Good morning, California. It’s Friday, April 2.
Note: My colleague Ben Christopher will take over the newsletter next week while I’m on vacation. See you on April 12!
Baseball season off with a swing
The Golden State seemed to turn a corner on Thursday.
Fans were in the stands in Oakland, San Diego and Anaheim to celebrate the first day of baseball season, marking the first time in over a year that Californians could watch games from stadium seats rather than TV screens at home. People hopped on roller coasters and rides at Six Flags, Legoland and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Outdoor bars were beginning to welcome back customers in some parts of the state, and many restaurants were reopening at increased capacity. The California Department of Public Health eased its travel advisory to permit in-state travel.
The first day of the month brought warm weather and a sense of general optimism as millions of Californians became newly eligible for the vaccine — including Gov. Gavin Newsom, who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot from the state’s top health official, Dr. Mark Ghaly. More than 30% of Californians are now at least partially vaccinated, and though the state remains far from herd immunity — and is slightly below average nationally in the number of doses administered per capita — things appear to be looking up.
- Newsom on Twitter: “Can’t help but be filled with hope, gratitude & determination. Hope — that the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter. Gratitude — for everyone who helped us get here, & determination — to fight like hell in the final spring to end this pandemic.”
But challenges remain. The state’s still-incomplete vaccine network is straining under heightened demand and will have to account for potential glitches in future shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Experts are cautioning a fourth wave of coronavirus cases could crash over the state, and initial unemployment claims ticked up again last week with nearly 106,000 Californians newly jobless.
The atmosphere at Oakland Coliseum — the site of both a mass vaccination clinic and the Oakland A’s opening game against the Houston Astros — encapsulated the chaotic promise that will likely define April in California. CalMatters photojournalist Anne Wernikoff was there to capture the scene.
- Hayward resident Sergio Santillan: “I kinda wanna cry. I’m just loving it.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,570,660 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 58,090 deaths (+0.3% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.
California has administered 18,401,747 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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Other stories you should know
1. Majority of schools remain closed
Thursday marked the initial deadline for public schools to reopen campuses for their youngest and most vulnerable students in order to receive their full share of grant funding from the state. But it appears the majority of schools didn’t take advantage of the offer: As of Thursday, only 37% of elementary school students had the option to return to in-person learning, compared to 19% of middle school students and 20% of high school students, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of state data. And although numerous districts plan to reopen later in April, some deals have already fallen through: Fremont Unified, one of the East Bay’s largest school districts, announced Wednesday that campuses will remain closed for the rest of the school year because the district “has not been able to reach a successful agreement … with the teachers union.” Los Angeles Unified was hit with a lawsuit this week for allegedly allowing the teachers union to use students as a “bargaining chip” to delay reopening.
- Megan Bacigalupi, a parent advocate with OpenSchoolsCA: “Much as we feared, this ‘incentive’ program is a total joke. Few children are back in school, and if they are, it is often for a handful of hours a week while districts are receiving millions of dollars for reopening.”
2. Drought on the horizon
California appears to be on the brink of another drought. The Sierra Nevada’s snowpack water content was at 59% of its historical average on April 1, a date when it’s typically at peak, state water officials said Thursday. The news comes a week after state and federal authorities slashed projected water allocations, a move that’s likely to revive tensions between farmers, cities and environmentalists just six years after California emerged from its worst drought in recorded history. As governor, Newsom has the power to declare a drought emergency and restrict water usage, but he may be reluctant to do so given an almost-certain recall election, Politico reports. Regardless, he’ll have to juggle competing demands from different interest groups: Advocates are already calling on Newsom to ensure the agricultural industry isn’t prioritized at the expense of endangered fish and low-income communities.
- Felicia Marcus, former chair of the State Water Resources Control Board: “I think it’s not too early (for Newsom) to play the leadership role, and then people can argue about which actual things you need to do, but at bottom you need to be prepared to avoid the mistakes of the last drought.”
3. More Californians have guns that shouldn’t
As the country reels from its third mass shooting in as many weeks — including one in Orange County on Wednesday that left four people dead — the California Department of Justice released a report Thursday detailing a sharp uptick in the number of Californians who have guns despite being legally prohibited from owning them. At the beginning of the year, there were 23,598 people who owned guns and suffered from a serious mental illness, had been convicted of a crime, or had been placed under a domestic violence or other restraining order. That’s up more than 1,000 people from the year before and the highest total in more than a decade — likely a reflection of surging gun sales amid the pandemic and the DOJ being “forced to scale back its efforts” to disarm “armed and prohibited persons” due to “social distancing, self-isolation and travel restrictions.”
- State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Red Bluff Republican: “There is no dang reason why it couldn’t get done. They have just not made it important.”
Addressing the growing number of people with guns who shouldn’t have them is a job that will fall to Assemblymember Rob Bonta if he’s confirmed as California’s next attorney general.
Bad idea to eliminate discount: It’s striking that the California Department of Insurance is still entertaining a proposal to overturn a policy that saves millions of residents hundreds of dollars a year on auto insurance, argues Julian Cañete of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.
Ethnic studies strengthens democracy: We must learn the histories of California’s diverse population while also recognizing our commonalities, writes Rabbi Noah Zvi Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom.
Other things worth your time
COVID-19 plummets in California nursing homes. // CalMatters
Is California reopening too quickly? Dr. Fauci weighs in. // Fox 11
Some California districts looking to cut back PE as school campuses reopen. // EdSource
Big Tech says it’s policing hateful content. A new California bill wants the details. // San Francisco Chronicle
Crimes against San Francisco’s AAPI community are winding through the courts. Here’s where they stand. // San Francisco Chronicle
First PG&E standalone solar grid near Yosemite an attempt to stop sparking wildfires. // Sacramento Bee
This coastal gas plant explains California’s energy problems. // Los Angeles Times
SDG&E electric vehicle charging program ran $25 million over budget. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California’s cannabis culture wars converge on billboards. // Politico Magazine
Pelosi supports restoring tax break that benefited Californians. // San Francisco Chronicle
Kamala Harris returning to Oakland for first time as vice president. // San Francisco Chronicle
Ben will see you Monday!
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