Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, January 27.

State takes reins

Six weeks into a vaccine rollout largely left to the counties, California is taking the helm in an attempt to streamline a chaotic and fragmented process that has resulted in one of the nation’s lowest rates of vaccine administration.

The new strategy, which state health officials unveiled Tuesday, upends months of planning by numerous working groups. It also appears to be a work in progress: Details are scarce, and numerous components won’t be finalized until next month at the earliest. Here’s a closer look at the strategy’s three main prongs:

  • A new priority framework. In mid-February, the state will begin vaccinating educators, child care workers, food and farm workers, and first responders alongside health care workers and Californians 65 and over. The state will then transition to an age-based eligibility system — but the next groups in line haven’t yet been identified, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports.
  • A new delivery system. California plans to build a “statewide vaccine administration network” that will allocate doses to providers via a third-party administrator, who has yet to be named.
  • A new appointment system. California last week launched MyTurn, a central hub where residents can learn when they’re eligible for the vaccine and schedule appointments. But the site is still in pilot mode, and currently only allows appointment sign-ups in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. It’s expected to be fully operational in February.

Other aspects of the plan remained nebulous. Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, said Tuesday that providers will be compensated in part by how well they’re able to reach underserved communities, though what that means in practice is unclear.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden announced plans Tuesday to increase states’ weekly vaccine allotments by 16% over the next three weeks.

  • Government Operations Agency Secretary Yolanda Richardson, who’s spearheading the new strategy: “Our goal is to ensure nothing slows down the distribution of vaccine in the state other than the pace at which vaccine arrives in the state.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,153,186 confirmed cases (+1% from previous day) and 37,527 deaths (+1% from previous day), 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.


1. Record drop in school enrollment

Image via iStock

California’s K-12 public school enrollment has dropped by a record 155,000 students amid the pandemic — a 500% increase in the enrollment declines posted in recent years, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. The staggering figure is the latest indication of how the pandemic has upended the educations of 6.1 million students, many of whom haven’t set foot on campus in nearly a year. And it isn’t just public schools that are affected: California’s private school enrollment has dropped by nearly 29,000 students. With Newsom’s school reopening plan unlikely to accelerate kids’ return to the classroom, a coalition of parent groups across the state on Monday launched Open Schools California to lobby for campuses to reopen as soon as safely possible.

  • Open Schools California: “Schools across the country have safely reopened — meaning this is not an issue of whether it can be done, but rather a lack of political will in California.”

Meanwhile, college students graduating this year will enter one of the most volatile job markets in recent history. Student reporters from CalMatters’ College Journalism Network are following six seniors as they prepare for post-college life in a world where youth unemployment has soared alongside levels of anxiety and depression. Read more about the seniors’ plans for the future here.

2. State audit slams EDD

California State Auditor Elaine Howle on Jan. 7, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

A day after California’s unemployment department confirmed it may have paid up to $31 billion in fraudulent claims, the state auditor released a scathing report that found the Employment Development Department has failed to address key operational issues that it’s known about since the Great Recession in 2008-09. Here’s a closer look at major problems identified by State Auditor Elaine Howle:

  • 1.7 million Californians may need to repay benefits. In an attempt to speed up processing times, EDD paid claimants before verifying their eligibility. Not only did that increase the possibility of fraud, but EDD also now has to process 12.7 million eligibility documents, which will “require significant time and resources,” Howle wrote. Some 1.7 million claimants could have to repay $5.5 billion worth of benefits if EDD retroactively finds they were ineligible.
  • Slow claim processing. EDD has yet to find a long-term solution to automate claim processing, leaving it at continued risk of a mounting backlog.
  • An overwhelmed call center. At the onset of the pandemic, EDD answered fewer than 1% of calls it received. But even after it quadrupled call center staff, that rate “only marginally improved,” and the department “has not yet adopted best practices for managing the call center,” Howle wrote.

Meanwhile, a senior executive from Bank of America, California’s unemployment debit card contractor, told lawmakers Tuesday the company lost “hundreds of millions” of dollars last year as it scrambled to address rampant fraud, CalMatters’ Lauren Helper reports. Around 450,000 debit cards remain frozen due to potential fraud.

3. The recall against Newsom, explained

Recall Newsom volunteer Pat Miller holds up a sign at SaveMart in Sacramento on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By now you know about the mounting recall campaign against Newsom. But do you know how a recall works? In this explainer, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall breaks down everything you need to know about how the recall functions in California. Laurel also looks into who’s financing the effort to remove Newsom from office, how Democrats are responding, whether Newsom’s support is eroding, who might run to replace him and how frequently recall movements succeed. Check it out.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom lifted the stay-at-home order a day after it was revealed that California’s unemployment rate had spiked to 9%, one of the highest in the nation.

Those previously infected with COVID-19 should delay vaccinations: Evidence points to past COVID-19 infections producing strong immune responses that look to be as effective as a vaccine, argue Neeraj Sood, Abigail Horn and David Conti of USC.

How to regulate hate speech: By using artificial intelligence, Big Tech can enforce objective policies on users’ hateful, inflammatory, racist or toxic speech — and apply them consistently, writes May Habib, CEO of Writer.


Other things worth your time

Strong storm system bringing rain, wind and threat of landslides. // San Francisco Chronicle

California’s top hospital lobbyist cements influence amid the pandemic. // California Heathline

Northern California sheriff’s office defends posting death of COVID vaccine recipient. // Sacramento Bee

CSU promises to keep tuition flat for the 2021 school year. // CalMatters

Three officers receive Medal of Valor for actions in Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting. // Mercury News

Officials say they’re working to make 2020 violence an ‘anomaly,’ but relief remains elusive. // Los Angeles Times

California would ban bear hunting under proposed legislation, even as wild population rebounds. // Sacramento Bee


See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...