Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, May 4.

An incomplete story

Even as California appears to be nearing the end of the pandemic, many gaps remain in our knowledge about the past year’s events — raising questions as to the state’s preparedness for potential future disasters.

Today — with record-low hospitalizations, a 1.1% positivity rate and Los Angeles County set to enter the least restrictive reopening tier — it can be hard to remember the rampant uncertainty of March 2020, when Gov. Gavin Newsom warned that 56% of Californians could be infected with COVID-19 within two months. That projection appears to have come from figures calculated by Dr. Charity Dean, who at the time was California’s assistant director of public health and is one of the main characters in Michael Lewis’ latest book, “The Premonition.” Dean, according to an interview Lewis gave 60 Minutes on Sunday, was recruited by a group of doctors to push California to respond decisively to the virus, and was instrumental in getting Newsom to issue the nation’s first shelter-in-place order.

But a New York Times review took issue with Lewis depicting Dean as “unwaveringly principled and unfailingly right” while portraying Dr. Sonia Angell, Dean’s boss and nemesis, as “monstrously incompetent” — and not including Angell’s perspective in his book. Angell abruptly resigned as California’s director of public health in August, and neither she nor Newsom gave a reason for the departure — though it was likely tied to a massive data glitch. Dean, who was also co-chair of Newsom’s coronavirus testing task force, had resigned two months earlier to enter the private sector.

That even this behind-the-scenes of California’s pandemic response remains incomplete suggests we may never know the full sequence of events — an idea reinforced by a new Sacramento Bee investigation revealing that the state’s database of coronavirus-related deaths is riddled with inaccuracies, inconsistencies and gaps.


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,643,992 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 60,763 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 30,501,711 vaccine doses, and 40.4% 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. Recall ramps up

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters; iStock

Hold on to your hats, everyone — we’re in for a wild recall ride. Republican businessman and gubernatorial candidate John Cox, who lost to Newsom by 24 percentage points in 2018, rebranded himself on Twitter Monday as @BeastJohnCox. Today, he’s embarking on a bus tour that includes an event featuring a “1,000 pound live bear” and a stop at the French Laundry.

Meanwhile, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher dug into recently released campaign finance reports that provide some of the first hard metrics revealing where Newsom and his opponents stand as the race heats up. Though the pro-recall side has raised more money, it also has less in the bank — and that gap is only likely to keep growing.

2. Debate over election reform heats up

Recall Newsom volunteer Pat Miller, left, helps James Auble, right, fill out the form at a petition signing event at SaveMart in Sacramento on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Recall Newsom volunteer Pat Miller, left, helps James Auble, right, fill out the form at a petition-signing event at SaveMart in Sacramento on Jan. 5, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

With efforts to recall politicians popping up across the state, the elections process appears to be top of mind for many Californians. State Sen. Josh Newman, who was recalled in 2018 before winning back his seat in 2020, has come under fire — first from Republicans, now from Democrats — for introducing two bills to reform the process. The Fullerton Democrat recently withdrew a bill that would have allowed California politicians facing recall efforts to see who signed petitions to remove them from office. (It wouldn’t have affected the Newsom recall.) And another bill — which would prohibit people who gather signatures for California recalls, referendums or ballot initiatives from being paid by the signature — is facing Democratic pushback, even as it advanced past a key Senate committee Monday. 

  • Newman told me: Professionals paid by the signature “tend to say whatever it takes to get a signature as quickly as possible. … That runs counter to the truth, that runs counter to the kind of rigorous debate that I think the framers” of California’s recall law “had in mind.” 
  • Bob Mulholland, a longtime Democratic strategist and former Democratic National Committee member, told me: “In America, we have a First Amendment right. Politicians, including Democrats, campaign and make a lot of promises. Most voters know half of them are bull—-. … But now the Legislature wants to tell somebody that you cannot be like every other American, you cannot be a politician and stretch the truth? … This is not Cuba. This is California. So let’s back off these attacks on American citizens.”

3. Native health care severely underfunded

Image via iStock

Although California has the largest Native American population in the country, it receives far less funding from the federal Indian Health Service than other states — despite a decades-old court ruling that should have increased California’s share of money for Native health care, a Fresno Bee investigation found. The Golden State doesn’t have a single Indian Health Service hospital, and although it will soon have two youth regional treatment centers, the lack of resources appears to have taken its toll: Native babies in Fresno County, for example, die at a rate more than three times that of white babies.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A pending bill would allow CalPERS to semi-secretly lend out untold billions of dollars.

Revamping the recall: It’s not too late for the state Legislature to fix California’s messy rules for conducting a recall election, argue Steven Hill of FairVote and Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution.

Extend eviction moratorium: California must extend protections beyond June to protect renters, prevent homelessness and get money into the pockets of landlords who need it, writes Miriam Yupanqui of Nuestra Casa de East Palo Alto.

Sierra Club is misleading the public: The Westlands Water District has a long history of supporting local communities and investing in habitat restoration and conservation, argues Shelley Cartwright of Westlands Water District.

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Other things worth your time

California state board likely to adopt long-awaited ‘student growth model’ to measure test scores. // EdSource

LAUSD teachers oppose adding 10 days to school year, union says. // Daily News

Central Valley parents disapprove of Newsom, school closures more than most Californians. // Fresno Bee

‘FALSE and offensive’: Christine Pelosi shreds Newsom team’s anti-recall messaging. // SFGATE

Oakland, San Francisco see spike in untraceable ghost guns: ‘Anybody can get these.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

California police reform bill aimed at decertifying bad cops is struggling. // Los Angeles Times

All fatal police pursuits weren’t counted as required by California law. // Daily News

California Republicans take donations from casino mogul despite sexual misconduct scandal. // Los Angeles Times

Lawsuit challenges California rules on pet exams by vets. // San Francisco Chronicle

Money for California’s electric-car rebates is gone. Will Newsom restore it? // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow.

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