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Newsletter: Newsom says a broken coronavirus database is now fixed

California Governor Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom faced questions about the state’s coronavirus database Monday.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Aug. 11, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The Capitol press corps was ready for answers when Gov. Gavin Newsom finally took to the mic Monday for his first coronavirus briefing in a week.

Less than 24 hours earlier, the state’s public health director had abruptly resigned — a surprise move that came just days after the discovery of a computer system failure that resulted in the undercounting of COVID-19 cases. (The last time Newsom briefed the state, the Monday prior, he had inadvertently touted flawed data that showed a steep decline in the state’s seven-day average for new coronavirus cases. A public health computer database failure that distorted test results across the state and raised doubts about actions taken to stem the spread of coronavirus was revealed a day later.)

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[Previously: “‘Broken’ coronavirus tracking system leaves California in the dark: ‘We have no idea’” in the Los Angeles Times]

Speaking this Monday, Newsom said that the database failure had been fixed, and the state’s coronavirus testing data was now accurate. The data snafus didn’t get addressed until nearly 20 minutes into the briefing, when the governor referenced the state having had “a little bit of trouble” with its testing system. (A little bit of trouble is certainly one way of characterizing it, though others would probably use far stronger terms.)

[Read the story: “Newsom tries to quell furor over data errors after administration shakeup” in the Los Angeles Times]

The governor said he was unaware of the data problem last Monday, even though state health officials had warned counties about data issues days earlier.

Newsom declined to say whether he asked California Department of Public Health director Dr. Sonia Angell to resign and sidestepped a question about her leadership of the agency, which is in charge of collecting the electronic test results. Angell had been considered a key player in the state’s coordination with local public health departments across California and, as the state’s top public health officer, was responsible for issuing the statewide mask mandate. Major questions remain: As our Sacramento bureau chief John Myers tweeted, “We still don’t know who knew what and when.”

During the briefing, Newsom also pushed back on the executive orders that President Trump announced over the weekend, saying that the president’s proposed employment benefit plan wouldn’t work for the state.

Why Newsom says the employment benefits won’t work for California

On Saturday, Trump bypassed the congressional stalemate and took unilateral action to provide financial relief for struggling Americans, despite uncertainty about his legal authority to do so. (As my D.C. colleagues noted in their story, the power to collect taxes, spend money and write laws rests with Congress, meaning the president’s orders are expected to face legal challenges.)

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Trump’s plan would provide $400 a week to unemployed Americans, but states would be required to cover a quarter of that sum. It would replace the $600 weekly unemployment payment from the federal government that expired last month.

Newsom said the state would face “massive” budget cuts if it had to provide $100 of a $400 supplemental weekly unemployment benefit. According to the governor, the plan would cost the state at least $700 million per week and up to $2.8 billion if CARES Act funding is depleted.

[Read the story: “Trump’s unemployment benefit plan won’t work in California, Newsom says” in the Los Angeles Times]

“The state does not have an identified resource of $700 million per week that we haven’t already obliged,” Newsom said. “There is no money sitting in the piggy bank.”

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Newsom’s words were a direct counter to the president, who had said over the weekend that “The states have the money. It’s sitting there.”

The governor further warned that reprogramming the state unemployment agency’s antiquated technology system to process weekly $400 claims shared by the federal government and state would create “time delays” and “enormous consternation” for the Californians who rely on the state’s unemployment claims system. (That system has already been something of a disaster, so the idea of even more delays will be a terrifying prospect for many struggling Californians.)

As my Sacramento colleagues Patrick McGreevy and John Myers noted in their story, Newsom also said Monday that he and legislative leaders are in discussions about additional renter protections against evictions, given that a moratorium is set to expire this month.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Coronavirus cases among children and teenagers are surging in California, up 150% last month, a rate that outpaces COVID-19 cases overall and establishes minors as a small but growing share of the state’s COVID-19 cases. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

WarnerMedia began slashing its workforce Monday, laying off at least 600 employees as movie theater shutdowns and streaming competition ravage its film and TV business. The bulk of the job cuts came from Warner Bros. studio in Burbank. Los Angeles Times

L.A. rent is falling, with some big drops in luxury buildings. The declines appear concentrated in the top end of the marketplace, according to multiple data sources, but there are signs rents are falling slightly on the lower end as well. Los Angeles Times

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An 18-year-old woman died in a tent next to Echo Park Lake over the weekend. Brianna Moore is the second person to die at the Echo Park Lake homeless encampment since June. Eastsider LA

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

The all-star economic task force advising Newsom during the pandemic remains a mystery. For all the boldface names and huge stakes, little is known about the task force, including how extensive a role the group played in shaping the decisions to reopen California. Los Angeles Times

A series of errors by contractors and consultants on the California bullet train venture caused support cables to fail on a massive bridge, triggering an order to stop work that further delayed a project already years behind schedule. Los Angeles Times

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A bridge in Madera County that’s part of the bullet train project
A bridge in Madera County that’s part of the bullet train project, shown last week, had a serious problem with corroded tension strands that broke in December 2019.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Sacramento County used most of its federal coronavirus funding to pay the sheriff’s payroll. The county spent less than 3% of the federal money during the last fiscal year on public health and medical expenses, according to a Bee report. Sacramento Bee

COPS, CRIME AND COURTS

Three teens were detained at gunpoint by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies after bystanders called 911 to report that the teens were being attacked by a man with a knife, an attorney for one of the teen’s families said Monday. Two of the three teens were Black. Los Angeles Times

California won a court ruling against Uber and Lyft, with a judge ruling that drivers are employees. The case had been brought by California officials to enforce contentious labor law Assembly Bill 5. This ruling will be far from the last word, as the ride-hailing companies are expected to appeal the far-reaching preliminary injunction. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

A swarm of mostly small earthquakes struck the seismically active Salton Sea area Monday. The series of temblors is being closely monitored as to whether it might raise the chance of a much larger event on the San Andreas fault. (If you’re wondering how worried you should be, earthquake expert Lucy Jones tweeted “I am not cutting my vacation short” alongside an explanation of the swarm, so at least there’s that.) Los Angeles Times

The disastrous situation unfolding at San Quentin offers a grim reality check of what it takes to achieve herd immunity for COVID-19. COVID-19 spread unchecked across the prison in ways that stunned public health experts, with a little more than two-thirds of the prison’s population infected over the last two months. But while new cases have slowed, new infections are still occurring — 60 reported in the last two weeks, suggesting herd immunity has not yet been achieved. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Canada to Silicon Valley’s international talent: “We want you.” At a time when President Trump has clamped down on H-1B visas, Canada is stressing that its doors are open to international tech workers with a billboard campaign that looms over the 101 from San Francisco to San Jose. San Francisco Chronicle

The Coachella Valley real estate “feeding frenzy”: The competitive market shows no sign of slowing with inventory at a historic low. SF Gate

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The pandemic dealt a heavy blow to indie book publishers. Southern California’s own Angel City Press, Rare Bird Books and Red Hen Press explain how they are navigating these strange times. Pasadena Star-News

This Catholic school in the Sierra Nevada foothills is open and “learning as we go.” Is it a model or a mistake? Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: partly sunny, 80. San Diego: sunny, 75. San Francisco: partly sunny, 66. San Jose: partly sunny, 82. Fresno: sunny, `102. Sacramento: sunny, 89. More weather is here.

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AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Jane Matsumoto:

As a child living in Los Angeles, my family would scramble into our 1957 Chevy station wagon and head to Delano, Calif. There were two things my dad dreaded during those trips. One fear was the car overheating from Gorman through the Tejon Pass. The second greater fear was the tule fog on U.S. 99. His stress was so palpable that we just avoided trips in fall and winter. But summer’s rewards were the freshest cantaloupes, peaches, plums and grapes the ‘57 Chevy could hold. Ultimate vacations for city kids set free on a farm in midcentury California!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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