Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, April 15.

Minimal in-person learning

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday touted the state’s progress in reopening schools, even as California continues to offer its students the least amount of in-person learning in the country.

At a press conference at a Sonoma County elementary school that had reopened two days before, the governor said that more than 9,000 of the state’s 11,000 schools have already welcomed students back to campus or plan to do so soon. That’s about the same figure he cited a month ago. As of Wednesday, only 62% of elementary students, 37% of middle school students and 39% of high school students had the option of receiving some level of in-person instruction, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of state data.

Some of the state’s largest districts — including San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles — began reopening schools this week for some of their youngest and most vulnerable students, but many will only receive in-person classes for a few hours a week. In Los Angeles, students will actually spend the vast majority of their day in free child care, for which the district and school are hiring thousands of workers. In San Francisco, some parents are referring to the reopening plans as “Zoom in a room”: Teachers will instruct remotely while a classroom monitor supervises the kids on their laptops.

Newsom said Wednesday the state “must prepare now for full in-person instruction come this next school year,” but stopped short of saying it would be required. The governor noted that many communities hard-hit by the pandemic, particularly Latinos, are concerned about sending their kids back to campus.

  • Newsom: “Mandates are often not looked upon as favorably as you would like to think.”

Still, Newsom hasn’t shied away from mandates amid the pandemic. Last year, he issued as many executive orders as former Gov. Jerry Brown did in two terms. And his recent budget proposal asks the Legislature to not only significantly expand his emergency spending authority, but also extend it by one year.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,606,882 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 59,372 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 23,760,123 vaccine doses, and 28.8% of Californians are fully vaccinated.

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. Vaccine open season begins

Medical assistant Letrice Smith, right, hands a filled syringe to a volunteer at a community vaccine clinic at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on April 10, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Today, every Californian 16 and older will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine — a huge milestone in the state’s pandemic response that comes amid a supply crunch exacerbated by a temporary pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Nevertheless, officials say the Golden State’s supply is set to ramp up again in a few weeks and there will be plenty of doses for everyone who wants one.

  • Newsom on Wednesday: “The J&J announcement … is a perfect example (of) when you’re moving with expectation and a new challenge, a new roadblock presents itself. So we’re always mindful of that. But I really believe that … we’re going to reach that June 15th deadline where you’re going to be back to some semblance of normalcy.”

California will get one step closer to that today, when the vast majority of counties get the green light to resume indoor concerts, live performances, conferences, weddings and other gatherings under certain conditions.

2. Churches win big against Newsom

Pastor Ryan Kwon speaks at an Easter sermon at Resonate Church in Fremont on April 4, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Newsom has been sued at least 83 times for his coronavirus restrictions, and although most cases have yet to be resolved, state and federal judges have generally sided with the governor. Except, that is, when it comes to lawsuits over religious freedom. Of the 10 churches and faith-based organizations that have sued the state, half of them have found a receptive audience at the U.S. Supreme Court — likely due in part to Justice Amy Coney Barrett joining the bench in October, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. The rulings have placed new restrictions on the ability of Newsom — and governors across the country — to govern by emergency executive order during the pandemic and could also serve as a check on California’s Democrat-dominated Legislature.

Meanwhile, another high-profile lawsuit to constrain Newsom’s emergency powers — brought by Republican Assemblymembers James Gallagher and Kevin Kiley — is set to move forward next week with oral arguments in appellate court.

3. Drought disaster vs. drought emergency

An irrigation system seen from the road outside of Adin, a small town in Modoc County, in July 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

The federal government recently declared that 50 of California’s 58 counties are in the midst of a drought disaster — a phrase that officials say is less alarming than it sounds, because it simply allows California farmers to apply for emergency federal loans. (It doesn’t have the same implications as Newsom declaring a drought emergency, something he appears loath to do.) But the federal loans can make or break operations for farmers, who are already facing tight water budgets as they produce about half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables and nearly a fifth of its milk, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker and Julie Cart report.

  • Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau: “California farmers will see sharp cuts in water supplies this year. That means hundreds of thousands of acres of land will lie idle. It means thousands of people will lose jobs, in both rural and urban areas. It means Californians will have less locally grown food available.” 

To learn more about federal drought aid in California, check out Rachel and Julie’s report


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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As Newsom faces an almost-certain recall election, the state Legislature is considering bills that would make future recalls less likely.

Getting serious about online learning: It’s time to recognize the broader role online courses can play in higher education and the public investment that it will require, argue Jennifer Brown and Christopher Lynch of UC Riverside.

A new approach to Shasta Dam: The Biden administration should not only defund the dam expansion, but also rule it infeasible because of tribal rights, environmental impacts and state law, writes Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.


Other things worth your time

Deaths among Latino immigrants soared by 90% in this California county. // Fresno Bee

Living without a job and under the harassment of the landlord. // CalMatters

Placerville city council votes to remove noose from city logo. // Sacramento Bee

Protesters take to Sacramento streets over Daunte Wright’s death. // Sacramento Bee

Why the Bay Area’s grocery prices are still unusually high. // San Francisco Chronicle

Syphilis cases in California drive record-setting year for STDs nationwide. // KQED

Southern California water giant wants Sacramento Valley water — and has $44 million to spend. // Sacramento Bee

Scores of tule elk died at Point Reyes seashore in 2020. // Los Angeles Times

No, it’s not illegal to pick a California poppy. Why does everyone think it is? // San Francisco Chronicle


See you tomorrow.

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