Newsom says California could reverse reopening economy if coronavirus cases surge

Newsom says California could reverse reopening economy if coronavirus cases surge

SACRAMENTO — California could shut down part of its economy again if the state loses control of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

Newsom warned that troubling signs have developed since the state began gradually allowing businesses to reopen last month, including a sharp increase during the past two weeks in the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus-related problems and those needing intensive care.

Although he said some increase was expected as public life resumed and that hospitals are able to handle the patient load so far, basic steps such as practicing social distancing and complying with a statewide order to wear face masks in public are crucial to keeping the pandemic in check.

“It’s your individual decision that will determine our fate and future … to mitigate the likelihood and need that we ever have to toggle back on these stay-at-home orders,” Newsom said at a news conference.

He added, “We don’t intend to do that. We don’t want to do that. But I want to make this clear: We are prepared to do that, if we must.”

Newsom spoke after California hit a grim milestone — 3,702 people were reported hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday, surpassing the single-day high set just the day before, according to state data reviewed by The Chronicle. And on Monday, the state set a new record for the most new cases in a day, exceeding 6,000 with some counties yet to report by Monday evening. The previous record was 4,515.

The governor noted hospitalizations have increased 16% over the last two weeks, adding, “We’re not out of the first wave.” However, he said, the state’s hospital bed capacity is “fairly stable.”

Newsom said 54 of the state’s 58 counties have met state criteria to reopen such businesses as sit-down restaurants, hair salons and gyms. But he said the state is monitoring concerning trends in 11 counties, including Stanislaus County on the edge of the Bay Area.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said the counties in question have all reported trends that include increasing virus transmission rates and patient hospitalizations, and limited hospital capacity.

He warned that the state could have a “radical and steep increase” in cases if Californians don’t adopt measures such as wearing masks when they cannot maintain safe physical distancing outside their homes.

In some of those 11 counties, Ghaly said, there is more community spread that cannot be explained by outbreaks in such hot spots as nursing homes and prisons.

“Those increased cases are not just because of increased testing,” he said.

Newsom’s mask order has been widely flouted in some areas since he announced it last week, and law enforcement authorities in several counties have said they will not enforce it, saying it’s a minor offense and citing the potential greater danger of confrontations escalating when police get involved.

Newsom said the state is using “moral persuasion” to encourage compliance.

“Our goal is not to be punitive, our goal is to educate,” he said, though he added that the state will look at punishing those who are “simply thumbing their nose” at the order.

Newsom emphasized his point with a chart illustrating how, public health officials say, respiratory droplets containing the virus can spread up to 4 feet from exhaling, 6 feet from coughing and 26 feet from sneezing.

“But look at that sneeze,” he exclaimed. “It underscores the magnitude of opportunity we have as a state … to be more thoughtful.”

Newsom also touted a new public service ad featuring four former governors — Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson — all encouraging Californians to wear masks in public.

“This is not about being weak,” Schwarzenegger says in the ad. The virus “didn’t go away just because your mall is open at 50% capacity.”

Dustin Gardiner is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @dustingardiner

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