How the tables have turned for California.
The state’s seven-day coronavirus positivity rate fell to 1.2% on Tuesday, the lowest rate in the country. Just four months ago, California’s positivity rate was a staggering 17.1% and hospitalizations were surging to record levels, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a regional stay-at-home order. Contrast that with Tuesday, when another four counties moved into less restrictive reopening tiers and Newsom eased the state’s mask mandate to exempt fully vaccinated Californians from wearing a mask outdoors in accordance with revised guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Newsom: “We need to remain vigilant and continue public health prevention measures — like wearing masks when appropriate and getting vaccinated — but the light at the end of this tunnel has never been brighter.”
In another major milestone, Disneyland is set to reopen Friday after being closed for more than a year. Los Angeles, the state’s largest county and former virus epicenter, is poised to enter the least restrictive yellow tier as early as next week along with San Francisco, Marin and Trinity counties — a sign the state is on track to fully reopen the economy by June 15.
Newsom also announced plans late Monday to send oxygen equipment to India, which is currently experiencing the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak. Though California has sent supplies elsewhere before — notably, hundreds of ventilators to the federal government — the move underscores how quickly conditions have changed. A few months ago, the Golden State was recruiting health workers from overseas to help overwhelmed hospitals.
Still, California isn’t entirely out of the woods. Rural Humboldt County is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases apparently linked to superspreader events. And state health officials released data on “breakthrough cases” for the first time Tuesday showing that at least 1,379 fully vaccinated people contracted COVID-19. Nearly 12 million Californians are fully vaccinated.
- Dr. Catherine Blish, a Stanford infectious disease expert: “It’s important to recognize that we don’t expect perfection, but we are preventing a lot of illness and death. If anything, the vaccines are performing even better than we would have anticipated.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,633,185 confirmed cases (+0% from previous day) and 60,208 deaths (+0% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.
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. California’s main broadband challenge
A photo of two Salinas students trying to log into Zoom classes via wifi in a Taco Bell parking lot went viral last year, symbolizing how unequal internet access could block children from their right to an equal and high quality education. Lawmakers have since introduced at least 20 proposals aiming to close California’s digital divide once and for all, primarily by funding broadband infrastructure in remote parts of the state. But an unprecedented CalMatters analysis reveals that cost, not internet infrastructure, is the biggest barrier for the vast majority of families. In other words, even if high-speed broadband were available to every California household, many families feel they couldn’t afford it, CalMatters’ Jackie Botts and Ricardo Cano report.
- Tim Taylor, executive director of the Small School Districts Association of California: “COVID really showed how wide the crack can be due to poverty.”
CalMatters’ Jackie Botts and Jeremia Kimmelman built a database of broadband adoption and availability, which reveals that California schools with the most students in poverty serve neighborhoods in which 30% of households lacked a broadband connection that could handle the most basic activities as of December 2019. In the attendance boundaries of schools with the most affluent students, 88% of households had a connection.
2. Newsom solicits record sum from corporations
Companies including Facebook, Google, T-Mobile and Blue Shield contributed a record $226 million to government causes on Newsom’s behalf last year, sparking concerns about the power these corporations exert at the state Capitol, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. The companies say they were only trying to help the state respond to the pandemic, but many of them also have business before the governor, received large no-bid contracts or were vying for important appointments — raising questions about potential conflicts of interest. Blue Shield, for example, gave $20 million to one of Newsom’s homeless initiatives — and received a no-bid contract to run California’s vaccine distribution system.
- Mindy Romero, director of USC’s Center for Inclusive Democracy: “It’s generally a good thing if private organizations want to donate, but … I think we need to be critical: If we get the golden goose, you have to be critical of why it’s being given.”
CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall has reported extensively on the surge in so-called “behested payments” at the state Capitol, which allow politicians to raise unlimited sums of money from powerful special interests with limited disclosure requirements. Newly confirmed Attorney General Rob Bonta, for instance, solicited more than $560,000 from groups that lobby the Legislature and directed it to groups that employ his wife — who is now running for his vacant Assembly seat.
3. Concerning crime trends
Homicides and car thefts shot up in four major California cities in 2020, even as overall violent and property crimes remained below pre-pandemic levels, according to a Tuesday report from the Public Policy Institute of California analyzing preliminary crime data. Homicides increased by a jaw-dropping 40% in Los Angeles, 36% in Oakland, 17% in San Francisco and 10% in San Diego. And despite an overall decline in residential burglaries (except for San Francisco, which saw a startling 78% increase), car thefts jumped 24%. Commercial burglaries also rose by about 26%, with a significant uptick in May amid protests over the death of George Floyd. It’s still too early to tell what’s driving the changes, but California saw a sharp spike in gun ownership amid the pandemic — and a surge in the number of people who have firearms despite being legally prohibited from owning them.
What is clear is the statistics could fuel an already contentious debate over the future of criminal justice reform in California and a red-hot 2022 attorney general race. If you can’t wait for that debate, check out this one between college students and University of California administrators over the future of campus policing, via a panel CalMatters co-hosted with KQED last week.
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May 11: The Post-COVID Future of Work. Join CalMatters and the Milken Institute for a discussion on how California’s economic recovery can prioritize diversity, inclusion and innovative workforce development. Register here.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California will see a high-octane showdown over crime and punishment next year as Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert challenges newly appointed Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Cradle-to-career data: State lawmakers must approve funding for a data system that will empower communities and educators to demand better from schools and colleges, argues Christopher Nellum of the Education Trust-West.
Increasing government transparency: We’ve learned that video- and teleconferencing are legitimate — and in some ways better — ways to participate in local government. But long-term reform is needed, writes Shawn Landres of the Santa Monica Planning Commission.
A win-win solution: California must increase funding for a key training program that matches the employers’ need for skilled workers with workers’ needs for good jobs, argues former state lawmaker Patrick Johnston.
Other things worth your time
California braces for another ‘clown car’ of recall candidates. // Politico
‘It’s a promote-Carl organization’: The rise of Reform California. // Voice of San Diego
In Newsom recall, California Latinos have a chance to make things interesting. // Los Angeles Times
Can Alex Padilla help win back Latinos for Democrats? // The Atlantic
REAL ID deadline for California drivers extended to 2023 because of COVID-19 pandemic. // Sacramento Bee
Bay Area rents rose for the third straight month. Here’s what you need to know. // San Francisco Chronicle
Sacramento suburbs, foothills, Tahoe area grow amid pandemic. // Sacramento Bee
East Bay grandmother facing eviction joins forces with land trust to buy her home — thanks to new law. // KQED
SFO has lost more passengers than any other airport in the U.S. due to the pandemic. // San Francisco Chronicle
SpaceX to use Port of Long Beach site for rocket recovery. // Los Angeles Times
DDT waste barrels off Los Angeles coast much bigger than scientists expected. // Los Angeles Times
Antisemitic incidents in California remain at historic high. // Orange County Register
U.S. Supreme Court wary of donor disclosure requirement for charities in California case. // New York Times
See you tomorrow.
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