California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a warning Friday to one county facing a surge of new COVID-19 cases: Put your social distancing orders back into effect, or I’ll do it for you.
Imperial County, in rural Southern California, just reported a seven-day average coronavirus test positivity rate of 23% compared to the statewide rate of 5.7%.
“We obviously are at a point now where the impacts on surrounding counties and the impact on public health within the county is such that we believe it is time to dial back,” Newsom said of Imperial County, which is just east of San Diego along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We’re now in a position where we are working with county officials and advising them to pull back and once again reinstitute their stay-at-home orders,” Newsom said, adding, “If they’re not able to come to some consensus, I am committed to intervening.”
With an average case rate of 680 per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks, Imperial County has nearly seven times the case threshold the state considers safe for relaxing any social distancing orders, including business closures and limits on group gatherings. The dire situation has forced hospitals in the county to transfer more than 500 patients to hospitals in other counties over the past five weeks, Newsom said.
The governor’s warning comes as cases are rising statewide. While state health officials initially said the uptick was mostly linked to increased testing, experts are now saying the increase to nearly 200,000 cases can’t be attributed to testing alone.
Newsom, who’s set generous limits on how much counties may reopen but empowered local leaders to set stricter policies, said Friday he doesn’t plan to change his current approach. “California is not one-size-fits-all,” he said.
While statewide limits remain on mass gatherings and events, Newsom has given most businesses permission to reopen. Imperial County is among those that have allowed retailers, malls and places of worship to reopen with modifications.