The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has prompted a clash between President Donald Trump and many U.S. governors, who’ve imposed orders that have forced the vast majority of Americans into their homes and shuttered non-essential businesses — a dynamic that has played out between Trump and the leader of the most populous state, Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
In a newly released interview, taped on April 7, Quibi CEO and Republican fundraiser Meg Whitman praised the coronavirus response of Newsom, who issued a stay-at-home order in California on March 19, making his state one of the first to do so.
“I think California has done a good job here,” says Whitman, who ran as a Republican candidate for governor of California in 2010 but supported Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy in 2016. “You’re starting to see the flattening of the curve.”
“I think Gavin Newsom has stepped up — created a sense of urgency really early on, got people to shelter in place. I think that’s actually working, the hospital facilities here are not yet overwhelmed, and maybe won’t be,” adds Whitman, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard (HP) who now leads Quibi, a streaming platform focused on short-form programming that launched on April 6.
‘You have to listen to the health care professionals’
On Tuesday, Trump said he was near a plan to end the coronavirus shutdown and restore the ailing U.S. economy, noting that some parts of the effort could go into effect before May. Meanwhile, Newsom on Tuesday announced a plan to reopen the economy in coordination with other West Coast states; and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said a day before that he would work with six nearby states on a reopening plan.
Trump said on Monday that the president has “total authority” to relax restrictions imposed by governors on their states; but on Tuesday he appeared to back down from the sentiment, saying “the governors are responsible” and “have to take charge.”
For his part, Newsom on Tuesday unveiled a list of indicators he’s watching as he weighs when to loosen restrictions, including the capacity to test and trace infections as well as plans to ensure social distancing in schools and workplaces.
“The prospects of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” Newsom said at a news conference.
Whitman made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
She said public officials should prioritize health care needs over financial recovery when weighing decisions to relax stay-at-home measures.
“I know everyone is anxious to get back to work — there’s no question the economic cost here is enormous,” Whitman says. “But it’s most important, in my view, how do we save lives.”
“You have to listen to the health care professionals and the scientists and say, what’s the right thing to do for the health of our people, and then, you know, then try to figure out how we’re going to come out of this once that is well under control,” Whitman adds.
An economic recovery will ultimately become paramount, once it’s safe for businesses to reopen, Whitman said.
“This will eventually come to a point where people can go back to work, but I think you have to keep people safe, first and foremost,” she says.
As of Friday morning, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose to more than 670,000, as the worldwide total surpassed 2.1 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of people diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. has grown dramatically since March 1, when there were roughly 100 confirmed cases.
Asked by Serwer about who she will endorse in the 2020 presidential election, Whitman declined to comment but said she’ll announce her preference at a later time.
“I try to stay out of politics now that I’m at Quibi,” she says. “When we get a little closer to the time, I’m sure I’ll come forward with who I’m going to support.”