Coronavirus positivity rate hits record low

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Amid record-breaking fires, apocalyptic orange skies and smoke-choked air, Californians finally have a bright spot of news: Coronavirus positivity rates statewide fell to an all-time low of 3.6% over the past 14 days and 3.3% over the past week.

As a result, travelers from California no longer have to quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, the three states announced Tuesday.

The welcoming news comes as hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions have fallen 61% and 56%, respectively, from their peak in mid-July, CalMatters’ tracker shows. It also comes as eight counties showed enough progress in containing the virus to move from the state’s purple tier to the red tier since the new system governing business and school reopenings was introduced three weeks ago, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Tuesday.

Thirty counties are now in the most restrictive purple tier, 17 in the red tier, 9 in the orange tier and 2 in the least restrictive yellow tier. Next week, counties in the red and orange tiers will be eligible to move down a tier for the first time, allowing them to reopen more businesses, Ghaly said.

  • Ghaly: “We want to be slow in the forward movement so we can … make sure that any decision to move a county into a (different) tier is done thoughtfully … to ensure that we don’t cause businesses or communities to feel sort of stuck in the middle.”

Meanwhile, the California Fitness Alliance, a group of nearly 300 businesses, sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County on Tuesday over the reopening guidelines, which they argue unfairly target gyms. More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against Newsom’s shelter-in-place order.

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Illustration by Rita Liu for CalMatters

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Other stories you should know

1. California’s adjusted poverty rate highest in nation

A BART train rides above a homeless encampment in West Oakland. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California has the highest poverty rate in the United States when adjusted for cost of living, clocking in at 17.2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 Supplemental Poverty Measure report released Tuesday. That translates to about 6.7 million Californians living in poverty, a slight improvement from 2018, when the Census Bureau found that 7.1 million Californians, or 18.1%, were living in poverty. Nevertheless, the Golden State has consistently led all other states in adjusted poverty rate since the Census Bureau began the data series in 2011, according to the California Business Roundtable. (Several times, the District of Columbia has topped California.)

California’s 2019 unadjusted, or official, poverty rate was 11.4%, slightly lower than the national rate of 11.5%.

  • California Business Roundtable President Rob Lapsley: “Driven by our housing crisis, more and more Californians are finding it impossible to make ends meet.”

For more on poverty and income inequality in California, check out CalMatters’ California Divide series.

2. California wildfire update

A small bear statue stands in front of a burned cabin by Huntington Lake on Sept. 13, 2020. Photo by Craig Kohlruss, The Fresno Bee

Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris joined Newsom in her home state Tuesday for a briefing on the wildfires that have charred more than 3.2 million acres, killed 25 and destroyed more than 4,200 structures. Harris emphasized the role of climate change in California’s historic fire season, implicitly slamming Republican President Donald Trump for his Monday comments during a visit to the Golden State.

  • Harris: “It is incumbent on us, in terms of the leadership of … our nation, to take seriously the extreme changes in our climate, and to do what we can to mitigate against the damage.”

A new study found the record-breaking fire season is likely to deter Sierra Nevada tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, foreshadowing lasting economic consequences for California’s mountain communities, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports.

  • Ram Gurnari, who operates a tour company outside Yosemite National Park: “There are many places in the world tourists can go. We are not the only one.”

3. Unemployment department audit to begin soon

Image via iStock

The California state auditor will begin an emergency audit of the beleaguered unemployment department by the end of September, Assemblymember Rudy Salas, chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, announced Tuesday. The audit will focus on the department’s backlogged claims and workload, as well as its call center capacity and actions taken to improve response times. The audit will also assess the department’s tech infrastructure — a key goal of the strike team Newsom formed July 29, which he said would “deliver a roadmap” of solutions within 45 days. Though it’s been more than 45 days, a roadmap has not yet been shared publicly.

  • Salas, a Bakersfield Democrat: “We need to address why families are unable to talk to someone when they call (the department), the status of clearing the substantial case backlogs, and what is being done to protect Californians from the rising fraud and scam cases that continue to target our most vulnerable communities.”

4. Making sense of affirmative action in UC admissions

Illustration via iStock

When it comes to Prop. 16, the November ballot measure that asks voters whether they want to lift California’s ban on affirmative action, both the supporting and opposing campaigns are trying to make their case by throwing around a lot of different statistics — some of which seem contradictory, and many of which may confuse voters. CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn breaks down where these numbers actually come from and puts them in context. He also examines what affirmative action in California public universities and colleges might look like, noting that it wouldn’t involve quotas, which are illegal, and would consider race and ethnicity “in the most limited manner possible to achieve compelling goals,” like a diverse student body.

  • Richard Thompson Ford, a Stanford Law School professor: “From the perspective of a university, considerations of things like legacy status and geography makes sense because universities are not looking for the ‘best’ individual applicants but for the best ensemble in the same way a theater company is not looking for the best actors as individuals but the best cast.”

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