How California lost control of the pandemic

Jul 13, 2020 | Cal Matters

Good morning, California. It’s Monday, July 13.

From model to not-so-model state

Gov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference in the state capitol following the first COVID-19 death in California. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMattersGov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference in the state capitol following the first COVID-19 death in California. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Gov. Newsom at a press conference in the state Capitol following the first COVID-19 death in California. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

About two months after Gov. Gavin Newsom began easing California’s stay-at-home order — the country’s first, which cemented the Golden State as a national model — the state is monitoring 31 of 58 counties for concerning coronavirus trendlines. Bars and indoor restaurants are closing back down. Testing has re-emerged as a massive challenge. And hospitalizations have more than doubled since early June.

What went wrong? 

One big factor is that many Californians haven’t been wearing masks and avoiding crowds, UCSF professor of medicine Robert Wachter argues in the Atlantic. There was inconsistent messaging around masks, and when Newsom ordered all Californians to wear them, numerous county sheriffs said they wouldn’t enforce the order

Enforcement generally has been a major hurdle, in part because of confusing and mixed messaging. For example, the state abruptly told Alameda County on Friday it was no longer allowed to offer outdoor dining. Many frustrated businesses don’t plan to comply. (A similar fiasco happened last week in Santa Clara County.) 

  • Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci: “I can’t help feeling sometimes that our residents wonder what in the world we’re doing, and this is a good example when we don’t always have the information either.”

Another factor: The state never got a handle on the disease, because it failed to provide adequate testing from day one, a Los Angeles Times investigation reveals

Newsom is set to unveil a new testing strategy today that includes increased testing in local labs and hospitals. But many of these systems also face a dearth of supplies, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports

  • Dr. David Witt, Kaiser Permanente’s national infectious disease leader: “There are not enough machines and equipment in existence to meet the current national and global need for diagnostic testing. … It is highly likely that testing will continue to be a challenge, one that is likely to get worse before it improves.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 320,804 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,017 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.


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Other stories you should know

1. As schools delay in-person classes, concerns over live instruction emerge

Teacher Jessica DeAnda, left, instructs Liz Valdez, 11, center, as Kayla Torres, 11, right, works on her laptop at Sunrise Middle School on June 22 in San Jose. Photo by Randy Vazquez, Bay Area News Group

As influential teachers unions — including the California Teachers Association and the unions for Los Angeles and San Jose Unified — argue that it’s unsafe to reopen schools, a growing number of school districts are deciding to hold off on in-person instruction for the time being, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. This has pushed some civil rights groups to call for the state to require at least three hours of live instruction per school day in which teachers would interact with students, albeit through a computer screen. So far, the state hasn’t set any live instruction requirements and hasn’t required districts to report their plans to parents.

  • Brian Rivas of the Education Trust-West: “We think parents have a right to know that, and they should be able to ask questions and advocate locally if they feel like that’s insufficient.”

2. Newsom to release 8,000 prisoners by end of next month

San Quentin prisoners being walked to another area. Photo by Penni Gladstone for CalMatters

The Newsom administration revealed plans Friday to release around 8,000 inmates by the end of August in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in state prisons, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The announcement came amid sustained pressure on Newsom to release more prisoners following a massive outbreak at San Quentin State Prison. Though California’s prison population has dropped by more than 10,000 since the end of February, its 35 institutions are still operating at more than 120% capacity, concerning advocates who say the crowded conditions will exacerbate the virus’s spread.

Here’s a breakdown of Newsom’s plan:

  • Around 4,800 inmates with 180 days or less to serve on their sentence will be released by the end of July.
  • The second group of releases will have no more than one year left to serve.
  • Priority will be given to those 30 or older.
  • Banned from early release: Those serving time for domestic violence or other violent crimes; those required to register as sex offenders; those deemed a high risk for violence.

3. Interactive map: Confederate monuments left in California

The statue of Francis Scott Key hits the ground after a group of more than one hundred protestors used ropes to pull it down in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on June 19, 2020. Photo by Jungho Kim (CM use only)The statue of Francis Scott Key hits the ground after a group of more than one hundred protestors used ropes to pull it down in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on June 19, 2020. Photo by Jungho Kim (CM use only)
A statue of Francis Scott Key hits the ground after protestors pulled it down in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on June 19. Photo by Jungho Kim

Amid the toppling of statues of historical figures associated with racism and colonialism, California’s Confederate monuments are also under scrutiny, with some being vandalized, removed or renamed in recent months, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Castillo reports. Many take the form of highway markers, plaques or cemetery memorials erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Sons of Confederate Veterans. But others — like the city of Fort Bragg, Jeff Davis Peak near Lake Tahoe and the Robert E. Lee and General Lee trees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks — are more visible and well-known. Check out Elizabeth’s interactive map of the Confederate monuments that remain in California and the history and controversy surrounding them.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Even as a boy, I knew there was something unusual, even otherworldly, about living in the Imperial Valley — now the epicenter of California’s coronavirus outbreak.

Vital mission of pension fund: CalPERS’ new investment strategy puts the public employee pension fund in a stronger position to weather uncertain times than it was in a year ago, argues Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000.

No time for higher utility bills: Officials should avoid making California’s cost-of-living problem worse under the pretext of economic stimulus and recovery, write Danielle Blacet-Hyden and Patrick Welch of the California Municipal Utilities Association.


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Other things worth your time

One California county has zero coronavirus cases. What’s its secret? // Mercury News

California now allows nursing home visits, but few happen. // Associated Press

Union vote highlights coronavirus crisis for California’s home day care providers. // Los Angeles Times

California prison workers forced to transfer to San Quentin as outbreak there rages. // Sacramento Bee

California mobile home parks have lax oversight and few inspections, state audit warns. // Los Angeles Times

Torres Martinez tribe plans to build an 8,400-bed prison on its Southern California reservation and lease it to the state. // Desert Sun

California Republicans drop lawsuit against Newsom’s all-mail election order. // San Francisco Chronicle


See you tomorrow.

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