After six weeks of stay-at-home restrictions, resistance erupts across California

After six weeks of forgoing work and paychecks, keeping children home from school and canceling life events big and small, Californians are growing restless with the uncertainty of when they will regain some semblance of normalcy.

From the lawn in front of the state capitol building to the streets of Huntington Beach, protests erupted Friday against the statewide stay-at-home order, which has helped slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic but also led 3.9 million Californians — or about 10% of the state’s population — to file for unemployment in less than two months.

Thousands of protesters — mostly packed into tight crowds and largely without masks — held American flags and waved signs urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to reopen the state. Although most evidence indicates their sentiments are shared by only a small minority of their fellow California residents, their passions ran strong.

“We are fighting for our freedom,” Aimee Barber, of Seal Beach, said at the protest in Huntington Beach, organized a day after the governor issued a decree to close temporarily all Orange County beaches because of concerns about the lack of social distancing there last weekend. “The beaches are as much an essential business as liquor stores.”

In Sacramento, demonstrators scuffled with California Highway Patrol officers who ordered them to disperse, getting within a few inches of the officers’ faces in some instances and calling them “traitors” for defending the state order. Officers dressed head-to-toe in riot gear used batons to push protestors away from the building, and at least three people were detained.

“I think it’s time for us to send a message to Gov. Newsom that he needs to roll back this shutdown,” protester Stefanie Fetzer, of San Clemente, told the Sacramento Bee outside the Capitol building on Friday. “We’re not advocating for people to go out and lick other people. We’re responsible adults. We can interact and be safe.”

As Newsom assured residents in a Friday press conference that California was “many days, not weeks” away from starting to reopen, Americans in nearly a dozen states across the country — including Texas, Alabama and Colorado — were beginning to resume some of their normal activities, such as returning to a gym, sitting down at a restaurant and getting a haircut. Health officials have warned that many of those states may be imperiling their residents by moving too soon.

For his part, Newsom urged residents to “hold the line” and “avoid the temptation to get back and congregate with people,” noting California’s coronavirus death toll just Thursday passed a bracing total of more than 2,000.

“If we can avoid that, then we’re going to get to the other side of this with modifications a lot quicker — and I just hope people will consider that,” he said.

Though some of Friday’s protests were sizable, a new poll released by the Berkeley Institute of Government Studies on Friday found as earlier polls have that nearly three of four Californians want the stay-home order to continue as long as it’s needed to ensure public health.

 

Still, local officials in more rural and Republican-leaning areas of the state have begun to defy Newsom’s statewide directive.

Modoc County, a rural county of just 9,000 residents tucked away in far Northern California, permitted all businesses, schools and churches to reopen on Friday, as long as people maintained six feet between one another, according to a statement from county officials. The county is one of only four in California that have not reported any cases of coronavirus.

“This reopening plan was made in the best interest of residents’ physical, mental and economic health,” said the statement, signed by officials including its health officer, sheriff-coroner and the chair of the Board of Supervisors.

In response to an executive order issued by Newsom on Thursday to close all state and local beaches in Orange County, leaders in the cities of Dana Point and Huntington Beach voted to file for an injunction to block Newsom’s newly announced directive. A judge blocked the Huntington Beach request late Friday afternoon.

The officials argue that Orange County has done a far superior job of slowing the spread of the virus compared to its neighbor L.A. County — the epicenter of the state’s coronavirus crisis — and that a trip to the beach could promote good mental health for its residents during these uncertain times. But others, like Newsom, worry that keeping the county’s beaches open when neighboring beaches are closed encourages residents across the region to flock there, as was seen last weekend.

During his daily news briefing, Newsom addressed the agitation his orders have caused by acknowledging that “we’re all impatient.”

“We’re all deeply anxious and deeply desirous to start to turn the page and turn the corner,” he said. “The data is starting to give us more confidence in our ability to begin very, very deliberative modifications in the progress of getting the guidance ready to deliver to counties, cities and regions across the state.” He promised more news on modifications next week.

Larry Gerston, public policy professor emeritus at San Jose State University, said the governor’s tone on Friday appeared to veer from his strict demeanor in recent weeks, indicating that he’s “under pressure.”

“He may never say it publicly, but actions speak louder than words, and its clear from his statements that the governor feels his options are becoming limited,” Gerston said.

Earlier this week, the governor’s office laid out a four-stage plan for letting lower-risk businesses and workplaces reopen in the next few weeks — as long as social distancing continues to push down the number of new cases. But which restrictions Newsom decides to loosen and in what areas of the state will be like “walking a tightrope,” according to Gerston.

As of Friday, more than 50,000 cases of COVID-19 had been reported across the state. Santa Clara County — the hardest hit in the Bay Area — has reached 2,179 confirmed cases of the virus and 113 deaths.

In San Francisco, 1,523 people have been diagnosed with the virus, and 28 people have died. San Mateo County has confirmed 1,197 cases and 51 deaths, Alameda County has 1,636 cases and 62 deaths, and Contra Costa County has 907 cases and 28 deaths.

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients across the state dropped 2% from Thursday to Friday, and the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in ICU beds remained stagnant, according to Newsom. The number of people under investigation for potential COVID-19 cases in the hospital and in ICU beds both declined by nearly 14% overnight, he said.

Newsom called those declines “slightly encouraging” but cautioned that “we can set all that back by making bad decisions.”

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Author: Maggie Angst

Mercury News Business