Newsom, coming under fire, ramps up enforcement and adds counties to watchlist

Gov. Gavin Newsom, facing criticism he opened up the state economy too soon, said Monday the state will expand monitoring of counties hard-hit by the virus after cracking down on restaurants and bars ignoring restrictions over the Fourth of July weekend.

As coronavirus hospitalizations continue to rise, Newsom said that state agents from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control visited close to 6,000 restaurants and bars during the holiday weekend. In addition, officials from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health contacted 440,000 other businesses to ensure they heeded the tougher restrictions on indoor activities for most of the state.

Most of those establishments were in the 23 California counties now on the state's coronavirus watchlist, including counties in Southern California and the Bay Area, all of which showed alarming increases in key public health metrics, including hospitalizations and community transmission.

"We have not lost our energy, our capacity, our focus, our determination, our desire to do what we did at the outset of this pandemic, and that's to bend the curve to tame this growth to mitigate the spread of this disease," Newsom said during his COVID-19 briefing in Sacramento on Monday. "We'll deal with these hot spots."

The rate at which coronavirus tests in California are coming back positive has jumped 39% over the last two weeks, Newsom said.

On Sunday, the state recorded 5,790 patients with confirmed coronavirus infections in California hospitals — an increase of 50% over the previous two weeks. On June 22, the number was 3,868. The number of intensive care unit patients statewide with confirmed coronavirus infections is up 39% over the last two weeks.

Contra Costa County, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and rural Colusa County, northwest of Sacramento, were added Sunday to the list of regions being monitored for their rising case counts and increased hospitalizations. Marin, Monterey and San Diego counties joined the list Thursday.

The changes come amid growing concern about Newsom's response to the outbreak, including sometimes-harsh critiques in the San Jose Mercury News and the Sacramento Bee in recent days.

"Newsom’s leadership has fallen woefully short," the Mercury News said in an editorial. "In the weeks ahead, we will see how short as the rising number of cases in California are followed by commensurate increases in hospitalizations and then deaths."

State Sen. Steven Glazer (D-Orinda) said Newsom reopened the state too quickly, squandering the gains made in slowing the virus with Newsom's first-in-the-nation stay-at-home order issued in mid-March.

"The heart of this problem was Newsom’s decision on May 8 to allow counties to accelerate the reopening by meeting certain benchmarks," Glazer said in an opinion article in the Sacramento Bee. "That decision came when the state’s infection rate was not declining and we had little information about how people were getting infected, despite being sheltered in place for 60 days."

Newsom on Monday refuted that, saying reopening the state could be done safely — as long as safeguards were in place and Californians abided by restrictions announced by the state and local governments, while looking after the safety of themselves and their loved ones by wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently and keeping a safe distance from non-family members.

"Can you safely reopen? I believe you can, but with enforcement and with individual responsibility," Newsom said. "We set those expectations. We focused on how to responsibly reopen certain sectors of the economy. And now it's incumbent upon all of us to not only monitor that but to enforce those rules and regulations. It's exactly what we're doing."