COVID-19 State Policy Update 06.24.20

CA Capitol building

Today, Wednesday, June 24, Governor Newsom provided a special 11 a.m. live update regarding COVID-19; however, he began with a reminder of the power of Mother Nature, as he reported the Central Valley was shaken by a 5.8 temblor this morning. The Governor reminded the audience California faces many possibilities when it comes to natural disasters, from earthquakes, floods, and wildfires, and he urged the audience to prepare for the possibility of a natural disaster and to download the state’s early warning earthquake app My Shake App, which will give them, when possible, an early warning that an earthquake is imminent. 

As he moved onto the CO-VID-19 update, the Governor stated, “I’d like to remind each and every one of you the importance, potency, and power of the decisions you make.” He noted the state has taken great pain and gone to great effort to prepare for this pandemic. As the first state in the nation to mandate a stay-at-home order and essentially shut down the economy, California was able to buy time to put the assets into place that are needed, should we experience wide spread of the virus throughout the state. He noted more than 200 million masks have been secured and are being continually supplied to areas of the working economy that need them, including transit, agribusiness, healthcare, grocery workers, etc., and it is confounding to think just a few short weeks ago, people were desperate for masks and gloves, and yet, we continually see people not complying with wearing a mask. 

The Governor reminded the audience of the hard work put in by 40 million Californians (the population equivalent of 21 states) to flatten the curve from April when the state experienced its spike in cases. He employed the audience to not throw away all of that hard-fought work and time to prepare and flatten the curve by reversing the trend and spreading the virus. He acknowledged that after the stay-at-home order was lifted many people may have cabin fever, amnesia, or just forgot and returned to normal activates, but he stated, this is not the time to forget the need to socially distance, wear a mask and wash your hands. The Governor introduced a number of slides, many of which were used on his Monday, June 22 update.

The Governor expressed some frustration that the economy was opened slowly to allow counties to adjust and move at their own pace. He reminded the audience the state publishes guidelines “as a HOW to open, not WHEN to open.” “This is a bottom up effort, not a top down effort. Localism is determinate. The Counties have the power and obligation to meet their attestations and guidelines. If they cannot stay or struggle to stay within the guideline requirement, the state will provide technical assistance.” He noted the state is currently providing technical assistance to 11 counties that are struggling to meet their attestation guidelines. Unfortunately, he noted there are a few counties not officially on the watch list but are also being watched and the state will provide technical assistance, if needed. He emphasized county public health officials have worked hard to be collaborative and cooperative throughout this entire process, even though challenges arise.

The Governor focused again on explaining the positivity rate, as some people, he noted, simply dismiss the mask order believing instead the increase in cases is due to the fact the state has dramatically increased daily testing beyond the 60,000-daily goal to the point of 96,000 in just the past 24 hours.  The Governor noted, “what is fundamental is the numbers, the data—and the data tell a story that we cannot ignore. The COVID-19 pandemic is alive and well.” The Governor reminded the audience just a few weeks ago, the state had a 4.0% positivity rate and it stayed flat for several weeks; however, the positivity rate has increased over the past week to a high of 5.1% (calculated over a 14-day period), which is concerning because it demonstrates the virus is spreading though contact, not simply because record numbers of tests are being conducted. 

He reminded the audience it is tempting to want to get back to some semblance of normal and get together with the extended family members we have been apart from for so long, but he again, reminded the audience, “Your decisions save lives and those could be family members.”  He noted many of the new cases are among young adults, which is a concern because they may believe they are strong enough to not be seriously ill if they catch COVID-19, and he noted that may be the case, but the actions of young people could dramatically impact a senior or vulnerable family member. So, he posed the question, “what more can we do to keep you safe?”

The Governor brought up many of the slides he used on Monday, June 22, but with updated numbers to illustrate the trend lines for infection spread are trending upward. He noted that besides the positivity rate, the hospitalization rate also tells the story of infection increasing. Two weeks ago, the hospitalization rate was 3,177 and over the just the past 24 hours the rate has increased by 29% to 4,095, the largest increase since the April high during the peak of the pandemic nationwide. The ICU admission rate is also increasing, which is a concern. 

The Governor stated he Is not bringing up these issues to scare people or infer we are unprepared—just the opposite. He stated what he wants to see happen is Californians to continue to embrace the behaviors that helped the state become one of the most prepared in the nation. “We don’t want to need the hospital beds, surge beds, and ventilators we have established. What we want to do is contain this virus, which is virulent and deadly.” 

Contact Tracing

The Governor also addressed the cohort training for contact tracers who will supplement an existing workforce of nearly 3,000. He noted the promise was to train 10,000 contact tracers by July 1, 2020, and dispatch them to the field to assist with contacting those people who test positive for the virus and trace back people they had contact with and then isolate and quarantine them, so the virus does not spread further. The Governor reminded the audience “contact tracing is not new and has been done over the decades for many communicable diseases, including measles, HIV, STDs, and TB, so there is nothing new or novel about contact tracing.” He stated the state is very close to making the goal of 10,000 by July 1. 

He also noted the state is working to get all counties on the same reporting platform for the pandemic. He stated already 31 counties have been onboarded to the new platform; five are going to onboard today; and 15 are in the process.

At this point the Governor shifted to reminding the audience again the importance of social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands. He put up a slide to illustrate how important it is to wash your hands carefully and noted he realized when he showed it to his children they said he had never taught them to properly wash their hands, so he thought it important to remind everyone the importance of being thorough when washing your hands. The Governor then implored the audience, “PLEASE treat others as you would want to be treated, wear a mask, protect your grandparents, your parents, and the people around you. If not for you,” he noted, “do it for those you care aboutIn the past 24 hours we have lost 52 people to this deadly disease, the day before that we lost 65.” 

He reminded the audience the mask order is a statewide mandate. Everyone must wear a mask when outside their home and indoors or if they are unable to properly social distance. He noted he has heard some county officials and others state they will not comply with the order. He stated the order is a mandate and while he does not want to see people be fined or take punitive action against a county that is not complying, there is the “power of the purse” and if necessary there is language in a budget trailer bill that will give him the power to take that action if necessary, but again, he does not want to see that happen. He noted for the most part counties are working hard to contain the virus, to comply with state guidance, and mandates, and are being cooperative and collaborative. 

The Governor concluded by restating his thesis—wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, stay indoors if you are over 65 and vulnerable. With that he opened the floor to questions. 

Californians are being urged to get familiar with the state’s official COVID-19 website at www.COVID-19.ca.gov. The website has all of the guidance documents for each county and people are able to track their county’s progress and how they are managing the virus (read more about county guidelines here). The Governor’s mask mandate is also included in the current guidelines (read more here).

Q&A 

The majority of questions focused on whether the Governor thought it feels as though the state is losing control (a perception among some) and whether it’s necessary to consider rolling back the variances given to counties, considering the infection trend lines are moving upward and whether he is prepared to take punitive action against counties that “thumb their noses at the mask mandate or don’t enforce guidance rules within the business community.” The Governor responded repeatedly that he hoped he would not have to use the “power of the purse but is prepared to do so to keep Californians safe from those who don’t practice common sense or enforce the guidelines and mask mandate.” He noted again that most county officials are working hard and doing what they can to make sure variances in Phases 2 and 3 are followed. He also noted the state has other enforcement resources, including Occupational Safety and Housing Administration and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, among others.

He was also asked about testing deserts and some counties claiming they cannot get enough people tested to meet the requirements. He responded he is aware there are still a few testing deserts out there in the rural areas and a need to go deeper in some of the urban areas, but there are plenty of sites to help counties meet the requirement. The state is doing more, he noted and urged people to go to the COVID-19.ca.gov site and find a testing location near them. He noted the state is funding these tests to the tune of between $100 and $130 per test and will continue to support testing operations. 

The Governor was asked about the prison population and rising COVID-19 rates within some prisons, such as San Quentin and Chino. He was asked if he was prepared to release more inmates who were close to parole dates or of advanced age. He responded the state is moving populations carefully and working to create more distance among cohort inmates to avoid transmission of the highly-contagious virus. He stated 42% of inmates are considered medically vulnerable. He also stated the Department of Corrections has prepared for court consideration for the release of approximately 3,500 who are classified as non-violent and no-sex offender convictions. This matter is before the courts by July 1, or possibly as early as next week. Housing and needed services for this population are also part of the planning, which is important to protect everyone’s health and safety.

He closed the press conference with one final appeal to the audience to please heed the warnings that this virus is virulent and dangerous, and he urged them to do all they can to help stop the spread of it. “Think about your parents, grandparents, the child with Leukemia, people who are vulnerable. Wear a mask, social distance, and wash your hands.” 

Key milestones – COVID-19 numbers – as of today (6.24.20)

  • 5,632 deaths, up by 52 overnight or +0.9% 
  • 190,222 positive cases-up by +3.9%.
  • The positivity rate, which has increased daily from the stable rate of 4.0%, rose again overnight to 5.1%.
  • 3,592,970 tests conducted 95,970 new tests reported in the past 24 hours, which is a new record and a 2.7% increase.
    • Latinos continue to have the highest percentage of positive cases at 56.0%; Caucasians 17.2%; Asians 7.1%, and Blacks 4.5%.
  • Hospitalizations increased again by 227 to 4,095 up by 5.9%. When the suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations are added, the state is noting the largest increase in hospitalizations, since the peak of cases in April. 
  • The majority of hospitalizations are in LA County 1,633, followed by Orange County 406; Riverside 315; San Diego 312; San Bernardino 311; Kern 118; Imperial 93; Fresno 91; San Joaquin 89; Alameda 86; Stanislaus 82.
  • ICU – 1,268 increased by 43 or up by 3.5%.
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