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Latest Updates

State, hospital association at odds over responding to patient surge

Short on resources, hospitals prepare for possibility of rationing care

California seeing two-day record of COVID-19 deaths

California congresswoman tests positive for COVID-19

California suspends 1.4 million unemployment claims to battle fraud

COVID-19 By The Numbers

Thursday, January 7

6:51 p.m.: State, hospital association at odds over responding to patient surge

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and the state’s hospital association are at odds over how best to create space for critically ill coronavirus patients, according to the Associated Press. 

The disagreement comes as health officials warn that already strained medical facilities will soon be overwhelmed by a new surge from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

California health authorities reported Thursday a record two-day total of 1,042 virus deaths, with many people infected during the surge after Halloween and Thanksgiving. 

The California Hospital Association says the state is moving too slowly to find ways to handle so many cases. State officials counter that moves made this week to limit nonessential surgeries and transfer patients to hospitals with more available beds will save lives.

—Associated Press

5:56 p.m.: Short on resources, hospitals prepare for possibility of rationing care

California hospitals are trying to prepare for potentially having to ration care due to a lack of staff and beds, the Associated Press reports.

The state is grappling with a skyrocketing coronavirus surge, with the second-highest number of daily virus deaths reported Wednesday at 459. More than a quarter-million new cases are being reported each week.

Authorities say Thanksgiving holiday gatherings vastly spread infections, leading the virus to rage out of control across the country. Only Arizona tops California in cases per resident. 

In Los Angeles County, Methodist Hospital of Southern California formed an in-house triage team to decide how to distribute resources, although it isn’t yet rationing care, the AP reports.

3:24 p.m.: California seeing two-day record of COVID-19 deaths

California health authorities have reported a record two-day total of 1,042 coronavirus deaths as many hospitals strain under the unprecedented caseloads.

According to the Associated Press, the state Department of Public Health’s website on Thursday lists 583 new deaths a day after 459 coronavirus-related deaths. The previous two-day total was 1,013 deaths at the end of December.

California’s death toll since the start of the pandemic now stands at 28,045. On Wednesday, a travel advisory was issued “strongly discouraging” people from out-of-state visiting or entering the state. Californians are also told to avoid traveling more than 120 miles from home except for essential purposes.

3:01 p.m.: California congresswoman tests positive for COVID-19

Newly elected California Rep. Michelle Steel has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Associated Press.

The Orange County Republican was sworn in just three days ago and recently discovered on Wednesday that she was in contact with somebody who was COVID-positive. While she had no symptoms, she was tested as a precaution, and the results came back positive.

The 65-year-old congresswoman said she would quarantine at her doctor’s advice. Steel — who previously headed the Orange County Board of Supervisors — defeated Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda for the position in November.

Last spring, Steel questioned the need for a countywide mask mandate but later changed her mind and endorsed face coverings in public.

10:30 a.m.: How long can I wait between COVID-19 vaccine doses? US and UK debate the timeline.

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

The first COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. and the U.K. require two doses to be taken a few weeks apart.

But according to the Associated Press, the two counties have differed on how closely those guidelines should be followed. While people should get some kind of protection from the vaccine within the first two weeks of receiving it, the pharmaceutical giants also differ on the waiting period before the second shot.

The Pfizer and BioNTech shot regiment should follow up with a second shot three weeks after the first, while for Moderna, the second shot can be administered four weeks later. Despite this, the U.K. says it’s OK to delay the booster shots for as long as 12 weeks to speed up the number of people receiving their first shots.

Regulators in the U.S. have skipped that plan since it’s unknown how long the first dose’s partial protection can last.

10:29 a.m.: 787,000 Americans still applying for unemployment benefits

While the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell slightly to 787,000 applicants, these numbers still show evidence of a job market stumbling in the face of a viral pandemic.

According to the Associated Press, as we enter month 10 of the pandemic in the U.S., figures from the Labor Department showed that many employers are still cutting jobs as the pandemic tightens business restricts and leads anxious consumers to stay home.

Before the recession, roughly 225,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits weekly. Now, the renewed viral surge has changed the habits of millions of consumers as they avoid eating out, shopping and traveling.

TD Securities economists estimate that more than half of all states are now limiting gatherings to 10 people or less, which is up from a roughly quarter of states that enacted these restrictions back in September.

Wednesday, January 6

3:44 p.m.: Newsom proposes $4 billion economic recovery plan

After a year of small businesses closing and reopening, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his proposed $4 billion in state spending to keep them afloat in 2021.

According to the Associated Press, Newsom was the first U.S. governor to impose a statewide stay-at-home order due to the pandemic, but a recent swell of cases have caused various forms of restrictions to linger into 2021, impacting many retail stores during the year’s typically busiest shopping season.

While people with often higher incomes were more likely able to keep their jobs and work from home, many people with lower incomes, like retail and restaurant workers, either lost their jobs or were put on unpaid furlough. Frustration has overwhelmed many, leading to a recall effort against Newsom.

The state spending he announced on Tuesday will be split up a few ways. Close to half the money, totaling $1.5 billion, will go towards people purchasing electric cars and construction jobs to set up more charging stations across the state as a part of the ban on the sale of all new gas-powered cars by 2035.

Small businesses are earmarked $575 million, with grants of up to $25,000 available to small business owners. Newsom and the state Legislature has already given $500 million to the program, so if the new proposal is approved, more than $1 billion will be available to small business owners.

12:18 p.m.: California extends an extra $600 payment to low-income residents

Millions of low-income Californians would get a $600 payment from the state under a new budget proposal by Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to the Associated Press.

The proposed payment announced Wednesday would go to residents with annual incomes of less than $30,000 a year. The pool of eligible people includes some immigrants who are undocumented and file taxes with the state. Roughly 4 million people would be eligible for the payment for a total state cost of $2.4 billion.

Newsom is asking lawmakers to approve the proposal quickly, so people can get their funds starting in February. The governor is also asking the Legislature to extend a moratorium on evictions.

Tuesday, January 5

5:43 p.m.: Too soon to know impact of Granite Bay New Year’s party, health officials say

Health officials say it’s too early to tell whether a highly-criticized New Year’s Eve celebration in Granite Bay was a super-spreader event. 

The largely-maskless event that has drawn the ire of many, including Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

For those who attended the party, health officials suggest one thing. 

“Anybody who was at that party should be quarantining right now,” said Susie Welty, an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco. 

Welty says slow testing turnaround times and a lack of public trust make contact tracing a large social gathering more difficult, especially as COVID-19 cases spike during the holidays.

“It’s just the scale of this. The number of cases,” she said. “The number of contacts we have. We’re not equipped for this sort of public health response.” 

Officials suggest getting tested after five days of isolating in response to an exposure. So it’s too early to know whether the gathering will result in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Welty said contact tracers are doing their best, but there is little they can do when people aren’t heading health advice.

5:22 p.m.: Ukiah hospital delivers 800 vaccine doses in two hours after freezer failure

The freezer holding 850 doses of the Moderna COVID vaccine failed at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center Monday. So did the alarm that would have warned of the failure, leaving the hospital just two and a half hours to vaccinate that many people or watch the doses spoil.

Adventist gave shots based on Monday’s priority list, set up four mobile vaccination pop-up locations and put out the word in the Mendocino County community of 16,000. Mendocino College math professor Leslie Banta got the call just after 1 p.m.

“Hurried over to the church, did not have to wait in line very long, and had my shot at 1:30,” Banta said. “The dosages expired at two o’clock. So they were able to vaccinate nearly 800 people in about two hours, It was amazing work on their part. It took a heroic effort for their staff.”

All the doses were administered before the deadline. Those who got the vaccine will be contacted in the next three weeks or so to come back for the follow-up second dose.

3:24 p.m.: Grammys will be postponed to March due to coronavirus surge

Music fans will have to wait a bit longer for this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony. According to the Associated Press, the 2021 Grammy Awards will no longer be held this month and will ultimately be broadcast in March due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths in California.

The Recording Academy told the AP on Tuesday that the annual show would shift from its original Jan. 31 broadcast to a yet-to-be-announced date in March. Beyoncé is a leading contender this year with nine nominations.

The award show will still be held in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, despite the county being the epicenter of California’s crisis.

L.A. County has surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths, totaling about 40% of the total deaths statewide.

3:06 p.m.: Nevada officials plan to start vaccinating people age 75 and older

Nevada Health officials are planning to begin COVID-19 vaccinations for people aged 75 and above, according to the Associated Press.

The inoculation effort could begin at pharmacies in Clark County as soon as next week. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Monday that a Southern Nevada Health District spokesperson said the start date could be as soon as Jan. 11.

Vaccination efforts in the state have focused so far on front-line health care workers, staff, and residents in long-term care facilities. A Nevada Health and Human Services spokesperson said multiple counties could “soon” begin vaccinating people in the state’s second-tier priority group, which includes older adults.

Both health agencies have said that more information will be released as details are confirmed.

3:03 p.m.: Sacramento region hospitals remain below 15% ICU capacity

ICU capacity in Sacramento area hospitals has been hovering below 15% in the past several days.

On Monday, the capacity fell to 12%, according to Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye. The region will remain under California’s regional stay-at-home order until state projections show ICU capcity above 15% capacity four weeks out.

“We’re still in that situation where it’s tenuous; we have to be cautious,” she said on CapRadio’s Insight. “We’re not out of the danger just yet.”

Health officials are still waiting to see if there will ultimately be any post-holiday COVID-19 surge. Meanwhile, Kasirye said she’s disheartened to hear about people not taking California’s regional stay-at-home orders seriously, especially in the light of the Granite Bay New Year’s Eve party attended by hundreds.

“I think it is saddening to find that people are still choosing to ignore the warnings that we are putting out.”

10:10 a.m.: Granite Bay New Year’s Eve party attendees encouraged to get coronavirus tests, self-isolate

Placer County health officials are encouraging the hundreds of partygoers who attended a New Year’s Eve party at the posh Granite Bay home formerly owned by actor Eddie Murphy to get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate.

Placer County Sheriff spokesperson Angela Musallam said the deputies did respond to a noise complaint coming from the house party but said it would have been unconstitutional for them to enforce Gov. Gavin Newsom’s public health orders.

“You know, while it was disappointing to see that, this is not within law enforcement’s purview to even enforce,” Musallam said.

The county couldn’t confirm social media reports that some party attendees have begun experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The interim health official said people who attended any large gathering over the holidays should get tested for the virus and avoid others.

Monday, January 4

5:22: Sacramento to discuss protections for renters

Sacramento City Council will discuss the city’s Tenant Protection Program Tuesday as the deadline for paying back-rent approaches.

The program was put in place in 2019 and amended last year to protect renters from evictions during the pandemic. But Councilmember Katie Valenzuela said the program is not providing the protections it should for tenants struggling to pay rent. 

Valenzuela says she hopes more innovative solutions to strengthen protections for renters can be considered.

“Converting back rent owed into consumer debt, so I still owe you as my landlord, but it can no longer be grounds for eviction and the repayment schedule can be negotiated based on what the tenant can afford and what the landlord needs,” Valenzuela said, as one option that could assist renters.

The California Apartment Association representing landlords said their members have been in compliance with rental programs. But they’ve noted in the past that stronger tenant protections could push out small mom and pop landlords.

5:19 p.m.: California to open up who can administer COVID-19 vaccine, Newsom says

Gov. Gavin Newsom is promising to speed up the process of getting Californians vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The governor says the state has received 1.29 million doses, with another 611,000 on the way. But so far, only 454,000 doses have been administered in California. Part of his solution is to allow vaccinations to be given by more than doctors and clinic workers.

“We are already working this last number of days to increase the number of distribution sites and more importantly to accelerate the efforts of who can distribute the vaccine,” Newsom said during a press conference Monday. “Dental administration — so dentists administering the vaccine — pharmacy techs, National Guard, more of our National Guard deployed to begin the distribution and administration.”

Newsom says another $300 million will be put toward public awareness of the vaccine and where to get it. He’ll release details of that on Friday.

12:01 p.m.: California hospitals swamped as COVID-19 numbers rise

California’s COVID-19 death toll topped 26,500 this weekend, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Since the start of the pandemic, the state’s confirmed cases have neared 2.4 million. Hospitals in the state are treating more than 22,000 COVID-19 patients, including nearly 4,700 in ICUs, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Authorities in California have warned of a potential huge surge on the horizon due to travel and gatherings for the December holidays and New Year’s.

11:58 a.m.: 2021 men’s March Madness to take place in bubble in Indiana

All 67 of the 2021 men’s March Madness games will be played in a bubble in Indiana in an effort to stage the college basketball tournament after last year’s was canceled due to the pandemic, NPR reports.

Some of last year’s 2020 March Madness games were originally set to take place at the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento before being canceled due to the virus. Golden 1 Center last hosted March Madness in 2017, which had a $4 million economic impact on the city.

The NCAA says it’s still determining whether fans can attend the games. The organization also announced plans to hold the women’s tournament in March, with Final Four games in San Antonio, Texas. It said it was in talks to hold the whole women’s tournament in that same region to reduce team travel.

11:52 a.m.: Inflatable holiday costume could be tied to San Jose hospital staff outbreak

One employee is dead and dozens of workers are infected with COVID-19 at the Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center after an employee appeared at the hospital wearing an inflatable holiday costume on Christmas Day, the Associated Press reports.

Since Dec. 27, 44 staff members in the emergency department have tested positive for the virus, according to Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center Senior Vice President and Area Manager Irene Chavez.

Inflatable costumes like the one used by the employee usually rely on battery-operated fans to suck in air to keep its shape, which could have spread COVID-19-infected droplets in the air. Investigators are looking into the functioning of the fan.

6:40 a.m.: New California law gives workers new COVID-19 protections

California now has strict new rules meant to protect workers from contracting COVID-19 on the job under AB 685, a new state law which took effect Jan. 1.

If you can’t work remotely and have spent any time at work the past couple months, you may have received an email from HR telling you that a colleague tested positive for the coronavirus, or was exposed to someone with it.

Starting this year, employers will have to do that. The new law requires written notification of potential exposures in the workplace.

Labor attorney Caroline Donelan says employers have an ethical duty to keep their workers safe, and many have already been doing this.

“These processes are probably already in place for most employers. But now in addition to this ethical duty, they now have a legal duty to do,” Donelan said.

The law also requires companies to report outbreaks — defined as three or more cases at a jobsite — to their local public health department.

Donelan says workers who don’t feel they’re getting those protections have a few options. She says it’s a good idea to start by speaking with your employer first. But if that doesn’t change anything, head to Cal/OSHA’s website.

“They have a hotline to call if employees have questions on things like paid sick leave, retaliation protections,” Donelan said. “And if they feel like they’ve gotten to the point where they want to file a complaint, that can be done completely online as well.”

The last thing AB 685 does is give Cal/OSHA the authority to shut down work sites that aren’t following these new coronavirus rules. But Donelan says the agency is already overwhelmed, and how much it actually uses that power remains to be seen.

Learn more about new California laws for 2021 in our interactive guide here.

6:35 a.m.: LA County recording new COVID-19 case every six seconds, mayor says

The mayor of Los Angeles says the pandemic is getting worse as the coronavirus spreads rapidly within households and Californians let their guard down, according to the Associated Press.

Mayor Eric Garcetti says LA County is recording a new COVID-19 case every six seconds. Garcetti said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he’s concerned news of a vaccine rollout “has made everybody so hopeful” that they wrongly feel they can relax their behavior. He said they must stay vigilant.

California hospitals stretched to their limits will get help from the state’s Fire and Rescue Mutual Aid System, which is usually used in response to wildfires, floods and other natural disasters.

Sunday, January 3

10:55 a.m.: Greater Sacramento region remains under regional stay-at-home order

Stay-at-home orders for the Sacramento region will be extended, state officials announced Saturday, as intensive care unit capacity is projected to remain low.

The region fell under the state’s regional stay-at-home order Dec. 10, after ICU capacity dropped below the state’s 15% threshold to remain open. Under the orders, businesses such as barbershops and nail salons must close, while retail stores can stay open at 20% capacity and restaurants are limited to takeout-only.

Regions must stay under the orders for at least three weeks, but can come off once projections show ICU capacity rising above 15% four weeks in the future. The Greater Sacramento region would have been able to leave the order as soon as Jan. 1. But on Saturday, the state reported that the region’s four-week ICU capacity projections do not meet the criteria to exit the order.

The Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions also remain under the order. The Bay Area will remain under the order until at least Jan. 8 when it has a chance to exit based on ICU projections.

10:23 a.m.: U.S. COVID-19 death toll tops 350,000

More than 350,000 people in the United States have been killed by the coronavirus, NPR reports.

The devastating milestone is according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

A new variant of the virus continues to spread across dozens of countries, including the U.S., where it has been found so far in California, Colorado and Florida.

The U.S. could see a particularly deadly January, after a record number of infections in December.

President-elect Joe Biden said this week that “the next few weeks and months are going to be very tough, a very tough period for our nation — maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic.”

10:11 a.m.: New director appointed to California unemployment department

California’s governor has appointed Rita L. Saenz to oversee the state’s unemployment benefits department, which has been overwhelmed by claims during the coronavirus pandemic and also has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in phony claims. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the appointment Wednesday of Saenz, a former director of the state Department of Social Services. 

She replaces Sharon Hilliard, who was appointed by Newsom in February but retires this week. 

The department has been struggling to deal with a huge backlog of unemployment claims because of the COVID-19 outbreak that shut most nonessential businesses and cost millions their jobs.

—Associated Press

Saturday, January 2

12:28 p.m.: Pharmacist arrested, accused of destroying more than 500 Moderna vaccine doses

A pharmacist from Milwaukee was arrested Thursday on suspicion of intentionally removing hundreds of coronavirus vaccines from refrigeration, leading to their destruction, according to NPR

Police officials from Grafton, Wisconsin, said in a statement the pharmacist, who has been fired from the Advocate Aurora Health hospital system, was arrested on recommended charges of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property.

Health care workers were forced to throw out about 570 doses of the Moderna vaccine that had been removed from required refrigeration. However, 57 patients were given the medicine that had been left out. Bahr said those vaccines were rendered potentially less effective or altogether ineffective. The patients were notified and are not at any risk of adverse health effects, he said.

Officials said that in a written statement to Aurora Health officials, the pharmacist responsible admitted “to intentionally removing the vaccine knowing that if not properly stored the vaccine would be ineffective.”

11:09 a.m.: United States surpasses 20 million confirmed cases on New Year’s Day

More than 20 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in the United States, NPR reports. 

The country reached the grim milestone on Friday, the first day of 2021, according to numbers from Johns Hopkins University.

With 10 million cases recorded Nov. 9, the U.S. more than doubled the number of infections in less than two months. It accounts for nearly a quarter of all cases in the world and a fifth of all deaths.

California leads the U.S. in cases, with a new single-day record in deaths recorded on Friday.

10 a.m.: California reports a record 585 virus deaths in single day

California started the new year by reporting a record 585 coronavirus deaths in a single day.

The state Department of Public Health said Friday there were more than 47,000 new confirmed cases reported, bringing the total to more than 2.29 million.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office says California will begin collaborating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate and upgrade outdated oxygen delivery systems at six Los Angeles area hospitals.

California this week became the third state to exceed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

—Associated Press

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