Reopen California? That’s the Toughest Phase Yet, Newsom Says
Thursday, April 16, 2020
When will Californians emerge from house confinement? What will life look like?
In a roadmap unveiled on April 14 with top public health officials, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would not lift his shelter-in-place order until adequate suppression and mitigation measures are in place to prevent future flare-ups. That means tracking down the sick and isolating clusters of new infections, arming hospitals with adequate equipment, and setting new guidelines for schools and businesses to reopen.
In short, it might be a while. The governor told reporters not to even ask him about the timeline until hospitalizations and intensive care caseloads begin to drop. To his point, Monday marked California’s deadliest day so far, with 71 deaths for a total of 758 lives lost.
“In two weeks, if we see a continued decline, not just flattening, but a decline … ask me then,” Newsom said.
Nearly four weeks in with signs that a state lockdown was slowing the spread of the coronavirus, the governor offered a glimpse of post-pandemic life where restaurants check temperatures at the door, servers in masks offer disposable menus, and diners sit at tables spaced 6 feet apart. And until most of the population is immune to the virus and a vaccine is available, Newsom said, mass gatherings such as music festivals and sporting events are “not in the cards.”
California is not alone in taking a conditional approach. Despite President Trump’s enthusiasm for opening the economy as quickly as possible, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the country was “not there yet.”
What it suggests is that this is not the end of the pandemic, but only the end of its chaotic and deadly beginning.
“This time period we are entering is not about going back to where we were before,” said Department of Public Health Director Sonia Angell. “It won’t look the same.”
With the number of new cases each day appearing to fall in some pandemic hotspots, calls to reopen the economy have been growing louder.
But the economy isn’t likely to rebound by executive edict alone. A recent Ipsos poll estimates that 70% of Americans view going to the grocery store as a highly or moderately risky activity. People can only be expected to resume business-as-nearly-usual when they are convinced it is safe to do so.
California’s economic prognosis is already grim. Forecasters at the University of the Pacific project an 18.8% unemployment rate for California in May — up from a 2019 average of just 4%. One-third of the expected job losses are concentrated in the typically low-wage food service sector.
And the state is forecasting a 61% drop in tax collections between April and June, which includes the busy tax filing season.
Before lifting the lockdown, there is plenty of work to do — and plenty of details to fill in.
The Newsom administration outlined criteria to modify the shelter-in-place order: the state will need to develop the ability to test, track and isolate those who are sick; make sure that hospitals are ready to handle any potential fresh outbreaks; ensure that businesses operate with new social distancing guidelines; and monitor new cases.