Newsom Orders Mail-In Ballots for All California Voters

California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his plan for the gradual reopening of California businesses during a May 5 news conference. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool)

(CN) — California became the first state in the nation to mandate the distribution of mail-in ballots to all registered voters for the presidential election in November. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Friday that requires vote-by-mail ballots to be distributed to all California voters, saying such a provision was necessary to allay concerns of voters who may be worried about contracting the novel coronavirus at polling locations in November. 

‘There is concern and anxiety around how to conduct yourself in a safe way,” Newsom said during his daily coronavirus briefing Friday. “We want to make people feel like they don’t have to go into a concentrated dense environment to cast their vote.”

Newsom and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said vote-by-mail will not be a replacement for in-person voting, as physical locations will still need to be open to accommodate people with various needs. 

But mail-in voting will ensure that residents vulnerable to the ravages of the Covid-19 virus need not risk their personal health in order to cast a vote in what Padilla called “the most consequential election of our lifetimes.”

“There is no safer, more physically distancing way to cast a vote than from the safety and convenience of your own home,” Padilla said. 

Padilla said polling locations will also need to reach out for more volunteers as those who typically staff polling places are often retired seniors who are particularly susceptible in the pandemic. 

Newsom delivered his daily presser from Twigs, a flower shop in the Sacramento region, to highlight the importance of patronizing local small businesses now that the state has allowed more retail operations to open. 

“Seventy percent of our businesses can open with modifications,” the governor said, saying the necessity to get the economy working again was particularly important given the “jaw-dropping” unemployment claims figure released Friday. 

Newsom said several counties have been in contact with the state to pursue certification for opening even further, allowing dine-in restaurants, for instance, to begin serving customers again. 

Newsom said the state recognizes that some areas have been particularly hard hit by the outbreak, while other areas have very few cases.

Counties with zero deaths in the last 14 days and meet an array of stipulations around testing and hospital capacity can open their economies even further than jurisdictions where new cases continue to rise. 

California saw 1,898 new infections statewide Thursday, along with 81 deaths.

“The virus has not gone away,” Newsom said. 

However, the governor struck a note of optimism that many locations will be allowed to proceed to open in short order. 

“We are going to get deeper into this next phase sooner than people think,” he said. “It’s a matter of weeks, not months.”

Hospitalizations and ICU admissions fell again, and the rates of new infections and deaths are stable, the governor said.

California is also preparing an army of contact tracers, capable of investigating how certain individuals caught Covid-19, while further ascertaining who may have been exposed to the infected person. 

Contact tracing, along with high-volume testing, is essential to reopening states and allowing commercial activities to resume a semblance of normalcy. 

“We want people to know we will protect your data,” Newsom said Friday. “This is not Big Brother. We want people to feel safe and comfortable with our public officials.”

Things will go slower in Los Angeles County, where over 30,000 people have been infected with the virus. Still, on Friday the county relaxed its stay-at-home order enough to allow some businesses, golf courses and hiking trails to reopen.

LA County Public Health reported 51 new deaths and 883 new infections in the last 24 hours. The county’s death toll stands at 1,468 people, according to Public Health director Barbara Ferrer.

Nearly half of all deaths in LA County involved residents of communal settings like jails, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and homeless shelters. Ferrer reported 713 deaths of residents from those settings, mostly from nursing homes.

Also alarming is the death rate among lower-income communities, which is four times higher than affluent neighborhoods according to data released by the LA County Department of Public Health.

Early data shows wealthier communities had higher rates of infections in March, but lower-income communities led in infections by the second week of April. By May 1, higher-poverty communities saw twice the number of infections than in lower-poverty areas, according to the data.

“None of us can do this work by ourselves. Systematic injustices including discriminatory policies and institutional racism have led to the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer vowed officials will continue to try and provide better access to testing and care in lower-income communities.

Meanwhile, three children who have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies have shown signs for a rare inflammatory disease. Public health officials will begin to survey pediatric facilities to see if there is a trend between the disease and the virus.

On Friday, Orange County reported 153 new infections and five new deaths, bringing the death toll to 71 with 3,240 people infected. Last week, the city of Huntington Beach saw thousands of anti-lockdown protesters who were not abiding by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines of social distancing.

Orange County beaches have begun reopening throughout the week, but LA County officials have decided to keep their coastline closed to the public for now.

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