they would collaborate on a “shared vision” for how to restart public life in the region once the worst of the coronavirus crisis had passed.
The pact between Newsom, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown included a number of general principles, including that science and health outcomes will guide the decision to reopen each economy, according to a joint statement from the three governors.
When it comes to re-opening, SCIENCE — not politics — must be California’s guide.
CA has developed 6 indicators that will help guide how and when we decide to re-open our economy. This isn’t about an on/off switch. This will be a thoughtful process — led by public health…
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) April 14, 2020
Full coronavirus coverage: California Coronavirus: Latest Updates On Cases, Orders, Closures