Good morning, California. It’s Friday, July 30.
Rapid policy shifts
California’s fourth COVID-19 wave has caused political and public health messaging to clash yet again, leaving many residents in near-perpetual whiplash.
Sacramento County on Thursday became the third to mandate face masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, a day after the state recommended the same due to the surging Delta variant — and just a little more than a month after California lifted its mask mandate for fully vaccinated residents.
San Francisco is also considering an indoor mask requirement and a vaccine mandate that could extend beyond city employees — which would go further than Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement that health care workers and state employees must be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. President Joe Biden on Thursday adopted a similar policy for federal workers — of which California has the most outside of Washington, D.C.
Also Thursday, a federal judge implied Newsom’s policy didn’t go far enough and said he would consider ordering all California prison employees and inmate firefighters to be vaccinated. Los Angeles Unified School District said it will require all students and employees who return to campus in the fall to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing regardless of vaccination status — a rule that previously applied only to the unvaccinated. San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the Delta variant could possibly derail the city’s return to in-person learning. Major California-based companies, including Apple, Google and Twitter, postponed office reopenings.
And a whopping 36 of 58 counties now have coronavirus case rates that would have catapulted them into the most restrictive purple tier of California’s now-extinct reopening blueprint — up from 12 last week.
- Dr. James Kyle, L.A. Care Health Plan’s medical director for quality, diversity, equity and inclusion: “People are hearing about the Delta variant, about increasing hospitalizations, but at the same time, we’ve reopened businesses, and I think people have genuine confusion.”
Kyle told CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra that mixed messaging is likely complicating the state’s efforts to improve vaccination rates, especially in underserved communities. Ana found that just 45% of eligible Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for the poor, had received at least one vaccine dose as of July 18 — compared to 70% of all eligible Californians.
Still, California’s first-dose vaccinations for the week ending Monday increased 21% compared to the previous week, according to the Sacramento Bee — a sign that residents are heeding health officials’ warnings about the Delta variant.
In any case, the state plans to reassume control of vaccine distribution. Blue Shield, the health insurance giant California tapped earlier this year to streamline a confusing patchwork of vaccination efforts, will soon transition to “an advisory role,” with its contracts scheduled to end “in the coming months,” according to slides from an internal Wednesday meeting between the state Department of Public Health and vaccine providers first obtained by CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov.
Also Thursday, Blue Shield — a major Newsom donor — gave $1 million to the California Democratic Party. The Newsom administration awarded Blue Shield the no-bid contract of up to $15 million to lead California’s vaccine distribution in February.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,830,008 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 63,891 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data.
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 going in wrong direction
Another sign that things in California aren’t going back to normal: New unemployment claims jumped to their highest level since the state’s June 15 reopening, with more than 67,400 residents submitting claims for the week ending July 24, according to federal data released Thursday. Not only is that an increase of nearly 11,000 from the week before, but it also accounts for nearly 20% of all claims filed nationwide — even though California represents less than 12% of the country’s civilian labor force. Paradoxically, the uptick in jobless claims comes amid an outpouring of jobs, with many businesses struggling to hire workers. Job postings in California were more than 5% above pre-pandemic levels for the week ending July 27, according to Michael Bernick, a former Employment Development Department director and attorney at Duane Morris.
- Bernick: “The conventional wisdom (has been) that hiring in California would come in September when the (federal) unemployment supplement of $300 ended, the schools reopened and child care became more available. The past few week’s numbers suggest that September may not bring that major reduction in unemployment claims or increase in hiring.”
2. Recall campaign intensifies
The closer the Sept. 14 Newsom recall election gets, the more political lines are being drawn in the sand. On Thursday, the ACLU of California — part of a national organization that defends groups and causes ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to transgender rights — took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement opposing the recall.
- Norma Chávez-Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial counties: “In its 98 years in California, the ACLU has never endorsed or opposed a candidate during an election and is not doing so now. The ACLU opposes this recall effort because it aims to reverse advances in immigrants’ rights, gender equity, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform and students’ rights. With so much at stake, we will not be silent.”
The statement came the same day former GOP Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee traveled to Fresno to drum up support for the recall. Huckabee, a top donor to the recall effort, accused Newsom of showcasing both “hypocrisy and hubris — two things that really don’t belong in public officials.” Interestingly, he also noted, “It’s hard to recall a public official — and quite frankly, it oughta be hard. It oughta be a tough threshold to meet.”
Californians would seem to agree. A Wednesday poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 60% of likely voters support limiting the reasons for which politicians can be recalled, while 55% support doubling the number of signatures required to force a recall election. A whopping 68% support holding a top-two runoff election if the recall succeeds and no replacement candidate receives more than 50% of the vote; under current rules, challengers can win with far less.
3. Will students get more voting power?
The boards governing California’s three public higher education systems would each have two voting student members if state lawmakers pass a bill currently pending in the Legislature. The move would effectively double the number of student voices in some of the nation’s largest higher education systems —California Community Colleges, California State University and the University of California — and send a strong message about the competence of student representatives, Matthew Reagan reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. The bill would also expand the voting powers of student members on the UC Board of Regents, meaning they’d have more say on hot-button issues like student housing, enrollment expansions and tuition hikes. But even with limited voting capacity, they’ve already made a difference: UC regents last week modified their plan to raise tuition annually without any sunset date, instead adopting an amendment by a student member to keep the tuition hike on the books for just five years and vote on the issue again in 2027.
- State Sen. Steve Glazer, the Orinda Democrat carrying the bill: “It’s important to note that students are the ones who know most about the challenges that they are facing and their voices will be essential in tackling these challenges and potential solutions.”
Gun shows belong on state fairgrounds: California’s state government shouldn’t discriminate against lawful activity just because some politicians disagree with it, argues Tiffany Cheuvront, a civil rights attorney representing the California Rifle & Pistol Association.
Other things worth your time
California’s housing market to cool in second half of year, Realtor economists predict. // Mercury News
Placer stops issuing vacation rentals amid Tahoe housing crisis. // Sacramento Bee
California keeps adding low-wage jobs. Can it find a way to save its middle class? // Sacramento Bee
A California city raised essential worker pay — and their expectations. // Politico
Californians’ faith in gun control slips in new poll. // Los Angeles Times
City spends big to tackle homelessness, safety, drug crisis in final $13.2 billion budget. // San Francisco Chronicle
The trial of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. // The New Yorker
San Francisco angles to buy out PG&E’s local assets in move to public power. // Here/Say Media
ABC10 sues to release messages between Newsom staff and PG&E regulators. // abc10.com
Cannabis magnate admits bribing San Luis Obispo supervisor. // Los Angeles Times
See you Monday.
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