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California is ending its COVID-19 state of emergency order today
Nearly 60 California health facilities cited for COVID-19 vaccine mandate violations
Judges denied many 'compassionate release' requests for prisoners during pandemic, data show
Yolo County to end COVID-19 emergency declaration next week
COVID-19 pandemic likely worsened health care worker shortage
COVID-19 By The Numbers
Tuesday, February 28
12:13 p.m.: California is ending its COVID-19 state of emergency order today
When California recorded the first U.S. case of COVID-19 more than three years ago, the news was met with fear, confusion and public ire. Schools and businesses closed. State and local officials ordered people to stay home and mask up.
Years later, with the state’s emergency order ending in February, much of public life has returned to normal. But for many communities around the state, the disappearance of COVID-19 resources is merely a reminder that the health disparities highlighted during the pandemic are long-entrenched.
According to CalMatters, gaps in vaccination rates are increasing, particularly for booster doses. The gap among racial and ethnic groups is also widening significantly.
The end of the emergency order marks a drastic change in the state’s strategy for managing a virus that has caused 100,187 deaths in California alone.
Moving forward, the state will lean on its $3.2 billion long-term COVID-19 plan, which involves stockpiling masks and vaccines, but public health agencies will no longer serve as the primary provider of COVID-19 care.
Monday, February 27
12:27 p.m.: Nearly 60 California health facilities cited for COVID-19 vaccine mandate violations
A year has gone by since the federal government began enforcing a requirement in all states that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19.
In that time, inspectors have cited about 750 nursing homes and 110 hospitals for violations of the vaccination mandate, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data.
California is one of five states that have the greatest number of nursing homes cited for deficiencies. The report says the state had 59 deficiencies, the third highest in the group. Michigan had the most with 66, followed by Pennsylvania with 64.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which issued the mandate, says it has helped prevent countless infections and deaths.
Yet some health care workers say it’s time for the mandate to come to an end. They cite a decline in severe COVID-19 cases, a workforce shortage in certain health care professions and upcoming expiration of the national public health emergency, among other factors. California's emergency ends March 1.
Friday, February 24
12:32 p.m.: Judges denied many 'compassionate release' requests for prisoners during pandemic, data show
More than four years ago, former President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill meant to free people in federal prisons who are terminally ill or aging and pose little to no threat to public safety.
Supporters hoped the law would save taxpayers money and reverse decades of tough-on-crime policies that led to the U.S. being among the highest incarceration rates in the world.
However, data show that judges rejected more than 80% of compassionate release requests filed from October 2019 to September 2022.
When the pandemic hit, it only compounded the problem since people who are incarcerated with preexisting conditions are especially vulnerable to serious illness or death from COVID-19.
The number of applications for compassionate release began pouring in March 2020, soon after the WHO declared a pandemic emergency. Even as COVID devastated prisons, judges repeatedly denied most requests.
Research has shown that the high rates of incineration in the U.S accelerated the spread of COVID infections.
Nearly 2,500 people held in state and federal prisons died of COVID-19 from March 2020 through February 2021, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The lag in the compassionate release is particularly alarming because prisons are teeming with aging people who have cancer, diabetes, and other conditions, academic researchers said.
Thursday, February 23
12:26 p.m.: Yolo County to end COVID-19 emergency declaration next week
Yolo County is ending its COVID-19 emergency declaration next Tuesday, Feb. 28. The county’s board of supervisors voted to conclude the local order on Tuesday, aligning with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to end California’s COVID-19 state of emergency the same day.
However, Yolo County health officials say people should still be wary.
"It's important to note that ending the local emergencies does not mean that COVID-19 has gone away or that the COVID-19 response has ended," said Dr. Aimee Sisson, Yolo County’s public health officer.
She added that COVID-19 is still circulating and that Yolo County will continue offering some pandemic-era services, such as free vaccinations and outdoor vending machines with free antigen tests.
However, the free vaccines will end once public health departments nationwide stop receiving no-cost vaccines from the federal government. That's likely to happen on May 11, when the U.S. is scheduled to end its COVID-19 emergency.
Meanwhile, Sisson said that COVID-19 levels in wastewater have been rising in Davis. It's likely driven by the XBB.1.5 variant — currently the most dominant omicron subvariant in the state.
The hopeful news is that Davis' rising levels are well below what was seen during their peak in December. COVID-19 hospitalizations also remain low.
Wednesday, February 22
12:47 p.m.: COVID-19 pandemic likely worsened health care worker shortage
Senators are eying the growing shortage of health care workers in the U.S. as one of the few problems where there’s room for bipartisan solutions.
The shortage has worsened since the pandemic, and it’s a prescription for skyrocketing costs, suffering and unnecessary death, Senator Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate’s top health committee, warned.
The shortage of health care workers is causing all sorts of widespread problems, but these problems are especially acute in rural areas and minority communities. There are nearly 100 million people who don’t have easy access to a primary care physician, almost 70 million with no dentist at hand and some 158 million people who have few local mental health providers, Sanders said during a committee hearing last week.
The COVID pandemic contributed to the nation’s existing worker shortage, as many left the workforce as the crisis worsened. Some contracted the virus themselves and large numbers of health care providers died.
An investigation by KHN and The Guardian revealed more than 3,600 health workers in the country died during the pandemic’s first year. Many others got burnt out or sought higher-paying jobs elsewhere.
Tuesday, February 21
12:27 p.m.: Health advocates say people need relief from growing Covered California costs
Those who have insurance through Covered California, the state’s version of the Affordable Care Marketplace insurance, can choose from several tiers of coverage, with the Silver Plan widely being considered the best value.
However, in the past nine years, deductibles for the Silver Plan have grown nearly 88% after adjusting for inflation, increasing out-of-pocket costs for enrollees. Last year, deductibles grew from $3,700 for an individual and $7,400 for a family to $4,750 and $9,500, respectively, according to a CalMatters report.
Health care advocates say Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest budget proposal follows a pattern of missed opportunities to make insurance more affordable under Covered California.
They argue that the budget proposal would sweep away $33.4 million set aside a couple of years ago for the state to defray health care costs for middle-income residents, transferring the money to the general fund.
The proposal to move money out of the Health Care Affordability Reserve Fund is temporary, with plans to restore it in 2025 when current subsidies expire. But advocates say inflationary pressures and rising health care costs are reasons to use that money now to help those struggling to pay the bills.
In 2020, the legislature voted to reinstate a tax penalty on residents without health insurance to bring costs down. The economic theory goes — the penalty incentives people to buy health insurance and the more people who participate in the marketplace, the lower the costs because the risk is spread out among a mix of consumers.
But that measure passed despite concern from advocates and legislators about forcing people who can’t afford insurance to purchase it. Most people who forego insurance cite the high cost as the primary barrier.
“It's three years after COVID, but people are still behind on their light bills, their water bills from 2020 because they weren’t able to work due to COVID,” said Jaquelinne Molina, a caseworker at The Cambodian Family. “Right now, everything is tight and it gets harder and harder every year.”
Friday, February 17
12:14 p.m.: California union leaders fighting for $25 minimum wage for health care workers
Union-aligned Democrats were set to introduce legislation Wednesday mandating a statewide $25 minimum wage for health workers and support staffers, likely setting up a pitched battle with hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis clinics.
One Los Angeles Democrat said workers remain underpaid even as they have played a crucial role in the COVID-19 pandemic. She argued that those who earn close to the state’s $15.50 minimum wage struggle with inflation.
While the bill is backed by the influential Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents roughly 100,000 workers statewide, similar proposals have previously faced strong opposition from the health industry.
If lawmakers approve the bill and Governor Gavin Newsom signs it, one labor leader estimated 1.5 million California workers could get a wage hike come January 2024.
Thursday, February 16
12:14 p.m.: Scientists are rethinking viral tracking in animals
For decades, scientists pretty much thought they understood how pandemics such as COVID-19 began, and it centered on the idea of “spillover.”
Most new pathogens — up to 75% — come from animals. They’re often viruses that have been circulating in animals for decades, even centuries. At some point, they may jump or “spill over” into people.
The thought is that this event is extremely rare and that animal viruses tend to stay in their animal host.
According to NPR, this theory shaped how scientists look for new deadly pathogens — or try to predict which ones could cause future pandemics. Over the past few decades, few studies have actually looked for spillovers inside people to see how common they are.
In particular, it led scientists to focus on searching for new viruses in wild animals.
Since 2009, the U.S. government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trapping wild animals such as bats and rodents, cataloging all the viruses circulating in their bodies, and then trying to predict which of these viruses will most likely spill over into people and cause a costly outbreak or pandemic.
Unfortunately, this effort failed to detect SARS-CoV-2 before the virus broke into a pandemic.
Due to this, a growing number of virologists and epidemiologists have begun to question whether this approach is feasible. Some have blatantly said it won’t work. Some scientists have instead started to look at humans to look for unknown pathogens and determine how common they may be.
Wednesday, February 15
11:46 a.m.: Sacramento Public Library asks for feedback on facilities as pandemic, growth of technology changes patrons' needs
The Sacramento Public Library system is asking patrons for feedback to help inform its next Facilities Master Plan, which guides improvements and expansions to existing and new library buildings. The most recent plan was published in 2007 and covers renovation and growth until 2025.
This next plan will be informed by a community whose needs look much different than planners could have predicted 16 years ago, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid pace of technological growth.
“We are the public library, and we are here to serve the public,” said Peter Coyl, the library’s director. “We'd like to hear from the public, to make sure that we are truly being responsive, and providing the services, and having the facilities that they want to use.”
A plan that spans over a decade will likely not be able to predict the full breadth of a community’s changing landscape. The last iteration of the system’s Facilities Master Plan noted that “everyone, it seems, comes to use the computers.”
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the needs of library patrons as more people work and attend school remotely. Coyl said that patrons are less likely to use large computer rooms, and that the system may need to add community study rooms and video conference spaces.
Another example of the pandemic’s impact on Sacramento Public Library facilities: Curbside service, which remains even after libraries have re-opened for in-person browsing and usage. The Ella K. McClatchy library just re-opened for public browsing on Feb. 14 after moving to curbside pick-up only for the past 2 years.
“For years, most libraries didn't have curbside or pick-up outside — but now every library has that,” Coyl said. “This is obviously a service we're going to stay [providing].”
That’s another thing he said he’d like to hear feedback about: “How do the customers see that being in the future? Do they want to have a drive up window at the library to pick up holds?”
Library staff is soliciting feedback in two different ways: Community listening sessions at different library branches and an anonymous survey available in English, Chinese, Spanish, Farsi and Russian.
Remaining sessions will take place from 5-7 p.m. on the following dates:
- Feb. 15: Colonial Heights Library
- Feb. 16: Valley Hi-North Laguna Library
- March 1: Carmichael Library
- March 2: Orangevale Library
Tuesday, February 14
12:46 a.m.: Should you still consider masking? Experts say that depends on you.
Hundreds of thousands of COVID cases are reported in the U.S. each week, along with a few thousand deaths related to COVID.
But with mask mandates a thing of the past and the national emergency health declaration that will expire in May, we are in a new phase of the pandemic.
According to NPR, China had a massive increase in cases last month after abandoning its zero COVID policy, and another variant prompted renewed recommendations in some airports.
Researchers estimate that more than 65 million people are struggling with the effects of COVID — a disease we still have more to learn about.
Wondering if and when you should still be masking up? NPR asked some experts, here’s what they said:
- If you're high risk, you should still be careful
- Consider masks in crowded, poorly ventilated places
- Keep assessing your own risk and comfort level
- Vaccines have provided powerful protection
Monday, February 13
12:11 p.m.: COVID-19 shone a light on medical bias on pulse oximeters
During the COVID-19 pandemic, one measure became more important than almost any other — blood oxygen saturation. It was the one concrete number that doctors could use to judge how severe a case of COVID-19 was and know whether to admit people into the hospital and provide them with supplemental oxygen.
However, according to NPR, the device doesn’t work well for patients of color.
One group is trying to make a better, more equitable device a reality — a group led by a Brown University physicist, Kimani Toussaint.
The inaccuracy of pulse oximeters is not a new problem. As early as 1976, scientists at Hewlett-Packard recognized that pulse oximeters needed to be calibrated to different skin tones.
“Because skin pigmentation and other absorbers affect the measurement, the method is not capable of making absolute measurements,” two scientists wrote in the company’s journal at the time.
Despite this, the devices eventually made it to pharmacies, hospitals and people’s medicine cabinets.
The oximeter is a small device that clips onto a person’s finger. The device then shines two wavelengths of light onto the finger — one is absorbed by oxygenated blood, and the other is absorbed by deoxygenated blood.
However, since the devices were designed and calibrated using lighter skin tones, the melanin in people with darker skin causes the oximeter to overestimate how much oxygenated blood they have — and to underestimate how severe a case of COVID-19 is.
But Toussaint is trying a new approach. Instead of calibrating the same infrared technology on a diverse population, he is focusing on an entirely different property of light.
Friday, February 10
9:41 a.m.: Influential COVID tracker announces its operations are ending
In another sign of the changing state of the pandemic, an invaluable source of information about the virus over the last three years is shutting down, according to NPR.
The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center plans to cease operations March 10, officials said.
"It's bittersweet," said Lauren Gardner, an engineering professor who launched the project with one of her students on March 3, 2020. "But it's an appropriate time to move on."
When the pandemic first erupted, no one knew much about the virus and how to respond, and there was no good data available to make public health decisions.
Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the World Health Organization were providing enough useful numbers in real time. So journalists and academic researchers at places like Johns Hopkins jumped in to fill the void.
After Johns Hopkins launched the project, the website quickly became crucial for deciding everything from where drug companies should test vaccines to where Hollywood should film movies. Even the White House and the British prime minister were relying on Hopkins data.
Gardner recalls many conversations "with people that were just out about doing their job — traveling in Japan, here and there — who would tell me the dashboard was the driving force in decision-making for them ... about quitting their job and then coming home so that they wouldn't get stuck."
The site's maps of the world and individual countries became an iconic way of tracking the virus's inexorable spread. But now that the threat of the pandemic is receding, states are reporting data less frequently and the CDC has ramped up the agency's data reporting, the university decided it was time to shut it down.
Johns Hopkins employees interviewed by NPR said they hope the CDC and the public health system will continue to invest in data collection so the nation will be better prepared in the future. But they’re prepared to step back in if necessary.
Thursday, February 9
11:32 a.m.: Students are missing from public school rosters, due to COVID pandemic
Hundreds of thousands of students who have dropped off public school rolls since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic are unaccounted for.
An analysis by the Associated Press, Stanford University’s Big Local News project, and Stanford education professor Thomas Dee found an estimated 240,000 students in 21 states who have gone missing from schools.
They did not move out of state, or sign up for private school or home-schooling.
Early in the pandemic, school staff went door-to-door to re-engage kids, but most such efforts have ended.
California alone showed over 150,000 missing students in the data. Census estimates are imperfect, so AP and Stanford ran a similar analysis for pre-pandemic years in California and New York.
It found almost no missing students, confirming something out of the ordinary occurred during the pandemic.
The true number of missing students is likely much higher. The analysis doesn’t include data from 29 states, including Texas and Illinois, or the unknown numbers of ghost students who are technically enrolled but rarely make it to class.
Wednesday, February 8
11:29 a.m.: With the public health emergency ending, COVID treatments are expected to balloon in cost
Time is running out for free-to-consumer COVID-19 vaccines, at-home test kits and even some treatments.
The White House announced that the national public health emergency, first declared in early 2020 in response to the pandemic, is set to expire on May 11. When it ends, so will many of the policies designed to combat the virus’ spread, NPR reports.
Here’s what could change:
- COVID vaccine makers are poised to raise prices.
- The type of health insurance you have will determine how much more you’ll pay. Those enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare and those with plans via the ACA exchanges will still get vaccines without charge, even when the public emergency ends. Many with job-based insurance will also likely not face copays for vaccines unless they go out-of-network. Those with limited benefit or short-term insurance policies or uninsured will likely have to pay the full out-of-pocket cost.
- COVID-19 treatments will cost more.
- Private insurers will continue to cover Paxlovid, but patients may soon face a copayment if their deductible hasn’t been met. Medicaid will continue to cover it without cost to patients until 2024. Medicare beneficiaries will face cost-sharing for most COVID-19 treatments once the government supply runs out.
- At-home COVID tests won’t be free for many people.
- Starting in May, beneficiaries of Medicare and people with private job-based insurance will have to start paying out-of-pocket for the rapid antigen test kits. Medicaid enrollees can continue to get the test kits without cost into mid-2024.
Tuesday, February 7
1:16 p.m.: Las Vegas airport reports record passenger volume in 2022
The busy airport handling travelers to and from Las Vegas handled a record 52.7 million passengers in 2022, up more than 2% from the previous record set in 2019, according to a year-end report made public Monday.
Data from Harry Reid International Airport followed reports last week showing that Nevada casinos set calendar-year records for winnings and Las Vegas-area visitor tallies nearly reached levels seen before business shut-downs in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, as reported by the Associated Press.
Several airport rankings put the Las Vegas airport formerly known as McCarran International among the top 10 busiest for passenger traffic in the U.S.
It handled 51.5 million passengers in pre-pandemic 2019. A year ago, as travel ramped up following the pandemic, it reported serving 32.6 million passengers in 2021.
In the statement, the airport pointed to a busy year of Las Vegas-area sports and entertainment events, and an expansion of international travel including flights from South Korea, German and Switzerland.
Monday, February 6
12:26 p.m.: President Biden to end federal COVID-19 emergency May 11
President Joe Biden has informed Congress that he will end the twin national emergencies for addressing COVID-19 in May, as most of the world has returned closer to normalcy nearly three years after they were first declared.
According to the Associated Press, the move to end the national emergency and public health emergency declarations will formally restructure the federal coronavirus response to treat the virus as an endemic threat to public health that can be managed through agencies’ normal authorities.
It comes as lawmakers have already ended elements of the emergencies that Americans insured during the pandemic.
Friday, February 3
11:17 a.m.: Sacramento County COVID-19 transmission level now 'medium'
Correction: The CDC moved Sacramento County from the "low" to the "medium" community level on Feb. 2. It had been in the "low" level the previous week.
COVID-19 cases are back up in Sacramento according to the most recent CDC COVID community level report.
Cases had fallen enough that the county was in the “low” level of community transmission last week, a measurement that looks at an area's risk based on positive tests, hospital capacity and the number of COVID-19 patients. In the most recent report Fb. 2, the CDC moved the county back to the "medium" community level.
Vaccinations continue to be the most effective tool in slowing the rate of spread and mitigating severe symptoms of COVID-19. For a list of vaccination clinics, visit the Sacramento County Public Health vaccination website, call 2-1-1 or visit MyTurn.ca.gov.
Thursday, February 2
12:18 p.m.: SNAP recipients will see pandemic-era boosts cut by March
SNAP recipients nationwide will stop getting pandemic-era boosts after this month’s payments, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service announced on Thursday.
The emergency allotments provide an additional $95, or the maximum amount for their household size — whichever was greater.
According to NPR, nearly half of the households that use SNAP also receive Social Security, and Social Security is the most common source of income for SNAP households. Most of those households should expect to see further reductions in their SNAP benefits by March.
That’s because of a dramatic cost of living increase in Social Security, which went into effect last month. Some Social Security households may lose their SNAP eligibility altogether.
Most of the 42 million SNAP beneficiaries are members of a working family, a person with a severe disability or a senior citizen on a fixed income, and about one in five are non-disabled adults without children.
Wednesday, February 1
12:12 p.m.: Yolo County to end COVID-19 test-to-treat mobile buses
The last day of services provided by the OptumServe COVID-19 test-to-treat mobile bus in Yolo County will be Feb. 5 at noon.
State funding for the bus has ended as part of the planned ending of California’s COVID-19 State of Emergency on Feb. 28.
“The closing of the test-to-treat mobile bus on Feb. 5 does not mean the end of free testing or treatment resources in Yolo County,” said Dr. Aimee Sisson, Yolo County’s public health officer. “Free antigen tests are still widely available in County-run vending machines and at libraries and free telehealth services are available through Seasme Care online or by phone to access free COVID treatments.”
Every household in the US can also order four free tests from the federal government online.
County officials stressed that the pandemic is not over, and the coronavirus continues to circulate. Residents are encouraged to maintain protection against COVID-19 by staying up-to-date with vaccination and masking when needed
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