Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, August 4.

Newsom guardedly optimistic

For the first time in a long while, California has some good coronavirus news.

The state’s positive case rate declined by 7%, hospitalizations by 10% and intensive-care admissions by 5% over the past two weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. One month ago, California’s positive case rate was up 37%, hospitalizations 56% and ICU admissions 49% over a two-week period.

  • Newsom: “At the moment, based upon the progress we have made, we feel we can get our arms around this in a judicious way.”

Newsom also appeared more confident in the state’s ability to respond to coronavirus outbreaks, pointing out that hard-hit Imperial County saw its positivity rate decrease from 30.3% to 11.2% after targeted state interventions.

The state is now using “The Imperial Model” in the burgeoning hot spot of the Central Valley, where Newsom last week deployed three “strike teams” to ramp up hospital staffing, increase testing and contact tracing, investigate outbreaks and ensure workers are protected.

Nevertheless, California still has a hard road ahead. A record 38 counties are on the state’s coronavirus watch list, a designation that prevents them from physically reopening for school in the fall. Deaths continue to rise — “a point of obvious concern” for Newsom — and on Friday the first California youth died from COVID-related complications. Latinos and essential workers continue to be disproportionately impacted by the virus.

  • Newsom: “We can quickly find ourselves back to where we were just a few weeks ago … if we do not maintain our vigilance.” But “I think the numbers we presented today prove that we can get a handle on it.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Monday night, California had 514,901 confirmed coronavirus cases and 9,388 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters is tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.


Other stories you should know

1. State paves way for elementary schools to reopen

School buses line up outside of Garfield Elementary School in Oakland on Sept. 6, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California elementary schools that meet strict conditions can reopen for in-person learning with the approval of their local health officer, according to state guidelines released late Monday. Small campuses and private schools are more likely to be able to meet the complex guidelines, concerning experts who say it could exacerbate educational inequities. Schools can apply for a reopening waiver in counties where the two-week coronavirus case rate is less than 200 per 100,000 people after consulting with parents, unions and community organizations and developing rigorous safety plans. The local health officer will then decide whether to approve the waiver in consultation with the state Department of Public Health.

The state on Monday also suspended youth sports and physical education, except in cases where children can maintain six feet of distance from each other.

2. Inside California’s beleaguered unemployment department

Image via iStock

What’s it like working at California’s unemployment department, where nearly 1 million claims are likely to remain backlogged until September? Some overwhelmed, overworked and frustrated employees have quit, citing increased pressure, outdated technology, red tape and inadequate training, the Los Angeles Times reports. One state worker, who was recently transferred to the Employment Development Department to help handle an unprecedented volume of claims, said she was given an 800-page instruction manual and left to figure things out for herself. Others said they weren’t given authority to handle certain claims, leaving them unable to help angry, crying customers who had called the department hundreds of times.

  • Samuel Kihagi, a temporary EDD employee who recently quit: “When we have someone who hasn’t had their money for months and they are calling this line, and they get me and all I can do is tell them, ‘Your payment is pending and I can’t do anything for you,’ that to me is kind of pointless.”
  • Tracie Kimbrough, who’s worked at EDD for 10 years: “Many times we are not able to do what is needed to assist our claimants (because of) outdated technology, limits on what we are allowed to do … even if we have the skill set to do what is needed.”

3. Despite massive losses, some UC campuses to increase police budgets

University of California police on Wednesday form a barrier around a group of students before they are arrested and carted away for blocking an intersection at the entrance to UC Santa Cruz. Photo by Dan Coyro, Santa Cruz Sentinel
UC police form a barrier around a group of students at the entrance to UC Santa Cruz on Feb. 12. Photo by Dan Coyro, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Police budgets will likely increase at multiple University of California campuses — including UCLA and UC Davis — for the upcoming academic year, despite both students and faculty calling for a drastic reduction in police funding, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. The news comes as the UC system weathers a loss of $1.8 billion due to the pandemic, with some regents calling for salary reductions and furloughs as a way to avoid mass layoffs. Others want to see plans to protect the system’s lowest-paid workers. The strategy UC chooses will likely have an outsized impact, as it is California’s third-largest employer.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The mayors of Sacramento and San Jose want to become “strong mayors” with executive authority, but are learning that it’s politically difficult — perhaps impossible — in an era of ideological polarization.

Support Assembly Bill 1720: It would help the state build clean-energy storage and create jobs through infrastructure projects, argues Robbie Hunter of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.

Reject Assembly Bill 1720: It would force the procurement of expensive energy resources on the backs of taxpayers, argues Michael Webster of the Southern California Public Power Authority.

Transforming juvenile justice: The Elevate Justice Act would produce meaningful changes for youth in the adult justice system by raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 19, argues Brian Richart of the Chief Probation Officers of California.

My turn to help others: A Black man stood up for me on the bus when I was in high school. Now it’s my turn to stand up for Black people, writes Geoffrey McLennan of the Placer County Mental Health Advisory Board.


Other things worth your time

Los Angeles Unified and teachers union reach tentative deal for more predictable remote learning schedules for students. // Los Angeles Times

California state workers weigh options as federal family leave for parents affected by coronavirus runs out. // Sacramento Bee

California GOP consultant rues ‘big mistake’ that led to family’s COVID infections. // California Healthline

Here’s how much money is flowing in California ballot campaigns. // San Francisco Chronicle

Column: Chop down the lynching tree from this California city’s logo? Probably not so fast. // 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...