Good morning, California. It’s Friday, July 17.

Difficult road ahead

A closed business in downtown Roseville on May 14. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

As California approaches yet another pandemic inflection point, things are looking pretty grim on multiple fronts. 

—Virus: The state logged a record 11,000 new cases on Tuesday, and hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions remain at record levels, though the rate at which they’re increasing is beginning to slow down, CalMatters’ tracker shows. Deaths are also rising, hitting a record seven-day average of 100 last weekend. 

—Economy: After Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down massive swaths of the economy Monday, any remaining hope for a relatively quick recovery was dashed, experts told CalMatters’ Lauren Hepler. The second wave of closures hit businesses hard, with some forced to close their doors just a few days after reopening for the first time in months.

  • Kaya Herron of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce: “Our downtown and our business districts are at risk of losing their tenants, but also of losing their diversity and vibrancy. If businesses don’t make it through this wave, a lot of them will never reopen.” 

—Employment: Nearly 6.6 million Californians have filed new unemployment claims since the onset of the pandemic, including about 288,000 last week — the highest weekly total since May

Meanwhile, federal benefits of an extra $600 per week are set to end July 31, and California’s embattled unemployment department is facing a backlog of nearly 2 million claims just from the first three months of the pandemic. 

—Schools: Newsom will unveil new state guidance for schools today, and he seems poised to announce another semester of distance learning

The implications are drastic. A first-of-its kind report from the Los Angeles Unified School District found that Black and Latino middle and high school students participated in online learning between 10 and 20% less than white and Asian students. Weekly participation peaked at 57% for English learners, homeless students, and those with disabilities or in foster care.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 356,178 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,345 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.


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Other stories you should know

1. Inside the California county that abandoned contact tracing

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters; elements via iStock

Merced County has given up on contact tracing despite a 500% increase in infections and an agreement it signed with the state to deploy 42 contact tracers, CalMatters’ Rebecca Sohn reports. In yet another indication of the confusing and politically thorny nature of coronavirus orders, county supervisors were unaware contact tracing had ground to a halt until Rebecca reached out to them, and Newsom’s administration declined to say whether it planned to enforce the agreement. The county health department says it’s unable to keep up with contact tracing as infections surge — especially among Latinos, who make up around 70% of cases — concerning experts who say it’s the best way to contain the virus.

  • Hugo Garcia, a Merced resident whose mother died from COVID-19: “I don’t know who to blame more — the county or the (almond) plant” where he works and contracted the virus, eventually spreading it to his mother. “I’m more upset about my mom. That’s what hurts me the most.”

2. CSU, lawmakers clash over ethnic studies requirement

A group of CSU ethnic studies students visits the Capitol to lobby for legislation to make such classes a graduation requirement. Photo courtesy of Raven Freebird

Next week, the California State University Board of Trustees will decide whether to adopt a proposal from the chancellor that would require students to take an ethnic studies class or a social justice class before they graduate. But it could be overruled if Newsom signs a bill backed by the Legislature that would require CSU students to take an ethnic studies class, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn and Omar Rashad report. The CSU proposal would allow students to fulfill the requirement with classes other than those centered on African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Latinos. Proponents of the lawmakers’ bill say CSU’s proposal misses the point of an ethnic studies requirement.

  • Alison Wrynn, CSU’s associate vice chancellor of academic programs: “Our students are not one thing. … Students will be able to select a course that does intersect, perhaps with their racial identity, as well as their gender, their sexual orientation, their ability status, religion, etc.”
  • Kenneth Monteiro, coordinator of CSU Council on Ethnic Studies: CSU’s proposal “ensures a student can still go to kindergarten to a bachelor’s degree in the state system and never learn a thing about the intellectual traditions, cultural achievements or the liberation movements of people of color.”

3. PG&E power lines ignited 2019 Kincade Fire, state says

Gov. Newsom surveys a home destroyed in the Kincade Fire, Oct. 25, 2019, in Geyserville. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

PG&E power lines started the Kincade Fire, California’s largest wildfire in 2019 that burned through parts of Sonoma County, state authorities said Thursday. The news came the same day the California Public Utilities Commission unanimously voted to require cell towers to provide 72 hours of backup power in emergencies, including power shutoffs during wildfire season. (The Kincade Fire, incidentally, started the same month PG&E instituted a series of power blackouts to lower wildfire risk.) More than 50 Kincade Fire victims, with more to come, filed a lawsuit against PG&E last week, the Press Democrat reports. The beleaguered utility emerged from bankruptcy about two weeks ago.


CalMatters events

Tuesday, July 21 at 10 a.m.: The crisis in California mental healthHow is the state government, now facing massive budget cuts, responding to the mental health impacts of the pandemic? Register here for a conversation with Dr. Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician and public health advocate; John Connolly, deputy secretary for behavioral health at the California Health and Human Services Agency; CW Johnson, outreach coordinator for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco; and Dr. Jonathan Sherin, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Submit your questions here.

Tuesday, July 21 at 1 p.m.: What will happen to California cities as jobs go remoteHow many jobs permanently migrate away from in-person offices has massive implications for California’s decades-long push for higher density, housing affordability and downtown development. Join CalMatters and the Milken Institute for a conversation with State Sen. Anna Cabellero, a Salinas Democrat; Kome Ajise, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments; and Lili Gangas, chief technology community officer at the Kapor Center. Register here and submit your questions here.


CalMatters commentary

Leadership needed on nuclear waste: Newsom and lawmakers must demand action on nuclear waste and fill gaps in oversight, argues Bart Ziegler of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation.


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Other things worth your time

Thirty lawsuits have now been filed against Newsom over various coronavirus orders. // CalMatters

How planning and early action helped San Francisco’s Chinatown control coronavirus. // PBS Newshour

Five months into pandemic, state will release COVID-19 data from local jails. // Sacramento Bee

San Francisco permanently scraps jail phone call fees. // KQED

Latinos are largest group of Californians admitted to UC for the first time. // Los Angeles Times

Proposed law would expand the pool of Californians eligible for jury service. // Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles, a vice-presidential contender, talks 2020 election with the Sacramento Press Club. // Sacramento Bee


See you Monday.

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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...