Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, July 15.

What happens if districts defy state?

Gov. Gavin Newsom, wears a face mask as he answers a reporters question during his visit to the Queen Sheba Ethiopian Cuisine restaurant in Sacramento on Friday, June 19, 2020. Newsom visited the restaurant that is participating in the Great Plates Delivered program that provides meals to older adults who are at-risk to COVID-19. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo/Pool
Gov. Newsom wears a face mask at the Queen Sheba Ethiopian Cuisine restaurant in Sacramento on June 19. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo/Pool

Orange County isn’t making things easy for Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The county’s board of education recommended Monday that students return to school without face masks or physical distancing, contradicting guidelines from the state Department of Education and testing Newsom’s avowed commitment to allowing local districts to decide for themselves whether to reopen schools in the fall. 

  • The board of education’s report: “Requiring children to wear masks during school is not only difficult — if not impossible to implement — but not based on science.” 
  • State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond in an email statement to me: “We believe students and staff should wear face coverings and practice physical distancing under any model that includes in-person instruction.”

The board’s recommendations are not binding, and Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares stressed his commitment to following state guidelines. But the vote illustrates the intensifying battle between state and local authorities — as well as everyday citizens — over who gets to decide coronavirus policies as the state shuts back down

Orange County has long been a focal point. When Newsom shut down its beaches in May, multiple cities sued him. When county health officer Nichole Quick required masks be worn in public, the sheriff refused to enforce her order and she received death threats from residents, leading her to resign in June. 

The board’s vote also increases pressure on Newsom to decide how and whether schools should reopen in the fall. An increasing number of districts are delaying in-person classes indefinitely, including Santa Ana Unified in Orange County. 

But if districts were to reopen in direct opposition to recommendations from Newsom’s administration, would that force the governor to intervene? 

  • Newsom on Monday: “We … have made decisions to further strengthen our guidelines (for schools) based upon the increased growth and rate of spread. … It should encourage you to believe that we will be leaning in even further.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Tuesday night, California had 336,508 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,087 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. California sets new testing priorities amid supply shortage

People wait on line at a Covid-19 testing facility sponsored by the Native American Health Center on International Boulevard near 31st Avenue in Oakland on July 7, 2020. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group
People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Oakland on July 7. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

California unveiled a new testing strategy Tuesday prioritizing vulnerable and symptomatic patients amid supply constraints and delayed results stemming from increased demand. The state is also asking providers to perform more tests, which would free up state-run sites to focus on underserved populations — and shift more costs onto health insurers, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports.

Californians will be prioritized for testing based on the following categories:

  • Tier 1: Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms; people linked to outbreaks.
  • Tier 2: Symptomatic people; health-care workers; those who live or work in nursing homes, homeless shelters or prisons.
  • Tier 3: Asymptomatic essential workers.
  • Tier 4: The general population — once the state’s testing turnaround time is less than 48 hours.

2. Department of Justice calls for changes to state gang database

Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Dec. 5, 2016. Photo by Steve Yeater for CalMatters
Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Dec. 5, 2016. Photo by Steve Yeater for CalMatters

The California Department of Justice is encouraging lawmakers to consider reforming a state database of gang members and has blocked all law enforcement agencies from accessing the Los Angeles Police Department’s entries, which make up nearly 25% of the CalGang database, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Tuesday. The news comes less than a week after the LAPD permanently withdrew from the system after three officers were charged with inserting false records. Another 21 officers are under investigation, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The state Department of Justice, which is independently auditing the LAPD’s use of CalGang, will also conduct “targeted audits” of other agencies’ practices.

  • Becerra: “CalGang is only as good as the data that is put into it. … Public safety tools must provide a real benefit to the public and withstand the durability test of constant scrutiny. It should now be obvious to everyone: CalGang must change.”

3. Trump’s smog decision threatens California public health, experts say

Bad air day along 99 south of Fresno, Thursday morning Dec. 28, 2017. Photo by John Walker, The Fresno Bee
Air pollution along Highway 99 south of Fresno on Dec. 28, 2017. Photo by John Walker, The Fresno Bee

California scientists and air quality officials said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s decision to not strengthen health standards for ozone — a key ingredient of smog — poses a public health risk, especially for children with asthma, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. The Los Angeles basin and San Joaquin Valley are home to the nation’s worst ozone pollution, and an additional 17 areas of the state don’t meet current ozone standards. Nevertheless, setting a tougher standard would have created an important benchmark for California and other polluted areas to achieve in the future, experts say.

4. Mask vendor didn’t only have trouble with California contract

Image via iStock

Two political operatives at the center of a failed $600 million face-mask contract with California subsequently struck deals with Alabama, Tennessee and more than 20 agencies, including a health system in Riverside and the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Department — but failed to deliver most of the supplies and issued millions of dollars in refunds, according to a newly released letter Blue Flame Medical’s lawyer wrote to a House panel investigating the company. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee launched the inquiry after CalMatters reported on California’s abrupt reversal of the Blue Flame deal, and the Washington Post reported the company was under criminal investigation over stalled deals with California and Maryland.

Blue Flame’s president, John Thomas — a Republican political consultant in Southern California — believed he could sell masks and other coveted supplies when he launched the company at the start of the pandemic because of his relationship with a Chinese medical-supply executive, the letter states. But, it says, Blue Flame was stymied by supply-chain disruptions, price fluctuations and interference from the Chinese government.

CalMatters survey

Are you on California’s health-care frontlines? If so, CalMatters health reporter Jocelyn Wiener wants to hear from you. What are you experiencing at work and at home? What are the biggest challenges you face? Are you getting the support you need? Fill out the questionnaire here. All information will be kept confidential unless you consent to it being used.

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

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom says California’s new budget is balanced, but the gap was closed by running up the state’s credit card with debt. It’s a multibillion-dollar wager, with taxpayers on the hook if it’s a loser.

Recognize progress of high-speed rail project: Someday it will be seen as an icon, like the Golden Gate Bridge, and a traffic reducer, like BART, argue Democratic state Sens. Jim Beall of San Jose and Scott Wiener of San Francisco.

Voter suppression also a California problem: We may have all the fancy policies and politicians saying all the right things about voting, but in practice we fail, writes Valerie Morishige, a voting rights advocate and poll worker.


Other things worth your time

Fact check: Are California hospitals overcounting coronavirus patients? // Sacramento Bee

Coronavirus outbreak at Harris Ranch has critics calling for more accountability. // Fresno Bee

Seven days of confusion: Newsom faces off with Bay Area counties. // SFGate

Oakland police warn of murder surge as city council considers budget cuts. // San Francisco Chronicle

A California corporate filing provides a glimpse behind a mysterious, controversial e-cigarette company. // Capitol Weekly

California rejected more than 100,000 mail-in ballots in March primary due to voter mistakes. // Associated Press

Trump administration rescinds international student visa rule challenged by California’s three public systems of higher education. // 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...