'Depression-era numbers': California's recovery from COVID-19 crisis will take years, Newsom warns

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Gov. Gavin Newsom's daily press briefing Wednesday was an emotional journey of sorts. What started with the announcement of a new website to increase access to COVID-19 testing, meandered into funny stories about his family and ended with a dark forecast for California's economy.

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The governor started by instructing people to visit covid19.ca.gov, a new website to help Californians find testing locations near them. You can input your zip code and find a testing site, typically within 30 to 60 minutes of your house.

Expanding testing is critical to reopening the economy, the governor has said repeatedly. The state is still working to open new sites in "testing deserts" to make sure people who live in rural communities, as well as densely populated urban areas, have access to COVID-19 tests.

Newsom also announced an expansion of worker's compensation benefits to all sectors of the economy so those who go back to work and contract the virus can stay home safely.

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"The worst thing we can do is have a worker that has tested positive, but doesn't want to tell anybody, and can spread the disease because he or she can't afford not to work," said Newsom.

Later, when asked about how his family was coping with shelter-in-place orders, Newsom revealed he - like many of us - is in need of a haircut.

"There was an experiment with Brooklyn, my daughter ... she offered to cut it. But she brought out some of her craft scissors, which were certainly not up for the task."

He added he wears a mask when out in public, though he doesn't get out and about too often, as does his wife when she does groceries.

The final question in Wednesday's press conference was less lighthearted. KCBS' Dave Lopez asked of the state economy, "How confident are you that California will be able to rebound and how long will it take?"

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"It's going to take longer than I think a lot of people think. It's going to take a lot longer than people are saying. This is serious. We've never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. This is Depression-era numbers in terms of the unemployment you'll see across this country, not just in the state of California."

The governor pointed out that as recently as January, California was experiencing record-low unemployment. That couldn't be farther from the truth since the pandemic forced the economy to grind to a near-halt in March.

"These numbers are jaw-dropping and it is alarming. And I just hope people are preparing themselves," said Newsom. "I have no trepidation, all the confidence in the world that we will recover and we will be a stronger society, a smarter society. ... But it's going to take a bit of time.

"The next few years we're going to have to work through these challenges, but we'll work through them."

Californians are still hoping for a little more clarity on the so-called "Stage 2" of reopening the state. Retailers have been told they can reopen for curbside pickup as early as Friday as long as they follow new safety and hygiene protocols. But exactly what those protocols are won't be detailed until Thursday.

We'll be streaming Thursday's press conference at noon on abc7news.com, Facebook and YouTube.

As of Wednesday morning, the state was reporting 56,212 known cases of COVID-19 and 2,317 fatalities.

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