Updated April 15, 8:28 a.m.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s introduced a new, six-point plan on Tuesday for how California might gradually lift its stay-home order.
It includes everything from ramped-up testing to protecting at-risk residents. And the governor suggested long-term, dramatic changes to life in the Golden State — everything from staggered school schedules in the fall and temperature checks enter businesses to “massive deep cleaning” and sanitation of public spaces.
“Normal, it will not be, at least until we have herd immunity and have a vaccine,” the governor said of post-quarantine life.
He did not discuss a timeline or date for when the plan might be implemented. Instead, Newsom urged people to continue to remain in their homes until the “curve” of new COVID-19 patients is “not just flattening, but declining.”
Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the state’s public health department, presented details of what officials are looking at as it considers lifting parts of the stay-home order.
improving ways to “monitor and protect” residents through expanded testing and contact tracing capacity, and ways to help those who are exposed or contract the illness
expanding the “ability to prevent infection” among those at higher risk, including seniors, people with pre-existing medical conditions and individuals who are incarcerated
increasing the ability of hospitals and health systems to handle surges of COVID-19 patients
developing treatments, including vaccines and other therapeutics
increasing ways to physical distance at businesses, schools, child care facilities, etc.
establishing a protocol to reinstitute stay-home measures if there is another outbreak
Angell emphasized that things “won’t look the same” in our lives for a while.
“Restaurants will be likely to reopen, but perhaps they’ll have fewer tables,” she said. “Face coverings will likely become common in public.”
She added that physical distancing will remain a part of our lives until there is a majority of the population immune to the virus.
Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Oliva Kasirye said the county agreed with the governor's steps. Sacramento recently extended its own stay-home order until May 1. Kasirye said she couldn't provide a timeline for loosening the order and that social distancing measures are still in place.
She also said the county will have to be careful with its messaging as the rules change.
“It’s difficult once you let up on some of the restrictions to put them back in place,” she said. “So we’re going to move very deliberately, very slowly, to make sure we’re very clear with what the expectations are.”
San Joaquin County Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park shared a similar worry.
“The concern is that we will let too many groups reopen, too soon, which could lead to an uptick in cases and the need to reinstate shelter-at-home orders,” she wrote in an email. “One step we plan to take is to increase our outreach to at-risk groups that will need to continue to practice social distancing and staying at home as much as possible.”
Newsom declined to explore a timeline for when any of the modifications might go into effect.
“Ask me the question [in a few weeks], and we can be more prescriptive in giving people timelines. Let’s not make the mistake of pulling the plug too early” on the stay-at-home order, the governor said.
He did not respond to President Trump’s statement on Monday that his “authority is total” to reopen the economy and lift any local or state orders.
“I don’t want to make a political decision that puts people's lives at risk and puts the economy even more at risk,” Newsom said in response.
The governor emphasized that the transition would be incremental: "There's no light switch here. It's more like a dimmer." But large sporting events or concerts likely would not be part of the modification.
"The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” Newsom said. “Large scale events that bring in hundreds, thousand, tens of thousands of strangers … is not in the cards."
This could change, he said, with the development of goals in the six-point plan, including expanded testing, he added.
California is seeing some flattening in the number of COVID-19 patients. Those admitted to intensive care in the past 24 hours declined by 0.1%, and the number of hospitalizations was up by 3.6%
More testing and tracking of COVID-19 patients will be required as people are allowed to return to school and work. Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, said that will be a heavy lift for some local departments.
“County public health operates on a shoestring, and the laces have been fraying as we’re responding to COVID-19,” he said. “We urgently need significant and sustained support from the state and federal government to continue the communicable disease testing and the tracing and isolation that will be needed to further contain this. ”
Dr. Arthur Reingold, an epidemiologist at UC Berkeley, said the state is taking the right steps. He says keeping full quarantine orders in place until a vaccine arrives is not “a feasible alternative.”
He was concerned about the governor’s lack of details on protecting people in nursing homes and jails.
“Are we going to test staff and visitors and delivery people every day before they’re allowed in?” he said. “It’s not just identifying and containing outbreaks, it’s preventing outbreaks as much as possible, and what’s the plan for that?”
County public health directors said they will be keeping an eye toward vulnerable populations and finding ways to reduce their exposure, even as more healthy people are permitted to move around in their communities.
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