May 1, 2020 / 10:53 PM / a month ago

California governor says coronavirus easing 'days away' as protesters throng beach

SACRAMENTO, Calif., May 1 (Reuters) - California is days away from announcing a meaningful loosening of its coronavirus-related restrictions, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday, as protesters sneaked on to closed beaches and crowded the lawn outside the state Capitol in Sacramento.

Newsom hinted that restaurants would soon be allowed to re-open for table service with some restrictions, and promised additional relief as stay-at-home orders in place since March 19 wore on residents’ nerves and pocketbooks.

“Know that I am looking forward to answering your call and addressing your anxiety,” Newsom said in his daily press briefing. “We’re not turning our backs to those concerns.”

The enormous pressure on states to reopen, despite a lack of wide-scale virus testing and other safeguards urged by health experts, was highlighted in Labor Department data on Thursday showing some 30 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits since March 21.

In Georgia, nearly every business was free to reopen on Friday after being shut for weeks, and about half of U.S. states were edging toward a partial lifting of shutdowns. Texas and Ohio also pushed ahead on Friday with a phased relaxation of their restrictions.

In California, most restrictions on commercial and social activity remain in place. But residents’ impatience was beginning to show.

On Friday, a conservative legal group went to court to stop an order by Newsom to close all beaches in Southern California’s Orange County, a onetime Republican stronghold where Democrats narrowly won three seats in Congress in 2018. In Huntington Beach, the city voted Thursday to sue over the closure.

In Modoc county in northern California, officials allowed businesses to reopen on Friday as long as all workers and customers adhere to guidelines that include social distancing and frequent hand-washing.

Newsom said he respected the rights of protesters and said he would rely on local law enforcement to manage crowds and decide whether to cite beachgoers.

Newsom said he expected to announce a loosening of some restrictions statewide in “days not weeks,” but only if people continued to mostly shelter at home so that the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 continues to flatten and ultimately declines.

The virus killed 91 people in California in the past 24 hours, bringing the state’s total deaths to more than 2,000 Newsom said. The number of cases in California topped 50,000.

Nationwide, the number of known infections climbed to well over 1 million, including nearly 64,000 deaths, exceeding the tally of American war dead from all the years of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

Reporting Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Leslie Adler

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