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Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, February 3.
California is approaching yet another pandemic inflection point — one that could mark the state’s transition to treating COVID like any other virus.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has hinted at a forthcoming “endemic strategy” for dealing with COVID-19 at least twice in the past two weeks. California’s statewide mask mandate is set to expire on Feb. 15 — and given decreasing test positivity rates, cities such as San Francisco relaxing their mask rules and photos of a maskless Newsom at last weekend’s NFC Championship game, state health officials may not be inclined to extend it.
Newsom’s health administration is experiencing changes of its own: California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the state’s top physician, announced late Tuesday that she is resigning Feb. 11 to “focus on prioritizing care for myself and my family.” The surprise departure comes less than two years after California’s public health director resigned amid a tech snafu resulting in a massive undercount of coronavirus cases.
But even as the state considers a shift in COVID policy, a statewide Public Policy Institute of California survey released Wednesday night found the virus continues to be a primary concern for many Californians. Some key takeaways:
It may not be clear what path California will take post-omicron, but what is clear is that it will be divisive.
The battle over wearing masks in schools is heating up even in regions such as the Bay Area, with some San Francisco physicians circulating a petition calling on Newsom and state leaders to “immediately shift our public dialogue toward defining a path for removing all remaining COVID-19 restrictions in public schools” and others arguing that not worrying about the virus is a luxury few can afford.
Perhaps nowhere is the divide over COVID policies more stark than in Shasta County, where a Republican supervisor who faced a Tuesday recall election for his lackluster opposition to state restrictions appeared likely to be ousted from office — ceding control of the board of supervisors to officials linked to a local militia.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 7,941,318 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 79,621 deaths (+0.3% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1. Demystifying California crime
About two in three Californians say violence and street crime are either a big problem or somewhat of a problem in their local community today, according to the PPIC survey. And crime continues to dominate the headlines: A Tuesday morning shooting at an Oakland spa left the suspected shooter dead and a man in critical condition, while UCLA moved classes online Tuesday after a former lecturer — later arrested in Colorado — sent threatening messages to people on campus and posted a video referencing a mass shooting.
But, as CalMatters’ Nigel Duara points out in this comprehensive explainer, California’s crime statistics are themselves a loaded weapon that can be pointed in any direction and manipulated to paint very different pictures. So what’s really going on with homicides, hate crimes and property crimes — and how many cases is law enforcement clearing? Nigel takes an in-depth look.
2. EDD wants to forgive most overpayments
Some Californians may have received more money than they were technically entitled to under the federal government’s pandemic jobless benefits program, but they shouldn’t have to repay those funds unless the claims were fraudulent, the state unemployment department wrote in a Monday letter to Congress also signed by jobless agencies in every other state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The unemployment departments want the feds to make it easier to forgive overpayments for claimants who made honest mistakes — as of last month, California’s Employment Development Department had retroactively verified the eligibility of just 300,000 of 1.4 million recipients of federal pandemic jobless benefits.
That isn’t the only challenge EDD is facing: The agency, which on Tuesday welcomed its third director in two years, is also trying to crack down on a surge in fraudulent disability insurance claims.
3. Mountain lions vs. duplexes
One way to delay complying with California’s controversial new law ending most single-family zoning: declare the entirety of your town to be endangered mountain lion habitat.
Woodside is just one of more than a dozen California cities trying to find ways to circumvent the law, as CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reported for the San Francisco Chronicle last year. Pasadena, for example, is considering creating more historic districts to exempt virtually the entire city from the law.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California may eventually realize progressives’ dream of social democracy, but not anytime soon.
The Working Families Party comes to California: Our state’s residents have moved to the left of elected leadership, but our agenda is barely being heard in Sacramento, argues Jane Kim, state director of the California Working Families Party.
California’s ag industry gets short shrift: Measuring the industry’s worth by its water use is a one-dimensional, inequitable and short-sighted lens by which to view the complex issue of water in our state, writes Kathleen Arambula-Reyna, a political science professor at Madera Community College.
Garcetti says he held his breath for maskless photo with Magic Johnson. // Deadline
Could a new policy approach solve inequality in California? // CalMatters
San Francisco becomes fourth California city to apologize to Chinese community for racist past. // CNN
Many Indigenous people see California mission bells as a reminder of painful history. // NPR
Let homeless people live in California Governor’s Mansion. // Los Angeles Times
A new SF housing complex for homeless people was faster, cheaper to build. So why isn’t it being replicated? // San Francisco Chronicle
After a fierce fight, San Jose abandons ‘extremely dangerous’ overpass project. // Mercury News
Single-payer health care is dead in California until these things change. // San Francisco Chronicle
Lorena Gonzalez is ready to unionize California. // Mic
California Reps. McCarthy, Pelosi are nation’s top fundraisers. // Los Angeles Times
LA mayoral raise fundraising: Who’s pulling in the most cash? // Los Angeles Magazine
Black Lives Matter ‘delinquent’ on financial disclosures, risks tax-exempt status, California AG warns. // Fox News
SF police will no longer cooperate with Boudin over police shooting investigations. // San Francisco Chronicle
Courtroom drama upends sentencing over $3 million California cannabis kidnap plot. // Mercury News
‘Remain in Mexico’ hearings off to a bumpy restart in San Diego. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Bid-rigging at county fair? Ex-employees saw troubling changes. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Tiny burrowing owls find safer homes in California with the help of these scientists. // National Geographic
Some beaches in Long Beach closed due to latest sewage spill. // Orange County Register
New wildfire reported Near Highway 1 in Big Sur amid winds. // San Francisco Chronicle
See you tomorrow.
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