In summary

California needs 50,000 more hospital beds because of coronavirus. Newsom orders “soft closure” of state parking lots. PG&E pleads guilty to wildfire charges.

Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, March 24.

And 50,000 hospital beds needed

UCSF workers erect Accelerated Care Units (ACU) outside the Parnassus emergency room to provide a negative pressure environment to house patients with respiratory symptoms
Nurses carry a bed into an Accelerated Care Unit. (Photo by Noah Berger, courtesy of UCSF)

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that California needs 50,000 more hospital beds on top of the nearly 74,000 it already has, based on updated modeling of the state’s projected coronavirus patients, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. The number represents a significant jump from last week, when Newsom said the state would need 20,000 additional beds.

To make up the deficit, Newsom said hospitals are doubling their surge capacities to provide 30,000 beds, while the state will provide the remaining 20,000 beds by leasing and refurbishing mothballed hospitals, convention facilities, fairgrounds, hotels and motels.

The governor also said bringing on fourth-year medical students, almost-licensed nurses and retired doctors could help staff the additional beds. And to equip medical personnel with the necessary protective gear, Newsom said the state is working on procuring 1 billion gloves, 500 million masks and 200 million shields.

The governor framed hospital capacity as the cumulative effect of all Californians’ behaviors.

  • Newsom: “Society becomes how we behave. You’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic. We are our behaviors. And in order to meet this moment, we need to improve our behaviors, all of us. … That 50,000 bed number … assumes that we’re doing that. We have numbers that are substantially higher if we don’t. … We want to bend that curve. We can’t bend the curve if everyone’s out on a beautiful Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday.”

After a sunny weekend full of Californians flocking to the beach, parks and hiking trails — to the extent it was impossible to practice social distancing — Newsom announced that many state park and beach parking lots will close to prevent overcrowding and “help you help yourselves.”

Although the statewide shelter-in-place order permits people to go outside for fresh air and exercise, local governments have been shutting down overcrowded public spaces. Marin County closed its parks Sunday, San Francisco closed its playgrounds Monday, and Southern California towns closed tennis and basketball courts, picnic areas, playgrounds, skate parks and beach parking lots.

But the question remains: until when? How long is the shelter-in-place expected to last?

Newsom said it’s a “dynamic situation” and “we deal with circumstances as they appear,” adding that when it comes to hospital capacity, “we are looking at the next eight weeks on our curve, maybe the next eight to 12 weeks, to address this surge and again, do it in a thoughtful and pragmatic way.”

So…probably at least eight weeks.

The Bottom Line: As of 9:45 p.m. Monday night, California had 2,220 confirmed coronavirus cases and 42 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker.

Other stories you should know

1. PG&E pleads guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter

The deadly 2018 Camp Fire burns around PG&E transmission towers east of Pulga, near the source of the first report of the fire.
The deadly 2018 Camp Fire burns around PG&E transmission towers. (Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group)

The utility said Monday it pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with California’s 2018 Camp wildfire and will pay $3.5 million in fines and penalties, The Los Angeles Times reported. It also pleaded guilty to one count of causing a fire in violation of the state penal code. The settlement, reached between PG&E and the Butte County District Attorney’s Office on March 17, includes an agreement that no more criminal charges will be filed against the utility. The Camp wildfire killed 85 people and destroyed more than 13,000 homes, ravaging the city of Paradise.

2. Covered California health insurance premiums will likely rise 40% next year

Covered California Obamacare
Covered California premiums will likely rise by 40% in 2021, the agency said Monday.

Due to the cost of caring for COVID-19 patients, insurance premiums for Covered California, the state version of Obamacare, will likely rise by at least 40% in 2021 unless the federal government steps in, according to the Sacramento Bee. The agency, which said “unforeseen costs” of over $251 billion will translate to higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for patients, is asking for federal funding to help cover those costs.

3. Join CalMatters’ exclusive webinar on unemployment and paid leave

Mark your calendars for March 26 at 1 p.m. for the next CalMatters webinar in the “Getting Through Coronavirus, Explained” series. CalMatters poverty reporter Jackie Botts will moderate a discussion with Julie Su, Secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, and Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower to help answer your questions about filing for unemployment and figuring out sick and family leave. Register here, and check out our past webinar on best coronavirus practices for seniors.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Working life as Californians knew it has changed very radically and very quickly, leaving one wondering whether it’s just a temporary adjustment or the harbinger of a more permanent alteration.

The coasts versus the Central Valley: As California suffers from economic fallout because of coronavirus, the stark difference between wealthy coastal areas and the Central Valley reveals the inequality of where the state’s philanthropic dollars are invested, argues Finn Dobkin, who works in municipal government.

It’s time for a new climate change plan: California’s plan to achieve 100% clean energy by 2045 is based on an outdated greenhouse gas reduction target that fails to take the state’s more aggressive goals into account, writes V. John White, executive director and co-founder of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

Other things worth your time

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issues a warning about scammers selling fake coronavirus cures. // The Los Angeles Times

California chief justice suspends jury trials statewide for next 60 days. // The Sacramento Bee

California estimated to lose 600,000 jobs by June; check out the map to see which regions will be hit hardest. // The Sacramento Bee

Your questions about California’s lockdown, answered. // CalMatters

Some California hospitals are continuing with elective procedures despite concerns there won’t be enough equipment for coronavirus patients. // California Healthline

California’s Gilead Sciences postpones emergency access to experimental coronavirus drug, citing overwhelming demand and need for clinical trials. // The Mercury News

California companies, including Apple, Tesla and Bloom Energy, are stepping up to help with ventilator shortages. // The Los Angeles Times

California’s Fiona Ma and 13 other state treasurers encourage Federal Reserve to buy municipal bonds to help local governments. // Politico

Bay Area residents are filling Little Free Libraries with food, toilet paper and soap to help out neighbors. // The San Francisco Chronicle


See you tomorrow.

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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...