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California Coronavirus Updates: Five California Counties Move To Lower Coronavirus-Related Business Restrictions

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California Coronavirus Updates: The Pandemic Has Promoted A 'Resiliency Fund' For Oakland’s Black-Owned Businesses

Find an updated count of COVID-19 cases in California and by county on our tracker here.

Wednesday, February 24

11:04 a.m.: Five California counties move to lower coronavirus-related business restrictions

After months with little change, five of California’s 58 counties advanced to having fewer business restrictions on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

The five counties are Marin, San Mateo, Humboldt, Shasta and Yolo. The change allows restaurants to reopen for limited indoor dining, while fitness centers, movie theaters, and museums are among those that can reopen indoors with safeguards.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said eight counties are likely to move next week including San Francisco as the state’s worst coronavirus surge continued to ease.

10:55 a.m.: NIH launching research into long-term COVID-19 consequences

The National Institutes of Health is launching research to understand the causes and consequences of the lingering brain fog, breathing problems, and malaise reported by many recovering COVID-19 patients.

According to the Associated Press, Dr. Anthony Fauci said some studies have shown up to 30% of patients reported symptoms that can endure for months, often complicating their return to regular routines and work. Many end up finding themselves depressed.

Fauci noted at a White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday that work at NIH started this week, thanks to more than $1 billion provided by Congress for COVID-related medical research. Government scientists are looking to enlist doctors and research institutions around the country to learn about “long-haul” COVID-19.

A critical issue Fauci is interested in is whether COVID-19 predisposed some patients to other medical problems later in life, like heart or brain conditions.

10:54 a.m.: Johnson & Johnson vaccine is effective in protecting against severe COVID-19, US regulators say

An GFN by U.S. regulators says Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine provides strong protection against severe COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.

The latest report confirmed that overall, the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 infection. On Friday, a panel of Food and Drug Administration experts will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the long-anticipated shot.

The FDA is expected to make a final decision within days. If the FDA clears the J&J shot for U.S. use, it won’t boost vaccine supplies significantly right away — only a few million doses are expected to be ready for shipping in the first week.

Tuesday, February 23

6:13 p.m.: Gov. Newsom says a deal is being negotiated to reopen schools shortly 

Gov. Gavin Newsom is insisting that classrooms will reopen “very, very shortly.” Newsom has for weeks worked with lawmakers on a deal to reopen schools and salvage what’s left of this academic year.

The governor dodged most questions on school reopening at a news conference Tuesday, instead saying a deal is being negotiated and he hopes it will be announced soon.

But his forecast was called into question by Los Angeles teachers who say they won’t bow to political pressure in their demands for access to vaccinations before reopening.

Newsom declined to say whether he would consider forcing schools to reopen or using his emergency powers to suspend local bargaining.

6:10 p.m.: COVID-19 vaccine producers expect big jump in delivery of doses in March

Executives from the major COVID-19 vaccine producers have said to expect a big jump in the delivery of doses over the coming month.

Pfizer and Moderna executives told a congressional committee on Tuesday that they expect to complete delivery of 300 million doses each by summertime. Johnson & Johnson says it is aiming to provide an additional 100 million doses. That would be more than enough to vaccinate every American adult.

President Joe Biden has promised that anyone in the U.S. who wants to get vaccinated will be able to do so by the end of July.

The death toll in the U.S. from the coronavirus has now surpassed 500,000.

6:00 p.m.: Yolo County moves into red tier

Yolo County will allow gyms, movie theaters and restaurants to resume some indoor operations starting Wednesday after state health officials announced it could move to the red tier in California’s COVID-19 reopening system.

Movie theaters and restaurants will be able to reopen indoors at 25% capacity. Museums may also resume indoor operations. Bars and breweries must remain closed, while wineries will still be limited to outdoor service.

In a statement, Yolo County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson urged residents to continue to take precautions such as wearing masks, social distancing and limiting gatherings.

“Moving into the red tier is an indication that COVID-19 cases are declining, but it does not mean that coronavirus has gone away,” Sisson said in a statement. “We cannot let down our guard. Reopening must be done cautiously to avoid a surge in cases.”

11:32 a.m.: California in a stalemate with educators over reopening in-person learning

Gov. Gavin Newsom, state lawmakers and educators are at a standstill over a plan to reopen California’s public schools for in-person learning.

After negotiations with Newsom fell apart, legislative Democrats unveiled their own plan for reopening schools. Assembly Budget Chairman Phil Ting wants to put more pressure on districts. He says many schools didn’t push hard enough to get kids back into classrooms last fall.

The state offered up $5 billion for schools to spend on safe reopening, but Ting said districts only spent 11% of it.

“They want us to give them money with no accountability, no guarantees of in-person learning this year,” Ting said. “I am normally a huge proponent of local control, but this year, local control has been a complete failure.”

Many school officials say portions of the bill would hinder reopening. Meanwhile, Newsom said the measure wouldn’t get kids back into classrooms fast enough.

11:14 a.m.: The Central Valley can expect more COVID-19 vaccines

Gov. Gavin Newsom said more vaccines are heading to California’s agricultural region, the vast Central Valley after it was hard-hit by the coronavirus.

Eleven mobile clinics will open in the region later this week that will be designed to vaccinate mostly farmworkers who don’t have transportation to larger vaccination sites or can’t navigate the state’s online sign-up portal.

Newsom said the state is also sending 34,000 extra vaccine doses from a pharmacy that wasn’t using them quickly enough. The allocation shift comes as California moves beyond inoculating health care workers to include food and farm workers, along with teachers.

9:41 a.m.: Sacramento State students can expect car-based graduation ceremony

Sacramento State said it wouldn’t be able to have a traditional commencement ceremony this year because of the pandemic, making this the second year in a row for students.

In a letter to the student body this week, university president Robert S. Nelsen announced a new commencement format — a drive-through graduation ceremony or a “CARmencement.” Plans include a “parade-type experience” through the campus streets, allowing each graduate to be recognized.

Last year’s commencement was altogether canceled without an alternative. Nelsen had promised graduates of classes 2020 and 2021 that they would be honored at this year’s ceremony at the Golden 1 Center in Downtown Sacramento.

Since the pandemic is still widespread in California, Nelsen had to switch gears. This year, students will be automatically refunded the portion of graduation fees that cover the actual commencement, which is about $50 per graduate.

Monday, February 22

5:40 p.m.: California approves $7.6-billion COVID-19 stimulus plan

The California Legislature has approved $600 payments for about 5.7 million people. Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he will sign the legislation into law. 

People with low to moderate incomes will be eligible to get the money. That includes people who claim the California earned income tax credit on their tax returns and, in general, people making $30,000 or less per year. 

Immigrants who pay taxes using an individual taxpayer identification number and make $75,000 a year or less after deductions would also get the money. People who receive assistance from state programs benefiting low-income families and people who are blind and disabled are also eligible.

5:35 p.m.: Gov. Newsom expects Johnson & Johnson to be ‘game changer’ for average COVID-19 vaccination rate

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that he expects California will be able to administer a lot more COVID-19 vaccines once federal drug regulators clear Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine. For the time being, he says the state will be averaging about 1.5 million vaccinations every week.

“But I’m very confident with Johnson & Johnson, the end of March-April, we’re going to start seeing things really ramp up,” Newsom said. “May-June-July — game changer, all of a sudden we’re at a completely different level.”

California has inoculated close to 7.5 million people with at least one dose of the vaccine. The state is administering about 200,000 doses a day, but Newsom says the infrastructure is in place to administer a lot more if there were more doses available. He predicts inoculations will ramp up in about a month if federal drug regulators approve Johnson-and-Johnson’s application for emergency use authorization of its single-dose COVID vaccine.  

“Sites all across the state of California are toggling back based upon limited supply,” he said. “That’s a manufacturing issue. Manufactured supply in the United States of America is limited.”

Rates of new infections and hospitalizations continue to plummet throughout the state. Health officials say the number of patients in California hospitals with COVID-19 has slipped below 7,000, a drop of more than a third over two weeks. 

11:26 a.m.: US on the brink of half a million COVID-19 deaths

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has almost topped 500,000 — a number so staggering, that a top health researcher said it’s hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died.

According to the Associated Press, the virus has reached into all corners of the country and communities of every size. At the same time, many families are left to cope in isolation, unable to hold funerals.

For Anthony Hernandez, whose Emmerson-Bartlett Memorial Chapel is in Redlands, the pandemic has been overwhelming. Handling the burial of COVID-19 victims while handling some of the most challenging conversations while trying to comfort mothers, fathers, and children who lost loved ones has been difficult.

Normally, his chapel arranges 25 to 30 services a month, but in January, the chapel saw 80 funerals. He had to explain to some families that they would need to wait weeks for a burial.

By late last fall, about 54% of Americans reported knowing someone who had either died of COVID-19 or was hospitalized with it, according to a Pew Research Center Poll. The grieving was even more widespread among Black Americans, Hispanic Americans and other minorities.

Experts warn that over 100,000 more deaths are likely in the next few months, despite a massive vaccination campaign.

10:40 a.m.: California releases plan to give teachers higher vaccine priority

California lawmakers released a plan on Thursday that would allow some schools to resume in-person learning and bump teachers up higher on the vaccine order list.

The multi-billion-dollar proposal would allow schools to resume in-person instruction for grades K-6, but only when their county enters the red tier — meaning substantial COVID-19 spread.

The plan would also allow in-person learning for smaller groups of K through 12 students who have struggled with virtual classrooms, lack of access to equipment, or who need targeted learning support.

School staff would also be given higher vaccination priority, which has been the most significant point of contention for teachers who say they must be vaccinated before returning to classrooms.

The bill’s release comes a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom assured Californians that a deal between his administration and state lawmakers was on GFN of completion — however — there’s been no indication that Newsom would sign off on this current plan.

10:38 a.m.: Nevada makes COVID-19 vaccines available to residents aged 65 and over

Nevada will make COVID-19 vaccines available to residents aged 65 and older beginning Monday.

“Some of our small counties have already been able to offer vaccines to those 65 and over,” Sisolak said. “But this effort will help some of our larger counties move into this category faster.”

The governor said the change was thanks to the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. For now, eligible residents will be able to get their vaccine at Walmart stores across the state. Sisolak also acknowledged that Nevada won’t have enough for everyone in the expanded age group yet, because the federal government hasn’t sent enough supplies.

Sisolak has been requesting more doses since January when he said Nevada had received the second-lowest number of vaccines per capita in the country.

Saturday, February 20

11:55 a.m.: California to set aside 10% of COVID vaccine doses for teachers

In an effort to get students back in the classroom, California is planning on setting aside 10% of the COVID-19 vaccine the state receives each week to vaccinate teachers, day care workers and other school employees.

The plan will begin March 1. 75,000 vaccine doses from the state’s current weekly allotment will be set aside, Gov. Gavin Newom said. 

35 of the state’s counties are already prioritizing vaccinating teachers and other educators.

Read more here. 

Friday, February 19

5:52 p.m.: California avoids ‘twindemic’ of flu and COVID-19 by following public health guidelines

People staying home, wearing masks in public and keeping a six-foot distance from others has significantly reduced the severity of flu season in California, according to new state data.

Surveillance reports from the California Department of Public Health show there have been no flu outbreaks and just 26 deaths since September, compared to 94 outbreaks and 328 deaths by this time last year, a 92% drop in influenza fatalities.

This has been a national trend, and scientists have noted that other viruses have been quiet while COVID-19 has been raging. Some are worried that humans will lose their immunity to influenza and other common viruses, which will put us in a vulnerable position should more severe seasons return in the future.

Last year in California, 51% of residents got vaccinated for the flu, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The California Department of Public Health says it does not track influenza vaccination rates and so can’t provide that number for this year. 

In the fall, physicians urged the public to get vaccinated for the flu, to avoid a ‘twindemic’ that would overwhelm already-strained hospitals with both flu and coronavirus patients.

“So both with COVID and influenza, it was almost unthinkable,” said Dr. Natascha Tuznik, an infectious disease specialist with UC Davis. “But because of, we think, the masking and the social distancing and all of those things, we’ve seen significantly lower influenza rates.”

She says it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine if you haven’t already.

As the COVID-19 vaccine gradually becomes available, health experts say it’s crucial that people continue to wear a mask and wash their hands to prevent transmission of both coronavirus and the flu. 

People who are vaccinated are protected from severe illness due to COVID-19, but may still be capable of passing the virus on to others

11:54 a.m.: California updates state guidance on youth sports

The California Department of Public Health on Friday updated guidelines for youth and recreational adult sports, paving the way for some sports to restart this month.

Under the updated guidance, outdoor high-contact and moderate-contact sports competitions may resume in counties under the red or substantial tier in the state’s reopening system. The purple or widespread tier counties can continue these sports, but with modifications, including testing requirements for certain outdoor high contact sports.

“It will only help enliven the capacity of these kids to feel more engaged, feel more alive to get the social … back to social-emotional, the mental and physical health and resume activities that are much more positive in terms of their life’s choices,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a Friday press conference.

In both the purple and red tier counties, the sports can only resume when the county has a case rate at or below 14 per 100,000. Weekly testing will be required for football, rugby, and water polo participants age 13 and over in counties with a case rate between 7 and 14 per 100,000.

Weekly testing — either antigen or PCR — is required for all participants and coaches in these sports, with results needed within 24 hours of competition. This applies to high-contact sports like rugby and others that are likely to be played unmasked, with close face-to-face contact exceeding 15 minutes will require said weekly testing.

Outdoor moderate-contact sports like baseball, cheerleading and softball can be played in these counties without the testing requirement.

11:53 a.m.: Pandemic restaurant closures has lead to overstock in second-hand kitchen equipment

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced tens of thousands of restaurants to permanently shut their doors as dining restrictions keep customers away.

But, according to the Associated Press, these closures have been a boon for commercial auctioneers that buy used equipment and sell them to restaurants that managed to stay afloat. Grafe Auction’s chief marketing and technology officer said his company conducted 289 auctions in 2020, up from 203 in 2019.

August was the most profitable month since the company was founded in 1959. A recent report by the National Restaurant Association shows the pandemic’s devastating impact on the restaurant industry, which last year lost 110,000 business — about 17% of the nation’s total.

11:48 a.m.: Shipment delays may push back Sacramento County vaccine appointments

Vaccine shipment delays due to weather conditions in other parts of the country may push back some pre-scheduled vaccine appointments this week in Sacramento County, according to the county public health department.

In a press release, the department said it is working with health care providers and hospitals to shift doses around to cover as many scheduled appointments as possible.

“Priority will be given to second dose appointments, however shortages may result in a delay in some second dose appointments,” it reads.

Second doses of the vaccine are ideally supposed to be given 28 days after the first one for the Moderna and 21 days after the first for the Pfizer. But the county health department notes that the CDC says you can safely administer the second dose up to six weeks after the first.

“We’re hopeful as soon as the weather clears, we’ll receive our doses,” the release reads. “However, we request patience and understanding as we adapt to changing situations.”

The county says apart from the weather delays, all of those eligible for the vaccine may not be able to get an appointment right now.

“Due to low dose allocations, appointment availability is limited and often filled within minutes of opening,” it says.

Thursday, February 18

5:16 p.m.: In diverse Stockton, people of color still underrepresented in vaccination

People of color in California are still underrepresented among COVID vaccine recipients, even in Stockton, which U.S. News and World Report ranked last year as the most racially diverse city in the country.

But Darryl Rutherford, who heads The Reinvent South Stockton Coalition — a nonprofit group working to uplift one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods — says that diversity doesn’t mean equity. He says his biggest concern is access to vaccinations.

“Are folks still going to have to travel completely over to the other side of the city in order to get to the vaccines?” he said. “So that’s something that we’re going to be working through.”

Data from the state Department of Public Health show Black Californians have received less than 3% of the first available doses of the coronavirus vaccine. That compares to 38% for white people, 16% for Latinos and 13% for Asians.

3:20 p.m. Yosemite National Park sees lowest visitor total in 35 years

The number of visitors to Yosemite National Park last year plunged by almost half. The decrease wasn’t attributed to just the pandemic but rather a series of closures. 

In 2019, Yosemite hosted 4.5 million campers, tourists and day visitors — whereas last year, only 2.3 million visitors roamed the valley, climbed at any of the 750 hiking trails or stood beneath the park’s towering waterfalls. 

This is the lowest attendance that the park has had in 35 years. What turned the flow of visitors to a trickle included smoke from wildfires and the pandemic, which closed the park from March to June. The park is now accepting visitors with a reservation system to keep the number of visitors to half of normal.

“[The reservation system] was successful. People came in, we didn’t have shuttle busses, but they were able to park, get around,” Ranger Scott Gediman said. “People are good about social distancing.”

Gediman said the reservation system will stay in place, and the national park will work with local health officials to keep the public safe.

1:29 p.m.: San Jose gym slapped with $1 million in fines for violating coronavirus health orders

A San Jose gym has closed after racking up nearly $1 million in fines for skirting COVID-19 orders, according to the Associated Press.

On Wednesday, Santa Clara County health officials announced that the owner of California Ripped Fitness had submitted a statement of compliance with public health regulations. The gym had ignored rules against indoor operations for months, defiantly posting window signs saying it was exercising its constitutional rights.

The county said it had received dozens of complaints. The county said it would work with the gym to resolve outstanding fines and warned that more penalties were possible if the gym reopened.

1:23 p.m.: California conference in ‘immunity bubble’ spreads COVID-19 around

XPrize founder Peter Diamandis thought he could hold a conference in an “immunity bubble” in the middle of California’s COVID-19 surge last month but instead created a superspreader event that infected attendees, staff and himself.

According to the Associated Press, Diamandis said he was wrong in a blog post that details the implications of a false sense of security created by negative test results and his conclusion that face masks are effective. 

The pandemic prevented Diamandis from holding the conference in a hotel, so he turned his office into a TV studio with a small audience that wasn’t required to constantly wear masks. The small group that attended all had to take COVID-19 tests within 72 hours of the event and then were tested every morning. 

Doctors were also on-site to support COVID-19 safety. A total of 452 tests were taken over four days, and 451 came back negative. The one positive person was not admitted to the event. However, another member tested positive with an antigen test but then tested negative once they took a PCR test. 

Despite all of the testing and doctors, 21 people developed COVID-19. The production crew that wore their masks the entire time and isolated in a corner had no cases.

1:15 p.m.: How do we know if COVID-19 vaccines are safe? Scientists continue to monitor vaccines

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

To check the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, scientists look for issues during the testing phase and continue their monitoring as shots roll out.

According to the Associated Press, so far, the only serious warning to emerge is a rare risk of severe allergic reactions. The U.S. uses Pfizer and Moderna shots, while Britain and Europe have authorized those plus the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Studies found that common side effects were minor and typical of the immune system revving up after any vaccination. However, scientists still have their eyes on the vaccine and continue to monitor it. With more than 52 million doses administered in the U.S., health officials say they haven’t detected a safety problem.

10:39 a.m.: Health experts say to reopening states: be careful with new virus variants

States are starting to ease up on coronavirus restrictions, but health experts say that we don’t know enough yet about the new variants to begin rolling back measures that slow spread.

According to the Associated Press, as more people are vaccinated and the daily number of COVID-19 cases and deaths drop, public health officials are starting to relax on containment strategies. Businesses like restaurants, bars, and retail establishments are slowly reopening, but the country’s genetic surveillance system is still not robust enough to accurately track variants, which means the variants could be spreading clandestinely.

Experts say that continued public health measures like social distancing can help avoid a stronger variant-based virus surge.

10:38 a.m.: US unemployment claims rise to 861,000, layoffs continue

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to 861,000, according to the Associated Press.

The application benefits rising is a sign of painfully high layoffs, despite a steady drop in the number of confirmed viral infections across the country. Applications from laid-off workers rose 13,000 from the previous week, which was revised sharply higher, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Before the virus erupted in the U.S. last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000, even during the 2008-2009 Great Recession.

Wednesday, February 17

5:58 p.m.: California lawmakers announce $9.6 billion pandemic relief package

Low-income and undocumented Californians can get new $600 stimulus payments from the state under a sweeping $9.6 billion pandemic relief deal announced by state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The aid package also includes billions of dollars in grants and fee waivers for small businesses, as well as funding for childcare, farmworker housing and food banks.

If approved by the Legislature, the deal includes one-time relief payments to California households earning up to $30,000 annually. Undocumented taxpayers, who did not receive federal stimulus payments, would also qualify if they earn less than $75,000. Low-income undocumented workers can get relief checks of $1,200.

“As we continue to fight the pandemic and recover, I’m grateful for the Legislature’s partnership to provide urgent relief and support for California families and small businesses where it’s needed most,” Newsom said in a statement.

Here’s what’s included in the relief package:

  • $3.75 billion for “Golden State Stimulus” payments to an estimated 5.7 million low-income and undocumented Californians
  • $2 billion in grants for struggling small businesses
  • Fee waivers for hundreds of thousands of bars, restaurants, barbers and cosmetologists
  • $400 million for childcare and preschool providers
  • $35 million for food and diaper banks
  • $24 million for hotel rooms to allow farmworkers living in congregant housing to quarantine
  • Lawmakers are expected to vote on the package in the coming weeks.

5:30 p.m.: California health care providers facing pandemic fatigue, study finds 

As the pandemic enters its second year, California’s health care workers are nearing burnout, increasingly skeptical of the system’s ability to vaccinate the public and frustrated by the public response, a new study finds. 

The survey, conducted by the California Healthcare Foundation, talked to 1,200 providers between Jan. 4 and 12, 2021. It’s the second of three looks at how the state’s healthcare providers are coping.  

Half of the 1,200 health care providers surveyed say they are frustrated at their job. More than half  say they are “overworked,” and more than two-thirds are emotionally stressed.

“California’s health care providers are under strain and fed up,” says Kristof Stremikis, director of Market GFN and Insight at the California Health Care Foundation. “While their confidence in the new vaccines is high, they have become more worried about the public vaccination drive. Too many report that they still lack basic supplies, and we’re seeing rising levels of burnout and exhaustion. And providers are increasingly frustrated with the public for not doing their part to save lives.”

While 85% of the doctors, nurses and other health care providers responding to the new poll say they have either received a vaccine or plan to do so, a growing number say they’re skeptical in the health care system’s ability to vaccinate the community. Only 19% say they are “very” confident that the health care system in their area is prepared to administer the vaccine. That’s down from 33% when providers were asked that question in September. 

Providers continue to report shortages in personal protective equipment. Almost half, 45% , say they reuse PPE, with nearly 40% saying they don’t have enough medical-grade face masks. Some 6 in 10 agree staffing shortages are hammering their ability to respond to the pandemic. 

3:00 p.m.: Resource and advocate groups work to help vaccinate Sacramento’s communities of color

The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted people of color, but efforts to vaccinate them lag.

In a bid to boost vaccination rates among Sacramento’s communities of color, two local resource groups hosted vaccination sessions over President’s Day weekend. La Familia Counseling Center and Asian Resources Inc., quickly ran out of the 750 doses shared between the two groups at their south Sacramento locations.

Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra said it’s time to make more significant changes to vaccination outreach.

“The fact that we’re getting a response rate this quickly shows our education efforts have worked, but we have to move forward with making sure [vaccines] are available,” Guerra said. “We do not want to lose this momentum.”

Guerra and organizers urged state and county health officials and major health care providers to get more vaccine doses to trusted community organizations to continue the push forward with inoculating people of color.

2:57 p.m.: 10 million fake N95 masks seized in the US

Federal agents have seized more than 10 million fake N95 masks in recent weeks.

According to the Associated Press, it’s the result of an ongoing investigation into counterfeits sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities, and government agencies. Officials say the most recent seizures occurred Wednesday when Homeland Security agents intercepted hundreds of thousands of counterfeit 3M masks in an East Coast warehouse that were set to be distributed.

The imitation masks were not tested to see whether they met strict N95 protection standards, possibly putting frontline medical workers at a big risk if used while treating COVID-19 patients.

Investigators also notified about 6,000 potential victims in at least 12 states, including hospitals, medical facilities, and others who may have unknowingly purchased knockoffs, urging them to stop using the medical-grade masks.

11:54 a.m.: Casino industry revenue drops by nearly a third due to coronavirus pandemic

A national casino industry group says the coronavirus pandemic cut U.S. gambling revenue by 31% in 2020, when compared to the year before, according to the Associated Press.

The American Gaming Association’s annual Commercial Gaming Revenue Tracker, released on Wednesday, put the revenue total at $30 billion for 2020 — the lowest since 2003. Association President and CEO Bill Miller noted that hospitality and travel have been among business sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.

In Las Vegas, MGM Resorts International announced Wednesday it will resume round-the-clock hotel operations on March 3 at Mandalay Bay, Park MGM, and The Mirage. The properties had implemented mid-week closures due to decreased business during the pandemic.

11:52 a.m.: US still can’t get N95 masks needed to hospitals

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States finds itself with many millions of N95 masks pouring out of factories and heading into storage, according to the Associated Press.

Somehow, there still isn’t nearly enough masks going to hospitals in need of them. An Associated Press investigation finds that this logistical breakdown is due to federal failures over the past year in coordinating supply chains.

Internal emails also show there were deliberate decisions to withhold vital information about new mask manufacturers and availability.

Some procurement officers are stuck between choosing to purchase masks from unfamiliar suppliers or federally approved domestic manufacturers, many of whom charge more than international mask makers. Once a mask is selected, then another tricky part begins — every health care worker must be fit-tested before using a new brand.

As quoted by the Associated Press, at Stanford Health Care, workers are back to using one N95 mask per patient, as needed.

Trade data and interviews with manufacturers, hospital associations, and frontline medical workers reveal a deadly disconnect — not an actual shortage — that is depriving doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other workers in contact with COVID-19 of the protection they need to continue working safely.

Tuesday, February 16

6:00 p.m.: Some areas of state could soon ease safety restrictions, says Newsom

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says some areas of the state could soon begin easing safety restrictions as new coronavirus cases decline.

Most counties are now in the purple tier, where the virus is considered widespread. But Newsom says that could change as early as next week if the state’s pandemic picture continues to improve. He says 3.5% of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive, down from over 11% last month.

“So if the trendlines continue, then I think that is indeed the case. We’ll see counties move not just from purple to red, but more and more red to orange.”

But Newsom warned that could change if more highly contagious strains of the virus begin to surface.  

The encouraging numbers come as the state is still trying to ramp up its vaccine rollout. Two new mass vaccination sites opened in Oakland and Los Angeles Tuesday, but California officials say short supplies are getting in the way of a widespread inoculation campaign.

According to Newsom, California now administers more than a million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per week.  Despite a slow ramp-up, he says most counties are now giving the shots out as quickly as they come in.

“We’re building the infrastructure where the only constraint is supply,” Newsom said. “But when the supply is ample, then we’re able to move aggressively and quickly.”

Last week, some vaccine sites — like Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles — temporarily shuttered after running out of doses. 

The good news is the new mass vaccination sites at Cal State Los Angeles and the Oakland Coliseum won’t cut into California’s regular vaccine supply — the doses come directly from the federal government. Newsom says together, the two sites can vaccinate 84,000 Californians per week.

5:53 p.m.: Sacramento County reaches over 90,000 total COVID-19 cases

Sacramento County passed a grim milestone on Tuesday after the county’s health department recorded 90,930 total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

Residents aged 20 to 29 make up the largest segment of those infected, followed by those ages 30 to 39. While white residents have gotten the most infections in the county, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders have the highest infection rate and highest death rate when the cases are broken down by ethnicity. As of Tuesday,  1,382 people in the county have died from the coronavirus. 

The city of Sacramento also hit a milestone Tuesday after reporting that 50,367 people have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Cases have been dropping in the county over the past week with an  average of 170 new cases per day, a drop of nearly 60% from two weeks ago.

5:50 p.m.: Yolo County moves frontline workers ahead in COVID-19 vaccine distribution schedule

Yolo County has expanded their coronavirus vaccination efforts to include all frontline workers in the state’s vaccine prioritization plan. 

According to a press release, the county will move into Phase 1b Tier 1, which the state defines as workers in education, childcare, emergency services, and food and agricultural industries. Vaccinations should start Feb. 15. Health care workers and residents 65 and older are still eligible to get their COVID-19 vaccination in the county.

To start, the county will offer a limited number of appointments for frontline workers who live or work in the county, with more vaccine clinics to be announced for next week. Residents who qualify will be able to register for a Feb. 20 vaccine clinic in Woodland online or by calling 211. 

Dignity Health and Yolo County will also partner in specialized clinics to quickly vaccinate teachers and school staff already in the classroom or on campus. Emergency services workers and law enforcement will be included. 

For farmworkers, the county will conduct a pilot vaccine clinic for 200 workers at a farm in Yolo County on Wednesday, Feb. 17. More clinics specifically for farm workers will be scheduled at various worksites after the test run is completed.

At this time, none of the large health care providers in the county are expanding eligibility to frontline workers. This expansion only applies to Yolo County appointments and those offered in partnership with Dignity Health.

5:47 p.m.: Nevada COVID-19 positivity rate drops, state eases more restrictions

Nevada health officials have reported 391 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths, according to the Associated Press. 

The latest numbers reported on Monday by the state bring the pandemic totals to 288,739 known cases and 4,720 deaths. Health officials say that Nevada’s two-week positivity rate has been trending down since mid-January and has dropped to 12.8%. 

Nevada began loosening some restrictions on Monday that Gov. Steve Sisolak put in place to stem a winter surge. Restaurants, casino floors, and gyms can now be 35% occupied, religious gatherings can be at 50% capacity, and public gatherings can involve 100 people or 35% capacity, whichever is less.

11:34 a.m.: San Francisco shutters vaccination site due to shortage of doses

San Francisco is the latest California city to temporarily shut down a mass vaccination site due to a lack of supply.

The city put vaccinations on hold for a week at the Moscone Convention Center until supply ramps up. San Francisco joins Los Angeles in having to pause inoculations amid a national shortage, even as new federal-state vaccination sites open, according to the Associated Press.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the city will prioritize people needing second shots over those waiting for their first after closing its mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium last week. At the time, the city only received 16,000 vaccine doses.

The state also unveiled details of a contract with Blue Shield involving a new state vaccination program. The $15 million contract with the health insurer was picked to run California’s new centralized vaccine delivery system to help develop incentive payment criteria for providers and algorithms to allocate vaccines and prioritize appointments.

Blue Shield will also need to manage the provider network so it hits certain benchmarks, such as making sure vaccines are available for 95% of people within a half-hour drive in urban areas and one-hour drive in rural areas.

11:21 a.m.: Los Angeles County gears up to reopen schools soon

Amid falling coronavirus rates, elementary schools in Los Angeles County are expected to be allowed to reopen as early as this week. But the county’s huge Los Angeles Unified School District isn’t expected to reopen immediately.

According to the Associated Press, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement Monday that it expects to announce on Tuesday that the county has reached the state’s threshold for reopening schools.

Health officials say schools wishing to reopen must submit plans to the county and the California Department of Public Health certifying that they have implemented safety measures. However, Los Angeles Unified is still in negotiations with teachers about reopening.

11:19 a.m.: Latinos in the U.S. face language barriers, fear around COVID-19 vaccine

Across the country, Latinos are facing daunting barriers to getting COVID-19 vaccines, creating a public health risk as the coronavirus mutates and spreads.

According to the Associated Press, many are struggling with a lack of knowledge about the shots, and many state vaccine websites don’t have instructions in Spanish. Some are struggling to find appointments in their communities and fear they could be targeted for immigration enforcement if they sign up.

Ranging from the older Cuban American adults in Florida to farmworkers in California, some Latinos find themselves in a difficult spot. Health issues like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension are common in Latino communities, making them one of the highest risk groups for COVID-19 in the U.S.

Monday, February 15

11:30 a.m.: With supply low, San Francisco pauses some vaccine distribution

San Francisco is the latest California city to temporarily shutter a mass vaccination site due to lack of vaccine, joining Los Angeles in pausing inoculations amid a national shortage.

According to the Associated Press, officials said Sunday that mass vaccinations are on hold at Moscone convention center for one week until supply ramps up. Many cities and counties in California are crying for more vaccines, saying they have the ability to deliver.

Nearly 6 million doses have been administered throughout California and there are hopes the Biden administration can open up vaccine supplies. On Tuesday, two new mass vaccination sites with doses from the federal government will open in Oakland and East Los Angeles.

11:12 a.m.: New daily COVID-19 cases drop below 100,000 in U.S.

For the first time since November, new average COVID-19 cases in the United States were below 100,000 on Friday, according to NPR and data from Johns Hopkins University.

The seven- day average of new infections dropped below 100,000 on Friday, continuing at that level through Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The seven- day average of new infections dropped below 100,000 on Friday, continuing at that level through Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Researchers reported 83,321 new infections and 3,361 new deaths Sunday.

These figures are well below the average daily infection rate of 200,000 for December and nearly 250,000 in January.

Nevertheless, health experts warned the country has a long way to go before celebrating a turning point in the pandemic.

“We are still at around 1,500 to 3,500 deaths per day. The cases are more than two-and-a-half-fold times what we saw over the summer,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place.”

Read more from NPR here.

Sunday, February 14

11:25 a.m.: Californians urged to celebrate Valentine’s Day virtually

Health officials are urging Californians to protect their loved ones from the coronavirus by celebrating Valentine’s Day virtually this year. 

The governor’s office of emergency services tweeted a message Saturday, telling people to “have a heart, stay apart.” 

Meanwhile, San Francisco public health officials are taking a more direct approach. They updated a six-page tip sheet this week on how to have sex as safely as possible during the pandemic.

While stressing that people should avoid close contact — including sex — with anyone outside their household, the city’s public health department told the San Francisco Chronicle it was updating guidance it first issued last year “to reflect the latest science on COVID-19.”

—Associated Press

Saturday, February 13

12:09 p.m.: Some fitness trainers got vaccine as ‘health care workers’

Some fitness trainers in California were able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after state health officials created a loophole that helped them qualify as health care workers. 

KGO-TV reports that in January, the California Department of Public Health released updated guidelines on vaccination allocation that classified outdoor recreation as health care, the first tier eligible to get the vaccine along with people over 75. 

Some fitness clubs jumped at the chance of getting their employees vaccinated. But last Friday, state health officials updated the rules and they no longer include outdoor recreation as health care.

—Associated Press

11:11 a.m.: 4-6 million added to California’s vaccine eligibility list

California is expanding its list of people eligible for coronavirus vaccinations by another 4 million to 6 million people.  

State Health Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said Friday that starting March 15 severely disabled people and those with health conditions that put them at high risk can get in line for shots. Among those included are people with certain cancer, heart, lung and kidney conditions, as well as pregnant women, those with Down syndrome, organ transplant recipients and the severely obese.  

California has been plagued by vaccine shortages and Ghaly acknowledged  he’s not sure how long it will take for the federal supply of shots to meet demand.

—Associated Press

Friday, February 12

3:41 p.m.: Sacramento County to begin vaccinating K-12 educators and childcare workers 

Sacramento County Public Health and its health care partners will start vaccinating educators and child care providers on Feb. 16. 

The undertaking is a collaborative effort between the Sacramento County Office of Education, the 13 local school districts, private school entities, the county’s public health department and health care providers. A press release from the county says vaccinations will ultimately depend on the availability of doses. 

“Vaccinating our educators and childcare providers is an important step in the effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and help return our communities back to their normal lives,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said. “While the effort will be slow, every person that gets vaccinated is a step in the right direction.”

Who is eligible?

At this time, those employed in Sacramento County who meet at least one of the criteria below are eligible to schedule a vaccination appointment:

  • All staff in preschool, elementary, middle, and high schools
  • All formal and informal childcare workers, including daycare providers
  • Any other workers involved in child and/or student care, including school bus drivers, monitors, crosswalk guards, etc.
  • All staff in educational support services and administration

Because of a limited vaccine supply, colleges, universities, post-secondary education facilities, technical and trade schools will have to wait until a yet-to-be-announced future date. 

Appointments will be required, and SCPH will provide appointment portals directly to the eligible groups to assist with appointment scheduling.

More information can be found on the Sacramento County COVID-19 website

3:33 p.m.: Yolo County switches to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine availability site

Yolo County is shifting away from its online COVID-19 vaccination interest form to the state’s vaccination notification website, MyTurn

MyTurn allows California residents to register for an email or text notification to let them know when they’re eligible for a coronavirus shot. Eventually, the system will also allow eligible residents to book their vaccination appointments all in the same place. Currently, that feature is only available for people living near Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco.

Yolo County initially launched their own COVID-19 interest form on Jan. 19, before the MyTurn system was established. According to a county press release, previously registered Yolo County residents will need to register again on MyTurn to get any updates or reminders due to the differences in databases. 

The county stresses that switching to MyTurn will not negatively impact a resident’s ability to get the vaccine.

MyTurn is available in English and Spanish, with six more languages planned for mid-February. Californians without internet access and call 1-(833) 422-4255 to get help in English or Spanish and 254 additional languages through a third-party operator.

Yolo County is currently vaccinating healthcare workers in Phase 1A and those 65 and older in Phase 1B, Tier 1. Appointments can’t be made on MyTurn yet, so eligible residents can contact their health care provider or register at a public county clinic online.

3:25 p.m.: Bill proposal would permanently allow restaurants to sell to-go cocktails

During the pandemic, the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control temporarily allowed restaurants to sell boozy takeout drinks, and with a new proposal in the Legislature, that could become permanent.

The head of the California Restaurant Associated applauded the bill saying including cocktails with to-go meals has been helpful for many restaurant owners barely hanging on, especially as restaurants across the state have relied on to-go cocktails to bolster their sales, since indoor dining is still closed.

At least 33 other states have also introduced similar temporary rules allowing customers to take alcoholic drinks on the go. If passed, the new law would require customers to purchase food with their boozy beverages.

12:03 p.m.: Trinity County has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state

The slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in California isn’t a problem only in big cities and counties — smaller counties are struggling to keep up with inoculations, too.

Trinity County has a population of just over 12,000, but is administering some of the fewest doses per 100,000 residents in the state. Out of the 58 counties in California, Trinity County ranks 55th in vaccination rates.

The county’s public health branch director Marcie Jo Cudziol said health officials administered about 550 doses at mass vaccination clinics last week.

“When they released the vaccine back in December, there wasn’t a lot of guidance on the infrastructure around getting it out, and so that was very challenging,” Cudziol said.

Prior to the latest inoculation push, they had only administered about 130 doses in total. Cudziol said the state provided access to six vaccinators this week to help the county’s inoculation effort. Those eligible include residents who are 65 or older and younger people with chronic health conditions.

10:29 a.m.: Natomas Unified School District plans to resume in-person learning

A Sacramento-area school district has announced a timeline to return to in-person learning for students in Transitional Kindergarten through 6th grade.

The Natomas Unified School District has reached out to parents, saying it plans to resume classes on Feb. 23. Superintendent Chris Evans says the decision was based on communication from the Sacramento County Public Health Department allowing these specific grades to return to in-person learning.

The department’s ruling was based on improving COVID-19 case rates in the area. Evans also said in the letter that educators might begin getting the vaccine as early as next week. While students may soon be moving back into classrooms, the in-person groups will be smaller — five to seven students on average per day.

A district poll showed 46% of TK through 6th grade parents want their kids back in class.

Thursday, February 11

3:24 p.m.: Pandemic fever got you down? Smash up stuff at LA’s rage room

Meditation and Pilates may be good and fine for some people, but after nearly a year in COVID-19 isolation, some people just want to grab a sledgehammer and smash everything in sight.

Thankfully for them, there are now two “rage rooms” in the Los Angeles suburb of Westlake Village where they can do just that. According to the Associated Press, the rooms are part of Smash RX LLC, opened by licensed marriage and family therapist Yashica Budde to give people a way to release stress.

Participants can destroy items like TVs, computers, cups, plates, even furniture — pretty much anything Budde can get her hands on to help keep them calm.

3:23 p.m.: UC Berkeley COVID-19 lockdown bans outdoor exercise

A recent surge in COVID-19 cases at the University of California, Berkeley, has prompted school officials to extend a lockdown on about 2,000 students living in residence halls and ban them from outdoor exercise.

According to the Associated Press, the university website says more than 400 people have tested positive for the virus since an outbreak started in mid-January. A weekly breakdown of the cases shows about 200 positive tests since the first week of February. 

The lockdown put in place has been extended through at least Feb. 15. Among the strict new rules is a ban on outdoor exercise that goes beyond the state’s own guidelines that encouraged getting outside to exercise.

3:22 p.m.: Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak to provide COVID-19 update

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is scheduled to provide an update on the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic in the state on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

The announcement comes one day before restrictions on businesses and gatherings are set to expire. While the spread of the virus has begun to slow down in the state, January was still the deadliest month since the start of the pandemic.

Sisolak tightened restrictions in late November. Restaurants, bars, gyms, places of worship and casinos have since had their capacity capped at 25%. He told residents the restrictions would be temporary, assuring them that adherence would slow the virus’s spread, but later extended them twice.

8:42: a.m.: California death toll passes New York

California has edged past New York in the grim COVID-19 death toll statistic, according to the Associated Press.

Johns Hopkins University data reported Thursday shows California’s death toll has reached 45,496, surpassing New York’s toll of 45,312. The development comes as coronavirus trends are showing improvement in California.

According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,California ranks 32nd in the highest death rate per capita, with 113 deaths for every 100,000 residents. New Jersey is the highest with 250 deaths per 100,000 people.

State Department of Public Health data shows the most recent seven-day positive test rate has fallen to 4.8%, and the daily number of new positive cases is under 8,400, down from the well over 53,000 in December.

However, California is grappling with vaccine shortages that are devastating efforts to mass inoculate the state’s nearly 40 million residents.

8:40 a.m.: How scientists track COVID-19 mutations and variants

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

Scientists around the world are tracking variants of the coronavirus by scanning virus samples taken from infected people.

According to the Associated Press, the process is called genome sequencing, and lets experts look for recurring changes in the virus’s genetic code over time. Most mutations are meaningless, but scientists are looking for those that might make the virus more infectious or resistant to vaccines.

Countries vary in their genomic surveillance — for example, Britain sequences about 10% of samples from infected people, compared to less than 1% in the U.S. So far, scientists have sequenced nearly half a million genomes of the coronavirus and are primarily concerned about the three variants first identified in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil.

8:39 a.m.: Los Angeles shuts down vaccination sites due to lack of supply

The city of Los Angeles is temporarily closing five mass vaccination sites — including Dodger Stadium — because the city is running out of COVID-19 doses.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city will exhaust its supply of Moderna first doses by Thursday, forcing it to close vaccination sites on Friday and Saturday.

Garcetti says L.A. only received 16,000 new doses this week, just 3,000 more than it uses in a typical day. The announcement came amid complaints over a state vaccine distribution system that one Assemblyman on Wednesday termed “nothing short of chaotic.”

Wednesday, February 10

6:13 p.m.: California Labor Secretary Julie Su nominated for deputy U.S. secretary of labor

President Joe Biden has nominated California Labor Secretary Julie Su as the deputy U.S. secretary of labor, putting another Californian in a top administration job. 

The announcement is expected to focus a brighter spotlight on California’s ongoing unemployment fraud scandal. The state says it has paid out at least $11 billion in fraudulent benefits and that figure could top $30 billion. Su’s office oversees EDD operations. EDD officials have also been criticized in two reports by the state auditor and there’s a huge backlog of unpaid claims.

Su’s nomination requires Senate confirmation. She would be tasked with helping lead a sprawling department that oversees laws regulating worker standards and pay, workplace safety, family and medical leave and more.

5:17 p.m.: South African COVID-19 variant detected in California

Two cases of the South African variant of the virus, believed to be more easily transmissible and more resistant to antibodies and vaccines, have been reported in California. One is in Alameda County, the other in Santa Clara County. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom made the announcement while at a new mass vaccination site in Fresno. The South African variant is believed to be more easily transmissible and more resistant to antibodies, including those in the vaccines currently in use. It is not, however, believed to be more deadly.

Newsom also says cases and hospitalizations continue to decrease and ICU capacities continue to rise. The governor also noted the state has administered 5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“On Friday of last week, we announced 225,000  vaccinations over a 24-hour reporting period. That represented the 4 million mark.  In less than a week, we’ve now reached 5 million,” Newsom said. “It took us seven days to go from about 3 to 4 million.”

The 5 millionth dose was given to an 85-year-old former farmworker in the Central Valley. That comes as advocates for farmworkers say that the group may be left behind in the state’s vaccine rollout.

5:16 p.m.: Confusion over vaccination order causes thousands of appointments to be missed at Dodger Stadium

Thousands of COVID-19 vaccination appointment opportunities went unused at the Dodger Stadium mass inoculation site on Tuesday over vaccination order confusion, according to the Associated Press.

Many didn’t attend since it was unclear if they could receive the first round of shots there. Los Angeles County health officials announced last week that because of short vaccine supplies, people could only receive their second shots at county-run inoculation sites starting Feb. 9. 

Dodger Stadium is among vaccination sites operated by the city of Los Angeles, which is not limiting appointments to second shots only. About 4,800 doses intended for use on Tuesday are now available Wednesday.

5:10 p.m.: US government looking into massive N94 mask counterfeit scam

Federal authorities are investigating a massive counterfeit N95 mask operation in which fake 3M masks were sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies.

According to the Associated Press, the foreign-made knockoffs are becoming increasingly difficult to spot and could put health care workers at grave risk for infection. A federal official says these masks are giving first responders” a false sense of security.”

Nearly a year into the pandemic, fraud still remains a significant problem as scammers seek to exploit hospitals and desperate, weary Americans. These schemes deliver phony products, unlike fraud earlier in the pandemic that focused more on fleecing customers.

Officials could not name the states or the company involved in the fraud because of an active investigation.

10:52 a.m.: California looks into whistleblower allegation over COVID-19 testing lab

The California Department of Public Health is investigating whistleblower allegations of mismanagement and incompetence — including reports of workers sleeping on the job — at the state’s new billion-dollar COVID-19 testing laboratory.

According to the Associated Press, internal documents from the PerkinElmer-run lab detailed alleged issues like contamination causing inconclusive tests, swapped samples and inaccurate results sent to patients.

CBS13 TV in Sacramento obtained the records. They interviewed current and former employees who claim to have found COVID-19 test swaps found in restaurants. California’s health department director Tomas Aragon said the state is taking the allegations seriously.

The state contracted PerkinElmer to process up to 150,000 coronavirus tests a day by March at the Santa Clarita-based lab. However, records show that the facility is currently working through less than 20,000 tests a day while being paid a contracted rate of 100,000 tests per day.

10:51 a.m.: A third of US adults skeptical about COVID-19 vaccination

About 1 in 3 American adults say they definitely or probably won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine.

That’s according to a recent poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Experts say this is discouraging news if the U.S. hopes to achieve herd immunity and vanquish the outbreak.

The poll found that while 67% of Americans plan to get vaccinated or have already done so, 15% are certain they won’t, and 17% said probably not. Many expressed doubts over the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, even though few if any, serious side effects have turned up more than a month and a half into the vaccination drive.

10:50 a.m.: WHO expert group recommends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Independent experts advising the World Health Organization have recommended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to fight COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.

The group also stressed the vaccine even in countries where especially contagious variants cropped up. Amid the growing doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness against the potent coronavirus variant from South Africa, the new advice is for healthcare officials worldwide.

However, this isn’t a green light for the U.N. and its partners to ship the vaccine. That approval could come after a separate WHO group meets on Friday and Monday to assess whether an emergency-use listing for the AstraZeneca vaccine is warranted.

Tuesday, February 9

6:08 p.m.: California leaders facing pressure to loosen restrictions on youth sports 

Parents and coaches are ramping up pressure on California leaders to loosen restrictions on youth sports, citing concerns over physical and mental health. Some parents also worry their teenagers could be losing out on scholarship opportunities.

Most team sports have been suspended since the onset of the pandemic. At least one unsanctioned basketball tournament in Rocklin [near Sacramento] late last year led to more than 90 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says it’s something his office has been reevaluating.

“We’ve been negotiating the details of that,” Newsom said Tuesday. “Real progress is being made.”

But the governor says youth sports is part of a larger conversation on reopening schools. He plans to release a deal with state lawmakers on schools later this week.

6:00 p.m.: Butte County officials say more Covid testing needed to assess spread of virus 

Butte County Public Health Officials say testing too few residents could prevent the state from loosening the county’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Butte County is currently in the purple, or most restrictive tier, under the state’s reopening system. This means many non-essential businesses are barred from operating indoors. 

One of the metrics the state looks to when determining restrictions is the test positivity rate, or the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in the county. Butte County Health Officials say if too few residents are tested, it will be difficult for the state to accurately assess how widespread the virus is in the community.  

Officials say more testing is likely to lower the percentage of positive results and that testing too few residents could hinder the ability to loosen restrictions.

1:44 p.m.: Newsom says school reopening discussion continues, despite vaccines supply issues

Gov. Gavin Newsom once again hinted at a deal this week with California lawmakers on a $6.6 billion plan to reopen schools in the state, despite concerns from educators about access to vaccines.

Newsom said Tuesday that he supports a plan to get students, especially kindergarten to second grade, back into in-person classrooms before the end of the school year.

“I am of the firm belief we can safely get back our children — our youngest children — get them back safely to school in small cohorts,” he said Tuesday at the opening of a vaccination center at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. “We can get this done and we must get it done. If we care about diversity and we care about the values we preach, we have to get our youngest kids back into instruction and back into an environment where their social and emotional needs are  being met.”

Unions representing teachers and other school employees have put out their open plan, calling for the state to offer vaccines to all school employees before they return to work.

But Newsom said that would be unlikely with the state’s limited supply of vaccines. On Tuesday, he said the federal government will be providing around a million doses to California again this week, though only 594,000 earmarked for first doses.

“When you’re receiving less than 600,000 first doses a week, and you start to do the math, if that’s the prerequisite, then we need to be honest with people, and let them know — parents,  millions of us, myself included — that it is very unlikely we’ll be able to accomplish that very idealistic goal before the end of the school year, unless we took them away from the vast majority of others, seniors and our most medically vulnerable,” Newsom said.

New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to drop throughout the state, though more than 500 Californians a day are still dying from the disease.

1:37 p.m.: Nevada passes spending plan for 2020 federal coronavirus relief money

Nevada lawmakers unanimously passed spending plans for $633 million-worth of federal coronavirus relief funding passed by the former President Trump administration in December.

According to the Associated Press, the appropriations approved this week pertained to already-passed federal funding and will not draw from the general fund that state lawmakers oversee and use to finance state services and projects.

Lawmakers approved $125 million for Nevada’s rental assistance program, $50 million for a relief fund for small businesses, and $477 million for K-12 schools. The provisions apply to the budget year ending in June 2021 and are separate from the Legislature’s planning process for the upcoming two years.

1:36 p.m.: California churches can resume indoor services, singing still banned

California issued new rules for religious gatherings over the weekend following a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a ban on indoor worship services.

Previously churches were required to conduct religious services outside if their county was still in the highest two risk levels, purple and red, in the state’s color-coded tier reopening system. Most areas have been under these restrictions for weeks after the end of the state’s regional stay-at-home order.

While services are allowed back indoors at 25% capacity, singing and chanting are still banned. Many religious organizations cheered the new guidelines. Several Catholic leaders across the state said they would resume services like Mass under limited capacity.

Despite this, the ban on signing continues to be a sticking point. The Pasadena-based church pastor that brought the lawsuit said he will continue to fight the state’s ban on religious singing.

10:13 a.m: California counties turning to zip codes for vaccine outreach

California and other states are trying to ensure they vaccinate people in mostly Black, Latino and working-class communities since they have usually borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Associated Press, San Francisco is reserving some vaccines for older adults in the two zip codes hit hardest by the pandemic. Riverside County in Southern California has partnered with an immigrant advocacy group to vaccinate farmworkers.

Nationwide, states are struggling to distribute vaccines equitably even as officials try to define what equity means. Officials are debating what risk factors gets someone towards the front of the line: those in poverty, communities of color, the work they do, or if they have a disability.

10:12 a.m.: Los Angeles County lost nearly half a million jobs in 2020, will lose more in 2021

A report says Los Angeles County lost 437,000 jobs in 2020 and will have 354,000 fewer living-wage jobs this year compared to the pre-pandemic economy, according to the Associated Press.

The recently released report also outlined that more than 738,000 living-wage jobs will need to be created for the entire workforce in a county of 10 million residents to achieve a satisfactory standard of living. The county Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services commissioned the report.

County Board of Supervisors chairwoman Hilda Solis plans to ask the board to pass a motion to implement many of the report’s recommended recovery strategies.

10:08 a.m.: WHO team confirms COVID-19 did not leak from Chinese lab

A team of international and Chinese scientists looking for the origins of COVID-19 says it’s most likely that the coronavirus first appeared in humans after jumping from an animal.

According to the Associated Press, the team also confirmed that the alternate theory that the virus leaked from a Chinese lab was unlikely. This lab leak theory was the one former President Donald Trump and his administration officials had put forward without evidence. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is home to many different viral samples, leading to the allegation that it must have been the outbreak’s source, whether accidentally or on purpose.

One expert said a closely watched visit by the World Health Organization team to Wuhan, China, didn’t dramatically change the current understanding of the pandemic’s early days but did offer more details. The mission was intended to be a first step in understanding the origins of the virus. Scientists have posited the virus passed to humans through a wild animal like a pangolin or a bamboo rat.

The pandemic has now killed more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

Monday, February 8

5:40 p.m.: San Joaquin County creates vaccine information site

San Joaquin County residents can now sign up to be notified of available COVID-19 vaccine appointments in the county.

Residents can enter their email address or text-enabled phone number on the county’s website here and be alerted when doses are available for their tier. The state is now vaccinating health care workers, people in long-term care facilities, education and childcare workers, emergency services workers, food and agriculture workers, and all people 65 and older.

People without an email address or text-enabled phone can use an email address of a  caregiver, a family member or a friend.

5:38 p.m.: Natomas Unified School District opens COVID-19 vaccination clinic

The Natomas Unified School District will start administering COVID-19 shots to the surrounding community Thursday, Feb. 11.

The vaccination site will follow the state’s tier system for priority groups, meaning people 65 and older, and first responders. Vaccine-eligible people can register online or call (916) 561-5253 on Mondays from 8 to 11 a.m. for assistance. Help will be available in also Spanish, Punjabi, Hindu, Tagalog and Urdu. People calling the phone number may need to leave a message and be contacted later by staff.

Vaccinations will be at the Natomas High School parking lot at 3301 Fong Ranch Road as a drive-through shot site. Appointments are required, and walk-ups will not be admitted. The clinic  will continue on Thursdays moving forward.

5:25 p.m.: Nevada reports nearly 1,000 more COVID-19 deaths

On Saturday, Nevada reported 898 additional known COVID-19 cases and 33 additional deaths. 

According to the Associated Press, this increases the state’s pandemic totals to 283,391 cases and 4,496 deaths. The seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases and daily deaths in the state decreased over the past two weeks, as reported by data from the COVID Tracking Project.

The rolling average of daily new cases dropped from 1,451.7 on Jan. 22 to 887.7 on Friday, with the rolling average of daily deaths dropping from 37.1 to 35 during the same period. The number of infections in Nevada is thought to be far higher.

1:44 p.m.: First Sacramento-region case of UK COVID-19 variant confirmed in Yolo County

The Sacramento region’s first case of the U.K. variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in Yolo County.

UC Davis identified the case of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, the strain originally identified in the U.K. The variant was found through the university’s free testing program, Health Davis Together.

“Given that the B.1.1.7 variant has already been found in Southern California and the Bay Area, it is not surprising that it has now been detected in Yolo County,” Yolo County Public Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson said in a  press release.

Sisson said this infection is a reminder that even though cases may be declining in Yolo County, residents should still continue to wear masks, social distance and avoid indoor gatherings.

The person who tested positive for the variant has already been notified and is in isolation. Contract tracing efforts were started immediately. The unnamed person is an adult and may have caught the mutation through travel outside of their community.

The B.1.1.7 variant was originally identified in September 2020 and has been detected in 33 states, including California, Florida, Nevada, New York and Texas. Researchers from UC San Diego have hypothesized that this particular strain has been spreading rapidly in the U.S. since late November.

11:44 a.m.: Some California churches already open for indoor worship

Some California churches opened their doors to worshippers soon after the state revised its guidelines for places of prayer, according to the Associated Press.

The reopening follows the Supreme Court ruling Friday that lifted a ban on indoor services during the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office issued revised guidelines that limit indoor service attendance in areas with widespread or substantial virus spread.

In the most significant legal victory against California’s COVID-19 health orders, the high court said the state couldn’t continue a ban on indoor services, but it can limit attendance to 25% of the building’s capacity and restrict singing inside.

11:42 a.m.: Which COVID-19 test will I need for international travel? Depends on your destination.

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

Many countries are stepping up COVID-19-related requirements for incoming travelers. Some plan to ask travelers to show a recent negative COVID-19 test, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. will accept results from either a standard COVID-19 test or a rapid test, but the tests must have been taken no more than three days before flying into the country. The more sensitive nasal swab can take a day or more to get results, while the rapid tests can get a turnaround time of about 15 to 30 minutes.

Regardless of which test, the U.S. requires electronic or printed proof of the negative result from a medical laboratory — so even though results can be acquired quickly, travelers will likely need to see a health care provider to get proper documentation.

England also will accept either test, but their health authorities require that the tests meet a certain standard for accuracy. European Union officials recently agreed to standardized testing requirements for entry across all 27-nation bloc.

9:25 a.m.: Farmworkers may be overlooked in vaccination drive

In California, older adults, teachers, first responders, and farmworkers are all eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine right now, but with a limited supply of doses, counties have to choose who to prioritize.

Many counties are setting up clinics for older adults, advising them to check in with their doctors about setting up a coronavirus vaccine appointment. However, farmworkers across the state may not even know they are eligible for the vaccine or have a way to access it.

This lack of communication can lead to lower vaccination rates among farmworkers. According to a Stanford University report, even though farmworkers can get a free flu shot at any pharmacy, less than 5% do. But when people go onsite to where the farmworkers are to administer the vaccine, 80 to 85% receive their flu shot.

The Stanford team wants to go onsite to administer COVID-19 shots, but they can’t get their hands on the doses needed. Right now, the state has about 3 million on hand, but there are roughly 11.5 million people currently eligible.

While counties make their own decisions about administering the vaccine supply they get from the state, once older adults and frontline workers are vaccinated, the rollout should go by age group.

Sunday, February 7

3 p.m.: Californians urged not to gather for game amid virus gains

California’s coronavirus picture remains much improved, but officials expressed concern that Super Bowl gatherings could erase gains made over the past several weeks.

The California Department of Public Health urged residents not to gather for the big game.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 slipped below 11,670 statewide, a drop of nearly 35% in two weeks. The 15,064 new confirmed cases on Sunday represent a drop of more than 30% from the mid-December peak.

Deaths also are starting to fall but remain alarmingly high, however, with a daily average of 511 over the past two weeks. There were 295 deaths reported Sunday.

—Associated Press

Saturday, February 6

3:27 p.m.: California to revise indoor church guidelines after ruling

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office says it will issue revised guidelines for indoor church services after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the state’s ban on indoor worship during the coronavirus pandemic. 

In the most significant legal victory against California’s COVID-19 health orders, the high court told California it can’t continue with a ban on indoor services during the coronavirus pandemic, but it can limit attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity and restrict singing and chanting inside. 

Newsom’s office said it will continue to enforce the restrictions the high court left in place.

—Associated Press

12:50 p.m.: California can no longer ban indoor church services, rules Supreme Court 

The Supreme Court has ruled that California can no longer continue with a ban on indoor church services in response to the pandemic. However, the state can keep in place restrictions on singing and chanting inside. 

Churches in Chula Vista and Pasadena argued that the state had violated their religious liberty last year when it placed limits on in-person attendance at worship services based on COVID-19 rates. 

The court was split over how much leeway states should be given for restricting church attendance in order to keep COVID-19 at bay. 

Read more here.

Friday, February 5

2:16 p.m.: San Quentin State Prison faces huge Cal/OSHA fine over COVID-19 outbreak

California workplace safety regulators say they have hit San Quentin State Prison with by far the state’s largest pandemic-related fine against an employer yet.

San Quentin has been rocked by one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. According to the Associated Press, the prison now has a more than $400,000 fine levied against it. This new fine is several times higher than any others doled out by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as Cal/OSHA.

The announcement comes days after the state’s inspector general said corrections officials “caused a public health disaster” at San Quentin regarding COVID-19. Cal/OSHA said employees were not given adequate training, equipment or proper medical services.

2:15 p.m.: Nevada fights against COVID-19 vaccine disparity

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has introduced a new initiative aimed at addressing COVID-19 vaccine distribution disparities in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, according to the Associated Press.

Sisolak said on Friday that the Equity and Fairness Initiative was created to get vaccines to the communities that need them most, including working-class families, low-income households, and people of color.

The governor said he was alarmed at what he called an equity crisis in the U.S.

Nevada is expected to work with Clark County Emergency Management and the Southern Nevada Health District on the initiative. Progress is expected to be reported publicly to the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation Task Force.

2:00 p.m.: US troops to assist with COVID-19 vaccinations

The Pentagon will deploy more than 1,100 troops to five vaccination centers in what will be the first wave of increased military support for the Biden administration’s vaccination campaign.

According to the Associated Press, President Joe Biden has called to set up 100 mass vaccination centers around the country within a month. Two of those five new military teams will go to vaccination centers opening in California.

The two sites in California will both open on Feb. 16. One will be California State University, Los Angeles, and the other in Oakland.

Coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt said military personnel will arrive at those centers in a little over a week. Three additional centers across the country are expected to be announced soon.

10:42 a.m.: Main State Lab Far Short Of Its COVID-19 Testing Goal

California’s newest state lab remains far short of its goal for processing COVID-19 tests.

The lab in Valencia was hailed as a game-changer when it opened in November, and Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated it would turn around 150,000 tests per day by March.

It is processing roughly that number of tests — but weekly, not daily.

“Trying to get a specimen flow into a laboratory can be difficult,” said Rick Greenwood, adjunct professor of public health at UCLA. “The commercial labs, which are testing way more, have set up logistics for years.”

Commercial labs are processing more than 10-times the number of tests handled by the Valencia lab.

“California is on track with its targeted efforts to increase testing access across the state,” wrote Dr. Gil Chavez, co-chair of the state’s testing task force, in an emailed statement. “We will continue to expand testing while ensuring that capacity is available to meet surges in demand due to outbreaks, community-wide COVID-19 increases, or surveillance and screening.”

The California Department of Public Health declined an interview request.

Experts and the state say vaccine distribution will likely impact the demand for testing over time.

10:36 a.m.: Unemployment fraud during pandemic spans almost the entire nation

Unemployment agencies across the country were bombarded with so many claims during the pandemic that many — including California — struggled to distinguish the genuine from the fake.

According to the Associated Press, simple tax forms are now revealing the extent of the identity theft that made state-run unemployment offices lucrative targets for fraud after millions of people lost their jobs during the pandemic.

California isn’t the only state dealing with fraud. In Ohio, the governor and lieutenant governor learned that fraudulent claims had been filed in both their names.

10:35 a.m.: COVID-19 cases drop at nursing homes, long-term care facilities

Coronavirus cases have dropped at nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country over the past few weeks, according to the Associated Press.

The dip offers a glimmer of hope that health officials attribute to the start of vaccinations, plus an easing of the post-holiday surge and better prevention among other reasons. Statistics show that more than 153,000 residents of the country’s nursing homes and assisted living centers have died of COVID-19, making up 36% of the U.S. pandemic death toll.

While experts say the vaccination rollout may be contributing to the drop in cases, other factors are likely playing a larger role. However, they caution that threats are still looming, including new, more contagious strains of the virus.

Thursday, February 4

6:43 p.m.: Lawmakers introduce bill package to improve EDD

California state lawmakers Thursday unveiled a package of bills intended to make dramatic improvements to the state’s embattled Employment Development Department. 

One from San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez would change EDD’s contract with Bank of America which currently provides benefits through debit cards.

“It became very clear that this idea that all EDD payments have to go through Bank of America makes no sense,” she said.

Instead, Gonzalez’ bill would give those filing claims the option of getting their unemployment benefits via direct deposit to their bank accounts.

“The problem with everybody going through Bank of America, which we’re seeing, is that if you’re not a customer of Bank of America they have no responsibility to be very accommodating to your concerns about your card being frozen, or fraud or not receiving your card,” she said.

Other bills would require EDD to check the claimants against lists of prison inmates to prevent fraud and would establish an Office of the Claimant Advocate to help people with claim problems. Two separate audits released this year found that the EDD is plagued with bureaucratic inefficiencies, fraud and an inability to pay benefits on time.

All of the legislation will now go through committee hearings in the coming weeks. 

3:22 p.m.: Sacramento County offers public vaccination clinic to people 65 and older

The Sacramento County Department of Public Health is hosting a COVID-19 pop-up vaccination clinic on Feb. 6 for anyone 65 years or older.

Interested people must register online and be 65 or older. Currently, there are enough vaccine doses to inoculate 1,000 people. The clinic is open to anyone 65 and older, regardless of insurance, ability to pay, or legal status. There will be no walk-up appointments.

After registering, people who signed up for a spot will need to bring a form of identification to confirm their age and a printed copy of their registration before they can receive the shot. Those who attend will be automatically registered for a second dose when they receive their first one.

This is not a drive-through clinic, so people must bring masks to get vaccinated. The county department of public health recommends that registered people arrive at least 10 minutes before their appointment, and then factor in another 15 minutes post-shot so you can be monitored for any allergic reactions or side effects.

The person receiving the immunization can bring one other person.

When: Saturday, February 6, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Where: Cristo Rey High School – Multi-Purpose Room, 8475 Jackson Rd, Sacramento

3:17 p.m.: Elko County creates private fund to support coronavirus-related business fines

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has criticized Elko County for undermining COVID-19 restrictions after establishing a fund to raise private money to support coronavirus-related business infractions.

According to the Associated Press, on Wednesday, Elko County commissioners unanimously approved the fund and insisted that the fund won’t include any taxpayer money. The Elko Daily Free Press reports county Republican Party Chairman Lee Hoffman told the commissioners he was ready to become the first contributor, pledging $100.

Commission Chairman John Karr said the ultimate goal is to ease the restrictions that set capacity limits, require masks and social distancing.

3:05 p.m.: US coronavirus deaths surpass 450,000, daily deaths still high

Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have surpassed 450,000, according to the Associated Press.

Daily deaths remain stubbornly high at more than 3,000 new deaths a day, despite falling infections and the arrival of multiple vaccines. Infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping soon, right after cases hit a peak around the beginning of the year.

The new CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says COVID-19 deaths could ebb as early as next week. Still, there’s also the risk that improving infection trends and hospitalizations could be offset by people relaxing and coming together — especially with the Super Bowl happening this Sunday.

On Wednesday, 3,912 COVID-19 deaths were recorded nationwide, down from the pandemic peak of 4,466 deaths on Jan. 12. California has been the biggest driver to the U.S. death toll over the past month, averaging more than 500 deaths per day in recent weeks.

12:06 p.m.: Report shows food establishments most commonly cited place Southern Nevada residents infected with COVID-19

The Southern Nevada Health District has released new data that shows where Clark County residents may have been exposed to the coronavirus, according to the Associated Press.

While the most common exposure site is listed as “other,” the most common specified locations were food establishments with 13,146 potential cumulative exposures with 1,969 possible exposures in the last 30 days.

Next ranked were hotels or motels, which accounted for 12,219 total potential exposures. The following highest potential exposure sites were medical facilities, “work,” grocery stores, casinos, schools and long-term care facilities.

11:48 a.m.: Can I take painkillers before and after getting a COVID-19 vaccine? Probably not.

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

It’s best to avoid certain painkillers before and after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, unless you routinely take them for a medical condition, according to the Associated Press.

Although the evidence is limited, some painkillers might curb the very immune system response the vaccine is trying to generate. Symptoms such as arm soreness, fever, headaches and body aches are common after a vaccine and are signs that the body is mounting a defense against the virus.

Medical experts say people should not take painkillers preventively before getting a vaccine unless a doctor has advised them to.

11:47 a.m.: US scrambles to identify coronavirus mutations

Despite its world-class medical system and its vaunted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. fell behind in the race to detect dangerous coronavirus mutations.

According to the Associated Press, the nation is only now beginning to catch up. The problem hasn’t been a shortage of technology or expertise, but rather an absence of national leadership and coordination.

Scientists say all of that, plus a lack of funding and supplies for overburdened laboratories trying to juggle diagnostic testing with the hunt for mutations.

Wednesday, February 3

5:25 p.m.: California opening two new COVID-19 vaccination center

California is joining with the federal government to open two new vaccination centers as test areas for President Joe Biden’s effort to create 100 mass vaccination sites nationwide in 100 days. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom made the announcementWednesday in front of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, one of the two sites. Newsom says the program will be jointly run with FEMA.

“We’ll be working with the county and local officials, hiring local individuals from the community creating jobs for community members to distribute what we hope is a minimum of 6,000 doses a day hoping to build from that moving forward,” Newsom said.

The other test site is at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Wednesday’s announcement comes as California’s most deadly pandemic surge eases but as the state struggles with vaccine shortages. Newsom promoted the new sites as part of the larger effort to target communities that might otherwise be left behind.

5:20 p.m.: Five more UK variant COVID-19 cases reported in Las Vegas

Health officials in Las Vegas say five more residents have contracted the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, according to the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, the Nevada Health District said that all five people had close contact with the person whose first-in-the-state case was reported on Jan. 25. State health officials have identified the first case, a woman in her 30s with no travel history and reportedly limited contact with people outside her household. 

The UK variant is part of the emerging group of highly contagious mutations evolving around the globe. New variants were also recently first identified in South Africa and Brazil. 

Researchers are looking into whether these mutations are resistant to vaccines.

5:10 p.m.: Yolo County expands vaccine eligibility to all residents 65 and older

Yolo County has opened its vaccine clinics this week to all county residents 65 and older, regardless of medical insurance.

Pop-up clinics will be held from Feb. 3 to Feb. 6 and located in Esparto, Knights Landing, Woodland and West Sacramento. The county said it’s focusing on getting all of their vaccines out effectively and efficiently while trying to focus on residents who are at the highest risk of serious complications or death from the virus.

Here is the county’s vaccine eligibility requirements:

  • 65 or older
  • Yolo County resident or a Yolo County health care worker that has not been vaccinated yet

Residents that meet these requirements can sign up at the following clinics:

For residents who can’t access these sites, need assistance, or are homebound and require an in-home vaccine, the county suggests calling 211 or toll-free at (855) 866-1783 for assistance. For more information about Yolo County’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, residents can visit the county’s website.

10:55 a.m.: San Francisco sues to open up its public schools

San Francisco has taken a dramatic step in its effort to get kids back into public schools, according to the Associated Press.

The city has sued its own school district to try and force classrooms to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. This lawsuit is the first of its kind in California, and possibly the country, as school systems come under increasing pressure from parents and politicians to end online learning.

On Wednesday, the city sued the San Francisco Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District with the support of Mayor London Breed and City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Teachers unions in many large school districts, including San Francisco, say they won’t return to classrooms until they are vaccinated.

10:54 a.m.: Study finds that COVID-19 vaccine may reduce transmission

A new study may help answer one of the biggest open questions in suppressing the coronavirus outbreak: Can vaccines reduce transmission in addition to preventing serious illness? It seems so.

According to the Associated Press, Oxford University researchers say that AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine does more than just protect people from falling seriously ill. It also appears to reduce viral transmission.

The study released on Wednesday also suggested that a single dose of the AstraZeneca formula provides a high level of protection for 12 weeks. Up until now, the recommended time between doses in the U.S. has been four weeks.

Tuesday, February 2

6:10 p.m.: California continues to adjust vaccine rollout amidst confusion

California’s vaccine rollout has caused confusion as the state continues to adjust who’s next in line for the shot. 

Right now, people over 65 are eligible for the vaccine, as are food and agricultural workers, educators, and law enforcement. The question of who’s next in line is where it gets tricky.

It was going to be transportation and manufacturing employees, and people who work in homeless shelters, jails and prisons. Then people under 65 with medical conditions, and workers in communications, defense and financial services.

But those categories are all scrapped, according to the state health department. The state’s going to make people eligible by age only. They have not announced which age group will follow people 65 and older, and the old priority list is still on their website.

Find more information about California’s vaccine rollout here.

5:35 p.m.: California hospitalization rates are going down

There are some encouraging trends in California’s battle with the coronavirus. 

Three key measurements — infections, hospitalizations and ICU admissions — have all been trending down for the past two weeks. 

But Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly warns infection rates are still almost three times higher than they were in the fall. He says new variants of the virus, as well as any relaxation in safety measures could prompt a rebound.

“COVID is still abound in our communities,” Ghaly said. ” We’ve gotta keep our guard up. How likely is it that we’ll see another surge? I think again it comes back to the behaviors and our own sense of personal choice and personal responsibility on this.” 

Ghaly says Californians are now being vaccinated at three times the rate they were a month ago, with 3.5 million Californians having had at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We cannot wait long to vaccinate communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID, those communities that may have historically higher hesitancy to vaccines and health care services,” Ghaly said. “Where access is not as robust as it is in other parts of our state.”

Two counties — Trinity and Alpine — moved from the red to the orange reopening tier today, signaling a relaxing of restrictions. Fifty-four of California’s 58 counties are still in the most restrictive purple tier.

5:20 p.m.: Nevada lawmakers open legislative session amid pandemic

Nevada lawmakers are stressing bipartisanship in the opening days of the legislative session ahead of what are expected to be tense policy discussions about pandemic restrictions, taxes and budget cuts. 

Lawmakers kicked off their four-month legislative session on Monday with swearing-in ceremonies scaled back to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Associated Press. 

While the legislative building is usually crowded with staff, lobbyists and lawmakers’ families for opening day festivities, it was pretty empty this time around due to virus-related restrictions. Unlike the special sessions held last summer, the Legislature is offering those permitted in the building rapid tests, hoping to prevent an outbreak that could slow proceedings.

5:15 p.m.: Coronavirus vaccines heading to pharmacies as soon as next week

President Joe Biden’s administration is moving forward to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, freeing up more doses for states, and has plans to start distributing them to retail pharmacies next week.

According to the Associated Press, this latest push comes as there is a new urgency to speed vaccinations to help stem the spread of severe strains of the virus, with more than 445,000 deaths already in the United States.

Starting next week, 1 million doses will soon be distributed to some 6,500 pharmacies across the county. States and territories can also expect a boost of weekly vaccine allocations sent directly to them in the coming weeks.

More pharmacies are expected to get more vaccinations as soon as drug makers increase production. The original goal was to distribute vaccines through more than 40,000 pharmacies nationwide, but the campaign got off to a slow start because some states lack their own infrastructure for mass vaccination. State of local guidelines will dictate whether or not someone can be vaccinated at a local pharmacy.

11:08 a.m.: Gov. Newsom and teacher unions clash over reopening schools

An effort to reopen schools in California is foundering, stoking the frustration of parents and Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to the Associated Press.

As the first anniversary of distance learning approaches, parents are grappling with the toll of isolation and intense screen time on their kids’ academic and emotional well-being. A $2 billion plan by Newsom to reopen schools next month has not been well received, and the Legislature shows no sign of fast-tracking its approval.

Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence — including a new report by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — shows few outbreaks linked to schools where safety measures such as mask-wearing are enforced.

The state’s teacher unions and biggest school districts say the current state plan is unworkable, raising questions about whether K-12 schools will open at all this academic year.

11:07 a.m.: Nevada health officials say January was deadliest month for COVID-19 deaths

Nevada recorded its deadliest month of coronavirus pandemic in January after reporting eight additional coronavirus deaths over the weekend, according to the Associated Press.

On Monday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the additional deaths on Sunday boosted the statewide death toll to 1,132 — more than a quarter of the 4,278 deaths in the state since the pandemic began.

The state surpassed the previous monthly record of 982 deaths set in December. Health officials also reported 838 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases. University of Nevada, Las Vegas epidemiologist Brian Labus said the new current figures are a lagging indicator because people who died in January were mostly infected between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

11:06 a.m.: Does wearing two masks offer more protection? Yes, but isn’t always needed.

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

Health experts recommend a single cloth mask with multiple layers, but doubling up on masks could offer added protection in certain situations.

According to the Associated Press, the CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask made with two or more layers and ensuring it covers your nose and mouth. However, somebody might want the extra protection if they are caring for a sick household member or in public for a long time, like on a plane.

In situations like these, wearing a cloth mask and a surgical mask could have a similar effect to an N95 mask. The order of mask usage doesn’t matter much. If somebody is looking for “maximum” protection without an N95, then a person can double up on cloth masks with a filter material in one.

Monday, February 1

6:50 p.m.: California inspector general report slams prisons for COVID-19 outbreak

A report by California’s inspector general says misguided attempts to protect inmates from the coronavirus at one prison “caused a public health disaster” at another. 

Outdated tests failed to detect that some of the transferred inmates were already infected, and two of them later died. Corrections officials reiterated Monday that they had the best intentions. 

The report says the transfer of those inmates from the California Institution for Men east of Los Angeles to San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco at the end of May led to the deaths of 28 inmates and a correctional officer there, while infecting 75% of inmates.

6:45 p.m.: U.S. makes deal to provide 15-minute at-home COVID-19 tests

The Biden administration has struck a $231.8 million deal with an Australian company to increase the availability of the first at-home 15-minute test for the coronavirus. 

The FDA gave emergency authorization to the test, made by Ellume, after it showed 96% accuracy in a U.S. clinical study.

Ellume says its contract, with the U.S. Defense Department, will help fund construction of the company’s first manufacturing plant in the U.S. The plant will produce more than 500,000 tests per day when it is completed, says Ellume.

Read more here. 

11:58 a.m.: Community clinics worry Sacramento County may miss vulnerable communities in vaccine rollout

Sacramento County is starting to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to seniors, but some community groups are worried that marginalized people are being left out of the equation.

Currently, the county plans to vaccinate people through a drive-through site at Cal Expo once doses are available, but this won’t be an option for people without personal vehicles.

Community clinics say they want to provide vaccines for people who are unhoused, uninsured, or otherwise hard to reach, but the county hasn’t created walk-up vaccine sites in diverse, low-income neighborhoods like for COVID-19 testing.

The county has said that they’re working with more than a dozen community-based organizations on vaccine logistics, including purchasing two trucks and two trailers that can be taken to underserved communities for pop-up vaccines.

Only people over 65 and certain frontline workers are eligible for the vaccine right now. The county is not currently giving priority to Black and brown Californians hit hardest by the virus.

11:34 a.m.: Nursing home staff across the country are declining COVID-19 vaccines on first offer

Only a little more than a third of nursing home workers have been getting their COVID-19 shots when they are first offered.

According to the Associated Press, that report comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a national accounting of a problem that’s been only noted anecdotally until recently.

The CDC looked at more than 11,000 nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities that had at least one vaccination clinic between the middle of December and the middle of January. A CDC expert says more staffers to choose to get vaccinating once a second or third pop-up clinic is held at a nursing home.

11:33 a.m.: WHO research team visits Hubei disease control centers

A World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers located in the province where the outbreak first emerged, according to the Associated Press.

The investigative team arrived in Wuhan, the Hubei provincial capital, last month to start looking for clues. After finally being released from a mandatory quarantine, the team has visited hospitals and a seafood market where early cases were detected.

On Monday, the team visited the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and its Wuhan city office, amid tight Chinese controls on access to information about the virus. China has sought to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the future global outbreak while promoting some theories that the virus originated somewhere else.

Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here.


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Business

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk Making the City More Business-Friendly

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A Warby Parker event (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor’s Office)


This past week, advocacy group Tech:NYC and glasses company Warby Parker, among others, co-hosted a forum with seven leading Democratic candidates for mayor, who appeared one at a time to answer questions from Business Insider columnist Josh Barro about the city’s future and their agendas.

The participating candidates, in order of appearance, were entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio. The event was co-hosted by AT&T, Bowery Farming, Etsy, Harry’s, Via, WeWork, and Zola, among others.

The questions, somewhat uniform to each candidate, focused on issues relevant to the tech and business communities, such as how to attract business to New York City in the post-COVID-19 economy, the failed Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal, housing development, and expanding broadband access.

Andrew Yang
Barro asked Yang as a businessman how he thought that businesses choose to locate in New York, and how as mayor Yang would make them more interested in the city. Citing his experience in start-ups, Yang argued that the location of companies depends on where their employees would like to be. He said that “if there’s one thing that makes the world goes around for founders, it’s talent.”

To make the city more attractive to employees, Yang honed in rectifying quality-of-life issues such as “getting schools open to garbage pick up to public safety concerns.” He reiterated his oft-cited stance that the city must restore its “value proposition” to business owners and others alike to make some of the challenges of the city, like cost and commutes, worth it.

Barro asked why “garbage is piled high on the sidewalks” and why the city has not moved to containerized pick-up. Yang called out the cuts to the Department of Sanitation budget, saying that “if you’ve noticed more trash on the street, that’s why,” and saying that is something he would restore funding to.

Barro moved on to ‘HQ2,’ which was slated for Queens before activists and elected officials who opposed the Amazon deal pushed the company to back out, and the role of subsidies in attracting major technology companies to New York City. Saying that “Manhattan has a natural draw,” Yang acknowledged the role of subsidies in attracting companies to the other boroughs.

Yang said that he supported ‘HQ2’ for Queens, and falsely said, “I’m one of the only mayoral candidates who’s said on the record that losing Amazon was a mistake for the city.” Barro pressed Yang on whether the “billions in subsidies” that Amazon would have received would have been worth it. Yang said it wasn’t great policy. “You can’t just let them walk away,” Yang said, citing the many thousands of jobs the campus was slated to create and support of the service industry it would have provided.

Barro then asked if changes to corporate structures that allow for remote work, accelerated by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, affected the city’s ability to attract tech companies. “New York City is fundamentally a place-based economy,” Yang said, and “the New York City advantage will still be there.” Barro pressed Yang further on the difference of attracting workers versus attracting firms, asking Yang how his strategy to attract companies would change. Yang admitted that the city will have to “compete and make its case” in a way it did not have to in the past, adding that he is exploring “incentives” for workers to commute to the city five times a week, mentioning gift cards to New York City bars and restaurants as a possibility, and making investments to increase tourism.

Barro asked Yang about reducing the sky-high costs of the city’s capital projects. Yang said he would have the city “be more disciplined” about having contractors focus on the quality of their work rather than sub-contracting. He also mentioned he would streamline bureaucracy, saying that it was not user-friendly for small businesses.

Asked how many housing units the city should build over the next ten years, Yang did not present a specific figure, saying only that it would be in “the tens of thousands” for his first term and that he would want to increase the rate of housing development in the city. Seemingly underprepared to discuss housing development goals, Yang pivoted to his pledge to reduce street homelessness “by 50%” over his first term, and said he would want to convert some vacant hotels into affordable and supportive housing.

Barro concluded by asking Yang if he had connected with any of the other mayoral candidates, to which Yang responded that he was “a huge Kathryn Garcia fan” and that she was someone he “admired a great deal.”

Kathryn Garcia
Asked why she is the best candidate for mayor, Garcia told Barro that “understanding how the city works is absolutely critical, because then you can actually fix things” and “know where the pain points are.” She said her managerial experience in various roles in city government made her the strongest potential next leader for New York City.

Barro asked Garcia about the city’s garbage situation, asking if it was possible to “get it off the sidewalks and into closed containers,” to which Garcia said it was fully possible, and that part of that effort would require the city “rethink the public realm” about how street space is used. She mentioned that as sanitation commissioner she had launched a pilot program for commercial corridors that is being implemented.

Asked how she thought public spaces were being underutilized, Garcia advocated that “you need people walking the streets of New York, spending money” and that public space management efforts should look at “Open Restaurants, Open Culture, but also thinking about greening the city,” with references to two recent pandemic-era public space programs launched by the city.

On attracting companies to the city, Garcia said she would focus on a “liveable city,” as companies “locate where they have really strong labor forces.”

“We have to do way better” building housing, Garcia said, adding that her efforts would target “unlocking the private sector by getting rid of the bureaucracy” and building between 20,000 and 30,000 units a year. Citing that “time is money in construction” and that “we don’t actually do good planning,” Garcia said she would increase community input and reduce bureaucracy. Barro challenged her on this point, asking how she would resolve situations where increased considerations would conflict with expeditiousness, citing her support while working under de Blasio for special construction permits for hotels. Garcia sidestepped the first part of the question, only defending her support of special permits for hotels.

On expanding broadband access, Garcia said she would target lowering costs, facilitating rule changes to make the expansion of broadband easier in communities, and having the city connect residents to broadband themselves if companies did not create broadband access where the city would like.

Eric Adams
Adams said that he is the best candidate for mayor because of his life experiences from growing up in poverty, experiencing police brutality, becoming a police officer himself, and his diabetes diagnosis that he went on to beat through a healthy lifestyle. As “someone who has gone through a lot,” Adams said he was in the best position to help other people “going through a lot.”

On how companies should be “respectful” in the city and be good neighbors, something Barro brought up as Adams has discussed it in the past, Adams said he would challenge corporations to think on the question “how do I involve myself in the communities put in place long before me?” such as working with the Department of Education to teach children life skills. On how he would actually accomplish these partnerships, Adams pointed towards working with specific organizations and not “demonizing companies” and creating “this synergy that we are in this together.”

Examining his stated plan to name an “efficiency czar” to make city government work better, Barro asked how Adams’ approach to reducing waste differed from past tactics under Bloomberg and de Blasio. Adams argued that “the city is dysfunctional” because “agencies are not aligned” and pointed to his record in the NYPD using data and technology as part of the department’s modern evolution. When pressed by Barro on how agencies would operate differently, Adams cited his mother saying “What gets measured, gets done. If you don’t inspect what you expect, it’s all suspect,” and said he would want real-time data for examining basic city services.

Barro gave Adams the same question he gave to Yang on whether the city should push for tech companies to locate in boroughs other than Manhattan and whether Adams would support subsidies to make that happen. Adams denied that the city needed a subsidy program, and turned to discussing quality-of-life issues. To “build the proper environment” for companies to locate all over the city, he would focus on providing services such as access to transportation, public safety, and high-speed internet, he said.

Barro brought up the defeated Industry City rezoning in Brooklyn, an expansion and development proposal promising thousands of jobs and more economic activity along the Brooklyn waterfront that was ultimately defeated by local activists and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “It’s really unfortunate that we could not seal the deal in Industry City,” Adams said, adding that on development projects in general he would want to focus on being inclusive but also on “how can we get to a yes.” On whether or not local Council members have too much power to kill projects in their districts, Adams argued that for projects that affect the entire city, one member of the City Council should not have the power to shut them down, an informal practice known as “member deference” where the full Council defers to the local member whose district the proposal is slated for.

On housing, Adams told Barro that asking how many units of housing to add was “the wrong question” and that the city should audit its current housing to see where there are vacancies or lack of use and go from there. Barro pushed back, saying that even with auditing vacant housing more housing must be developed because of the city’s growing population, on which Adams deflected and instead pressed his desire to identify unused housing.

Shaun Donovan
Barro opened his conversation with Donovan, the former head of housing in the city and nationally under Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama, on housing. Donovan said the city should add 50,000 units per year, a very large goal, and touted his “15-minute neighborhoods” plan to ensure every New Yorkers lives in a great neighborhood with access to everything they need.

On rezonings, Donovan said he was open to upzonings for more housing, such as what the de Blasio administration is currently attempting in SoHo. He added that there should be a “citywide land use budget” to “make sure every community is doing its fair share,” through looking at ways to add density and using citywide inclusionary zoning.

After Barro asked what he would do differently to add housing from his time under Bloomberg, Donovan said the scope of the city’s housing problem is wide enough that “changing the trajectory” for the city takes years. He also said he was proud of the Bloomberg legacy on upzoning wealthier communities.

On lowering the cost of construction, Donovan discussed “building differently” such as using new technologies and having an administration “that brings innovation to every phase of what government does.”

On attracting increasingly mobile workers and firms to New York City, Donovan called himself “an urban optimist” and that the question was about whether or not specifically New York City could manage the challenge. New York City can become the “tech center” of the world, he said, and he would make it happen through his specific plans and by focusing on quality-of-life issues.

Ray McGuire
McGuire argued that he was the best candidate for mayor because of his private sector experience, where he was one of the top executives at Citi and on Wall Street more generally, saying that “this is not the time where someone gets to the mayoral spot to learn how to manage or lead.”

On attracting businesses, McGuire said that the city should “incentivize businesses to do more business here, not less” and that he would work on uniting business interests with the rest of the city, rather than pursuing divisive measures such as increasing taxes.

To move “job centers out to the outer boroughs,” McGuire supported using subsidies, which he referred to as incentives. McGuire said the collapse of the Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal was a mistake and that the project would have been a big net positive for the city, even with the subsidies.

On expanding broadband access, McGuire said it’s essential for education, and pointed to his economic comeback plan, which would include efforts to create universal broadband access.

To improve the efficiency of the city’s capital projects and “to bring costs under control,” McGuire said he would “bring all constituents to the table.” He said that he “wasn’t in anyone’s pocket” and that his “sole focus” is on what is best for the city, that he’s not “focused on sub-agendas.” He referenced de Blasio’s tagline of the “Tale of Two Cities,” saying that now New York City was a “fractured city.”

Calling his answer “nonspecific,” Barro pushed McGuire to elaborate on what made his leadership skills unique. McGuire said that, having led a global business, he was the only candidate with the skills to unite the diverse constituencies of New York City and focus on “shared prosperity.”

On housing, McGuire said he would like to increase the city’s housing units by 10%, or 350,000 units. Barro asked McGuire for a timeline on such development, which McGuire side-stepped, pointing to lowering construction costs and the economic benefits new construction would bring.

Scott Stringer
Stringer said he should be the next mayor in part because he is a “real seasoned government leader, who has vision and experience.”

Barro asked Stringer how he would seek to regain jobs lost in the COVID-19 pandemic, confronted with “an economy that may be permanently different in certain ways,” citing business travel as something that may permanently decrease.

Stringer replied that he would focus on small businesses, including by directing $1 billion from the city’s federal stimulus money to them. He would provide tax incentives for new businesses to locate in the city in “vacant corridors” and would make sure small businesses are not “fined and fee-ed into oblivion.” He said small business owners would not need to hire an expediter to get projects approved in the city and he would create a tech platform for small businesses to use to efficiently navigate city processes.

Asked what he would do differently from Bloomberg and de Blasio on the issues of inefficiency in small business processes, Stringer lambasted de Blasio by saying “what he didn’t do was govern.” Saying “you gotta manage this town,” Stringer said that he would focus on actually accomplishing goals that the city sets for itself.

On attracting tech companies to boroughs other than Manhattan and the role of subsidies in those conversations, Stringer said “it’s exciting that we’re spreading our economy out,” that “if we build it, they will come,” that he would focus on quality-of-life issues such as transportation, and that attracting businesses relies on the “value proposition” of what the city can offer businesses.

On how many housing units he would seek to create as mayor, Stringer said “as many as possible,” but he said key to his vision is creating enough “low-income housing” to actually meet the need in the city. Looking at the legacies of Bloomberg and de Blasio, he said, “We’ve had mayors talking about these big numbers, but they have not helped people get housing.” His efforts would focus on housing that targets those close to homelessness and would focus on true affordability. He would create 10,000 units of low-income housing and “catalogue” the vacant parcels the city owns for potential developments.

Maya Wiley
Saying that the COVID-19 pandemic “pulled the curtain back” on the issues the city faced, Wiley said that the challenge for the next mayor would be to “create a more unified city.” Doing this requires “very different leadership” to pursue “transformative policy,” Wiley said, adding, “I’m not a politician, and I think that’s the point.”

On expanding broadband, Wiley pointed to her work on universal broadband when working for de Blasio at City Hall by soliciting input from outside groups such as Girls Who Code, and by unifying the efforts of different agencies to work on the project. When Barro pushed Wiley for concrete steps for accomplishing universal broadband, she said she would focus government efforts on the “last mile problem in highly, highly, underserved areas” by “asset-mapping” current city resources that could be used to provide universal broadband. She would also pursue public-private partnerships, and look at technological innovations, she said.

On small businesses, Barro asked about why Wiley’s platform would have the city increase the number of restaurant health inspections, but to have those inspections announced in advance. Wiley said sometimes the city’s efforts to protect health can backfire by “jeopardizing the business rather than serving the public,” and that her plan would maintain restaurants’ compliance with health code violations while

Adding to her response, Wiley said she would streamline small businesses’ interactions with the city and grow their relationship with the city. She would want the city to be more proactive in their assistance to small businesses, so that they work together to solve problems rather than having the city shutting down actions after the fact. As an example, she mentioned having the city release blueprints for COVID-19-safe outdoor dining vestibules, rather than punishing restaurants for non-compliant vestibules after those businesses spent thousands of dollars “that they don’t have” on them. This would be “business-friendly, without sacrificing the issues we have to protect for the public,” she said.

Barro asked Wiley if there were other “big pilots” such as Open Streets she would want to pursue as mayor. “City government is a city unto itself,” she replied, and said that it is important to “recognize where government needs to partner with itself” better. To that end, she mentioned her plan to create an Office of Public Space Management, which would unite different agencies to create a centralized approach.

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Here’s a list of pandemic assistance programs for small businesses

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Allie Salas, owner of Reno Aspire Fitness, stands in her gym on Feb. 18, 2021.  Women and minority business owners continue to struggle amid the pandemic.
Allie Salas, owner of Reno Aspire Fitness, stands in her gym on Feb. 18, 2021. Women and minority business owners continue to struggle amid the pandemic.

This story is free because it is part of the Reno Gazette Journal’s essential coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. This kind of journalism takes time and resources. Please consider subscribing.

Despite the improved numbers for new cases and deaths compared to the peak of the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to have an outsized impact on small businesses.

The passage and signing of the American Rescue Plan Act in March kicked off another round of funding for COVID relief, which includes several assistance programs for small businesses. While this is good news for struggling business owners, many either don’t apply or underestimate the amounts that they qualify for, said Kayla Banda, a business development advisor with the Nevada Small Business Development Center.

Some business owners and independent contractors don’t even know that relief options exist, especially smaller assistance programs run by local and state entities.

“The big thing is that a lot of businesses don’t know that they can qualify for assistance,” Banda said.

“I’ve talked to clients who had no idea that they could actually qualify as a new business, for example. I’ve also had clients who left money on the table when they could’ve gotten more.”

This makes it especially important for small business owners to not just keep tabs on the various assistance programs but also educate themselves about the benefits they qualify for. Business owners should also move quickly as funding will eventually run out, particularly given the high demand for these programs.

For subscribers:Shell company transparency law takes aim at a key Nevada industry. Will it have an impact?

Here’s a list of several pandemic assistance programs for businesses, including those that provide financial assistance and forgivable loans for entrepreneurs impacted by COVID-19:

  • Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)
  • Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG)
  • Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF)
  • SBA Debt Relief
  • Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2
  • COBRA Premium Assistance
  • Pandemic assistance from state and local governments

Here is a quick rundown of the various pandemic assistance programs available for businesses.

An image showing several small mom and pop shops lining Victorian Plaza in downtown Sparks on Friday, Oct. 24. A group of local business owners, known as 39 North Downtown, hope to revitalize Sparks and attract new businesses to the area.

Paycheck Protection Program

The PPP, which is overseen by the Small Business Administration, is arguably the most widely known pandemic relief program for businesses. It’s designed to incentivize small businesses to keep workers on the job by providing funding for payroll.

The biggest draw of this program is that while it is technically a loan, borrowers can have the amount written off if they apply for forgiveness within 10 months of the last covered period of their agreement. It’s basically free assistance for those who qualify for it.

Also, while the PPP is designed as a payroll assistance program, it can also apply to small businesses that do not have any employees.

“Some people like sole proprietors and independent contractors think that, ‘Oh, I don’t have payroll because I don’t have any employees so I can’t qualify,’ which is totally not true,” Banda said. “If you receive a Schedule C (profit or loss form from the IRS) … you can actually use that to calculate your loan amount.”

For more details about the program, including help for finding a qualified lender, visit the SBA’s official PPP website. Otherwise, call your local SBA District office for more details. In Northern Nevada, the number is 775-885-7647.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan

Also known as EIDL, this is another program overseen by the SBA and provides economic relief for small businesses as well as nonprofits that have suffered from a temporary loss of revenue. The assistance can be used to pay for financial obligations or operating expenses that a business would have been able to cover on its own had the pandemic not occurred.

Like the PPP, this program has been around for a while but has one key difference.

“It’s not forgivable,” Banda said. “But it’s still a pretty good option for businesses.”

Borrowers can also apply for both the PPP and EIDL, but funds from both are not allowed to be used for the same purpose. Applicants also must be physically located in the United States and have fewer than 500 employees.

The maximum loan amount is $150,000, with loans above $25,000 requiring collateral. The interest rate is 3.75% for businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits, with payment terms up to 30 years.

For more information or to apply for a loan, visit the SBA’s official EIDL website.

Shuttered Venue Operators Grant

Known as SVOG for short, this program was amended by the American Rescue Plan Act and provides more than $16 billion in grants to venues that have been closed due to COVID-19. Of that number $2 billion is set aside for smaller operations with 50 employees or less.

Applicants that qualify for the program will receive grants equal to 45% of their gross revenue. The maximum grant amount for one applicant is $10 million.

Entities that are eligible for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant include:

  • Live venue operators or promoters
  • Theatrical producers
  • Live performing arts organization operators
  • Relevant museum operators, zoos and aquariums who meet specific criteria
  • Motion picture theater operators
  • Talent representatives

Note that booking agencies can qualify even if they don’t operate a venue per se.

“They can qualify if 70% or more of their annual revenue comes from booking the talent for the venues,” Banda said.

Keep in mind, however, that while it’s possible to receive assistance via the SVOG grant after getting PPP assistance, the reverse is not true, Banda warned.

“If you apply for the SVOG, you can no longer apply for the PPP so people need to get their PPP first before applying for the SVOG,” Banda said.

For more information or to apply, visit the SBA’s official SVOG site.

Restaurant Revitalization Fund

Server Delaney Fine, left, brings some drinks to customers at the Squeeze In restaurant in Reno on May 13, 2020.

This $26.5 billion fund was established by the American Rescue Plan Act for food and drink establishments. The program, which will be awarded by the SBA, will set aside $5 billion of its funds for smaller businesses with gross revenues of less than $500,000. There will be a cap of $10 million for each business, including $5 million for each physical location of a business operation.

According to the American Rescue Plan Act, businesses that can apply for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund include:

  • Restaurants
  • Food trucks
  • Food stands
  • Food carts
  • Caterers
  • Inns
  • Saloons
  • Tavern
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Brewpubs
  • Taprooms
  • Tasting rooms

Publicly-traded companies are ineligible, which is good news for smaller operations that were squeezed out by large chains during the first round of PPP funding.

Funds will be allocated within phases, with businesses that lost a larger percentage of revenue being prioritized first. The RRF will also give higher priority to small businesses run by women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged proprietors.

“That’s good because my initial concern was that big restaurants will go in and just eat up those funds,” Banda said. “Eligibility for the program is so open and broad.”

According to the National Restaurant Association, eligible businesses “may receive a tax-free federal grant equal to the amount of its pandemic-related revenue loss, calculated by subtracting its 2020 gross receipts from its 2019 gross receipts.”

If you already received PPP funding, that amount will be deducted from your eligibility for the RRF.

As of early April, an official date has not been announced for program applications but it should be included in the SBA’s main COVID relief operations site once it is available.

SBA Debt Relief

The SBA Debt Relief Program provides financial assistance for borrowers of three types of SBA loans:

As part of the program, the SBA will pay six months of principal, interest, and any associated fees owed by borrowers for such loans that are in “regular servicing status.” The assistance will be automatically provided without needing an application and will apply to loans that were approved up to September 27, 2020.

Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2

CAPTION TK

This program is administered by the USDA and was re-launched on April 5 after signups ended on Dec. 11. The program provides financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and other producers to absorb increased costs from market disruptions caused by the pandemic. Assistance is based on the type of commodities grown or raised by farmers and ranchers.

Commodities that are eligible for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 assistance include:

  • Specialty crops
  • Livestock
  • Dairy
  • Row crops
  • Aquaculture
  • Floriculture
  • Nursery crops

The launch of CFAP 2 coincides with an increase in payment rates for commodities such as cattle under the original CFAP program.

“We did what we call additional top-up payments to folks who were already signed up and each commodity had a payment rate,” said Gus Wegren, acting state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency in Nevada. The first CFAP round accounted for nearly $26.7 million in payments for Nevada producers alone and more than $1.2 billion in California.

The USDA also expects to make $4.5 billion in payments to 560,000 producers as part of new CFAP 2 funding that pays $20 in assistance per acre. Total funds for the second round of CFAP 2 funding amounts to about $6 billion, Wegren said. There is a payment limit of $250,000 for each applicant but exceptions also exist for legal entities that have multiple members that provide active labor or personnel management. Examples include cattle operations that are set up as limited liability companies.

“If they can prove that each member provided at least 400 hours of active personal labor or management, then they can get $500,000 for two members or $750,000 for three members,” Wegren said.

Applications with a focus on CFAP 2 will also be expedited by the USDA for financial assistance under its cooperative programs. Award amounts for the cooperative agreements will range from $20,000 to $99,999 over a time period between six months and one year. Applicants will be notified of their acceptance or denial by June 20 and awards will be in place by Sept. 1.

Sign-ups for CFAP 2 will be open for at least 60 days from April 5. The USDA is also looking into launching a new program such as a potential CFAP 3 to provide targeted assistance for certain types of producers like organic farmers, for example, Wegren said.

For more information or to apply for CFAP 2, vist the USDA’s CFAP 2 website.

The USDA also offers various loan assistance programs for farmers and ranchers. More details on these programs are available at the USDA’s webpage for funding opportunities.

COBRA Premium Assistance

This program provides insurance assistance to employees who lost their coverage and the subsidy will come in the form of a payroll tax credit for employers. As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the Department of Labor announced on April 7 that the federal government will provide eligible employees who lost their healthcare coverage a 100% subsidy on their COBRA insurance premiums between April 1 and Sept. 30.

For more details, visit the Department of Labor’s COBRA Premium Subsidy web page.

Pandemic assistance from state and local governments

Several state and local governments provided pandemic assistance during the initial round of federal funding and the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act is no different. In Northern Nevada, local governments such as Reno, Sparks and Washoe County were in the middle of assessing new assistance plans as of early April.

Here is the status of the various state and local pandemic assistance programs currently in Reno-Sparks. This article will be updated as new information is released.

Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development: The state economic development agency oversaw Nevada’s Pandemic Emergency Technical Support program, which paid out more than $50 million to applicants during its first round of funding. Nevada received about 13,500 applications for the program, which includes small businesses, non-profits, arts and culture organizations, and local Chambers of Commerce. Funds from the program can be used to cover capital such as rent, inventory, payroll and utilities, as well as protective equipment and retrofits for improving safety.

While applications have since closed, Gov. Steve Sisolak has requested an additional $50 million in funding from the Nevada Legislature. If approved, the state says it will continue to fund small businesses that submitted applications to the program, including those that were denied due to the lack of available funding.

For more details, visit GOED’s main PETS webpage.

City of Reno: The city of Reno is currently looking at its options to provide pandemic assistance from the funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act.

“We do not yet have guidance on how these funds can be spent, so we do not have any programs yet for spending the ARPA,” said Matt Brown, a spokesman for the city of Reno.

“We are still gathering information. Also, we don’t have the funds yet and are not quite sure of when they will arrive, as of right now.  This is changing daily and, hopefully, we will get the guidance soon so we can prepare a plan for Council approval.”

City of Sparks: The city of Sparks is also assessing its options for providing pandemic assistance to small businesses from the latest round of federal funding.

“Right now we are still unsure as to how much money we will be receiving through the American Rescue Plan,” said spokeswoman Julie Duewel.

“It is looking like we should receive the first distribution right around May 10. We do know that we will be putting a substantial amount of these funds back into the community but no concrete decisions or direction has been made yet.”

Washoe County: Washoe County, which recently approved an extension of its Emergency Rental Assistance Program after receiving $6.5 million in funds from the Treasury Department, is also looking at its options to provide pandemic assistance from ARPA funds.

“We don’t actually know how much we’ll receive or what the parameters are around how it can be spent yet,” said spokeswoman Bethany Drysdale.

For small businesses who need advice regarding their options for pandemic assistance, including how to put together an application for the various options available, the Nevada Small Business Development Center provides free advice and counseling. For more details, visit the Nevada SBDC website or call (800) 240-7094.

Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.

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Schools closed, businesses damaged as unrest breaks out in Brooklyn Center following police shooting

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Schools closed, businesses damaged as unrest breaks out in Brooklyn Center following police shooting

Residents, curious onlookers and business owners in Brooklyn Center emerged early Monday to begin cleaning up and to see for themselves the damage left behind after violence and looting broke out overnight following the fatal shooting of a motorist by police Sunday afternoon.

Officers in riot gear stood sentinel at the city’s police station that was tagged with anti-police graffiti and where squad cars were damaged. The National Guard blocked the entrance to the Shingle Creek Crossing shopping plaza where several retailers had windows busted out and merchandise strewn on the floor. Flip-flops and bottles of fruity drinks littered the Walmart parking lot where a man who gave his name as Thomas was part of a small army of store employees picking up trash and debris.

“All of our large screen TV’s were taken,” he said.

Alarms blared at a Verizon store across the way where the front window was broken and a TV was ripped off the wall. Looters had ransacked the Icon Beauty Salon and left boxes of fake eyelashes behind in the parking lot. At Aspen Dental, only the front door sustained damage, but the clinic canceled all Monday appointments.

“I expected it to be way worse,” said Sara Trout, an employee who was on the scene just before 7 a.m. even though she had received a text message telling her not to come to work.

A quiet yet tense feeling enveloped the Hennepin County suburb as law enforcement lifted an overnight curfew at 6 a.m. With fears that unrest could erupt again as police have scheduled an 11 a.m. media briefing, Brooklyn Center Community Schools told students to stay home and do distance learning.

“We know our community experienced trauma and we need the time and space to process,” said Superintendent Carly Baker.

Adam New, a 1999 Brooklyn Center High School graduate who does not live in the city anymore, took a city bus to his hometown Monday morning to check out the aftermath of Sunday night’s mayhem.

“They want to burn the place down,” New said as he watched patrols guard the police station. “I’m sick of it. This has to spark change.”

Scores of motorists with phones in hand took videos as they rolled by the station. Others, like Eric Cullen, of Bloomington, stopped by police headquarters to assess the situation and get a firsthand view rather than relying on media accounts of what happened.

“I’m a see-it-to-believe-it kind of guy,” he said.

Events unfolded Sunday afternoon when a police officer allegedly shot Daunte Wright, 20, during a traffic stop about 2 p.m. in the area of 63rd Avenue and Orchard Avenue N. Wright drove a few blocks before he crashed into another vehicle and died. Wright had a warrant for his arrest at the time.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was on the scene and will conduct an independent investigation.

Protesters had assembled near the scene by Sunday afternoon and had been relatively peaceful until nightfall. That is when they marched to police headquarter near N. 66th Avenue and N. Humboldt Avenue and were locked in a standoff with police in riot gear. Police used tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd that had chanted Wright’s name and climbed atop the police headquarters sign.

On Monday, crime scene tape remained in yards near where the shooting happened. At the shopping complex, broken glass covered sidewalks and business owners surveyed the damage.

“Oh, they hit the Dominos and the Wing Stop,” Trout lamented. The manager of the pizza joint “is the nicest guy.”

The dental clinic where she works was largely spared. Other than broken glass, “nothing was stolen,” Trout said. “I’m not sad that it happened.”

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