In summary

California begins to bend COVID-19 curve, but will it be enough to handle hospital surge? UC drops requirement for SAT, ACT scores. Big recession expected.

Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, April 2.

Health secretary: “We do … cross the line”

Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly at a press conference following the first COVID-19 death in California. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

When it comes to coronavirus, “We are in a completely different place than the state of New York,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. “I hope we continue to be. But we won’t unless people continue to practice physical distancing and do their part and we continue to meet this moment.”

It was a mixed message but also totally clear: On one hand, data show California’s aggressive shelter-in-place order is slowing the spread of the virus and buying time to prepare for a surge of patients. On the other hand, California can’t rest on its laurels. Even with everyone staying home, the number of COVID-19 patients is projected to eventually exceed hospital capacity.

Health Secretary Mark Ghaly illustrated the issue Wednesday with a graph projecting how many Californians would need to be hospitalized for COVID-19 in two scenarios: if we did nothing (blue) and if everyone continues to shelter in place (purple). The black line represents the current surge capacity of California’s health care system.

Graph from governor’s Wednesday press conference. Image via Twitter
  • What’s going on? The state’s current hospital surge capacity is 50,000 beds. But based on current models of the virus’ spread, an estimated 66,000 hospital beds would be needed by mid-May, Ghaly said. He added that does not necessarily represent the peak.
  • The pink and green points represent the number of Californians hospitalized over the past five days, but Ghaly said those numbers, although lower than projected, “should not give people immediate hope.”
  • Ghaly, pointing to the purple line: “I want to point out that even in this scenario, which is not the best-case scenario — this is if we do what we are doing today — we do cross this (black) line. Our effort is to move (the purple line) as far to the right as possible so that we can ensure that we have the capacity in our health care-delivery system, not just in hospital beds, but ICU beds and ventilators.”

He added, “We are always at risk of having actuals exceed the model, and we could cross this surge line sooner.”

The Bottom Line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 9,757 confirmed coronavirus cases and 213 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker. (These numbers are different from those of the state Department of Public Health, which are updated less often.)

K-12 schools to close; UC drops SAT requirement

SAT study guides at Barnes & Noble in Emeryville. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

If there were any doubt left, it looks pretty certain that K-12 campuses will shutter for the rest of the school year.

Newsom said Wednesday that educators should expect “schools will not reopen, but classes are in” via distance learning. He also said Google will provide 100,000 WiFi hotspots and donate thousands of laptops so students in rural California can access lessons online.

Meanwhile, the University of California is waiving its requirement for fall 2021 applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores after exam dates were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, CalMatters’ Felicia Mello reports. The temporary suspension comes amidst an ongoing debate as to whether UC should continue to require the exams for admission; the Regents plan to revisit the issue at their May meeting.

  • Today at 1 p.m.: CalMatters is hosting a livestream with California State University Chancellor Tim White to discuss how California colleges are handling online learning. Register here and submit questions here.

Other stories you should know

1. Coronavirus downturn likely worse than Great Recession

The coronavirus downtown could be worse than the Great Recession, economists say. Image via iStock

A few days ago, many economists were predicting the U.S. economy wouldn’t take too long to bounce back from coronavirus. Now, an increasing number say the downturn will be deeper and longer than that of the 2008 recession, The Los Angeles Times reports. They predict the country’s economic output could fall by 9% in 2020 — more than three times the sharpest drop during the recession — as almost all economic activity besides government spending grinds to a halt and unemployment skyrockets.

  • Nariman Behravesh, IHS Markit chief economist: “This is the dilemma of the disease and of the economy. To limit and control the disease, you basically have to kill the economy. It’s a trade-off.”
  • For more on the impact on California’s economy, check out this article from CalMatters’ Ben Christopher.

2. U.S.-Mexico border closure creates chaos for deportation, asylum, residency cases

Cruz Santiago wears a facemask as she pulls weeds. The farmworker says the border closing is necessary for the greater good. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian

With the closure of the U.S.-Mexico border because of the coronavirus pandemic, many Mexicans and Mexican Americans living in California face indefinite pauses in deportation orders and residency and visa cases, The Salinas Californian’s Kate Cimini reports. As courts close, some deportation hearings have been postponed, while others are taking place over video chat. Meanwhile, some asylum hearings have been postponed over a year. “The backlog is going to be crazy,” said Salinas-based immigration attorney Blanca Zarazúa.

3. Don’t expect your property tax payment to be postponed

California’s property tax payments are still due by April 10. Image via iStock with alterations by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Although the deadline for federal and state income taxes has been pushed to July 15, property owners still have to pay property taxes by April 10, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. This has frustrated low-tax advocates, who hoped Newsom would extend the deadline by executive order. He likely hasn’t because it would financially cripple local governments and schools — property taxes make up the majority of local governments’ general funds and around a third of schools’ revenue.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: In the November election, the most interesting California political duels will be competing factions of Democrats in three Southern California races.

Straight from the polls: Almost half of Californians expect it take three or more months before life is back to normal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and a vast majority trust Gov. Gavin Newsom to handle the crisis, writes Dane Strother, a partner in Strother Nuckels Strategies.

Let’s reach 1 million solar batteries in California by 2028: It would be a simple, yet revolutionary, way to attain the state’s goal of 100% clean renewable energy, argues former state Sen. Fran Pavley, now environmental policy director at the USC Schwarzengger Institute.

Other things worth your time

A coronavirus silver lining: It’s cut California traffic accidents in half. // The Los Angeles Times

California could lose $54 billion in travel revenue in 2020. // The San Francisco Chronicle

How coronavirus could affect PG&E’s bankruptcy deal. // The Sacramento Bee

California U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes says school closures are “way overkill.” // Politico

Nurses are wearing trash bags in lieu of protective equipment at a Bay Area hospital. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Local officials are asking Newsom to suspend state laws from environmental regulations to public records laws as they grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. // The Associated Press

Positive coronavirus cases rising around Lake Tahoe. // The Union

How coronavirus’ impact on hospitals is affecting pregnant women. // The Los Angeles Times

Photo essay: California essential workers reporting for duty. // California Healthline

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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...