As coronavirus hospitalizations stabilize in OC and statewide, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday outlined what he described as his strategy for eventually loosening stay-at-home orders that remain in effect statewide.

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The restrictions will gradually loosen based on six goals, starting with expanding testing capabilities to make it safer for people to return to work, Newsom said at a noon press conference.

The first rounds of loosening are still weeks away, with officials wanting to first see a sustained drop in new hospitalizations before doing so, according to the governor. He cautioned that a full return to “normal” will not happen until a vaccine is in place, which could be a year or more away.

He credited the public with slowing the virus’ spread, and saving lives, by following the stay-at-home orders.

“Millions of you, because you have practiced distancing, the stay at home orders, you have bent the curve in the state of California. The models have changed because of your behavior,” Newsom said.

“It will not be a permanent state,” he added of the social distancing rules. “We recognize the consequences of these stay-at-home orders have a profound impact on the economy, your personal household budget, your personal prospects around your future.”

Loosening will be done carefully and based on science to avoid another surge in cases, Newsom said. And even when the stay at home orders are changed, he said, many businesses that re-open will be expected to implement social distancing for the foreseeable future until a vaccine is deployed.

“Normal it will not be, at least until we have herd immunity and we have a vaccine,” the governor said.

Re-opening businesses too quickly could trigger another surge in cases that puts the economy at further risk, he added.

Following weeks of sheltering at home, COVID-19 hospitalizations have stabilized in Orange County at about 100 to 120 people per day, with about 50 to 60 people in intensive care for the disease each day.

Statewide, about 1,177 people were in intensive care for COVID-19 as of Monday, Newsom said.

The governor, rather than the county, ultimately controls when and how the stay-at-home orders are lifted because he issued them, according to Orange County officials.

At their regular public meeting Tuesday morning, county supervisors and health staff said expanding the currently-limited testing abilities will be key for re-opening parts of the economy.

“The worst thing we can do is basically lift restrictions and next thing we know, we have huge surge in cases and our health care system gets overwhelmed,” said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.

“I know we really want to ramp up the testing,” she added. “Also I think the antibody tests are really critical as well, because that will tell us those who have been infected in the past” and who has immunity.

County officials also took note that Orange County is behind other large counties in testing per capita, following a Voice of OC report last week that similar-sized San Diego County has done about 80 percent more COVID tests than Orange County.

“When we look at other jurisdictions, like say LA [County]. Yesterday they reported doing 6,000 tests in one day. We have done, what? A total of 12,870 in the last month and a half. I don’t understand,” Supervisor Andrew Do said at Tuesday’s meeting.

County staff said they plan to provide a report to supervisors next week on what they would need to expand testing in Orange County.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

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