Monday, July 27, 2020




          President Trump’s more than three-year administrative war on California has now morphed beyond his many attempts to exact revenge upon this state, which provided the margin by which he lost the popular vote in 2016, when the Electoral College made him America’s second minority president out of the last three.

          Not that Trump’s moves against California are trivial: He’s attempted to stop the Golden State’s long-running battle against smog, he’s tried end runs around clean water laws, he’s attempted to end sanctuary city laws passed by many cities, and much more.

          While most of what he’s done against California has been by unilateral decree in the form of executive orders that a new president could countermand, it has usually looked legal. When courts ordered him to stand down, he did.

          That was before he began feeling desperate in the face of polls showing him far behind as the November election approaches.

 Just last month, the U.S. Supreme Court said Trump cannot simply end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program begun under ex-President Barack Obama. The program allows undocumented immigrants brought here as small children to remain in America, where they grew up.

          But Trump wants them deported quickly to countries they have never known. Never mind that more than 10,000 such folks now work on health care front lines fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

          Upon learning of the court ruling, Trump promised to find another way. He soon did. Ignoring the court, he ordered federal officials to stop issuing DACA documents. So much for court orders, which all American presidents have respected, regardless how they felt about those orders.

          That was only a start. Seeing continued demonstrations against police brutality in cities around the nation, Trump next sent a variety of federal agents working for agencies like the Border Patrol and Customs Enforcement into Portland, Ore., to tear gas some of them and arrest some without specifying why, saying they are “violent anarchists.” His surrogates suggest many belong to the loose, almost mythical Antifa, billed as an anarchist organization – an oxymoron when anarchists by definition resist organization.

          Trump next sent hundreds of agents to Seattle, Chicago and Albuquerque, saying they would act against crime and gang shootings. Every state and local official in those places objected, until Chicago’s mayor relented before the inevitable. Trump also threatened to send forces to Oakland, Philadelphia and New York.

          Of course, the Constitution gives him no such authority short of declaring a national emergency, for which he has no grounds. The 10th Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, says the federal government can only deal in specifically authorized fields. Presidents have never had authority to get involved in local law enforcement without local requests. Trump completely disregarded this legality. Maybe that’s why he sent Homeland Security forces rather than the military, which is trained to disobey illegal orders.

          Next, he told the Census Bureau to act illegally in its every-ten-year head count, which determines how many congressional representatives each state will have and often controls federal domestic spending, where states frequently get money in proportion to their population.

          The Constitution charters the Census to count “the whole number of free (meaning non-enslaved) persons” in the land, never mentioning anyone’s legal standing. No other president ever challenged this basic law. But Trump, posing as a “law and order” candidate, has now apparently broken a law he swore to defend.

He did this by ordering the Census, run by the Commerce Department he controls, not to count undocumented immigrants.

          Because an earlier Supreme Court decision forbade placing a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire, no one knows how to identify illegals en masse. That’s unlikely to keep Trump appointees from making a guess, then trying to report it as a fact. This, after all, is the administration that invented the concept of “alternative facts.”

          The timing of the Census means a new president could rescind that order, but first Trump would have to leave office.

          All of which means this president has lately gone far beyond his long-running campaign against California, now warring on fundamental American precepts under the guise of law and order.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




The silver lining provided by some past pandemics has been that they opened minds, awakening entire nations and continents to what was wrong with the way things previously were.

So it was, for example, with the bubonic plague of the 1300s, also known as the “black death,” which produced labor shortages that started the demise of the feudal system, turning serfs into free people if they could reach the walled cities of the time.

But there is little evidence that California’s leading lawmakers have seen the many changes the coronavirus pandemic has wrought in California. No, even though COVID-19 has killed well over 8,400 Californians, current legislative leaders still pursue their old, pre-pandemic goals as if nothing were different.

          That’s especially true in housing, where seismic change is about to occur as businesses increasingly abandon office towers, creating vast new vacant spaces that will inevitably become housing units. This will create the dense housing sought for years by the likes of Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener and fellow Democratic Sen. Toni Atkins of San Diego, the state Senate’s powerful president pro tem.

          New and current reality, which sees office leasing around California at its lowest levels since the Great Recession, with more and more companies telling workers to operate from home, has not dented these folks’ thinking. They persist in fighting the last war, always a losing proposition for military leaders and often equally disastrous for politicians.

          The best example of their thinking is a nine-bill package mostly sponsored by Wiener and Atkins, joined by other knee-jerk liberals like Berkeley’s Sen. Nancy Skinner and Assembly members Buffy Wicks of Oakland, Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and David Chiu of San Francisco.

          As the Legislature sort-of returns from its second virus-induced recess of the year – a period when lawmakers ceded virtually all state authority to Gov. Gavin Newsom – the nine-bill housing package will start moving quickly through committees. It has backing from developers and labor unions, both major financial backers of many Democratic lawmakers.

          Among other things, this package would effectively end single-family zoning in California, a longtime Wiener goal. It does this by allowing four market-priced homes on all lots that now have just one, with neither affordable units nor new parking spaces required. This alone could lead to wide disruption of residential neighborhoods if many homeowners take the wads of cash developers would soon proffer.

          Another bill allows city councils to overturn laws passed by local voters which protect open-space on shorelines or other green areas. The package also allows cities to rezone any parcel they like to allow 10-unit apartment buildings, in spite of any prior restrictions. It decreases the amount of affordable housing developers must include in a project to get it expanded beyond current local limits, giving developers a 50 percent “density bonus” if they build more affordable units than now required.

          And it allows tall apartment and condominium buildings wherever neighborhood businesses now exist. So much for city- or county-imposed height limits.

          This package aims to encourage more and more Californians to move into high-rise buildings and abandon their cars for public transit. It comes just when, rather than flocking to mass transit and ride-sharing services, most urban Californians are opting to drive private cars. Fears of contagion on public transit of all kinds stoke this trend, which sees ridership on trains and buses greatly reduced from last year.

          None of this is needed. As more and more office space becomes vacant, there’s ever less call for new construction. What’s more, when conversion of office towers to residential use heats up, there will be more new housing than required to fill the state’s needs, estimated at about 3 million new units by 2025.

          That timetable, of course, can be met easily by conversions, but not by new construction, which will inevitably be held up by lawsuits and environmental issues.

          It adds up to a picture of blinkered, single-minded legislators pursuing old goals with little relevance in the post-pandemic world to come. That’s why the current housing package deserves to disappear, just like Wiener’s past failed efforts to rid California of single-family homes.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Monday, July 20, 2020



(Editors: Following is a guest column written by Simone Elias, 10-year-old granddaughter of columnist Thomas Elias. A rising fifth-grader, she is a veteran of California’s first attempt at mass distance learning, which will involve millions of kids this fall.)



When the virus started, I was in fourth grade in a Berkeley public school. I have one sister, who is three years younger, and we both got free laptops from the school district once everyone had to stay home.

They call it distance learning, but they might as well call it laptop laziness. It’s so easy to just go to another website or watch a video.

Since this started, it’s been more fun and better learning to do my own projects without any teacher. For example, I set up Zoom calls with friends or relatives on my own, and I wrote a bunch of short essays about amazing places in the world. Lately I’ve been working on a podcast with my sister and a friend called “Street Spies,” which anyone can listen to on the internet (

School was not so good, though. My teacher even told us she was not comfortable teaching on the screen. When I thought about it, that made sense because teachers are used to being there with the kids in person. There also always seemed to be problems getting the Zoom code or the sound to work. A lot of kids were constantly leaving and joining the meetings at different times, for various reasons like bad wifi. Things were even harder for my sister, who was in first grade—she says she couldn’t even see or hear the teacher some of the time.

I’ve also heard parents say kids from less privileged homes didn’t show up for the virtual classes as much.

Kids can leave the room or turn off their video—and the teacher can’t do anything about it. Students can mute themselves, and they can also mute the teacher by turning off the sound. Then they can do whatever they want—get a cookie or anything else their parents let them do (if a parent is even there). That’s not true in school where kids get sent to the principal’s office if they won’t do what the teacher says.

My teacher used a set-up for doing homework called Google Classroom. It had problems, too. The teacher puts “tasks” up and then students can just ignore them, and the teacher can’t do anything about it. This set-up also made me feel stressed because there were all these tasks with due dates lined up on the screen that I hadn’t done.

Whatever the project, you can’t really do anything social. Only one person can talk at a time on Zoom. You can’t have a separate discussion with a student, teacher or small group. Even to get to a “breakout” room—where you can do a video chat with less than all the people—you have to ask the “host” to do it for you.

          A lot of school is normally about hanging out with friends and being social, and you miss out on that, too. In person, school is longer, and it’s easier to share ideas and finish projects.

One specific area where online learning seemed harder than in-person learning involved paper workbooks. My teacher told students to scan their work and email the scanned pages to turn them in, but that was an extra step and not a lot of the students even had a scanner.

There are also some good parts of online learning, though. For one thing, there’s not as much distraction from the other kids, so you can focus on the subject and learn about it. For example, I wrote some essays about the California Gold Rush for online school last spring. Did you know that Margaret Frank made the equivalent of $400,000 in today’s money by making pies and selling them to miners?

Overall, school online is not as much fun as it would be if everyone were there in person. I guess it’s true that something is better than nothing. But distance learning definitely takes some getting used to. Everyone is still figuring it out.

(To respond, email Simone’s granddad, longtime California columnist Thomas Elias, at




          A major worry expressed by some Democrats and encouraged by President Trump’s repeated refusal to promise he will abide by the fall election results goes this way:

Trump loses the popular vote, as he did in 2016. This time, he’s about to lose the Electoral College vote, too. He convinces Republican-led legislatures in several states not to certify election results favoring Democrat Joe Biden.

          The Electoral College therefore produces no majority, throwing presidential selection into the House of Representatives. Democrats hold a majority there, but it doesn’t matter. That’s because in a House vote on the presidency, each state would get one vote, and Republicans now control 26 of the 50 delegations. Wyoming and Alaska, with one representative each, would have twice the clout of California, with 53.

          So Trump gets another four years as president. This scenario has been outlined in a Newsweek story co-authored by former Democratic Sen. Tim Wirth of Colorado. (

          It’s a fantasy of the unprecedented, similar to a 2016 Republican fear that Democrat Barack Obama would somehow engineer a way to remain president. But no one ever accused Obama of consistent cheating. By contrast, Trump’s niece, Ph.D. psychologist Mary Trump, lately authored a best-seller claiming he is a lifelong cheater. Which encourages speculation about his attempting the ultimate in cheating.

          If it happened, might a lot of Californians be tempted to secede from the Union, not wanting to be part of a country where this could happen? If Trump pulled off this sort of semi-coup de etat, it would also mean three of the last six presidential elections were won by men defeated at the polls. So much for democracy.

          Surveys in this state, where Trump lost by about 3 million votes last time, indicate he’s less popular now. The same polls show Californians by large margins disapprove almost everything he’s done as president. If the belief is widespread that he will illegitimately stay in office, a lot of Californians might want out.

          This would not be a new impulse in America. A fascinating new book Break It Up, by historian Richard Kreitner (Little Brown, $15.99 soft cover) details many moments in U.S. history when various states seriously considered secession. It became reality only once, sparking the Civil War.

                                                                                                                     Kreitner quotes Patrick Henry, revered for his “Give me liberty or give me death!” cry in the pre-Revolution Virginia legislature, saying “It would be a great injustice if a little colony should have the same weight in the councils of America as a great one.” Henry was governor of Virginia – then the largest American colony – when he said this before adoption of the Constitution, which actually gives small states disproportionate clout both in the Senate and in choosing presidents.

In California, the Yes, California group on July 3 filed a proposed initiative that would demand a popular vote on whether to leave the Union. The measure, if it qualifies, would reach the state ballot in November 2022.

Says Marcus Ruiz Evans of Fresno, leader of the separatist group, “People are saying “Hey, I used to think Calexit (the nickname for secession) is a fanciful idea and I still do, but I’m coming around; we need a government that works and I don’t believe America can anymore.”

Evans notes that after Trump’s 2016 election, polls indicated one-third of Californians would at least consider secession. Sure, many issues would need to be worked out if this state departed peacefully, like which federal properties in California would belong to the new entity and how much California should be compensated for its huge financial contributions to infrastructure in the rest of America, from highways to military bases.

The devil, of course, would be in those kinds of details. A larger question might be whether nearby states like Oregon and Washington, which disapprove Trump almost as strongly as California, would join and help form a new, large country. Perhaps British Columbia, always uncomfortably married to French Canada, might also join.

          That’s all fantasy for now, pending the November vote. But it doesn’t hurt for Trump, who refuses to repudiate the Wirth scenario, to remember that for every action there can be a reaction.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, July 13, 2020




The good news in California nursing homes this summer is that some are allowing their residents to see visitors at long last, but almost exclusively outdoors and in very controlled circumstances where the guests have little chance to see what’s happening inside the homes.

This small, far-from-universal change is largely the result of a slight improvement in a key state guideline governing nursing homes.

The change: The state Department of Public Health (DPH) no longer merely recommends that nursing homes allow residents to designate one person to visit during the COVID-19 pandemic if the visitors distance, don masks and other personal protective equipment. In late June, the DPH began mandating that nursing home denizens “shall” be allowed to pick a guest.

That’s a big improvement for the relatively few residents of the homes who now get occasional visits. Previously, all visitors had been banned from the homes, even state inspectors. This amounted to carte blanche for many nursing home managements to reduce staff (especially with state staffing requirements suspended early on) and keep disabled residents in bed for days at a time. Even on days when they’re allowed out of bed, staffers often stash them back there around mid-afternoon because workloads are so large they would not otherwise have time to serve dinner to all their patients.

Essentially, visitors have lost their previous role as the main watchdogs over nursing home practices.

The intent of the original visitor ban was to keep the coronavirus plague out of the homes. That policy has failed, what with about 49 percent – almost half – of all California COVID-19 deaths occurring among those residing in nursing homes, as of early July.

“(The ban) has been an extreme hardship for most nursing home patients,” said Lori Smetanka, executive director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care. “It has led to significant physical, social and psychological harm for many thousands of residents. Their needs are worsening without families to visit them.” She added that even when virtual visits via services like Zoom and Facetime are arranged, “they often prove disruptive to residents, especially those with cognitive impairments.”

That adds to a climate described this way by one 76-year-old physically handicapped nursing home resident who retains all his mental faculties: “The nursing home establishment makes people feel like ‘throw-aways,” he wrote in an email. “We feel much like abandoned pets or children with disabilities. This makes it difficult to maintain the attitude and motivation you need to feel like a human being in here.”

          Lawyer Tony Chicotel of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform organization describes the last four months for a typical resident of this state’s nursing homes as “very much like solitary confinement,” adding that most are even worse off than that, because they share rooms and get little privacy outside their own thoughts.

          “This is institutionalized isolation,” Chicotel said. “Some call it a form of solitary confinement. It’s become inhumane and cruel. This has been done to people without any consultation or due process. And the no visitor policy has been a colossal failure, too.” In fact, most of the COVID-19 that has so severely hit nursing homes came into them with staffers, who often must work two jobs because of their low pay. Even if one home where they work is “clean,” they can become infected at their second job or in crowded conditions where they live.

          Then there’s assisted living, where residents often pay large sums for rooms and apartments. They also have had no visitors, reports Chicotel. But unlike nursing home residents, they are allowed out for excursions, medical appointments or other needs. The rub, says Chicotel: On their return, most assisted living homes require residents who leave even for short times to quarantine for 14 days, never leaving their rooms during that time for any reason.

          As a result, few ever leave and many residents suffer isolation similar to nursing home patients.

          If a society can be judged by the way it cares for its grandparents and other elders, what does all this say about California and the rest of America, where the same situations apply almost everywhere?

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          It became plain during the July 4 holiday weekend that Los Angeles County has at least a partially scofflaw sheriff. So do several other California counties. They’re essentially enforcing only laws and rules they like.

          As coronavirus hospital admissions neared capacities just before the nation’s 244th birthday, doctors readied rationing schemes deciding who would get ventilators in case of a shortage. Then Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered beaches and their parking lots closed in most coastal counties to slow the contagion.

          When similar orders prevailed during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva stationed deputies at regular intervals along his county’s vast strands, their mere presence warding off would-be surfers and others who merely wanted to lounge on the sand. California bent the COVID curve.

          But not this time. A holiday drive along more than 20 miles of beaches revealed shut-down parking lots and plenty of “Closed” signs – but no deputies. As a result, wherever roadside parking was possible along the Pacific Coast Highway, beaches were crowded, surfers clambering down bluffs and cliffs headed for the unusually high waves that prevailed.

          No deputies could be seen trying to hinder them, let alone write citations. If the pandemic revival of late June and early July continues into August, this will likely be part of the reason, just as big, mostly unmasked and un-socially-distanced Memorial Day beach and protest crowds helped cause the state’s second onslaught of COVID-19.

          Newsom, who almost daily issues edicts governing business and personal behavior, did little. Yes, before the holiday, he threatened to take some state funding from counties that wouldn't follow orders on mask use and beach closings. The threats were paper tigers.

          This was also true of his response when Merced County Sheriff Vernon Warnke refused to enforce state orders in May and June, claiming they meant “economic slaughter.” Now cases are surging in Merced County and Warnke is recanting.

          Through all this, the scofflaw sheriffs continue commanding their corps of deputies as if they were tough law enforcement officers. They have not been penalized, making a mockery of state authority.

          It’s not unique to California. Hours after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered his state’s residents to mask up in public, the sheriff of rural Lewis County told a crowd to go barefaced. Carrying a megaphone and wearing his uniform to prove he spoke officially, Sheriff Robert Snaza exhorted constituents, “Don’t be a sheep.”

          This amounted to an endorsement of risking death for themselves and others.

          It’s essentially a rebellion by local sheriffs against governors trying to save lives by using their emergency powers, one of the highest duties of any public official.

          But at least five California sheriffs and a couple of mayors have told constituents Newsom’s orders are “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

          Given what’s happened around those counties, with caseloads and death tolls rising daily, it’s high time Newsom did more than just talk.

          It is politic to urge citizens to be responsible, as the governor continually does. But the Memorial Day beach scenes, the unmasked protest marches and the actions of countless restaurant and bar customers demonstrate he must do something more dramatic.

          Newsom has dispatched several hundred state inspectors to enforce rules on businesses, but they sometimes work unpredictably and even at odds with his orders. One example: restaurants in Morgan Hill that followed the pre-Fourth of July order to close indoor operations were told to shut down outside tables – not part of the state order. Overall, inspectors issued at least seven citations on their first day out and hundreds since.

          Newsom says he hopes persuasion will be enough to get Californians to follow his orders. It has not worked well enough, leniency most likely costing at least some lives.

          Which makes it high time Newsom put teeth in his orders. Yes, some localities fine face mask recalcitrants hundreds of dollars when they persist after being warned, but no one has punished scofflaw sheriffs and mayors.

          If they won’t uphold rules they’re sworn to enforce, those officials should either be removed from office or see their agencies lose major state funding. The carrot plainly hasn’t worked well enough; it’s time for the stick.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, July 6, 2020




          New evidence arrives almost every day backing the concept of a market-based solution to California’s housing shortage, one that does not have to involve politicians at all.

          Of course, that offends politicos like San Francisco’s Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, who persists in the notion that high-density, high-rise apartments and condominiums are the answer.

          In a sense, he’s right. For the market-based solution that’s fast taking shape does involve high rises and high density – just not in new buildings. Rather, housing will almost certainly occupy space now leased by insurance companies, law firms, venture capitalists, bank headquarters – almost every kind of white collar business.

          Lease holders who once clamored for more space in office towers rising above areas like Century City in Los Angeles, downtown San Diego and San Francisco’s financial district are now looking for ways to escape the commitments they still have. “For lease” signs proliferate in urban areas.

          Some tenants refuse to pay rent, having sent their work forces home to work safely and virtually at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. They’re not being evicted yet, because of state emergency rules allowing tenants huge leeway on delaying payments during the health crisis. But if they don’t either pay up when the rent delays expire or work out deferred payment deals with their landlords, they will pretty soon find themselves ousted.

          They will leave gigantic amounts of current office space empty. It’s not that white collar businesses won’t need office space; merely that they will need much less. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have told their workers to keep operating from home as long as they like. Others are asking workers to come in one or two days per week.

          As California reopened haltingly after the initial crisis phase of the pandemic, when unusual caution was taken to prevent hospital overloads that could have cost many lives, it became clear vast numbers of workers will opt to stay home most of the time.

          In many cases, that’s not mere preference, but necessity. State guidelines for reopening public schools, for example, create a need for continued virtual commuting. By staggering start and stop times, reducing class sizes and using a mix of in-person and online instruction, the schools are telling millions of working parents they’ll have to flex their work hours.

          Some like it that way. This reality is visible in recent home pricing figures from San Francisco and some of its suburbs. Demand for housing is up in Marin, Napa, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, but down in San Francisco itself. One result is that a house which sold for $1.89 million 15 months ago in the city’s Sunset District is now listed on the Zillow real estate site at $1.78 million – down $101,000.

          At the same time, realtors in suburban counties are seeing steady demand. They report many would-be buyers are the same people who long worked in office towers, but lately operate from home. As their bosses tell them they can keep doing this, some are seeking more spacious quarters and a less urban environment.

          In short, many want the very urban sprawl that’s anathema to Wiener, who has sponsored bill after bill aimed at bringing density to the same areas so attractive right now to folks leaving dense neighborhoods.

          The same thing is happening in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, where prices in outlying areas are rising, while real estate near the urban cores remains stable.

          The next phase figures to see entire floors of high-rise buildings go vacant, and then remain empty for significant periods. Once building owners realize that new lessees won’t be forthcoming in droves, they’ll opt for other ways to monetize their buildings: converting much of the empty floor space to condos and apartments.

          These will likely come in all sizes and price levels, from large ocean-and mountain-view units to small apartments on the lower floors. Some buildings will have mixed use, with stores on the ground floor and other levels shared by offices and dwelling units. Zoning changes are inevitable.

          That’s how market forces will solve the housing shortage, creating vast numbers of units within the next five years, many of them very affordable.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          Black Lives Matter. That’s not only true, but since late May it’s been an act of political incorrectness to suggest that other lives matter, too. Saying “All Lives Matter” today invites accusations of racism. And yet…

          This summer has seen protest marches stressing that both transgender and LGBTQ lives matter. But no one has marched for the well-being of farm workers, who are almost uniquely exposed to the coronavirus plague.

          In Monterey County, the contrast between wealth along the coast north of Big Sur and the poverty of farm workers laboring in fields two dozen or so miles inland has long been stark. Now the contrast is clear in another vital way: Coastal areas with more than one-third of the county’s population accounted for less than 15 percent of its COVID-19 cases as of June 27. The agricultural Salinas and south county areas with a host of farm workers chalked up more than 80 percent of cases in the county. So far, Soledad State Prison has contributed very little to county case and death totals.

          Drive through the Salinas Valley on Highway 101 or any of dozens of byways and reasons for the caseload disparity become obvious.

          Many farm workers ride old, re-painted school buses to the valley’s lettuce, strawberry, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli fields. They are often crammed in like schoolchildren in pre-pandemic days.

          They work parallel rows of plants side by side, any social distancing purely accidental. Workers return home on the same buses, living in conditions far more crowded than all but a few homes along the coast. It’s an open invitation to the coronavirus.

          The upshot couldn’t be more clear: Farm worker lives don’t matter.

          Almost everyone in America who has participated in this year’s protests and unrest, no matter their ethnicity, eats food produced by these workers and folks like them. Their absence would instantly disrupt America’s food supply.

          And conditions in the Salinas Valley are not unique. The agriculture-centered Central Valley has lately seen a rise in coronavirus cases, prompting several members of Congress to urge that Gov. Gavin Newsom prioritize COVID-19 testing for farm workers and food packers.

          The federal Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines calling for farm workers to use face masks and other personal protective equipment, but it’s difficult to spot any worker doing that. While farm workers are deemed essential laborers, the guidelines are not mandatory, leaving compliance to the discretion of farm owners and foremen.

          So it’s no surprise that COVID-19 outbreaks among farm workers around California grow steadily more severe and frequent.

          Edgar Franks, political director of a farm worker union in Washington state, told a reporter most farms are not as scrupulous about educating and equipping workers as companies in urban settings, where inspections are more frequent. “I haven’t seen much enforcement of guidelines in the fields,” he said. “No social distancing, no giving out masks, too little spacing between rows, everyone huddling close together during crew meetings.”

          Combined with crowded living conditions, that’s a recipe for disease.

          Meanwhile, pay is low and many workers fear being fired if absent. So labor advocates report few farm workers get tested, while many report for duty when feeling ill.

          Newsom has responded, but only a bit. One of his many executive orders requires anyone employing fewer than 500 food sector workers to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave to workers affected by COVID-19. But testing is less common in agricultural areas than in large cities, so it’s difficult for workers at big farms to qualify for those two weeks of sick pay. And what about workers on larger farms not affected by Newsom’s order?

          Farm worker advocates also report that Cal-OSHA, the state’s occupational safety and health agency, has been reluctant to investigate directly in fields where the advocates say safety guidelines are ignored.

          The full extent of this problem remains unknown, partly because of the paucity of formal investigations and partly because most COVID-19 testing programs do not identify occupations of persons testing positive.

          Change is plainly needed, if only to prevent contagion in the food chain. It’s also high time someone asserted forcefully that farm worker lives do matter.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to