Good morning, California. It’s Monday, July 20.

Parents scramble for alternatives

Today, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that schools serving more than 5 million students across the state will not be reopening for in-person instruction this fall. Image via iStock
Image via iStock

It’s official: At least 90% of California students will begin the school year with online learning.

The order, which Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday, marks an unprecedented level of state intervention into the operations of more than 1,000 local districts. It also carries massive implications for working parents, the battered economy, and learning gaps already exacerbated by distance learning in the spring. 

  • Newsom: “Our students, our teachers, staff and certainly parents, we all prefer in-classroom instruction for all the obvious reasons — social and emotional, foundationally — but only, only if it can be done safely.”
  • Assemblymember Kevin Kiley, a Rocklin Republican: “(Friday’s) decision elevates the appearance of safety over actual safety. … The impacts of school closures will be devastating for working parents, academic equity, and mental health.”

Under the new mandate — which applies to both public and private schools — campuses in the 33 counties being monitored by the state for virus spread are prohibited from reopening until they spend 14 consecutive days off the watch list. 

In schools allowed to reopen, staff and students in third grade and above are required to wear face masks. Staff must keep six feet apart from students and each other and will be tested regularly. If more than 5% of staff and students test positive, the school must close. If more than 25% of schools in a district close, the district must close. 

Faced with another Zoom-only semester, an increasing number of California parents are moving to formally homeschool their children or form “learning pods,” small groups of children taught by a private tutor — options largely unavailable to low-income, working-class families that could further widen the state’s achievement gap.  


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 384,692 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,685 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. Newsom let counties reopen without meeting state requirements

Newsom at Miss Ollie’s restaurant in Oakland on June 9. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo/Pool

When asked Friday if more schools could have reopened had California been slower to restart its economy, Newsom said “I’m not able to hypothesize about coulda, woulda, shoulda.” But the governor allowed counties to reopen in May without meeting testing and tracing requirements he said were key to containing the spread of the virus, the Los Angeles Times reports. Seventeen counties didn’t have enough contact tracers and more than two dozen weren’t conducting the minimum number of daily tests, but they were given the green light anyway. At least one county has since given up on contact tracing, CalMatters reported.

The county reopenings were accompanied by a noticeable shift in messaging, as Newsom transitioned from emphasizing that data supported the lockdown to underscoring its negative impact on the economy and mental health.

2. Feds sending potentially unusable tests to California nursing homes

Vietnam veteran Jerry Hogan at Lindsay Gardens on April 28 after testing positive for COVID-19. Photo by Jeremy Hogan, SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images

California will soon start receiving COVID-19 test kits from the federal government to be used in nursing homes — but the kits don’t meet the Golden State’s sensitivity standards, and thus can’t be used unless state public health officials change the rules, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports. It’s the latest example of disconnect between federal and state governments as California nursing homes rush to tamp down outbreaks that have killed nearly 2,900 residents. The state requires nursing homes to use tests with 95% sensitivity — meaning they can’t miss more than 5% of people with the virus — whereas the federal government is providing tests with 80% sensitivity.

  • Dr. Mike Wasserman, president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine: “I am concerned about the way the federal government has seemed to do things without actually engaging the folks who understand how things work in nursing homes.”

3. Inside California’s widening economic gulf

A volunteer helps direct traffic to a food bank at Easton Presbyterian Church on April 6. Photo by Eric Paul Zamora, The Fresno Bee

The rift between California’s haves and have-nots is growing larger as the pandemic and poverty feed off each other. Workers facing the highest rates of unemployment already earned the lowest wages. And the new surge of cases is disproportionately composed of young people and Latinos — who also make up the state’s essential workforce and tend to live in overcrowded housing. Meanwhile, the 50 richest Californians saw their net worth surge by 27% during the first few months of the pandemic. CalMatters’ Jackie Botts breaks down the Golden State’s widening income inequality in five key charts, including the percentage of people teetering on the brink of poverty, grappling with rent and experiencing food insecurity.

  • Meet some of the Californians who lost their jobs amid the pandemic — and are grappling with a sudden shift in life plans and priorities — in this series of profiles and portraits from California Sunday Magazine.

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 LA County Department of Mental Health. Submit your questions here.

Tuesday, July 21 at 1 p.m.: What happens 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 Assn. of Governments; and Lili Gangas, chief technology community officer at the Kapor Center. Register here and submit your questions here.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s dominant liberals talk a lot about ending poverty, but often fail to notice that their policy decrees raise living costs for the poor — a problem exacerbated amid the pandemic.

Equity a budget priority: Lawmakers need to ensure students have equal access to Advanced Placement classes, sports, theater, STEM classes and more, writes Cristina De Jesus of Green Dot California.

A historic opportunity: The decline in California’s commercial real estate demand represents a chance to repurpose properties into affordable housing, argues Jason Ward of the RAND Corporation.

More resilient electrical grid needed: With its web of decades-old poles and wires, California’s electrical grid is still not well-positioned to deal with a changing climate, write Ted Lamm and Ethan Elkind of UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment.


Other things worth your time

Lawmakers push Newsom to issue executive order allowing salons and barbershops to operate outdoors. // Fresno Bee

Cutting bills and cleaning: How the state Legislature plans to wrap up the year. // Sacramento Bee

New records in Oakland police shooting raise questions about district attorney’s role in investigating cops. // Mercury News

Killings in Bay Area up 14% in first half of 2020 as Vallejo homicides spike. // San Francisco Chronicle

Video: Inside California’s surprising history of Confederate monuments. // CalMatters

California is trying to crack down on power line fires. Will it work? // San Francisco Chronicle

Cannabis farmers in this poor California town want to get licensed, but the raids keep coming. // 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...