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Bay Area Headlines: Tuesday, 7/14/20, AM



CA Shuts Back Down / Mail-In Ballot Anxiety in CA / Superior Court Judge Denies Sutter Health's Attempts To Delay Antitrust Settlement Payment / Bay Area School Districts Deliberate How To Reopen

CA Shuts Back Down

California is again ordering sweeping closures of non-essential businesses statewide as the coronavirus continues to spread and hospital beds fill up.

Bars, indoor restaurants, malls and movie theaters are being told to close all over the state. In 30 counties on California’s watch list, gyms, churches, and hair and nail salons will be shut down again, too.

The move is part of a long-held promise by Governor Gavin Newsom to scale back the state’s reopening if the coronavirus begins to spread beyond control:

“We’re seeing an increase in the spread of the virus. So that’s why it’s incumbent upon all of us to recognize, soberly, that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon.”

The announcement marks the state’s biggest step back since Newsom first issued his statewide stay-at-home order in March.

Some guidelines varied wildly from county to county in recent weeks. That’s resulted in confusion and some residents traveling to other areas for shopping and services.

Mail-In Ballot Anxiety in CA

With the coronavirus pandemic raging, California is part of a growing number of states increasing mail-in balloting to avoid crowds at polling places. But the last election shows it’s not a failsafe practice.


The California secretary of state's election data obtained by the AP showed 102,428 mail-in ballots were disqualified in the state’s 58 counties. That’s about 1.5% of the nearly 7 million mail-in ballots returned. That percentage is the highest in a primary since 2014, and the overall number is the highest in a statewide election since 2010.

So what went wrong? Well, the most common problem, by far, in California was missing the deadline for the ballot to be mailed and arrive. To count in the election, ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received within three days afterward. Statewide, more than 70,000 ballots missed those marks. Another 27,000 either didn't have a signature, or the signature didn't match the one on record for the voter.

Last March, the highest rejection rate in California was in San Francisco, where nearly 10,000 ballots, or nearly 5% of the total, were set aside, mostly because they did not arrive on time. By contrast, in rural Plumas County northeast of Sacramento, all of the 8,207 mail-in ballots received were accepted.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Governor Gavin Newsom in June signed a law requiring county election officials to mail a ballot to all the state’s nearly 21 million registered voters for the November election.

He called mail-in voting safe and secure, pointing to a series of studies that found no evidence of significant fraud. States across the political spectrum rely solely on mail ballots, including Colorado, Utah and Washington.

In preparation for November, the state is launching a ballot-tracking tool that will quickly alert voters if they need to take action, such as adding a missing signature. Another change: The state is extending the window for mail ballots to arrive to 17 days after Election Day.

Superior Court Judge Denies Sutter Health's Attempts To Delay Antitrust Settlement Payment

California hospital system Sutter Health says the pandemic is making it hard for them to pay off half a billion dollars in settlement money to the state. But a state judge won’t extend the deadline.

Late in 2019, Sutter Health settled a lawsuit from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. He says the system price-gouges patients, over-pays executives and hides information about the cost of care.


Now Sutter says it needs more time to pay, because COVID-19 is straining its budget. A San Francisco Superior Court judge denied that request last week.


University of Southern California health economist Glenn Melnick says he agrees with the ruling:


“Basically they’re saying we want to use the losses to justify keeping our market power to charge above market prices, and that to me doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of consumers.”

The hospital industry says in general, the pandemic HAS been tough, especially for independent rural hospitals. Many facilities have lost revenue from canceling elective surgeries, and have had to buy special protective gear.


But some experts argue that larger health systems have deep reserves that cushion them from COVID-19’S economic toll. 

Bay Area School Districts Deliberate How To Reopen

The California Department of Education has directed local districts to develop their own models for resuming schools . However, there is little agreement about how to do it.

The Alameda and Berkeley unified school districts are planning a combination of online and in class instruction. Both the San Lorenzo unified school district and the Oakland unified school district will begin with distance learning and hope to begin some in-class instruction at a later date. 

In the South Bay, students at Santa Clara County schools will also start the school year with virtual classes. Schools in San Jose were initially planning for as many students as possible to return for in person instruction, but are now reassessing. The teachers union says teachers don’t feel safe enough to return to class. 

Plans for reopening are subject to change as districts await further guidance from state and local health officials. 

Studies indicate that children face the lowest risk among age groups for COVID-19 and are less likely to transmit it.

And distance learning can be challenging. According to the New York Times, research shows most students fell behind during the last term of the year, with low income students being hit hardest.