This week, Gov. Gavin Newsom will unveil a pilot program to help counties, cities and other entities schedule vaccine appointments, I’ve exclusively learned.

The move, which comes sooner than expected, underscores the state’s rush to streamline a chaotic rollout that has resulted in Californians developing their own online platforms to centralize and decipher a dizzying array of policies.

Newsom had previously disclosed plans to unveil a vaccine eligibility notification system this week, with the appointment system to follow in “a second phase.” But the governor will now launch both this week, Darrel Ng, senior communications adviser for the state’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, told me Wednesday. Counties, cities and other entities — such as mass vaccination sites — can choose whether to use the pilot appointment program. The appointments will be open only to eligible Californians and are dependent on the number of available doses.

The news comes amid a mixed vaccine picture for California. On Wednesday, state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan gave providers the go-ahead to resume using doses from a vaccine batch linked to a higher-than-usual number of severe allergic reactions. That will free up more than 330,000 doses, potentially allowing clinics that had closed after the batch was put on hold to reopen.

  • Pan: We “found no scientific basis to continue the pause. … These findings should continue to give Californians confidence that vaccines are safe and effective.”

Nevertheless, challenges remain. Pan said Wednesday it could take the state four to five months just to administer two doses of vaccine to Californians in the 65-and-older category. As of Tuesday, California had administered 37% of its 4.1 million doses. Only seven states have administered fewer doses per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state’s biggest hurdle, Pan said, is an inconsistent and scarce vaccine supply coming from the federal government — though officials hope that will change with the newly inaugurated Biden administration.

  • Ng told me: “The goal would be to have a predictable and high number of shots … because if you can tell us what it’ll be, we can plan for it.”

Have you had difficulty trying to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Tell us here.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,019,371 confirmed cases (+0.7% from previous day) and 34,433 deaths (+2.1% 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.


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1. Meet inaugural poet Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman reads her poem at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 20, 2021. Photo by Patrick Semansky, AP Photo/Pool

Hours after Kamala Harris was inaugurated Wednesday as vice president of the United States, she swore in Alex Padilla as her replacement in the U.S. Senate. But they weren’t the only Californians to make history. Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old from Los Angeles, stole the show as the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. Gorman, who recently graduated from Harvard, was named Los Angeles’ youth poet laureate in 2014 and the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. She was chosen to perform at the inauguration after First Lady Jill Biden heard Gorman give a reading at the Library of Congress. Like President Joe Biden, Gorman struggles with a speech impediment. “It’s made me the performer that I am,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds … it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience.”

Here’s an excerpt from her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” which you can watch her perform here:

And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us

2. Senate Republicans oust leader

Sen. Shannon Grove on Sept. 10, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California Senate Republicans spent Inauguration Day carrying out their own peaceful transition of power, voting unanimously for Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita to replace Shannon Grove of Bakersfield as their caucus’s leader.

Pressure has been building for Grove to step aside ever since the November election, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher writes. Although Republicans gained seats in the state Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives, the GOP’s Senate caucus was reduced from 11 to nine after two incumbents were booted from the job in increasingly purple Orange County.

And Grove’s tweet didn’t help. As a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, Grove tweeted the debunked conspiracy theory that Antifa, not Trump supporters, were attempting to prevent Congress from certifying the election results. She later deleted the tweet and alleged it was sent while incomplete

Wilk, the new leader, is among the most moderate Republicans in the Senate and occasionally votes across the aisle — signaling a potential shift in the caucus’s stance as the Legislature heads into a new session.

3. More California kids getting COVID

Mae Villanueva, 4, plays at Lake Balboa Park in Van Nuys on Jan. 20, 2021. Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters

As California continues to experience a coronavirus surge — the state this week became the first to surpass 3 million cases — more children are testing positive, more are experiencing serious symptoms, and more are being diagnosed with a rare inflammatory syndrome, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports. Experts say these trends could potentially accelerate due to two new strains of the virus that appear to be more contagious.

Latino children appear to be especially at risk. They make up 64% of coronavirus cases among California kids under 18 where race and ethnicity is known, despite making up only 48% of the state’s children. And nationwide, more than 70% of inflammatory syndrome cases have occurred in Latino or Black children.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California has one of the nation’s lowest rates of vaccine utilization — and lives will be lost because of it.

Newport Beach isn’t housing-averse: The city can hardly be faulted for lower housing stock when a state agency struck down approval of 1,375 units, argues Mayor Brad Avery.

Time to reimagine youth justice: The Division of Juvenile Justice with its long history of abuse and violence will soon be gone, paving the way for a new regional approach, writes Allison Magee of the Zellerbach Family Foundation.

A real-world education: The nursing students of 2020 will be effective health care workers because of their pandemic education, not in spite of it, write Kristin Choi, Barbara Demman and Charlene Niemi of the UCLA School of Nursing.


Other things worth your time

Inauguration Day protests at California’s Capitol end peacefully. // CapRadio

Convicted congressman among three Californians pardoned by Trump in final hours. // Sacramento Bee

Santa Clara County’s top transit leader joins Biden’s administration. // Mercury News

Biden moves to end Trump’s attack on California car, air quality regulations. // Sacramento Bee

New blow to SAT empire shows California’s key role in diminishing college admissions tests. // Los Angeles Times

Could coronavirus surge cause Los Angeles ports to shut down? Officials plead for dockworker vaccines. // Los Angeles Times

Dangerous bacteria detected in CalPERS’ Sacramento headquarters multiple times. // Sacramento Bee

East Bay hospice care uses robotic animals to comfort lonely patients. // East Bay Times

Monarch butterfly population moves closer to extinction as number wintering in California hits record low. // Associated Press


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...