Three days after eight San Joaquin Valley counties pushed California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officials to expedite reopening, Newsom announced significant changes in criteria aimed to ease the process during his Monday press briefing.
Speaking from Mustards Grill in Napa, California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced that counties would be eligible to expedite Stage 2 reopening by:
- Limiting an increase in hospitalizations to no more than 5 percent
- Limiting the increase in new coronavirus diagnoses to 25 per 100,000 people within the last 14 days OR a test positivity rate of less than 8 percent (for counties with smaller sample sizes).
The change eliminates a highly controversial criteria of limiting 14 coronavirus-related deaths within the two week period as a condition of expedited reopening.
Newsom singles out the south Valley
Newsom, during the briefing, announced that 53 of the state’s 58 counties would be considered eligible for rapid reopening under the new criteria.
While he did not specifically specify which counties would not immediate qualify, he did note issues with Tulare, Kings, and Los Angeles counties.
“It’s not surprising but there are concerns: As an example, in Tulare County, the skilled nursing facilities. In Kings County, related to meatpacking issues that we’re still addressing,” Newsom said. “I want to reinforce that just because we’re creating capacity and the availability to move into phase two doesn’t mean every county is ready.”
Tulare County Supervisor and Board Chairman Pete Vander Poel, speaking to the Visalia Times-Delta, pointed the blame for the growing majority of the County’s cases on corporate-owned nursing homes regulated and overseen by California’s Department of Public Health.
“Why are the Tulare County public (and) Tulare County businesses being held hostage because of one corporation’s bad actors?” he asked. “I don’t think that’s fair.”
Meanwhile, Kings County Supervisor and Board Chairman Doug Verboon strongly objected to Newsom’s swipe.
“We really don’t have high case numbers,” Verboon said. “He threw us in with Tulare which does have very high numbers.”
As for Newsom’s reference to coronavirus cases originating from the Hanford-based Central Valley Meat Packing plant, Verboon said that Kings County faced a catch-22.
“The President of the United States said we can’t shut down this facility,” Verboon said, alluding to President Donald Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act to maintain the meat supply chain. “Central Valley Meat Packing accounts for two-thirds of our cases, so you’re going to penalize us for that?”
Verboon added that growing discontent over shifting criteria and limited hope of reopening forced the County’s hand in suspending enforcement of the state’s shelter-in-place order on Friday.
Fresno, Kern navigate criteria shakeup, state’s scrambling
Fresno County Public Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra and Public Health Director David Pomaville were scheduled to hold a conference call with State Public Health Officer Dr. Sonia Angell to discuss their request for expedited reopening.
County officials were optimistic that the tweak in criteria will pave the way to state health officials providing the greenlight to reopen restaurants and relax restrictions on retail establishments.
Aiding their effort was Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, who spent the weekend engaging in positive, personal contact with Gov. Gavin Newsom relative to the County’s pitch for reopening, a city spokesman told The Sun.
However, the conference call was cancelled by the California Department of Public Health.
Capitol sources told The Sun that legislators on both sides of the aisle were blindsided by Newsom’s changes in criteria for reopening.
And Fresno County officials privately theorized that state public health officials may not have been fully briefed on the changes before Newsom announced them, thus prompting the sudden cancellation of the call.
Kern County announced Monday that, following the announcement of criteria changes, the Golden Empire met the needed thresholds for expedited reopening under Newsom’s Phase 2.
In a tweet, Kern County officials said that the Board of Supervisors could meet as early as Tuesday to vote on an affidavit required by the California Department of Public Health to reopen.
Locals look to clear the runway
Beyond the county-state behind-the-scenes work, local leaders began reassessing shelter-in-place orders.
Meanwhile, more work is being done at Fresno City Hall to prepare to resolve conflicts with its shelter-in-place order in anticipation of a determination from the State of california on the county’s reopening plan.
Monday, Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez released a plan seeking to scale back various policy elements and enforcement of the city’s shelter-in-place order.
Sources told The Sun that Brand was willing to adopt
Chief among the plan is removing restrictions on dine-in restaurants, which would take effect when Fresno County receives authorization to reopen from the State of California.
It also modifies the shelter-in-place guidance to emphasize seniors and immunocompromised populations to remain at home aside from essential business, while other residents should follow Centers for Disease Control precautions.
The proposal also includes scaling back code enforcement of the order by reducing the issuance of fines and jail penalties short of egregious violations.
It would also alter the order’s face mask requirement, only mandating individuals wear masks in “closed quarters,” stores, and common public space areas. Outside activities, however, would be exempted from the face mask requirement.
Other city leaders are seeking to push for authorized retail businesses, who can only take curbside orders, to be allowed to accept walk-in customers at 50 percent of their establishment’s capacity.