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Faced with dying Californians and withering businesses, Gov. Newsom steers a middle path. Can it last?

Pedestrians walk past an outdoor seating area at the Puerto Alegre restaurant in the San Francisco Mission neighborhood on July 25, 2020. Business owners across the state have pressured Gov. Gavin Newsom for a speedy reopening. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters.

Californians could be forgiven for feeling like we're running in place.

Three months after Gov. Gavin Newsom began easing the stay-at-home order meant to curb the coronavirus pandemic, the virus is raging — and the vast majority of residents are back to living under major government restrictions.

About 97% of Californians live in counties where schools are not allowed to reopen, and where indoor malls, gyms, churches and hair salons are shuttered. Across the state, bars have been ordered to close, and restaurants and movie theaters are barred from serving customers indoors. Unemployment is worse than it was at the peak of the Great Recession.

And yet, with infections and deaths rising dramatically this summer — more than half a million Californians have been sickened with COVID-19, and the state's average daily death toll doubled between June 1 and Aug. 1 — Newsom is under pressure from some quarters to restrict activity even further.

"We are in this in-between mode," said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the epidemiology department at the University of California, San Francisco medical school.

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"We are in a shutdown, so you can't imagine we are going to shut down more. But on the other hand, we are not shut down enough to get the viral transmission under control."

The Democratic governor — who this spring enacted the nation's first statewide stay-at-home order and earned plaudits for keeping infection rates relatively low — later deferred many decisions to local officials and loosened his criteria for reopening in the face of pressure from businesses. That led some counties to begin allowing businesses to reopen without the volume of testing and contact tracing that health experts — and even Newsom himself — said was necessary to prevent outbreaks.

Now he is embracing a middle-ground approach — stricter than many states (like Florida and Georgia, which don't require masks), but not as strict as others (such as New York and New Jersey, which are quarantining visitors from areas with significant outbreaks).

"At the moment, based upon the progress we have made, we feel we can get our arms around this in a judicious way," Newsom said Monday, after presenting data that offered a small glimmer of hope.

The numbers seemed to show that the average count of new daily cases had declined by 21% over the last week, and that COVID hospitalizations were down 10% over the last two weeks. Yet even as he highlighted a few "encouraging signs," Newsom was quick to acknowledge that it's too soon to know if the dip was the start of a long-term improvement.

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"One week does not make a kind of trend that gives us confidence to generate headlines," he said. "We are looking forward to that, and we'll need to see another few weeks of this kind of data to come in, to feel more confident about where we are as a state."

A day later, state officials put a damper on Newsom's good news, reporting that a data snafu may have made it appear that California experienced a drop in cases that didn't actually occur, though they could not say how large the undercount was.

The overall trendline this summer remains alarming, with cases growing in the weeks after the state allowed more activities to resume. Even though Newsom has said that was expected, he's found himself in a morbid volley, easing restrictions throughout May and early June, then clamping down again throughout the end of June and July.

"The unfortunate reality is the shutdown should have been a little bit longer and the reopening should have been a lot more cautious," said Bibbins-Domingo, the UCSF epidemiology chair.

"Once we allowed for a lot of variation and political pressure in reopening, without the precautions, it set the stage for what is a much more challenging political environment where you are ping-ponging back and forth between restrictions and trying to loosen up."

In a telling turn of fortunes, the governor who was once praised for imposing a lockdown before any other state now finds himself in a position where Californians cannot travel to the New York area without being quarantined.

"We have neither a healthy public nor a healthy economy. We're in a situation where it's not safe to open further but nobody feels there is enough justification to close down again."

-State Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda

Polling shows Californians think the state reopened too quickly, with 61% telling the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies that restrictions didn't last long enough. And state residents are not feeling any better about the pandemic this summer than they were in its early days this spring. About eight in ten Californians said in July that their life has been disrupted by the pandemic — almost the same number who reported that feeling in April, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The same poll found that the portion of Californians worried they or their family will get sick from the coronavirus, or concerned about the pandemic damaging their personal finances, had barely changed from April to July.

"We have this quagmire: We have neither a healthy public nor a healthy economy. We're in a situation where it's not safe to open further but nobody feels there is enough justification to close down again," said state Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Democrat who has been pushing Newsom to put California back under a stricter shelter-in-place order.

"The sooner we make those harsh restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, the sooner we can get our economy back and get our kids back in classrooms."

Glazer's view has been echoed by the Sacramento Bee editorial board, which said Newsom's current strategy is "resulting mostly in failure and death." And it's in line with a chorus of health professionals who have been urging national leaders to lock the country down.

"Non-essential businesses should be closed. Restaurant service should be limited to take-out. People should stay home, going out only to get food and medicine or to exercise and get fresh air," dozens of doctors and researchers wrote in a recent open letter to America's governors and President Donald Trump, a week after delivering the same letter specifically to Newsom.

Once the virus is contained by a harsh shutdown, they wrote, cities should only open back up when there are enough tests, contact tracers and protective gear to keep the spread in check.

But Newsom also faces pressure from the other direction — not only from conservative activists who mounted a "Let us work" billboard near his home — but also, indirectly, from people like Lorraine Salazar. The owner of three Mexican restaurants in the Fresno area, Salazar said she employed 170 people before the pandemic began. She furloughed 120 of them in March when stay-at-home orders forced her to switch to a take-out only format.

Salazar worked with other businesses in her area to advocate for a speedy reopening, which local officials successfully sought from the state. She reopened her dining room in early June with new glass partitions to separate booths, half the tables blocked off to ensure social distancing and a staff trained in new safety procedures.

"It was important to us that we opened right," Salazar said. "The public had to know we were a safe and sanitary place to dine."

But her restaurants served up their tamales, fajitas and carne asada for just four and a half weeks before the next government order required shutting indoor dining rooms. Now, only allowed to serve take-out and seat customers outdoors, Salazar has about 65 employees. And she feels frustrated that restaurants are the target of so many government restrictions, when they already undergo routine health inspections.

"They have not contact-traced (outbreaks) back to restaurants, so why can't restaurants safely reopen?" she said. "We are all doing the protocols."

The experience in other countries shows that lockdowns are one cure, but not the only way to beat the pandemic. China and Italy controlled the virus with lockdowns stricter than California's. Hong Kong and South Korea contained it without massive shutdowns — but with much more testing, contract tracing and quarantining than has been available in the U.S.

The balancing act Newsom seems to be striving for is common in politics. Leaders often try to appease as many people as they can while taking actions they know will alienate some. Newsom demonstrated, in his first year as governor, an ability to forge a middle path and bring warring factions together on long-simmering debates over charter schools, policing and rent control.

But a middle-ground approach may not work when it comes to science. And that leaves Newsom facing no good options in carving a path out of the pandemic. He could put more livelihoods at risk if he shutters more businesses, and more lives at risk if he loosens controls.

"There is politics everywhere: You either get the politics of restricting movement again, or the politics of a high death count," said Juliette Kayyem, who was an assistant secretary for homeland security under President Obama and is now on the faculty of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"Neither is good. But one is unconscionable."

Email Laurel Rosenhall at [email protected].

View the original article, which includes an interactive chart comparing new cases with eased and added restrictions, here.

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CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics. Read more state news from CALmatters here.

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Faced with dying Californians and withering businesses, Gov. Newsom steers a middle path. Can it last?

by / CalMatters

Uploaded: Sun, Aug 9, 2020, 1:24 pm

Californians could be forgiven for feeling like we're running in place.

Three months after Gov. Gavin Newsom began easing the stay-at-home order meant to curb the coronavirus pandemic, the virus is raging — and the vast majority of residents are back to living under major government restrictions.

About 97% of Californians live in counties where schools are not allowed to reopen, and where indoor malls, gyms, churches and hair salons are shuttered. Across the state, bars have been ordered to close, and restaurants and movie theaters are barred from serving customers indoors. Unemployment is worse than it was at the peak of the Great Recession.

And yet, with infections and deaths rising dramatically this summer — more than half a million Californians have been sickened with COVID-19, and the state's average daily death toll doubled between June 1 and Aug. 1 — Newsom is under pressure from some quarters to restrict activity even further.

"We are in this in-between mode," said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the epidemiology department at the University of California, San Francisco medical school.

"We are in a shutdown, so you can't imagine we are going to shut down more. But on the other hand, we are not shut down enough to get the viral transmission under control."

The Democratic governor — who this spring enacted the nation's first statewide stay-at-home order and earned plaudits for keeping infection rates relatively low — later deferred many decisions to local officials and loosened his criteria for reopening in the face of pressure from businesses. That led some counties to begin allowing businesses to reopen without the volume of testing and contact tracing that health experts — and even Newsom himself — said was necessary to prevent outbreaks.

Now he is embracing a middle-ground approach — stricter than many states (like Florida and Georgia, which don't require masks), but not as strict as others (such as New York and New Jersey, which are quarantining visitors from areas with significant outbreaks).

"At the moment, based upon the progress we have made, we feel we can get our arms around this in a judicious way," Newsom said Monday, after presenting data that offered a small glimmer of hope.

The numbers seemed to show that the average count of new daily cases had declined by 21% over the last week, and that COVID hospitalizations were down 10% over the last two weeks. Yet even as he highlighted a few "encouraging signs," Newsom was quick to acknowledge that it's too soon to know if the dip was the start of a long-term improvement.

"One week does not make a kind of trend that gives us confidence to generate headlines," he said. "We are looking forward to that, and we'll need to see another few weeks of this kind of data to come in, to feel more confident about where we are as a state."

A day later, state officials put a damper on Newsom's good news, reporting that a data snafu may have made it appear that California experienced a drop in cases that didn't actually occur, though they could not say how large the undercount was.

The overall trendline this summer remains alarming, with cases growing in the weeks after the state allowed more activities to resume. Even though Newsom has said that was expected, he's found himself in a morbid volley, easing restrictions throughout May and early June, then clamping down again throughout the end of June and July.

"The unfortunate reality is the shutdown should have been a little bit longer and the reopening should have been a lot more cautious," said Bibbins-Domingo, the UCSF epidemiology chair.

"Once we allowed for a lot of variation and political pressure in reopening, without the precautions, it set the stage for what is a much more challenging political environment where you are ping-ponging back and forth between restrictions and trying to loosen up."

In a telling turn of fortunes, the governor who was once praised for imposing a lockdown before any other state now finds himself in a position where Californians cannot travel to the New York area without being quarantined.

Polling shows Californians think the state reopened too quickly, with 61% telling the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies that restrictions didn't last long enough. And state residents are not feeling any better about the pandemic this summer than they were in its early days this spring. About eight in ten Californians said in July that their life has been disrupted by the pandemic — almost the same number who reported that feeling in April, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The same poll found that the portion of Californians worried they or their family will get sick from the coronavirus, or concerned about the pandemic damaging their personal finances, had barely changed from April to July.

"We have this quagmire: We have neither a healthy public nor a healthy economy. We're in a situation where it's not safe to open further but nobody feels there is enough justification to close down again," said state Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Democrat who has been pushing Newsom to put California back under a stricter shelter-in-place order.

"The sooner we make those harsh restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, the sooner we can get our economy back and get our kids back in classrooms."

Glazer's view has been echoed by the Sacramento Bee editorial board, which said Newsom's current strategy is "resulting mostly in failure and death." And it's in line with a chorus of health professionals who have been urging national leaders to lock the country down.

"Non-essential businesses should be closed. Restaurant service should be limited to take-out. People should stay home, going out only to get food and medicine or to exercise and get fresh air," dozens of doctors and researchers wrote in a recent open letter to America's governors and President Donald Trump, a week after delivering the same letter specifically to Newsom.

Once the virus is contained by a harsh shutdown, they wrote, cities should only open back up when there are enough tests, contact tracers and protective gear to keep the spread in check.

But Newsom also faces pressure from the other direction — not only from conservative activists who mounted a "Let us work" billboard near his home — but also, indirectly, from people like Lorraine Salazar. The owner of three Mexican restaurants in the Fresno area, Salazar said she employed 170 people before the pandemic began. She furloughed 120 of them in March when stay-at-home orders forced her to switch to a take-out only format.

Salazar worked with other businesses in her area to advocate for a speedy reopening, which local officials successfully sought from the state. She reopened her dining room in early June with new glass partitions to separate booths, half the tables blocked off to ensure social distancing and a staff trained in new safety procedures.

"It was important to us that we opened right," Salazar said. "The public had to know we were a safe and sanitary place to dine."

But her restaurants served up their tamales, fajitas and carne asada for just four and a half weeks before the next government order required shutting indoor dining rooms. Now, only allowed to serve take-out and seat customers outdoors, Salazar has about 65 employees. And she feels frustrated that restaurants are the target of so many government restrictions, when they already undergo routine health inspections.

"They have not contact-traced (outbreaks) back to restaurants, so why can't restaurants safely reopen?" she said. "We are all doing the protocols."

The experience in other countries shows that lockdowns are one cure, but not the only way to beat the pandemic. China and Italy controlled the virus with lockdowns stricter than California's. Hong Kong and South Korea contained it without massive shutdowns — but with much more testing, contract tracing and quarantining than has been available in the U.S.

The balancing act Newsom seems to be striving for is common in politics. Leaders often try to appease as many people as they can while taking actions they know will alienate some. Newsom demonstrated, in his first year as governor, an ability to forge a middle path and bring warring factions together on long-simmering debates over charter schools, policing and rent control.

But a middle-ground approach may not work when it comes to science. And that leaves Newsom facing no good options in carving a path out of the pandemic. He could put more livelihoods at risk if he shutters more businesses, and more lives at risk if he loosens controls.

"There is politics everywhere: You either get the politics of restricting movement again, or the politics of a high death count," said Juliette Kayyem, who was an assistant secretary for homeland security under President Obama and is now on the faculty of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"Neither is good. But one is unconscionable."

Email Laurel Rosenhall at [email protected].

View the original article, which includes an interactive chart comparing new cases with eased and added restrictions, here.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics.

Comments

The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Aug 9, 2020 at 5:56 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Aug 9, 2020 at 5:56 pm
10 people like this

Regardless of what you think of Newsom, or whether or not you are a Democrat or Republican, Governors across our country have been put into an impossible situation. The fact of the matter is there has been little to no guidance or cohesive plan coming from the Federal level, so all Governors have been left to manage their own state and therefore states have been managed in a multitude of different ways. Also, if the Federal Government took quicker and more decisive action up front, we might not be in this current predicament either.

Initially, Newsom did an excellent job by shutting the state down early to slow the spread and spare us a New York type of catastrophe. It was even dubbed “The California Miracle.”

If Newsom would have came out and said, “I am shutting California down for 3 full months and everyone must stay at home” people likely would have flipped out and protested that. So it seemed as if Newsom took the tactic of stalling for as long as he could by pushing talk about reopenings off 2 weeks out several times. Reopening protests happened and he started feeling tremendous amounts of pressure to reopen, so he began talking about “phased reopenings” based on “science and data.”

Where Newsom, really failed was he seemed to ignore his own science and data, and ran through the so called phased reopenings way too quickly. Also, there was no accounting for everyone’s individual behavior such as not staying at home, not wearing a mask, partying, enjoying Memorial Day and summer, lockdown fatigue, [portion removed], etc.

Now, we are stuck in the middle as the article states. No activities are 100% safe for public health and also businesses can’t fully reopen without the threat of toggling back to closures. It’s a strange middle ground, that in a way is also the worst of both worlds.

California now has the most cases in the United States and schools are closed. “The California Miracle” has fully ended. Comically, teachers are now being shamed and some parents across the country are demanding teachers take health risks by returning to work in a daily indoor gathering with students (and all of their contacts) when everyone had a chance for months to not party, and to also wear a mask to curb the spread of the virus. Even more comically, if adults weren’t able to model good behavior by following CDC guidance, what makes anyone think children will? Opening schools with high community transmission will only increase disease transmission as we saw in Georgia schools this week. Also, providing the free day care so the economy can restart at the risk of their own health, should not be on the backs of teachers.

If you were working as a Government official you would likely side with the tactic of saving lives, which in this case was shutting down. No Government official would want to be remembered as the person that didn’t take action so thousands of people died because of it.

What I believe needs to happen in California(and maybe in all of the U.S.) is another full shut down in the winter months starting in November. Just call it quits in 2020 and everyone stays home as much as possible during the cold winter months of November, December, and January. Everyone refrains from having wild Holiday parties this year with large amounts of people and possibly we can restart fresh in February 2021. We should try to get disease transmission low enough where schools could reopen and contact tracing would actually work to stop smaller disease outbreaks so that we can almost get back to the old normal that everyone wants.

Of course the flip side of that suggestion is the economic hard ship and pain for people trying to get through 3 months without a paycheck and the increased economic downturn it would cause in our country. But unless we can somehow lower disease transmission, the new normal will continue to be a constant cycle of toggling back and forth between opening and closing.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Aug 9, 2020 at 6:43 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 9, 2020 at 6:43 pm
11 people like this

"What I believe needs to happen in California(and maybe in all of the U.S.) is another full shut down in the winter months starting in November. Just call it quits in 2020 and everyone stays home as much as possible during the cold winter months of November, December, and January. Everyone refrains from having wild Holiday parties this year with large amounts of people and possibly we can restart fresh in February 2021"

Great idea but all that effort will be wasted IF we do not have universal testing with results available in less than an hour. After a multi-week shut down if we then can test everybody at least once a week and then contact trace everyone who is infected we can stop further transmission.


Name hidden
Another Palo Alto neighborhood

Registered user
on Aug 9, 2020 at 7:20 pm
Name hidden, Another Palo Alto neighborhood

Registered user
on Aug 9, 2020 at 7:20 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Michelle
Registered user
Stanford
on Aug 9, 2020 at 8:36 pm
Michelle, Stanford
Registered user
on Aug 9, 2020 at 8:36 pm
1 person likes this

What did NY governor do that Newsom didn’t do?

It is troubling to see that the numbers are not getting any better.

Why doesn’t California mandate a 14 day quarantine for people flying into California and all to wear a face mask?


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2020 at 7:54 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 7:54 am
7 people like this

"What did NY governor do that Newsom didn’t do?"

He held daily in depth press conferences with his health professionals.

He was brutally honest.

He inspired people to follow the guidance of his health professionals.

He encouraged every New Yorker to be part of the team, part of the solution.


Facts and Figures
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2020 at 8:44 am
Facts and Figures, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 8:44 am
5 people like this

Schools need to re-open for our economy to come back.

Newsom has linked community behavior of 18-35 year olds to school re-openings. Guess what? This cohort does not seem to care.

Bolder moves are in order.




Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:22 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:22 am
3 people like this

"Bolder moves are in order."

They sure are. We need a nationwide lockdown that is opened up only when we can test everyone and trace every positive case.

Expensive - yes.

Painful - very.

The alternative - probably over 10 million infected and 300,000 deaths AND a ruined economy.

"To save lives, and save the economy, we need another lockdown."

By Michael T. Osterholm and Neel Kashkari
Dr. Osterholm is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Mr. Kashkari is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Web Link


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:40 am
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 10:40 am
3 people like this

[Portion removed.]

I actually argue that Newsom did take bold action by closing schools. Please post evidence of Newsom blaming 18-35 year olds for school closures. Regardless of that, here is a link to an article about how difficult and unrealistic it would be to run schools right now. It’s time we listen and respect the opinion of the educators and not the opinion of parents or Government officials who do not understand the realities of running schools and classrooms. If you have some suggestions on reopening safely please post them. It’s easy to say “bolder moves are in order” without giving the “how.”

Web Link

If you want schools to reopen, let’s all work as a team to drive disease transmission down in our communities first. If disease levels are driven down schools would be able to reopen safely and the economy can restart like you want it to.


Facts and Figures
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2020 at 12:27 pm
Facts and Figures, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 12:27 pm
1 person likes this

@The Voice,
[Portion removed.]

I am not advocating opening in my statement. I said BOLDER MOVES ARE IN ORDER.

Newsom has a big problem. [Portion removed.]

1) He let the union win most of what it wanted in SB 98.

2) SB 98 said teachers were going back for live instruction unless counties said no.

3) So Newsom opened up California more. July 4th bbqs happened. Bars opened. 18 - 35 year olds got out of the house.

4) Counties said yes, and the teachers union said No ___ Way these county health officers have no idea what they are talking about. We are not going back in the classroom with social distancing. Nope. Not going to happen. (Yes, many teachers would go in, but that's not the loudest union position.)

5) Newsom intervened and created the Watch List rule for schools. Maybe Newsom thought he would encourage people to mask up. But that's my point. 18 - 35 year olds don't care about the school Watch List. Most 18-35 yo do not have children in school.

6) So, we need BOLDER ACTION. Either we start school live and make it happen or we shut it all down to get to much better numbers ASAP. But we focus 100% on getting kids in school b/c they and their families need them to be there.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2020 at 12:32 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 12:32 pm
4 people like this

"But we focus 100% on getting kids in school b/c they and their families need them to be there."

That cannot be done safely until we FIRST completely contain the virus. To do that we need a new lockdown followed by widespread testing (with immediate results) of both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals and 100% contact tracing.

Anything else will simply lead to continued widespread infection and many more deaths.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2020 at 12:43 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2020 at 12:43 pm
3 people like this

[Post removed.]


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