MENDOCINO Co., 3/15/20 — California Governor Gavin Newsom called for the self-isolation of all seniors over 65 years old, directed all bars to close and for restaurants to halve their occupancy and institute strict social distancing measures, today, at a press conference in Sacramento. These directives are effective immediately, though they remain directives, not orders with force-of-law. He also said that the state government would begin to develop measures to provision seniors and other vulnerable populations with hot meals and medication, and announced a partnership with Google’s parent company to develop an online test triage system that will also track clusters of infection.
In the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the governor and state government are moving to take massive measures to reduce the spread of the deadly coronavirus, and to ensure that more vulnerable populations are cared for during these trying times.
On the issue of bars Newsom said that all “bars, nightclubs, brew pubs,” wine tasting rooms, and “the like” be shut down for the moment; and for restaurants to reduce occupancy by at least 50% with “deep social distancing” measures. As of the time of publication, at least 8,316 tests COVID-19 have been conducted in the state of California with 335 confirmed cases and six death the state as of this afternoon.
Newsom emphasized that the directions are voluntary, but he anticipated people would voluntarily adopt the changes immediately, saying that so far Californians have been smart in taking precautions, and because people have been voluntarily complying there has not yet been need to issue orders.
At the conference he also address various other policies, including how more senior residents, especially the houseless, will be able to access hot meals, medications, and specifics for supporting public workers. Newsom noted that he has not issued blanket requirements for school closures, as has been the case in states, due to the extremely varied conditions across our huge state. He also said that he does have “broad authority” to require some of these directives to be enforced if they are not being followed, if need be.
Newsom said the state planned to provide a variety of different policy specifics and additional details for these guidelines over the next two days, including information on how seniors would access hot meals and medications if necessary, direction on reducing potential evictions and mortgage delays from the COVID-19 closures or illness, information on how employers and workers could receive economic assistance during closures, details concerning potential facilities that could be used to house sick residents without adequate room to self-quarantine, and guidelines for parents concerning social distancing and school closures.
These new directives represent a significant escalation in Newsom’s policies to combat the further community spread of COVID-19 within the state. School closures, the cancellation of group events of large size, increasing social distancing, and working from home, especially for those over 65 years old or with health conditions, especially respiratory issues, have been the main measures in place across California over the last few weeks, but these have varied significantly by locality. Newsom and the California Department of Public Health have issued general guidelines, including for event cancellations, school closures, elder care, employers, and more.
Testing capacity will increase within California over the next week, and is increasing hourly, Newsom said, noting that Quest will be adding testing capacity up to 5,000 tests daily.
At the press conference, Newsom also said that he is in negotiations with a number of potential facilities that could open soon to add to the existing hospital capacity in case of a surge. The state currently has around 11,500 ICU beds, including pediatric care, and has purchased several hundred additional ventilators and working to ensure adequate bed space is made available for areas that have less medical facilities.
California is also planning to launch a new digital testing tool with Alphabet’s (formerly Google) subsidiary Verily. on Monday that will facilitate residents seeking testing to be connected by nearby testing locations in specific Bay Area counties, as well as digital surveillance to track contacts of potential cases. The site will become statewide at some point.
Newsom noted that he was not ordering school closures or more blanket guidelines due to widely varying spread of reported COVID-19 cases across the state — for example, in Mendocino County, there have been no confirmed cases as of the time of Sunday afternoon.
“We’re not a small isolated state, this is a nation state,” he said, noting that “Santa Clara County conditions are extraordinarily different than Tulare,” and since there was no reported community spread in some place but significant cases in others, he was issuing guidelines to be appropriate for varying populations. Pointing to rural districts in particular, he said, that 24 of the 25 largest districts had been shut down, as well as at least 51% of districts statewide, and that 85% of California students would not be in school on Monday. However, he expressed concern about ensuring districts and universities had plans to provide school meals and other key services as a reason not to shut down all schools.
In an March 14 interview, a day prior to Newsom’s directive, county CEO Carmel Angelo said the county had been in communication with the local senior centers and that they had been taking addition precautions, but she had not yet had requests for county assistance with senior meal care.