The State Of California: Reopening Slows As Pandemic Surges

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By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

A week ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom made wearing masks mandatory statewide. Since then, the coronavirus pandemic has gotten even worse in California.

On Friday, the governor instructed one county to go back to sheltering in place and said there will be no more loosening of statewide restrictions.

But he’s still resisting imposing new stay-at-home orders across the state.

The coronavirus had faded a little bit from people’s consciousness as the nation and the state focused on the George Floyd case, Black Lives Matter protests and the fight to end racism. But it is very much front and center again now, as things have gone from bad to worse in the last few days. 

Several states have dialed back their reopening, and now that’s happening in California. San Francisco isn’t going backward but will hold off on moving further forward. Imperial County is reinstating its stay at home order. Contra Costa County could be forced to pause its reopening soon, as cases spike there. San Quentin prison has recorded more than 500 cases in little more than a week, and that’s threatening Marin County. The governor has his hands full now, going back to holding briefings every day and almost sounds desperate as he pleads with Californians to wear masks and take precautions, and there’s no doubt things are trending in the wrong direction.

Doug, last week at this time on this very segment we were talking about reopening across the state, restaurants and the potential for barbers and hair salons; what a difference a week makes. Let's deconstruct this a bit, what are health officials saying about these spikes and their causes?

I know I could use a haircut (laughs). I wish the barber shops were still going to reopen. Boy, what's happening, again the Governor said it's different county to county. And if you look at the state's list of the counties they're watching, in Contra Costa they very much blame the way people are going about their business reopening. They're not wearing masks, they're not keeping social distance and that is the only factor they're seeing in Contra Costa. The only explanation they've got is people are mixing and seeing each other more as the county reopens and they're not doing it safely.

In other counties, it's a different story. In Santa Clara County, which is also on that state watch list, it's a matter of more cases in the hospitals and they think people are coming into Santa Clara County from neighboring counties - because there are good hospitals there - for treatment. And they've also gotten transfers from other counties such as Imperial County, which has sent a lot of patients to the Bay Area. So Santa Clara County, they're not seeing community transmission so much but in Contra Costa they certainly are. And again, it's a county to county thing. In some places it's a matter of a prison, as in Marin, or it's nursing homes. But in Contra Costa, despite some nursing home issues obviously, with 15 dead in one place in Concord, it is the way people are circulating and just not following the rules and that is why the Governor has just been imploring people every day - he's gone back to these daily briefings now - wear a mask, keep your distance, please or this is just going to get worse.

What about the impact of all those protests? Have they contributed to the spread?

You know, they've been trying to track that and we've asked that a couple of times. Today the state health director said she has no doubt that some people did get it from protests and that that is a factor, but it's really difficult to pin down exactly how much. When someone presents with coronavirus and they go through their contact tracing, "while I was at this protest, I also went to this restaurant, also I went out shopping," how do you know for sure where someone got it? So they do believe that a number, especially young people, did get the virus from going to protests but they haven't been able to exactly put a number on it yet.

They don't think it's a huge number, they don't think that is the largest factor by any means. But also, their reaction was just once again to remind people, don't be out in crowds. And if you are, definitely wear a mask and try to keep your distance.

So Doug, let me ask you this: Governor Newsom was certainly ahead of the curve when he had a shelter in place initially. Why not just go back to that? Why not be overly cautious and say, "let's go back to a statewide shelter in place order?" What's the thinking there? 

You know we may be moving in that direction but I think he is resisting it because there are still counties in remote rural areas, in the north part of the state in particular, where they don't have very many cases, where they don't really need to go back to a shelter in place order and there was so much resistance to it. Now that it's been dropped - and even though they're asking people to wear masks some of those sheriffs aren't enforcing that - it's going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle and tell those people to go back to it and there's going to be even more resistance. And I just think politically, the Governor doesn't want to go through that again. 

I mean, if it comes to it they will. But I think he would rather say, "okay these 37 counties have to shelter in place." The problem, of course, is if you don't make it statewide people can move about freely. You're not going to have border checks at each county to keep people from Modoc from coming down to Solano or something like that. So he is resisting it, I think because there was so much societal resistance to it and political resistance. And as he knows, it's different county to county. San Francisco's been doing pretty well until the last week or so, so why should they have to go back to sheltering in place? I really think he feels now that what we're calling a patchwork approach makes more sense. But it may get to the point where there's no choice and they have to go back to a statewide shelter in place.

I think just psychologically, you mentioned the genie being out of the bottle, I think it would be hard.

I think so. I think a lot of people would say, "oh come on, we've gotten used to this now, I wear my mask, now I gotta go back inside?" I mean people can only do this for so long, they did it for months and they got tired of it, as we saw. I do think it is hard psychologically, to ask people to go back to doing that. And that's part of the problem though, with relaxing it when he did, is that once you do let people start to shop again and go to restaurants again, how do you ask them to go back? I mean they're going to have to really see dire numbers and dire consequences to convince a lot of these folks that they've gotta do it. 

Doug, I want to circle back to something you mentioned: San Quentin prison recording more than 500 cases. What a mess. Now this is technically in state jurisdiction, in fact the county has sort of bemoaned the fact that there's not a lot it can do about it. Interesting circumstance because the county could in fact be impacted by what's happening inside those walls.

Yeah I mean it's in Marin County and people who work at the prison come and go. It's really a bad situation there and of course it all started with the transfer of prisoners from Chino prison. The Governor actually wasn't asked about it, he didn't talk about it today but the plan has been to release a lot of prisoners to get them out of there. But meanwhile, you've got hundreds who are sick and now quite a large number on death row as well. Talk about a genie out of the bottle, I mean that has just gone like a wildfire through the prison and it was foreseeable. They were told and warned that they better watch this population and not mix inmates from different prisons and they did it anyway. There's probably no turning back there, but you probably are going to see the release of low-risk inmates to get them out of harm's way there. But I'm sure that case count is really going to keep growing at San Quentin.