Newsom to 'tighten things up' as coronavirus cases rise
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Newsom to 'tighten things up' as coronavirus cases rise

SACRAMENTO — With coronavirus cases surging, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that he plans to “tighten things up" when it comes to the state's stay-at-home order ahead of a busy Fourth of July weekend.

California has confirmed close to 223,000 infections, a nearly 50% increase over two weeks ago that has been driven in part by the state's ability to now test more than 100,000 people per day. But more concerning to officials is the steady growth in COVID-19 hospitalizations — a 43% increase in the past two weeks.

The state has been under a stay-at-home order since March 19, but Newsom has loosened restrictions in recent weeks to allow most businesses to open. Newsom said he would announce changes to the order Wednesday, hinting he would focus more on indoor restrictions where the virus is more likely to spread.

The state already requires everyone to wear a mask in most public places, both indoors and outdoors, when physical distancing isn’t possible.

“The framework for us is this: If you’re not going to stay home and you’re not going to wear masks in public, we have to enforce —and we will,” Newsom said, adding the state will be “a little bit more aggressive as it relates to guidelines on Fourth of July.”

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and former deputy health officer for the city of San Francisco, said “it makes sense” that the state should renew restrictions because “people definitely got lax” in following public health orders, causing the virus to spread.

But he said state officials should focus on restrictions indoors because that’s where the disease is most likely to spread.

“It doesn’t make sense to close beaches, to close parks, to close outdoor recreation areas,” he said. “We don’t want to be pushing people indoors.”

Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said closing beaches is a “prudent move," saying it keeps people from congregating. He said dialing back indoor dining would help. He added, however, that the biggest factor is for people to wear masks and maintain physical distancing.

“Just because it's summer and they feel like having a barbecue with all their friends. It can't be that way,” he said. “I don't know how one legislates that.”

Across the state, many local governments are already tightening restrictions. Counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay have delayed some reopenings as new cases increase. In Los Angeles, officials say they will close beaches and ban fireworks displays in the nation's most populous county this weekend as it hit a one-day record of 2,903 new cases and more than 100,000 cases overall.

In the Central Valley, officials in Fresno ordered all bars to close as some hospitals invoked emergency protocols because they were nearing capacity.

“Our cases are not currently under control,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, interim health officer for Fresno County. “We're quite worried that we don't have room to expand.”

And in Riverside County, public health officials are seeing an increase in cases among younger people, many of them without symptoms of the virus even though they test positive.

“The majority of our cases are really groups of people who are coming together. They're not social distancing. They're not wearing face coverings," Riverside County Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said.

Last week, Newsom asked Imperial County to impose more restrictions after hospitals in the county near the U.S.-Mexico border had so many patients they had to transfer some to nearby facilities. On Monday, the county Board of Supervisors approved a plan that would close parks and force some businesses to shut down in-person shopping.

Altogether, California public health officials are closely monitoring 19 counties for outbreaks. Newsom said four more counties could be added to the list by Wednesday.

Until now, Newsom has mostly relied on “social pressure” to enforce statewide public health orders. But as officials began to relax a stay-at-home order in the past month, more people began to relax, too.

Newsom said he was particularly concerned with family gatherings, where people “begin to mix and take down their guard.”

Newsom spoke at a motel in Pittsburg, where Contra Costa County is housing 164 homeless people during the pandemic with money from the state's “Project HomeKey” program. Newsom said the program has secured 15,679 hotel rooms and served an estimated 14,200 people.

But Newsom's remarks were interrupted by about a dozen people protesting racial injustice at the hands of police. The protesters blared a siren from a bullhorn while Newsom was speaking.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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