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WHATMATTERS: Newsom Extends COVID Emergency Rules

Good morning, California. It’s Monday, November 15.

End date remains unclear

How long will California be in a state of emergency due to COVID-19?

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week issued an executive order that extends certain portions of his March 4, 2020 emergency proclamation through March 31, 2022 — raising questions about what conditions would prompt Newsom or state lawmakers to phase out the emergency powers that have shaped Californians’ lives for nearly two years and affected more than 400 laws and regulations.

In extending California’s ability to hire out-of-state health care workers and waive certain licensing requirements, among other things, Newsom cited “the potential beginning of a new surge in COVID-19 cases” and “short-staffed and backlogged” health care facilities. It’s a rationale similar to the one he gave in June, when he said he would keep California’s state of emergency in place even as the economy fully reopened: “This disease has not been extinguished.”

  • Erin Mellon, a Newsom spokesperson, told me Sunday: “The state of emergency ensures the state can continue to respond quickly to evolving conditions as the pandemic persists. As we have seen, this virus and variants are unpredictable. The state of emergency will be ended once conditions no longer warrant an emergency response.”

The news comes as some Californians seek clarity on milestones that would prompt the state to unwind its emergency measures. Two UCSF doctors — including the director of the emergency department’s COVID response — recently started a petition calling on Newsom to identify metrics under which the state would lift its school mask mandate. On Friday, a superior court judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the mask mandate, citing the governor’s emergency authority. (However, the judge also noted that districts can decide for themselves how to enforce the mandate and whether they want to follow the state’s testing and quarantine guidelines.)

Meanwhile, resistance to mask and vaccine mandates appears to be growing in corners of the state that have long opposed Newsom’s COVID rules. A handful of rural Northern California school districts recently voted to defy Newsom’s student COVID-19 vaccine mandate once it goes into effect, putting them at risk of losing millions of dollars in state funding.

Vitriol has grown so intense in some rural areas that local governments are dealing with what one state emergency official called a “stark acceleration of domestic violent extremism.” Last week, the Butte County town of Oroville made national headlines for declaring itself a “constitutional republic” in opposition to Newsom’s pandemic rules.

But nothing can match the wild west of the internet, where social media users recently circulated a “deepfake” video edited to make it look like one side of Newsom’s face was drooping in reaction to his COVID-19 booster shot. Newsom last week characterized such rumors about his nearly two-week absence from public events as “a rabbit hole of conspiracies,” adding that he didn’t have any reaction to the booster shot and had been spending time with family.


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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 4,731,592 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 72,436 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 55,544,488 vaccine doses, and 66.6% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.


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1. What did California do in Scotland?

 

A general view of the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 4, 2021. Photo by Ewan Bootman/NurPhoto via AP

Newsom’s virtual participation at the United Nations climate change conference that ended Friday consisted of two pre-recorded videos that together lasted seven minutes, according to press releases from his office. The first video message highlighted California’s signing of an international agreement to end the global sale of new gas-powered cars by 2040, and the second commemorated California joining a global alliance committed to phasing out oil and gas production. Altogether, Newsom administration officials participated in 30 events at the Scotland conference, according to a list published by the California Environmental Protection Agency. They also signed various declarations: Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who replaced Newsom at the conference at the last minute, signed a declaration to join a network dedicated to preventing biodiversity loss, while the California Air Resources Board signed an agreement to jointly fight climate change with New Zealand and Québec.

Meanwhile, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and several state lawmakers announced plans to introduce legislation that would create an early warning system for heat waves and classify their severity, much like the state does for earthquakes and fires. And Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who had been quarantining in his Glasgow hotel room since testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 3, was set to fly to Washington, D.C., on Sunday — potentially to attend President Joe Biden’s Monday signing ceremony for his infrastructure bill — before returning to the City of Angels on Tuesday.

In other climate news:

2. One Kaiser strike averted, but others loom

 

Hospital staffers and union organizers protest staffing shortages at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville on Oct. 14, 2021. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

Today could have marked the country’s largest work stoppage this year — a milestone that was avoided Saturday, when Kaiser Permanente and a union representing nearly 50,000 health care workers reached a tentative labor agreement, averting a strike that could have eventually resulted in more than half of Kaiser’s total workforce joining the picket line. The tentative four-year contract eliminates a controversial two-tiered wage structure proposal and guarantees wage increases and safe staffing requirements — though the latter could be hard to ensure given California’s persistent shortage of health care workers. But while strikes have been called off in Southern California, some Northern California Kaiser pharmacists are still expected to strike today, potentially forcing outpatient pharmacies to close through Nov. 22. And later this week and early next week, tens of thousands of other Northern California Kaiser employees are expected to hold sympathy strikes to support hundreds of hospital engineers that have been on the picket line since mid-September. Among those planning to walk out: nurses, physical therapists, optometrists, mental health clinicians and housekeepers.

In other labor news, a record 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September — besting the previous record of 4.3 million set in August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday. As companies scramble to fill a whopping 10.4 million job openings, they’re raising wages and adding benefits to lure in workers — whose economic gains appear to be largely offset by skyrocketing inflation rates and the rising cost of living.

3. State’s gun measures falling short

 

Illegally possessed firearms displayed during a 2018 news conference about stepped up state and local enforcement. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

Guns are proliferating in California even as the state tries to reverse the uptick in crime that resulted in 2,202 reported homicides last year, nearly 75% of which involved a firearm. An investigation from The Trace and NBC Bay Area found that between 2010 and 2020, more than 150 police departments in California failed to flag for federal investigators guns recovered at crime scenes — violating state law and hampering both the state and federal government’s ability to crack down on gun smugglers and trafficking rings.

Meanwhile, a New York Times investigation found that ghost guns — untraceable firearms built from components bought online or produced by a 3D printer — are spreading like wildfire in California, accounting for a whopping 25% to 50% of firearms recovered at crime scenes in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco in the past 18 months. Many of the suspects caught using them were legally banned from owning guns.


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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s unemployment rate is the highest in the nation — and still may vastly understate residents’ true economic distress.

California Community Colleges deserve more support: While this year’s budget set records for higher education funding, community colleges’ per-student resources have long been far too low, making it difficult to even maintain existing programs, write Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education.

Reforming rooftop solar: California should pursue a community solar program to help close the clean energy gap between wealthy and disadvantaged communities, argues Jeff Cramer of Coalition for Community Solar Access.


Other things worth your time

‘Bit of a double whammy’: California gas prices hit new high. // SFGATE

California college students live in vans and hotels as campus housing plans spark backlash. // Los Angeles Times

Will California real estate ever be normal again? // New York Times Magazine

Get ready for progressive infighting: Newsom sets special election dates for San Francisco Assembly seat. // San Francisco Chronicle

Two new California Democrats on how they’re courting rural voters. // San Francisco Chronicle

Emails show Los Angeles commissioner used influence to win $3 million COVID-19 contract, union alleges. // Daily News

Here’s how much money S.F. made from hosting the opulent Getty wedding at City Hall. // San Francisco Chronicle

Lobbyists weren’t eligible for Paycheck Protection money, but California firms got millions. // San Francisco Chronicle

49ers’ dozens of closed meetings with Santa Clara council members draw scrutiny. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Diegans were promised a waterfront museum 30 years ago. Here’s why they may never get one. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Britney Spears’ conservatorship has finally ended. // NPR

Court permits Newsom to consider clemency for convicted murderer, now a prison journalist. // San Francisco Chronicle

All they wanted was to open a noodle shop. Their tangle with city bureaucracy has them regretting they tried. // San Francisco Chronicle

Thousands of Afghan refugees will soon arrive in public schools in California and across the country. // Washington Post

How California’s high school football powerhouses feed the college game. // New York Times


See you tomorrow.

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(Whatmatters by Emily Hoeven first appeared on CalMatters and is made available through the CalMatters Network.)