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Scripps Health CEO reacts to Newsom's guidelines for reopening California economy, calls for adequate PPE

"Shame on us as a society if we reopen before we can give these heroes that assurance," said the CEO.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Shedding some light on when Southland and California residents might see relief from coronavirus stay-at-home orders, Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday outlined indicators that will need to be met before such a move is considered -- such as increasing testing capacity and ensuring protection for at-risk people.

After Newsom's announcement, Scripps CEO and President, Chris Van Gorder, voiced his concerns and argued that healthcare workers require proper PPE before any restrictions can be relaxed in California.

Newsom unveiled six such indicators that the state will strive to meet before it will even think about rolling back the strict social-distancing, business-closure and stay-at-home mandates. With so many goals in mind, Newsom offered no specifics on when any of the mandates will be lifted or softened, only saying the indicators provide a framework for how the decision will be made.

"I know you want a timeline but we can't get ahead of ourselves," Newsom said. "... Let's not make a mistake by pulling the plug too early."

The six goals Newsom cited were:

-- the ability to adequately expand testing and contact tracing to support people who have contracted the virus and people who have been exposed;

-- a stepped-up process for preventing infections among higher-risk residents, such as the elderly or people with underlying health conditions;

-- assurance that hospitals are prepared to handle surges in patients;

-- partnerships with academics to develop therapeutics or treatments;

-- assurance that businesses, schools and child care facilities can safely reopen while maintaining social-distancing needs; and

-- development of a plan to quickly re-institute some measures, such as stay-at-home orders, if needed after restrictions are softened.

Scripps Health released the following open letter Tuesday afternoon from Chris Van Gorder, responding to California's plan.

"For health care providers – the physicians, nurses, technicians and support teams, the COVID-19 pandemic is their 9-11. It’s their Pearl Harbor. For the first responders, this is a new kind of 9-11. But whatever the cause, the first responders are still running in while others run out. This time, though, they are joined by our committed health care providers," said Van Gorder in the letter.

Van Gorder thanked healthcare workers for their tireless work during this pandemic, then raised questions about cautiously reopening California's economy.

"There are troubling stories coming out of Baja, Mexico that indicate that our neighbors to the south have not been as successful as we have been in flattening the COVID curve, and we know that many people still cross the border every day for economic and personal reasons. Scripps has many employees who live in Mexico and we are concerned for them. This could be an issue for a border community like San Diego.

We know human behavior. Once we start to ease restrictions, people will start to interface more in public and we could very likely see another spike in patients – thus making the success to date a moot point and a wasted effort.

And we still do not have the medical supplies necessary to treat patients in a surge, nor do we have a reliable source of resupply for hospital protective equipment for our staff and physicians."

Van Gorder said it's critical that healthcare workers continuously have the PPE they need to do their jobs throughout this transition.

"So, I propose that the trigger to relax regulations and reopen society be when we are sure that our health care providers have all of the personal protective gear they need," said Van Gorder. "Shame on us as a society if we reopen before we can give these heroes that assurance."

Newsom has said he is working with his counterparts in other western states to develop the framework for a possible relieving of restrictions that require people to remain home as much as possible and keep non-essential businesses shuttered. He said he recognizes the economic impact on business that cannot open and residents who cannot work, but he insisted it is too early to develop a timeline of when conditions will ease.

You can read Van Gorder's full letter here.

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