Newsom Hints California Could Inch Open Next Week

A reduction of California’s shelter-in-place order could be ‘days, not weeks’ away, the governor said.

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

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — With the state clearing a pair of somber coronavirus milestones with 50,000 cases and 2,000 deaths, California Governor Gavin Newsom nonetheless said Friday he’s optimistic the statewide lockdown can be relaxed next week. 

Citing a growing medical supply stockpile and a stabilization of hospitalization rates, Newsom said it would be “days not weeks” before he dulls the shelter-in-place order that halted the state economy six weeks ago. He didn’t offer specifics but hinted next week could bring “very meaningful” news to retailers and restaurants if Californians continue to stay at home.

“I feel some confidence that over the course of the next week, we’re going to be able to make some announcements that will give people some more confidence in the ability for California to get back on its economic feet,” Newsom said during a press briefing.

The pandemic has simultaneously ended California’s record stretch of job growth and ravaged its coffers: Since March, the state has distributed $7.5 billion to cover 3.9 million jobless claims, leaving its once hefty $21.5 billion surplus in shambles.

“It just went like that; billions in surplus in just weeks to tens of billions in deficit,” Newsom said.

The possibility of inching open can’t come soon enough for many Golden State residents, who have been at odds with Newsom all week.

Recent photos and news coverage of the various packed Orange County beaches dismayed Newsom, who — to the surprise of local elected officials and reporters who were expecting a statewide ban — on Thursday ordered the closure of Orange County’s popular beaches. He said the controversial hard close on beaches like Laguna, Newport and Huntington was necessary to prevent another weekend rush and in the interest of public health.

Feeling singled out, a group of local officials from across the county responded Friday by suing Newsom in state court. The petitioners claim county beaches weren’t overcrowded last weekend and that Newsom is targeting the county because it is pushing to reopen the local economy.

“Newsom has committed a grave abuse of his power that must be immediately addressed to avoid the future application of such abuses on the same or greater scale,” states the emergency petition filed in Orange County Superior Court. 

When asked about the lawsuit, the governor said he wasn’t surprised by it and that “we’ll see what happens.”

Orange isn’t the only county where officials are testing Newsom’s statewide order: rural Modoc County on Friday gave the greenlight for restaurants and small businesses to reopen. Located in the northeast corner of the state, the county of less than 10,000 people has tested 80 residents without confirming a positive coronavirus case. 

While the list of municipalities demanding release from the statewide order grows, Newsom continues to claim he won’t be influenced by political pressure or protests.

Groups once again gathered at the state Capitol on Friday to complain about the shelter-in-place order and simultaneously bash Newsom. Law enforcement officers were forced to walk back hundreds of unmasked residents who decided during a pandemic to gather outside the empty Capitol, waive misspelled signs and march to the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right.”

Newsom responded to Friday’s protest not from the statehouse but the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services located 17 miles away, telling reporters he appreciates the demonstrators’ First Amendment exhibition but hopes they aren’t underestimating the virus. 

“You don’t want to contract this disease,” Newsom advised. “This disease doesn’t know if you’re a protester, Democrat or Republican.”

With 91 new deaths reported overnight, 2,073 Californians have officially died from the coronavirus. While hospitalizations and intensive care patients dropped slightly, health officials reported over 2,000 new positive cases.

Newsom says the state has now conducted over 655,000 tests and is averaging more than 25,000 per day. He added that an update on the state’s effort to train an “army of 10,000 contact tracers” will come during Monday’s briefing.

Though the contract details remain murky and haven’t been publicized, Newsom said a billion-dollar deal with a Chinese company is beginning to bear fruit.

According to Newsom, the state has received 8.3 million surgical masks and that N95 masks and other equipment is expected to reach the state this month. He says the continued stockpiling of medical equipment is “fundamental” to California’s reopening.

Meanwhile the month of April couldn’t end quickly enough in Los Angeles County, where the disease remains lethal and contagious.

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced 62 deaths and 1,065 new cases on Friday, noting that 92% of the 1,172 people who have died from the virus had underlying conditions. Ferrer said nearly 1,000 people died in the last month and that the county has processed over 152,000 Covid-19 tests and confirmed 24,215 cases.

“We’ve had devastating losses across our communities during the month of April,” Ferrer said in a separate briefing. “To all of you who are mourning the loss of family members or friends who have passed away from Covid-19, we are mourning with you and we are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.”

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