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Sacramento City Council to vote on continuing virtual meetings despite loosened California guidelines
Nearly half of free COVID-19 tests from the government are yet to be claimed
Globally new COVID-19 cases fall for the third week
In some counties, healthy US adults can relax mask usage, CDC says
Nevada Union High School closed Thursday due to teacher mask mandate protest
COVID-19 By The Numbers
Monday, February 28
1:55 p.m.: Sacramento City Council to vote on continuing virtual meetings despite loosened California guidelines
Sacramento City Council is scheduled to vote March 1 to continue holding virtual meetings at least for another month, despite California easing many of its pandemic restrictions.
The city of Sacramento has long argued it should continue with virtual council meetings under Governor Gavin Newsom’s state of emergency order to keep people who are most vulnerable safe while physical distancing is still recommended.
The City Council’s scheduled decision could come a day after Newsom announced masks will no longer be required in most indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status, beginning March 1. The governor also announced that school mask mandates will be lifted as of March 12.
Last week, Newsom also ended all but about 5% of his COVID-19-related executive orders.
By comparison, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors have held hybrid meetings through much of the pandemic, with supervisors convening in-person at county headquarters and the public calling-in to comment.
9:41 a.m.: Nearly half of free COVID-19 tests from the government are yet to be claimed
Nearly half of the 500 million free COVID-19 tests that the Biden administration recently made available to Americans still haven’t been claimed as virus cases plummet and people feel less urgency to test.
The Associated Press said that information came from administration officials who said the program still represents a step toward a deeper and more responsive testing program that will accommodate demand surges and remain on standby when cases wane.
On the first day of the White House test giveaway in January, the government website, covidtests.gov, received 45 million orders.
Now officials say fewer than 100,00 orders a day are coming in for the packages of four free rapid tests per household.
9:30 a.m.: Globally new COVID-19 cases fall for the third week
The number of new coronavirus cases worldwide fell 21% in the last week, marking the third consecutive week COVID-19 cases have dropped, according to the Associated Press’ reporting on the World Health Organization.
In the U.N. health agency’s weekly pandemic report, the WHO said Tuesday there were more than 12 million new coronavirus infections in the last week.
The number of new deaths fell 8% to about 67,000 worldwide, the first time that deaths have fallen since early January, however, the Western Pacific was the only region that saw an increase in COVID-19 cases with a 29% jump.
The highest number of new COVID-19 cases were seen in Russia, Germany, Brazil, the U.S. and South Korea.
WHO said omicron remains the overwhelmingly dominant variant worldwide.
8:54 a.m.: In some counties, healthy US adults can relax mask usage, CDC says
U.S. officials say most Americans live in places where healthy people can safely take a break from wearing masks, according to the Associated Press.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined a new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip by focusing less on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.
More than 70% of the country’s population lives in counties where the virus poses a low or medium threat to hospitals according to the new guidelines.
If you’re in Sacramento County, the hospitalization level is currently at “medium,” according to the CDC’s data. Check out what level your county is at here.
Those who live in low to medium threat counties and are healthy can relax mask-wearing indoors, for now.
However, the agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, continue to wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. The new recommendations also don’t change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation.
Friday, February 25
11:23 a.m.: Nevada Union High School closed Thursday due to teacher mask mandate protest
Some teachers at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley stayed home on Thursday to protest a decision by their school board to make masks optional, resulting in the school closing for the day, EdSource reports.
The Nevada Joint Union High School District school board voted Tuesday to make masks optional for students, despite the fact that masks are still required in schools by the state until at least Feb. 28 and an agreement with the teachers union that masks would continue to be required.
District Superintendent Brett McFadden told CBS13 that he felt he had to change the policy after the vote because students and parents were protesting the mask requirement.
Nevada Joint Union High School Teachers Association President Eric Mayer said the teachers chose to call in sick because the school board is asking them to ignore the state mask mandate, potentially putting their credentials at stake as state certificated school staff can be disciplined if they violate state law.
11:20 a.m.: COVID-19 cases declining from omicron peak in Butte County
COVID-19 case numbers have been declining across the North State, but in some ares still remain higher than before the mncron variant emerged.
In Butte County, public health officials say they’re now seeing about 60 to 70 new cases per day. Butte County Public Health Director Danette York told the Board of Supervisors this week that those numbers are down from the peak of the omicron surge, which at one point resulted in hundreds of new cases per day.
“It’s actually odd for me to say that that’s declining,” York said. “Because that’s really a high case rate.”
Health departments in Shasta, Tehama and Plumas counties report similar declines.
Thursday, February 24
11:34 a.m.: Do you need a fourth coronavirus vaccine dose? It depends on your age, health and more.
At this point in the pandemic, it’s clear that COVID-19 vaccines plus boosters alone aren’t going to completely stop the coronavirus, or provide long-term enough protection from infections.
Right after the third shot — the booster — antibodies rise up quickly, but then about a month later, they begin to decline. Protection against infection then drops down to about 50% three months later.
So the question is, should people get a fourth dose to beef up protection again?
As reported by NPR, a preliminary study from Israel suggests that for the general population, the answer is likely no.
A fourth shot of the same vaccine — in this case, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna — offered very little extra protection against infection compared with only three shots.
But that’s not to say that an additional dose is pointless for everyone. Those who are older or higher at risk, an extra dose may be needed to help them maintain protection against severe disease.
11:21 a.m.: Los Angeles County to drop indoor masking mandate
Los Angeles County will begin allowing people to remove their masks while indoors if they are vaccinated, as reported by the Associated Press.
California’s most populous county said it will relax its public health order on Friday to allow unmasking at restaurants, bars and other businesses for people who show proof of vaccination.
Unvaccinated customers must continue to wear masks indoors. The move comes as the county’s COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations drop.
LA County lagged behind the state as a whole, which lifted its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people last week.
Most of California’s 58 counties quickly followed suit. However, Santa Clara County still requires universal indoor masking.
10:56 a.m.: Here's what we know about 'stealth omicron'
The latest COVID-19 mutation, widely known as "stealth omicron," is causing more than a third of new omicron cases worldwide, but scientists still don't know how it could affect the future of the pandemic.
According to the Associated Press, new research is slowly revealing clues about the strain, a descendant of omicron officially labeled as BA.2.
Early research suggests it spreads faster than the original omicron and, in rare cases, can sicken people, even if they've already had an omicron infection.
There's mixed research on whether it causes more severe disease, but vaccines appear just as effective against it.
Wednesday, February 23
9:53 a.m.: New CA bill would require COVID-19 testing plans for students, staff
A new bill would require California school districts to create COVID-19 testing plans for students and staff in case of future outbreaks.
Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan authored the legislation. He said the state would provide tests or money to pay for them. But the bill doesn’t actually require districts to follow through on the testing.
Pan said enforcement would come from within the community, from “the students, the parents, the staff and the people who live in the school district, because they don’t want to see children getting infected and they’d like to know what’s going on in their schools."
Test distribution has already proven to be a challenge. In December, the state promised millions of tests for schools as the omicron variant began spreading.
However, many students didn’t receive their test kits until after returning from winter break.
9:46 a.m.: The omicron variant alone isn’t leading us to herd immunity
Experts say it’s not likely that the highly transmissible omicron variant — or any other variant — will lead us closer to herd immunity against COVID-19.
Herd immunity is when enough of a population becomes immune to a particular infection that it’s hard for the germ to spread even to those who aren’t protected by vaccination or a prior infection, according to the Associated Press.
Early hopes of immunity against the coronavirus faded for several reasons, including new variants, waning immunity and vaccine hesitancy. Many scientists believe COVID-19 will eventually become like the flu, causing seasonal outbreaks but not huge surges.
9:22 a.m.: COVID-19 vaccines unlikely to trigger rare inflammatory condition in children, research shows
A new analysis said that COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to trigger a rare inflammatory condition linked to coronavirus infection in kids, which, according to the Associated Press, is called “multisystem inflammatory syndrome.”
It involves fever, plus symptoms affecting at least two organs, often including stomach pain, skin rash or bloodshot eyes.
Isolated cases in people with no detectable evidence of coronavirus infection prompted a closer look by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and elsewhere.
They say vaccine surveillance data shows chances are under 1 in 1 million for the condition to occur after vaccination but not infection.
Tuesday, February 22
6:41 p.m.: Sacramento city schools will extend vaccine deadline, drop outdoor mask requirement for students
The Sacramento City Unified School District will again have to extend the deadline for its student vaccine mandate, which is less than a week away.
The district sent out an email over the holiday weekend announcing it didn't have the resources to meet the Feb. 28, so classes will continue to be in-person only. If the original deadline had been enforced, just over 3,000 students who haven't reported their vaccine status would have moved to an at-home virtual learning program. The original deadline to turn in their status was Jan. 31.
District teachers and staff are still required to show proof of vaccination, request an exemption, or agree to weekly testing by Feb. 28 or be placed on unpaid leave.
The district also announced it intends to lift its outdoor mask requirement and resume field trips effective Wednesday as the COVID case rate has fallen to 22 per 100,000 people in Sacramento County. Extracurricular activities — both during and after school hours — will now be allowed, as will school tours, group orientations, and non-essential tournaments and competitions.
Face masks may now be removed during PE, recess and lunch, assuming proper distancing can be maintained. The district says masks should still be worn when lining up to go into or out of a building or classroom and in between periods when passing in the hallway.
9:32 a.m.: With the Beijing Winter Olympics over, athletes faced one more challenge — getting through the airport safely
Leaving the Winter Olympics brings one full circle with a final early morning visit to an eerily empty Beijing airport, according to the Associated Press.
Like a scene from a pandemic-themed movie, masked travelers are greeted by an army of workers in full hazmat suits —white with blue stripes — with face shields or masks and goggles, a final nondescript interaction after weeks inside the closed-loop that kept Games participants separate from the general population.
Whether checking in visitors for their flights or carrying an athlete’s skis, these hermetically sealed workers facelessly run the airport. AP photographers on their way home from the Olympics captured them on the job.
A worker addressing his crew lined up like sentries added drawings of the popular Olympics mascot Bing Dwen Dwen to the back of a suit. Another crew gets a push on a cart, bobsled team-like.
No matter the task, it’s being done in full protective gear, a last shield from the coronavirus in a zero-COVID policy country.
9:19 a.m.: Queen Elizabeth II tests positive for COVID-19
Buckingham Palace says Queen Elizabeth II has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms, as reported by the Associated Press.
The palace said Sunday the 95-year-old British monarch, who has received three vaccine shots, will continue with light duties and follow all medical guidelines.
An infectious disease expert said the queen would likely be given one of several antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19. Both her eldest son Prince Charles and her daughter-in-law Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, also recently contracted COVID-19.
As Britain's longest-reigning monarch, the queen reached the milestone of 70 years on the throne on Feb. 6.
Sunday, February 20
11:28 a.m.: 73% of Americans are now immune to the omicron variant
This winter’s omicron wave in the U.S. also bolstered our defenses, possibly leaving enough protection against the coronavirus that future spikes may not cause as much disruption to society, according to the Associated Press.
Millions of individual Americans’ immune systems now recognize the virus and are printed to fight it off if they encounter omicron or even another variant.
One influential model looks at vaccinations, recent infections, and other factors to estimate that 73% of Americans are, for now, immune to omicron, and that could rise to 80% by mid-March.
Still, while the population is better protected, tens of millions of individuals are not because they are unvaccinated or have never been infected.
11:14 a.m.: Unvaccinated medical workers in some states are claiming religious exemptions
As the remaining vaccine mandates for medical workers are set to be implemented this week in 25 most conservative states, it’s once again becoming clear how widespread the use of religious exemptions is in the U.S. as a workaround to complying with such requirements.
At one rural hospital near Yellowstone National Park, about 200 of the 620 staffers have requested religious exemptions, most of which have been granted, as reported by the Associated Press.
States such as Montana and West Virginia have either encouraged residents to get exemptions or set up systems to support them.
People across the country that are seeking religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccines have generally been doing it in defiance of high-ranking clergy members, including the baptist pastor of a Texas megachurch, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and the Pope.
Saturday, February 19
12:20 p.m.: Gov. Gavin Newsom says California is entering the endemic phase of COVID-19 pandemic
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced the first shift by a state to an '"endemic" approach to the coronavirus pandemic, as reported by the Associated Press.
The plan unveiled on Thursday emphasizes prevention and quick reactions to outbreaks over mandates.
It comes nearly two years after Newsom imposed the nation's first statewide stay-at-home order as the coronavirus began its initial surge in the U.S.
Newsom has said there's no finish line to the pandemic.
"There are those that prefer to walk away, to deny the realities of the last few years, let the virus continue to take its course," Newsom said during a press conference. "That's not the approach we're arguing for. We are taking a more sensible and I would argue sustainable health care approach based on the lessons learned to prepare for the unknown."
The state also ended its indoor mask mandate for fully-vaccinated residents earlier this week, but some restrictions remain in place for large gatherings, workplaces and medical settings. Ghaly said those restrictions would be revisited at a later date.
12:15 p.m.: US Surgeon General’s family contracts COVID-19
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said he and his young family have COVID-19 despite their best efforts to avoid infection by getting vaccinated and taking other precautions.
According to the Associated Press, Murthy wrote on Twitter, “when you’ve been as safe as you can, getting COVID-19 can be frustrating and disappointing … our safety measures reduce risk, but they can’t eliminate risk. Nothing can.”
As new cases and hospitalizations slowly drop, the Murthy family’s bout with COVID calls attention to the lingering risks of a virus that many people have started assuming is finally on the way out.
Friday, February 18
9:45 a.m.: Grand jury requests audit into Sacramento County's use of COVID-19 relief funds for sheriff's department salaries
The Sacramento County Grand Jury is requesting an audit into how the Board of Supervisors allocated COVID-19 relief aid. A report determined the sheriff's department received $104 million of the county's $181 million in CARES Act funds.
The grand jury said the CARES Act funds can go to support public safety, but that the county's allocation was inconsistent with the intent that the money be used toward community challenges caused by the pandemic.
Instead, the grand jury said the money was used to fund salaries and benefits of the sheriff's department. It said the county provided minimal support to its health department and other agencies to address community needs during the pandemic.
The grand jury also found what it called a notable disconnect between the sheriff department's receipt of a majority of the CARES Act funds for public safety purposes, and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones' refusal to enforce the state's stay-at-home and masking orders.
Both the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Jones are required to submit formal responses to the grand jury's findings.
8:23 a.m.: Mendocino County still recovering from omicron wave
Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his "SMARTER" plan yesterday to lay out California's future in terms of living with COVID-19.
The plan involves ensuring people are vaccinated, the state is equipped to handle future surges with tests, masks, ventilators and treatments and that public health officials remain aware of where the virus is spreading.
Anne Molgaard, Mendocino County's director of public health, said she agrees with a lot of what's in the plan but that there are just some things Sacramento can't solve.
"Let's say we max out on our ICU beds and we have to send somebody to Sonoma County. If there's two ambulances functioning and they're going someplace else, that makes it very, very difficult," she said. "So we have a number of structural problems that we're trying to address."
She said that Mendocino County is just beginning to see their virus case numbers falling.
7:10 a.m.: How do you know when to leave quarantine after infection?
While case rates are dropping around the country, around 15,000 people are still reporting a positive COVID-19 test every day in California. For those people who recover and are able to return to daily life, how can they know when it's safe to go back out and not infect others?
According to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can exit isolation five days after a positive test or the start of symptoms, so long as your symptoms are improving and you keep wearing a mask around others for an additional five days.
But as NPR reports, there are caveats, including some recent studies that show many people are still contagious on day five or longer. They suggest focusing on things like what symptoms you've had, how long it has been since tested positive, and on what kind of test.
Learn more here.
Thursday, February 17
10:01 a.m.: Sacramento County reducing COVID-19 response as case rates fall
Sacramento County will be cutting the number of community COVID-19 testing sites next month as the cases driven by the omicron variant continue to drop.
Starting March 1, the county will move from 13 testing sites to seven, public health officials said Wednesday. A full list of sites is available on the county's website.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said the county is starting to ramp down its COVID-19 response as case rates in the county drop from 240 per 100,000 residents in January to 38 this week.
"So that is quite a decline," she said. "And the indications that we're seeing from the state is that projections is that those numbers will continue to go down. We're also seeing a decline in hospitalizations. And so we are adjusting our response based on the activities that we're seeing."
The county will also begin to scale back some of its contact tracing and data reporting policies. Starting Feb. 28, the county will update its COVID-19 dashboard weekly and have fewer staff members make live contract tracing calls and rely more on its automated system.
The announcement came on the same day the county lifted its indoor mask mandate for vaccinated residents. Unvaccinated people must still wear masks indoors, as well as vaccinated people in high-risk areas such as public transit or care facilities.
Kasirye said she would still personally wear a mask in public, even though she isn't requiring it.
"I have full confidence in the vaccine and I am vaccinated and boosted, but I will still wear a mask, especially when going into certain public places, because each layer of protection that we use increases our confidence in being able to avoid getting COVID," she said. "So I will be continuing to use a mask."
9:42 a.m.: Californians faced inequities in obtaining unemployment benefits during year one of the pandemic
A new study from the nonpartisan California Policy Lab found large differences in how many unemployed workers in each state were able to access unemployment benefits in the first year of the pandemic.
California was among the states that did best, but report co-author Alex Bell said there were inconsistencies when you break the state down to its 59 counties.
“We found within California counties that had more low-income residents, counties with more residents of color — those were also counties that had lower access to benefits by a number of measures,” Bell said.
California had the fourth highest recipiency rate in the nation. Minnesota had the highest rate, followed by Massachusetts and New York.
9:30 a.m.: California to announce plans for the future COVID-19 endemic
California officials will unveil a plan for coexisting with the coronavirus, which scientists say is likely to be around for the foreseeable future.
According to the Associated Press, the approach being announced today presumes that the most populous state is entering an endemic stage, where the virus still exists in a community but becomes manageable as immunity builds.
California’s health secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the focus is on being prepared and being ready.
Tune in and listen live with CapRadio today at 3 p.m. for analysis and reaction to the plan. This special is produced by CapRadio in partnership with the California Newsroom, a collaboration of California’s public radio stations, NPR and CalMatters.
Wednesday, February 16
9:50 a.m.: With California dropping masking mandates, some local school districts make adjustments
Since the state dropped its mask mandate on Tuesday, several local school systems have also found themselves trying to adapt their masking rules. Here’s a breakdown of three districts:
Roseville Unified School District
When students at RUSD returned to their classrooms yesterday, they didn’t have to bring or wear their masks unless they chose to.
The school board voted unanimously last week to make masks optional for students. It’s the first district in the region to do so, and the decision came after several hours of public comment.
Unmasked students will not be required to be tested for the virus, but teachers and staff are still required to mask up.
In a press conference this past Monday, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said that while the state is relaxing masking mandates, masks are still required to be worn indoors at schools for at least another two more weeks.
Woodland Joint Unified School District
WJUSD’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to remove the district’s outdoor masking mandate for K-12 schools during a recent special board meeting.
Effective immediately, masks are no longer required outdoors in the district’s schools, but students and staff may continue to wear them outdoors if they choose.
Also, at this time, the board decided to continue requiring indoor masking at all school sites and all indoor school-related activities. Interim Superintendent Elodia Ortega-Lampkin said the district will continue to monitor state and local COVID-19 guidance updates.
El Dorado Unified School District
In a press release, the school district said they are implementing a significant change in their masking rules by educating students about mask-wearing and asking them to continue keeping them on, but will no longer exclude them from class if the students go maskless.
According to their release, the district has checked in with their liability carriers and were warned that if they “take explicit action to defy state guidance,” they will be held liable and accountable for any decisions.
9:39 a.m.: California lawmakers introduce two bills to combat COVID-19 disinformation
California lawmakers are looking to crack down on disinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines with two new bills.
If passed, the bills would target mis- and disinformation online and at the doctor’s office. The first bill would require that social media companies make their algorithms public since research has shown false information can spread faster than truth online.
Democratic State Senator Richard Pan said secrecy around the inner workings of social media has been devastating during the pandemic.
“It should not be left to a handful of essentially very rich tech executives to decide what happens to our society and how we respond to a pandemic,” Pan said.
The bill is sure to get serious pushback from monied tech companies and their wealthy investors who said the algorithms are protected by intellectual property.
With the second bill, lawmakers introduced a measure that would allow the California Medical Board to investigate and discipline doctors who spread false information about COVID-19.
9:20 a.m.: While California dropped mask mandates, not every county has low infection rates
California’s indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people expired on Tuesday. While overall COVID-19 case rates are declining, that’s not exactly true everywhere.
Merced County continues to grapple with a high death rate and just over half of residents who are eligible are fully vaccinated.
County public health director Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo said they’ve faced intersecting challenges, including lower-income residents, as well as residents not getting vaccines early in the distribution process.
“When you’re at the heels of really begging, and that is not sufficient, what are people supposed to do? It’s not just a Merced County-specific thing,” Nanyonjo said. “That’s globally, that’s happening nationally. When people feel like they’re behind, and they’re kept behind, don’t put them first when you have extras.”
According to the state’s tracking numbers, Merced County’s COVID-19 test positivity rate of just over 17% is nearly three times the state average.
Tuesday, February 15
9:46 a.m.: UNR faculty and students are asking school officials to reinstate the campus mask mandate
Hundreds of students and faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno are urging state education officials to reinstate the mask mandate on campus, as reported by the Associated Press.
The move comes a day after Gov. Steve Sisolak rescinded the statewide requirement that masks be worn in public places to combat the spread of COVID-19.
More than 900 people have signed an online petition that graduate students began circulating Friday as a part of the plea for Nevada’s System of Higher Education to restore the mandate on campus.
KRNV-TV first reported Friday about the petition. The president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance said repealing the mandate was a step backward.
9:38 a.m.: California schoolchildren, teachers, will have to continue wearing masks indoors
Gov. Gavin Newsom delayed a closely watched decision on lifting California’s school mask mandate Monday, even as other Democratic governors around the country have dropped them in recent weeks.
According to the Associated Press, while many Californians will be able to remove masks in most indoor settings starting Tuesday, schoolchildren and teachers will be exempt.
Newsom had flagged Monday as the day to watch for a revision regarding schools, then sent the state’s top health official to deliver the message of a delay.
Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters, “Today a change isn’t being made.” He also said the state would reassess on Feb. 28 what to do with its mask policy for schools.
“That change is gonna be one that I think will be met with a lot of excitement in some, and a lot of fear in other circles,” Ghaly said during a Feb. 14 press conference.
Ghaly hinted at moving toward a more localized strategy of masking requirements, allowing counties and school districts to determine their own guidelines.
9:26 a.m.: Some faith leaders wary of religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccines
By the thousands, Americans have been seeking religious exemptions to circumvent COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But generally, they’re doing so without the encouragement of major denominations and prominent religious leaders, according to the Associated Press,
For example, Pope Francis has defended the vaccines as the most reasonable solution to the pandemic, despite some Catholic bishops and priests in the U.S. providing their congregants with letters and templates for those claiming a conscientious exemption to vaccines.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America categorically declared that its followers would not be offered religious exemptions.
Robert Jeffress, the conservative pastor of a Baptist megachurch in Dallas, voiced similar sentiments.
“Since there is no credible biblical argument against vaccines, we have refused to offer exemptions to the handful of people who have requested them,” he told the AP via email. “People may have strong medical or political objections to government-mandated vaccines, but just because those objections are strongly felt does not elevate them to a religious belief that should be accommodated.”
Rabbi Sholom Lipskar of The Shul of Bal Harbour, an Orthodox synagogue in Surfside, Florida, told congregation members that vaccinations should be a matter of free choice, but that he “recommend[s] that they get a medical opinion from a competent professional.”
Others across many major religions are working with their congregants to encourage vaccination among the vaccine-hesitant. More on that here.
Monday, February 14
9:33 a.m.: In reversal from earlier decision, FDA pumps the brakes on COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5
U.S. regulators have put the brakes on their push to speed up distribution of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children under 5.
As reported by the Associated Press, this recent move means another months-long delay for the shots. The Food and Drug Administration had urged Pfizer to apply before its study was even finished on whether the youngsters needed two shots or three.
The agency cited the toll the omicron variant has taken on children, but then the FDA reversed course and said it needed to see how well three shots worked.
That information “made us realize that we needed to see the data from a third dose from the ongoing trial in order to make a determination,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “We take our responsibility for reviewing these vaccines very seriously because we’re parents as well.”
Pfizer said in a statement that it expected that data by early April.
9:29 a.m.: Interview: US Surgeon General on the pandemic
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy sat with the Associated Press for a wide-ranging interview, touching on topics from the pandemic to mental health care.
Here’s a snippet of what he had to say relating to the coronavirus pandemic:
On removing face masks
I can imagine that future. I can’t tell you if it’s coming in a couple of months or in six months or in 12 months … We may see waves of old or new variants, but if we have these tools, if we’re using them well, particularly our vaccines and boosters, we can protect the vast majority of people from hospitalizations and deaths.
On the ebb and flow of the pandemic
The pandemic is not over today. We are still seeing record numbers of hospitalizations, deaths, and cases in this country … We also have to have a clear plan for protecting those who are more vulnerable. And we know that there are people in our community, particularly those who are immunocompromised, who may continue to be at higher risk.
More on his interview, here.
9:06 a.m.: For workers at the Beijing Winter Olympics, life inside the bubble is a long sacrifice
Because athletes from countries where COVID-19 has raged are competing in the Winter Games, China’s Olympic workforce is making a big sacrifice, according to the Associated Press.
Tens of thousands of Chinese workers have been hermetically sealed inside the ring-fence of virus prevention measures that China has erected around the games, locked in with the athletes and Olympic visitors.
But while Olympians jet in for just weeks, Chinese workers who cook, clean, transport, care for them and otherwise make the games tick are spending several months sequestered inside the sanitary bubble.
China’s ruling party doesn’t exactly allow workers to air their grievances, so there haven’t been any public complaints from them.
Once workers are dismissed from the games, those inside the bubble will need to be quarantined in Beijing for a week or two before going home. Many will not see their families for over two months.
Friday, February 11
10:20 a.m.: California GOP pushing to end California state of emergency
Next month marks two years since California's original COVID-19 stay-at-home order, and the state is still under a state of emergency. But Republican state lawmakers have been trying to change that.
They argue that since Los Angeles is hosting the Super Bowl this weekend — and don’t expect mask rules to be enforced — that the state of emergency is no longer necessary.
Republicans tried to force votes on a pair of resolutions that would terminate the statewide emergency.
“We have done enormous, incalculable harm to our citizens, especially our kids, with restrictions that continue to this day,” author of one bill, Assembly member Kevin Kiley said. “It is well past time that we allow people to move on with their lives, and we can do that today.”
Inside the Capitol, Kiley and his GOP colleagues donned masks emblazoned with the photo of Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Lakers star Magic Johnson sans masks at the NFC championship game. They asked their colleagues to bring the resolution to end the state of emergency up for a vote. Democrats declined.
In a statement, Newsom’s spokesperson called the Republicans’ move “political theater.” His office also argued the emergency order from March 2020 has helped the state to quickly distribute masks and vaccines and boost hospital capacity.
9:23 a.m.: Sacramento County will drop mask mandate after Feb. 15
Sacramento County will join many others in not imposing a new mask mandate when the state’s mandate expires on Feb. 15.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said that while cautiously optimistic, she wants to make sure people know that COVID-19 is still here and is a very serious disease.
She added that even without a mandate in place, residents who still want to wear a mask can be assured that it’s still an effective way to protect themselves.
“Doing this does not mean we have less confidence in the way masks work, but it’s just the recognition that for people that are vaccinated, they can actually make that choice to go into certain public places without a mask,” Kasirye said on CapRadio’s Insight.
She said that she hopes it won’t be necessary to re-impose a mask mandate in the future, but public health officials will be keeping an eye on determining factors like virus case counts and vaccination rates.
9:18 a.m.: Mask mandates are falling across the US
As the omicron surge dips a bit, several U.S. states and cities have lifted mask mandates for schools and indoor businesses.
According to the Associated Press, the White House says talks are underway about how and when to move the country out of the pandemic’s emergency phase.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends masks in indoor settings, with stronger masks such as N95s or KN95s as the best options.
State officials say the main reason for easing mandates is the downturn in hospitalizations and infections, even in places with the most stringent rules.
However, the WHO says the pandemic is not yet over, and that “COVID-19 isn’t finished with us.”
Thursday, February 10
9:40 a.m.: 3 out of 4 higher education students in Nevada are already vaccinated against COVID-19
Percentages vary dramatically among Nevada’s public colleges and universities, but overall, three-quarters of the state’s higher education system’s students were vaccinated against COVID-19 before an emergency mandate even kicked in.
According to the Associated Press, a breakdown by campus provided in a Feb. 1 memo to the state Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the percentages for individual campuses ranged from 45% at Western Nevada College in Carson City to 91% at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Other campus percentages included 87% at the University of Nevada, Reno, 65% at Nevada State College in Henderson and 58% at the College of Southern Nevada in the Las Vegas area.
9:22 a.m.: Hospital staff exhausted after omicron surge
Hospitalizations fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant in the U.S. have begun falling after peaking at record levels in some communities, as reported by the Associated Press.
However, the surge has left in its wake postponed surgeries, exhausted staff members, and uncertainty over whether this is the last big wave or whether another one lies ahead.
“We’ve been proved wrong twice already, with delta and omicron,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “So that adds to people’s anxiety and uncertainty and a sense of like ‘When does this end?’”
Another reason for anxiety — COVID-19 hospitalizations aren’t even all that low. They’re at a level seen in January 2021, amid last winter’s surge.
9:09 a.m. Vulnerable people are increasingly worried about COVID-19 as precautions ease across the US
As more places drop mask orders and other COVID-19 precautions, there’s a new urgency in finding ways to protect up to 7 million Americans with severely weakened immune systems.
According to the Associated Press, vaccines don’t always work for people who are immune-compromised because of cancer, organ transplants, or other conditions.
“The pandemic has not spared them yet,” said Dr. Ghady Haidar, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
There aren’t many options for the immune-compromised as community-wide COVID-19 precautions wane. For now, health authorities are pushing a fourth vaccine dose for these vulnerable patients since they get at least some small measure of extra protection from repeated vaccinations.
Currently, the immune-compromised are supposed to get three up-front doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, followed by a booster — meaning they get one more shot than most others in the U.S. would typically get.
There’s a tiny glimmer of hope, though. AstraZeneca has been working on a drug that promises to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection for six months. It’s different from the regular COVID-19 vaccines in that it’s for those who can’t make their own virus-fighting antibodies.
However, it’s in short supply and currently restricted to only the highest-risk patients.
Wednesday, February 9
2:53 p.m.: Yolo County will drop mask mandate Feb. 16
Yolo County will align with the state and drop its mask mandate after Feb. 15.
Dr. Aimee Sisson, public health officer for Yolo County, said in a press release that the county is lifting the order in part because of more options to combat the virus, such as "effective vaccines, effective treatments, and a variant that causes less severe disease."
"I still recommend that everybody wears a mask indoors in Yolo County, but it will no longer be required in most settings for fully vaccinated persons starting February 16,” Sisson wrote.
On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California would not extend the state's mask mandate, which requires all people to wear masks in indoor public spaces, when it expires Feb. 15. Sacramento County announced it anticipates following the state's lead and dropping its mandate as well.
Masks will still be required indoors for unvaccinated people and for all people in higher risk locations like public transit or congregate living facilities.
9:13 a.m.: WHO leader says 'COVID isn’t finished with us,' amid a drop in cases globally
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently announced that “COVID isn’t finished with us.”
His statement came as he appealed for extra help to fight the pandemic after his agency reported case counts and deaths fell worldwide over the past week.
Ghebreyesus led the launch of a new $23 billion campaign to fund WHO’s efforts to lead a fair rollout of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines worldwide.
WHO’s weekly report showed that case counts fell 17% worldwide over the last week, while deaths globally declined 7%.
The figures include a 50% decline in new daily infections in the U.S.
9:08 a.m.: Can you develop long COVID from an omicron infection? Scientists say it’s too early to know, but it’s likely.
Experts say it’s too early to know whether people infected with the omicron variant will develop long COVID. Many doctors believe it’s possible to have long-term effects from the omicron variant, as reported by the Associated Press.
Long COVID is usually diagnosed many weeks after someone gets sick with COVID-19. Overall, some estimates suggest more than a third of COVID-19 survivors will develop some symptoms of long COVID, including fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, insomnia, anxiety, depression and more.
Scientists are racing to figure out what’s behind the mysterious condition and whether vaccines could be part of the answer.
9 a.m.: Las Vegas Police Department drops vaccine requirements for new hires
The police department for metro Las Vegas has lifted its requirement that new hires be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he still encourages Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department personnel to get vaccinated but lifted the requirement for new hires about a week ago due to a dip in positive cases at the department.
The department imposed the vaccination requirement last summer, saying that applicants had to show proof of vaccination before being hired, however, the requirement didn’t apply to current employees.
Tuesday, February 8
9:59 a.m.: California is looking to lift mask mandate as omicron cases dip
California’s indoor masking requirement will end next week for vaccinated people, but masks will still be the rule for school children.
As reported by the Associated Press, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration brought back the masking mandate in mid-December as the omicron variant gained momentum, and last month extended it through Feb. 15.
State health officials said on Monday that the mandate would end that day. But local health officials can continue their own requirements.
The state is also lifting a requirement that people test negative before visiting hospitals and nursing homes, effective immediately.
In the meantime, health officials said they are continuing to evaluate the masking requirement for school children.
9:54 a.m.: Here’s what’s going on with President Biden’s health care worker vaccine mandate
A group of states is renewing a challenge to President Joe Biden’s requirement that millions of healthcare workers across the U.S. be vaccinated.
According to the Associated Press, the requirement for many health providers that participate in Medicare or Medicaid took effect in January for half the states and is scheduled to start in February for the other half after it was allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
That ruling was part of Biden’s attempt to drive up vaccination in private-sector workplaces. But the high court blocked a different Biden rule that would have required vaccines or regular COVID-19 testing for employees of larger companies.
Lower courts have also blocked a vaccine requirement for employees of federal contractors.
9:16 a.m.: Pfizer asks FDA to authorize extra-lo doses of COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5
Pfizer is asking U.S. regulators to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, according to the Associated Press.
The move could open the way for the very youngest Americans to start receiving shots by early March. Currently, the nation’s 19 million children under 5 are the only group not yet eligible for vaccinations against the coronavirus.
Many parents have been pushing an expansion of shots to toddlers and preschoolers, especially as the omicron wave sent record members of youngsters to the hospital.
If the Food and Drug Administration agrees, Pfizer shots containing just one-tenth of the dose given to adults could be dispensed to children as young as 6 months.
Monday, February 7
9:28 a.m.: SCUSD transportation workers want more COVID-19 protections on school buses
Transportation workers for Sacramento City Unified Schools say the district is creating unsafe conditions during the omicron surge for themselves and students.
Bus drivers were told by the district that once classes restarted, there would be only one kid per seat and they’d all be three feet apart.
However, drivers like Jennifer Sharp have said that school buses are packed full.
“No kids are safe together. We have no protection, absolutely no protection at all,” Sharp said.
She’s been with the district for over 18 years and is one of the dozens of transportation workers who showed up at the district’s headquarters on Friday to protest unsafe working conditions and low wages.
Veteran driver Gil Patterson wants people to know that conditions on buses are hurting everyone involved — drivers, students and families.
“You’re risking your children’s lives,” he said. “You’re risking your own lives.”
A district spokesperson said all workers who test positive for COVID-19 are sent home immediately, but drivers said they’re asked to continue working even if they test positive.
9:20 a.m.: US COVID-19 death toll surpasses 900,000, the highest in the world
Propelled in part by the extremely contagious omicron variant, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has hit 900,000 less than two months after eclipsing 800,000, as reported by the Associated Press.
The number of deaths compiled by Johns Hopkins University is more than the populations of Indianapolis, San Francisco or Charlotte, North Carolina.
The U.S. death toll is the highest in the world, surpassing Brazil — the second-highest total — by nearly 300,000 deaths.
To public health experts, the milestone is made all the more tragic because so many of the recent deaths were preventable — just 64% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.
President Joe Biden acknowledged that the pandemic has been “incredibly difficult to bear” and again urged Americans to get vaccinations and booster shots.
8:28 a.m.: Olympic Winter Games are being held in a tight 'bubble'
Officially, the Beijing Olympics are taking place inside what organizers are calling “the enclosed compound activity area” — or rather a closed-loop system, or the “bubble.”
According to the Associated Press, bubbles are now part of the norm at many major sporting events.
The premise of this bubble is simple — keep those who passed multiple tests just to get access to the Olympics in, keep the rest of the world, and hopefully, COVID-19 out.
It’s worked for the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Grand Slam tennis events, college sports and the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.
At the Winter Games, venues are open to members of the Olympic family, while the rest of Beijing is basically closed. The arrivals section of the usually bustling Beijing Capital International Airport was a ghost town, sans for those in full protective equipment tasked with administering coronavirus tests and directing visitors to the proper bus.
Testing is a daily requirement, and in some cases, it happens multiple times a day. Some members of the Olympic family were told that if they had recently visited one of the alpine skiing venues, they would need a second PCR test that day instead of just one.
Saturday, February 5
11:10 a.m.: California passes 80,000 COVID-19 deaths
Coronavirus deaths in California have topped 80,000 and another nearly 3,000 people are expected to die by month’s end, according to the Associated Press.
Statistics from Johns Hopkins University say the state's death toll reached 80,688 on Friday. That's more than Texas with 80,300 deaths and more than Florida and New York, which have tolls exceeding 65,000.
Other indicators show that California is clearly past the peak of the omicron wave. Infections, hospitalizations and intensive care cases have fallen almost as fast as they climbed during the rapid-fire omicron wave of the pandemic.
Los Angeles County may soon end outdoor mask requirements, but probably not before the Feb. 13 Super Bowl.
Friday, February 4
9:21 a.m.: COVID-19 still a top concern for Californians, poll finds
COVID-19 is still the number one issue on the minds of state residents, according to a new survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.
PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldessare says people are cautiously optimistic.
“Two-thirds say the worst is behind us, so that’s pretty optimistic. But keep in mind that the last time we asked that question, which was last May, there were 86% who said that the worst was behind us,” Baldessare said. “So, you know, we’ve lost some ground during the course of omicron.”
Jobs, the economy and inflation are the following three top items of concern for Californians.
And although it doesn’t fit the official definition, 53% of those surveyed say they believe the state is in a recession because of their inflation-reduced buying power.
9:04 a.m.: Winter Olympic Games open in China with the COVID-19 pandemic as a backdrop
It’s time to raise the curtain on the Beijing Winter Olympics, with the opening ceremony at the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium on Friday night.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, these will be some of the hardest-to-navigate Games in history, as reported by the Associated Press.
Everything is being held in a “closed-loop” system in which every participant must pass a COVID-19 test every day. It’s one of several challenging issues involved in making Beijing the first country to host both a Summer and Winter Games.
Participants will be placed in isolation if they test positive, which surprised some since the stakes of the system have not been clearly spelled out to participants.
In 2008, China invited the world to explore its country with that year’s Summer Olympics Games. However, fourteen years later, it’s less concerned about what others think.
Critics have assailed the host for a range of issues, from its poor human-rights issues to its zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy, to its treatment of star tennis player Peng Shuai. Others say that the COVID-19 restrictions offer a convenient justification for not letting journalists wander the country to report on what’s really going on.
8:56 a.m.: Tonga experiences first COVID-19 outbreak after post-volcano eruption aid shipments
For more than two years, the isolation of the Pacific archipelago nation of Tonga helped keep COVID-19 at bay.
However, last month’s volcanic eruption and tsunami brought outside deliveries of desperately needed fresh water and medicine, along with the virus.
According to the Associated Press, Tonga is one of several Pacific island countries to experience their first outbreaks over the past month.
There are growing concerns that their precarious health care systems might quickly become overburdened and that the isolation that had protected them may now make helping them difficult.
Despite strict precautions unloading ships and plans from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Britain and China, two Tongans handling aid shipments at a wharf were the first to test positive.
Thursday, February 3
9:34 a.m.: Yolo County health officer encourages 'vaccine curious' to get their COVID-19 shot
Public health officials say they're cautiously optimistic that the current surge of COVID-19 is on the wane — but the omicron variant spread so quickly it affected just about every aspect of daily life.
This surge has been different from the one in 2021 because of the vaccines' wide availability and effectiveness, though not everyone is getting them.
Yolo County Public Health Officer Dr. Amy Sisson sat with CapRadio's Insight host Vicki Gonzalez to discuss why vaccination remains a challenge.
"I like to call them the 'vaccine curious.' I'm trying to move away from the term 'vaccine-hesitant,'" Sisson said. "But I think we all continue to be frustrated that there are individuals who are choosing not to take advantage of the tremendous resource of a vaccine."
Sisson says choosing not to get vaccinated has ripple effects: from being hospitalized for COVID-19 to the limited ability to care for people with another disease and a shortage of healthcare workers.
9:14 a.m.: Do we need new coronavirus vaccines? Experts are testing different variants now.
While COVID-19 vaccines are still saving an untold amount of lives, omicron's easy spread has many wondering if they will need boosters every few months or even a new kind of shot altogether, as reported by the Associated Press.
The aim would be to save lives and avoid the disruption that even mild infections can bring.
Researchers are working on shots that could target more than one strain at once or even stop the virus, no matter how it mutates. Vaccines squirted in the nose are also being tested.
Still, many experts say it's unrealistic to expect the vaccines to forever protect against any infection, as long as they stop death.
9 a.m.: US Army will begin terminating service members refusing to get mandatory COVID-19 vaccines
The Army said it will immediately begin discharging soldiers who have refused to get their mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, putting more than 3,300 service members at risk of being fired.
According to the Associated Press, the Army’s announcement makes it the final military service to layout its discharge policy for vaccine refusers. The Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy have already discharged active-duty troops for entry-level personnel at boot camps for refusing the shots.
So far, the Army has not discharged any. Roughly 97% of all Army soldiers have gotten at least one shot.
More than 3,000 service members have requested medical or religious exemptions.
Wednesday, February 2
10:23 a.m.: What to know about the possible upcoming COVID-19 vaccine for kids younger than 5
COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5 may be available in the U.S. as early as March, but there are still several hurdles still to clear, according to the Associated Press.
Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months through 4 years.
The FDA said it’ll review the application and convene a panel of outside advisers in mid-February to debate the data. The agency will use that advice in deciding whether the new doses are safe and effective.
After that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will then gather its own expert panel to help decide if the shots should be recommended for this age group.
9:54 a.m.: In just 10 weeks since discovery of the omicron variant, cases surpass all cases reported in 2020
The World Health Organization chief says 90 million coronavirus cases have been reported since the omicron variant was first identified 10 weeks ago, amounting to more than in all of 2020.
As reported by the Associated Press, with so many countries easing restrictive measures, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus cautioned that omicron should not be underestimated even though it has been shown to bring less severe illness than earlier variants.
He cited “a very worrying increase in deaths in most regions of the world.”
9:43 a.m.: Shortened Olympic torch ceremony opens up Winter Olympics amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic
A considerably shortened torch relay for the Beijing Olympics has started with 80-year-old former speedskater, Luo Zhihuan, carrying the flame.
According to the Associated Press, the relay length was clipped due to concerns about the coronavirus.
The torch will be carried through the three Olympic zones, with it starting in downtown Beijing before heading to Yanqing district and finally to Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei Province.
The Beijing Games have already been impacted on a scale similar to that experienced by Tokyo during last year’s Summer Olympics. China says only selected spectators will be allowed to attend the events.
Tuesday, February 1
9:19 a.m.: Gov. Newsom criticized for not wearing mask in recent photo
Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing criticism for his decision to shed his face mask.
The latest scrutiny came after Earvin “Magic” Johnson tweeted a photo of himself with Newsom at the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium — both with beaming, unmasked smiles.
Earlier this month, state health officials extended the mask mandate through Feb. 15 as omicron cases surged. Stadium regulations require people to wear masks, except when they're eating or drinking.
Newsom told reporters in Los Angeles that he removed his mask only briefly and was otherwise “very judicious” in wearing it.
9:01 a.m.: White House still pulling out all stops to keep Biden safe from COVID-19 infection
You can see it in the masks, the seating charts, and even the distribution of water glasses at the White House.
President Joe Biden’s staff is making extraordinary efforts to keep him from getting COVID-19, even though he’s been vaccinated three times over.
It’s no surprise that unusual steps are taken to protect the president, but the strict precautions threaten to undercut his administration’s own efforts to convince vaccinated and boosted Americans that they can face their lives through the omicron wave.
8:52 a.m.: US regulators asking Pfizer to apply for emergency authorization of their COVID-19 vaccine for young infants, children
U.S. regulators are urging drugmaker Pfizer to apply for emergency authorization for a two-dose regimen of its COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years old — according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
The Biden administration aims to clear the way for the vaccines as soon as late February, with the application expecting to be submitted as soon as Tuesday.
Early Pfizer data has shown the vaccine is safe and produces an immune response. The formulation administered to younger kids is at one-tenth the strength of the adult shot.
Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here
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