In summary

California remains in limbo as coronavirus cases rise, deaths fail to budge. Budget cuts mostly spare homelessness programs. Concern over released inmates grows.

Good morning, California. It’s Monday, May 18.

Cases keep rising; deaths won’t go down

A nursing student does patient check-in and hands out requisition forms allowing patients to get their COVID-19 test results online at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A nursing student does patient check-in at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

As California begins to reopen, it’s unclear if it’s met its own benchmarks for doing so.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has repeatedly said California will need to see steady declines in coronavirus cases and deaths in order to reopen in earnest. But two months into the state’s shelter-in-place order, coronavirus cases are still rising and deaths remain at a stubborn plateau. In fact, Friday was the state’s second-deadliest day amid the pandemic.

Yet even as the state remains in limbo, it’s trying to move forward. It authorized 23 counties to reopen dine-in restaurants and shopping centers, though many didn’t meet testing-capacity requirements until the state itself provided new testing sites. But even with the sites, testing levels remain low — in part due to low demand — which experts say could conceal the prevalence of the virus.

One goal of the stay-at-home order was to buy public health officials time to get a handle on the virus, and ultimately suppress it, by figuring out just how much “hidden disease” was out there through increased testing and tracing.

But months later, coronavirus’s true scope in California remains elusive, and testing progress is slow. The state is currently averaging 35,000 daily tests, up from 25,000 in April. Newsom has said the state will need to test between 60,000 and 80,000 residents per day in order to reopen. And California just began ramping up its contact-tracing capacity less than two weeks ago.


The Bottom Line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 80,165 confirmed coronavirus cases and 3,240 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 regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

Other stories you should know

1. Homelessness, affordable housing largely spared from budget cuts

Cassie Gamboa, left, and Robert Romo, right, go into their new hotel room with Edwin Aviles, of Union Station Homeless Services on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Photoby Michael Owen Baker courtesy of Los Angeles County
Cassie Gamboa, left, and Robert Romo, right, go into their new hotel room on April 7. Photo by Michael Owen Baker courtesy of Los Angeles County

Homelessness and affordable housing funds were largely spared from cuts in Newsom’s revised budget proposal, though some of the fiscal burden was shifted onto the federal government’s shoulders, CalMatters’ Matt Levin reports. For example, the governor’s January proposal to allocate $750 million in state dollars to homelessness is now a proposal to use $750 million in federal money to buy the hotels and motels sheltering homeless Californians amid the pandemic and convert them into more permanent solutions. Also preserved in the budget: $500 million in tax credits to build low-income housing. Conspicuously absent: a plan to help renters and landlords as missed rent payments pile up, and a plan to provide local governments with ongoing homelessness funding.

2. California’s K-12 and higher education systems take big financial hit

As the coronavirus has blown a hole in the state budget, California campuses such as California State University East Bay campus face budget cuts. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
California campuses such as California State University East Bay face budget cuts. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California’s education systems didn’t fare so well. Public K-12 schools were hit with a $6.5 billion cut to their main funding source, even as they face increased expenses to safely reopen schools in the fall. And with 70% of schools already facing budget shortfalls before the pandemic, teacher layoffs and furloughs are all but inevitable, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

  • Kevin Gordon, veteran education lobbyist: “School districts are in this very, very difficult place where they’re supposed to achieve things they’ve never done before and implement really deep budget cuts simultaneously.”

In higher education, the University of California system will face a $376 million cut, the California State University system a $404 million cut and the California Community Colleges a $740 million cut — unless the federal government steps in with more aid, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. However, state financial aid that allows hundreds of thousands of students to attend college tuition-free emerged largely unscathed.

  • Lizette Navarette, California Community Colleges vice chancellor: “When community colleges are needed most for the response, recovery and overall resiliency of our programs and our state, we’re taking devastating cuts.”

3. Concerns raised over what happens once inmates released

Prisoners are walked to another area in San Quentin Prison. Photo by Penni Gladstone for CalMatters

California state prisons have released about 3,500 inmates and the daily population in county jails has decreased by 20,000 since late February, raising concerns for criminal justice groups, victims’ rights advocates and public safety proponents alike, the Los Angeles Times reports. With many government offices, transitional shelters and reentry programs closed, released inmates often have nowhere to go and struggle to obtain ID cards, apply for jobs and open bank accounts, something advocates say could cause recidivism. Meanwhile, police agencies say there has been a rise in repeat offenders as former inmates take advantage of the state-ordered zero-bail policy amid the pandemic and continue to commit crimes.

  • Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer: “There comes a point where you have to weigh that the inmate might get a particular disease … against the public safety and the propensity that these people might commit crimes against another individual.”

CalMatters virtual events

Tuesday at 1 p.m.: How Nursing Homes Need to Change. CalMatters discusses how nursing homes are handling the coronavirus outbreak with Craig Cornett, CEO of the California Association of Health Facilities, Michael Dark, staff attorney at California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, and Dr. Michael Wasserman, president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine. Register here and submit your questions here.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Lawmakers can either go along with Newsom’s seemingly inflated deficit number or take the advice of their own budget experts, who say the real deficit may only be a third as large, and deal with it accordingly.

California doesn’t need austerity right now: The path to a shorter recession and quicker recovery requires all levels of government to keep as much funding as possible in the economy, argues Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget and Policy Center.

Out with the old, in with the new: We need to plan for a virtual future, where telehealth, tele-education and more are equally available to all Californians, writes state Sen. Anna Caballero, a Salinas Democrat.

Mental health issues in a post-COVID world: We must assume the pandemic has impacted everyone’s mental health, and community organizations will play a key role in boosting social-emotional well-being, argues Shawn Ginwright, San Francisco State University professor of education and African American Studies and chairman of the board of directors for the California Endowment.

Toward a better recycling process: California should use this coronavirus-induced pause to upgrade the redemption process for bottles and cans, write Heidi Sanbor, executive director of the National Stewardship Action Council, and Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute.

Other things worth your time

The states in the Western States Pact have been forging their own coronavirus paths. // The San Francisco Chronicle

California rejects a $655k grant to Elon Musk’s SpaceX of state job and training funds, citing his threats to move Tesla out of state. // Reuters

Bay Area tech workers are increasingly escaping Silicon Valley’s sky-high rents amid the pandemic. // Bloomberg

Perhaps not coincidentally, demand for Lake Tahoe real estate is skyrocketing. // Tahoe Daily Tribune

This California city declared itself a “sanctuary city” for businesses and churches to reopen during the pandemic. // The San Francisco Chronicle

Judge orders Los Angeles to move homeless living near freeways due to health concerns. // The Los Angeles Times


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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...