California Gov. Gavin Newsom praised his state’s efforts to rein in the coronavirus pandemic Monday as he lifted California’s regional stay-at-home orders, insisting that the decision was based on science and data — and had nothing to do with the political effort underway to recall him.
“It’s just complete utter nonsense,” the Democrat said during a news conference Monday when asked whether the Republican-led recall launched last year had a bearing on the state’s decision to end the orders, which have been in place since early December. “Let’s just dispense with that fundamental foundational nonsense.”
The lifting of the regional orders means that outdoor dining may resume, and hair and hair salons are permitted to reopen with very limited indoor capacity — though many other indoor business activities will still be restricted as the state reverts to its color-coded tier-based system for assessing the threat by county. The vast majority of California counties are still within the most restrictive purple tier, and counties are permitted to impose stricter guidelines if they choose to do so.
“Today we can lay claim to seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to case numbers,” Newsom said Monday during an update on the crisis. He noted that the 14-day positivity rate in California has now dropped to 9.4%
“We are not out of the woods. We are seeing a flattening of the curve,” he said. “Everything that should be up is up. Everything that should be down is down. Case rates, positivity rates, hospitalizations, ICUs — testing starting to go back up, as well as vaccination rates in this state — but we are not out of the woods.”
The effort to recall Newsom began last year, fueled by anger about the restrictions he had put in place to control the virus, but it gained steam as prominent state Republicans threw their weight behind both the organizing and fundraising efforts.
Recall proponents must gather 1.5 million signatures, which are due March 17. Leaders of the recall say they have gathered more than a million signatures. The most current report from the California secretary of state’s office said 723,783 signatures had been submitted and 410,087 had been verified as of January 6.
Recall proponents, who argue on their website that Newsom “continues to destroy the lives and businesses of hardworking Californians,” questioned his motives Monday for lifting the stay-at-home orders when cases are still high and there is rising concern about new variants of the virus.
“The recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom has reached critical mass and continues to build momentum,” said Orrin Heatlie, who launched the recall effort. “So he’s now taking steps to loosen the screws on those held captive to maintain what grasp he still holds on the state.”
California officials said they were able to lift the regional stay-at-home order from early December for the remaining regions that were under lockdown — populous areas like Southern California, the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley — because the state’s four-week projections finally show that intensive care unit capacity will be above 15%.
During California’s deadly surge, the state added some 4,100 health care workers to the ranks to handle the influx of patients, but Newsom stressed Monday that the state is still in a challenging period in terms of case numbers and deaths. The state has confirmed 3.1 million cases so far and more than 37,000 deaths. But Newsom touted the fact that California has administered more than 40 million Covid-19 tests since the pandemic began.
As in many other states throughout the country, the demand for the Covid-19 vaccines is vastly outstripping the supply. During a vaccine adviser panel meeting last week, state epidemiologist Erica Pan said that at the current pace California is receiving doses, it could be June before the state is able to vaccinate the majority of residents who are 65 and older and currently eligible for the vaccine.
Addressing the mounting frustration among Californians who have been unable to book vaccination appointments, Newsom noted that California had tripled the pace of vaccinations between January 4 and January 15. He also clarified that the state will approach vaccinations the same way an airline would board a plane, calling certain priority groups like first class and business class first but beginning to usher the rest of the passengers on board without waiting for those top-priority groups to complete the boarding process.
The state is currently vaccinating health care workers and those who are 65 and older, while also “prioritizing” farmworkers, emergency workers and teachers, depending on the vaccine supply in a given area — but the ease of even making an appointment to get the vaccine for those priority groups has varied wildly depending on each locality. State officials said Monday that there will be “a single statewide standard and movement through the tiers” to account for the confusion that has mounted over several weeks.
State officials also started a pilot program in San Diego and Los Angeles counties for a system called My Turn that will alert Californians when they are eligible and allow them to schedule appointments. Providers will be able to share data with the state about the number of vaccines received and administered through the same system, in an effort to reduce the lag in data reporting. The state worked with companies like Salesforce, Skedulo and Accenture to develop the system, which will be launched statewide within a few weeks.
Newsom also said doses that have been given to providers who have not yet used at least 65% of their available supply over a week will be reallocated if the provider does not submit a plan for using the remaining vaccines to inoculate priority populations within four days of being notified by the state.