Today, millions of Californians will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, inundating a system already straining under the weight of limited supply, pervasive tech glitches, political infighting and general confusion.
Originally, only Californians with disabilities and severe health conditions were set to become eligible for the vaccine today. But the state on Thursday expanded prioritization to public transit workers, commercial airline employees, homeless Californians and those in federal immigrant detention centers, among others. With 40% of the state’s vaccine supply reserved for low-income communities and another 10% set aside for education workers, there isn’t much left to go around.
- Dr. Paul Simon of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: “Given the limited supply of vaccine, we will be greatly challenged by the expansion of eligibility.”
Further complicating matters, California isn’t requiring those with underlying health conditions to verify their diagnosis or disability. Though the move was applauded by many disability and privacy advocates, the state’s reliance on the honor system also paves the way for people to cut the line — a repeated occurrence that has resulted in young, healthy residents obtaining doses intended for vulnerable Californians. In some cases, MyTurn, the state’s appointment system, has facilitated line-cutting.
- Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, Scripps Health’s chief medical officer: “The MyTurn system is fraught with issues. These challenges are adding another layer of unnecessary stress to our team.”
Meanwhile, disagreements over vaccine distribution continue to fester between counties and the state. After refusing to sign a contract with Blue Shield, the health insurer in charge of California’s vaccine system, numerous counties are expected to reach a separate deal with the state — though this won’t necessarily change the distribution mechanics. Separately, 20 state lawmakers want Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration to include more Bay Area communities in the new equity program that reserves 40% of doses for 400 disadvantaged ZIP codes. Private talks have so far failed to yield changes.
Also today, businesses in 13 counties, including Los Angeles, will reopen after the state hit a key vaccine benchmark Friday. Thirteen more counties, including Sacramento, are expected to enter the red tier tomorrow, launching another wave of reopenings.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 3,523,563 confirmed cases (+3,230 from previous day) and 55,095 deaths (+217 from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.
California has administered 11,418,507 vaccine doses.
Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.
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1. One year of closed schools
One year ago Saturday, Newsom ordered California schools to close. And although the governor said Friday that about 9,000 of the state’s 11,000 schools have either reopened or set firm dates to bring kids back to campus, many parents remain unsatisfied with the deals struck by districts and unions. Most of the agreements call for a mix of in-person and online learning, and wouldn’t bring middle and high school students back on campus until later in the school year. At weekend rallies and tense town halls in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, many parents called for five full days of in-person instruction for all students, even as others expressed concerns about safety and sanitation.
Disgruntled parents could be Newsom’s biggest threat in a potential recall election. At a Recall Newsom rally in Sacramento in early March, I spoke with Jonathan Zachreson, a Roseville parent of three who voted for Newsom in 2018 and now runs a 13,400-member Facebook group called Reopen California Schools.
- Zachreson: “I don’t think this movement is stopping. I think as parents, we are organized now and we realize that we need to fight for our kids. We need to make sure this never happens again.”
2. A gloomy unemployment picture
California’s economic recovery is significantly lagging the nation’s, with the Golden State notching a 9% unemployment rate in January compared to 6.5% nationally, according to figures released Friday by the Employment Development Department. Though that marks a slight improvement from California’s recalculated December unemployment rate of 9.3%, the numbers mask a more complex reality: The unemployment roster shrunk in part because 36,500 Californians dropped out of the job market altogether. California lost around 70,000 jobs from December to January — and a staggering 768,100 jobs since January 2020.
- Taner Osman of Beacon Economics in Los Angeles: “While we expect a strong recovery in 2021, it would take an unprecedented hiring surge to regain the lost jobs, as well as the jobs we would have added during normal times.”
Loosened reopening restrictions and $150 billion in federal stimulus should help California recover. Still, the Golden State saw a 19% jump in initial unemployment claims for the week of March 6, compared to a 6.2% decline nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The influx of claims is just another hurdle for EDD. Not only is the department already grappling with a backlog of more than 1 million claims, but it’s also facing a massive surge in new applications required for Californians who have been unemployed for 12 months. The department is also processing an extension of federal benefits.
3. Is CA ready to tackle microplastics?
California is poised to issue the world’s first guidelines for microplastics in drinking water despite no data on how plentiful they are in the state, no scientific agreement on how to test water for them and little research on their health risks, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Even as researchers applaud the Golden State’s early action to combat the infinitesimal plastic particles, they warn that people probably absorb more microplastics from breathing and bottled water than they do from tap water. Others note California is diverging from the usual procedure of regulating drinking water: In most cases, officials already know how much of a specific contaminant is in the water and how it affects human health before they issue guidelines.
- The California Municipal Utilities Association: “Without studying the effect exposure to microplastics has on the human body, there is no way to determine the impact of the varying levels of microplastics found in drinking water.”
- Susanne Brander, an Oregon State University environmental toxicologist: “We can say with pretty high confidence that eating plastic and breathing in plastic is not beneficial. … It’s just a matter of having enough data to say how much is too much.”
4. Will CA expand Hollywood tax credits?
Even as a debate continues to rage over California’s hefty subsidies for Hollywood films, one lawmaker wants to expand them in order to support minority-owned projects. A bill recently introduced by Assemblymember Mike Gipson, a Los Angeles Democrat, would create a $200 million tax credit for independent productions that are minority-owned and employ a majority non-white cast and crew, while also subsidizing 40% of production costs. The bill also would benefit a developer who wants to build a $200 million film studio in Banning, a small city near Los Angeles — a project backed by State Treasurer Fiona Ma, who happens to be the bill’s sponsor, Variety reports. The developer recently contributed $15,600 to Ma’s reelection campaign.
- Ma at a Banning city council meeting: “I am committed to helping — whatever I can, with traffic mitigations, tax credits and any other support you need. We are losing so many jobs and tax revenues to other states that clearly should be and could be coming back to California.”
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As Newsom faces a recall election, is he managing the pandemic scientifically or politically?
Stop manufacturing teenage crises: Teenagers today report more anxiety and less depression on standard tests and display less alarming trends than adults, argues Mike Males of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
Protect public lands: It is imperative that California improve park access, particularly for low-income residents and people of color, writes Kim Orbe of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter.
Other things worth your time
Here’s why California’s electricity prices are high and soaring. // CalMatters
How the Bay Area failed Latino residents amid the pandemic. // Mercury News
Hundreds of coronavirus cases reported at Tesla plant following Musk’s defiant reopening, Alameda County data shows. // Washington Post
Newsom relied on Dodgers, donor-driven foundation for State of State speech. // Politico
California Democratic leaders to Newsom: ‘Urgent’ to oust party chair. // San Francisco Chronicle
Newsom announces clemency for 20 inmates, including those with elevated COVID-19 risk. // Sacramento Bee
California bill would remove limit on how long teachers can lead unions. // Sacramento Bee
California agency that oversees for-profit colleges to face critics. // EdSource
Staying sheltered: Putting her children before the fields. // CalMatters
Echo Park encampment a battleground in Los Angeles homeless crisis. // Los Angeles Times
Gold mine near Death Valley sparks controversy. // Los Angeles Times
How Californians are weaponizing environmental law. // The Atlantic
See you tomorrow.
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