Good morning, California. It’s Friday, November 20.
Starting Saturday night, nearly all Californians will be subject to a curfew aimed at curbing a statewide surge in coronavirus infections.
Under the terms of the “limited stay-at-home order” Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled Thursday, nonessential work and gatherings will be prohibited between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in the 41 counties currently in the most restrictive purple tier, which comprise 94% of the state’s population. The order, which will remain in effect through Dec. 21, appears to target bars and late-night gatherings — Californians will still be able to get takeout, go to the grocery store and leave their homes after 10 p.m., as long as they aren’t gathering with other households.
- Newsom: “We are sounding the alarm. It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges.”
Not all local governments seem to be on board. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said Thursday his office would not enforce the curfew, a position echoed by law enforcement in other regions. And public health experts are mixed on whether curfews help tamp down the spread of disease, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports.
- Tara Smith of Kent State University College of Public Health: Curfews “give cover for leaders who want to be seen as ‘doing something’ even though they likely won’t be effective.”
This critique will likely keep being lobbied at Newsom, who pulled an emergency brake on the state’s reopening plan Monday, three days after news broke of his attendance at a dinner party whose guests included top officials from the powerful doctors’ lobby. San Bernardino County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to sue Newsom over the new regulations, while two potential 2022 gubernatorial challengers — Republicans John Cox, who ran for California governor in 2018, and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer — seized on the political opportunity with Thursday tweets.
- Cox: “What a way for Gavin Newsom to make people forget about the French Laundry lobbyist dinner fiasco — announce a month long statewide curfew.”
- Faulconer: “After breaking his own COVID rules, it appears the Governor is already under curfew — he wont (sic) even address the public or media about his sudden lockdown.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Thursday night, California had 1,059,267 confirmed coronavirus cases and 18,466 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.
Leading up to Election Day, the oil industry, teachers unions and other powerful interest groups spent $34 million to influence California’s most competitive legislative races. With those races now called, what was their return on investment? Ben Christopher takes a look.
Other stories you should know
1. State mandates workplace protections
In other coronavirus news, California’s workplace safety agency on Thursday passed an emergency standard aimed at protecting employees from infection while at work, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts reports. Under the new rules — which could last for up to 14 months — employers must identify and fix COVID-19 hazards with the help of workers, notify all potentially exposed employees and offer them testing, pay workers while they’re quarantined, and report all outbreaks to local health departments. Harvesting companies must also minimize overcrowding in guest farmworker housing, following a joint investigation from CalMatters and The Salinas Californian that uncovered rampant coronavirus outbreaks among a low-wage workforce putting fresh produce on America’s kitchen table.
While some employers said the new rules were confusing and burdensome, workers and labor advocates applauded the new standard.
- Matt Rogers, general manager of labor contractor AgSocio, which employs guest farmworkers: “Six feet between beds is rigid and seems arbitrary. I really don’t think there’s any difference between six feet between beds and five when these folks are sharing a living space.”
- Maggie Robbins of Worksafe: “This is a really important way to provide workers the ability to say, ‘No, I really can’t come into work — I’m sick.'”
2. Bank of America’s role in unemployment crisis
With nearly 700,000 unemployment claims temporarily suspended amid investigations into potential fraud, some California lawmakers are beginning to rethink the state’s relationship with Bank of America, which since 2010 has had an exclusive contract to deliver unemployment benefits through prepaid debit cards, CalMatters’ Lauren Hepler and Stephen Council report. But the contract is up in July, raising questions as to whether California — one of three states that doesn’t offer a direct deposit option for unemployment insurance — will decide debit cards are still the best way to get benefits into the hands of claimants. Meanwhile, claimants hanging on by an increasingly thin financial thread are fed up with Bank of America. They say jammed phone lines and inconsistent answers have left them in the dark as to when their cards will be unfrozen and benefits made accessible.
- Paul Dease, 52, of San Diego County: “They treat you like trash. How many people have the same story I have, that have lost $1,000 or $800 or haven’t gotten it back?”
- One Bank of America employee: “We’re actually no longer allowed to tell them a timeframe, because we have no clue. Every day, I talk to 30 people with the same story. I just pray for them after my shift, honestly.”
Neither Bank of America or the state unemployment department would say how much the bank has made in fees from dispensing most of the unprecedented $110 billion California has paid out in benefits since March.
3. Auditor: EDD leaves millions at risk of identity fraud
Fraudulent payments are just one of the myriad challenges facing California’s unemployment department. Though the Employment Development Department has managed to decrease its backlog of claims from about 1.6 million in September to 590,000 as of Thursday, it continues to leave millions of Californians at risk of identity fraud, according to a Thursday report from the California state auditor. The auditor in March 2019 recommended that EDD stop including social security numbers in unemployment insurance forms mailed to claimants, warning the mail could be stolen or delivered to the incorrect address, putting Californians’ sensitive information at risk. But EDD has yet to remove social security numbers from the forms — and has sent at least 38 million pieces of mail including them since March, the audit found.
- EDD’s response: “We acknowledge and appreciate the urgency of the Auditor’s timeline, and although we are admittedly behind schedule, we continue to diligently work to protect the identities of those we serve.”
Our future is at a crossroads: Now is the time for the rest of the nation to join California in committing to climate action, writes Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis.
Losing faith in state government: Indoor climbing centers are more akin to shopping malls than gyms — so why is the government shutting them down? asks Kristin Tara Horowitz, CEO of Pad Climbing + Ascent Ventures.
Concerning change: With millions struggling to put food on the table, why has the state chosen this moment to dramatically change the way commodities are distributed to food banks? asks John Healey of California Emergency Foodlink.
All not lost with Prop. 15’s failure: There are other bold proposals that can lay the foundation for a just recovery while generating billions for schools and local services, argue Guillermo Mayer of Public Advocates Inc. and Sara Nelson of the Romero Institute.
Other things worth your time
‘State-sanctioned segregation’: California’s school closure debate boils over. // Politico
California could lose a seat in Congress, but Bay Area looks to be safe. // San Francisco Chronicle
Black and Latino renters face eviction, exclusion amid police crackdowns in California. // Los Angeles Times
Judge rejects Milpitas group’s bid to block sale of hotel for homeless housing. // Mercury News
San Francisco will slow down plan to move homeless people out of hotels, but mounting costs still a worry. // San Francisco Chronicle
Child care providers say California’s subsidized system is collapsing amid pandemic. // KQED
Veterans and their therapists decry San Diego VA’s handling of mental health care. // inewsource
Court dismisses cities’ lawsuit challenging cannabis deliveries in California. // Los Angeles Times
Port of Los Angeles has best month in 114 years as trucks, rails struggle to keep pace. // Los Angeles Daily News
See you Monday.
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