SACRAMENTO — With parts of the economy scheduled for a soft reopening later this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday scolded businesses that opened early and warned they could ultimately jeopardize the state’s coronavirus fight.
In many parts of the state where confirmed cases have been rare, restaurants and barbershops have rebelled against the statewide order and begun serving customers. Newsom urged the rebellious establishments in places like Yuba and Modoc counties to consider the potential consequences of ignoring his newly issued phased-reopening plan.
“They’re making a big mistake,” Newsom told reporters. “They’re putting the public at risk; they’re putting our progress at risk and we’ve been clear about that.”
Far from the full reopening many counties and cities have been pushing for, Newsom on Monday announced retail establishments and others can reopen Friday if they meet conditions set by local public health officials and offer services like curbside pickup and food takeout.
The order also calls for “regional variance” and allows rural counties with few coronavirus cases to potentially go further than urban areas. As has been widely reported, a handful of counties jumped the gun and allowed businesses to reopen well in advance of Newsom’s directive.
Newsom said he’s aware of the early openers and noted that while the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control is openly investigating violators, most business owners are playing by the rules. The first-term governor implored counties and businesses to continue collaborating and trust his administration’s tiered reopening strategy.
It’s been a wave of bad news for California small businesses over the last seven weeks, but Newsom offered a bit of optimism during his hour-long press conference.
After getting $33 billion in loans during the first round of federal pandemic relief, Newsom said the second round of relief has been much more fruitful for the Golden State. With just 60% of the total money released, California businesses have already matched the first batch of Paycheck Protection Program loans.
“We are doing much better in this second round,” Newsom said of the relief. “We’re punching above our weight.”
As California begins its economic recovery, local officials from rural counties are warning of severe budget shortages that could soon lead to widescale layoffs for police, fire departments and other core services. Smaller municipalities have yet to receive a slice of California’s $15 billion portion of the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, as only counties and cities with populations over 500,000 are eligible for relief.
Now a bipartisan group of 50 lawmakers is pressuring Newsom to backfill the federal relief with state funding and come to the rescue of smaller counties.
According to the letter lawmakers sent Newsom on Tuesday, only six California cities and 16 of 58 counties have benefited from the federal CARES Act.
“Even though the five counties I represent have received nothing, they are stretching their current budgets to continue to meet the demands in public health, emergency response and other essential services without financial assistance,” said Assemblyman Jim Wood, whose district stretches from Santa Rosa north to the Oregon border. “Meanwhile, they are watching their local revenues in a severe decline, so something has to give.”
Meanwhile a battle over beach access between Newsom and Orange County appears to have washed away.
After causing a stir last week by ordering a hard closure of Orange County beaches, Newsom said the cities of Huntington Beach and Dana Point — which have sued to stop the order — submitted adequate overcrowding prevention plans and can reopen. The state has also allowed Laguna and San Clemente to open their beaches in limited fashion, essentially nixing the countywide closure in less than a week.
“It’s the spirit of collaboration/cooperation that is necessary as we move forward,” Newsom said of the deals made with the Orange County municipalities.
Counties reported 63 new deaths overnight, pushing the state’s toll to 2,317. California has now confirmed more than 56,000 COVID-19 cases along with 3,369 in hospitals. Newsom said additional testing sites allowed the state to run 100,000 tests in just the last three days, and it has run a total of 780,000.
Despite the stabilization in death and hospitalization rates and the decision to allow retailers to reopen Friday, Newsom had a blunt message to Californians yearning for normalcy.
“We have to maintain the core construct of our stay-at-home orders,” said Newsom. “We’re not going to back normal; it’s back to a new normal with adaptions and modifications until we get to immunity, until we get to a vaccine.”
L.A. County Public Health reported Tuesday the region saw most of the state’s deaths overnight — 58 — and 1,638 new infections even as local officials reveal a “steady and slow path” to gradually reopen retail businesses later this month.
A sixth inmate at the Terminal Island federal prison in San Pedro, south of the city of Los Angeles, has died in an outbreak that has infected 623 inmates — more than 60% of the inmate population — according to county health officials.
But nursing homes have been hit hardest, accounting for the majority of the 647 deaths in communal settings and 49% of all COVID-19 deaths across L.A. County.
So far 6,521 residents and staff at communal settings like nursing homes, county jails and homeless shelters have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including over 100 from a homeless shelter in downtown L.A. according to Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of L.A. County Public Health.
While state officials have provided clear guidelines on reopening the California economy, L.A. County officials remain guarded, offering a trickle of information.
L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said county officials will disclose a step-by-step process based on data later this week.
“We can’t let up now,” Solis said Tuesday.
Ferrer said the virus remains prevalent in L.A. County and continues to be dangerous and deadly for vulnerable populations, like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
“We do need to reopen,” Ferrer said. “We have to do it in a thoughtful way. One of the saddest things would be to open too quickly.”
Key indicators public health officials will follow as they gradually allow businesses to reopen include hospital bed and ventilator capacity, personal protective equipment for health care workers and how effective is LA County at slowing the spread of the virus.
— By Nick Cahill and Nathan Solis, CNS