With crowding seen at some of Southern California’s beaches over the weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday urged residents to follow physical distancing guidelines, warning that adherence will affect when the state can begin to ease stay-at-home orders.
“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off. This virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful, sunny day around our coasts,” the governor told residents in a news conference.
Newsom thanked California’s 40 million residents who have hunkered down at home and contributed to bending and stabilizing the curve of infections. He assured residents that the state has made “real progress” over the last few weeks.
But he said thousands congregating at Orange and Ventura county beaches, and specifically at Newport Beach Saturday, is what shouldn’t happen if the state is to continue managing the spread of the virus.
“Those images are an example of what not to see … what not to do — if we’re going to make the meaningful progress that we’ve made in the last few weeks, extend into the next number of weeks,” the governor said.
California’s residents have been under sweeping stay-at-home orders since March 19 in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Newsom had outlined six guidelines that must be met before coronavirus restrictions are lifted. They include expanding the state’s testing capacity, protecting the most vulnerable, addressing the ongoing needs of hospitals preparing for a potential surge, working on developing therapeutics and potentially a vaccine and deciding on how physical distancing would look when orders are lifted.
“The reality is we are just a few weeks away, not months away, from making measurable and meaningful changes to our stay-at-home order,” Newsom said Monday. “However, that’s driven by data, it’s driven by behavior, and as we change our behavior, we can impact the science, the health and the data.”
He is expected to provide further details Tuesday on how businesses, schools and child-care centers might be allowed to operate when they are permitted to reopen. That area is the fifth indicator in his six-pronged plan to determine how California can safely return to what Newsom called “modified normalcy.”
With easing restrictions contingent on managing the spread of the virus, Newsom urged residents to remain steadfast in following orders and to remind friends and family to also follow them, particularly younger people.
“The only thing that will set us back is our behavior,” the governor said. “The only thing that will set us back is people stopping to practice physical distancing and appropriate social distancing. That’s the only thing that’s going to slow down our ability to reopen this economy, our ability to adapt and modify the stay-at-home order.”
Though the vast majority of residents have been abiding by the stay at home order, data shows an increase in the movement of residents over the weekend, and a modest increase over past two weeks, according to the governor.
Newsom said most of the California coastline saw appropriate social distancing, notably at Los Angeles and San Diego beaches, where stronger local orders have shuttered beaches and residents have largely complied with guidelines.
Asked about more aggressive enforcement at beaches, the governor said that education is a better approach, adding that thousands of people have been contacted by authorities and no one was cited or arrested, just given a few warnings.
But the state will work with law enforcement to determine what can be done to make sure social distancing guidelines are followed.
“If there are people thumbing their nose and abusing it, putting their lives at risk as they’re impacting the lives of others and ultimately setting back the cause of reopening the economy … we may have to do a little bit more,” he said.
He also acknowledged Newport Beach officials who have announced they are looking into addressing the crowding seen at beaches Saturday.
Newsom said it’s not realistic to expect a virus-free world in the next few months.
Public health officials and experts have emphasized that a vaccine is still more than a year away.
“Until then, we have to manage it,” Newsom said.
Orders meant to curtail the spread of the coronavirus have left businesses shuttered and millions laid off.
About $4.4 billion has been distributed to California’s jobless since March 15 — 4.3 million checks cut, according to the governor.
Just last week, 15 million calls came in to the unemployment assistance call center.
And as the state still sees a continued increase in unemployment claims, there have been reports of technical issues on the Employment Development Department’s phone lines and online portal.
The governor on Monday acknowledged the old IT system and said they’ve been working hard to meet the demand, including by expanding the hotline’s hours of operation.
The state has reported more than 43,400 cases of COVID-19 with more than 1,700 deaths attributed to the respiratory illness Monday.
Los Angeles County is the largest virus hotspot in the state, accounting for over 19,500 of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus and the majority of COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalized.
So far, more than 553,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus statewide. California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said officials have been working on ramping up testing in underserved areas.
Newsom said the state has started seeing a modest decline in deaths since last week’s peak.
He pleaded with residents to “continue to do the great work you’ve done.”
“The virus is as transmissible as it’s ever been,” the governor said. “Again, it doesn’t take the weekend off. It doesn’t take any time off. It is ubiquitous, it is invisible, and it remains deadly. Ask the 45 families who lost a loved one in the last 48 hours.”