California has firm handle on coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom says

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a broad defense Monday of the accelerated reopening strategy in much of California, despite concerns from some public health experts that the state could see new coronavirus outbreaks.

Newsom said that even as California’s economy has begun reopening since May 8 and people have ventured outside their homes more, including over the Memorial Day weekend, the number of patients hospitalized and in intensive care units with coronavirus-related illness has remained stable.

“There’s a certain point where you have to recognize you can’t be in a permanent state where people are locked away for months and months and months on end, to see lives and livelihoods completely destroyed without considering the health impact of those decisions,” Newsom said at a news conference.

Newsom’s administration said 52 of the state’s 58 counties have met state criteria to reopen at a faster pace. Much of the Bay Area, however, is moving far slower than the rest of the state in lifting orders that barred such activities as in-store shopping, sit-down dining and indoor religious services.

On Thursday, the state reported 3,461 new coronavirus cases, a single-day record, and some local health officers have said the momentum behind reopening plans is risky.

Still, Newsom said Monday that the state is confident of its decision to allow county health officers to reopen with safety precautions.

Newsom noted that California’s positive test rate — the percentage of people tested who are confirmed to have the virus — has dropped to 4.5% and has remained stable. The positive rate was around 41% at the start of the outbreak, when far fewer people were tested.

The governor said the state’s shutdown measures have given public health officials time to increase hospital capacity and secure personal protective equipment for medical workers and ventilators for seriously ill patients.

“We wanted to buy time,” Newsom said. “We wanted to mitigate a peak and a spike.”

At the same time, California is carefully monitoring data in 13 counties where the trend line has been more concerning.

Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said the counties have reported warning signs such as increasing positive test rates or hospitalizations. He said the state is deploying extra resources to those areas.

The list of affected counties includes Los Angeles County and several rural areas that began reopening at a brisk pace.

The California Department of Public Health declined to release a full list of the counties. A spokeswoman said the agency doesn’t publicly disclose counties on the list unless they report an irregularity for three consecutive days.

While Newsom downplayed concerns about reopening, he also cautioned Californians to be vigilant about wearing face masks and social distancing. He noted that the worst pandemic of the 20th century, the 1918 flu outbreak, featured a moderate first wave and a more virulent second wave several months later.

“Let us be cognizant of that past and let us be mindful of our present,” Newsom said.

Dustin Gardiner is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @dustingardiner

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