As soon as today, the Newsom administration could unveil a key prong of its strategy for treating COVID as an endemic virus.
CalMatters is dedicated to explaining how state government impacts our lives. Your support helps us produce journalism that makes a difference. Donate now.
As the omicron wave recedes, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic lawmakers’ plans for dealing with COVID-19 appear to be on a collision course.
On the one hand, Newsom’s administration as soon as today could unveil portions of its strategy for treating COVID like any other virus, including by possibly lifting the statewide school mask mandate.
- Newsom in a Friday interview with NBC Bay Area: “We are in the process of transforming our public education system and moving out of this pandemic mindset. And that includes the masks — and that will happen. Question is when.”
- The governor last week also suggested that he would be ready to roll back the mandate if it weren’t for teachers unions: “They just asked for a little bit more time, and I think that’s responsible, and I respect that. But we are also in a date with destiny,” Newsom said.
Still, pressure is mounting on the governor to make an announcement — and fast. California’s statewide mask mandate for indoor businesses is set to expire for vaccinated residents after Tuesday — a milestone that will make schools’ strict face covering requirements stand out in even starker relief.
Democratic lawmakers, on the other hand, are doubling down on COVID mandates.
Assemblymember Buffy Wicks of Oakland unveiled a sweeping proposal Friday that would require all businesses — regardless of size — to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees and independent contractors, except those who qualify for medical or religious exemptions considered valid by state regulators. Noncompliant businesses would face unspecified financial penalties.
- Wicks: “The pathway to endemic, for us to get back to some sense of normalcy, is through vaccines.”
- Wicks also said lawmakers are considering introducing vaccine-related legislation for people entering businesses.
Wicks’ bill is the latest to emerge from a vaccine work group of Democratic lawmakers. The group has also proposed requiring the COVID vaccine for all students except those granted rare medical exemptions, allowing kids 12 and older to get vaccinated without parental consent, and permitting schools to check students’ vaccination status in the state’s private immunization database.
Should those bills pass the state Legislature, it would be up to Newsom — who appears reluctant to impose more mandates on Californians — to decide whether to sign them into law.
- Newsom: “The Legislature is adjudicating their approach to it, and we’ll see where we land on that over the course of the next few months.”
A message from our Sponsor
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 8,204,171 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 81,437 deaths (+0.4% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
California has administered 70,537,667 vaccine doses, and 73.7% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
Other stories you should know
1. Super Bowl synopsis
Super Bowl fever swept California on Sunday, with many fans exulting over the Los Angeles Rams beating the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 on their home turf, SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles County. Here’s a breakdown of some of the political controversies embedded in the nation’s biggest sporting event, as well as its more lighthearted moments.
On the political side:
- Despite SoFi’s strict vaccine-or-testing requirement and mask mandate — and every attendee receiving a free KN95 mask — many spectators and high-profile celebrities were seen in the stands without face coverings. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — who faced blowback for posing maskless with Magic Johnson at last month’s NFC Championship game, also at SoFi — was again pictured maskless on Sunday.
- Opponents of state regulators’ controversial proposal to reform California’s wildly successful rooftop solar incentive program had a message in the sky over SoFi for Newsom and other elected officials: “No Solar Tax!”
- Republican lawmakers took the opportunity to slam California’s rising cost of living, with Senate GOP Leader Scott Wilk of Lancaster noting on Twitter that the price of avocados for guacamole has skyrocketed 100%.
- Police declared an unlawful assembly late Sunday night as revelers took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles, igniting fireworks in and scrawling graffiti on city buses and jumping on cars locked in traffic.
On the lighthearted side:
- Newsom and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine placed a friendly wager on the outcome of the game, as did California U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and Ohio U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown.
- Some watchers laughingly observed that the halftime show set could be interpreted as an ad for California housing policy.
- Four football players from the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, attended the game as honorary captains after their own record-breaking season.
- Although a record-breaking heat wave blanketed much of California over the weekend, temperatures cooled down before Sunday’s game — likely robbing it of its potential title of the hottest Super Bowl of all time.
2. Can California transform Medi-Cal?
Trying to navigate California’s complex web of medical, mental and behavioral health and social services is “a little bit like if you needed to get ingredients for a meal and instead of just going to the supermarket, you had to go to different stores to get your proteins and your fruits and your grains and your vegetables,” Melora Simon, a senior strategist at the California Health Care Foundation, told CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang. “And at those stores, you had to pay with different cards and navigate different rules about what you could buy.”
- Enter CalAIM — or California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal — which seeks to overhaul the state’s health insurance program serving more than 13 million low-income residents by helping patients address problems such as homelessness, poverty, substance abuse and mental illness that often contribute to negative health outcomes.
- The five-year, multibillion-dollar effort kicked off in January — and although preliminary data from county pilot programs looks promising, advocates say the statewide transition will need to be monitored carefully to ensure CalAIM lives up to its goals, Kristen reports.
- Case(s) in point: California’s plan to reform the Medi-Cal prescription drug program is already hitting serious roadblocks that have left some patients unable to access medications, while advocates are concerned about the possible negative effects the Newsom administration’s private Medi-Cal deal with Kaiser Permanente could have on CalAIM.
3. California redistricting post-mortem
An important deadline came and went so quietly last week that you may have missed it. Feb. 10 was the last day to challenge in state court California’s new election maps — drawn by an independent redistricting commission using data from the 2020 Census — and no lawsuit was filed. Yet other states are being besieged with lawsuits over their new maps — raising questions about which aspects of California’s redistricting process may have helped it avoid legal battles. Here are some possibilities from CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal’s incisive analysis, which also explores whether the maps fairly represent California’s diverse population:
- Transparency: Californians submitted more than 36,000 public comments about the maps. “Any political process is a valve, with pressure being applied. Some have limited valves to open, so no pressure is released. … When you have processes that are public — allowing people to comment — they’re venting,” said Josue Franco, an assistant professor of political science at Cuyamaca College.
- Bipartisanship: The commission is made up of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans and 4 independents. “I think that’s the story that really needs more focus in this time of hyperpartisanship … that we can put together kind of a random group of citizens to do civic work on behalf of the entire community and get it done,” said commissioner J. Ray Kennedy.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: State lawmakers have been shirking transparency and accountability in making policies that affect nearly 40 million Californians.
Budgeting racial justice at the University of California: Data suggest that UC budgets could be running counter to our diversity, equity and inclusion pronouncements, argue Charles Hale, Bill Maurer and Katharyne Mitchell, deans of social science at UC Santa Barbara, Irvine and Santa Cruz, respectively.
California’s climate roadmap: This year, state government has the opportunity to pair record climate investments with an ambitious roadmap to meet our climate goals, writes Louise Bedsworth of UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment.
Other things worth your time
Soak up the February sun? Not without climate change guilt in California. // Politico
Efforts to retool California’s ‘three strikes’ law for juveniles are failing. // Los Angeles Times
She says officers let vandal go after her parklet was trashed. Are city’s police doing enough to fight crime? // San Francisco Chronicle
Controller candidate Rob Wilcox attacked outside City Hall. // Los Angeles Times
After deadly shooting, BART’s police chief says he wants to add more officers. // San Francisco Chronicle
Gun maker in Orange told by state it must stop selling ‘illegal assault weapons.’ // Orange County Register
Kern County sheriff recruitment video appeals to LA deputies. // Los Angeles Times
Sausalito declares state of emergency over ‘dangerous’ activities in homeless encampment. // San Francisco Chronicle
San Diego to renew enforcing laws against homeless encampments. // San Diego Union-Tribune
What happens if LAUSD’s enrollment doesn’t stop dropping? // LAist
How the Raiders made $189 million in taxpayer money vanish. // Mercury News
Feds allege record $25 million in claims from California jobless scam. // Associated Press
EDD cuts back call center hours, eliminates weekends. // Sacramento Bee
State Sen. Scott Wiener wants to make it easier to open a bar in California. // San Francisco Chronicle
Billionaire developer Rick Caruso enters race for LA mayor. // Los Angeles Times
OCTA asks Newsom to prevent bus drivers from striking in Orange County. // Orange County Register
Climate, systemic inequity drive push to reform California water laws. // Los Angeles Times
A peek into California’s energy future: Grid operator releases 20-year outlook. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Why are so many people heading to Pinnacles National Park? // Los Angeles Times
Pleasanton eyeing community park for cricket pitch, neighbors upset. // Mercury News
See you tomorrow.
Tips, insight or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven
Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.
Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.
CalMatters is now available in Spanish on Twitter, Facebook and RSS.