Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday he's willing to work with Kern County and other large counties that face unique circumstances after local leaders raised issues with some of his administration's reopening requirements.
"There's a lot of really interesting nuance within these large counties and that obviously needs to be taken into account," Newsom said during his daily news conference. "We're going to be as flexible as we possibly can, as long as the public health officials are guiding us through this with your health and the community's broader health always front and center in terms of those decisions and determinations."
Newsom said he'd spoken with state Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, Monday morning about Kern's concerns. Grove said she reached out to the governor to explain how "vast and unique and different" Kern County is, with roughly 900,000 people in an 8,000-square-mile area that includes mountains, desert and a valley region.
Grove said she supported the governor's original stay-at-home orders but feels the virus is not impacting Kern as seriously as places like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"When the data starts coming out and it’s not materializing you have to start pushing in another direction," Grove said.
The California Department of Public Health released criteria last week that counties must meet to obtain a regional variance to move through the phases of reopening faster. From an ability to shelter 15 percent of homeless individuals to having a minimum daily testing volume of 1.5 tests per 1,000 residents, the guidelines are meant to measure a county’s ability to respond to a coronavirus outbreak after businesses begin returning to normal.
Kern County is ready to meet the guidelines on nearly all the state’s requirements, except two, according to County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop.
The state says counties cannot move deeper into Stage 2 if a coronavirus-related death has occurred within the last two weeks, or the ratio of coronavirus cases exceeds more than 1 case per 10,000 residents over the same time period. Kern doesn't meet either of those parameters but meets all others, according to Alsop.
"The county seeks the state’s immediate review and modification of its recently issued epidemiologic stability guidance, and strongly encourages the state to place priority emphasis on testing, containment and hospital capacity as the determining factors in granting increased local flexibility and latitude in reopening," Alsop said by email Monday.
Alsop has pointed out that Kern County’s coronavirus statistics are complicated by the COVID-19 outbreak at Kingston Healthcare Center, a 184-bed skilled nursing facility in metro Bakersfield that's accounts for nine of the county's 15 coronavirus deaths. The facility also had more than 100 positive cases among residents and healthcare workers as of Monday, Kern County Director of Public Health Services Matt Constantine said.
"We'd like to see a little bit of evolution on this," Alsop said. "We're mostly rural. What's happening in Bakersfield or the metro Bakersfield area is not what's happening a two-hour drive from here in Ridgecrest."
Grove said she raised those points with the governor.
Newsom seemed to push back somewhat on the suggestion that skilled nursing facilities like Kingston should somehow be considered apart from what's happening in a county.
"Staff are members of our communities, staff live in the cities where these operate," he said, saying the cases are not just isolated to the facilities.
Newsom said his administration had conversations with 19 counties over the weekend about plans to reopen earlier and would talk with more on Monday.
"We are part of those conversations," Alsop said, "and look forward to more."