SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday said the state is pausing the reopening “dimmer switch” in a number of counties facing alarming coronavirus spikes, as well as increasing enforcement of the state’s health orders.
During his Monday address on the state’s response to the pandemic, Newsom noted that he has frequently said there was a possibility that changing data might force officials to step back from phased reopening in parts of the state showing a rise in case numbers.
“The approach is a dimmer switch, and that approach is different in each county,” said Newsom as he outlined some of the rising COVID-19 numbers. “We don’t like the trend line.”
The state’s positivity rate over the past two weeks remained higher than officials would like, trending slightly upwards to 5.5 percent in the last 14 days. Disturbingly, within the past seven days, California’s positivity rate increased to 5.9 percent.
Newsom said there was a 45 percent increase in positive tests, and a 43 percent increase in hospitalizations in the last two weeks. Over the last three days, Newsom said that new positive test numbers remained high, with 5,932 new cases on Friday, 4,810 new cases on Saturday and 5,307 new cases on Sunday.
However, despite the rising numbers, Newsom noted that the state still has sufficient hospital bed and ICU capacity.
“The positivity rate is very concerning,” said Newsom. “Numbers are going up, but our ability to manage and absorb is also significant.”
Newsom said that the rising case numbers, the trend line for positivity rate, and other data were what led state officials to announce the closure of bars in seven counties on Sunday, an order that included recommendations for eight additional counties to also roll back reopening and shut down bars.
“The bottom line is we’re doing this because we have seen an increase in the spread of this virus. We’ve been very clear, this shouldn’t surprise anybody watching, as you reopen the economy, as we move away and make the meaningful modifications which we did to our stay-at-home order, you’re going to see people mixing that were not mixing in the past,” Newsom said.
He continued: “Many people, were not necessarily being as responsible as they otherwise – well, as we would like them to be as it relates to practicing physical distancing, social distancing, people that weren’t wearing their face masks. It’s why a week-plus ago we required mandatory face coverings in the state of California to help mitigate the spread. We need to take further steps and that’s what we did on Sunday.”
The counties under the mandatory bar closure order were: Los Angeles, Fresno, San Joaquin, Kings, Kern, Imperial and Tulare.
State officials asked eight other counties — Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Sacramento, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Stanislaus — to issue local health orders closing bars.
Newsom laid out the public health department criteria for bars to ordered shut down.
“That’s 14 days where we have seen these counties on the watch list and that becomes the criteria. Once over a two-week period and you’re still on that watch list and we’re still seeing an increase in spread and transmission, that then triggers the kind of decision that we made yesterday,” Newsom said.
Newsom said Solano, Merced, Orange and Glenn counties have all been added to the state’s targeted engagement list, which is now up to 19 counties. Those 19 counties account for 72 percent of the state’s total population.
Newsom noted that, with the increasing number of cases, the state would be stepping up enforcement of health orders. He called on business leaders to take steps to protect both their workers and their customers by requiring face coverings per the state’s mandatory face mask rule for anyone in public.
“There are many mechanisms with which you can enforce. At the state level, there are some tools. At the local level, there are even more tools” Newsom explained.
The governor said that the budget he would be signing later Monday would include stipulations for the $2.5 billion of COVID-19 related funding earmarked for counties that would require certification of the enforcement of county health orders.
Newsom reiterated that the enforcement should not be putative, but that officials should work with residents and businesses to meet their needs.
“We put out over 30 sectoral guidelines in the state of California that lay out how to safely reopen. And I cannot impress upon folks this point more — we’ve been so fixated on the when, and not as responsibly focused on the how to safely reopen,” said Newsom. “If people are flouting those rules and regulations or disregarding or throwing out those guidelines, we want to continue working with our county officials and local officials to help us enforce that.”
In addition to tying funds from the budget to enforcement of health orders, Newsom said state agencies like Cal/OSHA would also have a role in enforcement in order to keep the state’s residents safe.
“We’ve got to do more, to be more responsible individually and within sectors of our economy. We’ve got the tools and capacity to do more effective community enforcement, and we’re going to be doing just that,” said Newsom.
The governor also addressed concerns over the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state’s prisons, singling out the outbreak at San Quentin as he updated what actions officials were taking.
Newsom said the state was “working overtime” to alleviate the rising case numbers as far as moving inmates and releasing some early, but cautioned that there were also issues to consider as far as releasing prisoners who have no place to go.
The San Quentin outbreak accounts for a large percentage of the current 2,589 inmates diagnosed with the virus.
“We have about 113,000 inmates in our correctional system. We currently have about 2,600 that have tested positive for COVID-19, but 1,011 have tested positive just in San Quentin. So that is our deep area of focus and concern right now,” said Newsom.
The governor noted he had taken steps earlier in the pandemic to decompress the system in away that would provide space and more flexibility within the states correctional facilities.
Newsom said the fact that 42 percent of San Quentin’s inmate population “is deemed medically vulnerable” presented an additional challenge in handling the outbreak.
As of Monday, there were 1,100 confirmed cases among inmates and staff members at San Quentin, with some seriously ill convicts being transferred to ICU units across the San Francisco Bay Area.
Earlier, the governor opened his update on Monday by noting that the state was the first in the nation to work with the CDC and the Trump administration regarding the coronavirus pandemic in late January and early February as military flights from China carrying repatriated Americans returned to the U.S.
Newsom also brought up the process of working with cruise ships that had outbreaks of the virus, getting infected passengers into hospitals and quarantining those who had been exposed to COVID-19. He said the state moved forward as the first state in the country to establish a stay-at-home order due to the pandemic in mid-March in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.