YOUNTVILLE (CBS SF) — Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday announced the state of California would issue updated guidelines for religious gatherings by Monday, following the announcement by President Donald Trump ordering governors across the country to open places of worship this Memorial Day weekend, deeming them essential services.
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While California is opening larger sections of the economy and some counties have been granted variances to move deeper into Phase 2 reopenings, house of worship have not yet been given a prospective date for reopening in the state. President Trump on Friday claimed if governors do not allow churches, synagogues and mosques to reopen, he would override them, although he does not have the authority to do so.
“The people are demanding to go to their church and synagogue, to go to their mosque,” declared Trump, saying the U.S. needed “more prayer.”
Newsom reiterated on Friday what he said on Monday, stating that he and his staff were working with faith leaders to put out safety guidelines and procedures for religious gatherings of every size.
Newsom also pointed out that the state was making progress on the issue of reopening churches well before any sort of official federal guidance on how houses of worship might safely welcome back congregations was released.
“By the way, just for full disclosure, we didn’t wait for the CDC guidelines. As many of you know, the CDC guidelines haven’t even been made public in any meaningful way yet,” explained Newsom. “But we do look forward [to seeing them]. We are told they are coming out today. We’ll take a look at those guidelines and see if there is anything we haven’t thought of over the course of the last few weeks.”
When asked for further comment on the plans to reopen houses of worship in the context of President Trump’s announcement earlier Friday, the governor chose not to address threat that federal authorities would “override” the orders of governors.
“We take the issue very, very seriously and to heart and we have been very aggressive in trying to put together guidelines that will do justice to people’s health and their fundamental need and desire to practice their faith,” Newsom said. “And so we are looking forward to a very positive working relationship with faith leaders as we make public those documents and look forward to working through this issue in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration.”
The governor also briefly spoke about plans for the reopening of casinos run by Native American tribes in California.
“We’re close, as I said as well on Monday, that we believe around the eighth of June plus or minus — these days are just tent poles of approximate timelines where we are putting out guidelines not just for casinos but card rooms, as well,” explained Newsom. “Had some wonderful phone calls within the sector, tribal leaders just a few days ago, hundred-plus tribal leaders getting their feedback and they’re helping us organize the guidance. They have been incredible in terms of not only being supportive of the engagement but providing us some incredibly enriching and robust ideas on public health.”
Newsom made the comments Friday during a news conference at the Veterans Home in Yountville, where he saluted veterans at the start of the Memorial Day Weekend. Newsom touted a success story among California’s veterans homes, lauding California Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. Vito Imbasciani and his staff for keeping the state’s over 2,000 veterans protected from the coronavirus, in contrast with cases in other states.
“There have been some horrific headlines and tragic lives lost where the insidiousness of this disease spread like wildfire through facilities like this across the country. That has not been the case — and I say this cautiously and soberly — that has not been the case in the state of California,” said Newsom. “Throughout our entire system, eight hospitals, we have had just three patients test positive for COVID-19. We’ve had a number of staff, but the overwhelming majority of staff, all but two have recovered and are back at work. And that’s because of the seriousness of purpose that was advanced weeks before California’s stay at home order was put into place by our Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs.”
Newsom said Dr. Imbasciani has led an effort for stringent protocols and guidelines at veterans homes that has kept the rate of infections extremely low.
“Just coming in here today, you could see the seriousness of this, it’s like the TSA times infinity in terms of the number of checkpoints and people that are asking you personal questions about where you’ve traveled and your current symptoms and your health, doing temperature checks, people wearing masks throughout this facility, and the seriousness of the sanitation that has been put into place,” the governor said.
Newsom explained that the closure of the state’s eight homes for veterans by Imbasciani and his staff two weeks before the statewide shelter order, implementing safety measures and protocols early, ensured that the residents would be safe.
“This is hallowed ground, and it is full of veterans who — as is the case with people who are in nursing homes across the country — are an extraordinarily vulnerable population,” said Dr. Imbasciani. “I always follow the CDC reports on the emergence of rare and exotic diseases, wherever they are. So when I heard in December that a strange new disease, which was highly contagious and highly lethal, had emerged in Asia, I immediately convened our senior leadership.”
The governor reported a spike in COVID-19 deaths in the state with 88 fatal coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours despite declines in ICU and hospitalized cases over the last two weeks.
As of Friday, there were a total of 88,444 cases in California, an increase of 2.6 percent, with a total 3,630 deaths.
With the approaching three-day holiday weekend and forecasts of warm weather, Newsom urged Californians to behave safely with some optimism.
Our decisions will determine our fate and future.
As you move into this beautiful weekend, please stay close to home and, if you do go out, do so responsibly & safely to prevent the spread of #COVID19. #YourActionsSaveLives pic.twitter.com/1b8Fvqk2Oe
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) May 22, 2020
“To the extent possible, stay regionally, stay close to the cohort that you’ve been with,” said Newsom. “Wear face coverings as appropriate…We are beginning to turn the page, I really feel confident that the best is yet to come.”
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.