Good morning, California. It’s Friday, April 16.
Nearly halfway there
California is at its pandemic best.
No counties are left in the state’s most restrictive reopening tier. California has the lowest coronavirus positivity rate in the country. And 49% of eligible residents are at least partially vaccinated — a number sure to have crossed the 50% threshold Thursday, when the state threw open eligibility to everyone 16 and older. “It’s not tax day, it’s vax day,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a vaccine clinic in Alameda County.
- Newsom: “It’s just incredible to consider where we were just a few months ago. … We’re going to defeat this disease. We’re going to end this pandemic. There’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have more work to do.”
Despite an initially rocky rollout and prolonged bickering over transitioning to a new vaccine system helmed by Blue Shield, the Golden State managed to make vaccines available to all adults several days ahead of President Joe Biden’s April 19 deadline. But numerous challenges remain: The state’s vaccine supply is set to shrink over the next few weeks, a decline exacerbated by a temporary pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Counties and community groups are still struggling to provide doses to hard-to-reach populations, such as homebound Californians. And vaccine hesitancy appears pervasive in some areas, such as Kern County.
- David Womack, senior vice president for Kaiser Permanente in Kern County: “When you have open appointments and all this capacity and vaccine sitting in the freezers and no one taking advantage of it, there’s kind of no other conclusion to come to.”
As more and more Californians get vaccinated, the state is ramping up efforts to track the number of breakthrough cases — people who tested positive for COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine — to learn more about how the virus is changing and how long vaccine immunity lasts.
- Dr. Stephen Parodi of Kaiser Permanente’s Permanente Medical Group: “We’ve given in Northern California over a million and a half doses now. Of the people who are fully vaccinated, we’ve seen a total of one case get hospitalized. That’s encouraging.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,608,898 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 59,508 deaths (+0.2% 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. Unemployment update
The number of Californians filing initial unemployment claims dropped to its lowest level in nearly three months, with around 69,000 claims filed for the week ending April 10, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday. That’s a decrease of nearly 76,000 from the week before, signaling that the Golden State’s economy is on the mend as businesses reopen. But problems persist at the state’s unemployment department, which announced earlier this week that “an issue” was preventing about 178,000 Californians from reapplying for benefits. “We apologize for the inconvenience and will have this fixed by Friday,” the Employment Development Department said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the number of unresolved unemployment claims remained above 1 million for the 10th straight week. Around 122,000 have been pending EDD action for more than 21 days, while another 912,000 are reportedly awaiting claimant certification. But many claimants say they’ve provided information to the department to no avail, a statistic apparently backed up by EDD’s own data: As of April 2, more than 226,000 claims for which EDD had received certification were still pending department resolution.
2. Key nursing home reform on hold
A bill to strengthen oversight of California’s nursing homes has stalled after an influential committee declined to consider it until next year, sparking fears that the proposal is doomed — and prompting elder care advocates to warn that residents’ safety is at risk, CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener reports. The bill would require owners and operators to get approval from the California Department of Public Health before acquiring, operating or managing a nursing home — provisions expected to be met with strong opposition from the nursing home industry. A recent CalMatters investigation found that the public health department has allowed the state’s largest nursing home owner, Shlomo Rechnitz, to operate facilities for years through a web of companies while their license applications languish in “pending” status.
- Assemblymember Jim Wood, a Santa Rosa Democrat who chairs the Assembly Health Committee: “I don’t want you to walk away with the impression that I’m stalling this, because I’m not. I just want it to be right and I want it to be meaningful and I want to use this process to change the way we put this industry together.”
- Tony Chicotel of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform: “I don’t think the problem’s complicated. People are running facilities without licenses. That shouldn’t happen for years and years and years. It shouldn’t happen for another year.”
3. PG&E under scrutiny
California regulators on Thursday strengthened their oversight of PG&E ahead of what’s looking like another record-breaking fire season — but the tougher measures didn’t go nearly far enough for the utility’s critics, who slammed the California Public Utilities Commission for giving PG&E “license to burn.” The commission ordered PG&E to submit a report by May 5 detailing plans to improve its tree-trimming program after an audit found the utility prioritized rigorous inspections in areas of low, not high, fire risk. The move marks the first step in a six-part process that could eventually lead to regulators yanking PG&E’s operating license. But critics alleged that the commission continues to protect PG&E, pointing out that it canceled a planned Thursday vote over whether the state should uphold PG&E’s safety certification — thus allowing it to remain in place.
- Jessica Tovar of the Local Clean Energy Alliance: “For years, PG&E has maintained a track record that is akin to a serial killer. Today, the (California Public Utilities Commission) continued to enable them, and renewed their license to burn.”
- PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo: “It is in all of our best interests to work together to improve our safety performance for the benefit of our customers and the communities we are privileged to serve.”
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April 21: The Future of Campus Policing. In the wake of national protests against racism and police brutality, join CalMatters and KQED for a wide-ranging discussion about the role of police on college campuses. Register here.
Inside CalPERS’ investment strategy: Here’s how we’re ensuring our members will retire with the benefits they’ve earned while minimizing strain on government budgets, writes Michael Cohen, CalPERS’ chief financial officer.
Investing in the future: High-ranking members of the Biden administration underscore how California’s public higher education system creates strong and diverse leaders, argue Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education.
Addressing racial health disparities: It’s time to leverage multi-cancer early detection technologies, which can screen for dozens of deadly cancers with a simple blood draw, writes Rhonda Smith of the California Black Health Network.
Other things worth your time
Photo essay: When our roommate got COVID. // CalMatters College Journalism Network
Pandemic highlights need for California urgent care clinics for women. // California Healthline
Sacramento school workers announce strike on first day middle and high school students return to campus. // Sacramento Bee
Correctional officer’s death exposes hazing, toxic culture at California prison. // Sacramento Bee
Water bills in San Jose headed for costly, decade-long spike starting this summer. // Mercury News
Is Silicon Valley dead? Not according to venture capital. // WIRED
Can money from Silicon Valley save low-cost housing in South L.A.? // Los Angeles Times
Permit terms might kill Poseidon desalination proposal in Huntington Beach. // Orange County Register
California to launch satellites to find greenhouse gas emitters. // Los Angeles Times
See you Monday.
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