Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, July 23.

Sent 17 million masks to other states

Medical student Shreya Thatai holds up a sign outside of Berkeley Bowl asking for mask donations to help health care workers. California Gov. Gavin Newsom promises to have solved the shortage by cutting a massive deal for new masks. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Medical student Shreya Thatai holds up a sign outside of Berkeley Bowl asking for mask donations to help health care workers. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California is burning through 46 million masks a month even as hospital systems and frontline workers face shortages, leading Gov. Gavin Newsom to ink another multimillion-dollar mask contract with plans to strike an even larger deal in the next few months.

The governor’s Wednesday announcement came a day after California logged a record daily total of coronavirus cases, pushing the Golden State past New York to claim the nation’s highest case count at nearly 414,000. Hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions are also at record highs.

Newsom unveiled a $316 million contract for 420 million masks with BYD, the Chinese manufacturer with whom the governor struck a controversial and highly publicized $1 billion deal in April. BYD missed several delivery deadlines after initially failing to earn mask certification from federal health officials.

  • Newsom: “Our PPE (personal protective equipment) strategy was predicated on the lack of a national strategy. … We need to go big and continue to be bold in our procurement.”

In an indication California won’t be leaving the “wild, wild West” of the medical-supply marketplace anytime soon, Newsom said the state plans to sign an even larger “master contract” for protective gear. The governor also said he’s in talks with Honeywell and other companies to open a California mask plant and create hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

Meanwhile, California has sent 17 million masks to Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Alaska despite an influx of hospitalizations in Southern California and Central Valley counties that workers say have strained resources.

  • Newsom: “It would have been wrong for me to sit on 100 million masks … and not help American citizens in real need. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep well at night.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 413,576 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,870 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

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. Schools opening for child care raise questions — and lawsuits

Image via iStock

More than 30 lawsuits have now been filed against Newsom’s shelter-in-place orders — and the latest, filed Tuesday, challenges the governor’s directive for most schools to begin the year with online learning, arguing schools should be allowed to remain open like camps and child care centers. Ironically, some school districts, including Glendale and Long Beach Unified, plan to redeploy empty classrooms for child care programs — with staff members or substitute teachers helping students with online lessons, the Associated Press reports.

  • Kristine Nam, spokesperson for Glendale Unified School District: “It certainly is not going to look like a traditional day would look, but we’re going to try to make it as structured of a day as possible.”
  • Stacy Hoek, a Merced County parent: “Why put the children into groups for child care but not for learning?”

2. Ethnic studies, social justice class now required at CSU

Image via iStock

California State University students must take an ethnic studies or social justice class in order to graduate following a CSU trustee vote Wednesday that marks the first change to the system’s general education requirements in four decades, the Los Angeles Times reports. The requirement — which would go into effect in 2023 — is now on a crash course with a bill lawmakers are expected to pass next week, CalMatters reported. The bill has a narrower focus and would require CSU students to take an ethnic studies class in order to graduate. If passed by the Legislature and signed by Newsom, it would override the trustees’ vote.

  • Trustee Rebecca Eisen: “If we were in a different state, we would be scared out of our wits by the idea that the Legislature would be telling us what we should be teaching.”

3. Inside California’s Medi-Cal miscalculation

Image via iStock

California could potentially have extended Medi-Cal health coverage to undocumented seniors — as it planned to do before the pandemic — had it not earmarked billions of dollars to handle an anticipated surge in enrollment that seems unlikely to materialize, California Healthline reports. The budget Newsom recently signed assumed 2 million Californians would enroll by July in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor, pushing total enrollment to a record 14.5 million. But Medi-Cal enrollment has barely shifted from its March level of 12.5 million, despite the fact that nearly 3 million Californians are newly unemployed.

  • State Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat: “We are talking about life-or-death services, so to say I’m frustrated is putting it mildly. … It’s irritating to me that they can be so off.”

4. California college students appeal for more financial aid

Dulce Jimenez at her boyfriend’s apartment, where she often studies for the LSAT. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters via Google Hangout

The number of University of California and CSU students appealing their financial aid packages has soared amid the pandemic, raising concerns that more students will have to take out loans or drop out of school altogether, Vanessa Arredondo reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. Around 71% of the Golden State’s returning college students lost all or some of their income amid the pandemic, a problem exacerbated by many federal work-study jobs shutting down in the spring. And some students feel they should use financial aid money to help their families stay afloat amid the pandemic.

  • UCLA student Dulce Jimenez: “I am concerned about having to pay for my educational costs because things are really tight for my parents.”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California voters may see a slew of new local tax measures after a state appellate court ruled they can be passed by a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote when placed on the ballot via initiative petitions.

California needs a public bank: It would help the economy recover from COVID-19 by providing loans to small businesses and local governments, argues Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat.

Contact tracing workforce should be led by people of color: California needs contact tracers that can speak to patients in their native language and with cultural sensitivity, writes Dr. Anthony Iton of the California Endowment.


Other things worth your time

A Marin private school is adding an off-campus, nature-based micro-school track for the upcoming year. // Marin Independent Journal

San Diego County conceals names of assisted living homes with COVID-19 deaths. // inewsource

California GOP leaders consider ousting two anti-Trump Republicans. // Los Angeles Times

FBI launches vandalism investigation at Sacramento Black church after series of hate crimes. // Sacramento Bee

San Francisco-based Sierra Club calls out racism of John Muir. // Los Angeles Times

California households emit 33% less carbon than those in any other state. // Mercury News

California’s only wolf pack adds eight newborn pups, but the father is a bit of a mystery. // San Francisco Chronicle

Owner of California winery with name similar to Newsom pestered with angry calls, emails. // KRON4

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...