In summary

Some of Newsom’s ambitious coronavirus-response plans fail to materialize. Push to reopen grows in some localities even as testing lags.

Good morning, California. It’s Monday, May 4.

Some premature announcements

Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a press conference in the wake of the first COVID-19 deaths in California. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

A week after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to deliver three free restaurant meals a day to vulnerable seniors, not a single meal has been delivered, only two of California’s 58 counties are collecting sign-ups, and 75% of program funding will expire in six days.

It’s the latest example, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts writes, of the governor heralding ambitious coronavirus-response plans before hammering out the nuts and bolts of how they’ll work. In this case, local governments — tasked with executing the plan — weren’t even aware of its existence.

Newsom needs to convey optimism publicly while navigating vast complexities behind the scenes. The reality: He sometimes touts ideas not fully fleshed out or makes promises he can’t keep.

For example:

  • On March 30, Newsom launched the California Health Corps to help treat a coronavirus patient surge that has yet to materialize. Signups soared to 93,000, but two-thirds lacked a license to practice in their specialty. Among the mere 5% cleared to participate: 233 workers deployed to a Sacramento emergency hospital who are being paid even without any patients to treat.
  • On April 15, Newsom said California’s gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed would receive unemployment checks in 24 to 48 hours. It turns out that’s the timeframe only for a minimum payment, and the rest of the benefits will be paid at an unspecified time.
  • On Tuesday, Newsom said kids could start school as early as July, an announcement that took local superintendents — many of whom were planning for a later fall semester — by surprise.
  • On Wednesday, Newsom announced a multimillion-dollar program to divert farmers’ excess crops to food banks. But farmers say they’ll still have to destroy some crops, milk and livestock.

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters weighs in: “Newsom is essentially promising Californians that … everything will turn out all right, but to succeed he must maintain credibility, and at times he’s his own worst enemy.”

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The Bottom Line: As of 7:30 p.m. Sunday night, California had 54,902 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,214 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. As three counties reopen despite shelter-in-place order, challenges ahead for Newsom

A woman holds up a sign as California Highway Patrol officers push back against protesters at a Capitol “Reopen California” anti-Newsom protest. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

With two counties planning to reopen some businesses today, and another that did so Friday, Newsom’s biggest challenge in the coming weeks will be maintaining buy-in from local officials, whose support is critical to upholding the governor’s orders across the state, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. Despite protests in the past few days, polls show most Californians continue to support the shelter-in-place order. But some rural counties that haven’t seen an influx of coronavirus cases are reopening in defiance of the statewide order. Modoc County reopened churches and businesses on Friday, and today Yuba and Sutter counties will reopen gyms, nail salons, restaurants and shops.

  • Rob Stutzman, Republican political consultant and former aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “He is more likely to have issues with local governments in the next week or so if he doesn’t start considering some differences and letting them be heard.”

2. CA counties unprepared to perform level of tests needed to reopen

A phlebotomist takes a finger-prick blood sample at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Bolinas on April 22. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Speaking of reopening, none of California’s counties are prepared to perform the number of daily coronavirus tests experts say are necessary to safely reopen the state, a Palm Springs Desert Sun analysis found. A minimum of 152 tests per 100,000 people daily are needed to track potential outbreaks and understand the virus’s spread, according to widely cited research from the Harvard Global Health Institute. But California was conducting just 52 tests per 100,000 people daily as of late April, falling slightly below the national average of 68 daily tests. Other complications: uneven data reporting and access to testing materials across counties.

  • Dr. Michael Gunn, Duke University professor of medicine and immunology: “We are currently in the ‘it’s a wildfire’ phase, and the problem now is the fire is in large part invisible. So, what testing does right now is gives us an idea of how bad the fire is and where it is located.”

3. California’s untapped testing resource: pharmacies

A patient waits to pick up a prescription at La Clinica pharmacy in Oakland in September 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Offering coronavirus testing in California’s 6,300 pharmacies could greatly expand testing access, helping the state reopen more quickly. But California pharmacies are currently prohibited from performing the tests because they’re considered “high complexity,” the San Francisco Chronicle’s Cynthia Dizikes reports. However, 28 other states are allowing pharmacies to administer the tests. Advocates argue that pharmacies are already well-established in the “testing deserts” where Newsom has vowed to develop 86 new community testing sites. For pharmacies to offer coronavirus tests, Newsom would have to sign an executive order or the state issue a waiver.

  • Steven Chen, associate dean for clinical affairs at the USC School of Pharmacy: “It is baffling that this hasn’t happened yet in California. If we don’t deploy pharmacies, we are not going to get the testing done that we need to get done.”

4. California finally certifies March primary election results

In case anyone remembers the March primary two months ago, the results were certified Friday, with 9,687,076 Californians casting ballots — a primary record. And 38.4% of eligible voters cast ballots, the second-highest primary turnout percentage in the past 38 years.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s budget will take a big hit from the pandemic-induced recession, but the size of the impact is still up in the air.

Time for rent forgiveness: Coronavirus cost me my job, and if our elected officials don’t cancel rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic, it will cost me and many others our homes, writes Patricia Mendoza, a single mother of two.

American bailout: Only an act of Congress can give the American people what they need — a bailout in the form of rent and mortgage forgiveness, argues Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Los Angeles City Council.

Let’s consider the present: The Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to promote electric vehicles for the future ignores the need for cleaner fuels today, argues Steve Vander Griend, director of Fuels and Combustion Research, Urban Air Initiative.

Other things worth your time

People in poor areas of LA are infected and dying at twice the rate of wealthier neighborhoods. // CalMatters/La Opinión

Sacramento has lowest coronavirus-infection rate of any large U.S. metro area. // The Sacramento Bee

Newsom to lawmakers: Expect a budget gap in the tens of billions. // Bloomberg

How will workers prove they caught the coronavirus at work? // The San Francisco Chronicle

California snowpack nearly bare as drought worsens. // The Weather Channel

Is California nearing its Boston Tea Party moment? // The Hill

Podcast: The breaks in California’s food-supply chain. // CalMatters

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See you tomorrow.

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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...