The governor's remarks were highly anticipated, as some states around the country have begun to announce broad rollbacks of social distancing restrictions. But right off the bat, Newsom made it clear that's not the path California is on.
"You'll be left wanting if you woke up to this discussion and (thought) we're going to hear that we're reopening large sectors of our society. We are not prepared to do that today," said Newsom.
The governor instead announced a modest step toward normalcy: starting to schedule essential surgeries once again. The change is being done in coordination with Washington and Oregon and is effective immediately, he said.
Newsom focused his remarks on the need to dramatically expand testing before the state would see widespread reopening. At the end of March, Newsom said, there were about 2,000 COVID-19 tests being done per day in the state. That number has since increased to 16,000 per day, but needs to scale up to between 60,000 and 80,000 daily tests in the near future.
There are two strategies the state is pursuing to expand testing. Firstly, the governor said President Donald Trump has committed to providing California with hundreds of thousands of testing swabs in the next few weeks. Swabs are the top need at testing sites around the state, Newsom said.
Secondly, California will be significantly expanding testing sites around the state, especially in areas identified as "testing deserts," like rural areas and predominantly minority communities. Eighty-six new sites will open up in those areas in the coming weeks, six operated by Verily (a Google subsidiary) and 80 by OptumServe.
The governor also announced a massive expansion of the state's efforts to do contact tracing by building a 10,000-person "army of tracers." When someone tests positive for the virus, contact tracing involves reaching out to everyone that has been in close contact with that individual, recommending they self-isolate and monitoring them for symptoms. If we are able to isolate those who have been exposed to the virus from the general public, the state will be more confident in lifting shelter-in-place restrictions, said Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.
Newsom said a contact tracing "training academy" would be put online soon and these statewide efforts would build on those already occurring at the local level.
Dr. Ghaly also addressed another key part of curbing the spread of COVID-19: isolation. He said the state is working with local leaders and philanthropic partners to ensure that people who need to self-isolate have a safe place to do so.
When Gov. Newsom issued the executive order to shelter in place on March 19, the order didn't specify an end date.
Instead, Gov. Newsom clarified in April he'd be evaluating the state's progress on six key criteria in order to make a decision about when it would be safe to reopen:
- Expand testing and doing contact tracing for those who test positive
- Being able to protect California's most vulnerable populations, including seniors, homeless individuals and those with compromised immunity
- Ensuring medical facilities are equipped to handle potential surges
- Working with research hospitals and other research partners to pursue therapies for the virus
- Making sure businesses, schools, and other public spaces can continue physical distancing
- Being able to return to more strict measures, as needed
INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: How close was CA to becoming a NY-level crisis?
Gov. Newsom stressed he understood Californians eagerness to hear more on the question of "when" the state would start broadly reopened.
"I wish I could prescribe a specific date to say we could turn on the light switch and go back to normalcy. We've tried to make it crystal clear there is no light switch and there is no date."
He later added, "I can assure you those decisions will be forthcoming and will be based upon science, data and the spread of the virus."
Alex Awadalla owns a pizza restaurant in North Beach and was disappointed by what he heard from the governor. He may have to close his business.
"It could be any day. I'm just going to put the plywood up on the windows. It's very bad," he said.
Newsom said Wednesday an additional 86 people have passed away as a result of the virus since he last addressed the public Tuesday afternoon. Hospitalizations saw a very slight 0.2% decrease and ICU hospitalizations dropped by 1.8%.
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