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Newsletter: A new plan to expand testing

A nurse tends to people getting tested  in downtown San Diego
A nurse tends to people getting tested at the COVID Clinic testing site in downtown San Diego on Wednesday.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Aug. 27, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

“This is exactly what the federal government should be doing,” Gov. Gavin Newsom told Californians on Wednesday, as he announced a new plan to “disrupt” the coronavirus testing market. Under a new $1.4-billion agreement, the state will leverage California’s purchasing power to more than double the number of COVID-19 tests that can be processed here through a contract with an East Coast medical diagnostics company.

Testing issues have long plagued the state’s coronavirus response, and need is likely to accelerate in the coming months. California (and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere) is bracing for the coming “twindemic” of flu season amid an ongoing pandemic.

[Previously: “The inside story of how California failed mass coronavirus testing” in the Los Angeles Times]

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“Supply chains across the country have slowed as demand for COVID-19 tests has increased, and flu season will only exacerbate the problem,” Newsom explained. “So, we are building our own laboratory capabilities right here on California soil with a stable supply chain to fight the disease, lower the prices of testing for everyone and protect Californians most at risk from COVID-19.”

As my Sacramento colleague Phil Willon reports, under the new deal the state will be able to eventually expand capacity to roughly a quarter of a million tests per day and provide testing results within two days. That’s much quicker than the current average five- to seven-day processing times offered by other labs. But the results will be far from immediate — the new Santa Clarita lab is expected to begin processing COVID-19 tests in November. Newsom said that when the lab is at full capacity in March and processing as many as 150,000 tests per day, the cost per test is expected to be a little more than $30 per test, which is a fraction of what costs currently average.

[Read the story: “California could see a quarter-million COVID-19 tests a day under new state plan” in the Los Angeles Times]

Faster results and expanded testing capacity don’t just matter for an individual’s health — they are a crucial part of containing the virus on the state and local level, guiding data-based decision making and, ultimately, safely reopening California.

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The announcement of the billion-dollar testing deal wasn’t the only way California asserted its independence from the rest of the country in the coronavirus battle Wednesday — Newsom and local officials also sharply criticized new CDC guidance.

[Read the story: “California officials oppose CDC over looser COVID-19 testing and travel protocols” in the Los Angeles Times]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly changed its guidance on COVID-19 testing: The agency is no longer advising those without symptoms to be tested for the coronavirus, even if they have been in contact with an infected person. They are also no longer recommending a 14-day quarantine for travelers.

In a deeply troubling detail, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he had not been consulted on the new testing recommendations, and that he had actually been under anesthesia in an operating room when the decision was made.

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“I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern,” Fauci told CNN.

California leaders and health experts sounded similar notes of concern. “I don’t agree with the new CDC guidance. Period. Full stop,” Newsom said Wednesday. “We will not be influenced by that change.”

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county’s recommendation still stands: Anyone who has been exposed to someone with the virus should get tested and quarantine. Santa Clara County public health director Dr. Sara Cody told the Mercury News that the new guidance seemed so “entirely bizarre” that at first she didn’t believe it.

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

Nearly 2,000 structures have been destroyed by the historic fires sweeping Northern California, but officials say that number could almost double before the blazes are extinguished. Crews are now going through the many fire zones conducting an assessment of burned structures. Los Angeles Times

The Lakers and the Clippers joined in the refusal to play NBA games as nationwide demonstrations continue over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Wisconsin. The Lakers and Clippers both decided as teams that they did not want to play any more games — the decision was made during a three-hour meeting of players from the 13 teams still competing in the playoffs. Whether it will stand is unclear. NBA owners are scheduled to meet Thursday morning. It’s possible that if the other teams decide to play, the Lakers and Clippers will continue their seasons. The protest rippled through the sports world Wednesday night, with the WNBA following the NBA in postponing games. The Dodgers and San Francisco Giants also decided not to play their MLB game Wednesday night. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

Activists took to the streets of Hollywood on Wednesday to protest what they described as disruptive sweeps of homeless encampments and demand that L.A. leaders commandeer hotels to house people living on the streets. Los Angeles Times

Revisit The Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning series on Latinos in Southern California: Written in 1983, the series told stories of success, struggle, art, politics, family, religion, culture, education, agriculture and history. The stories are now available in digital form for the first time. Los Angeles Times

Beneath the Coronado Bridge, Monica Cruz, front, and Marina Garcia visit Chicano Park.
In this 1983 archive photo, Monica Cruz, front, and Marina Garcia visit Chicano Park in San Diego. The photo appeared with a story in the series about Mexican Americans living in San Diego.
(Patrick Downs / Los Angeles Times)

As paparazzi tirelessly track the few masked A-listers in town, this man has turned his focus to subjects in plain sight: the social media stars of Gen Z. “The TikTokers are always in groups,” Hollywood Fix’s Fletcher Greene said. “All the popular ones pretty much only hang out with popular ones. If you catch one you catch two or three or four.” New York Times

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Vin Scully is auctioning items from his 67-year career. Online bidding for the personal memorabilia begins Friday. Orange County Register

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Mike Pence touted “law and order” at the Republican National Convention: The vice president took the stage amid a chaotic backdrop of intense protests over police brutality, a Category 4 hurricane roaring toward the Gulf Coast and an ongoing pandemic. Los Angeles Times

All the times Republicans breached federal ethics at the RNC, according to experts. The issues involve the Hatch Act, a federal law that restricts federal employees from participating in certain political activities to safeguard federal programs from election and partisan influences. Los Angeles Times

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Nearly a third of California Latinos support President Trump. “California alone holds 7.9 million eligible Latino voters, nearly a quarter of the nation’s Latino electorate.” Sacramento Bee

State lawmakers want to extend a California utility customer fee for wildfire and climate projects: Lawmakers are pushing a last-minute proposal that would extend an existing fee on electricity bills to fund $500 million for immediate wildfire response and an additional $2.5 billion over time for climate resiliency and fire mitigation projects. Los Angeles Times

The California Senate abruptly halted work due to a new COVID-19 case, complicating a hectic final week of legislative business at the state Capitol. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Orange County’s bishop, a $12-million problem and a secret fight stretching to the Vatican. Quite an investigation from Pulitzer Prize-winner Harriet Ryan. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

How did Orange County get off the coronavirus watch list while much of the Bay Area remains on it? Counties are supposed to meet certain markers but the data isn’t always transparent. Mercury News

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Fire evacuees and hotels form a symbiotic relationship. Cheap rates keep heads in beds, but hotels are still hurting due to the pandemic. SFGATE

The pampered dogs of Palm Springs pose at their Midcentury Modern homes. Dogs, it turns out, also really appreciate that seamless indoor-outdoor design. The Guardian

Salesforce is laying off 165 San Francisco employees as part of wider job cuts, despite reporting record-high revenue exceeding $5 billion last quarter. San Francisco Chronicle

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Palmdale is officially in the running to house the permanent headquarters for the U.S. Space Command, the agency in charge of military space operations. Antelope Valley Press

A poem to start your Thursday: “Avenue A” by Frank O’Hara. APoem A Day

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Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: partly sunny, 89. San Diego: partly sunny, 82. San Francisco: partly sunny, 66. San Jose: partly sunny, 80. Fresno: sunny, 98. Sacramento: sunny, 93. More weather is here.

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AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Lyra Halprin:

My mom, sister and I loved bathing suits from Colonel Goldman’s in 1950s Venice Beach. A short, older, round man, the colonel had Mr. Magoo glasses and a raspy voice. His warehouse and barrels of unpredictable goods smelled musty like a literal fire sale, predecessor to the 99 Cents store. Black was a sexy standard for the $1 bathing suits, but Mom got at least one white body-hugging brocade suit, along with a turquoise number. “You can never have too many,” she said. I loved my red suit and first two-piece, maybe among the reasons I still love swimming.

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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