In summary

Newsom expected to decide whether workers’ comp covers COVID-19. Coronavirus sparks new debate over housing density. Telehealth grows in popularity.

Good morning, California. It’s Monday, April 27.

Is COVID-19 covered by workers’ comp?

Employee Jadira De Alvarez, left, checks out a customer at Mi Tierra Foods on April 1 in Berkeley, Calif. Photo by Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group
Employee Jadira De Alvarez, left, checks out a customer at Mi Tierra Foods on April 1 in Berkeley, Calif. Photo by Aric Crabb, Bay Area News Group

Labor and business groups are gearing up for a fight over whether employers — through workers’ compensation — should pay health costs for essential workers infected by COVID-19, with Gov. Gavin Newsom expected to decide the multibillion-dollar debate soon.

Union leaders want Newsom to issue an executive order presuming that essential employees who contract coronavirus did so on the job, rather than in the community, making it easier for them to file workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19. Business groups warn that such a move could raise annual costs for employers by as much as $33 billion per year.

  • Denise Davis, spokeswoman for the California Chamber of Commerce: “Imposing a legal conclusion that any employee who contracts the coronavirus is covered by workers’ compensation benefits shifts the cost of the pandemic to the private sector. … The private sector cannot be the safety net for this crisis, that is the role of government.”

So far, Newsom has remained mum on whether he plans to issue such an order, though California employers believe he’s on the verge of doing so. It’s also unclear how an order would define essential workers. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced two bills to accomplish something similar.

Workers’ compensation benefits include health care not subject to copays or dollar limits, medications, disability payments and, in the worst case, death and burial benefits for families. To qualify for the benefits, most workers have to prove they contracted the disease specifically because of their work, and employers can contest their claims.

  • Gregory Cattermole, San Mateo workers’ compensation attorney: “I don’t think it’s fair or reasonable that our frontline workers have to bear the burden to prove where it came from. That’s a ridiculous burden to put on people who are really protecting us and keeping the state healthy.”

For more on the workers’ comp saga, check out this commentary from CalMatters columnist Dan Walters.


The Bottom Line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 43,700 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,720 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.)

Also: CalMatters is tracking, by county, positive and suspected cases of COVID-19 patients hospitalized throughout the state. We’re also tracking the state’s daily actions. And we have an explainer for everything you need to know about California’s response to coronavirus.

Other stories you should know

1. Will coronavirus change California’s effort to increase housing density?

Apartment buildings across the street from MacArthur BART station in Oakland in 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California lawmakers have long pushed for higher-density housing around transit hubs to reduce living costs and greenhouse gas emissions, but density’s appeal may be dwindling as cities like New York emerge as the center of the U.S.’ coronavirus outbreak, the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon reports. Although San Francisco is the country’s second-densest city and has just a fraction of New York’s cases, the connection many will likely draw between density and COVID-19 could reshape California’s housing debates for years to come.

  • A tale of two states: The New York Times is hosting a virtual event today at 1 p.m. to compare California and New York’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Register here.

2. How COVID-19 could change California’s health care-delivery system

Dr. Sumana Reddy demonstrates a Telehealth exam using Updox, a HIPPA-compliant video chat software, one of several programs her clinic relies on to meet with patients.
Dr. Sumana Reddy demonstrates a Telehealth exam using Updox, a HIPAA-compliant video chat software. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

COVID-19 has catapulted telehealth — doctors’ appointments via video chat or phone call — into the mainstream more effectively than years of advocacy and policymaking, and may forever change California’s health care-delivery system, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra and Elizabeth Aguilera report. Although not all health systems or patients were equally prepared for the transition, physicians say expanded telehealth services will help reach rural and inner-city Californians and compensate for the state’s doctor shortage.

  • Dr. Mark Henderson, professor at UC Davis School of Medicine: “COVID-19 has changed everything. … It’s totally exploded our thinking around what we can do with telemedicine in primary care.”

But as in-patient visits dwindle, many of California’s private practices and small clinics are facing closure, Kristen Hwang reports for CalMatters. Around 30% of Californians get care from these independent physicians, who may be forced to sell their practices, leading to a rise in insurance premiums.

  • Dr. William Goral, a private practice specialist in San Bernardino County: “We are going into the red even having laid off two-thirds of my employees.”

3. Richer schools not necessarily faster to set up distance learning

Michelle Hansen, principal at Phoebe A. Hearst Elementary School, hands a laptop computer to a parent in Sacramento, April 10, 2020. In response to the order to close school buildings due to the coronavirus, the Sacramento Unified School District distributed one laptop per family of elementary students, K-6, for the district's Distance Learning Program. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
Michelle Hansen, principal of Phoebe A. Hearst Elementary School, hands a laptop computer to a parent in Sacramento on April 10. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

How quickly are California’s schools adjusting to distance learning? It has more to do with how much effort they put into developing online learning programs pre-pandemic than their district’s wealth or geographic location, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano and Adria Watson found after analyzing more than 170 school districts’ response. Some school districts launched their remote-learning programs the day campuses shut down; others took more than a month. Check out a graph of the data here.

  • Michelle Rodriguez, superintendent of Pajaro Valley Unified School District: “I wanted to have us get up and running as soon as possible because I felt that each day that we didn’t provide support to students … we were doing a disservice to them.”

CalMatters virtual events

Tuesday at 4 p.m.: Curious how California’s teachers are navigating the most significant disruption to education in modern history? Want to learn more about how parents can help their children learn from home? Join us for a virtual conversation with three California teachers at the forefront of remote instruction. Register here and submit questions here.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California cities have been hurting financially for a while, but raising taxes now would be a fool’s errand. Cities will have to weather, as best they can, demands for increased spending, plummeting revenues and hostility to new taxes.

California needs a pay equity czar: It has the nation’s largest state worker gender pay gap at 19.5%. It’s time for Gov. Newsom to appoint a pay equity czar to step up research and modernize California’s antiquated bargaining process, argues Kate Karpilow, former director of the California Center for Research on Women and Families at the Public Health Institute.

Frontline workers need PPE: If there’s anything worse than an emergency room full of COVID-19 patients, it’s an emergency room where hospital staff can’t care for them because of a lack of personal protective gear, writes John Pearson, an emergency room nurse at Oakland’s Highland Hospital.

Other things worth your time

Many California beaches and parks were crowded this weekend, and some counties are pushing back against the statewide shelter-in-place order. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Here’s when stay-at-home orders expire in each of California’s 58 counties. // The Los Angeles Times

Gov. Newsom announces California will pay restaurants to deliver meals to seniors. // LAist

California is paying the Sacramento Kings $500,000 per month to use its arena as a field hospital. But it was framed as a donation. // The Sacramento Bee

California cities say they’ll lose $6.7 billion over the next two years. // CNBC

Before lawmakers return to Capitol, Sacramento County wants to test them for coronavirus. // The Sacramento Bee

California tech giants Google and Apple pledge to shut down coronavirus trackers when pandemic ends. // The Verge

A California postal worker reflects on what it means to deliver mail during the pandemic. // Yahoo News

“Appreciation caravans” honor California’s farmworkers. // NBC News

Court reinstates California law requiring background checks for people purchasing ammunition. // The Associated Press

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled the first bobblehead of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Some proceeds will be donated to the American Hospital Association’s Protect the Heroes Campaign.


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...