Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday unveiled a series of guidelines for re-opening California’s economy and relaxing the statewide stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic.
The state — and local health agencies — must meet criteria set out in the guidelines before the Golden State can begin yet another “new normal,” the governor said.
“Normal it will not be, at least until we have herd immunity and we have a vaccine,” Newsom said.
He did not offer a timeline but said change will not come for at least another two weeks. He did assure people these restrictions will not last forever.
“This can’t be a permanent state,” Newsom said. “It will not be a permanent state.”
The plan outlined by the governor includes six key indicators that must be met in order to ease the current restrictions.
- Expanding the state’s testing capacity, as well as the ability to appropriately track, trace and isolate individuals who test positive for, or are exposed to, COVID-19.
- Maintaining vigilance in protecting the most vulnerable from infection and spread, primarily seniors and immunocompromised individuals.
- Addressing the ongoing needs of hospitals, in relation to potential surges — and ensuring that doctors, nurse and staff have the appropriate protective gear they need, such as N95 masks.
- Engaging with research partners to develop therapeutics and potentially a vaccine.
- Enacting guidelines on what physical distancing would look like within businesses, schools, and public and private facilities. That could mean re-drawing floor plans so people can practice safe social distancing outside the home.
- Increasing capacity to adjust levels of physical distancing and having the ability to reinstate “more rigorous controls” as needed — toggling from stricter to looser interventions, “back and forth as things change.”
Newsom emphasized that two things that must happen for the state to loosen the stay-at-home order: the rates of hospitalizations and intensive care unit admission need to flatten and decline; and the state must be able to build the infrastructure laid out in the six-point plan.
Officials cautioned that even once restrictions are loosened, things won’t be as they were before the pandemic.
Restaurants will probably have fewer tables, temperatures checks may become the norm at establishments, and protective face coverings will likely remain common in public. We’ll see more teleworking and distance learning, the governor said.
And when schools start back up again in the fall, arrival times could be staggered and classrooms reconfigured to enforce social distancing among students, teachers and staff.
“This is not about going back to where we were before. It’s about going forward in ways that are healthy for all of us,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health. “But it won’t look the same.”
People also shouldn’t expect to participate in large gatherings like sporting events or concerts in the near future, according to Newsom.
“The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” he said.
Experts have previously indicated a vaccine is at least 12 to 18 months away.
Newsom outlined the state’s framework one day after unveiling a pact with Oregon and Washington to work jointly to lift stay-at-home restrictions on the West Coast.
The states are working together to ensure that COVID-19 won’t spread rapidly through their communities once stay-at-home rules are relaxed, which is a major concern not just on the West Coast but across the country. Federal health experts have already warned that the virus could see a resurgence in the fall.
California’s stay-at-home order, enacted March 19 to help combat the spread of COVID-19, has kept nearly 40 million residents sheltered in their homes and largely isolated from each other.
In addition to disrupting everyday life, the restrictions have taken a toll on California’s economy. Many nonessential businesses were ordered to close weeks ago, leading to widespread unemployment in the state.
In the past four weeks, about 2.3 million California residents filed for jobless benefits, a staggering number that exceeded the total claims for all of 2019, according to Newsom’s office.
But officials also credit the drastic measures with “bending the curve” and slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, helping to save lives. And thus far, they have also prevented the state’s hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by a crush of patients, as has happened elsewhere in the U.S. — perhaps most notably in New York City.
California’s latest official figures released Tuesday 23,338 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 758 deaths. More than 3,000 patients are hospitalized, including 1,177 in intensive care units.
Taken together with Oregon and Washington, there have been more than 35,500 cases of the novel coronavirus along the West Coast, an area that accounts for about one-sixth of the total U.S. population.