Beachgoers enjoy the sunshine in San Francisco on April 7. Last week, the CDC recommended that everyone wear protective masks while in public to help limit the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)


When California reported its first coronavirus death on March 4, it shattered the collective myth that the virus was doing harm somewhere, elsewhere in the world. Within 15 days, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a first-in-the-nation mandate for all 40 million residents to shelter in place to slow the virus’s spread. Since then, daily life has been suspended as families mourn lost loved ones and health care workers risk themselves to fight a microscopic enemy.

Like most of America, health officials worried about the adequacy of medical supplies as limited testing had masked the extent of the outbreak. Nonetheless, the state responded on multiple fronts: securing ventilators and masks, finding extra recovery beds and summoning retired doctors and student nurses. For everybody else, Newsom’s order to stay home meant that days blended into weeks, anxious to learn whether California had flattened the curve.

The alternative was exponentially worse: Early on, Newsom warned that doing nothing meant as many as 25.5 million Californians would contract the virus.

When the worst does pass and life somehow resumes, the virus will leave deep, lasting scars. The death toll will mount. The health system stretched. The economy crippled. And unemployment rolls overfull. All the while, city councils, county boards and the state Legislature will have watched helplessly as tax collections evaporate from government coffers. The task of rebuilding will be daunting. But the first step begins, simply, by learning from the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.