California Coronavirus Updates: CDC Director Feels ‘Impending Doom’ Over Possible Fourth COVID-19 Wave

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

Monday, March 29

Sunday, March 28

11:05 a.m.: Number of COVID-19 cases are again on the rise in parts of the country 

Both COVID-19 vaccinations and cases are on the rise in the U.S.  

More than 410,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the U.S. this past week — a 9% increase from the previous week, according to the White House COVID-19 team. 

The number of new cases and hospitalizations per day is still much lower than the all-time peak in mid-January. But the current trend in cases is raising concerns that the U.S. could see a fourth surge in infections. 

Read more here. 

Saturday, March 27

2:56 p.m.: Californians aged 50-64 rush to get vaccine before expansion

Before California throws open its coronavirus vaccine program to all adults on April 15, there will be a two-week window when millions of people between the ages of 50 and 64 can get their shot. 

The rollout for this age group, who become eligible on Thursday, has prompted an uptick in appointment requests. 

It has also raised concerns about whether two weeks is enough to get to everybody in this age group when there is uncertainty about supply levels as well as lingering questions about accessibility.

—Associated Press

Friday, March 26

5:39 p.m.: California employment numbers improve as virus restrictions lift

California added 141,000 jobs in February as more than a quarter of a million people returned to the workforce.

The California Employment Development Department said on Friday that the state’s unemployment rate was 8.5% in February, down from 9% in January.

Jobs in restaurants and hotels surged by more than 102,000, which is a reflection of the state’s loosening virus restrictions on businesses as more people are getting vaccinated. However, California’s unemployment rate is still 2 percentage points higher than the nation as a whole, though employment numbers could improve in the coming months as the state lifts more restrictions.

5:37 p.m.: FEMA to shut down mass vaccination sites in Oakland, Los Angeles

The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to stop operating two mass vaccination sites in California next month, just days before the state makes everyone 16 and older eligible for the vaccine.

The two sites shutting down are in Oakland and Los Angeles. The sites opened for eight-week pilot programs in February that will conclude April 15.

The sites will be administering the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the final two weeks to make sure that people don’t have to schedule a second appointment elsewhere. State and county officials say they would have liked the program to continue but that it was just a small part of the overall vaccine infrastructure.

10:02 a.m.: Biden’s new vaccination goal: 200 million shots in 100 days

President Biden is doubling his original COVID-19 vaccination goal from 100 million to 200 million shots in arms by his 100th day in office — which is just over a month away.

When he entered office earlier this year, observers thought his original 100 million vaccinations goal wasn’t ambitious enough. According to federal health officials, that figure was hit on Biden’s 58th day in office.

About 2.5 million doses are being administered every day in the U.S. His new goal was announced Thursday during the first news conference of his presidency.

Biden is also sticking to a goal of having a majority of K-8 schools open full time — in person, five days a week — by that same 100-day mark. According to Biden, roughly half of them are open full-time.

“Help is here,” Biden said, and “hope is on the way.”

9:49 a.m.: Testing COVID-19 vaccines for children is starting

COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out to adults who are most at risk from the coronavirus, but ending the pandemic will also require vaccinating children too.

According to the Associated Press, researchers are beginning to test younger and younger kids to ensure the shots are safe and work for each age. Pfizer and Moderna expect to release results soon, showing how their two-dose vaccines performed in people ages 12 and older.

In Britain, AstraZeneca began a study among 6- to 17-year-olds. Johnson & Johnson is also planning its own pediatric studies, and in China, Sinovac recently announced it has submitted preliminary data to Chinese regulators showing its vaccine is safe in children as young as 3.

Thursday, March 25

6:03 p.m.: Sacramento County at least a month away from orange tier, heath officer says

Several counties moved into the orange tier of California’s COVID-19 reopening system this week, loosening coronavirus restrictions for several business sectors.

But Sacramento County is still at least a month away from meeting the threshold to move out of the more-restrictive red tier, according to public health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye.

“The good thing is our numbers continue to go down steadily,” Kasirye said Thursday. “So, my best guess estimate is that probably sometime late April we will meet the criteria for the orange tier.”

She says based on the state’s ever-changing blueprint for reopening, the county could make the move after California administers 4 million vaccine doses to residents living in areas hardest hit by the pandemic. That’s when the threshold for COVID-19 case rates would change, allowing counties to move more easily to a less-restrictive tier.

Sacramento County is currently seeing an average of 7.4 new cases per 100,000 residents. Currently, counties need to be under 4 cases to meet orange tier requirements but that will drop to 6 cases when the state administers 4 million doses in hard-hit areas.

3:46 p.m.: Crocker Art Museum to reopen April 8 with new exhibits

The Crocker Art Museum is reopening to the public on April 8, after being closed, opened and then closed again all due to the pandemic. 

The museum will be open four days a week — Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guest counts will be controlled with the use of timed tickets. Those interested can order tickets online or by calling (916) 808-1184. 

Starting Sunday, April 11 through May 31, the museum will host Welcome Back Sundays with free admission, but reservations are still required and visitors will still need a timed ticket.

There will be some changes to normal operations for guests. Following CDC, California and Sacramento County guidelines, control measures will include:

  • Limiting the number of visitors to 25% of museum capacity
  • Implementing advance ticket reservations
  • Enhancing cleaning procedures
  • Requiring visitors and staff to wear face coverings

Along with reopening, four new exhibits will be ready for visitors. 

3:25 p.m.: Nevada casinos getting more gamblers, but profits still falling behind

Nevada casinos are getting more gamblers back in front of slot machines and card dealers a year into the coronavirus pandemic, but house winnings on the Las Vegas Strip still lagged in February, according to the Associated Press.

The latest critical state Gaming Control Board report showed February casino winnings and revenues nearly flat statewide compared to January, and down almost 26% from February 2020. 

A board analyst noted the Las Vegas Strip accounted for nearly 92% of the statewide decrease in monthly casino winnings. On Thursday, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas said that its international passenger traffic was down nearly 95% in February 2021 compared to February 2020.

12:23 p.m.: California plans to expand all vaccination eligibility to 16 and older by April 15

California will expand vaccine eligibility to all residents 50 and older starting April 1 and those 16 and older, starting April 15.

The move comes as California has earmarked 2.5 million vaccine doses per week starting in April, up from the current 1.8 million weekly doses.

“We’re even closer to putting this pandemic behind us with today’s announcement and with vaccine supplies expected to increase dramatically in the months ahead,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a statement. “However, we are not there yet. It will take time to vaccinate all eligible Californias. During this time, we must not let our guard down. It is important that we remain vigilant, continue to wear maks and follow public health guidance.”

The change would allow California to open up vaccines to all residents before President Joe Biden’s May 1 goal.

12:08 p.m.: Del Paso Boulevard sees new businesses open during pandemic

Many Sacramento area businesses have shuttered their doors during the pandemic, and tens of thousands of people have lost jobs.

But in one Sacramento neighborhood, more businesses have opened than closed over the past year. In North Sacramento, the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership Executive Director Daniel Savala says there’s been more than a handful of new shops opening.

“We have a youth movement happening on Del Paso Boulevard. We have a new BMX bike shop that just opened up this weekend,” Salava said. “We have a Dawg Pants skateboard shop. We have an exciting group of entrepreneurs with Go To Bed Clothing and Uptown Takeout that have completely taken over a block of Del Paso Boulevard.”

Savala said it might be easier to set up shop in the North Sacramento area because of the relatively low rent. Still, he said a couple of restaurants have yet to reopen, and the area has lost an art gallery.

11:53 a.m.: US jobless claims fall to lowest number since pandemic began

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to 684,000, the fewest since the pandemic erupted a year ago, and a sign that the economy is improving.

According to the Associated Press, Thursday’s Labor Department report showed that jobless claims fell from 781,000 the week before. While nationally the number of recipients in an extended federal unemployed benefit program jumped by 730,000 to 5.5 million, nearly all of that occurred in California due to its biweekly filing system that can cause sharp fluctuations from week to week.

A report from the California Policy Lab last week illustrated another complicating factor: Many people have applied multiple times during the pandemic after having been laid off or furloughed, then called back to work, then laid off again.

Each layoff triggers a new application for unemployment benefits. The Policy Lab’s report found that 75% of California’s jobless claims in the final week of February were from people who had been previously laid off and applied for benefits.

Still, this is the first time that weekly jobless aid applications have fallen below 700,00 since mid-March 2020. Before the pandemic tore through the economy, applications had never topped that level.

Wednesday, March 24

4:09 p.m.: Sacramento Area homes prices increase with few homes on the market

Home values continue to climb in the Sacramento region, with median sales prices reaching up to $460,000 in February. That’s up about 3.5% from January and an increase of nearly 16% from February 2020.

“We have a significant demand for homes and very few homes on the market relative to what we normally see this year,” said Sacramento Association of Realtors President-Elect Erin Stumpf. “While it’s not a total anomaly, it definitely has been way more significant increase year over year this year than it has been in probably the last five years.”

The average number of days a home was on the market last month was six, down from 10 days in February of last year.

Stumpf said it’s difficult to put a house on the market right now, with the pandemic creating barriers to moving through the selling process. Even though Sacramento County has moved down to the red tier, realtors cannot invite the public inside homes to check them out.

3:51 p.m.: Nevada County increasing budget brings hope of a post-pandemic economic recovery

Clark County, Nevada officials have projected an 18% increase to its budget starting in July, a sign officials believe the economy will steadily recover after the pandemic-caused economic downturn, according to the Associated Press.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on Tuesday that Clark County Chief Financial Officer Jessica Colvin said projected revenue growth is also reflective of how much the county, which includes Las Vegas, needed to make up.

Lawmakers approved a $1.51 billion tentative budget for the upcoming fiscal year in July, less than a year after passing a $1.28 billion spending plan. Colvin said county lawmakers must still consider how to allocate funding under the federal economic recovery package.

The deadline for the final budget is June 1.

10:29 a.m.: Masks and gloves save human lives but cause oceanic pollution

Disposable masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment have safeguarded untold lives during the pandemic, but they’re also creating a global pollution problem, according to the Associated Press.

Tossed PPE is littering streets and sending an influx of harmful plastic into landfills and oceans, so environmental groups like The Pacific Beach Coalition are tackling the issue on the coastline, trying to do something about it.

The group cleans up beaches in and around Pacifica, south of San Francisco. Volunteers record what they pick up to gauge what might end up in the ocean.

The group’s president, Lynn Adams, said it’s seen a dramatic increase in discarded PPE and is working to call attention to the problem.

10:21 a.m.: Dr. Fauci says US is not turning corner on the pandemic just yet

Dr. Anthony Fauci isn’t ready to say the nation has turned the corner on the coronavirus pandemic, even as 2.5 million residents are getting vaccinated each day.

According to the Associated Press, Fauci said he often gets asked that question. His response is usually, “We are at the corner. Whether we or not we are going to be turning the corner remains to be seen.”

At a Wednesday White House coronavirus briefing, he said the main challenge remains a stubbornly high level of new daily cases across the county — hovering around an average of 55,000 and up in recent days.

While the daily cases are certainly much lower than the 250,000 daily cases during the peak winter wave, the current average is still uncomfortably close to levels seen during the COVID wave last summer.

“When you are at that level, I don’t think you can declare victory and say you have turned the corner,” Fauci said.

On the positive side, along with the growing group of vaccinated individuals, he underscored recent studies that show negligible rates of coronavirus infection in fully vaccinated people. There’s also been a significant drop in the number of people 65 and older going to the emergency room with COVID-19. That’s the age group most vulnerable to the disease.

Tuesday, March 23

5:45 p.m.: Some Sacramento area school districts are not jumping to adopt new CDC guidance 

California schools could soon allow even more students back on campus following new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But not all Sacramento area districts are making the change yet.

The CDC’s new guidance minimizes social distancing for elementary school kids, allowing them to sit 3 feet apart instead of 6, as long as students and teachers wear masks at all times.

That distance standard also applies to middle and high schools, except in counties with high COVID-19 infection rates and in schools that don’t separate kids into cohorts. 

On Saturday, California’s health department changed its own guidance to mirror the CDC’s. But not many local districts are jumping at the chance to make the change.

So far, Natomas Unified has announced that students will have the option to return to campus five days a week starting April 12. Meanwhile, others like Elk Grove Unified — northern California’s largest school district — will wait to see how current plans play out while it considers possible changes.

5:42 p.m.: Income gap for access to COVID-19 vaccine persists 

California’s goal to make vaccine distribution more equitable is still under way. But while the state has made a commitment to put aside 40% of doses for lower income communities, a gap still persists.

In Sacramento County, over 500,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. But nearly 60% of those have gone to white residents, despite this demographic accounting for less than half of the county’s population. 

Sacramento’s reported data is limited, and doesn’t reflect how many shots have gone into the arms of low-income residents. However, in California, the health department reports that 19% of all administered vaccines have gone to people living in communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

By contrast, 30% of the vaccine supply has gone to those in the state’s highest income communities. 

Sacramento health officials have said they’re working towards greater vaccine equity. In the coming weeks, the county will launch a third mass vaccination site — this time, in South Sacramento, the neighborhood with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.

3:35 p.m.: Yolo County moves to orange tier for the first time starting Wednesday

The California Department of Public Health announced on Tuesday that Yolo County would be moving into the “moderate” or orange tier in the state’s COVID-19 reopening system.

Many businesses like amusement parks, cardrooms and bowling alleys can reopen with some restrictions. Under the red tier, restaurants and movie theaters will be able to reopen indoors at 25% capacity, while gyms can reopen indoors at 10% capacity. Museums may also resume indoor operations at 25% capacity.


After April 1, outdoor live events with assigned seating can have up to 33% max occupancy. Workers will be tested weekly and only in-state visitors are allowed. Things like concession stands would be closed and purchases could only be made in-seat.

“Moving to the orange tier for the first time represents tremendous progress in controlling the virus that causes COVID-19. We run the risk of undoing our hard-earned progress if we let our guard down,” Yolo County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson said. “As more businesses expand their indoor capacity, it is important that we continue to wear masks, remain 6 feet apart, and not gather with non-household members in order to keep our COVID-19 case rates low.”

Yolo County moved into the “substantial” or red tier on Feb. 24 and hit the benchmarks set up by CDPH to move into the orange tier this week.

Yolo isn’t the only county that swapped tiers. Nine others are moving from the “widespread” or purple to red, such as Kern, Nevada, and Stanislaus. Counties moving from red to orange include Lassen, Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Trinity and Yolo.

No counties moved to a more restrictive tier Only eight counties remain in the purple tier, 39 are now in the Red tier, nine are in the orange tier, and two have made it into the “minimal” or yellow tier.

11:20 a.m.: California’s unemployment website reporting issues

California’s unemployment benefits agency, the Employment Development Department, has reported some intermittent issues on its website, according to the Associated Press.

The problems caused delays for some people who were trying to certify their eligibility to continue receiving checks. People who receive unemployment benefits must certify their eligibility every two weeks by logging into the website, answering a series of yes or no questions, and other tasks over a few different pages users must click through.

A statement from the department said some people started reporting problems beginning on Sunday. The department says people who are unable to certify their eligibility should try back a little later.

The disruption angered some Republican lawmakers, with Assemblymember Jim Patterson saying he’ll ask for a full report on the problem.

10:26 a.m.: AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine results may have included ‘outdated information’

American federal health officials say results from a U.S. trial of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine may have included some “outdated information,” which may mean the company provided an incomplete view of efficacy data.

On Tuesday, AstraZeneca said that the data it released a day earlier included cases up to Feb. 17 and that it was continuing to analyze cases that have occurred since then, according to the Associated Press.

The multinational pharmaceutical giant said that a preliminary analysis of data that has continued to roll in was consistent with what it had already reported. AstraZeneca also reported on Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine provided strong protection among adults of all ages in a U.S. study some hoped would help rebuild trust in the shot.

10:21 a.m: Utility bills overwhelm some US households

Millions of U.S. households are facing heavy past-due utility bills, all of which have escalated in the year since the pandemic forced Americans to hunker down at home, causing families to consume more power.

And now, according to the Associated Press, the government moratoriums that barred utility companies for months from turning off power on customers who are behind in their payments are starting to expire in most states.

California’s moratorium is expected to end by the end of June.

As a result of the impending bill moratorium programs ending, an estimated 37 million customers — representing nearly one-third of all households across the country — will soon have to reckon with their overdue power bills at a time when many of them are still struggling with lost jobs or income.

Monday, March 22

6:50 p.m.: California workers can now take more sick time for issues related to the pandemic

Millions of California workers can now take more paid sick time for issues related to the pandemic, under a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The new law requires companies with 25 or more employees to give their workers up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave. Employees can use that sick time to quarantine, schedule a vaccine, care for a sick family member, or take care of a child whose school or daycare is closed.

Workers unions applauded the measure, but business groups and many Republicans argued that it’s too onerous for already struggling businesses.  

Democratic state Sen. Dave Min of Irvine says he’s sympathetic to those businesses, but “on the other hand, it is good policy. We don’t want sick workers coming into work or facing that tough decision between missing a paycheck or losing their jobs.”

Companies will be reimbursed through a federal payroll tax credit.

The measure is retroactive, so companies may need to pay workers for sick time already taken this year.

6:19 p.m.: Nevadans can now see who’s been influencing lawmakers in legislative session

Nevada’s Legislature is still closed to the general public over concerns about COVID-19. But those restrictions also blocked the state from tracking lobbying activity. Now, after more than a month and half, Nevadans will finally be able to see who’s been influencing lawmakers during the current legislative session.

Usually the state releases a database of lobbyists — along with the interests they represent — online. But pandemic safety measures blocked them from being registered because the old definition of a lobbyist was limited to someone who appeared in person.

The change comes after Gov. Steve Sisolak signed AB110 into law Thursday.

The new definition includes anyone who communicates directly with a legislator on behalf of anyone else, with some exceptions.

3:39 p.m.: Some Sacramento Midtown restaurants, businesses want to keep their streets closed

As Sacramento’s restaurants transition to indoor seating once again, some businesses in the city’s midtown are not quite ready to give up the outdoor spaces that popped up during the pandemic.

Alfresco dining has become a necessity because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the past year two street blocks near 20th and K streets, along with the streets around the Capitol and 18th Street, have been closed to vehicle traffic to accommodate the outdoor eating.

Now with things opening up, some restaurants really want to keep their outdoor setup and continue street closures indefinitely, according to Emily Baime Michaels from the Sacramento Midtown Association.

“When we think of the cities we love all across the world, we think of these alley dining experiences,” Michaels said. “We think of being in patios that spill out into the streets, and Sacramento has had a taste of that, and I don’t see us as being ready to let that go.”

Sacramento city officials say council members would need to approve a permanent street closure because things like equity and emergency access would need to be considered. However, the council did extend a policy to make it easier for businesses to install sitting areas on-street parking spaces.

2:55 p.m.: Placer County residents can apply for rental assistance

Placer County is accepting applications for emergency rental assistance through April 30.

Income-eligible households unable to pay rent and utilities because of COVID-19 are encouraged to start the application process now. The program provides financial assistance to qualifying county renters to prevent housing instability or potential eviction because of COVID-19-related financial hardship.

Those who qualify may receive financial assistance for unpaid rent or utilities dating back to March 2020. Additional assistance for current or future rent or utility bills may also be available. Reapplication is required for households if further financial assistance is needed.

The program pays the landlords and utility providers directly.

“Many residents in Placer County are struggling to catch up with either unpaid rent or utilities,” said Placer County Health and Human Services Deputy Director Amanda Sharp. “This program can help them improve their living circumstances, stabilizing their housing and increase their peace of mind.”

Households interested in applying to the program must have an income at or below 80% of the Area Median Income, ranging from $48,350 to $91,150 depending on household size.

Eligible applicants who have been unemployed for 90 or more days or below 50% of the Area Median Income will get priority.

Applicants also need to prove that they’ve either lost income, been approved for unemployment, have incurred high costs, experienced financial hardship or be at risk of eviction because of the pandemic. The county is encouraging landlords to also promote the program and help tenants apply.

Those interested can apply online or call 211 Placer or 833-342-5211. Once an application has been processed, both the landlord and renter will be notified about the application status and next steps.

11:24 a.m.: Sacramento City Unified, teachers union, reach agreement for in-person learning

After many months of negotiations, the Sacramento City Unified School District and the Sacramento City Teachers Association have reached an agreement to reopen and restart in-person classes on April 8.

The new agreement includes changes to the district’s initial proposed plan, such as bringing older students back earlier than previously outlined.

According to a press release, students and families will also have an option under the new agreement to either swap to a hybrid instruction model or remain in distance learning for the rest of the school year.

Under the previously announced plan, only 50% of students per school capacity will be attending in-person learning. Students would attend in-person class two days a week and do virtual learning for the other three days.

11:13 a.m.: UNLV plans in-person commencement

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is changing course and now plans in-person spring graduation ceremonies in May as the coronavirus outbreak slows.

According to the Associated Press, UNLV President Keith Whitfield announced on Friday the change in plans. Originally back in February, the graduation was set to be held virtually.

Whitefield said in a letter to students and staff that he firmly believes the university “can offer a traditional commencement while adhering to public health guidelines.”

“Graduation is the culmination of a student’s education journey and is a significant milestone in their UNLV career,” Whitfield wrote. “We need to make every effort to provide an experience our graduates so richly deserve.”

There are two ceremonies planned for spring 2021 graduates. Both will be at 8 a.m. on May 14 and May 15. A third ceremony for 2020 graduates will be on May 14 at 6:30 p.m. Each graduate will be allowed up to four guests, and everyone must follow social distancing guidelines and wear face coverings.

Sunday, March 21

3:05 p.m.: California adopts 3-foot distancing rule for classrooms

Students in California classrooms can sit 3 feet apart instead of 6 under new guidelines adopted by the state as school officials figure out how to reopen campuses closed for a year during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The state recommendations announced Saturday came a day after federal health officials relaxed social distancing guidelines for schools nationwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises at least 3 feet of space between desks in most schools. 

Local leaders will have the final say on distancing. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, said it would stick with the 6-foot rule.

—Associated Press

Saturday, March 20

11:15 a.m.: Tokyo Olympics bans overseas spectators due to COVID-19 risks

This summer’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place without any overseas spectators due to concerns over COVID-19. 

Organizers made the decision during a virtual meeting between the various stakeholders today.

The International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee said they fully respect and accept the move

Read more here.

Friday, March 19

5:37 p.m.: LA mayor says vaccines by ZIP code would have saved lives

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said “a lot of deaths” could have been prevented if the state had focused earlier on vaccinating those in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, according to the Associated Press. 

Garcetti also said Friday the federal and state governments haven’t given local officials like him enough freedom to inoculate who they feel are most at risk. 

Garcetti and Gov. Gavin Newsom are fellow Democrats and close friends. And while the mayor didn’t name Newsom, his comments ultimately are criticism of the governor and his initial tightly constrained approach to inoculating residents by age and profession. 

Newsom has since pivoted and set aside 40% of all doses for people in the state’s poorest areas.

5:35 p.m.: Federal relief delays tax break for California businesses

The California Legislature is delaying a bill that would give a tax break to businesses, according to the Associated Press.

The $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus relief bill President Joe Biden signed into law includes a provision barring states from using the money to pay for tax cuts.

A bill before the California Legislature would exempt some federal aid from state taxes. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is worried the federal government would view that as a tax cut.

A spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department told The Associated Press this week the law only prevents states from using federal aid to offset losses from tax cuts.

5:20 p.m.: CDC says schools can now space students 3 feet apart, rather than 6

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says schools can now space masked students 3 feet apart, rather than 6 feet.

NPR reports that the updated guidance, announced Friday, still calls for 6 feet of distance between adults and students as well as in common areas, such as auditoriums, and when masks are off, such as while eating.

NPR notes that the change is momentous as in many places around the country, the 6-foot guidance has been interpreted as requiring schools to operate on part-time or hybrid schedules to reduce class sizes. A 3-foot rule would allow more schools to open in person full time.

The revision was spurred by new research including a March study of Massachusetts schools given the option of distancing at 3 feet or 6 feet. The study found no substantial difference in cases.

4:42 p.m.: Gov. Newsom anticipates vaccines for everyone in 5 ½ weeks

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday said he expects the state will be able to make vaccines available to everyone in California within 5 ½ weeks.

“We’re anticipating within 5 ½ weeks where we can eliminate all of the tiering, so to speak, and make available vaccines to everybody across the spectrum because supply will exponentially increase,” Newsom said at a Bay Area press conference.

He made the remarks in response to a question about Bay Area counties having to cancel vaccine appointments due to a lack of doses. Newsom said across the state there is demand for more vaccines, and “our only constraint is manufactured supply.”

“In a few weeks these issues will be substantively addressed,” he said.

Currently California is vaccinating groups including teachers, emergency services employees, food and agricultural workers, people over 65, people experiencing homelessness and some with serious health conditions. However appointment availability has depended on supply in each county.

The projection of 5 ½ weeks is just shy of President Joe Biden’s plan of making all adult Americans eligible for the vaccine by May 1.

11:12 a.m.: Sacramento receives 20,000 more COVID-19 vaccine doses

Sacramento County has been receiving a steady count of COVID-19 vaccines in recent weeks, and on Thursday health officials said they received more than 20,000 doses of Pfizer Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

That all could change when Blue Shield takes over California’s vaccine rollout, as the healthcare giant will make weekly allocation recommendations to state health officials. But County Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said she expects their allotment to remain the same.

“We have heard from them that there is a commitment to make sure that we get our vaccine,” Kasirye said. “And so we are working out some of the details on how that partnership is going to work.”

She added that the county averages about 15,000 new vaccine doses weekly, and with the federal government promising more vaccines on the horizon, more doses could be on the way.

9:51 a.m.: Zoos and scientists working to stop human to animal COVID-19 transmission

Around the world, scientists and veterinarians are racing to protect animals from the coronavirus — often using the same playbook for minimizing disease spread among humans.

Some measures include social distancing, health checks and a vaccine for some zoo animals, according to the Associated Press.

When Kiki the meerkat at the Sacramento Zoo was found to have upper respiratory symptoms, she was tested early on in the pandemic, and was eventually placed back with her clan. Since then, to keep the zoo safe Sacramento zookeepers are continuing to use the same COVID-19 safety protocols for humans and their animals alike. However, another California zoo has had to deal with infected animals.

Coughing among the western lowland gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park earlier this year was the first warning sign. Soon, fears were confirmed, and a troop of gorillas became the first apes known to test positive for the virus.

Karen, a 28-year-old orangutan, became the first ape in the world to get a coronavirus vaccine on Jan. 26 at the San Diego Zoo. The two-shot vaccine from New Jersey-based veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis developed the animal-targeted vaccine.

Since then, nine other primates at the San Diego Zoo have been fully vaccinated, and four more animals will get their first shot this month and finish their second in April.

The outbreak was linked to an asymptomatic zookeeper, causing several gorillas to get sick, and one older silverback ended up developing pneumonia. Great apes like gorillas share 98% of their DNA with humans, so they are especially susceptible to the coronavirus, along with wild cats, domesticated cats and dogs, farmed mink, and at least one reported case in a wild mink in Utah.

Thursday, March 18

5:17 p.m.: Sacramento’s Loaves & Fishes to host two upcoming vaccine clinics for homeless

The Sacramento homeless shelter Loaves & Fishes is hosting two upcoming COVID-19 vaccine clinics for people experiencing homelessness.

The clinics, being hosted in partnership with the Sacramento Fire Department, will be Friday, March 19,  and Friday, March 26, both at 7:30 p.m. at the Delany Center Parking Lot.

Guests will be receiving the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Homeless shelters in Sacramento County began receiving doses of the vaccine on Monday. Late last week, California made new groups of workers eligible for the vaccine starting March 15, including utility and transit employees, social workers and people who are homeless. Initially, the state listed unhoused residents higher in priority for the vaccine, but dropped that ranking in late January.

Loaves & Fishes is located at 1351 N C St. in Sacramento. The most recent survey from 2019 estimated there are 5,600 homeless people in Sacramento County. 

3:29 p.m: Sacramento Zip Code Hardest Hit By COVID-19 To Get Mass Vaccination Site

South Sacramento, a neighborhood hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, will soon have its own mass vaccination site dedicated to inoculating hundreds of residents daily, according to county public health officials.

The exact location of the large-scale site is still unclear, but officials said Thursday that it would be in the 95823 zip code, which encompases neighborhoods south of 47th Avenue down to Calvine Road and Center Parkway.

“We’re looking at several different locations … I’m not sure that it’s been for sure decided, I guess I can say. We’re still in negotiation,” said Rachel Allen, the county’s immunization coordinator.

The new location would be the third such site in Sacramento County — Cal Expo and McClellan Park are both serving as large-scale clinics administering shots to county residents who are eligible.

In a follow up email, county spokesperson Brenda Bongiorno told CapRadio that they are “actively looking at sites that are available and logistically feasible for drive-thru/walk-up as pop-ups and permanent sites.”

She added: “At this time it’s still being worked out – once the pieces come together, it will be pretty quick to stand up a site.”

South Sacramento makes up nearly 7% of the county’s COVID-19 cases, with nearly 6,500 residents testing positive. About 96,000 people in Sacramento County have tested positive and 1,565 people have died from COVID-19.

3:09 p.m.: Cinemark and AMC Theatres are reopening in California

Both Cinemark and AMC Theatres are slated to open up nearly all of their California locations on Friday now that the vast majority of the state is in the red coronavirus tier.

At Cinemark, their theaters have been closed for about three months, and without many new films to show due to Hollywood shutting down during the pandemic, the chain is filling the void with modern classics like “Thelma and Louise” and “A League Of Their Own.

“We have the auditorium and screen space to bring back some of those really fun films while we await a real steady stream of compelling new content,” Cinemark Senior Public Relations Manager Caitlin Piper said.

Piper also said that the movie theater chain has instituted new safety and sanitizing protocols like disinfecting auditoriums between showtimes, requiring face masks, and limiting capacities to maximize physical distancing.

Each theater location will also have a designated Chief Clean and Safety Monitor on duty.

“This person’s sole job is to make sure that health and safety protocols are being implemented,” Piper said.

Cinemark has eight theaters in the Sacramento region, but it’s not the only movie chain opening back up this Friday — AMC Theatres across California are throwing open their doors to welcome guests back in.

As of this Friday, AMC Theatres will have 98% of their U.S. movie theaters open on Friday after many reopen in California, according to the Associated Press.

By Monday, AMC is expected to open 52 out of 54 California locations once proper local approvals are in place.

10:42 a.m.: So now that I’m vaccinated, what can I safely do? Scientists say keep wearing a mask.

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

People who’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 can enjoy small gatherings again but should keep wearing a mask and social distance in public.

According to the Associated Press, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention latest guidelines say fully vaccinated people can gather maskless with other fully vaccinated people indoors. They can also meet with unvaccinated people from one household at a time if the unvaccinated people are considered low risk for developing severe illness.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. For now, the CDC is still discouraging unnecessary travel for vaccinated people.

10:23 a.m.: US unemployment claims rise to 770,000, layoffs still high

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to 770,000 — a sign that layoffs remain high, even as much of the U.S. economy is steadily recovering from the coronavirus recession.

According to the Associated Press, the Labor Department’s latest report showed that jobless claims climbed from 725,000 the week before to 770,000. While numbers have dropped sharply since the depths of the recession last spring, these figures show that employers in some industries continue to lay off workers.

Before the pandemic struck, applications for unemployment aid never topped 700,000 in any one week. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out any weekly variations, dropped to 746,000, the lowest rate since late November.

Wednesday, March 17

6:13 p.m.: Yuba County remains in most restrictive purple tier for COVID cases

California health officials loosened restrictions yesterday on restaurants, gyms, and several other business sectors in 11 more counties. But others who anticipated moving into the red tier failed to meet the criteria.

Yuba County shares a health officer with Sutter County and also typically shares policies governing COVID-19. But while Sutter advanced to the red tier this week, Yuba remained in the most restrictive purple tier.

Rachel Rosenbaum is the public information officer for Yuba County. She says they were surprised not to meet the state’s new threshold of fewer than ten new daily cases per 100,000 residents.

“You look at the metrics, the numbers,” she said. “Really between Sutter County and Yuba County it’s just a matter of a couple of cases per day, obviously it makes a load of difference.

Rosenbaum hopes Yuba County will meet the criteria to join Sutter in the less restrictive red tier next week.

6:11 p.m.: Tahoe leaders say the region has become too reliant on tourists

Tahoe economic leaders say the region has become too reliant on tourists who don’t have enough respect for the area.

“We want our tourists to take care of Tahoe,” said Heidi Hill Drum, head of the Tahoe Prosperity Center. “We don’t want them driving up and leaving their plastic sleds on the sledding hill, that happens all the time.

The Tahoe Prosperity Center is a nonprofit that works to develop the region’s economy.

Hill Drum said her agency got a federal grant for more than $100,000 to come up with a Tahoe basin-wide economic resilience plan.

“We can’t magically make a unicorn fix our economy, we have to look at our regional economy as it is now and figure out how to grow in the economic clusters that are not related to tourism,” she said.

She says that could include building up the region’s other industries, including health and wellness, environmental innovation, construction and green building. 

6:08 p.m.: UC Davis Health official is hopeful that St. Patrick’s Day will not trigger COVID-19 cases

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and now that Sacramento was placed back in the red tier yesterday restaurants and bars have been authorized to reopen with capacity limits.

Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Health, says people who go out to celebrate today might trigger additional COVID-19 cases

“But what I’m hoping is that most people, who are having those kind of risky behaviors, that they’ve been doing this all along and maybe that pool of people have already been infected,” he said. “So I’m hopeful that going forward that these kind of holidays and gatherings won’t lead to the surges that we’ve seen in the past.” 

He says right now, the number of patients admitted with COVID to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento is way down, and so is the number of patients on ventilators in the intensive care unit.

2:52 p.m.: How well do COVID-19 vaccines protect after an organ transplant? Studies are mixed.

A new study is raising questions about how well the COVID-19 vaccines protect organ transplant recipients.

According to the Associated Press, organ transplant recipients have to take powerful immune-suppressing drugs to prevent organ rejection, but that may lower vaccine effectiveness.

Johns Hopkins University researchers tested about 400 transplant recipients a few weeks after their first vaccine dose and found just 17% had antibodies against the virus. Most people with strong immune systems start building protection right away.

Researchers hope the second dose works better for transplant recipients, but they should ask their doctors when it’s safe to relax virus precautions after vaccination until more is known.

10:15 a.m.: Family of formerly incarcerated person sues state corrections over his coronavirus-related death

The family of a 61-year-old Californian who was incarcerated in state prison when he contracted COVID-19 has died, and now his family is suing state corrections officials.

According to the Associated Press, the family blames a botched transfer of infected people to San Quentin State Prison, killing 28 plus a correctional officer last year.

His family’s attorneys said it’s the first such federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from officials’ decision to transfer 122 people from the California Institute for Men near Los Angeles to the prison north of San Francisco in late May.

A class-action lawsuit is pending in Marin County Superior Court on behalf of other COVID-infected people who are incarcerated at San Quentin, in what state officials have acknowledged was a disastrous transfer.

9:58 a.m.: State parks so popular during pandemic, parking lots are filled to capacity

While California state park officials are pleased that residents are getting outdoors during the pandemic, increased interest in trails, wildflowers and waterfalls doesn’t mean additional park resources.

While many of California’s 280 state parks have plenty of room for social distance, some have become too popular for parking lots, facilities and trails. One of those impacted parks? McArthur Burney Falls.

Located an hour north of Redding, its 129-foot waterfall and short hikes have made it popular for visits from across the state and beyond, according to the Northern Buttes District Superintendent Matt Teague.

“Expect delays if you go to the highly demanded parks where we’re seeing the increases in visitation that expect traffic,” Teague said. “Expect delays and, in some cases, like McArthur Burney Falls. There could be a chance where if you visit on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, that you may not be able to get into the park.”

While statewide numbers were not available and will be complicated by pandemic closures, in 2020 Burney Falls saw record day-use attendance. With just over 322,000 guests, visitation was up nearly 55% over 2019.

This year could shatter that record. In January, the park saw 12,500 guests, more than triple the average number of guests for that month.

Teague said park visitors should do their research and seek out less crowded parks or to try and visit during off-peak hours.

Tuesday, March 16

5:30 p.m.: Organization recorded nearly 4,000 hate incidents against Asian and Pacific Islanders over the past year

An organization tracking anti-Asian harassment and violence across the country says it recorded nearly 4,000 hate incidents against Asian and Pacific Islanders over the past year. 

The new data from Stop AAPI Hate includes reports of over 500 new incidents reported in just the first two months of this year. 

An analysis of the data showed the majority of incidents were verbal harassments, followed by shunning or avoidance. Physical assaults made up a little over 10% of reported experiences. 

It also found that women were more than twice as likely to report hate incidents than men, and showed incidents were most likely to take place in local businesses.

Earlier this month, Sacramento passed a resolution condemning the uptick in crimes against Asian Americans, including a recent incident at a Chinese-owned butcher shop in South Sacramento.

5:24 p.m.: Nearly 90% of Californians can now dine indoors, go to the gym

California health authorities approved more counties to reopen businesses thanks to low coronavirus case rates.

According to the Associated Press, around 87% of California’s nearly 40 million residents can enjoy a restaurant meal indoors, watch a movie at a theater and sweat it out inside a gym. Sacramento and San Diego counties join Los Angeles and Orange counties that were authorized to reopen on Sunday. 

San Jaoquin And Yuba counties were expected to move to the red tier, but did not meet the state’s case threshold to loosen restrictions.

The San Francisco Bay Area county of San Mateo can reopen even more, including bowling alleys, cardrooms, wineries and breweries at 25% capacity indoors. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to push for schools to resume in-class instruction. It’s been a year since California shut down businesses in response to the pandemic.

5:16 p.m.: Newest Nevada vaccine-eligible group can self-identify illnesses, health conditions

Nevada health officials say people age 55 and older can self-report to their pharmacists any underlying health conditions that make them eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the Associated Press.

A state statistics official said on Tuesday that as eligibility broadened this week in the statewide coronavirus inoculation process, deaths from COVID-19 have fallen to an average of about four per day. 

That number peaked at 40 deaths per day in mid-January. Officials widened vaccination efforts to people with underlying conditions, disabilities and the unhoused at retail pharmacies, including those in supermarkets. 

This next phase is being called a step towards getting more shots in more arms statewide.

Monday, March 15

6:30 p.m.: Gov. Newsom launches campaign to defend himself from recall effort

Governor Gavin Newsom is launching a campaign to defend himself from a recall effort. It comes as opponents say they’ve collected more than enough signatures to force an election. 

For months, Newsom has refused to acknowledge the recall, saying he’s focused on the pandemic.

Now, he’s painting the recall as a partisan power grab driven by extremists and vowing to fight it.

California Democrats are closing ranks around Newsom while national Democratic figures including Senator Bernie Sanders and Georgia organizer Stacey Abrams have slammed the recall.

Newsom opponents say they’ve collected more than 2 million signatures to put a recall on the ballot. Their deadline is Wednesday — after that, county election officials have until the end of April to verify them.

3:32 p.m.: Many US prison guards skipping COVID-19 vaccinations

Corrections officers are refusing coronavirus vaccines at alarming rates, causing some public health experts to worry about the prospect of controlling the pandemic both inside and outside of prison.

According to the Associated Press and The Marshall Project, infection rates in these facilities are more than four times as high as in the general public. Prison staff helped accelerate outbreaks by refusing to wear masks, downplaying symptoms and haphazardly enforcing social distancing and hygiene protocols in confined, poorly ventilated spaces ripe for viral spread.

A Florida correctional officer polled his colleagues earlier this year in a private Facebook group about whether they’d take the vaccine if offered — more than half said, “Hell no.”

A California statewide survey showed that half of all correction employees will wait to be vaccinated.

At FCI Mendota, a medium-security federal prison near Fresno, officials closed off the main employee entrance in January, funneled employees through the visiting room, turned into a vaccination clinic and forced them on the spot to decide whether or not to get vaccinated. Employees that refused weren’t allowed to go to their posts without getting the vaccine or signing a declaration form.

The local corrections officers’ union president refused the vaccine, citing medical issues and that he doesn’t trust the prison officials’ motives.

Since employers cannot mandate that staff get vaccinated, when correctional officers refuse to be inoculated, it puts people who are incarcerated at risk. Often they have no way of protecting themselves from unmasked and unvaccinated officers. By December, 1 in 4 incarcerated people had contracted the virus, according to the joint work of The Marshall Project and the Associated Press.

3:28 p.m.: First case of UK COVID-19 variant identified in Reno, Nevada

The first case of the COVID-19 variant originally identified in the United Kingdom has been confirmed in northern Nevada. Health officials are trying to determine if the infection linked to a large gathering in Washoe County may have spread the variant to others.

The new case confirmed in Washoe County, which includes Reno and Sparks, involves a woman in her 30s, whose infection is linked to a gathering of more than 60 people from different states. Seventeen additional COVID-19 cases have also been connected to the same event.

Still, not all of those who tested positive are from Washoe County, and it’s not yet confirmed if all the positive cases are from the U.K. variant.

Health officials in Nevada reported an additional 222 COVID-19 cases and one more death on Sunday.

According to the Associated Press, the latest figures raised the state’s pandemic totals to 299,287 cases and 5,118 known deaths. Authorities say 161 of the new cases were reported in Clark County, which includes metro Las Vegas.

Officials believe the number of infections could be far higher than reported because many people have still not been tested, especially since the virus can make people asymptomatically ill.

10:15 a.m.: California expands vaccine eligibility to include health conditions like cancer, diabetes and obesity

Starting this Monday, Californians ages 16-64 with certain health conditions like cancer and obesity will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. But physicians say it’ll be challenging to immunize everyone on that list with the still limited supply.

Officials estimate these conditions cover a total of 4 to 6 million newly eligible people.

Emmy Gilbert / CapRadio

Experts say this change will vastly expand eligibility in California, particularly in communities of color.

UC Merced public health researcher Denise Payan said obesity rates are higher in Black and Brown communities, and the pandemic has likely made it worse.

“Access to healthy, fresh, healthy, nutritious food has really been disrupted,” Payan said. “So there are more people who are at risk and are missing out and don’t have access to healthy food.”

Some hospital systems say they don’t have enough vaccines to give to the newly eligible patients. Still, people with chronic health conditions can contact their doctors or their local public health departments to determine whether doses are available and to potentially make an appointment.

10:07 a.m.: Bay Area lawmakers call for changes to state vaccine distribution plan

A group of 20 Bay Area lawmakers is calling for changes to the state’s vaccine distribution plan, claiming that the current version leaves out vulnerable Californians in their districts.

The state recently announced it would direct more vaccines to underserved ZIP codes, but few are in the Bay Area. San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu argues that the current plan ignores smaller pockets of vulnerable people.

“We are experiencing tremendous inequality,” Chiu said. “Wealthy communities are in the same ZIP code as incredibly vulnerable communities, and this vaccination distribution formula doesn’t account for that reality.”

But Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said that he still stands by the original plan.

“Forty percent of the disease — and what I mean by that is, hospitalizations and deaths — have been shouldered by those communities,” Ghaly said.

He’s also hopeful that an increase in vaccine supply from the federal government will address the Bay Area lawmakers’ concerns.

Sunday, March 14

2:27 p.m.: Placer County moves to red tier, effective Sunday

Placer County is one of 13 California counties that have moved Sunday to the red tier of California’s COVID-19 reopening framework, loosening some restrictions. 

Under the red tier, restaurants and movie theaters will be able to reopen indoors at 25% capacity, while gyms can reopen indoors at 10% capacity. Museums may also resume indoor operations at 25% capacity.

The counties became eligible to move from the purple tier (“widespread”) to the red tier (“substantial” spread) after the state hit its goal Friday of delivering 2 million COVID-19 doses to communities hit hardest by the pandemic, triggering new thresholds.

State health officials set the 2 million-dose goal last week when they announced California would tie reopening requirements to vaccine equity. 

The plan changed the threshold for counties to enter the red tier from seven cases per 100,000 residents to 10 cases once the 2 million doses were delivered.

More counties — including Sacramento, San Joaquin, Sutter and Yuba — could move to the red tier on Wednesday.

2:02 p.m.: California governor admits mistakes, says recall unjustified

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he has made mistakes in his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. But he insists the recall effort against him has more to do with politics than the public health crisis. 

Newsom made his most direct comments yet about the push to unseat him during an interview with KQED. He said his opponents are taking aim at his broader policy agenda, which tackles issues such as immigration and criminal justice reform. 

Newsom conceded that the state could have done a better job communicating to the public as virus restrictions changed. Recall organizers say they have collected enough signatures to force an election.

—Associated Press

Saturday, March 13

4:17 p.m.: LA County hospitalizations at lowest point in 4 months

Coronavirus hospitalizations in California’s most populous county have slipped below 1,000 for the first in four months.

The number of patients with COVID-19 in Los Angeles County hospitals hit 979, the lowest since Nov. 23.

There are 3,250 people hospitalized statewide, a drop of more than 85% since peaking around 22,000 in early January.

Case rates also remain low and much of the state is preparing for some restrictions to be lifted in the coming days.

State officials announced Friday that 13 counties would be eligible to open restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and museums at limited capacity on Sunday.

—Associated Press

Friday, March 12

3:22 p.m.: Sacramento County and city set to receive $420 million from federal aid package

Both the city and county of Sacramento are slated to receive hundreds of millions of dollars each from the federal COVID-19 relief funding after President Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

The money comes almost a year to the day that Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the state’s first stay-at-home order, triggering the tidal wave of shuttering businesses, closing schools, and other economic issues that left millions of residents unemployed.

The amount some U.S. residents have gotten from federal stimulus packages, including the ones signed by President Donald Trump in March 2020, has totaled up to $3,200 per person, split over three checks.

California is expected to receive $26 billion in aid, while local governments will get a combined $16.6 billion, depending on formulas that will take population and socio-economic issues into account.

In this round of federal funding, the city of Sacramento is expected to receive $121 million in assistance, while Sacramento County should receive roughly $300 million.

3:04 p.m.: Biden is speeding up vaccine timeline, but governors say they need supplies

Governors across the country are applauding President Joe Biden’s declaration that all adults should be eligible for coronavirus vaccinations by May 1, but the goal will require a shift for states that have been methodical in how they roll out the shots.

According to the Associated Press, in states like Florida and Colorado, their governors both say they’ll meet Biden’s goal ahead of time, along with a handful of other state leaders — but this is contingent on a dramatic increase in supply.

California officials haven’t set a timeline for when the general public will be eligible for a shot and didn’t immediately say how Biden’s declaration would change plans in the nation’s most populous state. Instead, the state is prioritizing older adults, teachers and people in vulnerable neighborhoods.

While the state says it can vaccinate 3 million people per week, it is only receiving half that total each week.. Plans are to ramp up weekly shots to 4 million people, but so far are only available for certain groups like those 65 and older, educators, farmworkers, and emergency service workers.

Starting Monday, an estimated 4.4 million people with disabilities and certain health conditions will also become eligible.

11:28 a.m.: California public schools are on the path to reopening soon for in-person learning

The State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said COVID-shuttered California schools are still on a path to reopening next month.

“Two-hundred thousand educators in the state have received the vaccine — that’s significant,” Thurmond said.

This vaccination rate is considered a key number to begin the process of phasing children back to school.

“There’s probably about 300,000 teachers total in the state, but that number doesn’t include all school staff like classified staff, custodians … but the number of 200,000 was a key number that everyone was striving to get,” Thurmond said.

Many schools are now scrambling to meet the state’s reopening goal by April 1, while others plan to reopen by mid-April. The Legislature recently passed a plan with $2.6 billion in incentives for schools to reopen by April 1.

Thurmond said, by and large, students have struggled with distance learning, partly because teachers weren’t adequately trained for this teaching format, and many students also don’t have home computers.

Thurmond said he’s working on building a robust summer school program as state lawmakers appear certain to approve funding to hire more school staff.

10:30 a.m.: San Joaquin County sees notable drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations

For the first time in months, San Joaquin County hospitals have seen a significant drop in hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients and intensive care, signaling a major step forward for the county to potentially advance to the red tier.

On Dec. 22, hospitals in the county saw 1,212 cases in a single day. Now, the most recent one-day total was 96 cases. At one point, the county saw its ICU capacity jump to 175%.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped by 12% just this week, signaling hope for the county. Emergency Medical Services Specialist Marissa Matta said the dropping ICU capacity brings the county closer to the state’s mandate.

“So, on Tuesday, March 9th, ICU capacity in San Joaquin County was at 95%, and this is the first time since November 18th of 2020 that the ICU capacity in our county was below 100%,” Matta said.

San Joaquin County Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park said the county’s infection rate of 11 cases per 100,000 is still high, keeping the county in the purple tier. Park said despite this, there’s been meaningful progress in other areas.

“We actually have testing positivity rates in the orange this week,” Park said. “We are meeting a lower tier compared to our case rates. You can earn that red, you can move one, so we have the possibility of going red next week.”

Park also mentioned that the county’s vaccination efforts are making strides, with over 166,000 residents vaccinated so far.

10:18 a.m.: California State Insurance Commissioners calls for higher auto insurance reimbursements

During the pandemic some people drove less as schedules shifted from what they were before the pandemic, so State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara says he’s going to insist on auto insurance companies reimbursing California drivers for premium overcharges during the pandemic.

While insurance companies agreed to give money back as residents drove less and got into fewer accidents, Lara said customers only got a fraction of what they should have received.

“Injury and damage claims both fell by more than 40% from March to September compared to before the pandemic,” Lara said. “Over the same time, insurance company groups returned on average 9% of premiums when they should have refunded nearly double that amount.”

Lara also said only four of the top 10 insurance companies in the state continued to offer premium rebates to drivers after December of last year, despite the continued reduction in miles traveled, crashes and injuries.

Thursday, March 11

6:16 p.m: Breweries, wineries, distilleries get approval to reopen outdoors

Breweries, wineries and distilleries that don’t serve food can reopen outdoors in counties in the two most-restrictive tiers in California’s COVID-19 reopening system, according to new guidance released by state health officials Thursday.

Under the new rules, starting March 13 these businesses can serve customers outdoors until 8 p.m. with a 90-minute time limit per customer. Previously, breweries, wineries and distilleries were closed in the purple and red tiers.

In the orange tier, indoor capacity is limited to 100 people or 25%, whichever is fewer. In the yellow tier to 200 people or 50%.

Bars will remain closed in the purple and red tiers. In the orange tier, bars can reopen outdoors with modifications. In the yellow tier, indoor capacity is limited to 100 people or 25%.

3:41 p.m.: California grocery store workers now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines across state

The California Grocers Association, an industry trade association, said that grocery workers across the state and every county are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

While some counties have been quicker than others about getting vaccines to supermarket workers, CGA CEO Ron Fong said, “We wish there was a more unified system, but the reality is that it is not.”

According to Fong, in some areas of the state food workers got shots three or four weeks ago, but in Sacramento county these workers became eligible just this week.

Large grocery chains with pharmacies may be vaccinating in-house, while others are setting up appointments through hospital systems or directly with public health officials.

“We have advised workers to be proactive and not wait for the county to call you,” Fong said.

The CGA expects all their employees to have at least their first shot within the next 30 days.

3:32 p.m.: Will the coronavirus ever go away? Scientists say probably not.

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

Nobody knows for sure how the coronavirus will behave for the long term, but experts say it may be with us for decades or longer.

That doesn’t mean it will keep posing the same threat. According to the Associated Press, many scientists believe it’s likely the disease will eventually become a nuisance like the common cold. That would happen as people build up immunity over time, either through infection or vaccination.

This wouldn’t be a unique situation in virology — other viruses have followed a similar path. However, what could complicate the picture is if COVID-19 variants cause more severe disease or evade vaccines.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated what would increase immunity over time. The factors are infection or vaccination.

3:23 p.m.: Shasta County receives first shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Shasta County Public Health officials say that they’ve received their first shipment of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

The county now has 1,400 doses and plans to reserve them for residents facing barriers to get to vaccination clinics. County Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom said the county has yet to use any of the doses as it finalizes its plan to distribute them to people who would benefit the most.

“Our strike teams would use them when we are trying to reach homebound individuals — people who might have the inability to find transportation or aren’t transportable — maybe in group homes or other kinds of residential facilities,” Ramstrom said. “We’ve talked about using it for mobile clinics once we are able to do that.

Shasta County expects to get its next shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccines at the end of the month.

11:34 a.m.: North Sacramento clinic faces COVID-19 vaccine shortage

While state and county officials say they want to speed up the vaccination of underserved communities, one North Sacramento clinic that primarily serves people of color can’t seem to get enough doses.

Since the clinic opened to serve the Black, Brown and Asian residents living in North Sacramento, the Del Paso Vaccination Clinic at Grant High School has grown from 60 to 600 doses administered weekly.

Dr. Kawanna Carter has spearheaded the clinic, and said they’ve been expanding service to a community hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic. However, that growth has recently halted because their data wasn’t loaded properly by the supervising doctor securing the doses.

“In my opinion, the right approach would be to say ‘we’re not getting your data, how can we help you?’,” Carter said.

She says they built a demand for the vaccine from the ground up in a community that needs help by taking steps to tighten up the operation and find new ways to get shots directly allocated to the clinic.

“You know, we’ve given the information that is required, and hopefully, the next step is getting a direct supply of our own vaccine,” Carter said.

Sacramento County officials say that “underserved communities continue to be a priority,” so they’ve paired Del Paso Vaccination Clinic with another provider, WellSpace Health, to boost the clinic’s supply.

But with 2,500 people on the waitlist at the clinic, Dr. Carter said that the new partnership hasn’t resulted in a new batch of doses.

Wednesday, March 10

5:27 p.m.: Gov. Newsom says state will reach its goal to vaccinate 2 million in lower income communities 

Less than a week after announcing a new equity goal to vaccinate 2 million Californians in lower income communities, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the state is just about there.

The state needs to administer around 100,000 vaccines in California’s hardest hit communities to reach its goal. It’s part of a larger plan to make vaccine distribution more equitable for communities that have seen the worst of the pandemic — both in terms of health and economics. While California has administered more than 10 million vaccines, only 18% have gone to residents in lower income communities.

Part of the equity goal includes loosening restrictions for counties to move into the less stringent red tier of the state’s reopening plan. About 80% of the state is still under the most-restrictive purple tier, but Newsom said that should change as soon as next week.

2:26 p.m.: Students of Sacramento-area community colleges can expect more online classes this fall

Even though coronavirus cases are declining as more people get vaccinated, it still looks like students at Sacramento-area community colleges will continue to take most classes online this fall.

Los Rios Community College District Associate Vice Chancellor of Strategy and Communications Gabe Ross says they’re planning to bring back more in-person classes this fall compared to this spring semester, but it’ll be substantially fewer than pre-pandemic levels because of the continued uncertainty.

“As long as there’s social distancing guidelines or requirements in place, it does hamper our ability to do on-ground instruction,” Ross said.

The school’s first priority is bringing back career-education programs.

“Things that are really dependent on facilities, right? Welding programs, auto-tech,” Ross said. “Programs that really lead to a lot of good jobs for our students but that there’s just no way to replicate in a digital or online environment.”

Schedules for the fall semester will be posted online next month, and classes are scheduled to start in late August.

2:09 p.m.: Does California have ‘one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates’ in the nation? Not exactly.

During Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State address on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, he had a strong statement about California’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“California’s death rate has remained one of the lowest per capita in the nation: 134 deaths per 100,000, compared to 158 nationally, 153 in Texas,” he said during his state address.

However, that’s not exactly correct. The governor’s claim is an exaggeration. California does have a slightly better rate than the nation and somewhat better than Texas, but California’s rate is only middle of the pack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state is 23rd lowest out of 50 states. Some individual counties such as Los Angeles and Imperial continue to have a much higher death rate than the nation’s average.

Newsom made more comments about California’s efforts to stem the virus.

“We were the first to launch mass-vaccination sites in partnership with FEMA,” he said.

This is correct. The Biden administration did partner with California to open the nation’s first two mass-vaccination sites in mid-February — one of which is located at the Oakland Coliseum, and the other at Cal State Los Angeles. A third planned FEMA site for the Central Valley has yet to open.

Newsom also said that the state has “the most robust vaccination program in the country.” When looking at raw numbers, California has administered 11 million doses, more than any other state and most countries.

However, when it comes down to vaccine rollout, California has been one of the slowest states, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracking website.

11:26 a.m.: Gov. Gavin Newsom sees ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ in State of the State speech

California Gov. Gavin Newsom struck an optimistic tone in his State of the State address on Tuesday night.

His speech primarily focused on the state’s pandemic response and the progress made since last March.

“It was a year ago, a year ago, that we made that incredibly difficult decision to issue that stay-at-home order to slow the spread,” Newsom said at his speech in Dodgers Stadium. “You know we agonized about it. We agonized about the sacrifices that it would require. But we made sure that science — not politics — drove our decisions.”

Newsom delivered the address at an empty Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, since it’s one of the state’s largest mass vaccination sites. In the speech, he hinted that California could return to a sense of normalcy soon.

“Today, the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than ever,” he said.

The address lasted less than 30 minutes — significantly shorter than his previous speeches. He also touched on economic inequality, housing and education. While Newsom alluded to the mounting campaign to remove him from office, he never uttered the word “recall.”

10:29 a.m.: Clinic volunteers get their shot at a COVID-19 vaccine

As states ramp up inoculation efforts, volunteers are needed to do everything from direct traffic to check people in to keep the vaccination sites running smoothly.

And in return for their work? Often, they’re given a shot. According to the Associated Press, many people who don’t yet qualify for a vaccine have been volunteering in hopes of getting a dose they otherwise may not receive for months. Large vaccination clinics across the U.S. have been thousands trying to nab the limited numbers of volunteer shifts in hopes of getting a shot sooner.

California launched its own vaccine volunteer program last week, though state officials say a volunteer shift won’t guarantee a vaccine dose. Interested volunteers can sign up here.

That’s raised questions at a time when supplies are limited and Americans have struggled to get vaccinated even if they’re eligible, but medical ethicists say volunteers are a vital part of the public health effort.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Hasting Center Bioethicist Nancy Berlinger said that since volunteers interact with the public, there’s nothing wrong with them wanting protection. Clinic volunteers also go through training and other obligations.

“There would be easier ways to game the system,” Berlinger said. “If that was really your goal, this could take more work, I think, than some other routes I can think of.”

10:27 a.m.: COVID-19 vaccinations for agricultural workers tied up in many states

Many U.S. health centers that service agricultural workers across the nation receive COVID-19 vaccines directly from the federal government in a program created by the Biden administration.

However, according to the Associated Press, farmworkers are not yet in the priority groups authorized to receive the shots in some states. The federal vaccine came with a restriction: the health centers must follow state priorities, which troubles farmworkers and activists, including in California.

Farmworkers run an elevated risk of getting infected because of their work conditions. Purdue University estimates that 9,000 agricultural workers in the country have died of COVID-19, and nearly a half-million have been infected, with the highest numbers in Texas, California, Iowa, and others.

Tuesday, March 9

2:30 p.m.: Butte County moves to less restrictive coronavirus tier

Butte County has qualified to move from the most stringent purple tier to the less-restrictive red tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan.

Moving into the second-highest tier allows some businesses to reopen at a reduced capacity, and with the latest announcement from Gov. Gavin Newsom, certain youth and adult recreation sports can resume with modification.

The tier change will happen at midnight this Wednesday. For a county to move down to the red tier, there should be a case rate of 4-7 per 100,000 residents with a 5-8% test positivity rate. According to a county press release, the case rate is 7.3 per 100,000 residents, with a 3.6% positive rate. Those limits will change to 10 cases per 100,000 after the state provides 4 million vaccine doses to areas hardest-hit by the virus, based on rules released last week tying reopening to vaccine equity.

While the county might be moving into a less restrictive tier, recently, it was detected that the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K. was detected recently in Butte County.

Butte County residents interested in seeing what businesses can now reopen can check out the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Business owners can also get some industry guidance on the modifications and mitigation measures in place to stop the viral spread.

Residents interested in youth or adult sports can also go online to see the latest guidelines on what outdoor and indoor sports are allowed, along with what safety precautions will be in place.

2:11 p.m.: Meadowview residents can expect vaccine clinic pop-up this Friday

South Sacramento has been a COVID-19 hotspot since the start of the pandemic, and with disproportionate case rates, the neighborhoods within the area haven’t received equitable vaccine doses.

With the latest promise from Gov. Gavin Newsom about allocating 40% of available vaccine doses to underserved communities, a pop-up vaccine clinic is coming to Meadowview.

South Sacramento testing site coordinator Bobby Dalton Roy said he hopes the single-day clinic can become a long-term solution for the neighborhood.

“The best practice needs to be that resources and testing and the vaccine needs to be put in the zip codes or proximate to the zip codes where families are being impacted most severely by the pandemic,” Roy said.

Vaccinations will occur at the Pannell Center in Meadowview only this Friday — however, details are still forthcoming on how eligible residents can sign up.

1:57 p.m.: Nevada state university system will offer in-person classes in fall semester

The University of Nevada, Reno says it will offer primarily in-person classes and student services when the fall semester starts in August, according to the Associated Press.

The announcement came Monday after the university said enrollment dropped below 20,000 this semester and most classes have been offered remotely because of the pandemic. University President Brian Sandoval said the university also expects to host more students in residence halls and dining hall, continue student activities, expand support services, allow fans at athletic events, and hold live performances.

UNLV spokesperson Tony Allen said the Las Vegas campus is also planning to offer most of its classes in-person while also providing on-campus facilities and services.

10:24 a.m.: Santa Clara County won’t join Blue Shield’s vaccination plan

Santa Clara County will not participate in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to have Blue Shield control COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the state, according to the Associated Press.

The Mercury News reports that County Executive Jeff Smith said late Monday that the county will not sign the health insurance giant’s contract because it would not improve speed or efficiency.

The state is in the process of switching over to a vaccine appointment and delivery system administered by Blue Shield, but skepticism has surfaced among the state’s 58 counties. Just one county is on board with the public-private partnership — Kern County.

However, Blue Shield says 41 health centers, 28 hospitals, four large medical groups, three pharmacies, and three tribal clinics have already signed on.

10:13 a.m.: Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver State of the State address tonight

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to deliver his State of the State address from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, according to the Associated Press.

The stadium has been transformed into one of the country’s largest coronavirus vaccination sites. A Newsom spokesperson said the stadium was chosen for the speech because it embodies California’s spirit of service.

According to CapRadio’s Politics Reporter Nicole Nixon, Dodger Stadium has another meaningful reason behind the choice. When it’s packed with fans, the stadium seats 56,000 — nearly the same number of Californians who have died from COVID-19.

Newsom’s third State of the State is scheduled for today at 6 p.m. It comes as the Democratic governor faces a likely recall election later this year, fueled by anger over his handling of the pandemic. On Monday, Newsom said he plans to use the speech to highlight the quiet heroes of the pandemic.

9:48 a.m.: Nevada governor bets on safety as states reopen

One year into the pandemic, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is still attempting to strike the right balance between keeping the state’s tourism industry afloat while also containing the coronavirus’ spread.

According to the Associated Press, Sisolak said in an interview with the news agency that he plans to use Nevada’s safety protocols as a selling point to bring back tourists, conventions and trade shows back to Las Vegas.

About one in 10 state residents, including the governor, have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic last year. More than 5,000 people have died, 63% of whom have been 70 or older.

Sisolak hopes vaccines will prevent future loss, contain the virus and bolster the economy back to pre-pandemic levels.

Monday, March 8

3:54 p.m.: Two COVID-19 vaccination clinics will open in Sacramento this week

At least two new COVID-19 vaccination sites will open this week in Sacramento, targeting some of the city’s hardest-hit communities.

Latino residents in California have borne the brunt of the pandemic. While they’ve had higher COVID-19 case and death rates compared to others, Latinos haven’t received a proportionate amount of vaccine doses.

A clinic is opening later this week in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood — a community that’s changed demographically in recent years but still has a cluster of Black and Latino residents who have lacked access to the vaccine.

The Consulate General of Mexico is also taking appointments for all eligible Mexican nationals in its 24-county jurisdiction, regardless of immigration or health insurance status. The new clinics open as California begins to push for more equitable vaccine distribution.

Both locations are open by appointment and are only for people 65 and over, educators, or childcare workers. For appointments at the Consulate General of Mexico, interested parties can call (916) 329-3502. Those interested in the Oak Park clinic can call (916) 349-6980.

3:47 p.m.: Young students in San Francisco may return to school April 12

San Francisco school officials plan to reopen classrooms for some of the youngest students starting April 12, under a tentative deal reached with the teachers union, according to the Associated Press.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports the agreement was announced late Friday after months of debate over how and when kids would return to in-person instruction as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations decline statewide.

The students that might return to in-person school are primarily preschool through fifth grade. It’s still unclear how many of the district’s 52,000 students will return before the term ends June 2. The school board still needs to vote on the deal.

3:33 p.m.: CDC says fully vaccinated people can meet in-person without masks

The CDC has issued new guidance for vaccinated people, basically giving them the thumbs-up to resume some pre-pandemic activities and relax precautions that have been in place.

Specifically fully vaccinated people can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or social distancing. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have gotten their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine).

Vaccinated people can also gather, unmasked, with people from another household who are not yet fully vaccinated, as long as the unvaccinated household is at a low risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

However, experts still stress that vaccinated people should continue to wear a mask when in public, avoid crowds, and continue other precautions around unvaccinated people who are at a high risk of severe illness or death.

The CDC said this is a “first step” to returning to everyday activities. There’s evidence showing that fully vaccinated people are less likely to become infected and “potentially” less likely to spread the virus to others.

12:12 p.m.: COVID-19 variant first identified in UK found in Butte County

Butte County Public Health has detected a case of the more contagious COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

Case investigation and contact tracing efforts are underway for the variant also known as B117. The infected patient is an adult.

While the strain was first detected in the U.K., it has spread to over 200 counties in the United States. As of March 4, 250 cases of this mutation have been reported in California.

“Detection of a variant that spreads more easily is a reminder that even though case rates are declining in Butte County, we must maintain our vigilance and continue using protective measures again [the] coronavirus until most of the population has immunity,” Butte County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Bernstein said. “We cannot let our guard down.”

There’s no indication that the available vaccines or treatments are less effective against this mutation, but there is evidence that the disease may be more severe when infected. County health officials recommend that residents continue to practice wearing masks, social distancing and practicing good hygiene.

11:58 a.m.: American River Parkway annual membership grows due to pandemic

While COVID-19 has decimated some businesses and shuttered most public venues, outdoor spaces like the American River Parkway are enjoying a pandemic boom.

Guests can walk or bike through 29 miles along the American River and it often attracts people of all ages, from older adults walking their dogs, cyclists zipping down the trail to people looking to get their steps in for the day.

American River Parkway Foundation Executive Director Dianna Poggetto said that in 2020 the association sold 2,000 more annual passes than they did in 2019 — more than a 16% increase.

“The Parkway has been, as I say, the only game in town,” Poggetto said, “The Parkway itself, the American River Parkway, can not close down.”

During the pandemic’s early days, the parkway may have seemed too crowded for some residents, but Poggetto said she hopes the increased use continues.

“It’s for people to come out,” she said. “It’s for that mental health break.”

11:52 a.m.: More Sacramento-area residents are interested in starting new businesses

A Sacramento-area business support center said it’s seen an uptick in the number of residents interested in starting new businesses.

Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce President Amanda Blackwood noted that they’ve helped local business owners navigate loan applications to stay afloat during most of the pandemic. Now, the phone calls are getting more optimistic.

“There is a shift, to ‘I see a light at the end of the tunnel, and now I’m going to start strategically planning for that,’ instead of being in a state of basic stabilization and triage,” Blackwood said.

She attributed some of this to more COVID-19 vaccinations and said people are asking for advice on how to start consulting businesses like marketing or accounting. Business owners and entrepreneurs can get advice from the Chamber’s Capital Region Small Business Development Center for free.

Saturday, March 6

3:30 p.m.: California counties don’t want Blue Shield’s vaccine program

Counties across California are increasingly asking to opt out of the state’s centralized vaccination program run by Blue Shield. 

The Los Angeles Times reports that none of the state’s 58 counties have signed contracts with the insurance giant even as California moves ahead plans to bring 10 counties under Blue Shield oversight beginning this week. 

The state is in the process of switching over to a vaccine appointment and delivery system run by Blue Shield, intended to ensure doses are distributed equitably and reach low-income communities. 

But some county leaders call the system too bureaucratic and don’t want Blue Shield’s oversight.

—Associated Press

3:20 p.m.: Senate passes $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package

The Senate approved President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan on Saturday, according to NPR.

The package secures new aid for American families, workers and businesses, including $1,400 direct payments, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits and an increase to the child tax credit.

Individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000 would receive the full direct payments of $1,400 per person. But those payments would phase out for individuals and couples who make more than $80,000 and $160,000, respectively.

Read more here.

Friday, March 5

4:48 p.m.: Gov. Newsom signs bill incentivizing schools to reopen

One day after passing the state Legislature, Gov. Gavin Newsom Friday morning signed into law a bill motivating more California schools to reopen classrooms for in-person instruction.

“Let’s just get this thing signed and let’s get these $6.6 billion … we didn’t wait for the federal government, we’re moving forward,” Newsom said.

The new law sets aside $2 billion the state will distribute among schools districts if they offer in-person instruction by the end of this month. Sacramento-area Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty was at Friday’s virtual bill signing ceremony. 

“I’m counting on my school district to step up and do what’s right,” McCarty said. “We know we have some challenges, like in others across the state who aren’t quite there yet, but it’s right to do what’s right for our kids.”

The new law also includes more than $4 billion to pay for things like tutoring and summer school to address learning loss. Some Republicans are critical of the plan saying it’s too weak and would be better if it forced districts to reopen.  

3:19 p.m.: California will soon reopen outdoor stadiums, theme parks at limited capacity

Californians may soon be able to return to outdoor ballparks, stadiums and theme parks as soon as next month under new guidelines announced Friday by state health officials.

Starting April 1, the new rules would allow outdoor sports and live performances to resume and amusement parks to reopen. They will all have limitations based on the county’s tier, and all attendees must be masked.

For counties in the purple tier, sports and performances will be limited to 100 people. Attendees must have a reservation and be from the surrounding region. That increases to 20% capacity for the red tier, 33% in the orange tier, and 67% in the yellow tier. Even in the less-restrictive tiers, attendees are restricted to in-state visitors.

Amusement parks will function under different capacity limits. They can reopen once a county reaches the red tier, but only at a 15% capacity. That increases to 25% in the orange tier and 35% in the yellow. Only in-state visitors are allowed.

Though the state’s travel advisory is still in place, encouraging people to stay within 120 miles of their homes, it is a rule that state health officials admit will be tricky to enforce.

2:50 p.m.: Study shows masks save lives, outdoor dining increases COVID-19 cases, deaths

A new national study adds strong evidence that mask mandates can slow the spread of the coronavirus and that allowing dining at restaurants can increase cases and deaths, according to the Associated Press.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the study on Friday. It looked at the counties placed under state-issued mask mandates and at counties that allowed restaurant dining — both indoors and outdoors seating. The agency’s director said the study shows decreases in cases and deaths when people wear masks.

Inversely, it found increases in cases and deaths when in-person restaurant dining is allowed. The study was released just as some states are rescinding mask mandates and restaurant limits.

The research also builds on smaller CDC studies, including one that found that people in 10 states who became infected in July were more likely to have dined at a restaurant. Another found that mask mandates in 10 states were associated with reductions in hospitalizations.

Reopening restaurant dining was not followed by a considerable increase in cases and deaths in the first 40 days after restrictions were lifted. However, soon after, there would be increases of about 1 percentage point in the growth rate of cases, and later 2 to 3 percentage points in the growth rate of deaths.

10:28 a.m.: Parents of color feel unheard with the speed of school reopenings

After nearly a year of distancing learning, school districts around California are working on plans to salvage the school year and bring students back into classrooms. In recent months, groups of parents across the state — many of them middle-to upper-class white parents — have demanded schools to reopen sooner.

However, research shows that most parents of color still have reservations. The coronavirus has ravaged communities of color around the state — nearly half of California’s 52,225 deaths are Latinos or Latinas.

This leaves some parents feeling like their voices haven’t been heard when it comes to school reopenings, drowned out by the louder voices of white and wealthier parents. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, white Americans are more likely to support a quick return to classrooms, while the majority of Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans say teachers should be vaccinated first.

The survey showed that 80% of Black respondents said schools should wait until teachers who want to be vaccinated can be, while only 51% of white respondents said the same. The divide also exists among economic lines. By a two-to-one margin, lower-income people would prefer teachers to be vaccinated, while middle- and upper-income Americans are more closely divided.

8:47 a.m.: Some teacher vaccinations go untracked in race to mass inoculate

As the U.S. prioritizes teachers nationwide for coronavirus vaccines, states and many districts are not keeping track of how many school employees have received the shots.

According to the Associated Press, while vaccines are not required for educators to return to school buildings, the absence of data complicates efforts to address parents’ concerns about health risk levels. Some teachers unions are also calling for widespread vaccination as a school reopening condition.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest in California, lets teachers register for vaccine appointments offered by the school system through an app designed with Microsoft. But district spokesperson Shannon Huber said the district is not tracking who has gotten vaccinated.

A reopening date for Los Angeles schools is still undetermined and depends in part on all school staff being offered vaccines, a demand of the district’s teachers union.

8:40 a.m.: US economy adds nearly 380,000 jobs

U.S. employers added a surprisingly robust 379,000 jobs last month, a sign that the economy may be strengthening as virus cases drop, vaccinations ramp up, and Americans spend more.

According to the Associated Press, the February gain marked a pickup from the 166,000 jobs added in January and a loss of 306,000 in December — yet it represents just a fraction of the 10 million jobs that were lost to the pandemic.

The unemployment rate fell 6.2%, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly jobs report. About 4 million people who have lost jobs have stopped looking for work, so they’re not classified as unemployed. According to Oxford Economics, if they were included, along with a separate group that’s misclassified as working, the unemployment rate would actually be 9.3%.

Still, economists are increasingly optimistic that hiring will speed up, and Americans will once again travel, shop, go to the movies, and more.

Thursday, March 4

6:47 p.m.: State lawmakers approve $2 billion incentive for schools to reopen

State lawmakers signed off on a $2 billion plan to incentivize more schools to reopen classrooms. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the measure. 

The bill offers grants to school districts that bring high-needs and younger students back to class this spring. And the sooner they do it, the more money they get. 

It doesn’t force districts to open, though, and many Republicans argued that it should.  

The measure also includes more than $4 billion to pay for things like tutoring and summer school to address learning loss.

It’s unclear how much the incentive package will factor into districts’ reopening plans. Schools won’t turn down the money. But thanks to declining coronavirus infections, many districts that remained closed through the fall were already finalizing agreements with their teachers unions before Newsom announced the deal earlier this week. 

4:15 p.m.: Indoor youth sports can resume in California

Indoor sports in California can resume after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by two high-school athletes, according to the Associated Press.

The settlement means indoor youth sports can return in counties where there are 14 or fewer new coronavirus cases for every 100,000 people. Athletes and coaches would be tested before a competition in most cases.

Details of the settlement agreement were confirmed by attorneys who represented the students in the lawsuit. California public health officials did not confirm the settlement, but Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state would issue new guidance soon.

3:52 p.m.: When will nursing homes reopen to visitors? State officials won’t say

As California works through vaccinating hundreds of thousands of long-term care residents and workers, family members are now pressing administrators and state health officials to finally reopen nursing homes for indoor visits.

Nearly 465,000 residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living centers, and board and care homes have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. New coronavirus cases in the state’s skilled nursing facilities plummeted from 725 on Dec. to just 16 on Feb. 27, after vaccinations started. That’s a 98% decline in case rates.

Despite this, federal and state officials haven’t figured out how to move past the current guidelines that essentially ban in-room visits unless a resident is close to death. Most of the state’s nursing homes won’t open up for visitation until state public health officials give the OK, but the state public health agency is waiting for their O.K. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2:19 p.m.: Unemployment goes up despite drop in COVID-19 infections

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits edged higher last week to 745,000, a sign that many employers continue to cut jobs despite a drop in confirmed viral infections and evidence that the overall economy is improving.

According to the Associated Press, a Thursday report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims rose by 9,000 from the previous week. Though the pace of layoffs has eased since the year began, they remain high by historical standards.

Before the virus flattened the U.S. economy a year ago, applications for unemployment aid had never topped 700,000 in any week, even during the Great Recession. All told, 4.3 million Americans are receiving traditional state unemployment benefits.

10:29 a.m.: California to tie county reopenings to vaccination equity rate

California will start dedicating 40% of all COVID-19 vaccine doses to the hardest-hit communities — a move administration officials say aims to stem the harm in those neighborhoods while also targeting the communities that have the fastest viral spread.

The state will send the vaccines to neighborhoods in the bottom 25% of its Healthy Places Index, which assesses Census tracts based on measures related to health and socio-economic conditions. Many of these areas are in more impoverished neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the Central Valley.

As more Californians get their COVID-19 shots, officials say they will tie loosening restrictions to vaccination equity goals in these communities. For example, when 2 million residents in those neighborhoods are vaccinated, the state will loosen requirements for its color-tier system. The threshold for entering the red tier will move from seven cases per 100,000 to 10 cases.

9:45 a.m.: Vaccine appointments bypass some older adults

Thousands of older Americans are spending hours online or enlisting their grandchildren’s help to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine, and they are the fortunate ones.

According to the Associated Press, an untold number of older people across the country are getting left behind in the desperate dash for shots because they are too frail, overwhelmed, isolated or poor to navigate a system that favors healthier individuals with more resources.

The urgency of reaching this vulnerable population is growing as more and more Americans in other age groups slowly become eligible. Nonprofits, churches and health care outreach workers are scrambling to reach the forgotten older people who are falling through the cracks before the nation’s focus moves on and the competition for vaccines stiffens.

Wednesday, March 3

5:32 p.m.: Vaccine access rapidly expands across the country

Cities and states are rapidly expanding access to vaccines as the nation races to head off a resurgence in coronavirus infections and reopen schools and businesses battered by the pandemic. 

The efforts come as the federal government ramps up shipments, with President Joe Biden saying the U.S. should have enough shots for all adults by the end of May. It also comes as more states are lifting restrictions like mask-wearing and reopening businesses despite warnings from health officials that it’s too risky. 

Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other states say teachers will get the first doses of the new one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Detroit is starting to vaccinate factory workers. And some states are vaccinating anyone 55 or older.

5:23 p.m.: Las Vegas Sands sells Venetian casino due to pandemic changes

Las Vegas Sands is selling the iconic Venetian casino resort and its Sands Expo and Convention center for $6.25 billion, withdrawing from gambling operations on the Las Vegas Strip after the changing nature of the casino business there, and just about everywhere else.

The name of the Venetian, the expo center as well as the Palazzo, the Sand’s luxury casino and resort that’s part of the same complex, will remain, along with the company’s headquarters, according to the Associated Press.

Despite this, the company led by Sheldon Adelson until his death this year will effectively cease U.S. operations. Under Adelson, the company’s focus turned to Asia years ago, where revenue eventually outpaced even the operations on the Last Vegas Strip.

5:20 p.m.: Nonprofits in financial trouble due to pandemic

More than one-third of U.S. nonprofits are in jeopardy of closing within two years because of the financial harm inflicted by the pandemic. 

According to the Associated Press, a soon-to-be-released study by the philanthropy research group Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy underscores the perils for nonprofits and charities whose financial needs have escalated over the past year. 

Even with the excess of donations that many nonprofits and charities received from individuals and foundations, it’s still not enough to stay solvent. The researchers analyzed how roughly 300,000 nonprofits would fare under 20 scenarios of varying severity. 

The worst-case scenario led to the closings of 38% of nonprofits. Even the scenarios seen as more realistic resulted in closures well into double-digit percentages.

Arts and entertainment nonprofits are the most at danger. The most vulnerable nonprofits may try to reduce costs this year by narrowing their focus or by furloughing workers. Some nonprofits may have to turn to mergers to bolster their finances, but several would still vanish even if those particular nonprofits survive.

11:59 a.m.: Sacramento County expanding COVID-19 drive-thru access at McClellan Park

Sacramento County officials are expanding access to a drive-thru COVID-19 mass vaccination center at McClellan Park.

“We were able to open it last week,” County spokesperson Janna Hayes said. “The first, we limited access to only 65-plus residents. This week, we opened the opportunity to educators and childcare providers as well.”

The site operated by test manufacturing company Curative is open Monday through Friday. Hayes said that the county hopes to vaccinate around 350 people each day.

Older adults and educators working in Sacramento County will now have access to a mass vaccination site, allowing people with an appointment to get vaccinated with the Pfizer shot without leaving their car.

“You get your shot sitting in your car, then you go sit in a 15-minute observation waiting area to make sure you don’t have any immediate adverse reaction to the vaccine,” Hayes said.

Residents interested in the McClellan Park vaccinations, can sign up online here.

11:56 a.m.: California vaccinations most often going to rich over at-risk

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says a commitment to equity drives his administration’s centralized approach to vaccinating residents.

But community health centers say they’ve watched as initial shipments of the coronavirus vaccine went to larger hospitals, leaving their high-risk patients to wait, according to the Associated Press.

Community health centers in California care for more than 7 million mostly low-income people whom Newsom and others say they want to reach. The centers are often in areas with higher concentrations of poverty and fewer providers who accept Medicaid.

Dr. Efrain Talamantes is the chief operating officer for AltaMed Health Services in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. He says his patients and staff are often an afterthought despite the emphasis on equity from the state.

11:47 a.m.: Nevada to let some sports games, sports competitions to resume

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has reclassified lacrosse from a full-contact to a minimal-contact sport in Nevada’s coronavirus playbook, according to the Associated Press.

This follows other moves to let indoor and outdoor game practices and competitions to resume with social distancing and other requirements. On Tuesday, the governor said he followed medical advisors in also classifying ice hockey as a full-contact sport and field hockey as a minimal-contact sport.

Sisolak signed new guidelines to let tournaments begin March 15 for Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association sports that get approval for a COVID-19 safety plan. Close-contact club sports and private leagues remain prohibited — including rugby, basketball, boxing, dance and cheer, and martial arts.

Tuesday, March 2

6:05 p.m.: Steep decline in child-abuse related ER visits and hospitalizations during the pandemic 

Natural disasters typically result in an uptick in child abuse, but a new study published today suggests this pandemic appears to be an exception.

Instead of going up, over the first few months of the pandemic, UCSF researchers found a steep decline in the number of ER visits and hospital admissions.

The decline started in mid-March — around the time most states issued shelter-in-place orders — according to the study, which tracked child abuse at 52 children’s hospitals nationwide.

Lead researcher Dr. Suni Kaiser says it doesn’t appear to be underreporting. She says  government interventions may be having a positive impact.

“Some of the policies like the CARES act and protection of eviction that were in place pretty early in the pandemic perhaps shielded families from some of the stresses that we’ve seen in prior events,” Kaiser said.

Another possible explanation: parents working from home meant fewer caregivers were home alone with small children. 

4:11 p.m.: El Dorado County moves to red tier

El Dorado County will soon be able to restart indoor dining and other businesses at reduced capacity after moving to the less restrictive red tier in California’s COVID-19 reopening system Tuesday, according to state health officials.

With the move, restaurants and movie theaters will be able to reopen indoors at 25% capacity, while gyms can reopen indoors at 10% capacity. Museums may also resume indoor operations at 25% capacity.

Bars and breweries must remain closed, while wineries will still be limited to outdoor service.

In addition to El Dorado, moving to the red tier Tuesday are Lassen, Modoc, Napa, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara counties. Sacramento health officials say the county could potentially move to the red tier in mid to late March. Yolo County joined the red tier last month.

10:01 a.m.: San Francisco plans to reopen indoor dining, gyms, soon

San Francisco is poised to allow indoor dining, movie teachers and gyms with reduced capacity, as the most recent coronavirus surge continues to decline.

According to the Associated Press, it’s expected that the county will join several other counties on Tuesday in moving to the less restrictive red tier — down from their current level, the purple tier. More of California’s economy is opening back up for business throughout the state as more residents are vaccinated.

Several counties in the San Francisco Bay Area issued a strict-stay-at-home order nearly a year ago, in advance of a statewide shutdown. Public health officials in the Bay Area, for the most part, have been more cautious than peers in Southern California and other states about reopening the economy.

9:47 a.m.: Asian Americans reflect on anti-Asian attacks a year into pandemic

Asian Americans have faced a dangerous climate since the coronavirus entered the U.S. a year ago, according to the Associated Press.

Instances of verbal harassment and physical assaults have occurred from coast to coast. Now, just over a year and thousands of incidents later, some of the earliest victims find moving forward has been difficult, or, at best, bittersweet.

A recent wave of attacks on older Asian Americans has reignited attention and fueled worries that hostilities have only worsened. They include the death last month of an 84-year-old San Francisco man. More than 3,000 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center, since March 2020.

9:45 a.m.: COVID-19-based fear fuels attacks on health care workers globally

A recent report by the Geneva-based Insecurity Insight and the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, has identified more than 1,000 threats or acts of violence against health care workers and facilities last year.

According to the Associated Press, the report says about 400 of those attacks were linked to the coronavirus, underscoring the dangers surrounding health care workers at a time when they’re needed most. Researchers saw the most attacks last spring and summer as the virus swept across the globe.

Many attacks may have gone undetected because they’re never reported to the police or media. In the U.S., researchers counted about a dozen threats to health care workers just last year. Several incidents involved the injury or arrest of street medics during Black Lives Matter protests.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hospital employees in the U.S. are nearly six times as likely as the average worker to be a victim of an intentional injury. Last month, a Minnesota medical assistant was killed during a clinic shooting by a former patient unhappy with his treatment.

Monday, March 1

5:30 p.m.: Tax filers facing unemployment fraud should request corrected forms, says IRS

With six weeks to go until tax day, many people are looking at the forms and discovering someone else got unemployment benefits using their identity and they owe federal taxes on that income.

The form that would show that is called a 1099-G. IRS spokesman David Tucker says you should get in touch with the state right away and request a corrected 1099-G. And don’t worry if you don’t get it before the April 15 tax deadline. 

“If for some reason they’re finding challenges in terms of being able to receive that corrected form on a timely basis, what they should do is still file an accurate federal tax return and report only the income that they actually received,” Tucker said. 

The state will automatically update the IRS with a corrected form, but you should keep an eye for your copy of that form when it arrives. Tucker says it, like all tax documents, should be kept for at least seven years.

3:25 p.m.: California reaches deal to get children back to in-person learning

Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders struck a deal on Monday to encourage schools to reopen for California’s youngest students by April.

Lawmakers hope the $2 billion plan will incentivize districts to reopen classrooms for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade by March 31. Vulnerable students like homeless, disabled, foster youth, English language learners, those without internet access, and disengaged students must all return to school — regardless of grade level — for the school to receive funding.

Once a county moves into the red tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening system, counties will have to bring students through sixth grade back to classes to receive money. Districts that have already reopened can access the $2 billion to continue operating safely.

2:57 p.m.: San Diego Comic-Con virtual this year again due to pandemic

While the San Diego Comic-Con will remain virtual for the July event, organizers are planning for a smaller-scale gathering later this year, according to the Associated Press.

Comic-Con announced Monday that the annual pop-culture confab will be virtual again for a second-straight year, running on July 23-25.

The in-person experience was canceled again due to coronavirus-related cautions around large gatherings. Organizers said postponements and other challenges caused by the pandemic left them with limited financial resources.

As a result, the virtual convention in July was reduced from four to three days. The smaller in-person event in the works will be in San Diego in November.

12:16 p.m.: California’s MyTurn vaccine appointment website may not be accessible to those without broadband

California’s vaccine appointment system is built around a website called MyTurn, but it may not be accessible for some Californians without broadband — especially seniors.

Public Policy Institute of California research associate Joe Hayes says that lack of proper access to the internet could lead to Californians not getting signed for their vaccination.

“Statewide, 20% of seniors don’t have access to broadband at home,” Hayes said. “By demographics, for instance, access we found is lower among Latino seniors. And in rural areas, it’s 30% that lack access to broadband at home.”

Hayes said that the state might be able to use the recently allocated federal funding to bridge the digital divide among its seniors. California is also offering a telephone hotline for appointments — in multiple languages — to help reach Californians without internet access at (833) 422-4255.

Correction: A previous version of this post had an incorrect phone number. It has been corrected.

12:09 p.m.: States continue to open despite WHO saying it is ‘unrealistic’ COVID-19 will end soon

With the U.S. vaccination drive picking up speed and a third formula on the way, states are eager to reopen for business, despite warnings from health experts that the outbreak is far from over.

According to the Associated Press, experts have also said that moving too quickly to reopen could prolong the pandemic’s misery. The push to reopen comes as nearly 20% of the nation’s adults have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 10% fully inoculated. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urgently warning state officials and ordinary Americans not to let their guard down.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergency chief, says that it’s “premature” and “unrealistic” to think that the pandemic might be stopped by the end of the year. However, he said that the recent arrival of effective vaccines could dramatically reduce hospitalizations and death.

Ryan said that the world’s focus right now should be to keep the COVID-19 transmission as low as possible. WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was “regrettable” that younger and healthier people in rich countries are being vaccinated before at-risk health workers in the developing world. He warned against complacency, noting a recent increase in cases.

11:50 a.m.: Sacramento Regional Transit offers free rides to vaccine appointments

Starting on Monday, if you have a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, you can get a free ride on Sacramento Regional Transit buses and light rail trains.

The transit agency is offering free rides for people getting their coronavirus shots for the next three months, but SacRT Director of Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations Jessica Gonzalez said that the program might be extended past the end of May if there’s a need.

“To ride for free, customers just need to show their COVID-19 vaccine appointment confirmation,” Gonzalez said. The proof could be something like an email, a text, or even a vaccine card.

“So you can either print that out or show that right there on your smartphone, and that will serve as valid fare on the date of your appointment,” Gonzalez said.

Riders are required to wear a mask or face covering before boarding. SacRT isn’t the only transit agency offering free rides in the area — Yolobus will be implementing a similar plan. Their free rides will last through June.

Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here.

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