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Politics

In coronavirus battle, this might be the ‘trust me’ week for Gov. Newsom

(LAT)

Political leaders are perhaps at their best when selling the public on action, on taking initiative to make things better or to do the right thing.

What you don’t hear as often from elected officials is something like this: Be patient. We can’t yet do what you want to do. Just wait a little longer.

Monday marks the beginning of the second month of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s historic stay-at-home order, the key weapon in California’s fight against the novel coronavirus. The state’s residents have followed those rules, and Newsom praises their effort at every one of his midday online briefings. But as California finds itself in the fifth straight week of the shutdown — leaving life at a virtual standstill and 3.1 million Californians out of work — the governor seems to realize the battle of this pandemic could largely be one of patience.

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“Please continue to be smart,” Newsom said during his Friday briefing. “Continue to do what you’ve done to get us to this point.”

Will Californians wait for Newsom’s six steps?

The governor’s March 19 executive order closing most businesses and urging Californians to stay home took some getting used to and has been carried out largely through social pressure, not penalties and punishment. But the weekend saw a handful of gatherings, in places like San Diego and San Clemente, where protesters demanded an easing of the restrictions.

On Saturday, one of the first local governments — Ventura County — took steps to modify its own local restrictions, to permit some businesses to reopen and some gatherings to take place.

Newsom seemed to anticipate this yearning, what he’s often called a case of “cabin fever.” Last week, he unveiled a six-step framework for evaluating when Californians can resume some of their familiar activities. It is a daunting list: reliable and expanded testing; protections for vulnerable residents; certainty for hospitals to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients; drugs to prevent or treat the virus; physical distancing rules for businesses and communities; and a plan for how to resume the lockdown if conditions worsen.

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Even so, the second-year governor seemed prepared over the weekend for protests and by President Trump’s seeming embrace of similar demands in other states.

“None of this surprises us,” Newsom said on Saturday. “You can write this script. We’ve lived through this movie. Imagine you’ll see a lot more of that. Just want to encourage people, when you practice your free speech ... just do so safely.”

But that’s not to say Newsom won’t continue to push his agenda. On Saturday, in announcing a new milestone of motel rooms secured for homeless men and women affected by the virus, the governor lashed out at the handful of cities that are seeking to block the homeless assistance program in court. “And then there are folks that just turn their backs and say it someone else’s problem. And point fingers,” he said.

Trump tweets, aides negotiate

The federal government’s response to the public health crisis unfolded on very different stages over the weekend.

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The Trump administration and congressional Democrats expressed optimism Sunday that more than $450 billion in loans and aid to Americans most affected by the coronavirus outbreak will be enacted this week, providing a measure of financial help as the U.S. death toll passes 40,000.

But the president’s actions were less linear. Here’s how Times writers Chris Megerian, Noah Bierman and Eli Stokols summed it up: “In what might have been the peak of the crisis, Trump offered contradictory and partisan messages, careening from one controversy to the next, while alternately boasting of his performance and grumbling about his media image.”

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National lighting round

Joe Biden has won Wyoming’s Democratic presidential caucus, which was postponed for two weeks and scaled back to just mail-in ballots.

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Michelle Caruso-Cabrera was once a familiar face to CNBC viewers. But the rules of campaigning in the age of coronavirus have kept the anchor-turned-candidate from taking full advantage of it.

Paul O’Neill, a former Treasury secretary who broke with President George W. Bush over tax policy and then produced a book critical of the administration, died Saturday. He was 84.

California’s essential politics

Food trucks will be allowed to operate at the 86 state rest areas in California during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide access to food for highway motorists, including truck drivers.

Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek told members of the state Senate’s budget committee on Thursday to prepare for a projected deficit of as much as $35 billion in the near future and an additional $85 billion in the fiscal years to come.

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— Newsom signed an executive order Thursday requiring food sector companies that employ 500 or more people to provide two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave for full-time workers who contract COVID-19 or are exposed to the virus and need to isolate themselves.

— Dozens of employees at state agencies, including the DMV, have been infected by COVID-19, raising fear and uncertainty in the workforce as some civil servants say the state has been slow to protect them.

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