MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
California led the nation in telling its citizens stay home. Well, the health benefits of going first are undeniable, but the economic cost of being first to issue a statewide stay-at-home order has taken the form of a $54 billion budget shortfall. Yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom loosened the benchmarks that counties need to meet to open up, and parts of California are coming back to life.
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GAVIN NEWSOM: Bottom line is people can go at their own pace, and we are empowering our local health directors and county officials that understand their local communities and conditions better than any of us.
KELLY: Here to talk more about how California is trying to balance economic and public health needs is the governor, Democrat Gavin Newsom.
Governor, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
NEWSOM: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
KELLY: So these new benchmarks that you have rolled out mean almost every county in your state, with a few exceptions, Los Angeles being a big one, but almost every county can now move to the next phase of reopening. And my first question to you is, why now when confirmed cases of COVID-19 in your state are still going up by thousands a day?
NEWSOM: Yeah, because we've seen stability. We never experienced the peaks that many other parts of the country experienced. And we're seeing not only stability, but we're seeing a decline over a two-week extended period of hospitalizations, the number of patients in our ICUs. And while you're correct, we're seeing total number of positive cases rise, we're also seeing exponential increase in testing. And what I mean by that, a month ago, we were doing about 2,000 tests a day. We've been averaging north of 40,000 tests per day. And our ratio of positives to total tests has also been stable for many, many weeks.
KELLY: To quote some of your own words back at you, though, you have said testing is not yet where it needs to be. You have said California needs three times as many contact tracers as you have. I mean, how nervous are you about being able to reopen and that the virus is contained enough to keep Californians safe?
NEWSOM: Well, not only have we exponentially increased testing, and we're seeing increases that are growing by thousands every single day and well on our way to...
KELLY: But growing does not mean it's where it needs to be.
NEWSOM: Yeah, very close to where we need to be. We're within couple weeks of being at scale in the aggregate. And, again, we're talking about opening up regions of the state that don't live in the aggregate. And so there are testing requirements of each of those counties that are required of those counties to a test to before they can move into this phase. So this is a data-driven approach, and deep progress has been made, not only in the testing but also in the tracing. We have now over 3,000 trained professional tracers throughout the state of California.
KELLY: Let me turn you to that $54 billion deficit. Your office is also projecting maybe as high as 25% unemployment this quarter, a quarter of Californians out of work. Those are hard numbers to wrap your head around. What will you cut?
NEWSOM: Well, those are Depression-era numbers, and they're numbers that you'll see across this country by some estimates, and Jerome Powell testified on this today. This has been the biggest shock we've seen in living memory and he's talking...
KELLY: Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Fed.
NEWSOM: Yeah - talking in terms of 20-plus percent unemployment, so by no means unique to California, though the shock to the system here has produced, just since March 12, 4.8 million people filing for unemployment insurance. The system has also been shocked as you correctly reference with a $54.3 billion budget deficit. We are going to do everything in our power to protect the most vulnerable and do our best to protect public health and public safety and significantly do our best to address public education. But we can't do that alone without the federal government's support - not as charity but as social responsibility to help meet the needs of millions and millions of Americans.
KELLY: You're referencing the ask that your task force has made to the federal government for $1 trillion in direct relief for state and local governments. Have you gotten an answer? Have you gotten any indication how receptive Washington might be to that request?
NEWSOM: Well, overwhelmingly so, not only was there an answer, there was action by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in the House. Look, I'm not naive. They moved a package forward well north of that but well within the frame. But, clearly...
KELLY: Which the Senate does not appear in a rush to take up. Go on.
NEWSOM: Yeah, correct. And so the reality is we have to continue to put up the pressure. And I think what's significant is the pressure is not just coming from states and from local electeds (ph) or statewide electeds but in this case from some of the most well-known icons in the business community - Bob Iger of Disney, Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, 91 members of our economic task force. It's a remarkable distillation of some of the best and the brightest minds that happen to be Californians all from an economic prism making the same case that cities and counties and states are making from a budgetary perspective.
KELLY: I have to ask, if that money is not forthcoming or if it doesn't come soon, again, to my question, I mean, there are painful cuts in the future for your state.
NEWSOM: Across the board and across the country. I don't think there is a state that will be spared. Now, many states are in a position like California where we have historic reserves, but you're correct. There will have to be cuts. We're trying to do our best to spare, again, those cuts against the most vulnerable. And that's why it's so foundational and fundamental that we get support from the federal government to focus on public health, public safety and to help support our public education system.
KELLY: That is California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, joining us from Sacramento. Governor, thanks so much for your time.
NEWSOM: Great to be with you.
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