Rep. Devin Nunes calls California closures overkill, contradicting health officials and experts

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Republican Congressman Devin Nunes criticized California’s strict social distancing restrictions and stay-at-home rules and said people needed to get back to work soon to prevent more economic distress.

“The schools were just canceled out here in California, which is way overkill,” Nunes said. “It’s possible kids could have gone back to school in two weeks, four weeks.”

Nunes said he was optimistic about a vaccine for the virus being developed and that the nation needed to focus on getting people back to work over the next week or two weeks. “I don’t believe we can wait until the end of April,” he said.


Nunes’ comments on Fox News conflict with urgent guidance from local, state and federal governments as well as from medical experts who say the restrictions on movement are essential to slowing the virus and preventing many deaths.

On Tuesday, one California health official said the state faced 5,000 coronavirus deaths a week if the state’s stay-at-home policies were relaxed too early.

Some health officers in California said there were early signs that the shelter-in-place order was working. Dr. Chris Farnitano, health officer for Contra Costa County, says California’s coronavirus death toll has been about 10% of New York’s.

Some California officials said the stay-at-home orders would remain in place until at least May. But Nunes said that was too late.

“I will tell you this: If we don’t start to get people back to work in this country over the next week to two weeks, I don’t believe we can wait until the end of April,” he told Fox News. “I just don’t know of any economy that’s ever survived or you unplug the entire economy and expect things to go back and be normal.”

Meanwhile, Santa Clara County’s health officer, Dr. Sara Cody, said Tuesday that she was seeing a bit of slowing in the number of COVID-19 cases, although she added that she was speaking cautiously.


“The sacrifice that everyone has made, I believe it is starting to bend the curve. But it’s not enough, and it hasn’t been in place for long enough,” Cody said at a news conference. “So we need to keep at it. We just need to keep at it. I believe it’s beginning to make a difference, and it’s giving our hospitals more time.”

At a Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, officials spoke at length about ways to curb the effects of the virus. County parks were closed, and fees for patients who visit a doctor for COVID-19-related symptoms have been waived. The county also secured four motels to house vulnerable members of the homeless population.

The message from Dr. Robert Levin, the county’s public health officer, was grim: Ventura County could see as many as 1,000 people die from COVID-19 if efforts to flatten the curve were relaxed too early.

“The actions we’re taking we hope will curtail that and diminish that significantly,” said Levin, who cautioned that what health officials were up against with the novel coronavirus would not be like what they saw with influenza, which killed 49 people in the county two years ago.