Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing a mask dilemma.
If he updates the state’s mask guidance to align with that of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which on Thursday announced that fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks or physically distance in most places — he risks contradicting his own stance, which has already changed twice in the past two days. Newsom said Wednesday that California would keep mask “guidelines and mandates” in place for “indoor activities” even after the state fully reopens on June 15. But the day before, he said the mask mandate would be lifted entirely by June 15, except for in “massively large (indoor) settings where people from around the world … are convening.”
His comments in the days leading up to the CDC’s announcement marked a sharp contrast with the state’s silence on Thursday. Neither a spokeswoman for Newsom nor a spokeswoman for the California Department of Public Health responded to requests for clarification on the state’s mask policy.
Then, late Thursday night, the state public health department released a statement: “The state is reviewing the new CDC guidance on masking requirements.” The extended review time is a precaution California has taken before: State officials didn’t authorize the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 12-15 until Wednesday, two days after it was approved by the feds.
Meanwhile, California’s workplace safety agency is set to consider rule changes next week that would permit fully vaccinated workers to forgo masks both outdoors and indoors, as long as everyone else in the room is also fully vaccinated and doesn’t have symptoms. The Golden State currently allows fully vaccinated people to go without masks outdoors, except when attending crowded events like sports games.
Political dilemmas also loom for Newsom. Aligning the state’s mask guidance with the CDC’s would likely bring the divisive issue of vaccine passports to the fore, as people would presumably have to prove they’re fully vaccinated in order to walk maskless into a store. And less mask-wearing could also increase the state’s risk of another coronavirus surge — something the governor undoubtedly wants to avoid with a recall election looming on the horizon.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,659,641 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 61,351 deaths (+0.1% 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. Newsom’s budget tour comes to an end
Today, Newsom will wrap up his weeklong “California Roars Back” tour by officially presenting the Legislature with a revised budget that takes into account a staggering $75.7 billion surplus. On Thursday he previewed another proposal: $1.4 billion in small-business grants that would bring the state’s total small-business relief program to $4 billion. CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall analyzes how the proposals the governor unveiled this week — stimulus checks for the middle class, $12 billion to fight homelessness, $20 billion to reimagine education — seem designed to appeal to business owners and parents, groups that will likely be instrumental in helping him fend off a recall election. But they also hearken back to some of Newsom’s early campaign promises and pre-pandemic priorities, Laurel reports. And more proposals will likely come out of the woodwork today: Newsom hinted at a significant broadband investment, and advocates are hoping he’ll use the flush budget to expand health care coverage to all undocumented immigrants, spur housing construction and restore 9% pay cuts for state workers.
2. Two visions of criminal justice
The contours of the 2022 race to be California’s top cop became clearer on Thursday, when the two main contenders took decisive actions pointing in opposite directions. First, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he would conduct an independent review of the fatal shooting of Sean Monterrosa by a Vallejo police officer in June 2020. Then, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced that she and 40 other district attorneys were formally challenging the Newsom administration’s recent decision to give 76,000 inmates the opportunity to shorten their prison sentences. The moves underscore the different visions the candidates are selling voters: By launching an investigation into Monterrosa’s death, Bonta is reversing yet another decision by his predecessor Xavier Becerra, who was often criticized for protecting police. Schubert, meanwhile, is pushing back on the Newsom administration’s pandemic-era criminal justice policies that critics and victim advocates say endanger public safety.
Among the district attorneys who didn’t sign Schubert’s letter were George Gascón of Los Angeles and Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, who have become the flashpoint of a state debate over controversial “progressive prosecutor” policies.
3. Drought’s unequal toll
Low-income, rural Latino communities were hardest hit by California’s last drought and could see drinking water shortages again this year as more of the state falls under a drought emergency, according to a Thursday report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. The report urges state officials to ramp up monitoring of wells in vulnerable communities and prepare emergency drinking water supplies. But the scope of the problem is immense: Even before the drought, 1 million Californians already faced challenges in finding safe and affordable drinking water, and it could cost the state $10.25 billion to address the contamination and shortages, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports.
Also at risk are endangered winter-run Chinook salmon and fall-run salmon, which have run in the Sacramento River for thousands of years and are sacred to Native people. A recent report shows that both runs could be entirely lost this year if the federal government keeps diverting water to farmers at its current rate. And in another sign of how severe the drought is getting, Santa Clara County’s water district just hiked its rates to help pay for emergency water.
4. Checking in on EDD
Numbers are still trending in the wrong direction at California’s unemployment department. On May 8, nearly 196,000 claims had been on the Employment Development Department’s desk for more than 21 days, according to figures released Thursday — a sizable uptick from the 166,000 the week before and the 135,000 the week before that. Claimants had to call the department 12.6 times on average last week to get through, up from 12.2 times the week before. Other key areas of concern and optimism emerged during a Thursday legislative hearing on EDD, at which this newsletter’s reporting was cited as evidence of the worsening backlog.
- Areas of concern: Although EDD had planned to hire 987 employees between January and May, it only hired 628 — and the employee turnover rate in its call centers is 30%, said Carol Williams, EDD’s chief deputy director of operations. EDD also hasn’t made “adequate progress” in creating a fraud prevention unit, said Bob Harris of the state auditor’s office.
- Areas of optimism: EDD has “fully or partially implemented” the majority of recommendations from the auditor’s office, Harris said, including adding features to its call center and cracking down on identity fraud.
EDD officials also confirmed Thursday that California businesses are currently on the hook for $20.1 billion in loans the state took out to pay a staggering 22 million unemployment claims. But they said Newsom’s $100 billion “California Roars Back” plan includes $950 million in federal funds to pay down part of the loan.
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Redistributing innovation: Here are three things California needs to do to distribute its innovation infrastructure to regions that have largely been ignored, write Matt Horton of the Milken Institute and Fred Walti of Network for Global Innovation.
Low-wage workers need better protections: A shot won’t immunize them against employer retaliation, low wages and unsafe working conditions, argue Winifred Kao of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and Alejandra Domenzain of the UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program.
Extend eviction moratorium: There needs to be systemic, long-term interventions in place to protect vulnerable populations, writes Marissa Miller, a San Jose State master’s student.
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Other things worth your time
Gavin Newsom and the trouble with the California recall. // The Atlantic
Dianne Feinstein approval lags in poll; Alex Padilla has positive marks. // Los Angeles Times
Donors gave millions to Garcetti nonprofit but kept their identities secret. // Los Angeles Times
Merced affordable housing CEO makes $570K in a year. How does ‘stunning’ salary compare to others? // Sacramento Bee
Hundreds of renters evicted in Sacramento despite COVID-19 moratorium. // Sacramento Bee
Many San Franciscans in jail struggle with addiction. Would this polarizing treatment option help them? // San Francisco Chronicle
Cremations surpassed burials among California Latinos during the pandemic. Here’s why. // Sacramento Bee
Santa Clara pays $5.3 million to settle 2017 police shooting of man amid mental-health crisis. // Mercury News
Los Angeles County debates $1,000 for 1,000 residents universal basic income program. // Los Angeles Times
Los Alamitos school board approves controversial social justice teaching standards. // Los Angeles Times
No, California, you don’t need to stock up on gasoline. // San Diego Union-Tribune
See you Monday.
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