California elected officials are rapidly losing credibility at a critical point in the pandemic, with hospitalizations at an all-time high and Gov. Gavin Newsom expected to announce a state lockdown today.
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle broke the news that Mayor London Breed attended a dinner party with seven other people at the three-Michelin-starred French Laundry restaurant in Napa County on Nov. 7 — the day after Newsom dined there with a group of powerful lobbyists. Also Tuesday, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo apologized for attending a Thanksgiving gathering that violated state rules. And on Monday night, Fox 11 reported that Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl dined outdoors at a restaurant hours after voting to ban outdoor dining in the county.
The news of Breed’s French Laundry soirée came the same day the mayor said stricter local rules would be necessary to curb the spread of infection — a display of dissonance likely to fuel resistance to such an order.
- Breed: “Our dangerous winter has arrived. We’re going to have to take more restrictive action, and it pains me to say that.”
- Jason McDaniel, an SFSU professor of political science: “Any increase in cynicism about our political leaders right now can potentially be costly. Our elected leaders should hold themselves to a higher standard.”
As the specter of another lockdown hangs over the state, two counties — Los Angeles and Santa Clara — have already implemented stay-at-home orders of their own. But resistance is rising within Los Angeles County. The city of Pasadena, which has its own public health department, voted to keep outdoor dining open despite the county ban — and saw a massive influx of business over the Thanksgiving holiday. Now at least four other Los Angeles cities are considering establishing their own public health departments to circumvent the county’s rules.
And after the U.S. Supreme Court last week struck down New York’s limitations on indoor religious services, churches across California are increasingly defiant of Newsom’s even stricter rules. The governor on Monday asked the Supreme Court to uphold California’s restrictions on indoor worship.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Tuesday night, California had 1,225,189 confirmed coronavirus cases and 19,211 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. Prison unemployment fraud update
Of the $1 billion prosecutors estimate California paid in fraudulent unemployment claims in the names of jail and prison inmates, investigators have now confirmed $400 million in payments, Crystal Page, deputy secretary for communications at the state Labor Workforce and Development Agency, told me Tuesday. That’s nearly three times the $140 million confirmed last week. Most of the fraudulent claims were for federal benefits, Page said.
An investigative task force of local and federal prosecutors, led by Sacramento County District Attorney Anne-Marie Schubert, wants California to implement a system to cross-check prison and jail rosters against unemployment claimants. Such a database isn’t possible under state law, which only allows the prison system to share an inmate’s social security number with other law enforcement agencies or via subpoena.
Meanwhile, Newsom and the investigative task force seem to disagree about the efficacy of the state’s current anti-fraud measures. I obtained a letter Newsom sent to Schubert on Tuesday in which he argues California saw an “immediate drop” in fraudulent claims after implementing a new tool called ID.me. But in a letter to Newsom last week, Schubert wrote that ID.me “can be easily overcome by co-conspirators manipulating this system. Thus, widespread scale fraud will continue.”
- Page told me: The unemployment department “has stopped all known fraudulent claims and payments in the names of incarcerated individuals.”
2. Progress report: California Health Corps
As hospital beds and intensive-care units fill up with COVID patients, some health officials, especially those in rural areas, are worried they won’t have enough staff to handle the surge. And although Newsom formed the California Health Corps in March to address this concern, less than 1% of the retired, part-time or student medical workers who signed up are currently available to help, the Sacramento Bee reports. It’s just the latest logistical snarl for a program besieged with them from the start. First, the vast majority of the people who signed up were ineligible to work. Of those who were eligible, many were sent to nearly empty surge facilities, while some hospitals and nursing homes that had requested Health Corps members didn’t receive any. And some of the nursing homes that did receive Health Corps members found they weren’t adequately trained.
- Rusty Blankenfeld, an administrator at Saint Claire’s Nursing Center in Sacramento: “You almost have to have someone here babysitting them. It didn’t work out great.”
The state, which has spent at least $2.2 million on the Health Corps, recently signed a $500,000 contract with a Seattle tech consulting firm to help manage deployment of its members and improve data analysis.
3. California fire victims missing $1.3B in aid
The thousands of Californians who lost their homes in the devastating 2017 Wine Country fires and the 2018 Camp Fire have yet to receive a single penny of $1.3 billion in federal aid, due to bureaucratic delays at the state and federal level, the Los Angeles Times reports. Last week, federal authorities finally signed off on California’s spending plan for the 2018 money, and the 2017 money likely won’t start flowing until 2021 at the earliest. Part of the lag has to do with what the federal government deemed the “systemic failure” of California’s housing department to monitor the money it distributes, as well as its lackluster internal oversight. Another reason for delay: It took Newsom nearly seven months to appoint a new state housing director after the previous one retired. Meanwhile, many fire victims are living in cars, RVs and other makeshift shelters.
- Linda Adrain, 80, of Santa Rosa: “It’s supposed to be a temporary place, and I’ve been here for three years. There’s nowhere for me to go.”
Yesterday was #GivingTuesday, an international day of giving and a great opportunity to support CalMatters. As a nonprofit, we can’t do this important journalism without reader contributions. If you enjoy my newsletter and the rest of our coverage, please consider making a tax-deductible donation. You can donate here.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A recent California appellate court ruling is a warning to school officials and construction companies bending the law with sweetheart, no-bid contracts.
Importance of funding data research: We must leverage California’s expertise in science and technology to strengthen its resilience to multiple ongoing disasters, argues Assemblymember Bill Quirk, a Hayward Democrat.
Four ways to meet housing goals: After failing for years to address affordable housing and homelessness at the scale required, 2021 will be California’s big chance, writes Lisa Hershey of Housing California.
Other things worth your time
How California moved to the future of voting amid a pandemic. // CalMatters
California issues new guidelines requiring weekly COVID testing for hospital workers. // Los Angeles Times
Race is a defining factor in nursing facilities with COVID outbreaks, research shows. // Los Angeles Times
Pandemic patient with swastika tattoo leaves NorCal doctor questioning his compassion. // San Francisco Chronicle
Bay Area dentists spot 2020 stress in clenched jaws and cracked teeth. // San Francisco Chronicle
California sees increase in roadway deaths during Thanksgiving CHP enforcement period. // Sacramento Bee
In Los Angeles, using the homeless to guard empty houses. // New Yorker
Orange County’s first cat cafe forced to close amid pandemic. // Los Angeles Times
Untethered from the office, urban tenants are flocking to the Inland Empire. // Orange County Register
High-dollar real estate sales in San Francisco take a hit. // San Francisco Chronicle
See you tomorrow.
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