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In CA: The mask argument continues; schools jump into the debate on racism and policing


Coronavirus numbers are rising sharply in California, and former Golden State governors are urging widespread mask-wearing as the economy reopens with vigor. And while the focus has begun to wane on protests over the death of George Floyd, demonstrations have ignited local conversations on what it means to “defund the police.”

Filling in for Arlene Martinez, I’m Mark Olalde, an environment reporter with The Desert Sun in sunny Palm Springs. There’s never a shortage of news in this great state, so let’s get started.

But first, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature reached a spending compromise Monday that doesn’t bring cuts s severe as Newsom initially proposed when he reworked the budget in reaction to the pandemic. The agreement instead defers $12 billion meant for public education to later fiscal years, while protecting teachers from layoffs for the next year.

In California brings you top stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox. And while you’re at it, why not also subscribe to Climate Point, the network’s environment newsletter run by yours truly.

Mask up, please

Masks have been proven to be one of the most effective and easy ways to cut down on coronavirus transmission, leading to an announcement late last week that the state was requiring face coverings. To push the message, Newsom and the last four governors — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson — released a video Monday saying masks are about public health, not politics.

Still, people are lashing out at officials whose names appear on orders mandating face coverings. Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer is the latest, and on Monday she revealed that she had received death threats and other comments suggesting violence “via email, public posting and letters since March.”

And while the state rushes to reopen, more counties are finally turning to antibody tests — also referred to as serology tests — to help determine how much of the population might’ve gotten the virus before tests were available. On Monday, Riverside County announced that it would unveil its first county-sponsored slate of antibody tests, and Ventura County will also be offering free tests for two weeks.

Racial tensions simmering across California

In Ventura County, two men who worked with law enforcement agencies were among those arrested on charges of vandalizing a Black Lives Matter sign. After the sign had been damaged several times, the property owner installed a camera, which caught several people in the act. “I’m deeply disappointed that one of our employees involved himself in this type of illegal activity, especially when this is an infringement on someone’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said in a statement.

In perhaps more constructive news, Stockton-area residents, school districts and police departments this week are engaging in webinars and community forums to discuss racial issues in policing. However, a fight is brewing over a proposed resolution from the Stockton Unified School District that would call for defunding the local police — a rallying cry to redistribute funds meant for public safety in a more nuanced way —  “as soon as is legally possible.”

Idaho, developers land in hot water

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Monday that state-funded travel to Idaho is no more. The Gem State recently passed two laws that Becerra said violate transgender rights and aren’t in line with California law, making Idaho the 12th state to land on California’s travel no-go list.

The FBI and federal prosecutors announced that they recently arrested a San Gabriel Valley woman on charges of illegally soliciting more than $21 million in investments for a Southern California resort and condo complex that never materialized. Instead, that money went to “clothing, cars and travel” — most likely not what investors had in mind.

You can’t have your pudding if you don’t read some environment news

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, announced on Monday that the state would adopt more stringent rules regulating the air pollution coming from cars. In doing so, Sisolak eschewed the Trump administration’s rollback of these rules and chose to follow stricter standards that come out of California. California’s attorney general is leading litigation on the question, while California officials have been in talks with other states and some auto manufacturers to try to keep stricter standards in place.

If you’ve lived in California long enough, you’ve likely experienced at least one emergency evacuation order, whether for a wildfire, an earthquake or even a landslide. But confusion surrounding nomenclature led to the Office of Emergency Services to release new state guidelines on these. Check out this story from the Ventura County Star for an important explanation of what changes are underway in that county and what different types of evacuation orders mean statewide.

The coronavirus pandemic has touched all aspects of life

Schools with large populations of migrant students have had difficulty adjusting to distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic. So in Oxnard, schools are trying to introduce more flexibility to allow high school students to head into farm fields to support their families during the pandemic’s economic turmoil. Solutions are still in the works, but ideas range from opening schools over the weekend for these students to recording all digital meetings to alleviate concerns around poor internet access.

Although much of California is in some degree of Stage 3 reopening, several counties are watching their public health statistics slip past the benchmarks sent by the Newsom administration. In Riverside County, for example, businesses see a possibility that they could face renewed closures if numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to creep up.

Hey, how are you doing? It’s a question we need to continue asking one another as stress from the pandemic, months of stay-at-home orders and economic uncertainty weigh on everyone. The Desert Sun’s Nicole Hayden talked to mental health experts about this “secondary health challenge” that’s following on the heels of the virus. I highly recommend you take a look at the resources she’s compiled.

And, I’ll leave you with this tidbit from her article: “Flow, mindfulness, seeking moments of awe, and thinking ahead to a positive future are all more productive coping strategies than just relaxing.”

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA TODAY Network newsrooms. Also contributing: Associated Press, Cal Matters and the Los Angeles Times.

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