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Bay Area Headlines: Tuesday, 4/21/20, AM

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Bridging The Digital Divide For Distance Learning / Protesting Stay-At-Home Order In Sacramento / Free COVID-19 Testing In San Francisco

Bridging The Digital Divide For Distance Learning

Distance learning is a challenge for many families, but it’s impossible for hundreds of thousands of California students who don’t have a computer or internet connection at home.

California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom is hoping to change that. She appeared alongside the governor at his daily coronavirus update. 

Siebel Newsom says about a dozen companies and foundations have donated money and devices to help connect students to their teachers. "Because of these commitments," she said, "hundreds of thousands of families will cross the digital divide, including 70,000 California students who will receive laptops, Chromebooks and tablets starting this week."

Some school districts are using school buses as mobile internet hotspots for students without a connection. Governor Gavin Newsom says he’s looking into possibly rolling out that strategy statewide.

Protesting Stay-At-Home Order In Sacramento

Demonstrators gathered at California’s Capitol, yesterday, to protest against Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order, following similar actions across the country. 

Lines of cars circled the Capitol building and extended down the mall to the Tower Bridge. The National Anthem boomed. And several hundred people on foot gathered near the steps of the Capitol holding protest signs and waving Tea Party flags and Trump banners.

It’s a scene most of us haven’t seen in awhile: a crowd of people without face masks, standing close together, yelling and talking with each other — ignoring the stay-at-home order and not following social distancing guidelines.

Many who attended had an intense skepticism about the government’s response to the coronavirus, despite warnings of public health officials.

Doreen Denlay of Chico says she hasn’t seen the virus affect her community:

"I work in the emergency room, an empty emergency room right now, and this is a scam, this is a way to take our freedoms back one at a time."

Tom Orr was also protesting on the lawn, he owns a construction company in Rancho Cordova and says he had to lay off over half of his workers because of how much business he’s lost:

"We need to stop this craziness and let people get back to work before the economy completely tanks," he said. "The numbers don’t justify the shutdown. Do you know anybody who’s died from the coronavirus?"

Jill Young, another protester who was visiting from Galt says she’s also seen economic loss. "In my little town, there’s a lot of businesses that are closed right now. It's sad," she said.

At the same time as the protests, Governor Newsom discussed reopening California during a press conference. He cautioned against doing so hastily:

"We must have a health first focus, if we’re ultimately going to come back economically. the worst mistake we can make is making a precipitous decision based on politics and frustration that puts people’s lives at risk and ultimately sets back the cause of economic growth and economic recovery."

When asked about the demonstration, Newsom did not discuss why a permit was granted. California Highway Patrol approved a permit for up to 500 people but did not return calls. Patrol officers monitored the protest, but a number of them said they would not be arresting or issuing citations to anyone violating social distancing rules.

But constitutional law professor Leslie Jacobs says, in general, the United States government has the right to enforce a policy like a stay-at-home order, in these situations.

"So one thing they’d be talking about most would be their interest in liberty, the freedom of movement, and yes the constitution does guarantee that, but the question would be what’s your interest government? Well, it’s to prevent the spread of disease."

The McGeorge School of Law professor says because the virus spreads faster in large groups, the issue is a public health one and not a civil liberties one:

"So long as the government’s not targeting people, trying to make them not be able to speak because of what they’re going to say, then the restrictions can stop people from even gathering to speak."

California has done this before. During a smallpox outbreak in 1900 in San Francisco, the city’s Chinatown was quarantined because there was fear it was spread by Chinese Americans. A lawsuit later found this to be unconstitutional because it targeted a particular ethnic group. This has not happened during the coronavirus outbreak.

Free COVID-19 Testing In San Francisco

COVID-19 tests are rolling out to San Francisco's Mission District and the town of Bolinas.

Beginning this Thursday, San Franciscans who live in the Mission between South Van Ness Avenue and Harrison Street, and Ceasar Chavez and 23rd Streets, can get tested for free.

Mission Local reports that fliers posted around the area, urge all residents who are four years old and up to get tested regardless of symptoms. They can register for an appointment online, or onsite. Testing will take place at local parks and schools and run until April 28. 

An official from UCSF, which is co-sponsoring the testing campaign, says that although the city hasn't reported infection numbers by region, there are a lot of cases in the mission district.

In Marin County, the town of Bolinas began offering free COVID-19 tests for all of its nearly 2,000 residents. ABC7 reports tests are being administered in Mesa Park and are drive-through only. That testing runs through Thursday.