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COVID-19 State Policy Update 05.18.20

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May 18, 2020

Today, Monday, May 18Governor Newsom held his daily press conference from Mustard’s, a restaurant in Napa County where he updated the numbers on COVID-19 pandemic (numbers can be found here) and addressed further expansion into Phase 2 among counties throughout the state. The Governor began by reminding the audience that opening California’s economy up completely has its challenges, as California is larger than 21 states and the District of Columbia combined. 


Newsom then announced 24 counties have self-attested in concurrence with their public health directors and the Department of Public Health their ability to meet modification requirements, monitor public health data, meet and maintain hospital surge capacity, and tighten already loosened restrictions to protect public health. Those 24 counites are now advancing further into Phase 2.  The Governor noted each county’s attestation and certification may be found on the COVID-19 page at The Governor expressed his appreciation to local officials, including County Boards of Supervisors, public health directors, and mayors for their collaborative work in the area of meeting the needs to self-attest and certify their ability to protect public health, as required by state guidelines. The Governor noted there are specific criteria required to advance further into Phase 2 and beyond and those criteria will be monitored at the state level as well.


The California Department of Public Health Announced a New Regional Variance Opportunity, following the Governor’s briefing. You can find that news release here.


He stated the data, which allows counties to move forward, includes a 7.5% decline in hospitalizations and an 8.7% decline in the number of ICU patients over the past 14 days. The distribution of PPE is also important in allowing modifications to the stay-at-home order. He noted there are now 56.1 million masks in California’s inventory as of this morning; 46.1 million masks have been distributed to date in key areas, including essential workers, healthcare workers, farm workers, and more; and another 45.5 million N95 masks have been distributed. The Governor reiterated the distribution and use of PPE is essential and foundational to protecting public health.


The Governor also noted testing is another key element of moving the state forward and reopening the economy further. He noted 1.3 million tests have been conducted to date and the daily testing numbers continue to climb beyond the 30,000 per day mark. He once again invited the audience to visit the COVID-19 test locator page, enter their ZIP code and find a free testing center near them. He added more and more testing locations are opening in rural and inner-city areas with the agreement with OptumServe to open an additional six test locations in Lake and Mendocino Counties for a total of 86 locations throughout the state.


Governor Newsom went on to note he expects the state is moving into allowing larger counties to modify their stay-at-home orders, in fact he noted roughly 53 of the 58 counties can likely move forward further into Phase 2. He noted the state is moving forward to allow larger counties to move forward but at their own pace. He noted the ability of the state to hone in on hot spots, such as skilled nursing facilities, allows them to redouble their efforts around these hot spots. Advanced guidelines introduced by the state include total hospitalizations of no greater than a 5% increase over a 7-day period and to make sure the tracing capacity is at least 15 per 100,000 population. Additionally, making sure the positivity rate tracks at less than 8%, which is the simple percentage of people tested who test positive—or positivity rate, will allow counties to move forward.


The Governor announced the state is looking forward to a number of significant milestones in the next few weeks, as long as the state holds the current trend lines. These milestones include opening retail businesses, not just for curb-side pick-up but in-store retail and live sporting events with modifications but no spectators. Newsom stated that “sporting events, pro sports, in that first week of so of June, without spectators and modifications and very prescriptive conditions, also can begin to move forward.” He went on to share that he was not sure what the sport leagues would do if their key personnel or players tested positive, and that it is a very challenging question.


Governor introduced Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of Health who went into greater detail regarding local government criteria to move forward more quickly and deeply into Phase 2 and beyond. Dr. Ghaly noted the eligibility to move forward into Phase 2 faster than the state and beyond requires no more than a 5% increase in hospitalizations over a seven-day-period on average and for counties that have a small hospital population, no more than 20 people hospitalized for COVID-19 throughout that county in any one of the past 14 days (that is to account for those counties with smaller hospital populations) or no more than 25 individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 per 100,000 residents in that county, or a test positivity rate below 8%.


For the preparedness side, counties are being asked to attest to a testing capacity 1.5 tests per 1,000 people per day or having 15 individuals trained to do contact tracing for every 100,000 residents in the county. Dr. Ghaly noted many of these things were noted in the May 7, announcement of county preparedness, (read more here). Another area Dr. Ghaly noted of importance are skilled nursing facilities and monitoring safety within those facilities. This includes weekly communication with those facilities and elevating best practices within the facilities and having strategies for dealing with shortages of staff and PPE. Counties must also attest to their ability to protect their essential workforce, including grocery workers, transit employees, and healthcare professionals. The state is asking counties to work with hospitals to demonstrate the ability to maintain their surge capacity in order to provide care for increase numbers of people who test positive for COVID-19.


Governor Newsom returned to the podium noting the bottom line is “each county may go at their own pace” with transparency and real accountability. He reiterated the process is a dynamic one that is evidence-based and data-driven. The Governor noted the Bay Area and Los Angeles County are broadening the pace but moving at a pace that officials believe is safe for their county. Governor Newsom specifically mentioned faith-based organizations and the state is meeting with faith-based leaders regarding the desire for those organizations to be able to move forward and resume services and meetings. He noted he has deep respect for faith-based organizations and the desire to know when their congregants will come together again in the pews and meet for services. The Governor noted the order the state put out today will allow counseling services and for faith-based organizations to meet more broadly as offices, but gatherings as congregations is still weeks away, not months, but weeks if everything holds. The Governor noted he is “encouraged by the progress but noted what could set the state back in moving forward is moving too quickly and not practicing the social distancing that gotten us this far.”


The Governor closed by noting he understands there is a great desire to “get back to work” but reminded the audience the importance of following our public health directors’ orders and following these carefully and thoughtfully. If the trend lines continue downward the state will move forward accordingly.


Q&A - A pool reporter posed the questions today, which ranged from why the state still needs a “patchwork of orders” versus the entire state moving at the same pace, which the Governor addressed by stating the needs of every county vary from location to location and the best practice is to allow each county to move at the pace most appropriate to ensure public health needs are met.


Another question was whether the Governor could announce which 5 counties (53 of 58) were not quite ready to move forward. The Governor responded that he stated, “roughly 53 of 58 would move forward.”


Another question posed was regarding resumption of faith-based services. The Governor reiterated his earlier point that faith-based organizations may resume counseling services and office meetings, but not meetings or services of congregants. He noted he believes it is only weeks away from occurring,


The Governor was asked when state park parking lots will re-open. He responded they already have.


The Governor was asked about the budget, future legislation and Prop 13. The Governor responded that he looks forward to meeting with legislative leaders over a variety of possibilities regarding legislation and working together to solve the budget shortfall.


Lastly, he was asked about federal relief and why he noted first responders, such as fire and police would be the first things cut, should federal support not come through. The Governor noted those are local budget expenses for cities and counties and tend to be heavier on salary and benefit costs, and he is not trying to pit groups against each other, but difficult choices must be made.