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California

How Being ‘Tough on Crime’ Became a Political Liability

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by Jody D. Armour for The Conversation

CALIFORNIA — Kamala Harris recently dropped out of the presidential race after months of attacks from the left for her “tough-on-crime” record as San Francisco’s district attorney and as California’s attorney general.

A few years ago, the idea that being tough on crime would be a liability – not an asset – was unthinkable for both Democrats and Republicans.

Bill Clinton, during the 1992 presidential race, interrupted his campaign so he could return to Arkansas to witness the execution of a mentally disabled man. During Harris’ 2014 reelection campaign for attorney general, she actively sought – and won – the endorsements of more than 50 law enforcement groups en route to a landslide victory.

But something has changed in recent years. Harris’ failure to gain traction as a presidential candidate has coincided with a growing number of “progressive prosecutors.”

In the past, I would have scoffed at the notion of a progressive prosecutor. It would have seemed like a ridiculous oxymoron.

But in one of the most stunning shifts in American politics in recent memory, a wave of elected prosecutors have bucked a decadeslong tough-on-crime approach adopted by both major parties. These prosecutors are refusing to send low-level, non-violent offenders to prison, diverting defendants into treatment programs, working to eradicate the death penalty and reversing wrongful convictions.

The unchecked power of prosecutors

In 1968, when I was 8 years old, my father was sentenced to 22 to 55 years in the Ohio State Penitentiary for the possession and sale of marijuana. During the trial, the district attorney had repeatedly assured the jurors that he hadn’t promised the state’s principal witness – then serving a long sentence – leniency in return for testifying against my father.

In truth, they had struck that very bargain. After studying the warden’s own law books, my father appealed the conviction, representing himself. He was ultimately vindicated by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after proving that the district attorney had deliberately lied to the jury.

That was in 1974. I went on to become a lawyer and law professor. During the years I spent teaching and studying the relationship between race and the law, the prison population exploded, and my distrust toward government prosecutors only deepened. Too often, it seemed like they were bringing excessively punitive charges in order to force defendants into plea deals. Too often, their approach seemed to reflect a longing for retribution and revenge rather than rehabilitation.

In 2017, law professor John Pfaff was able to show that mass incarceration was due, first and foremost, to the nearly unchecked power of district attorneys.

With reported crimes and arrests steadily declining in the 1990s and 2000s, you might have expected incarceration rates to also fall. Instead, they soared. Pfaff traces this perplexing trend to one key statistic: Between 1994 and 2008, the probability that a district attorney would file a felony charge against someone who’s been arrested roughly doubled, from about 1 in 3 to nearly 2 in 3.

To some voters, the Democratic Party’s approach to criminal justice under Bill Clinton hasn’t aged well. Current Affairs

More than stiff drug laws, punitive judges, overzealous cops or private prisons, prosecutors had been the main drivers of a prison population that had quadrupled since the mid-1980s.

Meanwhile, black Americans continued to be disproportionately incarcerated. In 2017, there were 1,549 black prisoners for every 100,000 black adults – nearly six times the incarceration rate for whites and nearly double the rate for Hispanics.

This prosecutorial approach wasn’t punished at the ballot box; instead, racking up convictions and plea deals seemed to bolster the political careers of district attorneys.

The new sheriffs in town

No longer.

Since 2013, roughly 30 reform-minded prosecutors have been elected. A few now preside over prosecutorial staffs in some of the nation’s biggest cities, like Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner and Boston’s Rachael Rollins. But they also include chief prosecutors of smaller municipalities, like Satana Deberry, who was elected district attorney of Durham County, North Carolina, in 2018, and Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the commonwealth’s attorney of Arlington County, Virginia, who won on a platform of ending mass incarceration in 2019.

Satana Deberry won her district attorney race in 2018 by campaigning on ending cash bail. Satana Deberry

These prosecutors are reinventing the role of the modern district attorney. Krasner, for example, campaigned on eliminating cash bail, reining in police misconduct and upending a system of mass incarceration that disproportionately imprisons people of color. He won with nearly 75% of the vote in the general election.

In 2018, before a packed lecture hall, Krasner told my law students that ending racialized mass incarceration is “the most important civil rights issue of our time.” He pointed out that the key difference between a traditional prosecutor and progressive one is that the latter is a “prosecutor with compassion” and “a public defender with power.”

This growing crop of “prosecutors with compassion” and “public defenders with power” has upended my own binary way of thinking about the role of the district attorney.

I’ve realized that a district attorney can adopt a fundamentally different moral compass and conception of justice. While traditional “law and order” prosecutors possess a moral, legal and political compass that sharply distinguishes between victims and perpetrators, I’d argue that truly progressive prosecutors recognize that “hurt people hurt people” and refuse to subordinate the values of restoration, rehabilitation and redemption to those of retribution, retaliation and revenge.

These two sets of values can collide. Many entrenched judges, prosecutors, police chiefs, police unions and legislators have loudly opposed – or have actively resisted – this shift to restoration and redemption.

Progressive prosecutors, according to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, are “undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook, and refusing to enforce the law.” In a December rally, President Trump singled out Krasner, calling him “the worst district attorney,” one who “lets killers out almost immediately.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has drawn the ire of President Trump. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The experience of Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, is a classic example of the obstacles these new prosecutors can face. After being elected in 2016, she announced that she would no longer seek the death penalty for any defendants tried by her office. Florida Gov. Rick Scott responded by reassigning 24 aggravated murder cases to another state attorney who was amenable to the death penalty.

Ayala sued to have the cases returned to her jurisdiction. She lost.

What changed?

Nonetheless, progressive prosecutors would have never attained power in the first place if their views didn’t resonate with voters.

Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, “The New Jim Crow,” deserves some credit for changing the way activists thought about crime and punishment. Alexander cast mass incarceration as a civil rights crisis by showing that people didn’t simply end up in jail because they were bad people who made poor choices. Nor did prison populations explode simply because there were more crimes being committed. Instead, mass incarceration was closely intertwined with race, poverty and government policy.

Among civil rights activists, issues like affirmative action in higher education had been consuming a lot of time, energy and resources. Alexander’s book helped redirect attention to racialized mass incarceration as a main battlefront in U.S. race relations.

Since its formation in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has made criminal justice reform a centerpiece of their activism. In Los Angeles, for example, the local chapter has led weekly demonstrations for over two years in front of the Hall of Justice. They’re protesting Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey for failing to adequately address police misconduct.

Protesters gather outside the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles in May 2018. AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Lacey, who is up for reelection, faces two opponents. Both of them – former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and former public defender Rachel Rossi – are running on progressive platforms.

In March, we’ll see if the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office – the nation’s largest county-wide prosecutorial agency – will be the latest to join the progressive prosecutor movement.

Jody D. Armour is Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law, University of Southern California .

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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California

Half of Californians Could get Coronavirus, Newsom Warns Trump

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The USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship is seen docked at Naval Base San Diego Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in San Diego.

by Judy Linn for CalMatters

In a dramatic and unprecedented move, California issued a mandatory, statewide shelter-in-place order on Thursday after Gov. Gavin Newsom warned 56% of Californians — 25.5 million people — could be infected with coronavirus in the next two months.

The governor’s executive order means the most populous state in the nation will effectively shut down non-essential services — altering daily life for 40 million residents for the indefinite future. It allows Californians to continue to go outside to get food or medicine, to walk their dogs, to care for relatives and friends, to get health care, but generally, the directive is to stay at home. 

LET’S NOT REGRET. LET’S NOT DREAM OF REGRETTING, GO BACK AND SAY, ‘WELL, YOU KNOW WHAT, WE COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA.’ NOT WHEN THE DATA ALL POINTS TO WHERE I THINK MOST OF US KNOW WE’RE GOING.” — GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM

The order is legally enforceable, meaning disobeying can result in a misdemeanor with up to $1,000 in fines or six months imprisonment, although Newsom said social pressures will likely be enough to encourage people not to gather in the middle of a public health crisis.

Newsom said he made the difficult decision based on modeling by state health officers and new data related to infection rates in the state. Similar shelter-in-place directives were already being used by a number of Northern California counties and the governor had previously asked seniors to stay home, but Thursday’s action now applies to everyone.

“Let’s bend the curve together,” the governor said in a livestream, referring to the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 to prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed by patients. “Let’s not regret. Let’s not dream of regretting, go back and say, ‘Well, you know what, we coulda, woulda, shoulda.’ Not when the data all points to where I think most of us know we’re going.” 

The directive was the culmination of swiftly escalating restriction in the face of an even more swiftly escalating peril. In just two weeks, Californians saw social gatherings limited first to 250 people, then only to the young and healthy, then locally outlawed in the Bay Area and some other counties. Sports events were canceled. Disneyland shut down for only the third time in history. Then millions of students were sent home from schools and colleges. Bars were told to issue their last call and restaurant seats emptied out. 

It is unclear for the moment when normalcy will return, and Newsom’s executive order was much broader than many of shelter-in-place orders imposed earlier in the week by some cities and counties. What will remain open are the bare essentials: gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, banks and laundromats. Restaurants can offer take-out and delivery. About 500 members of the National Guard will be deployed for humanitarian work to help distribute food.

The governor said social media companies such as NextDoor will begin to provide informational kits to check in on neighbors and loved ones. AmeriCorps and the California Conservation Corps will also ramp up outreach to fight isolation, he said.

“One-pagers so you know what kinds of things you need at home to protect yourself, those that are socially isolated, our seniors struggling with loneliness, as much or more than anything else to make sure we reach out, maybe call five people a day, just check in on them,” Newsom said.  

Newsom said his decision wasn’t made lightly. Rather, it came after weeks of effort in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to model the spread of the novel coronavirus in California, according to Health & Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly. 

“And we are very glad we had built that model,” Ghaly said. “It’s put us in a great position with our partners across the state to be prepared for what we are starting to see, which are hospitals with many patients, and patients who are in the ICU and having outcomes that we’ve seen in other countries.” 

Earlier in the day, the governor said he had warned President Donald Trump that more than half of Californians — 25.5 million people — could be infected with coronavirus over the next two months as he sought at least $1 billion in federal aid from congressional leaders.

“If we change our behaviors, that inventory will come down,” Newsom said. “If we meet this moment, we can truly bend the curve to reduce the need to surge, to reduce the need to have to go out and to cobble all those assets together.”

In a letter dated Wednesday, California’s governor requested White House assistance to deploy the USNS Mercy hospital ship to Los Angeles as health officials project the state will fall short of hospital beds needed to handle a surge in COVID-19 cases. In the last 24 hours, the state reported 126 new cases, a 21% increase, and the rate is doubling every four days in some areas. 

“We project that roughly 56 percent of our population — 25.5 million people — will be infected with the virus over an eight week period,” Newsom wrote. 

Newsom also sent a separate letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives seeking at least $1 billion in federal funds to support California’s response to the pandemic. The money, he said, is needed to purchase and set up health care facilities that the state projects it will need to treat a flood of patients. This includes using state-run hospitals, mobile hospitals and retrofitting hotels and motels.

The governor also asked for additional congressional support to help families and low-income households cope with the crisis by extending unemployment insurance, increase reimbursement for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, suspend work requirements for food stamps as families go hungry and allocate more funding for nutrition programs for children and seniors. 

Newsom also called for loans for small businesses and technology and broadband funding for school districts with high concentrations of families in poverty as schools scramble to adapt to online learning or studying at home.  

State health officials estimate that California hospitals have the capacity to handle a surge of about 10,000 people. However, some models project the state could need twice that, closer to 20,000 extra hospital beds. 

He announced a series of steps being taken to bridge that gap. They include ramping up hospital beds by leasing motels and hotels, borrowing university dorms, staving off hospital closures and asking the federal government for two mobile hospitals in addition to the naval hospital ship.

He announced Seton Medical Center in Daly City, which had been slated for closure by Verity Health Systems, would continue operating and said a second hospital in Southern California would be named on Friday.    

While government officials are conferring with pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead in seeking treatments, Newsom said he “was pleased” to see Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk tweet about the possibility of producing ventilators. Musk said Tesla’s cars contain sophisticated ventilation systems and SpaceX, his spaceflight company, makes life support systems.

“Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly,” Musk replied.

In Newsom’s letter to the president, the governor asked that the naval hospital ship be deployed to Los Angeles because it will free up beds at existing hospitals and health facilities to respond to acute care needs, such as heart attacks and strokes or car accidents. 

Newsom sought to strike a chord with the president’s hometown.

“The population density in the Los Angeles Region is similar to New York City, (and) will be disproportionately impacted by the number of COVID-19 cases,” Newsom wrote.

Judy Linn covers state finances, workforce and economic issues for CalMatters. CalMatters reporter Rachel Becker contributed to this report.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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California

CA’s Protective Lockdown of Seniors and Chronically Ill

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What About California’s Protective Lockdown of Seniors and Cronically Ill

by Miguel Duara, Ana B. Ibarra and Jackie Botts and for CalMatters

CALIFORNIA — All Americans, even the young and healthy, have been advised to cancel all gatherings of more than ten people and avoid discretionary travel. In California, seniors and people with chronic diseases have been directed to stay home during the coronavirus crisis.

Cities, counties and the governor have issued various orders directing Californians to shelter in place, raising questions about how people — especially vulnerable seniors and those with chronic conditions — can receive essential services, food and medicine.

On Monday, the White House called on all Americans, even the young and healthy, to cancel all gatherings of more than 10 people.

In Bay Area counties, the call to action on Monday was sweeping: All people were asked to stay at home until at least April 7, with only essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations, medical offices, banks and pharmacies remaining open. Newsom quickly adapted the same approach, expanding the reach of his Sunday directive, which was focused on the elderly and people with heart and lung conditions. All California restaurants were asked to close their doors to dine-in customers, focusing on delivery and take-out instead, and gyms and movie theaters closed.

Newsom pledged that his office would address specific issues in a plan on Tuesday, after state officials and private industry collaborate and work out the details.

The governor’s advisory does not carry the force of law, but Newsom said he would not hesitate to sign an executive order making it mandatory if the directive is not followed.

“If you want to establish a framework of martial law which is ultimate authority and enforcement, we have the capacity to do that, but we are not at this moment thinking that is a necessity,” Newsom said. 

It’s unclear how the government will coordinate the delivery of meals to an estimated 5.7 million California seniors and millions of other Californians who suffer from heart, respiratory, kidney and immune system disorders.

“We are doing so with our eyes wide open at the magnitude of what that means and the need to provide wraparound services to support our seniors in need of medical supplies, in need of meals and the like,” Newsom said at a press conference.

The traditional method of delivering food to seniors is through “access points” like a senior center, said Los Angeles Regional Food Bank Chief Executive Officer Michael Flood. But dozens of seniors congregating in a small space is no longer feasible, so other options will have to be considered.

Newsom emphasized multiple times that the state will partner with private industry to respond to the pandemic, whether that means feeding children with free or reduced-price lunches from shuttered school districts or seniors who are isolating themselves. Flood said the LA Regional Food Bank envisions something similar to feed the 28,000 seniors it serves each month. 

“We’ve never had this type of discussion, how we can possibly leverage [private industry] logistics to deliver for a nonprofit,” Flood said. “We‘re going to have to figure this out.”

Here are questions raised by the announcements: 

How many people are we talking about here? 

California is getting grayer. Newsom said his self-isolation guidance would apply to the approximate 5.3 million seniors age 65 or older who live in the state. However, according to 2019 Census numbers, that number may be closer to 5.7 million.

And it’s not just the elderly who are most at risk if they don’t stay home. So are people with underlying chronic health conditions. That means people with heart, kidney and respiratory diseases, as well as diabetes. This includes asthmatics. That’s a lot of people. 

In California, about one in three adults— more than 8 million people — live with cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, artery and valve diseases, strokes and heart failure, according to 2016 state data. 

Also, about 2.5 million adults in the state have been diagnosed with diabetes, while 2.3 million adults have asthma and another estimated 1.5 million have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Why did the initial directive apply to the elderly?

“We are prioritizing their safety because of their unique vulnerabilities to this virus,” Newsom said. 

Health officials say that older adults, as well as people with compromised immune systems and those with underlying chronic medical conditions, seem to be at higher risk of developing serious, life-threatening complications from the coronavirus. 

Out of California’s 335 positive cases as of Sunday, 116 were among people 65 and older.

In China, where the virus was first detected, the majority of deaths have been among older adults, who tend to have weaker immune systems and have a higher rate of chronic disease. While the mortality rate for COVID-19 remains low — about 2.3 percent —  it increases with age or when combined with a chronic illness. 

For example, the COVID-19 mortality rate in China for people with heart disease jumped to 10.7 percent, and to 7.3 percent for patients with diabetes. The mortality rate for those with respiratory illnesses was 6.3 percent.

Similarly in Italy, a national analysis earlier this month found that the average age of 105 people who died in relation to COVID-19 was 81. Most of those patients were men and two-thirds of them had three or more existing conditions. 

So, what does self-isolation mean anyway? Can people go to the grocery store or pharmacy?

Newsom did not give any specific advice, but his plan likely would mean people staying home from work and other public places as much as possible, and not meeting with friends, even at home.

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say people should restrict activities outside their homes except for seeking medical care.

In New Zealand, self-isolation protocol allows for others to drop off food and supplies to those in isolation. 

Until recently, only people who were infected or believed to be infected by the coronavirus but didn’t require hospitalization had been asked to home isolate for 14 days. 

Newsom recognized that asking millions of people to stay home was bound to create anxiety. 

“We are doing so with our eyes wide open at the magnitude of what that means,” he said. He added that his team is working on services to help these seniors with food and medication. 

If people can’t go to the grocery store, how are they going to eat? 

Good question. Newsom said that the state has “been working for days” to answer this question, but he did not provide specifics.

Newsom did allude to “strike teams that will support the social safety net and those services for our seniors” run by Mark S. Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

“What is really important is to understand what a massive logistics operation it would be to take a formerly pretty self-sustaining group of people and expand an already stretched safety net to cover that group of people too,” said Ashley McCumber, executive director of Meals on Wheels San Francisco, which serves hot meals to 3,600 people who are over 60 or disabled each week. 

McCumber said that the need for home-delivered boxes of groceries will grow dramatically, as will the need for hot meals for those who rely on senior day centers and other facilities because they can’t prepare their own meals at home. 

Food banks across California are already facing shortages of volunteers and closures of their distributions sites due to coronavirus concerns. 

Partnering with private home delivery companies could bridge the gap. McCumber said the food delivery company DoorDash called last week to explore how it could support Meals on Wheels San Francisco. 

Newsom said that he is not ordering restaurants to close, in part, because they could be part of the state’s plan to deliver food to people in self-isolation. Instead, restaurants are asked to offer take-out meals.

“We want to expand the points of access to get those deliveries. Restaurants by definition provide those points of access,” Newsom said. “So having an organized construct that allows delivery of hot, prepared and nutritious food within an existing infrastructure we think is appropriate to this moment.”

What if you’re homeless and you’re also a senior or have a health condition? 

The governor’s directive was short on details for those who are seeking to self-isolate while they are unhoused. 

Newsom said the state would prioritize getting homeless people indoors as soon as possible, either in hotel and motel rooms or in one of the state’s 450 newly-purchased trailers. In an executive order issued Thursday, Newsom directed the state health agency and its office of emergency services to be prepared to make available accommodations “suitable for use as a temporary residence” and to commandeer those sites, if necessary. 

The U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development says there were more than 108,000 unsheltered homeless people in California on any given day in January 2019. Those numbers are concentrated in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and the counts have been found to dramatically underestimate the real numbers. 

HUD issued guidance last week to homeless service providers regarding the coronavirus. 

“Individuals experiencing homelessness have an increased likelihood of chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension) as well as coinciding mental health diagnoses or histories of substance use,” according to the HUD document. “During crisis situations, health conditions can be exacerbated if health care regimens are not maintained, or if histories of trauma trigger high-risk behaviors.”

What about seniors who work but can’t work from home? Is the state going to help? 

More than one million seniors, or about 19 percent of Californians ages 65 and older, are in the labor force, according to 2018 Census data. Many continue to work because they don’t have enough retirement savings or social security to cover expenses.

For seniors who can’t take their work home — for example, those who work in retail, the service industry, manufacturing or as drivers — self-isolation could mean losing wages or even jobs. 

Newsom made it clear that seniors working on the medical frontlines of the coronavirus response — such as nurses, doctors and pharmacists — are not exempt from the directive to self-isolate. A 70-year-old emergency room doctor in New Jersey contracted the virus and is in intensive care. He led his hospital’s emergency preparedness.

The Governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about whether the state would provide financial aid to low-income seniors who are forced to miss work due to the coronavirus.

On Thursday, Newsom signed an executive order waiving the one-week wait time for those seeking unemployment insurance or disability benefits due to COVID-19.

On Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a legislative package that would provide emergency leave, including two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave. The Senate will consider the package early this week. 

The state’s public health department recommends that all people keep their distance from each other, disinfect their homes, wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their faces. 

CalMatters opened the floor to your questions. First let’s take a look at two questions from senior CalMatters readers who want to keep the blood pumping while in self-isolation:

I am a fortunate unusually healthy almost 80 year old used to 4 yoga classes a week (soon to be held online) and a frequent 2-4 mile walk up the shore road or on the beach half a block from my door. Does Gov. Newsome’s directive to 65 and older seniors to self-isolate mean not getting outside for a walk? We’ll all be added to the obesity epidemic! Not to mention increased arthritic stiffness, heart ailments, and depression. Old people hunched over their computers or glued to TV riddled with chronic diseases is already a national disaster. Could somebody with medical and alternative medical authority urge Gov. Newsom to allow us our fresh air and freedom to walk outside, with a friend 6 feet apart or at least solo. Thank you for listening and hopefully helping! Stay well whoever you are. Rosie King, Santa Cruz.

I am a very healthy, active 65 year old woman, and I have a couple of questions: 1. Some articles say that in “self isolating” we need to stay indoors. I don’t understand why. Being outdoors is good for us. I need to walk my three dogs, and the walk is good for me, too. I don’t need to go near anyone. I love to garden–at least that’s one thing I can do with all this time alone. 2. Are we allowed to go to the grocery store if we keep our social distance? Thank you.

First of all, this is where we’re not: Italy, Spain or China. Italy and Spain have gone into full lockdown, with the Spanish military on the streets to enforce the mandatory stay-home order. That’s what a true lockdown looks like. 

In the U.S.,  Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he would like to see a 14-day lockdown, but nothing has yet been proposed. 

Six Bay Area counties are expected to announce a “shelter in place” order for all residents on Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The order will apply to San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, beginning Tuesday and ending, at the earliest, on April 7. 

It’s not clear how the directive would be enforced. According to the Chronicle, the order calls for the local sheriff or chief of police to “ensure compliance.”

There are still a lot of questions about the state plan, and not many answers. We don’t yet know how the state plans to get food and medicine to seniors. 

The national plan right now, according to Fauci, is twofold: Stop new infections from getting into the country and contain the spread of the virus domestically. International flights have already been severely curtailed. Containment, according to guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, happens when you stay more than six feet from an infected person. Basically, don’t get coughed on. 

But the guidance also says this, emphasis ours: “Considerable, thoughtful planning by public health authorities is needed to implement public health orders properly.  Specifically, measures must be in place to provide shelter, food, water, and other necessities for people whose movement is restricted under public health orders, and to protect their dignity and privacy.”

So, does allowing seniors and those with chronic conditions go for a walk while staying six feet away from other people and avoiding direct contact with body fluids, constitute a protection of your dignity? Does it fall under “other necessities?” There is no requirement to stay indoors.

So far, the state is saying it’s your call. For now. 

Here’s a question from a reader about what to do about groceries and seeing friends:

“[Gov. Gavin] Newsom did not give any specific advice, but his plan likely would mean people staying home from work and other public places as much as possible, and not meeting with friends, even at home.” LIKELY MEAN? What the hell… You make an edict like that and provide no details? What am I supposed to do? Never go to the grocery store? Never have friends over for dinner? Not greet neighbors on the street? This is gross incompetence and panic-inducement. You tell people to isolate themselves with no explanation of what that is supposed to mean.

The concern is warranted, and we don’t quite know how far the state will go in curtailing personal movement in Newsom’s plan, which he promised by Tuesday. We don’t have many specifics yet, but we know the general outline: 

•If you’re over 65, do everything possible to stay inside, and if you have to leave the house, maintain six feet of distance and don’t get coughed on. 

•If you have a chronic respiratory, cardiovascular, kidney or immune system condition, the same guidance applies. 

Other countries further along on the infection curve have already severely curtailed personal movement. 

Can you go to the grocery store? You’ll find yourself surrounded by people, and the lines are tight. Are there any alternatives, like a friendly neighbor? Can you have a friend over for dinner? Can you wave to someone across the street? Yes. You can. But do not attend events with more than 50 people, and avoid even smaller groups. Remember this is likely to be a short-term directive if the epidemic slows, so better safe than sorry. If your health is already compromised by a disorder, it’s advisable to tightly limit your exposure.

Here’s a question about tenants:

“I have a housemate who’s rented from me for a little over a year. He is 67 years old, and he keeps clean, etc., but he goes to a gym daily, goes shopping at a variety of markets, accepts music gigs as a sound technician, etc. I am 81+ years old, with diabetes, hypertension, a coronary stent, and serious insomnia. He has little money and nowhere else to live. Should I allow him to stay? In that, what precautions are necessary? (He has his own bedroom and bathroom, but share the kitchen, though we use it at different times.”

If your 67-year-old housemate is also your tenant, you may soon not be able to evict him. On Monday, Newsom is expected to issue guidance on foreclosures and evictions after eight lawmakers requested a 45-day moratorium last week. Some cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, have already enacted foreclosure and eviction moratoria. 

But your question is also a broader one — what do you do about people who just won’t comply with the directive to self-isolate, especially if you’re in an at-risk group? 

Newsom briefly addressed that. Remember, the directive for seniors to self-isolate isn’t a mandatory order with the force of law — but it could be, if Newsom decides that voluntary compliance isn’t working, and that the state needs to enforce self-isolation as an executive order. 

So you could tell your housemate that, at the very least, he’s tempting the fates by ignoring the directive, and perhaps inviting stricter actions from the state in the near future.

One reader has a question about jobs:

Are there any future plans to deal with elder job discrimination? For example, a business will not, or very hesitant to, hire someone because s/he is over 65 as the business does not want to deal with potential job disruption if there is another mandatory senior self isolation. Also what about cases like a person is 65 and is ready to retire at 68, but lost his/her job as a result of this mandatory isolation and loses all the seniority even if hired back?

This is an excellent question, and one many working seniors are facing now. What happens if you can’t go to work without risking your life? And when we return to whatever form of normalcy we can achieve, can you get your job back? 

The state hasn’t addressed the latter issue yet as it manages this crisis, but for the interim, Newsom ordered state agencies to waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment and disability benefits — and extended disability benefits to those infected with the coronavirus.

For a senior with two part-time jobs, one which can be done from home and one out of the house, the loss of the out-of-home job would constitute a loss of hours. Unemployment benefits could help with that. 

Here’s a question about events:

We are a country club and event venue. This Saturday March 21, we have a wedding for 95 people. The bride and groom do not want to cancel What do we do? I would like documentation or something from the governor’s office in writing stating that we have to close. Or can we provide the event ??? The mayor’s office of Santa Clarita said that they do not have the authority to make a decision on this matter. Thanks

Ah, love. Nothing can stop it. Except perhaps a global pandemic that threatens the very fabric of society. But don’t tell that to the bride. 

Good for you for starting with your local authorities — what Newsom has tried to emphasize is the state will set the basic framework of self-isolation and social distancing, and local areas can take it from there. For instance, after Newsom ordered the closure of all bars, wineries and brewpubs in the state, Los Angeles went further and ordered every restaurant to go takeout-only.

But back to the nuptials. You’re looking for something official to show the betrothed that the postponement of their wedding is coming from someone in a position of authority. Here is Newsom’s March 12 executive order that advises against “mass events” and uses the word “whereas” a total of ten times. 

Eventually, it’s going to come back to money. Newsom’s order addresses that, too. Cancellations as a result of the pandemic “constitute a force majeure.” What does that mean?

We aren’t lawyers and this isn’t legal advice, but guidance from this law firm explains force majeure clauses, see if you think these circumstances apply: “The purpose is to allow the parties to exit a contract without penalty where the purpose of the contract has been thwarted by circumstances that were not foreseeable by either of the parties at the time the contract was made.”

Anyway, what percentage of those 95 invited guests is going to show up? Are those the wedding photos you really want, bride and groom standing six feet apart, sealing their vows not with a kiss but a thumbs-up?

Before presenting them with Newsom’s order, it sure seems like a few very direct conversations with our lovebirds could do the trick. And when the big day finally does arrive, they are forbidden from tagging anything #LoveInTheTimeOfCoronavirus. Sorry, those are our rules. 

This reader says she lives alone and needs help:

I am 75 years old with underlying health issues…I understand that while staying home may make it safer for me, I cannot as I need to go to the grocery store for food, get medications at the pharmacy, etc. I live alone, have no children, and NO one to go to the store for me. This is creating EXTREME anxiety & fear, but what can people in my position do. Thank you for reading. 

First, sorry you find yourself in this situation. It cannot be easy. You’re asking a question that is top-of-mind for California seniors, low-income advocates and state and local governments. 

The short answer is, we don’t know yet. The slightly longer answer is, the governor assures us he and his team are working on it. Their top priority in this venue is making sure low-income seniors who rely on meal deliveries can still get food without having to congregate. The plan is also expected to involve private companies, though who is doing what, and for which populations, are still questions we’re trying to get answered. 

But what about you, in your house, today? We are connected to our communities in lots of ways. Do you know any of your neighbors? If not, have you checked out neighborhood social apps? On Nextdoor.com in a few neighborhoods in Los Angeles, we’ve seen dozens of posts from young people offering to make grocery runs or a trip to the pharmacy.

Exercise caution. We’ve heard from utility companies that phone scammers are using the pandemic to try and fool people into thinking their water or power is about to be turned off unless they read out their credit card number. Humans are a flawed species. But if you can find someone in-person, or whom you trust from a social connection, give it a try.

Be persistent and be your own best advocate. People want to help right now. 

This is an amalgamation of questions about seniors that we’ve heard on social media and in personal conversations:

What do I do if I have a parent or grandparent in a senior community? Should I bring them to my home if possible or avoid disrupting their lives as much as I can?

This is an extraordinarily difficult question even during times when it doesn’t feel like the world is ending as we know it. Areas where seniors congregate have been the epicenter of some of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus and the resulting disease, COVID-19. Outside Seattle, more than half of the original 120 residents of the Life Care Center have been transferred to hospitals. Twenty-six have died since Feb. 19. 

So what are your options? Merrill Gardens Senior Living, which operates 33 sites in eight states, including 14 in California, is implementing heightened cleaning procedures, banning visitors except for medical care providers, cancelling all outings and taking the temperatures of residents. If a resident leaves — and they’re free to — they may not be allowed back in without extensive screening and evaluation. Meals still are being served in common areas, but people are being separated. They also have the option of being served in their rooms. Families can drop off supplies without going inside.

At other senior facilities, such as Sunrise Senior Living in Seal Beach, similar protocols are in place. These are among the most vulnerable people, and their very way of life in a senior community is in direct contradiction to the governor’s directive to avoid congregating. 

This story from StatNews includes an interview with the AARP’s chief medical officer, in which she advises the following: 

“The guidance is continuing to change day by day, as we learn more about how the virus is behaving in the community. In this case, I would urge the individuals to contact the care facility and find out about the precautions they have in place. There are infection control procedures that every nursing home has to follow, and [you can tell the care facility] that you want to be notified what they are. In certain states, where there is higher concentration of outbreaks, there is guidance from the state department of public health, which may vary by locality. Most importantly, if [the elderly] are already in the long-term care facility, you just want to verify that these facilities are following proper precautions. You have to balance the care that your elderly can get in a facility versus if you took them home, you might be able to provide that care. Keep a close eye on what is happening in your particular community, your particular state, and follow the department of health guidance.” -Charlotte Yeh, AARP Chief Medical Officer.

So what are your options? 

The risk of infection comes from the outside world. Senior-care workers go home and to the grocery store, then come back to work, but they’re also trained to respond to health emergencies. At home, you have far more control over who comes in contact with your older relative, but you lose the advantage of having an expert on-hand. 

Perhaps it’s just adding up the pros and cons. If you feel the absolute greatest threat to your relative’s health is the novel coronavirus, and they’re otherwise relatively healthy, consider whether your home environment would be easier to control. 

If they have serious health needs requiring continuous care you can’t provide, and finding and paying for round-the-clock in-home caregivers isn’t a possibility, it’s perhaps a harder choice.  

You also may consider that your parent or relative is all alone, with little emotional  support, so bringing them to your house would be welcomed. Or they may prefer to stay in their own home. Just make sure that their facility is following the procedures outlined above. If they are not, point it out to them.

And remember that these seniors with options are the lucky ones. We’ve fielded dozens of questions from seniors with no family, few contacts and a baffling stream of information without much context.

The next question is from someone who’s gotten a babysitting request:

I’m a senior living in West Hollywood who has been asked to look after young children in Westwood (teach them and care for them) who are out of primary school. I am a friend of the family who has asked me to do this. Is that something I should do?

This is a pretty straightforward one: Almost definitely, positively not. The person who made that request has perhaps not seen the directive from the state advising seniors to self-isolate. Seniors, even healthy ones, are too vulnerable to this virus.

Kids are … not great at sanitizing, even in the best of times. Even with 20-second lyric memes and extensive parental supervision, it seems like an absolutely unnecessary risk to put yourself, an at-risk senior, in harm’s way. 

The other group of at-risk people in California is people with chronic health conditions. What do they do if they can’t work?

If I have chronic bronchitis and other lung issues am I supposed to not go to work? If i do that I would get fired. Is there something to give to my place of employment that would excuse me from work during the time I stay indoors.

This fits the definition provided by the state of someone with a chronic condition that is at-risk for the coronavirus, and consulting with your physician is likely the first thing on the checklist. As soon as possible. 

The state isn’t ensuring that people keep their jobs during the pandemic. Instead, they’re trying to ease the burden by removing waiting periods for unemployment and disability benefits. That includes lost hours due to the pandemic and the government response. 

Since we’ve seen some iteration of this question a dozen times, let’s go a little deeper into what you’ll need to file for unemployment. (You’re asking reporters, so most of us have filed for unemployment at least once.)  

Here are some of the highlights of their advice. You know those tax documents you were just about to get to? Grab ‘em. 

First, do you qualify? Let’s check the state list: 

  • If you’re infected with the coronavirus, you’re eligible for disability benefits. You’ll need a doctor’s note with the diagnosis, or if you don’t have one, “a statement of symptoms; the start date of the condition; its probable duration; and the treating physician’s or practitioner’s license number or facility information.” 
  • If you’re healthy but you’re caring for a sick family member, you may be entitled to Paid Family Leave. You’ll just have to prove that they’re sick using the same metrics above. 
  • You may be eligible for unemployment insurance if you
    • Choose to stay home due to fears about the virus
    • Your child’s school district shuts down and you can’t work
    • Your child’s school district shuts down and you were already unemployed
    • Your employer reduces hours or shuts down operations. 

Second, what are you eligible to receive? Disability and Paid Family Leave benefits pay about  60 percent to 70 percent of wages with a cap of $1,300 per week. 

Unemployment pays $40 to $450 per week, depending on what you earned before you lost your job or hours.

The next two questions were fairly common concerning the Department of Motor Vehicles. California just came up with a response on Monday night. 

The DMV requires all persons over 70 years old renewing their driver’s license to come into a DMV office to take a written test and have their eyes checked. Given that a pandemic has been declared and the Gov Newsom has declared that all elderly folks should stay home, it would seem that this requirement should be eliminated for the time being. Note The State of Texas has already done this. My question is what is the CA DMV doing to address this issue?

Why do the California State DMV offices remain open with MANY people crammed into a small space? Seems like Newsom could start there with his own house and let me worry about mine.

A driver’s license is most people’s primary form of identification, so maintaining a valid one isn’t just a question of being permitted to drive. In California on Monday, the DMV asked law enforcement to “exercise discretion” when it comes to enforcing things like expired driver’s licenses or vehicle registration tags for at least 60 days. 

The DMV is asking police to go easy on drivers 70 years old and older with expired licenses who would otherwise be required to come into the office to take a knowledge test to renew their licenses. 

The department is making the same request to police for those with expired licenses who need vision testing, renewals more than 15 years old that require an in-office visit and “individuals with a complex driving history.”

“California law enforcement is encouraged to exercise flexibility and discretion when reviewing driver license or identification and vehicle registration records,” the California DMV said in a news release on Monday. “If applicable, DMV may waive vehicle registration penalties.”

DMV offices are staying open, and the letter from the DMV is just a request to the police, not a directive. 

Texas did something similar on Friday, although more sweeping: All licenses that expired on or after March 13 will be considered valid for 60 days. 

The pandemic had to hit right before tax time:

Will an extension for IRS taxes be given to practice social distance?

This question came just before the Trump administration issued new guidelines allowing for a 90-day delay for corporations and individuals to pay their income taxes. 

People must still file their federal taxes by April 15. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Tuesday that individuals can defer up to $1 million in payments for 90 days after the April 15 deadline, which would be July 14. Corporations can delay up to $10 million in payments until July 14. The IRS won’t charge interest or penalties. 

In California, the Franchise Tax Board extended the deadline for filing state tax returns to June 15, 60 days after the original April 15 deadline. 

“During this public health emergency, every Californian should be free to focus on their health and wellbeing,” said FTB chair Betty T. Yee in a press release late last week. “Having extra time to file their taxes helps allows people to do this, as the experts work to control the spread of coronavirus.”

Depending on how much you owe and how much you made, reading this story about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2018 returns might make you feel a little better. Or possibly much worse. Together with First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the pair made $1,206,688 in adjusted gross income, paid $358,724 in federal taxes and sent another $121,455 to the state. 


This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California. Click here for more updates from CalMatters.

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California

$42M in Emergency Funds to CA Health Infrastructure, Including Telehealth

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Photo by Branimir Balogović


SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today directed more than $42 million in emergency funding to expand California’s health care infrastructure and secure equipment and services to support California’s response to COVID-19.

Of this amount, $30 million will allow the state to lease Seton Medical Center in Daly City and St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles for a three-month basis. Seton Medical Center is currently operating and will expand capacity to provide care for up to 120 COVID-19 patients beginning as soon as next Wednesday.

Verily will operate Seton Medical Center on the state’s behalf. St. Vincent Medical Center closed in January, but California is readying the facility to begin providing care for up to 366 COVID-19 patients as soon as possible.

This builds on California’s previous work, in partnership with local officials, to reopen Community Hospital in Long Beach for the specific purpose of accepting patients transferred from other hospitals in the area. The hospital will begin accepting transfer patients on Saturday and has a capacity of 158 beds.

“California is mobilizing every part of government to support our health care delivery system, its workers, and those among us who are most vulnerable to COVID-19,” said Governor Newsom.

California is making historic investments to strengthen our health care delivery system:

  • $30 million to lease and operate two facilities and to expand the state’s hospital capacity.
    • Seton Medical Center in Daly City.
    • St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles.
  • $1,420,000 to expand capacity of the state’s public health lab in Richmond.
  • $8,647,000 to purchase new ventilators, as well as IV fusion pumps, and refurbish additional ventilators.
  • $2 million to contract with American Medical Response to provide patient transportation.

Click here to see the letter submitted by the Department of Finance to the Legislature specifying the use of emergency funds for this purpose.

This past week, California began receiving shipments from a prior request from the Strategic National Stockpile. The request included:

Personal Protective Equipment:

  • 358,381 N95 masks
  • 853,730 surgical masks
  • 162,565 face shields
  • 132,544 surgical gowns
  • 678 coveralls
  • 471,941 gloves

In addition, California this week requested the following additional supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile:

Personal Protective Equipment:

  • 20 million N95 masks
  • 10 million surgical masks
  • 600,000 surgical gowns
  • 600,000 face shields
  • 600,000 gloves
  • 300,000 goggles
  • 100,000 coveralls

Medical Supplies:

  • 10,000 ventilators

Lab and Diagnostic Supplies:

  • 2 million swabs
  • 200,000 RNA extraction kits

Video available of personal protective equipment and medical supplies at the California Receiving, Storing and Staging Warehouse.

California Expands Tele-Health Options

This week, California acted to remove barriers to telehealth services for 22 million Californians. Increasing access to medical and behavioral care through telehealth allows individuals to receive the care and treatment they need remotely, while isolating at home and practicing social distancing, thus limiting potential exposure to COVID-19 and unnecessary impacts to the health care delivery system during this time when we want to preserve the system for our sickest and most critically ill neighbors.

Commercial and Medi-Cal managed care plans were directed to allow members to obtain health care via telehealth when medically appropriate to do so. Providers will be reimbursed at the same rate, whether a service is provided in-person or through telehealth.

For example, if a provider is paid $100 for an in person visit, they will be paid $100 for an equivalent visit done via telehealth. Removing barriers to telehealth will improve access and help ensure that hospitals and health systems can focus on providing care to those who need it most.

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