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Gavin Newsom, Facing Recall, Eases Lockdown as California Hospitals Are Overwhelmed

Newsweek logo Newsweek 1/25/2021 Katherine Fung
a man holding a glass: Gov. Gavin Newsom watches as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared by Director of Inpatient Pharmacy David Cheng at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on December 14, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Newsom is expected to lift regional COVID-19 lockdowns on Monday despite no significant improvement in the state's ICU capacity. © Pool Gov. Gavin Newsom watches as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared by Director of Inpatient Pharmacy David Cheng at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on December 14, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Newsom is expected to lift regional COVID-19 lockdowns on Monday despite no significant improvement in the state's ICU capacity.

Up until this week, California has been under one of the harshest lockdowns across the country. But Governor Gavin Newsom moved to reverse those orders amid an effort to recall him from office.

Despite no significant improvement for the state's overwhelmed ICUs, public health officials announced Monday that regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders across the state will be lifted, allowing restaurants to reopen outdoor dining immediately.

When the most recent round of stay-at-home orders were announced, Newsom divided the state into five regions—Northern California, the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California—and stated that after a three week lockdown period, regions would be reassessed. The stay-at-home order would be lifted once a region's ICU capacity meets or exceeds 15 percent.

Although the press release stated that the capacity projections for all of California's regions are expected to reach the threshold in four weeks, the state's coronavirus dashboards shows that two regions currently remain nowhere near the required 15 percent. ICU capacity in San Joaquin Valley has opened up to 1.3 percent and the number of hospital beds available in Southern California, the state's hardest-hit region, remains at zero.

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The lack of improvement in the state's COVID-19 figures raises question as to why Newsom would begin lifting orders now, as the parameters he set haven't been met.

In its preventative efforts to contain the virus, California is also experiencing a vaccine supply shortage and delayed rollouts. Earlier this month, Newsom promised to have 1.5 million doses of the COVID vaccine administered but it is unclear if the governor has met his target, due to data collection issues.

California is leading the country in terms of total number of COVID-19 infections. Last week, the state reached a new milestone when it became the first state to report three million total cases since the start of the pandemic. Only four other states have exceeded one million total cases, with Texas as the only other state surpassing two million.

Newsom has made sweeping efforts to try and contain the spread of the outbreak in California, but frustration over his response to the pandemic has fueled a recall campaign that would make him the second governor in the state's history to be recalled from office. If the effort is successful, Newsom would join Democrat Gray Davis, who was replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004.

Randy Economy, a senior adviser for Recall Gavin 2020, told Newsweek that the governor's decision to lift the lockdown order is "absolutely 100 percent connected to the recall."

"He's fighting for his political life right now," he said Monday. "If it wasn't for the campaign, he wouldn't have acted this way. He would have kept everything locked down."

While the campaign extends beyond the governor's response to the coronavirus, Economy said Newsom's "draconian lockdowns has really destroyed millions of people's lives needlessly, in addition to the virus."

Recall Gavin 2020, which California Democratic Party chair Randy Hicks called a "coup," has reached 70 percent of its required signatures, according to its website. Economy denied that the campaign is a partisan effort.

"Our job is not to pick the next governor," Economy said. "Our job is to do the heavy lifting and collect the 1.49 million signatures to be able to make sure that the people of California can go to the ballot box."

"It's not a complicated process. It's not a coup," he added. "It is what is allowed under California constitution."

All counties exiting their stay-at-home order will return to the colored tier system that assigns local risk levels based on case rates and positivity rates of COVID-19.

Under the system, most counties would fall under the "widespread" risk tier, where there are more than seven new daily cases per 100,000 people or more than an eight percent positivity rate. The most restrictive and highest risk level, counties with "widespread" COVID-19 permits hair salons to offer limited indoor services but restricts most other nonessential indoor businesses.

Once the figures drop for these coronavirus measures, counties move to the "substantial" risk level, which would open up some more non-essential indoor business operations, but not all.

Newsom did not hold a press conference announcing the changes. His office referred Newsweek to the California Department of Public Health.

Newsweek reached out to the California Department of Public Health for comment but did not hear back before publication.

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