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Coronavirus Update: California Gov. Newsom Announces New Testing Site Tool, Expanded Workers' Compensation

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) -- Keeping Californians working with confidence as they increasingly begin to return to a reopening economy was the focus of two new announcements by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

During his daily press briefing on Wednesday, Newsom said the state health department's COVID-19 website now features a link to find testing sites across the state. The tool allows users to enter their zip codes and be presented with testing sites in their area.

Newsom said California was evolving its testing strategy to target populations that have not have ready access to testing, noting that the expanded testing was an essential part of the plan to reopen sectors and regional parts of the state with modifications.

"We have a lot more work to do, but the work of our testing task force has been very, very successful," said Newsom. "Particularly in not only addressing the needs in the aggregate, but beginning to focus our testing strategies in a much more strategic way, specifically focusing on rural areas in the state of California and on inner cities."

The testing services listed on the website are being provided by Optum Serve, Verily, GISCorps community sites but does not include hospitals and other clinics. Results from the zip code search list the hours and locations of the testing sites, along with requirements and other information.

As of Wednesday, Newsom said California has tested over 800,000 residents for COVID-19, with the state averaging roughly 30,000 tests per day over the past week.

Another announcement by Newsom Wednesday had to to with protection of workers - especially in the food chain, from farm workers to front-line grocery workers -by an executive order expanding workers' compensation benefits.

Newsom said first responders and front-line health care workers were left out of expanded sick leave announcements from the federal and the state, as were workers in companies with less than 500 workers.

The governor said his executive order Wednesday would expand the state's workers' comp benefits originally given to first responders and health care workers, broading it to all sectors of the economy.

The expanded workers' comp is designed for people who have presumed to have tested positive for COVID-19 at work, so they can stay home for an extended period of time.

"The worst thing we can do is have a worker that has tested positive but doesn't want to tell anybody and can spread the disease because he or she can't afford not to work," said Newsom.

"As we know, workplace health and safety is public health and safety," said Department of Industrial Relations Deputy Director Victoria Hassid. "This benefit applies to all workers. All of those front line workers who are risking their health and safety to ensure the health and production of all of us. Our nurses, our first responders, janitors, warehouse workers, farm workers, grocery store workers and all of those who are putting themselves on the line."

The executive order is valid for the next 60 days and is retroactive to March 19.

A business group questioned the executive order changing workers' compensation rules, saying it could negatively impact businesses in the state trying to stay afloat

"With today's executive order, Governor Newsom has bypassed the Legislature and increased costs on employers precisely at the same time businesses are trying to rehire employees to restart the economy," said California Business Roundtable President Rob Lapsley. "This will ultimately impact communities of color who are the foundation of small business employees and business owners in California."

The governor also said he had signed a second executive order that would grant an extension on paying a penalty on this year's property taxes for a year. Property owners who missed the April 10 deadline to pay the tax won't have the 10 percent penalty assessed until next May.

"We've been working with the county associations and this executive order will provide even more clarity in this space and extend through next May the penalty waiver for fees and associated fines for that 10 percent tax code requirement," explained Newsom. "That will allow people -- again, with hardships -- to get on payment plans and not have to experience that penalty at least through the end of next May."

Newsom said that there was some stabilization in the COVID-19 case numbers on Wednesday. While the number of positive cases rose to 58,815 -- a 4.6 percent increase for the state -- and there were 95 new coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, the governor said hospitalizations and ICU numbers both declined between 1-1.5 percent.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters Wednesday, Newsom said the state would be facing major economic challenges and projected deficits in the "tens of billions of dollars." With revenues having "fallen off a cliff," the governor noted "we need leadership at the federal level to provide the magnitude of supports" that cities and counties in California will need to recover.

"It's going to take longer than a lot of people think. We have never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. This is Depression-era numbers in terms of the unemployment you'll see across this country not just in the state of California," said Newsom. "We were enjoying another surplus and you are going to see a budget that comes out that is tens of billions of dollars short of where it needs to be. I can't make this more plain.

"We've been working very directly with Speaker Pelosi on what our need will be to take of the most vulnerable Californians," said Newsom. "These numbers are juggernauts. It is alarming and I just hope people are preparing themselves not just for the clarity around these numbers, but preparing for the effort that we all need to engage together to unwind that and get back on our feet."

Newsom reiterated California's economic turnaround will happen, but it will take longer than many believe.

"I have no trepidation and all the confidence in the world that we will recover and we will be a stronger society, be a smarter society, a more resilient state. There is no doubt in my mind, but it is going to take some time."

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