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COVID-19 State Policy Update 05.26.20

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May 26, 2020

Today, Tuesday, May 26thGovernor Newsom began his briefing noting the Memorial Day weekend brought spectacular weather and it was concerning to see so many people not practicing social distancing and wearing protective face masks. He stated he hopes we do not develop “amnesia, as we open the economy and people increasingly return to normal activities. We must remember we are fast approaching at the national level 100,000 lives lost and in California 19 who died in just the past 24 hours.”  The Governor noted in just the last 24 hours, more than 2,000 more people tested positive in California and as the state continues to ramp up the testing, we will see those numbers increase, but the positivity rate is the key to monitoring how the state is doing. The good news is the positivity rate is stable, but, he reminded the audience, this is not the time to relax but rather it is critical Californians remain vigilant against the spread of this virulent disease, which is still taking lives every day. “Now our individual role is important, as we are exposed to people who have not been within our family circle. We must make sure we wear appropriate PPE and maintain physical distancing. We are not out of the woods yet. I’ve heard people say what about a second wave? I am telling you the second wave is months away. The reality is we are not out of the first wave.” The Governor cited statistics to make his point regarding the danger of the virus, noting 19.5% of those who test positive are over the age of 65, yet 79.2% of deaths due to COVID-19 are among that age group. He urged the audience to remember their responsibility to help protect the most vulnerable populations, which includes senior citizens. He noted he understands peoples’ desires to be out in the recreational areas, the beaches, and to congregate with people they have missed, but again reminded the audience there is still danger of community spread, as people return to more normal activities.

New Guidelines

The Governor stated the Administration is working with county leaders and businesses and “making decisions in real-time, not waiting for noon press conferences.” He stated guidelines were pushed out this past weekend to allow churches and faith-based organizations to congregate and to allow in-store shopping for retail (read more here). The Governor reiterated some of the guidelines and modifications, noting places of worship are limited to only 25% of membership or 100 congregants with significant modifications in order to protect public health. He noted he understands some people believe this is too much, too fast and others believe the guidelines do no go far enough. He shared with the audience the guidelines are published on the COVID-19 webpage at COVID-19.ca.gov (read more here). The Governor stated the public can expect more directives and more guidelines likely later this week and into the coming weekend. He reminded the audience this is “a dynamic and iterative process. It is open to argument. We are interested in evidence and data.” The Governor said it is important to see how the phase-in works and if the approaches to the limits the state has set are working to keep people safe. He reminded everyone it is incumbent upon all Californians to be diligent in using PPE and maintaining social distancing to see if we are able to contain the virus and keep our positivity rate flat at 4.2 over seven days and 4.1 over 14 days. He told the audience California is one of only a few western states to allow the gathering of faith-based organizations, and California continues to work with the other western state partners regarding best practices. This is, he noted, “not about being ideological, but rather about using data to make modifications as appropriate.” 

Barbershops and Salons

Governor Newsom announced today the state is making additional modifications and issuing additional regional variances. These are possible because county officials are able to attest to their ability to have appropriate containment plans to protect citizens from community spread, they have testing and tracing capacity, so they are able to isolate those who test positive or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, appropriate PPE, and plans to protect those who are vulnerable in congregant facilities, such as skilled nursing homes and correctional facilities.  Starting today, the Governor said barber shops and salons are allowed to be added, as long as counties are able to self-certify and this is done with meaningful, protective modifications. “We are not looking back but moving forward and walking together into the unknown. Literally, the untested and we have to be guided by the data that brought us to this place. By the principles of openness and transparency. Principles where all of us are required to do a little bit more, a little better to stop the transmission of this virus, as we move to re-open our economy.” 

Summer Camps and Child Care

Tomorrow, the Governor noted he anticipates more guidelines being released for summer camps, day camps, schools, and child care facilities. 

Television and Film Industry

The Governor also noted the Administration is working directly with the television and film industry to release guidelines for them to begin working again. He stated he believes those guidelines will publish by the end of this week or the weekend, as the industry and labor are engaged in a meaningful final discussion on some specific needs in their guidelines, not unlike, the Governor noted, those in the grocery business where the industry and labor came together to reach a meaningful agreement that benefits and protects everyone. Additionally, the Governor stated he expects guidelines to be released for nail salons and personal service providers. He stated the Administration is engaged with Legislative leaders in this area and they expect to have guidelines soon that satisfy public health directors and health experts. 

Localism and County Responsibility

The Governor noted the lion share of the responsibility to meet the requirements falls to the counties. The accountability lies with the counties, as this is guided by localism. He stated the state government will continue to provide technical support, assistance with PPE, testing supplies and ventilators. He noted the state has distributed 41.2 million procedure masks over the past 14 days, which is “foundational to the principle of personal protection for not only healthcare workers, but also for essential workers, farm workers, childcare providers and others.” Testing has also taken off over the long holiday weekend, as the Governor noted 67,000 people were tested Sunday, 61,000 were tested yesterday, and while the positive results are rising, as expected with increased testing capacity, the positivity rate continues to be stable, as he noted earlier. Additionally, the hospitalization rates are stable, while they did rise slightly, they are stable over the past 14 days, which is an important metric. The ICU rate “remains somewhat stubborn, but still stable, or flat over the same period of time. The good news in the ICU area is that bed capacity has increased, which is important should the infection rate begin to increase.” The Governor reported the state has 11,000 ventilators available should they be needed. “This means we are turning from yellow to greenIndeed, some of our indicators are turning from yellow to green, as we move forward.” 

The Governor reminded the audience, once again, the responsibility and accountability are shifting to the counties and to their health directors who are making the call regarding attestation, self-certification, and monitoring. He noted he is aware there are still some who believe they should be allowed to move forward more aggressively, and he thanked those local elected officials and health directors who have reached out directly and engaged in the process to make their case for changes to guidelines and variances to meet their county’s unique needs. There are, he noted, a couple of exceptions – “folks that just want to move on and have turned their back on the state and state health director, but the vast majority of businesses and communities have engaged and have been very helpful in the process.”  The Governor specifically called out the Mayor of Fresno, Lee Brand, who reached out to the state, with the coming heat wave, and noted the extreme heat would bring about the need for cooling centers across the state and certainly the central valley. Governor Newsom stated that without Mayor Brand reaching out directly to bring this issue to the attention of public health directors this issue would not have been addressed. The Governor stated, “this is the kind of engagement we need to be determinative at the local level. The application of rules and guidelines must be realized at the local level throughout the state, as we move forward into Phase 3. The counties will continue to play an even larger role in responsibility. I’ve said it before, localism is determinative.” 

Some parts of the state, he noted, may need to slow down and it is important to respect what county leaders believe is possible in their county. They must be allowed to follow their own path and direct their county’s movement into the various phases. The Governor stated he believes this is promising and hopeful, but also sobering, as there is still a great deal of individual responsibility that falls on each Californian to practice social distancing and wear appropriate protective gear, as counties move into Phase 3 and then Phase 4. 

Phase 4

The Governor was quick to remind the audience Phase 4, which includes concert halls, festivals, and sporting events with fans in the stands are still some time off, as the state is not yet ready to release guidelines to protect the public in these settings. He noted the state will continue to “hold the line on large events and venues” but he did note this is a responsibility that will be pushed down to the counties where they have the local expertise to dictate how the phased-in approach will look. The Governor noted there has been a lot of movement and a lot of activity in the past few days and there is more to come, as the state moves forward, but again cautioned everyone to stay vigilant against this deadly virus and to not give in to amnesia just because we are able to gather in small groups, shop in stores or worship together. We must still protect the vulnerable. He congratulated the counties on the progress made and thanked them for their spirit of collaboration and cooperation. He closed by noting this moment in history defines us—let us continue to work together.

Q&A

The first question was from a Politico reporter who asked the Governor if he was concerned about the federal Department of Justice reaching out to the state and the County of Los Angeles regarding church gatherings and the federal government overriding Governors’ orders to not allow faith-based organizations to meet yet or restrict their meetings. The reporter asked if the Governor was concerned over a clash with the federal government. The Governor replied he was not surprised by the lawsuit filed over the issue and he does not lose sleep over the 70 some lawsuits the Administration has against the state, including the ones that pre-date his time as Governor. He noted that while this is a political season and he suspects some of the politicizing is expected, he has largely found the work with the federal government to be collaborative and productive and that’s what matters.

The second question came from CBS Los Angeles - The reporter asked the Governor if he had a comment on the County Board of Supervisors in Los Angeles appointing an inspector general to look into the skilled nursing facility (SNF) issue, as the infection and death rate is so much higher in these facilities. The reporter also asked if the Governor was concerned about the pictures released over the weekend that showed large crowds gathered at beaches and in restaurants with few people following social distancing guidelines and wearing protective gear. The Governor replied he honors and respects their decision and believes this is a very important issue to address, as he noted earlier the death rate is alarming high is some SNFs. He noted 55-56% of the deaths in California are occurring in Los Angeles County and two-thirds of their deaths are occurring in SNFs. The Governor also noted he remains concerned about people following the social distancing guidelines and wearing PPE in order to contain the virus. He stated he hopes people do not forget how serious this is and how many people are losing their lives to this virulent disease. 

The third question came from the SF Chronicle - the reporter asked if the Governor would like to expand on the specific safety measures required of barber shops and salons. The reporter also asked about the remaining counties and why they have not yet received variances from the state. The Governor replied the guidelines for barber shops and salons are posted on the COVID-19 web page and invited the reporter and others to read them. He then provided an anecdote of how his children helped serve aa barbers in his home over the weekend to get rid of what he said his wife referred to as “his mullet” and was certain they did not follow the appropriate guidelines as barbers.

He did note there are a number of counties that have yet to receive variances and that public health officials are continuing to work with those counties. Some of the work, he noted, is related to other things he neglected to mention during his briefing, such as the fact that the first 560 tracers have completed their training, another 400 entered training last week, and another 360 began this week. Ultimately, once that training is completed in all of its phases, there will be tens of thousands of tracers to supplement the approximately 3,000 tracers already at work throughout the state. “All of these factors come together to paint the big picture in how we will enter the unknown. It must be done with openness and transparency. It is about what is happening on the ground in real time. We anticipate an increase in cases, but we will be guided by what health professionals tell us is appropriate, which is why you hear critiques from some who think we should open up more. We will need to be able to make adjustments.”

The fourth question came from Fox 11 LA – The reporter asked if some counties, like Los Angeles, could open in areas within the county, but not the entire county.  The Governor noted that yes, LA is a great example of a county that is larger than some states in the union and yes, it is possible to open some areas of the county before others and, in fact, the Administration is working with LA County to do just this.

The final question came from Capital Public Radio – the reporter asked if the state is still acquiring PPE from the feds. The Governor replied yes, the state continues to work well with FEMA to secure some small amounts of PPE, but the state has continued to secure the majority of its PPE through state procurement contracts. 

Re-opening the economy – Phase 2 and beyond

In addition to variance guidance from the State of California, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has also issued guidance for organizations to plan, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including faith-based organizations and businesses on dealing with COVID-19. The guidelines include disinfection instructions, equipment recommendations, and how to manage physical distancing. Centers for Disease Control Faith-based guidelines are available here

State Variance Guidelines 

As noted in previous briefings the Governor outlined 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 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 where business across the state is down an estimated 93% (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).  

Californians are urged to familiarize themselves with their county’s variances and requirements. Counties will report in real time their data related to testing, contact tracing, hospitalizations, and infection rates. 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.

Key milestones – COVID-19 update – as of today (5.26.20)

  • 3,814 deaths +.05% 
  • 96,733 positive cases +2.8% (expected rise due to increase testing capacity)
  • 1,696,396 tests conducted. Now averaging more than 40,000 daily; 50,000 since Sunday.
    • Latinos continue to have the highest percentage of positive cases at 51.3%, followed by Caucasians at 21.5%, Asians at 9.8%, and Blacks at 5.6%.
  • Hospitalizations increased by 50 (+1.7%) to 3,065
  • The majority of hospitalizations are in LA County 1,477, followed by San Diego County at 317; Orange County 300; Riverside 193; San Bernardino 138; Alameda 91; Imperial 69; Fresno 66; Kern 51; San Mateo 44; San Francisco 40.
  • ICU – 1,084 up by 22 or +2.1%