Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday threatened to use “the power of the purse” to ensure local compliance with state mandates to curb a record spike in the COVID-19 pandemic.
He emphasized $2.5 billion of the next budget won’t be parsed out to counties that fail to follow health care guidelines during the pandemic.
“We talk a lot about enforcement, we talk about accountability. We cannot support bad behavior, but we can encourage and support good behavior,” Newsom said.
“Counties flouting their own reopening criteria will not get budget help,” he added, noting $2.5 billion of the budget agreement he reached with lawmakers will “attach considerations and consequences” for counties that do not follow economic reopening guidelines.
“We’re not here to threaten anybody but we are now at a stage in this pandemic where we have to attach more accountability,” Newsom said.
He said the $2.5 billion will be allocated to counties on a monthly, rather than a yearly basis, to ensure compliance with state COVID-19 rules and regulations.
Newsom’s tough budget talk during the press conference Wednesday came as the state, joining others across the country with an increase in positive COVID-19 cases as the economy opens, reported its highest number of positive cases yet.
During the 24-hour reporting period June 23, 7,149 positive COVID-19 tests were reported in California, a record Newsom stressed was not necessarily unexpected as the state has reopened its economy and seen massive racial justice protests in recent weeks.
The state conducted 96,000 COVID-19 tests Tuesday, continuing California’s trend of surpassing its own goal to test 60,000 people a day.
California’s positivity rate among total residents tested is also rising, which Newsom emphasized was the important figure to look at.
The state’s positivity rate is currently at 5.1%, with the seven-day trend at 5.6%. Several weeks ago, the positivity rate was 4.6%.
Hospitalizations are also rising, with 4,095 Californians hospitalized June 23. There has been a 29% increase in hospitalizations the past 14 days, Newsom said.
While Newsom said those hospitalizations represent only 8% of the state’s more than 52,000-bed capacity for COVID-19, patients, roughly 30% of the state’s ICU beds for coronavirus are currently occupied.
Over the past 14 days, California has seen an 18% increase in COVID-19 ICU admissions, Newsom said.
“These numbers do beg the question of what we can do to protect you from the spread of this virus,” Newsom said.
But when a reporter asked if the increase in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations would cause the state to pause or scale back its reopening measures, he demurred.
“It’s not a binary choice; it’s not about shutting down the world’s fifth-largest economy or moving forward with these efforts,” Newsom said.
The governor did not say whether he was considering mandating a quarantine on out-of-state visitors from areas with an uptick in COVID-19 cases, similar to the agreement reached Wednesday between New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Newsom said the state is working toward its goal to train 10,000 contact tracers by July 1, but suggested that goal would not be met. “We will get a cohort close to that number,” he said.
The governor showed reporters a handwashing diagram when emphasizing the need to follow the state mandate to wear masks and continue to practice social distancing.
“As we begin to reopen the economy and reopen our households, the consequence is we spread this virus. It is our behaviors that are leading to the increase,” Newsom said.
But Newsom cautioned he doesn’t want to see the mask mandate enforced punitively or for people to be fined for not wearing masks, instead calling on Californians use their common sense.
— By Bianca Bruno