California braces for latest COVID surge

Commuters wearing face masks exit and board a train at MacArthur BART station in Oakland on April 13, 2022. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group

In summary
California may be in for its latest COVID surge: The test positivity rate hit 5% for the first time in months.

“It’s increasingly likely most of us will have a date with COVID if we haven’t yet.”

Last week’s assessment from Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s public health officer, took on newfound significance Tuesday, when the California Department of Public Health reported that the state’s seven-day COVID test positivity rate had reached 5% for the first time since February, at the tail end of the omicron surge that sickened wide swaths of the workforce.

  • Experts say the actual positivity rate is almost certainly much higher, given that many Californians self-test at home and don’t report the results, while other infected residents may not test at all.

Also Tuesday, the widely respected Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center announced that the United States has officially surpassed 1 million reported COVID-19 deaths — though the university noted “the number of fatalities is likely much higher.”

More than 90,000 Californians have died of COVID, according to state data — though the Golden State’s death rate has remained fairly stable and low in recent months. And while CalMatters’ tracker shows that statewide hospitalization rates are beginning to tick back up, just 1,527 COVID-positive patients were in the hospital on Monday — a far cry from the nearly 12,900 in late January at the peak of the omicron wave.

Nevertheless, a growing group of local public health officials — including more than a dozen in the Bay Area and Southern California — are urging residents to mask up in public places and avoid nonessential indoor gatherings or move them outdoors.

One small Monterey school district reinstated its indoor mask mandate. And Apple indefinitely postponed its plans to require employees to return to the office three days a week starting next Monday.

The rise in cases — which experts say appears to be driven by a mix of highly contagious omicron subvariants; increased testing; relaxed restrictions; and waning immunity from vaccination, boosters or prior infection — could test Gov. Gavin Newsom’s long-term plan for dealing with COVID, with the state’s primary election right around the corner.

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And it could also pose problems for California’s coronavirus-battered economy, which is still struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels.

  • In the Bay Area, the COVID surge is colliding with a persistent worker shortage, forcing many restaurants to temporarily shut down, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
  • Stella Dennig, co-owner of Oakland’s DAYTRIP restaurant: “In the end, it’s a burden on restaurant workers whose incomes obviously rely on staying open … and us as restaurant owners, who end up either covering for multiple roles every night, or stressing about the business tanking. It’s a lose-lose.”
  • Meanwhile, as kids return to in-person learning — lowering the demand for online classes — unvaccinated Los Angeles Unified educators who have been teaching online could lose their jobs if they don’t get inoculated, the Los Angeles Daily News reports. The news comes as California grapples with a widespread teacher and substitute teacher shortage.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,757,871 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day) and 90,219 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 75,489,752 vaccine doses, and 75.2% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

‘Critical fire weather’ looms

Beach goers set up an umbrella in Huntington Beach during a sweltering heat wave over Labor Day weekend on Sept. 5, 2020. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo
Beachgoers set up an umbrella in Huntington Beach during a sweltering heat wave on Sept. 5, 2020. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

Californians should gear up for a water conservation “mandate for mandates,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a Tuesday visit to a Carson water recycling facility. By that, he meant his order to water suppliers to step up by June 10 their local responses to California’s devastating drought — a move that might not go over too well, given that residents in March recorded the biggest jump in water use since the drought began.

  • Newsom: “I hope folks just pause and reflect on two things. We’re remarkably resilient and resourceful. We got through a five-year drought, 2012 to 2016. We’ll get through this year. That requires us to do things a little differently, be a little more creative. … The approach this year is different than the old administration. It’s bottom-up, not top-down. State vision will be realized at the local level, local flexibility, local strategies, lessons learned from the previous drought … and scaling those plans and best practices all across this diverse state.”
  • The governor’s office also encouraged Californians to limit outdoor watering, take showers as short as five minutes, avoid baths, use a broom instead of a hose to clean outdoor areas and only wash full loads of laundry.

The news comes as California braces for a spate of hot, dry, windy weather that could see temperatures soar to triple digits and gusts reach 45 miles per hour in some parts of the state — or, as the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office put it, “critical fire weather conditions” on Thursday and Friday. Incidentally, new research accounting only for the impact of climate change found that the number of California properties facing severe wildfire risk could grow sixfold over the next 30 years to 600,000, the Los Angeles Times reports.

California election updates

Ron Galperin, candidate for Controller, gives an interview at CalMatters in Sacramento on May 9, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Ron Galperin, candidate for controller, gives an interview at CalMatters’ offices in Sacramento on May 9, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

In the crowded field of candidates vying to be California’s next controller, Ron Galperin is the only one whose name will appear next to the job title he seeks on voters’ June 7 primary ballot. The Democratic controller of the city of Los Angeles is hoping that “golden ballot designation” will help catapult him into the top two and the November general election, Sameea Kamal reports in this comprehensive breakdown of Galperin’s 75-minute interview with CalMatters.

  • Galperin: “I’m the only one who’s running for this office who has spent the last nine years as a controller, and who’s actually done this day after day. I think what we need is somebody to step into this role, who actually knows what it is that they are doing.”

Other election news you should know:

Can you balance CA’s budget?

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

This week, state lawmakers are holding a raft of hearings to discuss Newsom’s $300.7 billion budget proposal and more fully flesh out their own priorities for spending California’s whopping $97.5 billion surplus. They have until June 15 to send a balanced plan to Newsom’s desk — but the real question is, how would you spend all that money?

  • Now you can put your ideas to the test with this wonderfully fun “Spend the Surplus Game” from CalMatters data journalist John Osborn D’Agostino. Want to pass a wealth tax? That’ll net you $22.3 billion. But want to create a single-payer health care system for all? That’ll cost you $200 billion. To get a better feel for how Newsom and lawmakers have to juggle competing priorities, see if you can find a way to achieve all of your policy goals without running a deficit.
  • CalMatters surveyed 2,050 readers to see how they would spend the state’s budget surplus. Here are a couple of interesting takeaways, courtesy of Itzel Luna, a fellow with CalMatters’ College Journalism Network: Nearly 46% supported taxing the ultra-rich, but no one backed creating a single-payer health care system based on a $200 billion annual cost estimate.
  • John Robinson, a 50-year-old Pinole resident, said universal health care was his spending priority. “But unfortunately because of its cost — and the game really makes it clear — it’s just impossible to do. No matter how much you increase the budget, you just can’t pay for it.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom’s rosy budget ignores troubling trends.

Community involvement key to solving California’s housing crisis: Communities must focus on policies that prevent displacement of residents, preserve existing homes and increase affordable housing, write Khanh Russo of the San Francisco Foundation and Suzanne Dershowitz of Public Advocates.

Other things worth your time

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Decades later, former foster children allege abuse at MacLaren Children’s Center. // Los Angeles Times

When domestic violence turns fatal: California researchers found common thread in killings. // Sacramento Bee

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