Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday activated 1,000 members of the California National Guard to protect the state Capitol ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week — a sign the state is taking seriously the FBI’s warning that armed demonstrators may target statehouses in attacks similar to last week’s siege on the U.S. Capitol.
Also Thursday, a 6-foot-high chain-link fence was erected around the Capitol and numerous buildings downtown boarded up glass windows and doors. The new precautions follow other beefed-up security measures state law enforcement took earlier this week, including significantly increasing the police presence and closing surrounding streets to through traffic. The California Highway Patrol, the agency that protects the Capitol, denied all permits for weekend events — including a 3,000-person protest against the election results.
- Newsom in a Thursday video message: “We’re treating this very seriously and deploying significant resources to protect public safety, critical infrastructure and 1st Amendment rights. But let me be clear. There will be no tolerance for violence.”
The governor’s comments came the same day that two women appeared to threaten California lawmakers with violence during the public comment portion of a budget hearing. One woman shouted, “When the world collapses … you’re gonna be the first to go. … We didn’t buy guns for nothing.” Another threatened, “Seventeen million guns were purchased in the United States (by) first-time gun owners … what do you think they’re gonna do with it?”
Officials have not revealed whether they have received any information about planned violence in Sacramento. But nearly every weekend since the November election, supporters of President Donald Trump have gathered near the Capitol to protest the results. Though the protests have generally been peaceful, members of the Proud Boys and other far-right militia groups have frequently headed downtown to confront antifa counterprotesters, where things often devolve into violence.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 2,816,969 confirmed cases (+1.3% from previous day) and 31,654 deaths (+1.8% 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.
Other stories you should know
1. Chaotic vaccine rollout
California’s 58 counties have descended into chaos as they scramble to adapt to new state guidelines instructing them to prioritize residents 65 and older for the COVID-19 vaccine — raising concerns about the state’s strategy at a critical moment, with some hospitals operating at 320% capacity. Here’s a breakdown of some key complications slowing the vaccine rollout in California, which as of Wednesday had administered 33% of its doses.
- Supply shortage. Despite the unused doses, numerous counties don’t have enough vaccine to begin inoculating seniors.
- Tech complications. Hundreds of people appeared to inappropriately gain access to the state website CalVax, allowing them to register for appointments despite not qualifying for the vaccine. Meanwhile, each county has different registration methods: In Fresno, it’s the county website; in Yolo, it’s a Google form; in San Francisco, there isn’t a central approach.
- Insufficient data. Counties say they don’t know how many doses are in their possession, because the state allocates them directly to health providers and doesn’t share the data with counties.
- Not enough vaccinators. California has one of the nation’s most efficient health systems, leaving it short-staffed amid the surge. Around 36,000 dentists and 69,000 pharmacy technicians have been cleared to administer the vaccine, in addition to 15 National Guard strike teams.
2. EDD prime fraud target
California’s unemployment department receives at least 75% of the $750 million worth of fraudulent claims flagged weekly by identity-security firm ID.me — the latest statistic underscoring the staggering scope of fraud at the Employment Development Department. Here’s another: ID.me is just one company helping EDD handle fraudulent claims. Another firm, Pondera, flagged 3.3 million claims last week, prompting the state to suspend payment of 1.4 million and disqualify another 1.9 million. Blake Hall, the CEO of ID.me, told the Sacramento Bee that domestic and international fraud rings are targeting California because of its size and its leniency in paying backdated claims, which allow criminals to scam more money.
Meanwhile, unemployment claims in California hit their highest level in a month, with nearly 182,000 residents filing claims in the week ending Jan. 9. Apart from the week ending Dec. 12, there haven’t been that many claims since September 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. They’ll add on to EDD’s pile of 516,000 backlogged and 1.4 million suspended claims.
3. California schools update
Newsom on Thursday unveiled a new website to track school reopenings and coronavirus cases — a marked policy shift from last year, when California was one of the few states that didn’t require schools to report either of those metrics. The website could signal Newsom’s desire to accelerate school reopenings — an effort that has stalled in recent weeks amid sustained pushback from superintendents and teachers unions. Also Thursday, the governor issued updated school safety guidance, including:
- Requiring students of all ages to wear masks. Previously, kids in 2nd grade and below didn’t have to wear face coverings.
- Permitting schools to reopen only if their county’s coronavirus case rate is 25 per 100,000 residents or lower. Previously, Newsom wanted schools to reopen once their infection rate dropped to 28 per 100,000.
With many districts remaining in distance learning for the foreseeable future, the State Board of Education wants to apply for a federal waiver that would allow students to skip standardized testing for the second year in a row — sparking concerns that the state won’t have any comprehensive data on students’ learning loss amid the pandemic.
4. Uber/Lyft war with state rages on
Uber and Lyft could face massive financial penalties following the California Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling that the state’s strict test making it harder for workers to be classified as independent contractors applies retroactively, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Although Uber and Lyft were exempted from that test when voters approved Proposition 22 in November, they’re still facing numerous lawsuits from the state and ride-hail drivers — and if the companies lose those cases, Thursday’s ruling could hold them accountable for back wages, paid sick leave and other benefits owed to drivers before Prop. 22 took effect.
Meanwhile, Prop. 22 itself is facing legal action. A group of labor unions sued Tuesday to overturn the new law, arguing it undermines the state constitution. On the flip side of the coin, a state lawmaker has introduced legislation to repeal the test making it harder to classify workers as independent contractors.
A social-media reckoning: State lawmakers and tech leaders need to develop new legal guardrails to reduce the risk posed by those inciting hatred and threatening democracy, argues Drew Liebert, an attorney who has worked in senior staff positions in the California Legislature.
Future holds challenges for California: Rather than relying on sheer population growth, the state will have to focus on wealth creation and equitable distribution of wealth, writes William Fulton of the California Planning and Development Report.
Other things worth your time
Southern California fire forces evacuations amid high temperatures, gusty winds. // KTLA
California wildfires could upend years of progress fighting air pollution. // San Francisco Chronicle
Los Angeles wants to impose tougher enforcement for mask violators. // Los Angeles Times
Why some California jobs lost to COVID will never be the same. // Sacramento Bee
Here’s what Californians are paying for Prop. 22. // San Francisco Chronicle
Newsom proposes California Creative Corps pilot program to use artists to fight pandemic. // San Francisco Chronicle
Find out the cheapest places to live in California. // Mercury News
One of the rarest animals in Yellowstone captured on trail camera for the first time. // Sacramento Bee
See you Tuesday.
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