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California saw its deadliest day since the coronavirus crisis began, with 115 lives lost over the last 24 hours, Gov. Gavin Newsom said at his daily briefing Thursday.
He used the devastating figure to highlight the need for continued diligence in social distancing, especially with a week of warm weather beckoning residents to recreate outside.
The spike in the death toll represents an 8.5% jump from the previous day, bringing the number of fatalities associated with COVID-19 to more than 1,400.
As of Wednesday evening, the California Public Health Department reported nearly 35,400 confirmed cases in the state. Newsom said that number has also continued to grow — the latest count is 37,369.
"We still have more positives in this state every day," he said. "This disease continues to spread and we need to spread the word — we are all in this together."
Newsom said there was good news to share. For the first time since officials started tracking cases — and relying on them as the key metrics to assess whether the curve is flattening — he said both new hospitalizations and the number of intensive care unit patients dropped, along with the number of people being tracked for potential exposure.
Newsom has often signaled that these numbers are among the most important when it comes to determining California's ability to respond to the crisis. Confirmed COVID-19 cases are expected to rise along with the expansion in testing, but the need for critical care is stabilizing and — so far — has not exceeded the state's hospital capacity.
These totals, along with a list of six key indicators he shared last week, will determine when the state will begin easing social distancing orders and returning to some degree of normalcy.
The metrics alone, Newsom said, will determine the timeline.
"It won't be a letter I receive or a tweet," he said, noting the frustration some have expressed and the protests that are popping up across California and around the U.S. "When the indicators go green, I am going to go live."
Newsom promised he would make the announcements "in real-time" once the data signals that it's safe to begin easing restrictions.
"There is no such thing as reopening back to normal — it is normal with caveats," he said. "I assure you, I am looking forward to starting up this engine of our economy."
New debt-relief programs to help with financial hardship from COVID-19
Acknowledging the financial hardship and anxiety caused by the coronavirus crisis — and the need for the continued social distancing orders that have sent California into a recession — Newsom announced new programs aimed to relieve pressure on debt-ridden residents.
First, a new 90-day student loan forbearance will become available to the 1.1 million Californians with academic debts, without any risk of impact to credit scores or increases in fees or fines.
Along with that program, Newsom signed an executive order Thursday ensuring that federal stimulus funds received through the CARES Act cannot be garnished by debt collectors. The order applies retroactively, so money already taken by collectors will have to be given back.
"No debt collector can take those direct payments in the state of California any longer," Newsom said.
The move, he added, advances "a principle that is appropriate under the economic circumstance." But there is a caveat: "If you owe child care, spousal support, this does not apply for you," he said.
Economic hardship in the state has surged since Newsom issued shelter-in-place orders. As of March 15, 3.9 million individuals have applied for unemployment insurance, Newsom said.
California has doled out roughly $4 billion, but many residents are still waiting for their checks. More than 530,000 people filed new unemployment claims in the week ending on April 18 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
To keep up with the increases in need, the Employment Development Department has redeployed 1,300 staffers to process unemployment insurance claims and opened a new call center with hours expanded from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., every day of the week.
Newsom said officials are in the process of adding hundreds more staff to help the department.
"Everybody is coming together not just to increase points of access," he said, "but the quality of access."
Gabrielle Canon is a California reporter for the USA Today Network. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GabrielleCanon.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus in California: State sees deadliest day, even as COVID-19 cases stabilize