In summary

Newsom orders all Californians to shelter in place until further notice as coronavirus fears grow. Housing crisis complicates state’s response to COVID-19.

Good morning, California. It’s Friday, March 20.

“We’re not victims of fate”

Gov. 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. Gavin Newsom at a press conference following the first COVID-19 death in California. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

In the strictest response to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States so far, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered California’s 40 million people to shelter in place until further notice.

The order directs Californians to stay in their homes unless they are accessing essential services, such as pharmacies, grocery stores and banks. The governor emphasized that people will still be able to go outside, go to the grocery store and walk their dog — as long as they practice social distancing and keep 6 feet apart from people they don’t already live with.

Although the order carries the force of law and breaking it could result in a misdemeanor, Newsom didn’t seem to think enforcement would be necessary. Instead, he underscored the “social contract” binding Californians together and the “social pressure” that would help people “self-regulate their behavior.”

  • Newsom: “We are confident that the people of the state of California will abide by [the order], will do the right thing. They’ll meet this moment, they’ll step up as they have over the course of the last number of weeks to protect themselves, to protect their families and to protect the broader community in this great state and the world that we reside in. I have confidence in that.”

Newsom said a statewide shelter-in-place could “bend the curve” of coronavirus and reduce the number of people infected with COVID-19. Some models project that around 19,500 Californians will need to be hospitalized, which is above the state’s current hospital capacity.

But Newsom reiterated that Californians can “manipulate those numbers down” by taking swift and decisive action together.

  • “This is not a permanent state. This is a moment in time. And we will meet this moment together, and we will look back at these kinds of decisions as pivotal decisions. If we’re to be criticized at this moment, let us be criticized for taking this moment seriously. Let us be criticized for going full force and meeting the virus head-on.”

He added:

  • “We’re not victims of fate or circumstance. The future is something inside of us, it’s our decisions. And that’s why we decided today to make that decision.”

It’s still unclear what precisely the state considers “essential services.” We’ll keep you updated with more specifics about the order and its implications for Californians.

Other California coronavirus updates:

  • What are best practices for seniors during the coronavirus pandemic? Check out CalMatters’ video interview with Kim McCoy Wade, director of the state Department of Aging.
  • Inside the quarantine of the Grand Princess cruise ship passengers — many of whom aren’t being tested for COVID-19. // The San Francisco Chronicle
  • Bay Area hospitals desperate for medical staff are asking retired doctors and nurses to help respond to COVID-19. // The Mercury News
  • Upcoming California elections are being postponed or switched to all-mail. // The San Francisco Chronicle
  • VIDEO: Despite schools closing across the state, some are keeping their kitchens open to feed students and families. // CalMatters
  • CalMatters’ Nigel Duara is still the Dear Abby for coronavirus, fielding hundreds of reader questions about what to do. Ask a question, or see if he’s already answered it!

The Bottom Line: As of 10 p.m. Thursday night, California had 1,001 confirmed coronavirus cases and 19 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker.

Other stories you should know

1. How California’s housing crisis makes it harder to combat coronavirus

A hand sanitizing station at a homeless encampment near Oakland city hall. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A hand-sanitizing station at a homeless encampment near Oakland city hall. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

California’s housing crisis poses difficulties for the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, CalMatters housing reporter Matt Levin writes. Not only does California have the country’s largest homeless population, it also leads the country in overcrowded households, making it harder for people to self-isolate while exacerbating community spread. And despite Newsom’s executive order allowing local governments to impose temporary eviction bans, some landlords are still filing eviction lawsuits, Levin reports.

2. California food banks get creative as demand surges

Food bank volunteer Trish Ackerman, 65, wears a mask and gloves as she fills her own grocery bag at Teamsters 315 Hall in Martinez. Ackerman, who suffers from asthma, says she continues to staff the food bank despite coronavirus concerns because “there’s a lot of seniors that depend on us.” Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Food bank volunteer Trish Ackerman, 65, fills a grocery bag at Teamsters 315 Hall in Martinez. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

California food banks have seen a drop in volunteers and a huge surge in the number of people needing food assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic. They’re coming up with creative solutions to meet the demand, including potential partnerships with DoorDash, Lyft and the National Guard to deliver food directly to people who can’t leave their homes, CalMatters poverty reporter Jackie Botts writes. But demand will only continue to rise: California received 80,000 unemployment applications on Tuesday, compared with the typical amount of 2,000 per day.

CalMatters commentary

In a time of disaster, who will you be? Despite Newsom’s authorization of $150 million to shelter California’s homeless population during the coronavirus outbreak, many will be left out in the cold as community spaces close. We need to step up for our neighbors, including our unhoused neighbors, writes Stacy Torres, an assistant professor of sociology at UCSF.

Other things worth your time

Elon Musk to the rescue? The Tesla founder said in a tweet he would manufacture ventilators if there’s a shortage. (Newsom later said he was “pleased to see” the tweet.) // The Mercury News

Sen. Kamala Harris is concerned about California’s wildfire season overlapping with coronavirus. // The San Francisco Chronicle

How coronavirus has changed Los Angeles, in 20 pictures. // The Los Angeles Times

…And how coronavirus has changed the Bay Area: A photo essay. // The San Francisco Chronicle


See you Monday.

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