In summary

Newsom looks for emergency housing to shelter homeless during coronavirus pandemic. California jobless claims soar. Pandemic upends medical, scientific research.

Good morning, California. It’s Friday, March 27.

“One of the biggest challenges our homeless system has ever seen”

Embarcadero SAFE Navigation Center offers homeless people longer-term shelter in San Francisco. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

In his first remarks to Californians about how the state planned to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom isolated three populations he would prioritize: the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and the 108,000 Californians who are homeless.

Newsom directed $150 million of the state’s $1.1 billion in pandemic funding to emergency housing, and last week said the state had identified 950 motels and hotels that could shelter the homeless, CalMatters’ Matt Levin reports. There’s a lot at stake. The governor estimated that community spread of the virus could infect up to half the state’s homeless population — 60,000 people — and overwhelm hospitals.

  • Ali Sutton, Newsom’s deputy secretary for homelessness: “This is one of the biggest challenges our homeless system has ever seen. And our population is one of the most at risk.”

It’s an enormous and difficult effort, but details about progress are hard to come by. On Wednesday, the governor said 4,305 rooms had been secured but, so far, only a few hotels in San Diego are housing homeless people. Elsewhere, two hotels were leased in Oakland but remain unoccupied; Los Angeles is converting 42 recreation centers into emergency shelters, and San Diego is doing the same with its convention center.

One hurdle is the delay between negotiating hotel leases and moving homeless people in. An additional challenge: prioritizing which homeless people should access the rooms first. But Sutton said the emergency housing effort could be a first step in tackling California’s homeless crisis.

  • Sutton: “In the midst of the emergency, really trying to build systems that potentially allow for transitioning into permanent housing at the end of this is a real opportunity. That is the silver lining I’m trying to hold on to.”

The Bottom Line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 4,044 confirmed coronavirus cases and 83 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.)

Coronavirus by the numbers: Check out CalMatters’ up-to-date dashboard breaking down California’s coronavirus cases, testing capacity and supply of protective equipment.

Other stories you should know

1. CA unemployment claims break Great Recession record

The number of Californians filing for unemployment benefits eclipsed the state’s highest number on record, dating back to the aftermath of the Great Recession. And experts fear that the worst is yet to come. Newsom said 1 million claims have been filed since March 13, and Loree Levy, deputy director of the Employment Development Department, told CalMatters’ Nigel Duara in a webinar Thursday the state had processed 186,809 claims for the week ending March 21. “It’s all hands on deck to deal with this historic claim load,” she said. (The prior weekly record was 115,462, set in January 2010 at the height of the Great Recession.)

2. Science on ice: How coronavirus is impacting medical research

Katie Zegarski, a supervising clinical lab scientist at UC Davis Health, works next to a machine testing patient samples for coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of UC Davis)

Critical medical research into cancer and other diseases, as well as time-sensitive environmental research into wildfires and climate change, has either ground to a halt or remains up in the air as scientists close down labs and shelter in place, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Some scientists are pivoting to fight coronavirus, while others are waiting to see whether their research is deemed critical enough to continue. “I wish we could do more,” one scientist said. “We kind of feel useless, to be honest.”

3. Farmworkers risk Valley Fever because of face mask shortages

Farmworkers Juan Manuel Virgen, left, and Daniel Lopez Aviles, middle, use bandannas as makeshift face masks. (Photo by David Rodriquez/Salinas Californian)

As coronavirus concerns escalate, Salinas Valley farmworkers face a shortage of the face masks that protect them from toxic pesticide fumes, dirt and dust particles, and the airborne fungus that causes Valley Fever, the Salinas Californian’s Kate Cimini reports in a CalMatters collaboration. Advocates worry the shortage will continue into wildfire season, during which workers are usually required to wear medical-grade N95 masks so they don’t breathe in toxic gases. But some workers, who earn an average of $17,500 a year, may choose to risk their health rather than miss a paycheck.

4. More trouble for PG&E as two fire victims decry settlement

A linesman scales a utility tower above the burn zone in Santa Rosa. (Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group Archives)

Two members of the fire victims’ committee involved in PG&E’s bankruptcy proceedings resigned from their positions, arguing that the $13.5 billion settlement isn’t fair to victims. One member cited concerns that insurance companies would receive $11 billion in cash, while fire victims would receive deferred payments and stock paid out from a trust over time. The resignations suggest PG&E may face difficulties in getting enough fire victims to approve the plan by June 30, when it has to resolve its bankruptcy, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

CalMatters commentary

California’s new superheroes: The Healthforce Center team at UCSF has crafted a multi-front battle plan that redesigns our health care system to deal with the coronavirus crisis, writes Kate Karpilow, a writer and previous director of the California Center for Research on Women and Families at the Public Health Institute.

Affordable dental care for African Americans: When the Legislature comes back in session, it should find ways to encourage teledentistry services and reject legislation that adds health care barriers such as additional costs or unnecessary in-person visits, which disproportionately impact Californians of color, argues NAACP-California President Alice A. Huffman.

Other things worth your time

Coronavirus cases surge past 1,200 in Los Angeles County. // The Los Angeles Times

Over 25% of patients at Hayward site test positive for coronavirus. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Nancy Pelosi already has ideas for next federal coronavirus relief bill. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Sen. Kamala Harris calls out big employers to provide better paid sick leave policies. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Fresno County rushes to make coronavirus information available to Hmong, Punjabi and Spanish speakers. // The Fresno Bee

What lessons from World War II can we apply to the coronavirus era? // The Los Angeles Times

Major East Bay parks shut down before weekend to pre-empt overcrowding. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Here’s what new email etiquette in the era of coronavirus looks like. // The San Francisco Chronicle

New high-speed California-Las Vegas train project could begin later this year. // The Los Angeles Times

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See you Monday.

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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...