In the first significant rollback of restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that hospitals in the Southland and across the state can resume scheduled surgical procedures that were suspended to ensure the availability of hospital beds and physicians to treat virus patients.
“We are in a position today to begin to pull back and lean in by beginning to schedule surgeries once again, throughout not only our hospital system but our broader health care delivery system,” Newsom said. “These are surgeries that, yes, are scheduled but also essential — tumors, heart valves — the need for people to get the kind of care that they deserve. If it’s delayed it becomes ultimately denied. If it’s delayed it becomes acute and that fundamentally is a health issue.”
Newsom credited the work of hospitals and health officials across the state to clear bed space and ensure they maintain capacity to respond to a surge in COVID-19 patients if one should develop. He warned, however, that if a new surge in COVID-19 cases strains hospitals, the surgical restrictions could be imposed again.
He compared the decisions on lifting restrictions to a dimmer, instead of a light switch, noting it could be turned back and forth depending on circumstance.
“If you are asking yourself, `well how can we guarantee if we’re bringing back all of these scheduled surgeries that there will be availability if we see a second wave or a large surge as we start pulling back,’ … we are monitoring that,” he said. “That’s foundational in terms again of this dimmer, not light switch, that we are advancing, recognizing that dial can be turned up or the dial can be turned back in real time.”
Despite the easing of the surgical restriction, Newsom noted that all other stay-at-home and social-distancing orders remain in place, and there is no magical date of when they will be lifted — insisting such moves will not be driven by political ideology.
“The vast majority of you, I think, recognize that decision needs to be guided on the basis of the virus and its spread,” Newsom said. “The pressure to answer that question, nonetheless, is very real. No one wants to be able to share that information more with you than I do. And I wish I could proscribe a specific date to say, well we can turn out the light switch and go back to normalcy. We have tried to make it crystal clear that there is no light switch and there is no date in terms of our capacity to provide the kind of clarity that I know so many of you demand and deserve.”
Newsom previously laid out six indicators the state will be monitoring as it decides whether to lift the health orders. In addition to hospital capacity, which was addressed in the decision regarding scheduled surgeries, the other indicators are:
— the ability to adequately expand testing and contact tracing to support people who have contracted the virus and people who have been exposed;
— a stepped-up process for preventing infections among higher-risk residents, such as the elderly or people with underlying health conditions;
— partnerships with academics to develop therapeutics or treatments;
— assurance that businesses, schools and child care facilities can safely reopen while maintaining social-distancing needs; and
— development of a plan to quickly re-institute some measures, such as stay-at-home orders, if needed after restrictions are softened.
In regard to testing, Newsom announced that 86 new testing sites across the state will be established in partnership with a pair of private laboratories, with a focus on Hispanic and black communities.
He also said roughly 1.5 million serology tests — commonly called antibody tests — will be rolled out across the state in an effort to more accurately determine the true spread of the virus by identifying people who have been infected with the illness, often without their knowledge or without developing any symptoms.
Initial results of serology testing in Los Angeles County recently determined that as many as 442,000 people in the county may have been infected — far exceeding the roughly 15,000 cases that have been confirmed through testing.
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