Gov. Newsom Announces New Rules in Response to COVID-19 Crisis

California’s Seniors to Self-Sequester, Bars to Close, Homeless to Be Housed

Credit: Courtesy

In response to the growing coronavirus crisis, Governor Gavin Newsom gave some wide-ranging directives on Sunday for his “nation state” of more than 5.3 million seniors and 6 million schoolchildren in 58 counties. The new announcement addressed people over the age of 65, bars and brewpubs, and California’s homeless population. The number of individuals testing positive for COVID-19 increased by 14 percent from Saturday to Sunday, he noted, as the state struggled to test potential cases, though capacity “was increasing on an hourly basis.”

All seniors in the state and those with chronic medical conditions were asked to self-isolate at home. His staff recognized the magnitude of the resulting need for meals, groceries, and medical supplies, Newsom said, and the anxiety induced by such social isolation. The governor stated 13 task forces were working on those needs and the logistics of securing help for those who will need it.

Though he did not want to divulge where the “deep negotiations” were ongoing, Newsom announced large, unused hospitals had been identified, and the state was negotiating to reopen them. If all went well, another 750 beds would be available by the end of the week, he said. And with pneumonia assailing the sick, California had also bought a few hundred more ventilators to augment the 7,587 in hospitals now, as well as the cache in the state’s public health storage. The 146 hospitals across the state had 74,000 total beds, with the ability to add 8,661 more in the anticipated surge of patients, Newsom recited.

What worried him, he said, was the access to swabs to get samples from potential patients, with only about 9,000 available in the state. California was in talks with the feds to perhaps change the protocols to a single swab instead of two, and Newsom claimed the conversations “have all been very, very positive.” Should the swab matter be resolved, 19 labs stand ready to test them, Newsom said, as well as some hospital and University of California labs, Stanford, and the Quest Diagnostics laboratory in San Juan Capistrano. 

One reason restaurants are not included in the closure of bars, brewpubs, wineries, and clubs, Newsom said, was the need for food delivery and takeout for the isolated. Bars were to close as nonessential services that had the potential to bring people in contact with a possible carrier, Newsom said. While restaurants remain open, proprietors have been told to reduce their patron number by half and rearrange the furniture to place at least six feet between diners.

[Update: March 16, 2020, 9 p.m.] On Monday, California released new guidelines, including: “Restaurants should be closed for in-restaurant seated dining and should be open only to drive-through or other pick-up/delivery options.”

Skeptical reporters on Sunday asked Newsom why he wasn’t ordering, instead of suggesting, such guidelines. Didn’t he have the power? Newsom first rationalized, saying if seniors and people with chronic illness stay home, restaurant patrons were going to be the younger and healthier among us. 

He then praised Californians for so far responding positively to previous announcements: “I would be surprised if people don’t support this as they have past guidelines.” Newsom began to mention the National Guard and other state powers but stopped: “We don’t need to get there right now, but we’re preparing for anything.”

To counter health issues bound to arise for California’s homeless population, the state was buying hotels and motels to shelter the 108,000 people living on the streets, Newsom announced. As far as the “mythology” about a resistance to coming indoors, Newsom disputed that anyone would prefer an encampment when “they have the opportunity of a key, lock, door, and home. We try to meet people where they are,” he said, “and we try to accommodate that.” As many as 450 trailers were to be “dispersed to critical points across the state.”

Newsom also touched on schools, saying 51 percent of the districts in the state were closing or had closed, adding that they represented 80-85 percent of all students. The only large district that had yet to close, he said, was the Kern High School District, which announced Sunday it would be closing its schools beginning Wednesday. 

Part of the task force’s work includes solutions to feed students and ensuring that special-needs kids got quality care, he said, with a note that his mother had worked in adoptions, so he knew of the need personally.

These recommendations and others to come on Monday and Tuesday were the result of analyzing the best and worst from other countries’ experiences, Newsom stated, including China, Singapore, South Korea, Italy, France, and Spain. And, “to the extent that anyone is now interested,” Newsom said, the Grand Princess would leave Oakland Sunday night at 7 p.m. with about 330 crew aboard — the others had flown to their home countries — and six passengers who’d yet to be repatriated by their state department or consul general. The ship will anchor in San Francisco Bay for another 14-day quarantine and sanitization procedures.

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