As California ramps up coronavirus testing of the general population, the state is still about two weeks away from any mandatory testing of its most vulnerable residents: those in nursing homes.
Testing has been a significant challenge for the state and the country since the beginning of the outbreak, and today, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state had passed a “milestone” of 1 million tests – now averaging about 35,000 a day. It needs almost double that to meet its next goal.
But Newsom and his top health official later acknowledged that the state still needs more time and resources to begin requiring testing in nursing homes for both residents and staff.
“I think we’re a couple of weeks away from having this all ironed out, and it comes down to ensuring that we not only have the supplies but also the people power to get the testing done,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, head of the California Health and Human Services Agency.
Yet several experts said they believed state health officials should immediately prioritize nursing home residents – and the staff who care for them – before mass testing the general public.Read More
Amid a global shortage of face masks that could help stem the spread of the coronavirus, California officials received an intriguing call on March 23. The caller said he had access to 100 million coveted N95 masks that were sitting at the Port of Long Beach. He’d sell them to the state of California for $4.76 each — a bargain compared to other vendors asking between $6 and $12 at the time.
That was the picture painted by Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, as he explained to lawmakers today why the state wired nearly half a billion dollars to Blue Flame Medical LLC, then quickly walked back the deal. Ultimately, he said, banks involved in the large wire transfer called state officials and alerted them that the transaction seemed suspicious, and the state got its money back.
“Of the multiple checks and balances, this was one that was identified ultimately by the bank,” Ghilarducci said. “The bank’s normal vetting process caught it, reported it to the state.”
California’s frenetic Blue Flame deal with a politically connected mask supplier was first reported last week by CalMatters.
Today’s hearing of the Assembly accountability and administrative review committee provided a glimpse into California’s scramble to obtain medical supplies for a state of 40 million people. As the pandemic mounted, states found themselves competing with each other and the federal government for limited stock, amid supply chains from China that were disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak there.Read More
California lawmakers plan to probe why state officials wired half a billion dollars for masks to a medical supply company that had existed for just three days, and want to know what’s changed in the state’s vetting process since the deal collapsed.
“We really need to ensure that there are appropriate controls in place and that we are spending California’s tax dollars efficiently and responsibly,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, a Laguna Beach Democrat.
The accountability and administrative review committee she chairs plans to hold a hearing this month to examine the bizarre transaction that CalMatters revealed earlier this week in which California wired $456.9 million on March 26 to Blue Flame Medical LLC – then scrambled to get the money back hours later. The company was incorporated on March 23 by two Republican operatives, Mike Gula and John Thomas, with no track record in the medical supplies field.
Republican lawmakers also are seeking an audit of all the state’s spending on protective masks, including the rescinded payment to Blue Flame and a $1 billion contract the state subsequently reached with a Chinese company called BYD.
“We are concerned about the details of a rushed, half-billion contract to a company only days old and a price-per-mask contract with BYD that could be nearly 40% higher than what is available on the market,” nine GOP lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Legislature’s Democratic leaders today.Read More
Some evidence now suggests that California’s early decision to adopt aggressive social distancing policies may be helping to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus compared to other key states. But the governor said it’s still too early for optimism.
“We are not out of the woods yet—by no stretch of the imagination,” he told reporters after his daily live-streamed update.
In striking that cautious tone, Newsom is walking a rhetorical tightrope, one that conveys to Californians that our collective sacrifices are bearing fruit, while in no way intimating that it’s time to stop sheltering in place or compulsively washing our hands.
And for anyone in the White House who might be watching, the message from the governor is clear: We could still use the extra help.Read More
Updated March 21, 2020, to include new details on essential workers.
In ordering California’s nearly 40 million residents to stay at home, Gov. Gavin Newsom brought myriad county and city public-health directives under a single umbrella in one of the largest restrictions on civic life in American history.
But amid the chaos of an unprecedented pandemic, the specifics of that Thursday order — like the run-up to the order itself — have been a work in progress. Lawmakers and businesses spent Friday in a welter of confusion about who’s allowed to go outside and who should go to work, as state agencies huddled, working out exactly which workers were and weren’t “essential.” As Saturday arrived, so did clarification: a 14-page list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers.”
The comprehensive list ranges from first responders to restaurant delivery people and includes — yes — cannabis retail workers. It was accompanied by a list of answers to frequently asked questions. (Yes, you can leave home to care for your elderly parents, as long as you practice social distancing for their and your own health, but no, you may not visit them in a nursing home.)
The FAQ also made clear that the state order takes precedence, though cities and counties can impose tighter restrictions. Cities and counties have, as the crisis has mounted, been issuing their own shelter-in-place orders and other directives in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Many of those orders included specific details about which activities are considered essential, and therefore exempt from the order to stay inside. Others spelled out if, and how, the directives would be enforced.Read More
Gov. Gavin Newsom kicked off 2020 by pledging to plow an extra $1.4 billion into homeless services, proposing a state constitutional amendment to make it easier to sue cities who fail to provide shelter for their unhoused populations, and embarking on a statewide “homelessness tour” to visit shelters and other providers.
Homelessness, he said last week as he unveiled his proposed budget last week, is “the issue that defines our times.”
According to a poll released tonight, more Californians than ever agree.
Twenty percent of Californians surveyed by the Public Policy Institute of California cited homelessness as the most important issue for the governor and Legislature to work on this year.
That’s a record, said the institute’s president, Mark Baldassare: “It’s never, ever been in the double digits.”Read More
As the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment washed across the country last year, it hit especially hard in the California Capitol.
Three lawmakers resigned amid serious allegations of sexual misconduct. The Legislature spent months crafting a new procedure for handling complaints from its employees. And by the end of the legislative session, dozens of bills had been passed to prevent future harassment or help victims seek justice in workplaces across the state.
Then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed many. But in Brown’s typical fashion — what he called paddling left and paddling right — he vetoed other measures, arguing they were unnecessary, hasty or in conflict with federal law.
Now, there’s a new governor in town, and with him, high hopes that Gov. Gavin Newsom will reward the persistence of those whose harassment bills were rejected by Brown.
Among the roughly 700 bills on Newsom’s desk are several inspired by the #MeToo movement, including many repeats of bills Brown vetoed last year. Others are new ideas or rehashes of measures that stalled last year before reaching the governor’s desk — such as a bill prohibiting settlements that say an employer will never again hire an aggrieved worker.Read More
California lawmakers ended the Legislative session without doing much on vaping. Now Gov. Gavin Newsom is stepping in.
This morning, the governor signed an executive order which he said would be “pushing the envelope” to regulate the burgeoning e-cigarette industry despite a lack of new legal authority from the state Assembly and Senate.
“In the absence of any legislative effort that’s successful, we want to see how far we can go,” Newsom said at a press conference.
The order directs state regulators to crack down on the sale of black market vaping products, develop new anti-smoking public awareness campaigns and target under-age smokers, potentially with new warning ads.
The governor’s order also instructs the state’s Department of Tax and Fee Administration to research different ways to tax e-cigarette products. Currently, vaping pods are taxed based on their wholesale cost, rather than the amount of nicotine they contain. Because a vaping pod often contains much more nicotine than a pack of cigarettes, public health advocates say that provides an implicit subsidy to the e-cigarette industry.Read More
Even by the last-minute, helter-skelter standards of the end of California’s legislative session, the past 24 hours were remarkable. It will go down in Capitol lore having culminated in the Senate’s emergency relocation, a woman’s arrest, and a senator’s morning-after visit to the doctor in accordance with “safety protocols for blood exposure.”
At around 5:15 p.m. Friday, an anti-vaccine protester chucked what appeared to be a small cup of blood onto the Senate floor, throwing an unexpected wrench—and what looked like a rubber menstrual cup—into the legislative process.
It was the last day for the state’s senators and members of the Assembly to pass laws, sending them to the governor. With many of the most controversial bills out of the way, many had expected it to be a quiet evening.
More than a few senators were splattered with the as-yet-unidentified red liquid, rumored to be menstrual fluid. Included among them was Sacramento Democratic Sen. Richard Pan, the presumed target of the attack — a pediatrician and author of a new state law to crack down on illegitimate vaccine exemptions.Read More
Update, Sept. 13, 2019: Late Friday, not long before the Legislature was to adjourn, an author of the bill that is explained in this article withdrew the measure from consideration.
With a bit of 11th-hour legislative magic, state lawmakers have taken a bill related to volunteer firefighter reimbursements and — poof! — transformed it into what opponents are calling a political gift to Kern Oil & Refining Co.
In its rewritten form, the bill, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield, would exempt certain small refiners from a state requirement to monitor potentially harmful emissions near their facilities.
Salas told a Senate’s environmental committee Wednesday that the measure is simply intended to level the playing field between big and small facilities and to protect jobs in an economically needy part of the state.
The reworked bill “is meant to address the unintended consequences of previous legislation.” That measure, he said in a subsequent email to CalMatters, “put an unequal burden on small refineries like Kern Oil in Bakersfield by requiring them to institute the same new emissions testing as large-scale, multinational refineries in urban centers.”Read More