Newsom: California reopening ‘driven by evidence, not ideology

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By Judy Woodruff, KQED/PBS, May 19 2020

California was one of the first U.S. states to see a significant outbreak of the novel coronavirus, but in the past few weeks, the curve of infection there has flattened. As a result, Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced plans to loosen some restrictions. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss COVID-19 trends in his state, the data he’s using to make decisions and what he needs from the federal government.

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Judy Woodruff: California was one of the earliest states to be hit hard by the coronavirus, but, in the last few weeks, the curve there has flattened.Just yesterday, its governor, Democrat Gavin Newsom, announced plans to loosen restrictions in a number of counties.I spoke with him earlier today and began by asking him to explain his decision, and the trade-off between safety and the long-term effect of keeping much of the state’s economy closed down.

Governor Gavin Newsom: Look, we have had stability now for many, many weeks, over a month.As you know, we never saw the peak increase in the total number of cases and deaths that many other parts of the country did. So, over the period of many, many weeks, we have not only seen stability, but a modest decline in hospitalizations, ICU patients and the like.We have also seen a significant increase in our testing capacity and, moreover, our ability to procure and distribute protective gear within sectors of our economy, not just for our front-line health officials.So, we’re in a better position than we have ever been. And that’s why we’re moving into this new phase, but with our eyes wide open, driven by data, driven by evidence, not ideology, and driven by transparency now at the local level, so we can toggle back if conditions change.

Judy Woodruff: From the reporting I have seen, it looks as if you have changed the standard that California counties have to meet.The new standard removes the death rate requirement and replaces it in part with a more generous threshold based on rates of newly confirmed cases. Explain that.

Governor Gavin Newsom: Well, the fundamental challenge we all have across the state, of not only across the state of California, but across the rest of the country, is going within regions and looking precisely at what the problem areas are.Not surprisingly, for the state of California, it’s many of the skilled nursing facility, assisted living centers. Been a major challenge all across the country.You have some counties, massive geographic counties — remember, California is larger than 21 states combined in terms of population — that have had outbreaks in very isolated areas. And yet those death rates related to the outbreak then deny them the ability to reopen parts of their economy.So we’re being more precise, more targeted, and really wrapping very aggressively all of our energy and attention around those vulnerable facilities, particularly these skilled nursing facilities.

Judy Woodruff: They have been, as you know, a tragedy across the country.In the state of California, what is going to change with regard to nursing homes in your state as a result of the last few weeks?

Governor Gavin Newsom: Put the scale and scope in the state as large as California, we have just shy of 9,000 licensed facilities for seniors in adult care in the state of California.These are the most vulnerable Californians to this pandemic. And you’re right, well now north of 30 percent, approximating 40 percent of all the deaths occurring in and around these skilled nursing facilities, assisted living centers.So, we are doubling down on efforts that predated the beginning of this pandemic, where we really recognized our responsibility to focus in on these facilities, but now doing more than we have in the past with infectious disease teams and strike teams, working with the federal government, working with our National Guard, working to increase PPE and testing capacity in and around those skilled nursing facilities, and doing this, Judy — and this is foundational — recognizing that they don’t live in isolation.While many people may live in these communities, staff operates in multiple facilities in many communities. And so we have to make sure the staff is protected as well, tested, isolated, quarantined, to the extent they’re exposed to this pandemic as well.

Judy Woodruff: Governor, you have been very open that this pandemic has taken a big — has caused a big hit on California’s budget. You went from a surplus projected at the beginning of the year to something like $54 billion projected deficit.Right now, you have — and other governors are urging the U.S. Congress, Washington, to send a trillion dollars to state and local governments.Why should that money come from Washington? Because, as you know, Republicans are saying, we’re not at all confident that states are going to spend this money wisely.

Governor Gavin Newsom: Well, it’s not a blue state or a red state issue.And so I would hope that Republicans would consider the Republicans in states large and small across this country. I live in a state, 58 counties, 26 of them went for Donald Trump overwhelmingly in the last election. They’re American citizens. They’re Californians.I care about each and every one of them, and I hope Republicans in the Senate do as well, including other red states that are suffering similar economic conditions.Remember, Judy, we’re dealing with Depression-era unemployment. We’re north of 20 percent in this nation. The numbers that come out publicly are lagging. And the reality is, we’re north of 25 percent in California; 4.8 million people have filed for unemployment insurance just since March 12.You’re correct. We were running surpluses. We have fiscally been disciplined in terms of how we have managed the affairs of this state. We’re not looking for a bailout in the abstract. We’re looking the support our front-line workers, our public health, public safety workers, our public teachers.And they need the support of this moment — at this moment from the American government that was conceived of in a frame of mutuality and commonwealth to protect the public safety, but also the well-being of its citizens, not from a frame of charity, but a frame of social responsibility.

Judy Woodruff: Governor, one of the things you have said that you might have to do if this deficit is as bad as it looks and you don’t get the help you need is cut state workers’ pay.We heard the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jay Powell, in Washington today say that, when state workers, local workers either lose their jobs or lose pay, it affects the overall health of the economy.How much does that go into your thinking?

Governor Gavin Newsom: No, I think those are wise words. And those are important words. And, by the way, they’re shared by the former Fed chair, Janet Yellen, who’s on our economic and recovery task force, along with Bob Iger, one of the most iconic brands in business, both recognizing an economic and business imperative to address this crisis and to address the impacts to municipal budgets, city, clearly, and state budgets.Because, at the end of the day, what they need is some certainty. If you’re a business leader, you want some certainty, so you can make medium- and long-term bets.But with all the uncertainty, because of historic economic impacts and budget deficits that create a dynamic where you don’t know what the regulatory system may look like, the tax system may look like, that creates additional pressure and additional anxiety.So, Jerome Powell is correct, and this is why this is not a bailout. It’s not charity to cities and states. We believe it’s foundational to our economic recovery.

Judy Woodruff: Governor Gavin Newsom of California, thank you very much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

Governor Gavin Newsom: Honor to be with you. Thank you.