SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Marking a milestone in the pandemic fight, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday offered a ray of hope to 40 million residents confined at home by unveiling a strategy to open up the state.
“This can’t be a permanent state, and it will not be a permanent state,” Newsom said.
In a media briefing, Newsom unveiled a 6-point roadmap that he says will guide California’s transition from total lockdown to a functioning society and economy. The full reopening of the state’s $3 trillion economy will hinge on enhanced testing and a statewide reshaping of businesses, hospitals and schools to further implement physical distancing.
Newsom warned that until Covid-19 is no longer a threat, society and everyday life will be modified and Californians should become accustomed to things like smaller restaurants and wearing masks in public.
“You may be having dinner with a waiter wearing gloves, maybe a face mask,” said Newsom of changes coming to California’s renowned culinary sector. “Dinner where the menu is disposable; where half the tables in that restaurant no longer appear. Where your temperature is checked before you walk in.”
But before the loosening of shelter-in-place orders and the radical reopening of restaurants and schools, the state must continue stockpiling medical supplies as well as secure therapeutics and an early-warning system to shield future outbreaks.
The shift in focus comes as cases and hospitalizations have leveled in recent days, causing Newsom’s administration to readjust their predictions for when California’s peak will hit and how bad it will be.
Last week, California’s secretary for health and human services agency said the state was “holding on to the bottom” of its models and on Monday Newsom applauded residents for contributing to the state’s success in reducing infections and deaths.
The West Coast as a whole has mostly avoided the major outbreaks seen in places like New York or Italy. According to data compiled by The New York Times, while New York has recorded 51 deaths per 100,000 residents, Oregon has registered 1 per 100,000, California 2 and Washington state 7.
The glimpse into Newsom’s strategy doesn’t include a strict implementation timeline, but the Democratic governor told reporters he expects the state to make continued progress over the next two weeks in terms of accruing personal protective equipment and a decline in deaths and hospitalizations.
As for Newsom's goal for more testing of people with symptoms and tracing their contacts, John Romley, who teaches health policy and economics at the University of Southern California, said in a phone interview it will be difficult. Widescale testing in a state of 40 million people and 58 counties amounts to a logistical nightmare, Romley said.
“California is way behind the rest of the country on this,” Romley said. “We’re doing well on the social distancing and thankfully our death rates are relatively low, but we really have lagged in terms of rolling out testing.”
Romley said it was important for Newsom to convey a sense of optimism, but added he was concerned about the continued strain on hospitals that have been forced to cancel surgeries and empty beds to prepare for Covid-19 patients.
“This is a big, big challenge. We’re expecting them to deal with a 100- or 200-year flood with a hand tied behind their back financially,” Romley said.
While he intended to inspire optimism on Tuesday, Newsom simultaneously dashed the hopes of Californians hoping for a return to normalcy by summer. He signaled large social events like holiday celebrations, summer camps and baseball games will almost certainly be banned.
“The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” Newsom said. “When you suggest June, July, August, it’s unlikely.”