In summary

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, says the California schools COVID mask mandate will stay in place, but could change Feb. 28.

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Well, that was anticlimactic.

After weeks of hinting that a key piece of California’s forthcoming “endemic strategy” for dealing with COVID — changing the statewide school mask mandate — could be unveiled as soon as Monday, the Newsom administration on Monday instead announced plans to punt the decision to Feb. 28 at the earliest.

The news came not from Gov. Gavin Newsom himself but from the state’s top health official, Dr. Mark Ghaly, who in the course of a nearly 90-minute press conference took pains to emphasize that “the one thing that has been important throughout our entire response … especially in schools, is that we don’t make hasty decisions.”

  • Ghaly: By Feb. 28, “we anticipate being able to share what the next period of time will look like and, with some specificity, give a date when the masking requirement will move to a recommendation.”
  • California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd: “We support the administration’s decision to pause and gather more information to make a science-based decision on school masking that responds to this moment in the pandemic and helps the state transition with an eye on equity.”

But, as CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports, some parents and educators are frustrated by the state “kicking the can down the road,” in the words of Dr. Will Sheldon, an Oakland parent and family medicine physician.

Others accused the state of inconsistency, noting that California’s statewide indoor mask mandate is set to expire Wednesday in most locations for vaccinated residents, and Los Angeles on Sunday hosted the Super Bowl with tens of thousands of fans — including celebrities and politicians — many of whom were seen without face coverings.

  • Megan Bacigalupi, executive director of CA Parent Power: “By delaying a decision to make masking optional in K-12 schools, Governor Newsom has once again let politics, not science, dictate pandemic policies for children.”

A few other key takeaways from Ghaly’s presentation:

  • Local officials will be able to implement stricter mask rules than the state’s. “There will be the ability, as there has been throughout, that communities that want to add additional layers of protection as they see fit should and can.”
  • The state wants to increase pediatric vaccination rates. “We will use this opportunity to remind students, families, that this is a great chance to get vaccinated, that vaccines are safe and effective, that they do a lot to help protect not just the individuals, but the community at large.”
  • Any move the state makes will face pushback. “That change is gonna be one that I think will be met with a lot of excitement in some, and a lot of fear in other circles.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 8,244,329 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 82,026 deaths (+0.7% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 70,728,315 vaccine doses, and 73.9% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Lots of recalls and special elections

A pedestrian walks below a sign for Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in San Francisco on Dec. 17, 2020. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo
A pedestrian walks below a sign for Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in San Francisco on Dec. 17, 2020. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo

It’s election season, baby! As frustration over COVID policies collides with a “Great Resignation” of state lawmakers, today marks the deadline for voters in San Francisco and Los Angeles to cast or mail in their ballots in a number of closely-watched elections:

Meanwhile, Nevada County activists are seeking to recall the entire Board of Supervisors for COVID policies they describe as “crimes against humanity” — a move that comes on the heels of Shasta County voters recalling a GOP supervisor whom they felt didn’t oppose Newsom’s COVID measures ardently enough.

2. Boudin spotlights use of survivor DNA

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin outside his office in San Francisco on Jan. 30, 2020. Photo by Eric Risberg, AP Photo

San Francisco police have been using DNA profiles collected from sexual assault survivors to investigate them as suspects in other crimes, District Attorney Chesa Boudin alleged Monday — a practice he said could violate state law and discourage people from reporting incidents of sexual assault.

  • The announcement escalated an ongoing battle between Boudin’s office and the San Francisco police department over prosecuting police use-of-force cases — one into which state and city officials waded Monday to help the two parties reach an agreement.
  • It also prompted state Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, to condemn the police department’s alleged actions as “extremely troubling” and say he will “seriously consider” introducing legislation to ban law enforcement from using rape kit DNA for unrelated criminal investigations.

Separately, advocates are calling on Newsom and state lawmakers to use California’s budget surplus to funnel $15 million annually into sexual and domestic violence prevention programs, arguing that the state “should be investing in strategies that prevent violence from ever occurring, and not responding after they occur.”

3. Housing California’s students

Students sit on the lawn at UC Berkeley on March 12, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

If you think California housing policy is contentious, try California student housing policy. UC Berkeley announced Monday that it may be forced to cut its incoming fall 2022 class by one-third — slashing 3,050 student seats and costing the university $57 million in tuition revenue — unless the California Supreme Court intervenes. Berkeleyside has more on the legal backstory, which involves a group called Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods challenging the university’s expansion plan on the grounds that it didn’t adequately account for the environmental impact of adding so many students and not enough housing. 

Still, there’s some good student housing news. After the California State University system realized it misread the fine print for a new state grant to build affordable student housing — potentially resulting in a loss of thousands of new beds — officials went back to the drawing board, ran new numbers and told lawmakers they have a plan to develop more discounted student homes. The result: As many as 800 more Cal State students — for a total of nearly 3,400 — could soon see heavily subsidized housing slots, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle’s campaign for governor will probably fail, but could help the GOP regain relevance in California.

How to fix California’s recall elections: Here are two major reforms that would address the weaknesses in our current system, writes Pedro Nava, chair of the Little Hoover Commission.

A great opportunity for women: The “Great Resignation” of state lawmakers ahead of the 2022 election marks a chance for California to elect leaders that reflect the people they serve, argues Susannah Delano, executive director of Close the Gap California.

Other things worth your time

California lawmaker takes aim at plastic waste from online retailers. // San Francisco Chronicle

What can Devin Nunes do with $11 million in campaign cash? // Sacramento Bee

Former aide to Faulconer testifies he regularly deleted texts about city business. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Alberto Carvalho begins new role as LAUSD’s superintendent. // EdSource

Kaiser Permanente broke its own profit record in 2021. // Modern Healthcare

‘They just throw people away’: Bay Area parents seek help for mentally ill children. // San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland homicides hit a similar inflection point a decade ago — then violence plummeted. Can it happen again? // San Francisco Chronicle

Armed robbery of $500,000 watch gets 2 men 12 years in prison. // Los Angeles Times

Whistleblower suit accuses national home leaser of cheating 18 California cities. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Doctors group sues UC Davis over Elon Musk-funded monkey research. // Sacramento Bee

Why tons of people suddenly are getting married in Humboldt County. // San Francisco Chronicle

Will rising seas ruin the California dream? // Bloomberg

West megadrought worsens to driest in at least 1,200 years. // Associated Press

‘The Brad Pitt of mountain lions’: How P22 became Los Angeles’ wildest celebrity. // The Guardian

Wild pigs run amok in San Jose, residents want repayment for wrecked landscaping. // Mercury News

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...