Newsom Hints at the Return of Sports — at Empty Stadiums — as State Inches Open

Professional sports leagues could resume their seasons while churches must remain shuttered for the time being, according to California’s governor.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at one of his daily coronavirus press briefings. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

(CN) — California is reopening for business, following trends throughout the United States and the world. 

Governor Gavin Newsom announced a program Monday to further loosen restrictions, particularly for counties and regions that were spared large outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, while predicting professional sports would begin playing without fans in roughly two weeks. 

“I know this is frustrating for some people who want to see us moving to open up a little more quickly,” the governor said during his daily press briefing. “Others feel we are moving too quickly.”

But the trend toward opening up throughout the state is unmistakable. 

The Bay Area counties, which became the first major jurisdictions in the United States to issue stay-at-home orders in response to the pandemic, announced an easing of restrictions to allow curbside pickup for retail along with warehousing, manufacturing and some logistics. 

“As we reopen certain sectors, Bay Area residents are still required by health order to stay home as much as possible, wear face coverings, and follow the precautions that have helped the region make progress to slow the spread of Covid-19,” the Santa Clara County Health Department said in a statement. “As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by our Covid-19 indicators and other data related to the spread of Covid-19 in our region.”

Santa Clara County, which medical professionals now believe saw the nation’s first known Covid death in early February, promised to move forward cautiously. San Francisco officials, including Mayor London Breed, said if residents continue to do everything possible to prevent an escalation of the outbreak, the city will explore allowing indoor retail while allowing schools and offices to reopen with restrictions. 

San Francisco Director of Public Health Grant Colfax said opening up summer camps for children is “a real possibility.”

Newsom said the pattern of reopening the state is predicated on data, noting hospitalizations and ICU admissions have fallen by roughly 7% in the last two weeks while new infections and deaths have remained relatively stable. 

The pattern hews to the overarching one throughout the nation, where epidemiologists like Scott Gottlieb have expressed cautious optimism that the coronavirus outbreak is starting to slow in the United States. 

The county still has one of the worst outbreaks in the world, with nearly 1.5 million infections and over 90,000 deaths. But testing capacity, once among the worst anywhere, has ramped up in California and across the United States giving public health officials a more accurate picture of coronavirus transmission as it plays out through local communities. 

Newsom said California carried out 57,000 tests on Sunday, a record high. 

Another reason California leans toward reopening is because of the sheer number of counties that have had very few cases.

Forty-three of the state’s 58 counties have less than a thousand cases and the number of counties with 10 or fewer cases is in the double digits. Meanwhile, much like New York City accounted for the lion’s share of cases and deaths throughout April, Los Angeles County is responsible for almost half of the infections and half the deaths in the state. 

But LA County relaxed some restrictions, and public health officials on Monday estimated more than 1 million Angelenos have left their homes since the stay-at-home orders were relaxed. While many enjoyed being outdoors for a change, the threat of the virus remains a looming specter for the 10 million residents in LA County.

“If the rate of people who could be positive for Covid-19 is about 4% we might be able to estimate that 40,000 of the one million who were out and about were infected with Covid-19,” said LA County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer at her daily press briefing Monday. “So, you can see why we do stand here every day and tell you it’s so important for us to continue to slow the spread.”

LA officials announced 18 deaths and 477 new infections in the last 24 hours, but noted there is usually a lag in results after the weekend. In total, 1,839 are dead and 38,451 are infected.

Nearly 1,000 communal living residents — mostly from nursing homes — have died and account for more than half of all deaths in LA County, said Ferrer.

Public health officials also said 4,298 health care workers have tested positive for Covid-19 and 26 have died.

Ferrer stressed the importance of face coverings and social distancing at this stage.

“We don’t have anything else to offer. We have each other. There is no medication. There is no vaccine,” said Ferrer. “What we have is each other.”

Meanwhile, over 1,000 businesses were out of compliance with the health orders over the weekend, as the local economy gradually reopened. Public health officials will work with those businesses to make sure they’re capable of complying with the health order.

“LA County will be cautious,” Newsom said, noting that county is likely to open at a slower rate than other counties in the state. 

But the governor said that roughly 53 of the 58 counties would be eligible to move deeper into Phase 2, meaning indoor retail opening, along with additional manufacturing and even haircuts. 

“It’s almost essential we do this on a regional basis,” Newsom said. 

Newsom gave his daily presser from the Mustards Grill in Napa County as an expression of solidarity with small businesses throughout the state that are feeling the pinch from lockdown policies. 

The governor also offered a dollop of good news for long-suffering sports fans, saying county public health officials are starting to move into intensive discussions about how to host sporting events in counties.

The Bundesliga, the major soccer organization in Germany, played games over the weekend, becoming the first major league soccer organization to host games since March. South Korea has been playing its version of Major League Baseball for weeks. Both leagues host their games in empty stadiums, likely something the United States will require as sports leagues contemplate ramping back up. 

But Californians are still weeks away from being able to pack into churches, Newsom said, a sign the state has much ground to cover before it can get back a semblance of normalcy. 

Also, counties will be continually measured to ensure the loosening is not facilitating a second wave of infections. The most important data point will be the positivity rate, making sure that 8% or less of a total county population is testing positive for the coronavirus at any given time. 

By focusing on positivity rates, Newsom said it can prevent counties from artificially deflating raw case numbers by selectively performing testing. Additionally, there can be no more than a 5% increase in hospitalization rate for a given county along with other metrics. 

“Counties have the ability to pull back a little,” Newsom said. “People can go at their own pace.”

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