In summary

California likely closed through April because of coronavirus. State lags in COVID-19 testing. Cannabis dispensaries deemed “essential” businesses.

Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, March 25.

Stark contrast between Newsom, Trump

Screenshot of Gov. Gavin Newsom giving a Facebook Live update on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forget shelter in place: It may be time to settle in place.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that California will likely remain closed through April. His prediction came the same day President Donald Trump announced his intention to reopen the country by Easter, on April 12.

Newsom did not directly address Trump’s comments, but he emphasized that such a timeline would not work for California.

  • Newsom: “We’re trying to bend that curve, but we haven’t bent it. … April, early April, I think that would be misleading to represent, at least for California. … I’ve said this very honestly and objectively based on all the expertise and experts … the next six to eight weeks will be pivotal and will be determinative in terms of being able to … reset expectations. … I said eight to 12 weeks … we can continue to do what we’ve done, and if we do that, hopefully, we’ll be in a very different place than we are today. I think April, for California, would be sooner than any of the experts I’ve talked to would believe is possible.”

By underscoring his reliance on health experts to determine an appropriate time to reopen the state, Newsom implicitly contrasted himself with the president, who said he chose the April 12 date because “I just thought it was a beautiful time.”

However, it’s ultimately governors, not the president, who will decide when their states reopen for business. To date, almost half of U.S. states have imposed lockdowns in response to coronavirus.

California lags behind in testing

COVID-19 testing at the San Francisco Department of Public Health laboratory. (Photo by Tyrone Jue, courtesy of San Francisco Department of Public Health)

Newsom also acknowledged Tuesday that California has “a lot more work to do” when it comes to testing, outlining several key areas that need to be improved.

  1. Consolidating testing numbers. Right now, coronavirus tests are being conducted by a variety of organizations, including university labs, government labs and private companies, each of which has its own method. This uncoordinated testing strategy has resulted in “a confusing, incomplete picture of the virus in California” and how many people are infected, the Los Angeles Times reports.
  2. Lack of testing components. Newsom said there’s still a lack of test kit components, such as swabs and reagants.
  3. Lengthy turnaround times. The governor said some tests are taking between seven and nine days to process, which is much too long. According to the state’s Department of Public Health, 12,100 tests were pending as of Monday.

Newsom said the state will release updated testing numbers today, which will “show a significant jump.” However, he added, “It’s still not close to where we need to be.”

  • Case in point: California conducted approximately 27,650 tests as of Monday, while New York, which has half the population and 10 times the number of coronavirus cases identified, had conducted more than 90,000 tests, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Exclusive CalMatters coronavirus content

  • Coronavirus by the numbers: CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra and Elizabeth Castillo put together a dashboard breaking down California’s coronavirus cases, testing capacity and supply of protective equipment for medical professionals. It will be updated regularly — check back often.
  • “Getting Through Coronavirus, Explained,” our series of online discussions about the major questions regarding the pandemic, will feature Julie Su, Secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, and Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower this Thursday at 1 p.m. We’ll answer questions about unemployment, job loss, sick leave and related issues. Register here or visit calmatters.org.

The Bottom Line: As of 9 p.m. Tuesday night, California had 2,610 confirmed coronavirus cases and 55 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker.

Other stories you should know

1. Cannabis, cocktails and coronavirus: Oh my

Newsom deemed cannabis dispensaries an essential business as Californians shelter in place. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

California has loosened restrictions on cannabis dispensaries and restaurants serving alcohol in a two-pronged effort to keep small businesses afloat and Californians less panicky during the coronavirus pandemic, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. Dispensaries are considered an essential business, and some are now allowed to sell weed to customers in their cars or offer home delivery without a signature — as long as customers text a picture of their ID — to maintain social distancing. California restaurants can also sell alcohol-to-go as long as food is ordered with it, a policy that’s made some customers smile: “For them, it’s like being in Vegas, like, ‘Let’s get a margarita to go!’” a Goleta bartender said.

2. Are gun stores essential businesses? State says no, some counties say yes

A rack of long guns at Big 5 Sporting Goods in El Cerrito. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

As gun sales surge across California because of coronavirus, the Los Angeles County Sheriff said Tuesday gun shops are nonessential businesses and need to close down, following in the footsteps of several Northern California counties, The Los Angeles Times reported. However, other gun stores, including several in San Diego, argue they are essential businesses and are staying open. Although the state doesn’t consider gun stores to be an essential business, some county officials have allowed them to remain open in their region.

3. How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting undocumented workers

Undocumented workers performing construction work. (La Opinión file photo)

The nearly one in 10 California workers who are undocumented face unique challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, as they are ineligible for many relief programs and unemployment insurance, La Opinión’s Jacqueline García and CalMatters’ Jackie Botts report. Although many undocumented workers pay state and local taxes, they don’t qualify for the California Earned Income Tax Credit, which gives cash back to those earning $30,000 or less per year. And at present, they’re excluded from the president’s plan to send stimulus checks to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. Many also lack health insurance, although some clinics are waiving coronavirus test fees for the uninsured.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Last week, Newsom needlessly caused alarm and confusion for Californians while making pronouncements about dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

Coronavirus threatens democracy: The coronavirus pandemic is limiting the public’s access to local government meetings and postponing primary elections — and could disrupt in-person voting in November, writes Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at USC’s Price School of Public Policy.

Beyond Prop. 13: Californians should have a conversation about the split-roll initiative on the November ballot and ask whether the state’s taxation system as a whole is broken, rather than just Proposition 13, argue Michael D. Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and David Hervey, a Cato Institute research associate.

Other things worth your time

Los Angeles County reports the first possible death of a coronavirus patient under 18. // The Los Angeles Times

Six Bay Area counties demand that labs report all COVID-19 testing data to county officials — including negative results — to get a more complete picture of virus’ spread. // The Mercury News

Newsom rules against releasing violent inmates to lessen the spread of coronavirus in California’s prison system. // The Associated Press

California resort towns violently oppose tourists for fear of coronavirus spread. // The Sacramento Bee

Trump says he will delay Real ID October deadline; new deadline yet to be announced. // The Los Angeles Times

UC Berkeley moves to pass-fail grading for spring semester; other UCs and CSUs unsure if they should follow suit. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Here’s what a coronavirus-level response to the climate crisis would look like. // The Los Angeles Times

See how much travel declined in California after the shelter-in-place order. // The New York Times

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See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...