Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, February 16.

Map reveals disparities

It’s the question on everyone’s minds: When will Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers announce a school reopening deal?

Though Newsom said he hoped to unveil a plan last week, Friday came and went without any mention of an agreement — or of the issues on which the governor and legislators disagree, though negotiations were rumored to be intense and difficult.

But the state on Friday did release, for the first time amid the pandemic, maps that reveal which of California’s schools have physically reopened — and the divide is stark, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. Most private schools appear to offer some form of in-person learning, while the majority of public schools remain in remote learning. Similarly, hundreds of small, rural or inland elementary schools have reopened, while many of the state’s largest urban districts are physically closed.

Further complicating California’s fraught debate over returning to campus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Friday new school reopening guidelines — ones that are generally less restrictive than the Golden State’s. For example, the CDC guidelines would permit middle and high schools to reopen in areas with double the infection rate currently allowed by the state. The CDC also does not see vaccinations as a prerequisite for returning to campus — a stance shared by Newsom, but opposed by powerful teachers unions.

  • Newsom on Friday: “The CDC guidelines are very consistent with where we want to go with our efforts.”

However, both the CDC and Newsom emphasized the importance of local control — suggesting that California’s school reopening map may not change much in the months to come.

Plans to resume school sports also appear to have slowed down. Though Newsom last week said he hoped to release updated guidance within “the next number of days,” his office on Thursday said “details” would be forthcoming within the next “two weeks.” This frustrated many supporters of Let Them Play CA, which on Thursday delivered more than 12,000 letters to Newsom’s office asking him to let sports continue.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,406,365 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 47,043 deaths (+0.4% 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. Blue Shield takes over vaccine system

Patients enter Levi’s Stadium to receive COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 9, 2021 in Santa Clara. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

California on Monday released its long-awaited contract with Blue Shield, the insurance giant now running the state’s new vaccine distribution system. Under the terms of the contract, Blue Shield will determine which providers can administer vaccine, develop an “allocation algorithm” based on equity and other factors, and centralize vaccination data. California will pay Blue Shield a maximum of $15 million for third-party costs and expenses, according to the contract, which also set goals for the new system, including:

  • Vaccinating 3 million people per week by March 1 and 4 million people per week by April 30, supply permitting.
  • Making vaccines available for 95% of Californians within 30 minutes in urban areas and 60 minutes in rural areas.
  • Having providers administer 95% of doses within one week of receipt.
  • Establishing in March a monthly vaccination goal for underserved populations. (The state on Friday published a vaccination demographics dashboard.)

California’s contract with Kaiser Permanente, which is opening two mass vaccination sites in partnership with the state, was not made available Monday. But Kaiser has had its own pandemic difficulties. California’s workplace safety agency has issued more citations against Kaiser than any other health care employer, fining it almost $500,000 for failing to adequately protect its employees against the virus, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports. Kaiser is appealing all of the citations.

2. Data hurdles, supply constraints remain

The COVID-19 vaccine at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 2021. Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters

Still, some question whether the new vaccine system is necessary. Amid state data that appeared to show vast quantities of unused vaccine, Newsom and state health officials touted the Blue Shield partnership as a way to speed up administration. But county public health officers told lawmakers last week that the database was so full of errors that it not only showed doses from other states, but also severely undercounted the number of doses counties were administering, the Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Yolo County Public Health Officer Aimee Sisson: “Yolo County staff have been working with a state contractor to troubleshoot the discrepancies, to no avail. … The (distribution) system isn’t broken. It just looks like it is because doses being administered aren’t showing up.”

The new partnership also won’t solve the issue of scarce supply. A lack of doses is forcing two mass vaccination sites in San Francisco to shut down for at least a week, on the heels of five mass vaccination sites closing in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the eligible population is growing ever larger. Between 17 million and 19 million Californians will be eligible for the vaccine next month, following new state guidelines prioritizing those with high-risk medical conditions and disabilities, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports.

3. EDD hires another fraud-prevention firm

Image via iStock

California’s beleaguered unemployment department announced Thursday that it’s hired yet another firm to assist with fraud detection and prevention. Consulting service Accenture joins and Thomson Reuters’ Pondera Solutions in attempting to stem the flow of fraud at the Employment Development Department, which could reach $31 billion. The news comes as EDD’s backlog of unemployment claims increased for the fifth straight week to 1.2 million — a figure not seen since October 2020. And more are on the way: Nearly 133,000 Californians filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending Feb. 6, a 22% increase from the week before, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday. That’s in stark contrast to the rest of the country, which saw a 4.3% decrease in initial claims.

EDD’s struggles appear to be exacerbated by significant staff turnover. Rita Saenz took over the department Jan. 1 from Sharon Hilliard, who retired after less than a year on the job. Another 1,591 EDD employees have left since March 2020. And the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency, which oversees EDD, is losing its top two members: Secretary Julie Su was tapped last week for a post in the Biden administration, and her second-in-command left in November after 18 months on the job. Newsom hasn’t yet appointed a replacement.

4. Recall collects 1.5 million signatures

Recall Newsom volunteer Pat Miller at a petition-signing event at SaveMart in Sacramento on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

The campaign to recall Newsom announced Friday that it’s collected more than 1.5 million signatures, the amount necessary to trigger a recall election. Although only a portion of those signatures have been verified so far, the milestone suggests there’s a good chance Newsom could soon be facing the biggest political test of his career as the Republican National Committee and the California Republican Party pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the recall campaign. Powerful Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have closed ranks around Newsom in recent weeks, with top state officials like Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and Treasurer Fiona Ma saying they wouldn’t throw their hats in the ring should the recall qualify.

Nevertheless, Democratic strategists say the party may have to consider putting another candidate on the ballot if they want to ensure a Republican doesn’t capture the gubernatorial seat. And speculation over who may run if the recall qualifies is already running wild: Amid swirling rumors, Caitlyn Jenner, a longtime Republican, announced last week that she does not plan to run for governor.


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom’s recent press conferences suggest he’s trying to polish his image as the recall campaign gains steam.

Time to replace Junipero Serra statue: The monument on Capitol grounds would instead be a tribute to Sacramento’s regional tribes, writes Assemblymember James Ramos, a San Bernardino Democrat.

Unfair treatment: Despite Newsom’s promise of a “California for All,” the state continues to favor large counties at the expense of rural Californians, argues Assemblymember Megan Dahle, a Republican from Bieber.

Prioritize disabled Californians for vaccine: Policymakers should adopt a “both/and” approach that prioritizes both justice and efficiency, write Holly Tabor of Stanford University and Joseph Stramondo of San Diego State University.


Other things worth your time

‘We’ve become parodies of ourselves’: California Democrats bemoan San Francisco school board. // Politico

Downtown San Francisco is reeling; more remote work could add to the pain. // San Francisco Chronicle

Inland Empire the nation’s poster child for rent hikes, researcher says. // Los Angeles Daily News

Harassment complaints continued in Capitol after shift to working at home, report says. // Sacramento Bee

Quiet giant who helped slow AIDS crisis has UCSD on fast track out of pandemic. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Newsom still wants to ask California voters to end the death penalty. // Politico

LAPD investigates claim photo mocking George Floyd was passed around department. // Los Angeles Daily News

California farmers not eligible for last-resort fire insurance. // inewsource

Inside a state park’s plan to revive California’s monarch butterflies. // Sacramento Bee

California parks plan would turn refinery land into a coastal off-road playground. // Sacramento Bee

See you tomorrow.

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