SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he will announce a detailed plan Tuesday for lifting coronavirus restrictions, a decision he says will be made without “political pressure,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump declaring himself the ultimate decision-maker for when states can reopen.
Barely a week ago, it seemed unlikely Newsom would soon be talking about a plan for reopening the state. His administration was sticking to a forecast of a potential tidal wave of virus cases in mid-May that could require up to 66,000 additional hospital beds.
But on Monday Newsom reported the number of people hospitalized increased modestly during the weekend, continuing an encouraging trend. In Los Angeles County, the state's largest and home to about 40% of its virus deaths and overall cases, officials said Monday the number of new cases was the lowest in weeks.
Newsom didn't share any details of his plan for reopening and it's unlikely he will provide a specific date for rollbacks. He cautioned people can expect an “incremental release of the stay-at-home orders" that will use “science to guide our decision-making and not political pressure.”
Newsom, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also announced a partnership “to work together on a shared approach for reopening our economies," stressing that modifying their states' stay-at-home orders “must be based off our understanding of the total health impacts of COVID-19.”
It's unclear what that will look like. Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine and public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted 90% of cases in California are in 14 mostly urban counties. He said it would make sense to start lifting restrictions in rural places and see how it goes over periods of about two weeks.
He suggested Newsom could start with opening public spaces. Shelter-at-home orders could be lifted next, followed by reopening restaurants that don’t have intense crowding.
"We’ve been fortunate in California that ... while massive devastation was predicted that was not what was observed and our health systems have been adequate to manage the hospitalizations that we have seen,” Klausner said.
Trump, however, was emphatic Monday that the choice to reopen states was up to him alone, writing on Twitter: “It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons.”
Newsom and Trump have been political enemies, clashing about immigration, abortion rights and the environment, but both have praised the other's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has even used some of Newsom's comments in a campaign ad.
Newsom continued nursing that delicate dynamic by expressing his independence from Trump while stressing their partnership.
“I have all the confidence in the world moving forward that we will maintain that collaborative spirit in terms of the decision-making that we make here within the state of California as it relates to a road map for recovery,” Newsom said.
California has more than 24,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 750 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe life-threatening illness, including pneumonia.
California has been building its hospital infrastructure in anticipation of an overwhelming crush of cases. In Los Angeles, St. Vincent Medical Center reopened Monday as a “surge hospital," something that seemed much more of a need weeks ago when state officials decided to lease it using taxpayer money.
On Friday, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, said it’s possible hospitalizations won’t rise much more. And Newsom said the weekend numbers held relatively steady, with ICU hospitalizations rising 2.9% on Sunday to 1,178, leaving thousands of beds available should there be a surge of patients.
While there is improving data overall, certain populations remain especially vulnerable. They include the homeless, inmates and those in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Authorities on Monday reported an outbreak at a nursing home in Yolo County, where 35 people were infected and one person died.
Meanwhile, a huge segment of the economy has been crippled and more than 2.3 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in the past month. On Sunday, state officials sent out 224,000 unemployment checks that included an additional $600 from the federal government, part of a $2.2 trillion aid package approved by Congress and signed into law by Trump.
California has spent more than a half-billion dollars already on the virus, with the latest spending announced Monday: $42.6 million to help at-risk youth. The spending includes roughly $8.5 million for foster families, including laptops and cellphones for foster children.
Associated Press reporters Don Thompson in Sacramento and John Antczak and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed reporting.