Although both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, have repeatedly stressed that California doesn’t foresee further COVID-related shutdowns, they’re happening anyway as more people enter quarantine — raising questions about how long the state will be able to keep overburdened and understaffed schools, health care facilities and businesses open if the omicron wave doesn’t peak soon.
Newsom on Tuesday signed an executive order that allows schools through March 31 to extend substitute teachers’ assignments, ease the pathway for retired educators to return to classrooms, and expedite the hiring of short-term substitute teachers.
Newsom: “I think the surgeon general under the Obama administration said the most significant preventable disease in this country is loneliness, social isolation. My gosh, that was before COVID. And our kids have lost a connection to their friends, their community, to the normalcy of the cadence of life. … I’m very, very sensitive to this and the learning opportunities that are lost because kids are not safely in school.”
Meanwhile, students and teachers in both Oakland and San Francisco Unified are threatening sickouts, saying they won’t show up to school without heightened health and safety protocols. West Contra Costa Unified, which reopened Tuesday after closing for two days with no instruction, is now requiring employees to wear KN95 masks and students to wear surgical masks.
Restaurants are also shuttering across the state, and the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and San Rafael recently joined 21 others across the country in begging Congress to provide emergency relief to stave off permanent closures and “catastrophic” economic impacts.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 6,086,557 confirmed cases(+2.4% from previous day) and 76,564 deaths(+0.02% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Tuesday was a big day for the Assembly Health Committee, which pushed forward three controversial bills that failed to advance last year. They now face a Jan. 31 deadline to pass the Assembly — at which point the state Senate would take them up for consideration. They include:
A proposal that would allow the city and county of Los Angeles, Oakland and the city and county of San Francisco to launch supervised drug injection sites, where staff would be on hand to prevent opioid users from overdosing.
And a proposal that would rewrite state licensing rules for nursing homes in the wake of an investigation from CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener that spotlighted an opaque licensing process plagued by indecision, delays and misleading information. Jocelyn found that the California Department of Public Health has allowed the state’s largest nursing home owner, Shlomo Rechnitz, to operate facilities for years through a web of companies even as their license applications languish in “pending” status — or were outright denied.
2.Will state resurrect COVID sick leave?
Both Newsom and top Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly emphasized their commitment to reviving extra paid sick leave for COVID-19 — but a lot of key details still have to be worked out, CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal reports. Chief among them: the cost. California’s previous COVID paid leave program expired on Sept. 30, along with the federal tax credit that funded it — and business groups are concerned that the price tag for a new program could fall on their shoulders.
It isn’t just unvaccinated workers, though: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should quarantine for 5 days after testing positive — a rule that California recently, and controversially, made optional for health care employees amid a severe staffing shortage. And the state may help cover some employers’ costs: “In the absence of new federal funding to assist small businesses with COVID sick leave requirements, I support augmenting the governor’s budget to add state funding for this purpose,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said.