COVID-19 pandemic: California did not reopen too quickly, Newsom insists as number of counties on watch list rises

Despite a steep rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations over the past two weeks in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom doesn't believe the state moved too quickly to reopen businesses.

Newsom on Monday said it's not about when California reopened, but rather how.

"Cases have been exploding around the state. Was there any realistic way to reopen some sectors of the economy and do you think your administration miscalculated in doing so? And the speed at which they opened restaurants, gymnasiums and fitness centers, for example?" a reporter asked the governor during his Monday press conference.

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"I think we can safely reopen," said Newsom. "I think if we wear face coverings, we can mitigate the community spread of this disease. I think countries that have done that have proven that. We've been very forceful in our expectations and encouragement for people to do the same.

"It's a mandate."

Newsom said he believes the enforcement of wearing masks or other facial coverings is best left up to local authorities. However, if local authorities aren't up to the task, he said the state is prepared to step in. He also reiterated that this year's budget has $2.5 billion in local funding that could be withheld from counties that don't cooperate with health orders.

"We will redirect those dollars to communities that are" following health orders," he said.

Last week, Newsom warned Californians to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines to avoid more mandatory closures. The governor ordered bars, indoor restaurants, movie theaters and more to close in 19 counties on a state watch list -- including Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino. That number has now risen to 23, including San Diego County, the governor said Monday.

The trends that prompted the ordered closures have only gotten worse. Another 5,699 people tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday. That brings the positivity rate, or the proportion of people tested for COVID-19 that end up positive, to a 7.2% average over the past week.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations have climbed 50% over the past two weeks and ICU admissions are up 39%.
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