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Coronavirus Update: Gov. Newsom Unveils New Testing, Contact Tracing Program As Part Of Plan To Ease Restrictions

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday offered new details on the steps to begin easing some of the restrictions put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus, placing additional emphasis on testing, contact tracing and isolating those exposed to the virus.

At a noon press conference Wednesday, Newsom said 86 additional testing sites would be unveiled around the urban and rural areas across the state, including in areas the governor referred to as "testing deserts."

The plan is to deploy some 25,000 COVID-19 tests per day by the end of April, an increase in the current 16,000 tests being performed daily. The goal is to eventually administer 60,000-80,000 tests per day.

The governor also said the state would assemble a team of 10,000 contact-tracers to hone in how the virus was spreading, and develop a statewide academy to train that workforce.

Contact tracing involves identifying those who have been in close contact with a COVID-19-postive person, and then checking their symptoms, testing and isolating them. The process enables suppresses the spread of the virus and helps prevent additional outbreaks, while maintaining health care capacity and allowing for modifications to the stay-at-home order.

The governor said there was no way to provide a date in which California would be able to ease the restrictions currently in place. "I wish I could prescribe a specific date, to say well we can turn on the light switch and go back to normalcy."

"I deeply understand the desire for people to hear directly from the administration, from this state and its leadership for the answer to about when - when can we go back to some semblance of normalcy," said Newsom. "Well, a vast majority recognize that decision needs to be guided on the basis of the virus and its spread."

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly reemphasized the concept of the light dimmer versus a switch.

"We are constantly looking at how quickly we move that dimmer, understanding where we are with our data, where we are with our preparedness and making sure that we -- with all of our partners including our local county partners, our city partners and our industry partners -- all move together," Dr. Ghaly said.

The presentation on Wednesday focused on the first of the six indicators the governor first introduced last week that would lead to the shelter-in-place order being lifted:

  • The ability to monitor and protect our communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting those who are positive or exposed
  • The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19
  • The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges
  • The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand
  • The ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing
  • The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary.

Ghaly provided a deep dive into the goals and key metrics being followed in the areas of testing and contact tracing.

"We also know that there are a couple of issues in our indicators that are must haves. You have heard us talk on a daily, if not weekly, basis about the pursuit of protective equipment or PPE," explained Dr. Ghaly. "We know that we need to have significant amounts before we can move forward with any of our plans before we modify our stay-at-home order according to our indicators."

Ghaly also noted the importance of local data being provided by city and county health officers across the state to inform the state's decision-making.

Newsom said a change that was going into effect was to allow for surgeries to be scheduled once again. He said California's health care system, as well as those in Washington and Oregon, would begin to schedule surgeries as hospital and ICU capacity has stabilized to the point that the shift is now possible.

"Decisions based always first and foremost on public health," said Newsom. "The pressure to answer that question is very real. No one wants to be able to share that information more with out than I do."

Last week, state Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell said the state's efforts to flatten the curve have worked and care must be taken so the infections don't surge once again.

"That doesn't mean that we can just let open and send everybody back into the streets and resume life the way we were," said Angell last week. "Because, indeed, if we remove all of our interventions, we again will expect this surge. The opportunity now at this moment is to talk about how we can modify, modify our existing orders in ways makes it easier for all of us but also continues to protect the health of Californians."

Several states, including California, have seen protests over the shelter-in-place restrictions that have led to many businesses closing and a huge spike in unemployment numbers.

Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday compared coronavirus shutdowns to "house arrest" and suggested the Justice Department could take legal action against states for their restrictions. His comments come after President Trump has encouraged protesters to "liberate" certain states from stay-at-home orders intended to slow the virus' spread.

"These are unprecedented burdens on civil liberties right now," Barr said in an interview on The Hugh Hewitt Show. "You know, the idea that you have to stay in your house is disturbingly close to house arrest. I'm not saying it wasn't justified. I'm not saying in some places it might still be justified. But it's very onerous, as is shutting down your livelihood."

Barr said that if citizens file lawsuits against their states over the orders, the Justice Department will "take a look at it" and "take a position" if it seems justified.


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