In summary

Bay Area counties “shelter in place” as coronavirus cases grow and state agencies respond at every level to try to contain impact.

Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, March 17.

“The new normal”

Regulars get in a last game of pool at Parkway Lounge in Oakland before the bar closes at midnight for at least three weeks. At 12:01 on March 17 six Bay Area counties will enact a shelter in place to limit to spread of the novel coronavirus. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Regulars get in a last game of pool at Parkway Lounge in Oakland before the bar closes at midnight for at least three weeks. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

Seven Bay Area counties ordered a “shelter in place” Monday in the nation’s strictest response to the coronavirus pandemic so far, directing their millions of residents to stay at home as much as possible and avoid even small social gatherings through April 7. The order, which carries the force of law, also bans all nonessential travel and directs all businesses except those that provide “essential services” — such as grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants offering only delivery or takeout service — to send their employees home.

In a Monday night Facebook Live stream, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would expand the Bay Area’s action statewide, though it’s unclear whether he plans to enforce the order or leave it as a general guideline.

  • Newsom: “The directive coming out of the Bay Area…is no gatherings, which just makes sense to me at this point. … So directing that no gatherings be considered, advanced in this state, that’s the new guideline we’re putting out this evening as well, and we think it’s very rational under these circumstances. Disruptive, I know, for some, but rational, we believe, in this moment.”

Such drastic measures are necessary to combat the spread of the deadly virus, Bay Area health officials said. So far, the Bay Area has been hit worst in California. The region had 294 confirmed cases as of Monday night, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and five of the 11 California deaths occurred in the Bay Area.

  • San Francisco Mayor London Breed: “Many people are calling this the new normal. It’s the new normal, temporarily, in an effort to protect public health. … These measures will be disruptive to day-to-day life. But there is no need to panic.”

In Sacramento, meanwhile, the state Legislature took the extraordinary step of disbanding until April 13, but not before it passed up to $1 billion in emergency funding to expand capacity in California hospitals, add beds in health care facilities, and buy hotels and motels to shelter sick, unhoused Californians, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall, Rachel Becker and Ana Ibarra report.

This action reveals that California is preparing for a worst-case scenario if the virus can’t be contained: a medical system without enough beds or equipment to serve a surge of critically sick people. 

Los Angeles County is also ramping up its response to the virus, closing all bars, gyms and movie theaters, directing restaurants to serve takeout only, and banning events with more than 50 people. The county now has 94 confirmed coronavirus cases, 41 of which were confirmed in the most recent 48 hours, according to The Los Angeles Times.

  • Barbara Ferrer, director of the LA County Department of Public Health: “Residents at this point must assume that there may be people who are infected everywhere in the county.”

Other major California coronavirus updates:

Other stories you should know

1. Los Angeles County releasing some jail inmates to combat coronavirus

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has released more than 600 inmates and cut its daily arrests from 300 to 60 in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus through close contact in jails, the Los Angeles Times reported. Some of the released inmates had less than 30 days remaining to serve, and the department is lowering daily arrests by citing and releasing whenever possible. No inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as of yet, although those with flu-like symptoms have been quarantined.

2. How coronavirus could affect California’s census count

Censoteria, a card game developed at La Luz in Sonoma, is based off of the familiar La Loteria game and helps to engage community members with civics, the census and public services. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Censotería, a card game developed at La Luz in Sonoma, helps engage community members with the census. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

California is spending nearly $200 million to reach historically undercounted communities for the 2020 census, which officially began last week — but it may not be enough to combat the coronavirus, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Castillo reports. As the virus upends every facet of daily life and shuts down planned outreach events, it’s unclear how many Californians will be motivated to respond to the census. At stake: federal funds and representation in Congress. Another hurdle: mounting government distrust sparked by President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, Castillo writes.

3. Has the coronavirus pandemic shut down your school?

Oakland Technical High School students sit by the marquee after it was announced that all Oakland schools would close for three weeks over coronavirus concerns on March 13, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
All Oakland schools will close for three weeks over coronavirus concerns. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

CalMatters education reporter Ricardo Cano has compiled an exhaustive database tracking every school closure across California because of coronavirus. So far, over 6 million students representing more than 97% of California’s public school population have been or will be affected by closures. The database will be updated regularly, so make sure to check back often.

4. Low-wage workers fear layoffs as coronavirus transforms economy

Low-wage workers in California face a double bind: Show up to work and put yourself at risk, or don’t show up and risk losing your job. But as restaurants reduce capacity and bars shutter, jobs are at risk anyway. Many low-wage workers don’t have the ability to telecommute or to take more than three paid sick days, despite being on the front lines of contracting COVID-19, whether as an in-home supportive service provider or as a grocery store employee, The Fresno Bee’s Manuela Tobias reports in a CalMatters collaboration.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The apparent failure of a hotel tax measure in San Diego is the latest example of legal confusion over the vote margin required to make some local taxes law. The state Supreme Court needs to clear this up.

Public health over politics: Coronavirus transcends party, race and citizenship status, writes Dr. Sandra R. Hernández, president and CEO of the California Health Care Foundation. The shared sacrifices of California families, schools, businesses and communities will help us emerge stronger on the other side.

Changing how we think about climate change: California can lead the United States in imagining a complete climate solution, where we actually reverse climate change rather than just avoid its most catastrophic effects, argues Ryan McCarthy, director of Climate and Clean Energy at Weideman Group.

On the cusp of a “Silver Tsunami”: California’s fastest-growing population is people over age 65, and the state needs to structure health care funding such that it can continue to lead the United States in quality skilled nursing care, writes Erika Castile, executive director at Brookdale Senior Living.

Other things worth your time

A group of homeless moms took over a vacant house in Los Angeles, weeks after a group of moms did so in Oakland and managed to keep the house. // The Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court of California has suspended in-person oral arguments, while courts across California delay hearings and even shut their doors in response to coronavirus. // ABC News

Why are some California casinos still open? Because they are on sovereign tribal land. // The Riverside Press-Enterprise

Joe Biden officially committed to having a woman as his running mate. California Sen. Kamala Harris tops the list of vice-presidential candidates. // 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...