Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, March 26, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
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The storm is clearly already here, but how much worse will it get? And how soon? That’s the question everyone is asking, as California officials scramble to prepare for the coming onslaught of new coronavirus cases.
On Wednesday, the state’s top medical advisor said that cases in the state continue to double every three to four days, which is a fast pace on par with New York.
[Read the story: “California coronavirus cases continue to grow, reaching rate on par with New York” in the Los Angeles Times]
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said officials originally thought the number of cases would be doubling every six to seven days — a considerably slower doubling rate. The health secretary said the state was “watching that trend very, very closely.”
“We believe also that our hospitals, because of their forward-thinking nature, have helped to do a lot to prepare for the surge that we anticipate in a week or two, maybe a little further out if we continue doing a good job on social distancing — physical distancing, really,” Ghaly said.
He explained that the state continuously updates its modeling, but right now they believe that the 50,000 additional hospital beds Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would need earlier in the week continues to remain on target for what they anticipate could be coming.
“Whether that comes or not, in the full sort of nature that we anticipate, is in large part up to us,” Ghaly said. “That personal responsibility with physical distancing is going to be critical.”
On Wednesday, Newsom also made a major announcement for homeowners affected by the rippling financial effects of the pandemic: Several major banks and other financial institutions have agreed to delay foreclosures and provide mortgage relief to California homeowners who are struggling to make their monthly payments due to the outbreak. Newsom also said that more than 1 million Californians have applied for unemployment benefits this month due to layoffs or reduced hours.
[Read the story: “1 million Californians file for unemployment; homeowners hurt by coronavirus will get a break” in the Los Angeles Times]
As my colleagues Phil Willon and Liam Dillon explain in their story, eligible homeowners would be able to defer mortgage payments for at least three months and perhaps longer if they suffer hardship due to the pandemic. Any late payments would not be reported to credit agencies. The mortgage relief package was negotiated with four of the nation’s largest banks — Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, CitiBank and J.P. Morgan Chase — as well as 200 state-chartered banks and credit unions.
But, as Liam and Phil write, “the financial relief that the governor announced for homeowners is significantly more than renters across the state are receiving.”
The state, which has one of the lowest homeownership rates in the nation, has yet to implement a statewide ban on evictions and has offered no comprehensive deferral of rent payments.
[See also: “California’s renters and landlords are ‘just scared’ as job losses mount from coronavirus” in the Los Angeles Times]
Last week, Newsom issued an executive order asking cities and counties to place temporary bans on evictions for renters affected by the coronavirus. But he has yet to mandate it, and only a fraction of localities have followed through on the suggestion.
A few have, though. The city of Los Angeles has implemented a temporary ban on evictions during the novel coronavirus outbreak. Sacramento and several Bay Area counties and cities have also passed emergency ordinances to protect renters from eviction, among other places.
Meanwhile in Washington D.C., President Trump said Wednesday that he would sign a $2-trillion economic stimulus package — the largest ever — designed to pump money directly into Americans’ pockets while also shoring up hospitals, businesses and state and local governments struggling against the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate passed the package in an overwhelming bipartisan vote late Wednesday evening, and a House vote is scheduled to occur Friday.
Here’s what you need to know about the stimulus package:
The sweeping package will affect a broad swath of American society. Here’s how my colleague Sarah D. Wire explains it:
“Along with providing a one-time direct payout of up to $1,200 for most American adults, the bill includes $500 billion in loans to struggling businesses, $377 billion in loans and grants for small businesses, $150 billion for local, state and tribal governments struggling with a drop in revenue and $130 billion for hospitals.
“The package also blocks foreclosures and evictions during the crisis on properties where the federal government backs the mortgage; pauses federal student loan payments for six months and waives the interest; gives states millions of dollars to begin offering mail or early voting; and provides more than $25 billion in new money for food assistance programs like SNAP.” Los Angeles Times
The coronavirus relief package includes aid for just about everyone, including California interests. Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday evening that area agencies could receive more than $1 billion in aid as part of the massive emergency relief package under consideration in Washington. Los Angeles Times
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is taking steps to remove Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the head of the county’s emergency operations center during the coronavirus outbreak, a move he called a “pure power grab at the worst time possible.” Three supervisors reached said the proposed change is months in the making and stems from the need to centralize disaster operations after a fragmented response during the deadly Woolsey fire. Los Angeles Times
As the number of coronavirus cases continued to spike across Los Angeles, the county health officer issued a new quarantine order requiring all individuals who are presumed positive or have tested positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate, and for all close contacts of such individuals to self-quarantine. Los Angeles Times
L.A. County officials have told healthcare workers to reuse masks and gowns amid a severe shortage of gear that can protect healthcare workers from COVID-19. Los Angeles Times
What a “safer at home” L.A. looks like in charts: Yes, traffic collisions, daily crime counts and daily arrests are all down. Crosstown LA
No, the LAPD isn’t ticketing for outdoor exercising and driving amid coronavirus rules. Despite what you may have seen on social media. Los Angeles Times
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
AIDS researcher Deborah Birx has taken on a prominent role in coronavirus messaging for the Trump administration. Los Angeles Times
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Has someone in your home tested positive for the coronavirus or started showing symptoms? Here’s how to care for your loved one and keep yourself safe. Los Angeles Times
How Silicon Valley became California’s epicenter of the coronavirus. Authorities in Santa Clara County, where more than 2 million people live, were well aware the virus would arrive. They tried to prepare. But without much federal help, they were unable to stop it. Los Angeles Times
About half of Kaiser Permanente’s San Jose hospital has been filled with patients confirmed or suspected to have the new coronavirus, a hospital vice president said in an interview with a medical journal. Los Angeles Times
A cold Pacific storm is chugging toward Southern California, bringing relatively limited moisture but dropping snow levels into mountain passes, including the 5 Freeway over the Grapevine. Los Angeles Times
Undocumented workers are struggling as the economy grinds to a halt. Laid off due to the coronavirus, undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for many federal and state programs, even though they pay taxes. Cal Matters
The pandemic has made tackling food insecurity in the Bay Area far more difficult. Food-security experts say that the financial losses will cause an enormous spike in the already growing demand for food assistance, at a time when food pantries, soup kitchens and other distribution sites are operating with fewer volunteers or closing entirely. Eater SF
Fresno-area translators are racing to get coronavirus information to Hmong, Punjabi and Spanish speakers. “In Fresno’s large Hmong community, a delay of translated information meant that many people were going on with life as usual, including large gatherings.” Fresno Bee
Disneyland is closed, but the Dapper Dans barbershop quartet is still singing. A new two-minute video shows 16 Dapper Dans harmonizing from their living rooms and at-home recording studios. Orange County Register
Someone in Redding apparently used shredded T-shirts when they didn’t have toilet paper, causing a problem for part of the local sewer system. Redding Record Searchlight
Los Angeles: sunny, 62. San Diego: partly sunny, 60. San Francisco: sunny, 57. San Jose: partly sunny, 58. Fresno: sunny, 60. Sacramento: partly sunny, 60. More weather is here.
Today’s California memory comes from Vicki Robinson:
I was born in L.A. in 1945. When I was 2, we moved to Northridge, where my dad was postmaster. The center of town was a dirt road with hitching posts, and the cowboy movie stars would ride into town on their horses. Every year. Northridge would host an event called The Stampede. There would be beef and pork slow roasted in the ground overnight, stagecoach rides and carnival games. In those days anyone could go to a major studio preview. We saw ‘Written on the Wind,’ and Rock Hudson was sitting two rows behind me. I was thrilled.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)