How to stay safe in California as COVID surges

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La September 5, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Southern California Gas Company and Earthjustice

How to stay safe in California as COVID surges

Did you mask up during public gatherings over the holiday weekend? Or is the COVID-19 resurgence really not that bad?

It can be confusing, explains CalMatters’ health reporter Kristen Hwang. Though testing data has become less reliable because access has decreased, we know that COVID-19 hospitalization rates have been steadily ticking upwards, and wastewater surveillance networks show that infection rates are rising.

But state public health officials say there’s no reason to panic, and that there are steps to take to keep everyone safer.

The first is to make sure you’re fully vaccinated. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people age 6 and older who are not immunocompromised to have at least one bivalent Moderna or Pfizer shot. And if you’re waiting for the next booster, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve it before the end of September. 

If you test positive, the general rule is to isolate for five days, followed by five days of masking, though there may be different caveats depending on your circumstances. Also keep in mind that antivirals, such as Paxlovid, are recommended for anyone 12 and older and you should not wait until symptoms worsen to begin treatment. 

  • Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UCSF Health: “At the minimum we have enough tools to have individual protection without having mandates.”

For more on what you need to know, including school vaccination requirements and your rights at work, read Kristen’s article.

Wildfires and climate: If you spent time outside to be safer, depending where you live in California, you might have smelled smoke from wildfires.

That is having an impact on longer-term climate change, explains CalMatters’ climate reporter Alejandro Lazo. When forests burn, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are released into the air. Under normal circumstances, it’s considered part of a natural cycle, but the increasing frequency of fires, experts say, is likely throwing this cycle out of balance.

The California Air Resources Board estimates that last year, wildfires sent 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — about the same as what 1.9 million cars emit in a year. Wildfire smoke also contains carcinogens and is considered toxic; its soot can enter airways, lodge in lungs and trigger asthma or heart attacks.

At best, the carbon from wildfire smoke is complicating the state’s climate goals to reduce greenhouse gasses and achieve net-zero emissions by 2045. But at worst, it can be negating some of California’s hard-fought clean air gains altogether. 

What can the state do? 

California officials say that restoring the health of forests and ensuring they are more resilient to fires will be key to curbing wildfires. Proper management of undeveloped lands will also be important, as more than half of California’s forestland is managed by the federal government.

Still, David Clegern, an Air Resources Board spokesperson, told Alejandro that the focus should be on reducing fossil fuels.

  • Clegern: “California is working on reducing wildfire in an all-hands-on-deck manner, but we won’t really fix the problem until we quit pumping more fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere.”

Clarification: An item in Friday’s WhatMatters incorrectly said that a public meetings provision in a budget trailer bill applied to local governments.


CalMatters covers the Capitol: CalMatters has guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard, understand how state government works and follow the state budget process


1 Win some, lose some for GOP

State senators in session during suspense file day at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Sept. 1, 2023.
State senators in session during suspense file day at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Sept. 1, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

Republicans in the California Legislature are celebrating a big win in the “suspense file” festivities on Friday: A bill to increase penalties on child sex traffickers, one of the most contentious this entire session, survived and is headed to a floor vote in the Assembly.

The GOP credited public pressure — including petitions with 10,000 signatures delivered to the Capitol on Friday — for the increasing bipartisan support for Senate Bill 14

  • Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, the bill’s author, in a statement: “The fight to make the human trafficking of a child a serious felony is not yet finished and I urge every Californian to stay engaged until the bill is signed into law.”

But legislative Republicans are not happy about getting stiffed on their fentanyl crisis bills: The Assembly GOP caucus called it “disgusting” that Joe Patterson of Granite Bay had his measure shelved to require public schools with nurses to stock naloxone, used to rapidly reverse overdoses. 

So today, Patterson and other Assembly Republicans are going to try to force a floor vote on a proposed constitutional amendment called “Alexandra’s Law” in memory of a 20-year-old who died of fentanyl poisoning in her Temecula bedroom in 2019. It would require convicted fentanyl dealers to be warned that they could face murder charges if they keep dealing and their drugs cause a death. Though success appears unlikely given Democratic control, even failure will provide more fodder for campaign ads next year.

  • Assemblymember Diane Dixon of Newport Beach, in a statement: “The supermajority has slow-walked every effort to enforce real consequences on those causing the fentanyl crisis…. It is time to finally do something to hold traffickers accountable.”

In the suspense file results, there were other winners: Gov. Gavin Newsom got his wish and cleared the March ballot of borrowing measures other than his $4.7 billion mental health bond. Health care workers statewide still have a shot at a minimum wage of $25 an hour (compared to $15.50 — increasing to $16 on Jan. 1 — for everyone else). And social media companies helped kill a bill that would have made them liable for content on eating disorders and suicide.

And there were other losers: The business community is not happy that several bills advanced, including one to increase paid sick leave from three to five days a year, though it got cut from seven days. And Cal Fire firefighters won’t be getting automatic raises after that bill was killed. 

The overall tally, according to Capitol lobbyist Chris Micheli: About 22% of the 480 or so Assembly bills were held by the Senate appropriations committee, and another 6% were turned into two-year bills (so won’t be considered until the 2024 session). And about 16% of the nearly 280 Senate bills were shelved by the Assembly appropriations panel and 6% became two-year bills.

The simultaneous hearings took longer than usual. One rumored reason: The committees held bills from the other house hostage. For comparison: In May, when the committees culled bills from their own chambers, the Senate committee held 22% of bills and the Assembly panel shelved 29%.

For more highlights of what went down Friday, read the recap from CalMatters state Capitol reporters Alexei Koseff and Sameea Kamal.

After all that, lawmakers have until Sept. 14 to send bills to Gov. Newsom and there about 950 still alive

2 No holiday for hot labor summer

Calling for an end to severe understaffing and poverty wages for state workers represented by SEIU Local 1000, marchers line up in State Capitol Park World Peace Rose Garden before marching to the Governor's Mansion in Sacramento on June 8, 2023. Photo by Julie A. Hotz for CalMatters
SEIU Local 1000 marchers line up in state Capitol Park World Peace Rose Garden in Sacramento on June 8, 2023. Photo by Julie A. Hotz for CalMatters

Labor Day may be over already, but for unions across the state, the battle for better pay and benefits presses on.

In Southern California, actors, hotel workers and healthcare employees continue to hold demonstrations, with the union representing Hollywood screenwriters hitting its 127th day of picketing today.

And while SEIU Local 1000, the largest union of state workers, is close to settling a new contract with the Newsom administration, other unions are still bargaining:

  • Following its initial assessment of tentative contracts for a dozen state bargaining units that the Senate budget committee approved last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office dropped a more in-depth analysis of the contract for state health and social services professionals. Among the report’s findings: State compensation for pharmacists, dietitians and nutritionists lags behind the private sector; the administration did not provide clear justification for bumping up special salary adjustments for certain roles; and the new contract, if ratified, would increase state costs by more than $96 million a year. 

3 Big bucks to become a cop

An officer walks to his car at the Alameda Police Department in Alameda on Aug. 28, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters
An officer walks to his car at the Alameda Police Department in Alameda on Aug. 28, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters

To lure new recruits and combat staffing shortages caused by retirements and job switching during the pandemic, police departments are offering big bonuses and salaries, writes CalMatters’ criminal justice intern Anabel Sosa.

Five months ago, almost a third of the Alameda police department’s sworn positions sat vacant. But since the city council greenlit a $75,000 enlistment bonus (in addition to a base salary that starts at $110,000 a year) in April, total vacancies will drop from 24 to 10 by early next year.

The bonuses have to be competitive to attract talent, Alameda’s police chief says, because of the region’s pricey housing market. Other cities have adopted a similar method: Los Angeles’ police department is close to ironing out a tentative contract that would boost officer starting pay by 13%; San Francisco offers $5,000 signing bonuses and its Board of Supervisors in April approved raises for entry-level officers to about $108,000; and Richmond in October adopted a police contract that raises pay by 20% over 26 months

But some experts worry that these lucrative signing bonuses, as well as other perks like free gym memberships and dry cleaning, will widen the gap between cities who can “pay” their way out of a staffing shortage and cities that can’t.

  • Diane Goldstein, retired Redondo Beach Police Department lieutenant and executive director of the nonprofit Law Enforcement Action Partnership: “It may be a well-intentioned policy, thinking they can attract the best and brightest, but it creates inequities potentially in policing.”

The hiring perks also raise public concerns about police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in 2020. While California has addressed some of these efforts — the Department of Justice must investigate fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians, and there’s currently a bill that would limit low-level traffic stops — others argue that cities should invest in more training and community programs.

  • Natasha Minsker, a policy adviser at Smart Justice California: “It doesn’t matter how much you pay them, it’s how much you change the culture.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Will California’s contentious new math curriculum boost student achievement?

Book excerpt: The first case of “greenwashing” sacrificed California redwoods, writes Greg King, an award-winning journalist and activist credited with helping protect Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Burning Man revelers begin exodus after flooding left thousands stranded // AP News

Central Valley is up for grabs in hotly contested US Senate race // San Francisco Chronicle

Californians can carry driver’s license on phone in pilot program // Los Angeles Times

Solano County ranchers decry tech billionaires’ land grab // San Francisco Chronicle

Driverless trucks are CA’s next autonomous vehicle battle // San Francisco Chronicle

USAA to limit home insurance business in California // The San Francisco Standard

Heat-related deaths are up, and not just because it’s getting hotter // California Healthline

Man found guilty of murder in landmark California fentanyl case // Los Angeles Times

Research finds CA school funding overhaul worked for those getting the most // EdSource

Legislative hearing on CSU sexual misconduct audit gets heated // The Sacramento Bee

Opinion: La Cañada Flintridge uses affirmative action ruling to stop housing // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow


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