California Gov. Gavin Newsom has put himself in the growing camp of those who think the coronavirus has created “a new normal,” at least for the citizens of his state.
“We talk a lot about what the ‘new normal’ will look like, and even that won’t be until we have herd immunity,” Newsom said during a tele-conference discussing the future of statewide “safer at home” orders to combat the coronavirus pandemic. “But for those of you looking forward to having dinner out again, you may be doing so with a waiter wearing a face mask and gloves. There may be less tables in the restaurant. Your temperature may be checked before you enter. These are likely scenarios as we enter the next phase of this.”
These scenarios are still likely weeks, if not months, in the future, however, as the state is not ready to lift any mandates in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus, even as numbers of those newly infected and hospitalized appear to be flattening out. Newsom said on Monday the number of people admitted to ICUs in the state fell “moderately” by 0.1 percent and the number of people under investigation for possibly having the disease fell by about 3 percent. Still, it will be a “loosening” of the lockdown in the coming weeks and months, not an elimination of it.
“There’s no light switch here, it’s more like a dimmer,” Newsom said, dismissing the idea that the coronavirus measures will simply be lifted at some point. “We’ll be toggling back and forth between less restrictive and more restrictive measures, more individual responsibility with face coverings and isolation, and more enforcement along those lines.”
Taking such a position, Newsom did not give a timeline as to when the state’s lockdown, which has kept almost 40 million people largely at home and closed all non-essential business in the state, might come to an end. He only allowed that, if in two weeks’ time there is a “continued decline, not just a flattening” of cases of the virus, “then we can be more prescriptive on the timeline.”
But even then, many norms, those visible and not, in the state are likely to be much changed. Newsom said the idea that mass gatherings will be allowed again in the next six months, if not more, “is not in the cards” based on the current projections of the disease. That could mean no beaches all summer, no Memorial Day trips and no large Fourth of July celebrations.
That’s not to say Newsom is taking a complacent position, but he doesn’t want to “get ahead of ourselves and make the mistake of pulling the plug too early — I don’t want to make a political decision that puts lives at risk.”
On the less visible side of things, Newsom mentioned a new program being tested called “Check In” that state officials are currently deciding which app platform, Google or Apple, to use as host. He did not go into great detail about the app, but said it is meant to aid with “tracing efforts,” so the tracking of people infected or potentially infected by the virus. Newsom did not address any potential privacy concerns, but did say it could create thousands of jobs and that some state staff are already being “reprioritized” to work on the program.
In an effort to get the state’s economy going again, Newsom has also assembled a new group of economic leaders, set to give a press conference this week, and identified a number of indicators for when the state can expand the definition of an essential business, allowing more to reopen. Indicators include an increase in testing, which the state expects to exceed 10,000 a day this month, as well as a system for “tracing” active and potential coronavirus cases (through the Check In app and other measures), and the assurance that schools and businesses are able to enact social distancing procedures when they go back to operating.
All of it sounds as though people will be entering a new state of semi-permanent public health civility when they are allowed to reenter society. Newsom mentioned the possibility that schools will have staggered start times to limit crowds of students. He posited that people will likely continue wearing masks in public. He said businesses will need to make similar changes to keep workers at a distance. He called out retail specifically, saying the industry will “need redesigned policies and procedures” for worker interaction and with the public.
“That’s the sober reality,” Newsom said. But, noting the apparent flattening of the curve of new cases and hospitalizations, he said he’s overall optimistic about when society and the economy can start up again and that it will, eventually, happen.
“It’s not just about seeing trend lines go down, but having infrastructure to support lifting stay at home orders is a precise, targeted and gradual way,” Newsom added. “Data, science, real examples, that’s what we’ll iterate on so we can ultimately transition into herd immunity, then a vaccine, and get the economy roaring again.”
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