‘This virus knows no political ideology’: Newsom urges Californians to practice physical distancing after Huntington Beach rally

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A protestor holds up a sign during a rally in Huntington Beach on April 17, 2020. (OC Hawk)
A protestor holds up a sign during a rally in Huntington Beach on April 17, 2020. (OC Hawk)

Gov. Gavin Newsom urged Californians to practice physical distancing Saturday after a protest against stay-at-home orders aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus drew a large crowd of people to Huntington Beach.

The protestors, some dressed in red, white and blue, carried signs and flags on Friday and called for an end to the state’s orders that have kept residents indoors as the coronavirus spread through California. The virus has sickened nearly 29,000 people, left thousands hospitalized and caused the deaths of 1,072 statewide in just a few months.

Many held signs supporting President Donald Trump, who on Twitter urged supporters to “LIBERATE” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.

Newsom had a clear message for the protestors: “When you practice your free speech, which I don’t [just] embrace, I celebrate— just do so safely,” he said during a news conference Saturday.

The governor said he wasn’t surprised by the rally and imagines there will be more, but he urged residents to be cautious of spreading COVID-19.

“This virus knows no political ideology. It doesn’t know if you’re a Republican or Democrat, supporting the president, opposing the president,” Newsom said. “Practice physical distancing. Make sure that you’re not infecting others. Even if you feel healthy, you have no symptoms, you’re asymptomatic. You can spread this.”

Videos of Friday’s rally at Huntington Beach showed a large group of people congregating together, many not wearing any protective facial coverings.

“Even if you don’t care about other strangers, you may care about your loved ones. You may come home after being at one of these rallies — just be healthy, be safe,” the governor said.

The protestors in Huntington Beach claimed the stay-at-home orders are an unnecessary overreaction, despite several studies that have projected a much lower rate of coronavirus infections with social distancing measures in place.

“We’re going to do the right thing. Not judge by politics, not judge by protest, but by science,” Newsom said.

He said the state’s guiding principle will be “the facts on the ground.”

Newsom earlier this week had outlined six goals that must be met in order to ease the current restrictions on movement. Those 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 like when orders are lifted.

The orders aimed at curbing the spread of the virus have left businesses shuttered, moved schools online, closed off beaches and trails, drastically reduced travel and sent the state’s unemployment rate soaring, with nearly 100,000 jobs lost in March.

But health experts around the country have been warning that easing restrictions too soon would result in the virus spreading rapidly through states. In Los Angeles County, one study projected that nearly 96% of the county’s population could be infected by summer if social distancing measures stopped.

Asked about whether Trump’s message contradicts his own, the governor said, “the president made it very clear, publicly and privately, that governors from every state in our union, that he will defer to our directives.”

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