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We all know California had the nation’s first stay-at-home orders, and officials have emphasized pre-emptive efforts to expand hospital capacity that have largely allowed communities in the state to sidestep the horrific effects of the coronavirus that have played out elsewhere.
And yet, here we are, hurtling toward a holiday weekend, with case counts that are threatening to surge out of control, increasing hospitalizations and an antsy population navigating a constantly changing patchwork of restrictions.
More than 7,000 new cases were announced across the state on Monday — the highest single-day total of the pandemic.
As I told my colleagues who write The Times’s coronavirus newsletter — which you can sign up for here — leaders have pointed to a range of factors that are contributing to the virus’s spread, but it’s difficult to pinpoint where we’re most at risk, especially while many businesses have been allowed to try to coax back customers.
And while many local leaders have been unequivocal about the need to wear masks in public, some have not. For the average Californian, it’s confusing.
[“Our luck may have run out.” Read more about California’s exploding case count.]
On Monday, a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state was ordering bars to close in seven of the state’s 58 counties, state officials explained in more detail how and why some counties may need to reverse course on reopening.
Here’s what to know now about California’s “dimmer switch” approach to reopening:
What do you mean by “dimmer switch?”
At this point, you’ve probably been thoroughly disabused of the notion that the reopening of California’s economy would be as simple as flipping back on a light switch. The “dimmer switch” idea is meant to convey that the reopening process won’t move in one direction.
Even before Mr. Newsom announced the state’s phased reopening plan at the end of April, one of the criteria he cited for moving forward was the capacity to quickly reinstate stay-at-home orders or other measures.
But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, the implementation of those plans has resulted in counties essentially steering their own reopenings with state guidance and little enforcement. (Although that is shifting; Mr. Newsom has said some state pandemic aid will be tied to counties’ enforcement of health orders.)
One major challenge is tailoring responses to the huge variety of conditions driving infections across the state, including a horrific outbreak at San Quentin State Prison and family gatherings where people forget not to hug their cousins and grandparents.
What is the state tracking now?
The state has released a “watch list” of 19 counties — home to almost three-quarters of the state’s population — where the state is providing “technical assistance” because they’re showing signs of elevated disease transmission or their hospitalizations are increasing too quickly. (You can see how each county is faring according to the various metrics here.)
State public health officials may either order or encourage those counties to reinstate restrictions, as they did over the weekend when they ordered bars in seven counties to close.
One number that has become more important for gauging where the virus is spreading is the positivity rate.
Don’t positivity rates depend on how many tests are conducted?
Yes. In fact, more widely available testing is part of why the state’s rising positivity rate is such a cause for concern.
As of Monday, the state reported that on average, 84,000 tests were conducted per day in California over the past two weeks — well above the 60,000-per-day target public health officials laid out in April. On Sunday, the number of tests over the 24-hour period reached almost 106,000.
At the same time, the percentage of those tests that have come back positive has inched up to 5.5 percent on average over the past two weeks. It was as low as 4.1 percent on May 24.
In any case, officials have said they would like to see even more tests per day — particularly as residents of Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the virus’s spread in California, have been unable to get testing appointments.
So is California closing again?
Some of it is.
Most notably, in Los Angeles, officials said — sigh — that they would close beaches over the weekend and that fireworks displays would be banned, so that residents will have fewer places to gather.
Bars in L.A. County were among those that had to shutter. San Diego County officials announced that bars, wineries and breweries would have to close on Wednesday, too.
In Imperial County, state officials have urged local leaders to reinstate a strict stay-at-home order in response to overwhelmed hospitals there.
In other areas, like the Bay Area, plans to reopen have been paused.
So things may be confusing for a while longer; check your local public health department.
[Read more of our coverage of California’s reopening process.]
Here’s what else to read today
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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $202 billion state budget that was very different from the one he thought he’d be signing. It included billions of dollars in cuts forced by an expected $54 billion deficit driven by the pandemic. [The Sacramento Bee]
For decades, a killer terrorized California. On Monday, in a converted Sacramento ballroom, the Golden State Killer admitted his guilt. [The New York Times]
“As my company arrived in Compton, I’d like to say we understood the context of the role we were given: that even a limited Marine deployment in a genuinely extreme situation would run inevitably into the ugly history of state force in the United States.” A journalist and former Marine sent to the Los Angeles riots in 1992 reflects. [The New York Times Magazine]
College towns are facing potentially existential economic threats as students stay at home with their parents, sporting events are canceled and bars remain shuttered. [The New York Times]
Read more about how U.C. Merced has driven the growth of the city. [The New York Times]
Four San Jose police officers have been put on leave after an anonymous blog post accused retired and current officers of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments in a Facebook group. [The New York Times]
John Wayne’s name on Orange County’s airport is facing new scrutiny for the cowboy movie star’s racist comments. [The Associated Press]
Ban.do, an Instagram-friendly brand that outwardly catered to millennial women with messages of empowerment and self-care, was a miserable place to work, especially for women of color, former employees say. [BuzzFeed News]
Black trans women are seeking more space in a movement they helped start. [The New York Times]
If you missed it, read about Bayard Rustin, a civil-rights leader relegated to the background because he was gay. His surviving partner said it hurt Mr. Rustin to have made one part of his identity secondary. [The New York Times]
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.