With the California COVID test positivity rate dropping to 1.9%, local governments are racing to reverse strict pandemic policies.
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At 11:59 p.m. tonight, California’s statewide mask mandate for schools and child care centers is set to expire — marking an end to one of the state’s most consistent, and contentious, COVID policies.
Although school mask wars are far from over — numerous districts, including Los Angeles Unified and Sacramento City Unified, plan to continue requiring face coverings until further notice — the end to the statewide rule marks what is possibly California’s most decisive move yet to turn the page on the pandemic.
And with the statewide test positivity rate slipping to 1.9% on Thursday — a figure not seen since July — local governments are also racing to reverse strict pandemic policies.
- Starting today, San Francisco will no longer require people to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result to enter indoor restaurants, bars and gyms — though some businesses plan to keep the rule in place.
- Those mandates are also set to expire today in the city of Berkeley.
- The Los Angeles City Council took a big step this week toward lifting vaccine verification requirements to enter many indoor businesses — rules that expired last week in Los Angeles County.
- And Santa Clara County is moving to rehire about 120 workers previously placed on administrative leave for not getting a booster shot.
Meanwhile, the federal government on Thursday extended its mask mandate for planes and public transportation — which was set to expire on March 18 — through April 18, but said it will use the extra month to prepare guidelines for lifting the rule.
The rapid shedding of pandemic precautions has raised concerns for some Californians, who point out that the virus continues to pose a serious threat to immunocompromised people and vulnerable communities. As CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reported, COVID has actually become deadlier for Black Californians since vaccines became widely available.
The quick policy reversals have also raised questions about how permanent any of these rule changes really are.
- Emily Dibiny, who leads the community health team for People Organized for Westside Renewal: “Next thing you know, they’re going to say, ‘No, now it’s mandatory again.'”
Still, that California is paring down its pandemic response was evident from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State address Tuesday night. The governor didn’t mention COVID until midway through his speech, and kept his comments on the pandemic brief. “I want to take a moment to thank all of you … for all you did these past two years to help keep us safe,” he told state lawmakers, before pivoting to the topic of homelessness.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 8,422,875 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 86,185 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
California has administered 72,069,472 vaccine doses, and 74.1% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
Other stories you should know
1. Gas prices keep soaring
California’s average price for a regular gallon of gas zoomed to $5.69 on Thursday, up 11 cents from the day before — likely increasing Newsom and state lawmakers’ urgency in settling on a plan to help Californians hurting at the pump. They’ve thrown a lot of ideas around in recent weeks — sending rebates, pausing the state’s gas tax increase, eliminating it altogether — but how would those proposals work, and what how much relief would they actually provide residents? CalMatters’ Grace Gedye takes a closer look.
In related news:
- Newsom’s rebate proposal — which could consist of sending money to Californians with cars registered in the state — was met with criticism from the Los Angeles Times editorial board and columnists at the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. The prospect that “carless residents may be excluded is worrisome and raises serious questions about equity for low-income families that are among those hurting the most from inflation,” the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote. “Of all the things California could choose to subsidize, let’s make it fossil fuels and the machines that burn them,” wrote Matthew Fleischer, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial page.
- Incidents of gas theft are cropping up in California and across the country, with drivers reporting holes drilled into their fuel tanks.
- And inflation rose 7.9% nationwide in the yearlong period that ended in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday — the highest rate in 40 years. And due to the Russian war on Ukraine, “the worst is yet to come,” said Sung Won Sohn, a Loyola Marymount University professor of finance and economics.
2. Wiener critiques CEQA
As state lawmakers rush to find a legislative solution to help UC Berkeley avoid a court order to cap its enrollment for the upcoming academic year, state Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who leads the Senate Housing Committee, had some choice words for CEQA — the state’s landmark environmental law that formed the basis for the enrollment cap. Here’s a look at key excerpts from Wiener’s interview with Politico, which suggests that some prominent California Democrats are increasingly souring on CEQA:
- On CEQA spiraling out of control: “CEQA is an incredibly important law in terms of environmental protection and making sure that we’re analyzing projects that may actually harm the environment, such as building a new dam or expanding a highway. Unfortunately … at this point, CEQA is the law that swallowed California. … CEQA has really spiraled, and I think the general public is now seeing in a very real way what’s been happening for a long time.”
- On preserving CEQA’s core: “I’m not advocating to eliminate CEQA or anything like that. But we do want to focus CEQA on actual environmental protection, and we don’t want CEQA to be used as a tool to undermine environmental protection.”
- On the difficulty of CEQA reform: “This train wreck has definitely highlighted for the broader public the problems with never-ending CEQA expansion. … But, with that said, CEQA is big and expansive, and a lot of stakeholders have an interest here. … At certain times, you have outrageous situations that show a significant public policy failure, and you have broad public support for change, but the politics still drag down reform efforts.”
- The New York Times took a look at how the CEQA lawsuit — which pits UC Berkeley against a Berkeley neighborhood group — is a fight over the California dream.
- For the “Gimme Shelter” podcast, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias recently talked with a former Wiener staffer about why it’s so difficult to push housing bills through the state Legislature.
3. 2022 election updates
With the deadline quickly approaching for Californians to file paperwork declaring their intention to run in the June 7 statewide primary election, let’s dive into the latest updates:
- Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who finished a distant third among replacement candidates in the gubernatorial recall election last September, confirmed to Politico Thursday night that he won’t run this year. But Michael Shellenberger, an environmental activist and author of “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities” is running for governor as an independent. Republican Navy combat veteran Shawn Collins also jumped into the gubernatorial race.
- Assemblymember Tom Daly, an Anaheim Democrat, announced that he isn’t seeking reelection — the 25th state lawmaker to resign or announce their departure from the Legislature so far this year.
- Republican Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do announced he will run for state treasurer against Democratic incumbent Fiona Ma.
- Nathan Hochman, a Republican former federal prosecutor running for state attorney general, secured endorsements from Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher. The announcements came about a week after powerful law enforcement groups endorsed one of Hochman’s opponents, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who held a Thursday town hall with the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association. Incumbent Attorney General Rob Bonta, meanwhile, attended an abortion rights event sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice America’s San Francisco Leadership Council. And today, he’s set to deliver the keynote address at a San Mateo County event dedicated to getting prohibited guns off California streets.
- The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added two California seats to its 2022 Red to Blue program, which seeks to help Democrats secure competitive House seats currently held by Republicans. The DCCC is throwing its weight behind Assemblymember Rudy Salas, a Bakersfield Democrat challenging Rep. David Valadao for his Central Valley seat, and Jay Chen, who’s challenging Rep. Michelle Steel for her Orange County seat.
- Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin’s congressional campaign secured an endorsement from the California Republican Party, a few days after GOP Rep. Tom McClintock endorsed Kiley’s opponent, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, calling him the “real conservative” in the race.
Restricting natural gas is a recipe for blackouts: California policymakers are pushing us headlong into another energy crisis by pretending the wind and sunshine will save us, argues Lance Christensen, vice president of government affairs at the California Policy Center.
California’s travel industry needs a boost: Other American travel destinations are gaining ground on California and making investments to inspire travel at the expense of the Golden State’s economy, writes Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association.
Other things worth your time
Woman linked to S.F. crime through rape-exam DNA speaks out. // San Francisco Chronicle
California correctional officer charged with killing girlfriend after reporting death as suicide. // Los Angeles Times
Fresno State harassment probes hurt by fear of retaliation. // Fresno Bee
Former SJSU athletic trainer charged by Justice Department in sex abuse scandal. // Mercury News
As Stanford mourns Katie Meyer, university promises to act on string of student deaths. // San Francisco Chronicle
It’s not just doctors and nurses. California veterinarians are burning out, too. // KQED
Why L.A.’s next mayor may struggle to hire more cops. // Los Angeles Times
California labor advocates want stronger enforcement of paid sick leave laws. // Sacramento Bee
Lateefah Simon, only Black member, removed from BART board over home move. // Mercury News
Commission raises pay of Oakland City Council members above $100,000. // Mercury News
It didn’t pass: City had ‘no authority’ to thwart voters’ will on Measure C, court rules. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Assembly bill would tax house flippers, those who sell homes a few years after buying. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Yosemite National Park to force California homeowners from homes. // Fresno Bee
S.F. homeless deaths more than doubled during the pandemic’s first year — but not because of COVID. // San Francisco Chronicle
L.A. could limit how landlords can screen potential tenants. // Los Angeles Times
Redistricting gets political as California school boards draw new boundaries. // EdSource
Ukraine, NATO and the DSA are L.A. election issues. // Los Angeles Times
13 people injured in fiery Caltrain crash in San Bruno. // Mercury News
Mummified body found inside wall of California convention center. // NBC 15
Environmental groups are united in California’s rooftop solar fight, with one notable exception. // Inside Climate News
Plan now for daylight saving time: Experts offer advice for staying healthy and rested. // Sacramento Bee
See you Monday.
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