'We are turning the corner': Gov. Gavin Newsom shares cautious optimism on COVID-19, California wildfires

ByAlix Martichoux KABC logo
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Gov. Newsom discusses CA's response to COVID-19
Gov. Gavin Newsom touted California's efforts in a decline in COVID-19 trends during a press conference Wednesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom held a press conference at noon Wednesday to give an update on the state's dual crises: the coronavirus pandemic and destructive wildfires.

In both cases, things are looking up -- though far from over.

When it comes to COVID-19, California saw 2,950 new cases over the past 24 hours -- a substantially lower number than we were seeing just two months ago. COVID-19 hospitalizations are down 22% over the past two weeks, the governor said.

The positivity rate, or the proportion of those tested for coronavirus that test positive, is down to 3.6%.

"We are moving forward and we have seen a decline in the rate of spread and transmission of COVID-19," said Newsom. "We are turning the corner in suppressing the latest increase."

This week also brought a few changes to California's 4-tier coronavirus reopening plan. On Tuesday, Marin, Inyo and Tehama counties were all moved from the "purple" to the "red" tier, meaning they can reopen more businesses.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said he expects restrictions to loosen on even more counties next week.

MAP: CA counties that can, can't reopen under new rules

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Newsom also gave an update on the 25 major fire complexes burning around the state, which have burned 3.4 million acres to date and forced the evacuation of more than 38,000 people.

Containment is growing in almost all of those wildfires, but several of them are still posing challenges to crews. The governor named the Bobcat Fire in Los Angeles County as a "stubborn" wildfire, which grew to 44,000 acres and is only 3% contained.

Newsom also highlighted the Creek Fire in Fresno County as "an area where we're experiencing uniquely challenging conditions. Historic drought has led to 163 million dead trees in the area, he said, and those dry trees have acted as kindling for the massive Creek Fire.

The governor was in Fresno County Tuesday to brief Sen. Kamala Harris on the devastation of the Creek Fire.

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"Sadly, these wildfires and the devastation they cause are utterly predictable," Harris said. "Especially in residential areas, and you'll see where the fire has just swept through. Everything is gone except the chimney... those chimneys remind me of tombstones."

Newsom repeatedly linked the state's massive wildfires to the ongoing threat of climate change.

"If you were ever in doubt about climate change, just consider the CZU complex," the governor said of the wildfires along the coast in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. "We had a 24-hour period where 34,000 acres were burned along the coasts.

"Again, if you were ever in doubt about climate impacts, as it relates to these forest fires, just consider this 'asbestos forest.'"

The term "asbestos forest" refers to a forest with trees with thick bark, like California's coastal redwoods, that are typically resistant to fire.