In summary

Hospitals gear up for surge of patients from coronavirus, while working families look for financial relief from government.

Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, March 19.

Swim goggles, hardware store gloves “not acceptable”

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

Are California’s hospitals prepared for a rapid increase of COVID-19 patients?

We’ll find out soon enough.

Projections by state health officials indicate that California hospitals could handle a surge — right now, statewide — of about 10,000 patients, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker, Ana Ibarra and Judy Lin report. But given the potential for the virus to spread so far and so fast, some models project the state could need closer to 20,000 extra hospital beds.

In addition, hospitals lack an adequate supply of essential items like ventilators and protective clothing for nurses and doctors, which could lead to increased spread of the virus, Becker and Ibarra report.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday: “I heard one case — don’t over-panic on this one, but this gives you a sense — where they were purchasing swim goggles because of concern about face protection. Others that were just going out and getting gloves from traditional hardware stores and grocery stores. That’s not acceptable under these circumstances.”

In order to meet the influx of COVID-19 patients, hospitals plan to transfer noncritical patients to other facilities. In addition, California is leasing two large hospitals using some of the $1.1 billion in emergency funding state legislators passed Tuesday. Newsom said the state has also requested federal aid to set up mobile hospitals and a hospital on a U.S. Navy ship.

Will it be enough? It’s still unclear because the scope and reach of the virus in California remains unknown. This is due largely to insufficient testing and technical difficulties that have slowed down testing, Becker and Ibarra write. What is clear, though, is that many more people have the virus than have been confirmed by federal and state officials.

Other California coronavirus updates:

  • Do you have questions about the shelter-in-place rules for seniors? Submit them here and tune in to CalMatters’ webinar today at 1 p.m. with Kim McCoy Wade, director of the state Department of Aging.
  • At least 12 counties in the Bay Area and central California, plus the cities of Palm Springs and Fresno, have implemented “shelter in place” orders affecting 20% of the state’s population. // Los Angeles Times
  • A new state website about coronavirus ( shares resources, tips and announcements.
  • In the Bay Area, you can be cited for a misdemeanor if you don’t obey the shelter-in-place order. But “no one’s going to jail over this.” // The Mercury News
  • How one Bay Area safety net agency is responding to heightened needs from the coronavirus pandemic. // CalMatters
  • Do you have a story to share about an act of kindness? Submit it here for an upcoming CalMatters story. We’re all in this together!

The Bottom Line: As of 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 869 confirmed coronavirus cases and 17 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker.

Other stories you should know

1. Need help staying afloat during coronavirus? These proposals could make a difference

Martin Lee, a local resident, loads a bag of food into a vehicle at the Sunnyvale Community Services food distribution site, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Sunnyvale, Calif. The social services organization has seen a bid drop in their volunteers, many of whom are senior citizens. Photo by Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group
Martin Lee loads food at the Sunnyvale Community Services food distribution site. (Photo by Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Coronavirus has hit every Californian hard but especially the 6.9 million who don’t have enough money to cover basic needs and the additional 7.2 million teetering just above the poverty line. Local, state and federal officials are rushing to soften the economic blow and ensure people can stay home to contain the spread of the virus. CalMatters poverty reporter Jackie Botts explores proposals including cash payments, tax relief, halting evictions and foreclosures, increasing paid leave and unemployment benefits, help with groceries, and free coronavirus health care.

2. Can California public schools pull off “distance learning”?

California coronavirus homeschooling
Ray Ortega, a podcaster in East Sacramento, conducts math class for his daughter, Linden, before dismissing her for “recess.” (Photo by Sharyn Ortega for CalMatters)

After Newsom said Tuesday that California K-12 schools would likely remain closed through summer break, he suggested parents might homeschool their children with help from schools about online distance learning. The California Department of Education held a Wednesday webinar providing broad guidance on distance learning to school leaders. But educators are concerned that all distance learning isn’t created equal, pointing out that some students may not have internet access at home and some school districts don’t have the necessary infrastructure, CalMatters education reporter Ricardo Cano writes.

3. A petition to reduce college tuition

Laney College moved instruction off campus in the wake of coronavirus concerns. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

As colleges rush to transition to online coursework, a petition to reduce tuition for all California public colleges has gained almost 7,000 signatures, EdSource reports. A UC Irvine freshman started the petition, arguing that online classes don’t give the same experience as in-person ones and students shouldn’t be charged the same price for both. Although UCs and CSUs are considering partial refunds for university dorms, dining plans and other fees, they haven’t budged on tuition.

  • There’s also a movement gaining traction at UC Berkeley to give everyone A grades for the semester because of the academic challenges of remote learning and the stress of moving off campus. The petition has almost 5,500 signatures.

4. An interview with the “Dear Abby for coronavirus”

CalMatters reporter Nigel Duara has more than earned this, uh, unique title by fielding over 600 reader questions about California’s coronavirus response. (If you have more questions, ask them here.)

We turned the tables by asking him some questions.

Q: What’s the question you get the most often?

Nigel: The most common question is about high-risk groups, asking if I’m a senior or if my parent is a senior, what can we do and what can we not do? Whatever we can do to help alleviate that burden — we’re doing our damndest to keep people informed on what they can and can’t do with the information we have today. We didn’t know until recently that the virus can probably live on plastic and steel for up to 72 hours. So that changes how you can act, and we’re trying to include all the relevant information.

Q: You said working on this project has brought you some of the most feel-good feelings you’ve had from journalism in a while. Why?

Nigel: It feels like a public service. You get to talk to people directly and say, “We know it’s bad, but here’s what can you do.”

Q: What’s most important for people to know right now?

Nigel: The most important thing for seniors to know is to get in touch with their Area Agencies on Aging as soon as possible. Make them aware that you’re there, you need or will need help, and you’re staying inside. To non-seniors who’ve lost their jobs, file for unemployment immediately. And to everyone: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’ve been making a couple little runs for seniors in the neighborhood and you’d be amazed how many people need help but are too embarrassed to ask.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Like former California Gov. Pete Wilson, Newsom could spend most of his governorship as a crisis manager with his ambitious policy agenda on hold.

California needs the Affordable Care Act: The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided it will hear arguments in a case that could scrap the ACA, jeopardizing coverage for millions of Californians, writes Elizabeth Benson Forer, CEO of community health center Venice Family Clinic.

Other things worth your time

The Newsom household is running out of toilet paper. First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom said her family is low on essential supplies because others have hoarded them. // The Sacramento Bee

Apparently people have been flushing Clorox wipes down the toilet. You shouldn’t do that. // The Mercury News

Thousands of homes and businesses have lacked power for days because of a Sierra Nevada snowstorm. // The Sacramento Bee

An LA taco shop is selling Emergency Taco Kits — that come with four toilet paper rolls and 30 eggs // CNN


See you tomorrow.

Tips, insight, or feedback? Email or call 510-921-1306.

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions:

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...