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COVID-19 State Policy Update 05.22.20

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May 22, 2020

Today, Friday, May 22ndGovernor Newsom provided a COVID-19 update from the Napa Valley Veterans Home in Yountville, which is the oldest facility of its kind in the U.S. (founded in 1884). Governor Newsom began his update with a thank you to California’s veterans who “answered the call to protect what we hold dear—our freedom.” 

The Governor spoke of his own grandfather’s service in WW II and his five years as a prisoner of war. He noted that he understands and honors the services provided by the California Department of Veterans Affairs and the importance of meeting the healthcare needs of California veterans who return with physical and mental health wounds that need our help and understanding. He shared with the audience that his own grandfather, Arthur Menzies, was unable to recover from his experience and pain as a prisoner of war and in the end took his own life.  He went on to note the need to protect veterans, such as the 750 who are living in the Yountville facility from the dangers of COVID-19, as they are among the most vulnerable citizens. 

The Governor noted he chose to speak from this location not just because it is an appropriate way to kick off the Memorial Day weekend—honoring our vets, but also because this facility is a model for infectious disease containment. The Governor shared that since the COVID-19 crisis began, only three staff members have tested positive and all but one is now fully recovered. There are no cases among patients and residents of the facility. The Governor attributed this success to the leadership and management of the Cal Vet team, led by Dr. Vito Imbasciani who implemented 38 specific and prescriptive steps to ensure the virus does not take hold and spread within any of the eight veterans’ facilities throughout the state. The Governor spoke of multiple check points within the facility that “rival those of the TSA.” With that comment, the Governor invited Dr. Imbasciani to the podium.

Dr.Imbasciani noted their mission is to create a homelike atmosphere for California’s heroes where they feel safe and secure. Many of the residents, he noted are in their 9th and 10th decades of life and are extremely vulnerable to infectious disease, such as COVID-19. He shared his own experiences as a polio victim and as a medical student when the HIV epidemic hit in the 1980s have shaped his disease management philosophies and practices. He noted he watches the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) bulletins closely and when one in December of 2019 noted the likely discovery in Asia of a novel virus that appeared to be highly contagious, he immediately began implementation of contagion containment practices in all of the Veterans facilities. He also noted this program, which includes extensive training, targets all staff, including administrators , nurses, janitorial and groundskeepers. He stated the way to contain a highly contagious disease such as COVID-19 is to be vigilant in your sanitation and disinfection. All 3,000 of the staff have been trained to contain the virus, and thus far, their hard work has paid off. These, are, he noted, “common sense practices coupled with 10th grade germ theory—and it works.”  Dr. Imbasciani closed his remarks with an acknowledgment of the value of our veterans as a connection to our shared history and the importance of caring for those who have given so much for us to enjoy our freedom.

Governor Newsom returned to the podium to provide an update on the reopening of the California economy and variances granted to counties to move further into Phase 2 and beyond (Read more about county guidelines here). He began with a note of reminder that every step the state has taken has been focused on protecting 40 million Californians’ health. He shared with the audience that 43 of 58 counties have received approval from the state, as they have provided the required attestation of containment and protection plans that allow them to move further forward into Phase 2 and into Phase 3. He noted, once again, this is a dynamic and iterative process and he appreciates the spirit of collaboration among county elected leaders and public health directors. He pledged to continue to listen to specific concerns. He mentioned while there are a few exceptions to this cooperative effort, he hopes everyone realizes the challenges and need to work together to protect public health. He noted overnight 88 people died due to COVID-19 and said he hoped everyone realizes how fragile life is in the grips of this virus and the need for Californians to remain vigilant in their social distancing and practices to keep the virus from spreading. 

Faith-based Organizations

Governor Newsom specifically mentioned the work being done with faith leaders to begin to advance guidelines, processes, and procedures which will allow congregants and parishioners to soon gather safely in their communities. He noted the challenges are addressing the “needs that range from the mega-churches to the small neighborhood church. The diversity of styles of pews and gathering places that require different sanitation guidelines. We are just days away. I expect Monday we will put out those guidelines.” He spoke of the importance of the faith community, especially during times of anxiety, such as those caused by the pandemic, but also the need to protect congregants from the deadly disease. “I want folks to know we deeply respect and admire the faith and community that unites so many millions of Californians. During times of anxiety faith and devotion to something bigger than yourself becomes more profound and more important.” He then spoke of his own Catholic upbringing and education and how important these values are to him. He reiterated he understands how important they are to the faith-based community.

Moving Forward

The Governor also noted the CDC is due to release guidelines, but the state has chosen to not wait for those to be released and has worked hard with public health directors for weeks to get Californians what they need to reopen the economy while protecting their health. He noted all county plans must demonstrate the ability to protect public health by having an appropriate amount of PPE, hospital capacity, testing and tracing and the ability to toggle back guidelines if there is evidence of community spread of the virus.

On that note, the Governor pointed out an example in Imperial County where there is a spike in infection rates, which has led to a strain on the County’s hospital resources. To assist, the Governor noted he deployed a mobile field hospital to the area with the capacity to accommodate 125 beds. He noted the county is currently using over 50% of their ventilators and state leaders are watching what is happening in Imperial County closely, in the event the infection and hospitalization rates continue to climb. 

The Governor went on to note statewide, the hospitalization and ICU trends continue to decline. Hospitalizations declining 7.5% and ICU admissions down 6.1% all over the past 14 days. These again, he reminded the audience, are aggregate numbers and what we must focus on are the positivity rates, as they are the true measure of the state’s success in containing the virus.

He went on to remind the audience of the partnership with UCLA and UCSF to train 10,000 contact tracers in Phase 1 and thousands more in Phase 2 to ultimately support the existing workforce of 3,000 contact tracers. The Governor emphasized the training includes cultural competence, as contact tracers will reach out across regions in the state and into rural and diverse communities. He noted the first 500 have completed their training and this is just the beginning of building the “human capital” needed to do this job. 

Launch of California Connected – California’s contact tracing program
Governor Newsom announce the launch of California Connected, which is California’s Contact Tracing Program and Public Awareness Campaign (read more here). This is the contact tracing program the Governor announced earlier this month led by the Administration in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health, local public health departments and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Los Angeles (UCLA). The online and in-person training academy is developing a workforce of disease detectives who are culturally competent and skilled in contact tracing, which is designed to protect Californians from the spread of COVID-19 (read more about the program here). The public education campaign includes a public service announcement (view the PSA here).

The Governor invited people to visit each of the training academy program sites for both UCLA (read more about the UCLA program here) and UCSF (read more about the UCSF program here). 

The Governor emphasized the information shared with contact tracers is confidential. He noted he understands the suspicion one might feel when answering a phone call from someone who claims to be with the government and is asking a lot of personal questions about where you have been and with whom you’ve had contact. He reassured the audience the information provided to contact tracers is NEVER shared with any other organization and stays only in our own information vault. He reiterated the goal of tracing is containment and avoiding spread of the virus. 

The Governor again invited the audience to go to the COVID-19 page and find a testing location near them where they may obtain a free COVID-19 test. He noted these are active virus tests, not the antibody test (find a test location here). 

PPE

The Governor went on to provide an update on the distribution of PPE, noting the state has distributed more than 86.4 million procedure masks to healthcare, education, grocery businesses, restaurants, all to help reopen the economy. 

Specific State Variance Guidelines by Sector

The Governor stated he expects additional guidelines to be published within the next week, so businesses such as barber shops, salons, and other businesses will be able to reopen under Phase 2.  He noted, as he has in previous briefings the next steps in California’s reopening of the economy, including dining-in restaurants, as part of Phase 2 and working though the state’s Roadmap to Recovery (read more here). In anticipation of even more counties moving forward for Phase 2 variances, the state has made available guidelines for businesses seeking variances from their local county public health department. Of particular interest are the guidelines for dine-in restaurants (read more about dine-in guidelines here). The following are links to the guidelines for other business sectors (read the guidelines for office workspaces here), malls, including enclosed, outdoor and strip malls to open for pick-up only (read the retail guidelines here). Find additional guidelines for other businesses here).  

The Governor urged the audience to familiarize themselves with their county’s variances and requirements. The COVID-19 page will be updated regularly, so people are able to read about the current state of the stay-at-home order and Phase 2 progress for every county (read more about county guidelines here), including their self-certification, attestations, positive testing data, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and death rates.

In closing, the Governor reminded everyone as they gather this Memorial Day weekend, to be mindful of social distancing and taking the steps necessary to keep themselves and their loved ones safe from the virus. He asked everyone to remember the price paid by the heroes who answered the call to defend our freedom and be thankful for their sacrifices.

Q&A

A pool reporter posed the following questions on behalf of the media:

Q: The first question centered around the issue of faith-based organizations. The reporter asked if the Governor had a response to the President’s comment this morning that he will override any governor who does not allow churches to reopen immediately. The Governor responded he and his team are actively engaging the faith-based community and working to reopen them in a safe and responsible manner. He noted he appreciates the CDC’s anticipated guidelines and noted state officials will consider them carefully, but are moving forward with the state’s own guidelines, so as to not delay reopening any longer than is necessary. He noted again the respect he has for faith-based organizations and peoples’ need and desire to practice their faith. He stated he and his team continue to engage faith leaders and expects new guidelines to be released Monday.

Q: Reporter asked about the status of casinos opening. The Governor stated he has had productive conversations with all tribal leaders and they are moving forward with appropriate guidelines. He specifically called out the largest tribe in California as having taken proactive steps by working with Johns Hopkins University to develop a set of robust sanitation and disease prevention steps that he hopes will also help the state in developing some of its guidelines, as these “best practices” are what will help avoid spreading the virus in our communities. 

Q: Reporter asked about a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch on behalf of former Republican Representative Darrell Issa, which seeks to stop the state from expanding vote-by-mail by sending a ballot to every registered voter in the state. The reporter asked if the Governor believed action needed to be taken by the Legislature to codify his Executive Order, as the lawsuit alleges the Governor overstepped his authority when he issued the Executive Order. Governor Newsom and Secretary of State Alex Padilla are named in the suit. The Governor responded he believes his order is on firm legal ground and invited the Legislature to codify it, if they wanted to, as he appreciates the Legislature’s involvement and noted “no one has looked more forward to the return of the Legislature than I.” The Governor noted he did consult Legislative leadership and the Secretary of State and will continue to work cooperatively with them to make sure everyone has the opportunity to vote either by mail or in person, if they choose.

Q: Another question focused on the size of gatherings, as noted in the stay-at-home order and if the Governor anticipated changes to that part of the order. 

Q: The next question focused on the Governor’s need for emergency power to meet the COVID-19 crisis. The reporter asked if the Governor still needed the emergency power, which allowed no-bid contracts and little oversight. The Governor responded he believes there has been quite a bit of oversight, with eight or more oversight hearings already taken place. He also noted he has engaged the Legislative leadership, including Budget Chair Ting when it comes to many of the decisions he has made. He noted he continues to invite oversight and the involvement of Legislative leaders.

Q: A reporter wanted to know why the state still has no data points regarding LGBTQ infection rates in the community. The Governor responded he is working with Senator Scott Wiener (D, San Francisco) who has a bill he would like to move forward which address this issue specifically. 

Q: The reporter noted some healthcare workers are still reusing masks and while the state has distributed some PPE, there remains concern that healthcare workers will be in competition with other businesses for PPE. The Governor noted that two weeks ago, he provided a detail summary of millions of masks distributed to specific businesses sectors and educational organizations to make sure there is fair and wide distribution of PPE. He noted he expects this to continue. 

Q: The reporter asked if the Governor plans to take punitive action against those counties that defy the state’s guidance requirements and open beyond Phase 2 or even 3 and fully open their economies with no restrictions. The Governor responded he has no desire to be punitive but rather it breaks his heart to know some people may end up very ill or even losing their life when such actions are taken, such as those by Tulare County. He understands there are some who disagree with the state’s program, but he reminded the audience every step the state has taken has been and will continue to be driven by science and data—all with an eye to protect public health. He noted he wants the economy to reopen, but only in a way that protects the public and avoids a very dangerous second wave, which could be more devastating than the first. He closed by noting he hopes to continue to work collaboratively with county officials to reach an agreement everyone can live with, as public safety is everyone’s first concern.

Q: The reporter asked if the Medical system can sustain the enrollment numbers it currently supports. The Governor responded he knows the system needs improvement in many areas from geographical reach, reimbursement rates, cultural competence, etc. He noted he addressed these issues in his State of the State and had a $695 million budget allocation to fund CalAIM. Unfortunately, the state’s budget fortunes have turned downward in a spectacular way, which he and the Budget Chair agree the allocation is not currently a viable option. He noted he is still committed to the long-term success of the Medical and CalAIM program.  

Q: The reporter asked if summer and day camps will open. The Governor responded there are 58 counties, some 470 cities, and 1,000 independent school districts, which means the process is a bottom up, not a top down one and it will take each district working to make sure their guidelines meet state requirements to protect public health. He noted to that end, his team is working closely with all stakeholders in the education arena to make sure they are able to consider all needs including learning loss. He stated as a father of four young children, he is concerned with not only public health but also the quality of education and the learning loss which has taken place due to the extended closure of schools throughout the state. He noted this is a dynamic space where regionalism and localism are key to making decisions and moving forward. He stated he expects guidelines to be released in the next couple of weeks to address this area. 

On that note, the Governor concluded his remarks by reminding everyone to be careful over the Memorial Day weekend, continue to practice social distancing, wear masks where appropriate, and continue to be diligent in their efforts to contain the virus. He noted, once again, the COVID-19 virus is virulent and continues to pose a very serious threat to public health. He cautioned the audience to not move too quickly and risk community spread of the virus.

Key milestones – COVID-19 update – as of today (5.22.20)

  • 3,630 deaths +2.5% 
  • 88,444 positive cases +2.6% (expected rise due to increase testing capacity)
  • 1,466,773 tests conducted. Now averaging more than 40,000 per day.
    • Latinos continue to have the highest percentage of positive cases at 54.5%, followed by Caucasians at 22.3%, Asians at 10.3%, and Blacks at 5.7%.
  • Hospitalizations decreased by 41 (-.1.3%) to 3,007
  • The majority of hospitalizations are in LA County 1,491, followed by San Diego County at 325; Orange County 262; Riverside 194; San Bernardino 131; Alameda 77; Imperial 75; Fresno 61; Kern 44; San Francisco 43.
  • ICU – 1,050 down by 1 or -01%