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What Has California Been Doing to Address COVID-19?

California has implemented a number of measures aimed at protecting residents of the state and responding to the economic impact of the virus since the unfolding of the COVID-19 crisis.

California, which was one of the first states to see massive upticks in confirmed positive cases over the last few months, has been commended by political analysts and public health officials for decisive action in responding to the virus that appears to be bending the curve.

“Given what we’ve been seeing in California, we are expecting the peak of the epidemic — the intensity of it — to be lower than in New York,” Dr. Chris Murray, professor and director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, wrote in a report. “That means the surge in the hospitals will be smaller.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has received a considerable amount of political attention for his action, notably becoming the first governor in the United States to issue a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19. 

With the number of confirmed cases and deaths still remaining comparatively high and with new governmental steps being taken everyday, here is what Newsom has done thus far to combat COVID-19.

Implementing Social Distancing

After California reported its first coronavirus death on March 4, Newsom declared a State of Emergency, formalizing emergency actions and mobilizing the provision of resources to state agencies and departments. The proclamation included additional provisions, including protections against price gouging and measures that provide support to health care facilities. 

Newsom announced an updated policy on March 11 for gatherings to enforce the principle of “social distancing.” The policy called for non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people be either postponed or canceled, while smaller events can proceed as long as it accommodates for individuals to remain six feet apart.

Following this, the state issued additional guidelines for at-risk populations, including those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions, to self-isolate. An executive order on March 16 supplemented the self-isolation guidelines by providing a directive for state and local agencies to provide additional resources and staff to senior living, assisted care and other facilities that serve these groups.

State health and emergency officials directed bars and clubs to close, limited restaurants to provide service through pick-up and delivery and directed the implementation of remote or distance learning for all K-12 schools throughout the state on March 17.

Separate executive orders also suspended standardized testing and ensured that schools would not lose state funding due to physical closures.

On March 19, Newsom issued a state-wide stay-at-home order that directed residents to remain inside unless participating in essential activities, such as going to work or the grocery store, or if they are “needed to maintain continuity of operation of the federal critical infrastructure sectors.”

The governor additionally directed the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to temporarily halt the intake of inmates and youth to the state’s prison and juvenile correction facilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in these detention settings on March 24.

Addressing the Economic Impact

Newsom has signed numerous executive orders implementing a variety of protections for displaced workers and small businesses impacted by the virus, including a March 12 order, which removed the waiting period for unemployment and disability insurance claims, and a March 30 order, which provided tax extensions and licensing extensions to small businesses.

Through other executive orders, Newsom has also allocated over $150 million towards worker relief, including $17.8 million from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act on April 2 and an additional $125 million on April 15, with $75 million from the fund going towards assistance for undocumented immigrants ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. 

Newsom released an additional $100 million on April 10 to support child care services and providers, particularly those that are servicing essential workers and vulnerable populations.

Given the stay at home directives and economic impact, Newsom also issued orders directing local governments to halt evictions for renters and homeowners, slow foreclosures and protect against utility shut-offs, including both electricity and water.

The state announced that they were working to procure trailers and lease hotel rooms in partnership with FEMA and counties, in order to provide for the isolation of homeless individuals who had tested positive or were otherwise at risk. 

An executive order from March 18 supplemented this initiative by providing flexibility for local governments to direct emergency homelessness funding towards solutions aimed at protecting the homeless population from COVID-19.

Supporting the Health Care System

High numbers of coronavirus patients throughout the state has led to overwhelmed medical facilities already experiencing shortages of critical items for both patient care and worker protection.

Over the last several months, Newsom has taken steps to support the burdened health care system, including the pulling of 21 million N95 face masks from emergency planning reserves, the easing of restrictions on commercial drivers “engaged in support of emergency relief efforts” to ensure greater accessibility to medical supplies and equipment and the suspension of sales taxes on certain items of personal protective equipment.

Newsom has also directed various amounts of emergency funding over the last two months to support the infrastructure of California’s health care system and protect workers through the provision of personal protective equipment. 

This has included the allocation of $42 million towards expanding the health care system through the leasing of two medical facilities and expansion of the state’s Richmond public health lab, the acquisition of new ventilators and IV fusion pumps and a contract with American Medical Response to provide patient transportation.

Newsom has also sought additional help outside the state, including the deployment of the USNS Mercy Hospital ship to the Port of Los Angeles and the launching of a new initiative called the California Health Corps, which is aimed at reaching out to other health care workers to expand the state’s workforce.

Danielle Dawson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at dmdawson@uci.edu.