Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that a decision on reopening California schools this fall will be made by local education and health officials weighing the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, and emphasized that he won’t be swayed by statements from President Trump urging campuses to bring back students quickly.
The governor’s comments came as he warned that the number of coronavirus hospitalizations in California is continuing to surge, rising 44% in the last two weeks, and that another 111 Californians died from the virus in the last 24 hours.
In recent days, Trump has called on the country’s public schools to reopen “quickly and beautifully,” but Los Angeles County’s top health official said earlier this week that the surge in new cases may require continued distance learning in the county.
On Wednesday, Newsom said he will not be moved by the president’s criticism on social media of states moving carefully.
“I’m not worried about the latest tweets” from the president, Newsom said during a news conference Wednesday. “What we need to address is safely reopening schools and we need to make that a foundational principle. That to me is not negotiable.”
Newsom said the state is providing local schools with face masks, gloves and sanitation supplies to ensure that those in classrooms are protected. But he said the virus is affecting some areas of the state more than others, so school districts may vary in when and how they resume instruction.
“All of these things need to be managed at the local level with the foundational framework of keeping our kids and our teachers healthy and safe,” Newsom said.
As the number of coronavirus cases and intensive care unit patients in California continued to rise, Newsom also announced on Wednesday that the number of counties on a state watch list grew from 23 to 26 with the addition of Napa, Yolo and San Benito counties.
Most of the counties on the watch list have moved on new restrictions that include closing bars, restaurants and other businesses that draw indoor crowds, Newsom said.
The governor said the surge can be reduced if Californians abide by the directive he issued last month to wear face coverings in public or high-risk settings, including when shopping and taking public transit.
On Wednesday, Newsom sought to reassure the public that the state is prepared to handle the spike in coronavirus cases with sufficient hospital beds, personal protective gear and volunteer medical professionals.
“We have never been better positioned,” the governor said. “We are sending out millions of masks every single week.”
With 6,100 COVID-19 patients now in California hospitals, the state has built up its capacity to be able to treat 50,000 such patients, the governor said.
Hospitals are cross-training medical professionals to treat coronavirus patients and have additional therapeutic treatments that allow patients to spend less time in the hospital, with fewer placed on ventilators, said Carmela Coyle, president of the California Hospital Assn..
Newsom said 35,000 volunteer medical professionals have been signed up to help hospitals and mobile facilities if the number of patients continues to surge.
In addition, Newsom said that the state has a surplus of face masks that has allowed it to provide supplies to other states, including Arizona and Oregon, where the need is dire.
Still, the governor recently said “strike teams” have been deployed by state agencies to reinforce local orders.
Facing criticism that he was too quick to reopen the state economy, Newsom said earlier this week that state agents from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control visited nearly 6,000 restaurants and bars over the holiday weekend to make sure they were following new, stricter rules.
Newsom noted Wednesday that many small business are facing financial hardship during the pandemic, so the governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery announced the launch of a campaign to encourage Californians to support local businesses that are trying to continue operating safely.
The governor’s task force said it is partnering with companies including UPS, Google and Nextdoor to help connect struggling small businesses with tools — including consultants to help expand online sales and personal protective equipment — to allow them to reach more customers.
Meanwhile, many other Californians are also facing increasing financial pressure. The deadline for paying state income taxes for 2019, postponed in April because of the coronavirus, is July 15, the state Franchise Tax Board reminded taxpayers on Wednesday.