In summary

Serology tests hold key to reopening California. Hospitals prepare for worst-case scenario. Should California protect stimulus checks from debt collectors?

Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, April 22.

Tests in short supply; accuracy a concern

A blood test could be released soon that would tell us who has immunity to COVID-19. Image via iStock
Researchers are trying to develop a blood test that would indicate who has immunity to COVID-19. Image via iStock

As calls mount for life to return to normal, a test to see who has immunity to COVID-19 holds the key to reopening California’s economy. But there are hurdles: Competition to procure limited tests is ramping up, even as the tests’ accuracy remains contested, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Unlike diagnostic tests, blood-based, or serology, tests don’t determine if you have the virus. They gauge if you have developed antibodies, or an immune response, to the virus. But questions remain.

  • How reliable are the tests? Nearly 100 types of serology tests have entered the U.S. market due to a loosening in federal regulations. Not all are accurate. “We … have been receiving some of these kits, and we decided to test them to see how well they worked. And some of them weren’t very good,” said Yvonne Maldonado, a Stanford infectious-disease expert.
  • What do antibodies mean? Even if reliable tests show someone has antibodies, that doesn’t guarantee current or long-term immunity. And researchers still don’t know if you can contract the virus more than once.

Meanwhile, components needed to expand diagnostic testing for the virus — the first step to reopen California’s economy — are in short supply, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.

  • Newsom: The Trump administration “knows this. We need more of those supplies, but we’re not just going to sit on our hands in the absence of that. … And so we’ll continue to search high and low and continue to make progress in this space.”


The Bottom Line: As of 8 p.m. Tuesday night, California had 35,802 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,332 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. California sets guidelines for prioritizing patients if hospitals are overwhelmed by coronavirus

USNS Mercy hospital ship admit first patients on March 29, 2020. The ship is treating non-COVID-19 patients in an effort to relieve overwhelmed Los Angeles area hospitals.
Sailors on the hospital ship USNS Mercy admit a patient in Los Angeles on March 29. Photo by Erwin Jacob Miciano, U.S. Navy

Although hospitalization levels in California remain below projections, the state is still preparing for the worst-case scenario, as evidenced by a 38-page document from the California Department of Public Health outlining how patients should be prioritized if hospitals are overwhelmed. In such a situation, ICU beds and ventilators should be given first to those with the greatest likelihood of surviving treatment, younger people and workers “vital to the public health response,” the Los Angeles Times reports. The report raises difficult ethical questions, but it’s better to have standards in place than have doctors making split-second decisions, state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, a medical doctor, said.

2. Some states protected stimulus checks from debt collectors. Will California?

For Californians with consumers debt, bank and private collectors could garnish their coronavirus relief stimulus checks. Image via iStock
Californians with consumer debt could see their stimulus checks garnished. Image via iStock

Californians with consumer debt could see their $1,200 federal stimulus checks garnished to pay back banks or private debt collectors — and so far, Newsom hasn’t issued an executive order to prevent that, despite debt collectors saying they wouldn’t stand in the way, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports. Meanwhile, other states have taken action to protect the stimulus checks from debt collection, and 14 U.S. senators, led by California Sen. Kamala Harris, are asking the U.S. Treasury to exempt the stimulus checks from garnishment.

  • In addition, millions of Californians who don’t usually file taxes because they make less than $12,200 per year stand to miss out on the stimulus checks unless they file an abbreviated tax form, an extra step that advocates worry will be a barrier to access. As a result, nonprofit Golden State Opportunity is offering free virtual tax counseling to at least a million low-income Californians.

3. How you can help Californians weather the coronavirus pandemic

Volunteer Cheryl Phelps, right, helps load food at a food bank giveaway held at Easton Presbyterian Church Monday, April 6, 2020 in Easton. Photo by Eric Paul Zamora, The Fresno Bee
Volunteer Cheryl Phelps, right, helps load food at a food bank giveaway in Easton. Photo by Eric Paul Zamora, The Fresno Bee

Newsom unveiled a new website Tuesday where Californians can sign up to lend a helping hand during the pandemic through organizations like Red Cross, United Way and the California Food Banks Association. 

  • California Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday: “If you’re healthy and you can make a difference in your community, we need you at food banks, we need you giving blood, we need you delivering meals, and we need you joining us.”

Other opportunities to volunteer include tutoring, fielding 211 calls, making face coverings, volunteering at shelters, calling to check in on seniors, translating and helping with tax prep.

CalMatters virtual events

Thursday at 4 p.m.: Want to know more about help available to homeowners and renters during the coronavirus pandemic and how to help homeless Californians? Join CalMatters housing reporter Matt Levin as he chats with Lisa Sitkin of the National Housing Law Project, Sasha Harnden of the Western Center for Law and Poverty, and Tomiquia Moss of All Home. Register here and submit questions here.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Gov. Newsom has created an 80-member task force to guide California’s economic recovery. We should not have high expectations.

Banding together against hate: Many Asian Americans have experienced verbal and physical attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic because the coronavirus was first detected in China. We must prevent discrimination from dividing us, writes Assemblymember Ed Chau of Los Angeles County.

More affordable housing needed: NIMBY groups are using COVID-19 to preserve the status quo by advocating to stop legislation that would address California’s housing supply and affordability crisis, argues Jeanne Radsick, president of the California Association of Realtors.

Clean energy an investment in the future: Stimulus investments in cutting-edge energy and transportation infrastructure can help lead us out of a recession and build the foundation for a strong economy, writes Brett Hauser, a Los Angeles-based advanced clean mobility startup executive.

Other things worth your time

Two Santa Clara residents were found to have died from COVID-19 in February. Officials had previously believed the region’s first COVID-19 death was in March. // The Mercury News

Facebook is taking down event pages in some states for protests against stay-at-home orders. California’s one of them. // Recode

Some California communities say it’s safe to reopen. But will Newsom allow it? // The Los Angeles Times

Why California’s air pollution could increase its coronavirus death toll. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Oil tankers carrying more than 20 million barrels of crude idle off coast of California for a record seven days as fuel demand dwindles. // Bloomberg

How delayed census could affect California’s redistricting. // Capitol Weekly

Remembering the Bay Area residents who lost their lives to coronavirus. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Will California’s exceptionalism become the new American exceptionalism? // The Atlantic

Another coronavirus side effect: Lots of lawsuits. // The Los Angeles Times


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...