San Diego mayor urges Newsom to let counties decide when to reopen, calls governor's plan 'not realistic'

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San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and County Chairman Greg Cox are urging California Gov. Gavin Newsom to give the city and county more leeway in deciding when certain businesses can reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that some of the governor’s mandates “are not realistic” and will mean major parts of the state’s economy remain shut down indefinitely.

While acknowledging that Newsom’s stay-at-home order in mid-March helped keep the number of COVID-19 cases down and assured that the state’s health care systems were not overwhelmed, Faulconer said the current phase approach to reopening the economy is confusing and that the metrics communities have to meet before certain businesses can reopen are not feasible for large counties such as San Diego.

“Our message is clear: San Diego is ready to safely and strategically reopen,” Faulconer, a Republican, told Fox News. “We are urging the governor to let us do so.”

Faulconer added: “We need some flexibility here, not a ‘one size fits all’ policy.”

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Newsom, a Democrat, last month unveiled a four-stage system for fully reopening the state, and he announced last week that some businesses in the state could reopen on Friday, with restrictions. Newsom’s phased-in plan allows clothing stores, sporting goods, florists and other retailers to resume operations with curbside pickup.

The next stage could be months away and include opening hair salons, gyms, movie theaters and allowing in-person church services. Stage 4 would be the end of all restrictions and resumption of high-risk activities such as concerts and sports competitions with fans.

Dining in at restaurants and office reopenings are still prohibited, and for counties to move beyond this stage they will have to meet a series of benchmarks.

One of those benchmarks, which Faulconer has said is unrealistic, is for counties to not have recorded a COVID-19 death in the last 14 days.

“Most of the counties in California won’t be able to meet that,” he said. “We’re hoping to help change the conversation about that because this is not just a San Diego County issue.”

Newsom’s office did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment, but the governor acknowledged last week during a press briefing that changes to reopenings could come at different times in different places, while adding that protecting public health remains paramount when reducing restrictions.

As of Tuesday, California has more than 67,900 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 2,770 deaths with the number of new cases still rising and falling on a daily basis.

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Faulconer said reducing the number of new infections and deaths is paramount but contends that the state also needs to be concerned with the financial impact the virus is having on the world’s fifth-largest economy. Newsom announced last week that since the start of the pandemic, the state’s budget has dropped from a $21 billion surplus to a $54 billion deficit -- and Newsom warned on Monday that unemployment figures in the state “will be north of 20 percent.”

“We have to get to get back to work,” Faulconer said. “Protecting public health and the economy are not mutually exclusive things.”

San Diego County may be the largest municipality to balk at Newsom’s cautious phased reopening plan, but it is far from the most defiant.

Modoc County -- a rural, conservative area near California’s border with Oregon -- was the first to defy Newsom’s restrictions by announcing that it would allow bars, restaurants and churches to reopen earlier this month. The small community of about 9,600 people has so far reported zero cases of COVID-19.

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Two other counties, Yuba and Sutter, followed Modoc’s lead and announced Friday that they would begin reopening certain businesses on Monday.

“COVID-19 is dangerous and scary but it is not the only health issue,” Phuong Luu, who serves as the health officer for the two adjacent counties, said in a press release. “We cannot wait for a vaccine without seeing extreme economic damage done to our community. The consequences of waiting will be additional health concerns brought on by stress and the very real dilemma for those with limited resources whether to buy life-saving food or life-saving medicines.”

Unlike Modoc, Yuba and Sutter are fairly large counties -- totaling around 170,000 residents combined -- and each has reported dozens of COVID-19 cases. They also border Sacramento County and are about a 15-mile drive to downtown Sacramento.

Faulconer told Fox News that he doesn’t see a situation like those up north in the state happening in San Diego, but he hopes that Newsom will allow metrics for reopening “that make sense.”

“Let’s put a plan in place,” he said. “People are going to follow the rules, they just want to know what the rules are.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.