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Politics

Newsletter: With the coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom finds a crisis that changes by the hour

Essential Politics
(LAT)

Inside the suburban Sacramento offices of the state’s Office of Emergency Services, there are 13 task forces that have been assembled to focus on varying aspects of the rapidly evolving novel coronavirus crisis.

Their mission was summed up, it seemed, in a single sentence spoken by Gov. Gavin Newsom in a briefing on Sunday.

“We need to anticipate spread, but we also need to prioritize our focus,” he said. In any state, that would be a tall task. In one as sprawling and diverse as California, it’s a challenge of historic proportions.

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As we are finding, the crisis is changing by the hour. And in the middle of it all, a debate between the top two Democratic challengers to President Trump. Events in the world of politics seem to be whizzing by at light speed.

Coronavirus decisions: state government

“We need to meet this moment aggressively,” Newsom said on Sunday as he asked Californians age 65 and older to put themselves into isolation and told bars and pubs they should close their doors.

But Newsom didn’t describe any of those actions as an official order. And he offered even more careful language when it came to restaurants, asking owners to practice “deep social distancing” by cutting the occupancy of their dining rooms in half. A similar but apparently more sweeping order — ordering bars to close and forcing restaurants to halt dine-in service — was made in Los Angeles on Sunday night by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The directive to older Californians carries huge life changes. That goes, too, for their younger relatives. As Newsom put it on Sunday: “People should conduct themselves around their grandparents as if they have it.”

On Friday, the governor promised financial help for school closures affecting as many as 85% of the state’s public school population — but he stopped short of issuing a statewide shutdown, a stance different than those taken by governors in other U.S. states and one he reaffirmed in comments to reporters on Sunday.

As Monday began, California officials said there were 335 confirmed cases of people contracting the COVID-19 virus and 8,316 total tests that have been administered.

And late Sunday, in the wake of the latest developments and frustrations expressed on social media by staff members and lobbyists, the Legislature began taking steps to pause activities under the state Capitol dome.

Coronavirus decisions: federal government

While California and other states took action to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases, the Centers for Disease Control urged Americans to avoid the kind of crowd you’d find in a small coffee shop — 50 people — for close to two months.

A change, too, in monetary policy: The Federal Reserve slashed interest rates Sunday to nearly zero and predicted a significant hit to the U.S. economy.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said he was open to the idea of a 14-day nationwide shutdown. “I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” he said.

The weekend ended on a relatively quiet note for Trump after he urged less air travel and, according to the White House, tested negative for the coronavirus.

“The President remains symptom-free,” said the memo from his physician, Sean P. Conley.

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Coronavirus roundup

— The House approved legislation early Saturday to provide direct relief to Americans suffering physically, financially and emotionally from the coronavirus pandemic.

— Georgia’s March 24 presidential primaries will be postponed until May because of COVID-19 fears, state election officials announced Saturday, a day after Louisiana also pushed back its primaries.

— Trump’s Interior secretary downplayed coronavirus concerns last week. Two days later, he praised Trump’s “decisive” response.

— Recognizing the health risks of such activity during the coronavirus outbreak, six of California’s largest card clubs and one Native American casino said Saturday that they plan to temporarily close their doors.

— With coronavirus cases multiplying rapidly and the financial implications becoming increasingly clear for low-income workers, the city of Los Angeles will consider a temporary ban on evictions amid calls for a similar moratorium for all of California.

— Already alarmed that California is falling short in issuing Real IDs to millions who need them, state lawmakers now worry the efforts will be further hampered by the coronavirus outbreak, discouraging people from visiting crowded DMV field offices.

Sunday debate: Biden vs. Sanders

And in the middle of all of the health concerns being addressed by elected officials across the country, the weekend ended with a reminder of what we all thought would be big political news: the first head-to-head debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

It certainly wasn’t lost on anyone that both the Democrats vying to challenge Trump are septuagenarians. (As is the president.)

The televised debate saw a few notable headlines. Biden promised to select a woman as his vice presidential running mate should he win the nomination, and he promised to end the deportation of those in the U.S. illegally.

Or as Mark Z. Barabak and Melanie Mason put it in their quick recap of the event, “It wasn’t tea for two. It wasn’t landmines and firefights and all-out political warfare, either.”

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