In summary

California’s long-awaited endemic strategy for dealing with COVID-19 could be unveiled as soon as Monday by Gov. Newsom.

CalMatters is dedicated to explaining how state government impacts our lives. Your support helps us produce journalism that makes a difference. Donate now.

California’s long-awaited “endemic strategy” for dealing with COVID — and changes to the statewide school mask mandate — could be unveiled as soon as Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

The governor’s remarks — which came during a press conference at which he signed into law a restoration of extra paid time off for COVID-related sick leave and assorted tax credits for businesses — offered the clearest glimpse yet into the state’s forthcoming plan for treating COVID like any other virus.

Although details remain murky, here are three key takeaways I gleaned from Newsom’s comments:

  • New plans would likely allow for some level of local control. “As we move forward with … yet another phase of this pandemic, we do so mindful that each county local health officer, based on local conditions, will make determinations for themselves,” Newsom said. (Case in point: While eight of nine Bay Area counties will follow the state and let their indoor mask mandates expire after Feb. 15, Santa Clara County is joining Los Angeles County in holding off until specific conditions are met.)
  • Educators are concerned about the consequences of low youth vaccination rates if school mask mandates are lifted. “That’s why we continue to work with those local health officers and local superintendents … school boards and leaders within the system and try to address their concerns as it relates to community spread, as it relates to what they anticipate experiencing once those mask requirements are removed,” Newsom said.
  • Although conditions will continue to change, the state is prepared to take a definitive step in its approach to the virus. “We also are in a date with destiny, we recognize that we want to turn the page on the status quo,” Newsom said.

But even if the state were to lift its school mask mandate, the even more explosive issue of school vaccine mandates remains — and some district deadlines are rapidly approaching.

  • Louis Freedberg, a veteran education journalist and past executive director of EdSource, recently opined that it would be “an educational and political impossibility” to keep the state’s sizable number of unvaccinated kids “out of school and in remote learning.”
  • But Los Angeles Unified, anticipating that thousands of students won’t meet its vaccination deadline, voted Tuesday to move ahead with plans to establish six new online schools that could enroll up to 15,000 students.
  • And if districts refuse to enforce the state’s inoculation mandate, they could lose significant amounts of state funding and liability insurance coverage.

In other education news:

A message from our Sponsor

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 8,166,393 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 80,912 deaths (+0.3% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 70,361,963 vaccine doses, and 73.6% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

A message from our Sponsor

1. Will state limit no-bid contracts?

Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, examines a device used to test for COVID-19 with the help of applied genomics specialist Kevin Carmody, in Valencia on Oct. 30, 2020. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, Pool
Gov. Gavin Newsom examines a deviceat the state’s COVID testing lab in Valencia on Oct. 30, 2020. Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo/Pool

Speaking of California’s COVID strategy, Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk of Lancaster introduced two bills Wednesday that aim to limit the Newsom administration’s ability to continue signing no-bid contracts amid the pandemic. Among the deals Wilk singled out as questionable: California’s quiet auto-renewal of a contract worth up to $1.7 billion for a COVID testing lab so plagued with problems that state health officials at one point warned it could lose its license; and a proposed privately negotiated contract that would give Kaiser Permanente a special deal to participate in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for low-income residents.

  • Problems appear to persist at the state’s COVID testing lab, which processed fewer than one out of five tests within its contractually mandated 48-hour turnaround time during the week of Jan. 9, CBS 13 reports.
  • Wilk: “Sub-par contracting decisions in critical areas such as COVID-19 test processing has led to massive waste, left the state vulnerable to fraud, and worse, has hamstrung our ability to effectively slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Scott Wilk

Scott Wilk

State Senate, District 21 (Lancaster)

Scott Wilk

State Senate, District 21 (Lancaster)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 21 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 47%
GOP 25%
No party 21%
Campaign Contributions

Sen. Scott Wilk has taken at least $2.1 million from the Party sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 30% of his total campaign contributions.

Wilk’s bills would:

2. Missing Medi-Cal medications

A patient has their reflexes tested at a clinic in Bieber on July 23, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A patient has their reflexes tested at a clinic in Bieber on July 23, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Move over, EDD — there’s another beleaguered call center in town. A month after California began implementing one of Newsom’s key health care initiatives to reform the Medi-Cal prescription drug program, thousands of low-income patients have been unable to access their medications despite some spending up to eight hours on the phone trying to get help, according to a stunning report from California Healthline. Backlogged call centers, improper prescription and claim denials and missing patient data have increased scrutiny on Magellan Health, the company which on Jan. 1 became responsible for administering prescription drug coverage for 14 million Californians.

  • Jacey Cooper, California’s Medicaid director: “As we sit here, clearly five weeks into operations, Magellan, our contractor, has really struggled with some service operations.”
  • Dr. James Schultz, chief medical officer of Neighborhood Healthcare: “We’ve had many, many patients who are sort of in this limbo. … Somebody is gonna die if they haven’t already.”
  • Sharon Ng, pharmacy director at the Venice Family Clinic: “It’s just chaos. We just keep getting rejections. It’s been so frustrating because the rejection doesn’t tell you what’s wrong. And then if you finally go through their lines, they don’t help you either. They’re just guessing.”

3. Big bets on sports gambling

Image via iStock

I’m not a betting person, but I’m willing to wager that the battle over sports gambling headed for California’s November 2022 ballot will be an expensive one. On Wednesday, three California tribal governments — the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Rincon Band of Luisueño Indians and Wilton Rancheria — announced they’re launching a campaign with an initial budget of $100 million to defeat a proposed measure that would legalize online sports betting and direct most of the tax revenue to addressing homelessness and mental health. That matches the initial $100 million raised by online betting giants such as DraftKings and FanDuel in support of the measure.

  • California’s November 2022 ballot could contain as many as four competing measures over sports gambling, including one backed by a group of tribes that would authorize in-person sports betting at Indian casinos, for which they make their case in a recent CalMatters commentary.
  • A clue as to why so many players want a piece of California’s sports gambling pie — or, better yet, to control it altogether: Goldman Sachs recently estimated the U.S. sports betting market could reach a $40 billion valuation by 2033.

4. Ethnic studies in youth prison

Nathaniel Tan teaches an online ethnic studies class through San Francisco State University to incarcerated youth around the state. Feb. 4, 2022. Photo by Wangyuxuan Xu for CalMatters
Nathaniel Tan, who teaches an online ethnic studies class to incarcerated youth around the state, on Feb. 4, 2022. Photo by Wangyuxuan Xu for CalMatters

Ethnic studies is having a moment in California — it’s required for students at California State University, community colleges, and, soon, the state’s high schools.

  • Now, San Francisco State University is pioneering the first ethnic studies program inside youth prison, Emma Hall reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. Almost 90 percent of the approximately 750 youth in California’s juvenile justice system are Black or Latino.
  • Educators involved in the program say it provides culturally relevant curriculum to incarcerated 17- to 25-year-olds, inspiring them to envision themselves in higher education and check off the first few requirements toward a Cal State degree.
  • Alex, a 21-year-old incarcerated student enrolled in the ethnic studies program: “It’s a huge self-esteem, confidence booster. It’s been awesome within the world of academia to feel accepted.”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: It’s increasingly common for California lawmakers to bequeath their seats to offspring or spouses, but the phenomenon is anti-democratic and anti-American.

Protect the Eastern Sierra from industrial gold mining: Approving foreign companies’ gold exploration projects would come at the expense of our local autonomy, indigenous sovereignty, public health and sustainable economies, argues Kris Hohag, a citizen of the Bishop Paiute Tribe and a Sierra Club representative.

Helping adults pursue higher education: We interviewed more than 1,000 California adults over 25 who were not able to finish college or never got the chance to start. Here’s what we found, writes Dee Allsop of Heart + Mind Strategies.

Other things worth your time

Assemblyman Jim Cooper is running for sheriff of Sacramento. // Sacramento Bee

Former Stockton mayor launches nonprofit to end poverty in California. // CalMatters

Football sent Inglewood home prices and rents skyrocketing. // Los Angeles Times

State Farm doesn’t have to refund $100 million to homeowners, state Supreme Court rules. // San Francisco Chronicle

Building boom for Silicon Valley offices reaches six-year high. // Mercury News

San Diego OKs large package of housing incentives, including accessory units. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Livermore affordable housing project wins legal battle, but could still be delayed. // San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento County to close 3 Roomkey motels serving hundreds of unhoused people. // Sacramento Bee

Dozens to be evicted in messy fight over illegal East Bay RV park. // Mercury News

San Jose homeless camp could become dog park, disc golf course. // Mercury News

He mapped every crosswalk in SF — the results show a startling safety gap. // San Francisco Chronicle

California robocar ‘disengagement’ reports tell us a little. // Forbes says its service will no longer require facial recognition. // Washington Post

Leondra Kruger, potential Supreme Court nominee, faces questions on religious rights case. // Washington Post

California’s top racehorse doctor suspended. // Sacramento Bee

Former California health spa owner pleads guilty to $20-million fraud scheme. // Los Angeles Times

California conservationists and farmers unite to protect salmon. // Reuters

Can PG&E be blamed for health issues from Kincade Fire smoke? That’ll be decided in court. // San Francisco Chronicle

Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles could be the hottest on record. // Washington Post

Authorities warn of trucker protests at Super Bowl in California. // Los Angeles Times

See you tomorrow.

Tips, insight or feedback? Email

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

CalMatters is now available in Spanish on TwitterFacebook and RSS.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions:

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...