SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom relaxed coronavirus restrictions in five more counties on Tuesday, clearing the way for restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and churches to resume indoor activities with fewer people and other modifications.
The change applies to Amador, Orange, Placer, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Newsom says seven other counties are being considered for an upgrade. Tuesday’s announcement means the state has now eased restrictions for more than 8 million people living in three of the state’s most populous counties — San Diego, Orange and Santa Clara.
While California is averaging more than 100,000 tests per day, an average of just 3.8% of people tested positive for the virus over the past week. Hospitalizations are down 24% over the past two weeks.
“If those appear to be promising numbers, it’s because they are,” Newsom said.
But his administration is still taking it slow, making its decisions on week-old data and requiring counties to meet benchmarks for two consecutive weeks before being upgraded. It’s part of the lessons learned from the spring, when the state saw a similar decline in numbers only to have a surge of new cases after Memorial Day.
“We’re confident that going slow and stringent is going to be the way that carries us forward and ensures that we don’t move back,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top public health official.
Pressure is growing for Newsom to move faster to reopen more sectors of the economy, especially as the state suffers from massive wildfires that make the air quality so poor people have to stay inside at a time when the only recreation available is outdoors.
As of Tuesday, 33 of the state’s 58 counties are listed in the top tier of the state’s coronavirus tracking system, a designation that bans most indoor activities, including churches. On Sunday, about 3,000 people attended an outdoor worship service at the state Capitol dubbed “Let Us Worship.”
The California Highway Patrol, which controls access to the capitol grounds, said it issued a permit for the event because the organizer said he was expecting between 500 and 1,000 people. It was enough to convince officers that “proper physical distancing could be achieved” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
But on Sunday, about 3,000 people attended the event. The Highway Patrol noted most who attended “failed to socially distance,” despite reminders from both a permit officer on site and Sean Feucht, who hosted the event. He describes himself on his website as “a missionary, artist, speaker, author, activist and founder of multiple worldwide movements.”
In a statement, the Highway Patrol said it did not break up the event in part because it would have required too many officers and taken too much time to safely disperse a crowd of that size.
Tuesday, Newsom said he was waiting for more information about the event. But he urged people to follow public health guidelines when holding large events.
“Spread of this disease is not helped to have thousands and thousands of people not practicing physical distnacing, not wearing masks,” Newsom said. “Quite literally someone could lose their lives. And I know that’s not the intent of anyone who organizes these events, but it may be the outcome.”
The coronavirus in Sacramento County is listed as “widespread,” putting it in the highest risk category for the spread of the disease that has infected nearly 738,000 people statewide and killed more than 13,700. State public health guidance allows for outdoor worship services in counties designated as “widespread,” but with modifications to slow the spread of the disease.
Shannon Grove, the Republican leader in the state Senate, attended the event less than two weeks after being exposed to the coronavirus by a colleague who had tested positive. Public health guidelines say people exposed to the virus should isolate for two weeks, even if they test negative for the disease.
Grove’s office did not respond to a request for comment.