COVID-19 By The Numbers
Tuesday, January 25
All California K-12 students would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for in-person instruction under a bill introduced Monday.
The requirement would go into effect Jan. 1 if passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Sacramento state Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician, authored the bill.
"Students in California are currently required to be vaccinated for many serious diseases to prevent their spread in schools," Pan said. "And given the tragically high number of people — and those do include children and teens — who suffer from death and disability from COVID-19, we must make sure our students are vaccinated against COVID as well."
The legislation would also bar personal belief exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Pan also authored the 2015 bill which eliminated personal belief exemptions for all other childhood vaccines required to attend school. That bill drew fierce opposition.
Pan's proposal follows legislation introduced last week that would allow California children 12 and up to be vaccinated without their parents' consent.
California lawmakers will consider a proposal allowing adolescents to get vaccines without their parents' consent.
The legislation would apply to minors ages 12 to 17, which could allow them to get any vaccine approved by the FDA and recommended by the CDC.
Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco authored the bill. At a press conference, he said some minors are being prevented from getting the COVID-19 vaccine by their guardians.
"Teens do get sick. There are teens in the hospital, teens on ventilators, and tragically, teens who die," he said.
Supporters said the legislation builds on state laws that already allow adolescents to seek STI vaccines and reproductive health services without parental consent. But Wiener’s office expects the proposal will spark spirited debate in the state Legislature.
Pfizer and BioNTech have begun studying a COVID-19 vaccine tweaked to match the omicron variant in healthy adults, according to the Associated Press.
COVID-19 vaccine makers have been updating their shots in case global health authorities decide a change is needed. The recently announced study will include more than 1,400 volunteers ages 18 to 55.
Most are already vaccinated and will get boosters of the omicron-based vaccine or the original version. Some unvaccinated volunteers will get three omicron-based doses.
The original vaccines still offer good protection against severe illness and death, while a booster improves the chances of avoiding even a milder infection.
Monday, January 24
The Los Angeles Unified School District said it’ll prohibit students from wearing cloth masks as the highly transmissible omicron variant continues to spread.
As reported by the Associated Press, the district said that students must wear “well-fitted, non-cloth masks with a nose wire” at all times starting today.
Higher grade masks will be made available to students upon request. The shift away from cloth masks was prompted by guidance from county health authorities. LAUSD will allow exemptions to mask rules for some students with disabilities.
The LA County Department of Public Health said that the seven-day testing positivity rate remained “very high” at 16%.
Three new U.S. studies offer more evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are standing up to the omicron variant, at least among people who have gotten booster shots.
According to the Associated Press, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the studies on Friday. The results echo previous research — including studies in Germany, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
They found available vaccines are less effective against omicron than they were against earlier versions of the coronavirus.
One of the papers found that two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offered no significant protection against omicron. Several studies have concluded that a booster shot can significantly improve protection.
9:28 a.m.: Omicron surge leaves food banks understaffed
Food banks are experiencing a critical shortage of volunteers as the omicron variant frightens people away from group activities, according to the Associated Press.
Individual volunteers are shying away from their usual shifts, and companies and schools that regularly supply large groups of volunteers are canceling their participation over virus concerns.
The end result in many cases has been a severe increase in spending by food banks at a time when they’re already dealing with higher food costs due to inflation and supply chain issues.
The extent of the problem was highlighted this past week during the national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day when many food banks have traditionally organized mass volunteer drives as part of a day of service.
Friday, January 21
While Sacramento County is starting to see the omicron surge taper off, hospitalization rates are still at record-breaking levels.
As of Wednesday, there were 615 COVID-19 patients in county hospitals — more than at any other time during the pandemic. The number of daily cases has been higher this week than during last winter's surge before vaccines were available.
The cause of the surge isn't just due to the omicron variant, explained Sacramento County Public Health Epidemiology Program Manager Jamie White.
"We are still seeing delta in addition to omicron, so delta has not gone away," White said. "There is no guarantee that if somebody gets [a] COVID infection today that it's going to be the omicron variant, so people should be very cautious about that."
While omicron has become the more dominant variant, studies have shown delta leads to a higher risk of hospitalization, ICU stays and death.
Dr. Erica Pan, the state's epidemiologist, said that while health officials think they're seeing the peak in cases, they're also seeing the highest level of virus transmission so far during the pandemic and that hospitals are at capacity.
"Some of our hospitals are 20-25% over what we could call a baseline at our lowest points of COVID for total patients. And as you've been hearing, a lot of staffing shortages," she said.
Pan said it's very difficult to predict the future course of the virus. She adds that one key variation is unvaccinated people, as they could be vulnerable to new variants.
California would allow children age 12 and up to be vaccinated without their parents' consent under a state senator's proposal, as reported by the Associated Press.
This would be the youngest age a teen could receive vaccinations without an adult guardian's consent. Alabama allows such decisions at age 14, Oregon at 15, Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. Only Washington, D.C. has a lower limit, at age 11.
California Sen. Scott Wiener proposed the change late Thursday night, arguing that the state already allows those 12 and up to consent to certain vaccines and treatments.
Wiener's legislation is permissive, not a mandate, but any vaccination legislation has been hugely controversial in California and elsewhere.
San Francisco’s city attorney has issued subpoenas seeking records from a COVID-19 test operator and laboratory suspected of trying to scam people out of money or valuable personal information.
According to the Associated Press, City Attorney David Chiu announced the legal action yesterday after the companies in question — Community Wellness America and Crestview Clinical Laboratory — missed a Monday deadline to provide valid licenses.
They’re under investigation for offering free COVID-19 tests at several pop-up tents earlier this month. Investigators believe the test operator was collecting sensitive personal information and had a profit motive.
Last year, state officials began investigating Community Wellness America after receiving tips about unauthorized testing sites in Marin, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties.
Thursday, January 20
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Sacramento County may be at a plateau, but the number of new cases each day is still high and hospitals in the county are overwhelmed, public health officials say.
As of Jan. 19, 615 confirmed COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Sacramento County, the most ever since the start of the pandemic. While many patients coming to emergency rooms with symptoms may require care, officials say nearly 25% of patients are coming in with mild symptoms seeking a COVID-19 test.
County health officials say that is not a productive use of the ER or a reason to call 911, and ask people not to seek emergency services unless you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms
“If you’re experiencing mild symptoms, while it is uncomfortable, and potentially a disruption to your daily life, most symptoms such as cough, fatigue, headache, sore throat or a low-grade fever, can be treated with over-the-counter medications and will likely resolve in just a few days,” said county spokesperson Janna Haynes.
The county is asking residents to reserve the emergency room for people with life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms like difficulty breathing, very high fever or pressure or pain in your chest, or for people with other severe injuries or issues not related to COVID-19.
Next week, many colleges and universities will return from a winter break marked by record numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Seventeen of the California State University campuses will begin their spring semesters remotely, but Chico State is not among them.
Though 93% of students and faculty are vaccinated, the virus transmission rate in Butte County remains very high.
Chico State President Gayle Hutchinson said the decision to start the in-person semester was made in conjunction with county health officials.
“Spring 2022 will mirror that of Fall 2021, which is about 60% of our classes in person,” Hutchinson said. “And a number of services and activities will be available on campus, but we’re not really fully 100%.”
Hutchinson told CapRadio Insight host Vicki Gonzalez that she believes the success of the fall semester can be attributed to the school’s high vaccination rate. She also added that there’s a mask requirement in all buildings and officials are encouraging testing, which is available on campus.
“Students really wish to be in person. They struggle with social isolation, and social isolation can contribute to anyone who is having mental health challenges and even depression, so having opportunities then to engage safely on campus is so very, very important,” she said.
Chico State plans to hire more mental health professionals to help students cope with their struggles as the pandemic drags on.
Emergency health workers in California say they’re waiting hours to transfer patients from ambulances to hospital emergency rooms due to chronic delays worsened by the nearly two-year coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Associated Press, during a state legislative hearing, first responders said taking more than 20 minutes to receive a patient at a hospital emergency room isn’t good for patient outcomes. Responders also noted that keeping patients in ambulances for too long impedes their ability to head out on new emergency calls.
Doctors say delays in lab work and insurance authorizations contribute to the hospital bottleneck.
They also say too many non-urgent patients are seeking emergency room care. California is grappling with a rise in hospitalizations following a spike in coronavirus infections that began late last month.
Some European countries such as Spain, Portugal and the countries that comprise the U.K. are making tentative plans for when they might start treating COVID-19 as an “endemic” disease since these countries have some of the highest vaccination rates in the continent.
However, according to the Associated Press, the World Health Organization and other officials have warned that the world is nowhere close to declaring the pandemic over.
Diseases are endemic when they occur regularly in certain areas according to established patterns, while a pandemic refers to a global outbreak that causes unpredictable waves of illness.
The idea is to move from crisis mode to control mode, approaching the virus in much the same way countries deal with the flu or measles.
COVID-19 vaccines, medicines and other measures widely available in wealthier countries with low rates of vaccine hesitancy will likely help them curb their outbreaks before the virus is brought under control globally.
Wednesday, January 19
With the highly contagious omicron variant surging in California, UC Davis Medical Center is reporting a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Providers are caring for more COVID-19 patients now than at any other time during the pandemic, with 126 hospitalized patients with active COVID-19 cases at the medical center. The number surpasses last winter’s peak of 125 patients.
Most patients have severe symptoms, while a few have mild or asymptomatic cases detected through routine screening. Still, providers say those patients still strain hospital resources since they must be isolated to avoid infecting staff and other patients.
Some mild cases still need treatment because the virus can complicate other conditions that ultimately bring people to the hospital.
According to state and local health dashboards, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and emergency department visits set all-time-record high numbers for all of Sacramento County last week. Adults aren’t the only patients being admitted either, according to hospital staff.
“A growing number of children are being admitted to the hospital, and we can expect this to continue to increase for both acute COVID infection, but also due to Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children, which may follow acute COVID infection by two to four weeks,” said Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital.
On Jan. 1, there were two pediatric patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at UC Davis. A recent study by the health center identified certain predictors of severe outcomes in children.
The medical center also recently announced that it’ll be one of the few hospitals in the region to partner with the California Department of Public Health to provide extra staffing to care for the increasing number of patients.
For the first time, people across the U.S. can log on to a government website and order free at-home COVID-19 tests, as reported by the Associated Press.
However, the experts say this latest push by the White House may do little to ease the omicron surge, and Washington will have to do a lot more to fix the country’s long-troubled testing system.
The website, covidtests.gov, allows people to order four at-home tests per household and have them delivered by mail, but the tests won’t arrive for seven to 12 days, after omicron is expected to peak in many parts of the country.
The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to U.S. residents starting next week, according to the Associated Press.
This step comes after federal officials emphasized the masks’ better protection against the omicron variant compared to cloth face coverings.
The White House said the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand.
Masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country and will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week.
Tuesday, January 18
You can now order your four free at-home COVID-19 tests from https://special.usps.com/testkits. You can only place one order per residential household, and the kits will ship for free beginning in late January.
The site’s rollout comes a day before the Biden administration had previously announced it would be available. The president also said the administration would set up a number for those without computer or internet access to order at-home tests, but that number is currently unavailable on the COVID-19 test landing site, https://covidtests.gov.
However, there have been multiple reports from people on Twitter saying they are unable to order tests since the U.S. Postal Service is recognizing their apartment building as a singular residential address, rendering residents of other units in a building unable to order if another unit has already done so. Some people have also posted potential work-arounds, such as using the U.S. Postal Service ZIP Code look-up to enter the precise address.
U.S. Postal Service spokesperson David Partenheimer confirmed “very limited cases” of people experiencing difficulties with ordering their four COVID-19 tests if they are inputting an address not registered as a multi-unit building.
“This is occurring in a small percentage of orders,” he said via email.
He said that those who need additional assistance during the ordering process can file a service request on the USPS website or or call the U.S. Postal Service help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS.
Additionally, the COVID-19 test landing site has been updated with a banner acknowledging the site is up and running a day earlier than planned.
“Please check back tomorrow if you run into any unexpected issues,” it reads.
The banner text also affirms that the administration has tests available “for every residential address in the U.S.”
The fast-moving omicron variant may cause less severe disease on average, yet COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are climbing, as reported by the Associated Press.
Modelers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the omicron wave subsides this spring. The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November.
COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents started rising slightly two weeks ago, although still at a rate of 10 times less than last year, before most residents were vaccinated.
The unprecedented level of infection means vulnerable people will become severely sick. However, the notion that a milder disease on average could still take thousands of lives is difficult for health experts to convey.
Scientists warn that omicron’s whirlwind spread across the globe practically ensures it won’t be the last worrisome coronavirus variant.
According to the Associated Press, every infection provides a chance for the virus to mutate. Research shows that omicron is at least twice as contagious as delta and at least four times as infectious as the original version of the virus.
What that boils down to is now there’s more people in whom the virus can further evolve.
Experts don’t know how subsequent variants might shape the pandemic, and they say there’s no guarantee the sequels of omicron will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them.
All they can hope for is to urge broader vaccination rates now while today's shots are still effective.
Sharply higher costs of goods are yet another challenge thrown at business owners by the global pandemic, according to the Associated Press.
The unpredictability of shipping, labor and the coronavirus itself have created an environment where owners are often left guessing about when products might arrive and how much they’ll cost.
In response, businesses are raising prices, cutting staff hours, dropping some goods and services, nixing free shipping and more in a delicate balancing act.
However, with low visibility into how long the higher inflation will last, some owners are increasingly worried about keeping their doors open in the long run.
Monday, January 17
Sacramento County set a new high for confirmed hospitalized COVID-19 patients over the long weekend — 533 on Jan. 15 and 547 on Jan. 16. The previous high was 518 reported on Dec. 22, 2020, during a deadly winter surge
The number of confirmed COVID-19 patients in the county’s ICUs has also been rising, but at a slower pace than general hospitalizations have. The county reported 96 patients with COVID-19 in its ICUs on Jan. 16, which is far off from the county’s previous high of 130 last January.
While some have expressed less concern about the omicron variant as it seems to provoke milder illness for many people, UChicagoMedicine infectious disease physician Dr. Emily Landon told NPR that there are still a lot of risks. Landon says that the truth of the matter is that omicron is “probably somewhere in between what you think of as a common cold or flu and the COVID that we had before.”
While the New York Times reported last week that California hospitals were finding that the omicron variant causes fewer hospitalizations and shorter stays than previous variants, hospitals are still feeling the strain. A third of hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages, and California’s health department is considering issuing an order postponing many elective surgeries, according to CalMatters.
Sacramento County public health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye advises people to get vaccinated against the virus, and to refrain from going to the hospital unless it’s a true emergency.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to rip through the Sacramento area, affecting small businesses and the people that run them.
Shane Twilla owns Identify Boutique, a small clothing and gift shop. He said the last two years of the pandemic have been rough for business, and when omicron hit, “it was like a gut punch.”
Twilla said he and his fiance and business partner are just trying to be positive, adapt and stay afloat as the virus flares.
“We’re just working harder than we’ve ever worked, to not lose any ground, without really gaining any ground,” he said. “And it’s exhausting.”
Exhaustion is felt elsewhere too. Hundreds of members of a California grocery and food workers union were out sick this month. More than 20% of Sacramento City Unified school staff were absent in early January.
UC Davis Public Health Sciences Dean Brad Pollock said the exhaustion is “producing a strain on many aspects of society.”
“When you have a bug that is much more infectious, you’re going to see what we call spikier curve, epidemic curves,” Pollock said. “So they go up very fast, and likewise they’ll peak and they’ll go down very fast.”
Sacramento County’s public health officer said people should avoid emergency rooms for COVID-19 tests so hospitals can focus on true emergencies.
COVID-19 infections are soaring again at U.S. nursing homes because of the omicron wave, and deaths are climbing too.
According to the Associated Press, that’s leading to new restrictions on family visits and a renewed push to get more residents and staff members vaccinated and boosted.
Nursing homes were the lethal epicenter of the pandemic early on before the advent of the vaccines allowed many of them to reopen and welcome visitors again.
Now the highly contagious variant has dealt them a setback. Nursing homes reported about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending Jan. 9, a nearly sevenfold increase from about a month ago.
A total of 645 COVID-19 related deaths were reported during the same week, a 47% increase from a month earlier.
Tickets will not be sold for the upcoming winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing due to the “grave and complicated situation of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to NPR.
Instead, organizers announced that they would invite groups of spectators to attend the games in person.
“The organisers expect that these spectators will strictly abide by the COVID-19 countermeasures, before, during and after each event as pre-conditions for the safe and sound delivery of the Games,” the Beijing 2022 organizing committee said in a statement.
The International Olympic Committee previously said they would sell tickets only to spectators living in mainland China who met certain COVID-19 safety requirements.
During the summer Olympics in Tokyo last year, fans weren’t allowed in the stands.
The winter games won’t require athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but those who remain unvaccinated will have to quarantine for 21 days when arriving in Beijing.
The IOC also implemented other policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the competition, such as a “closed-loop” system that limits participants to certain Olympics-related areas and other permitted locations that isolate them from China’s general public.
Friday, January 14
The Supreme Court has stopped a major push by the Biden administration to boost the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate: a requirement that employees at large businesses get a vaccine or test regularly and wear a mask on the job.
According to the Associated Press, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.
The court’s orders coming out on Thursday during a big spike in coronavirus cases was a mixed bag for the administration. The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees.
Americans, beset by product shortages, rising prices and the arrival of omicron, sharply cut their spending in December after a burst of early spending in the fall that helped bolster the holiday season, according to the Associated Press.
Retail sales fell a seasonally adjusted 1.9% in December compared with the previous month when sales increased 0.3%, the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday.
Sales rose 1.8% in October compared to September. Still, retail sales rose 16.9% compared with the year-ago period.
The World Health Organization identified omicron in late November, and the December report from the Commerce Department is the first to capture its effects on consumer behavior.
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since mid-November.
According to the Associated Press, jobless claims climbed by 23,000 last week to 230,000, which is still slow by historic standards.
The four-week moving average, which smooths out week-to-week blips, was up nearly 6,300 to almost 211,000. The weekly applications — a proxy for layoffs — have now risen four of the last five weeks, possibly a sign that the omicron variant is having an impact on the job market, which has bounced strongly from last year’s coronavirus recession.
Thursday, January 13
President Joe Biden announced Thursday plans for the government to double free rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests for Americans to a total of 1 billion, according to the Associated Press.
Speaking at the White House, Biden said the administration will also make the most protective N95 masks available for no charge.
He spoke at an event aimed at highlighting the federal government’s efforts to “surge” COVID-19 testing and send personnel to help overwhelmed medical facilities.
The effort comes amid the upswing in coronavirus cases and staff shortages due to the omicron variant. Starting next week, 1,000 military medical personnel will begin arriving at COVID-19 hot-spots to help mitigate staffing crunches at hospitals.
Two brand-new COVID-19 pills that were supposed to be an important weapon against the pandemic in the U.S. are in short supply and have played little role in the fight against the omicron wave of infections.
According to the Associated Press, the problem is that production is not yet at full strength and that the pill considered to be far superior — Pfizer’s formulation — takes six to eight months to manufacture.
The supply is expected to improve dramatically in the coming months, but doctors are clamoring for the pills now, as omicron causes an explosion of cases.
Adding to the pressure is that two antibody drugs that were once the go-to treatments for COVID-19 don’t work as well against the omicron variant.
California Democrats have taken their first step towards creating a universal health care system.
According to the Associated Press, a legislative committee in the state Assembly advanced a bill on Tuesday that would replace California’s current private insurance market with a plan paid for by the government.
However, the proposal is still a long way from becoming law. It faces strong opposition from the state’s powerful business interest.
If approved and does become law, voters will have to approve an income tax that’ll be applied to companies earning more than $2 million, businesses with more than 50 employees, and workers that make over $150,000 a year.
Carmen Comsti, the lead regulatory policy specialist with the nurses association, said the tax would generate somewhere between $160 and $170 billion annually.
“We are talking about ensuring that everybody gets comprehensive benefits without copays or deductibles,” Comsti said.
Bill author Ash Kalra, a San Jose assemblymember, said the primary reasons single-payer has failed in the past have been due to cost, opposition from health insurance giants and monied business interests.
The proposal has a long way to go, but Democrats still hailed the vote for jumpstarting one of their long-stalled policy goals.
Wednesday, January 12
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on Tuesday, giving school districts more flexibility to hire substitutes, extend the contracts of those already on the job and bring back retired teachers.
The order comes as districts face a critical staffing shortage largely caused by a surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
As he sometimes does when discussing issues dealing with kids and school, Newsom brought up his own children as he talked about the need to make sure students continue with in-person learning.
“I’m very, very sensitive to this and the learning opportunities that are lost because kids are not safely in school, the challenges and vagaries of going online,” Newsom said. “My son, and we had fits and starts, he’s in and out of school, said ‘please daddy, no more Zoom school.’ And you hear that echoed all throughout the state of California.”
The omicron variant of COVID-19 is once again upending many communal activities, including school sports.
The California Interscholastic Federation guidelines require weekly testing, with a positive test resulting in isolation for at least five days and a negative test required before returning to play.
The CIF’s Sacramento-San Joaquin section encompasses some quarter of a million students. Will DeBoard, the assistant commissioner, said there’s been some unique challenges.
“Sac-Joaquin section, we’re kind of an interesting situation because we have 16 different counties where we deal with high schools,” DeBoard said. “Merced County may say something completely different than what Yolo County is saying. So we have to navigate, not only from a state side of things, but also each county.”
DeBoard also said some counties and schools are allowing players a little more leeway, but with virus cases increasing, teams need to be more flexible and ready to make last minute changes.
Suspicions, misinformation and other factors have combined to produce what authorities say are alarmingly low COVID-19 vaccination rates in U.S. children ages 5 to 11.
According to the Associated Press, as of Tuesday, just over 17% of children in this age group were fully vaccinated more than two months after shots for them became available.
There was a pre-holiday surge after the shots were introduced last fall, but the numbers have crept up slowly since then. Omicron’s out-of-control spread appears to have had little effect in encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.
Prices paid by U.S. consumers jumped 7% in December from a year earlier, and it’s now the highest inflation rate since 1982, according to the Associated Press.
This is just the latest evidence that rising costs for food, fuel, rent and other necessities are heightening the financial pressures on America’s households.
Inflation has spiked during the recovery from the pandmeic recession as Americans have ramped up spending on goods such as cars, furniture and appliances. Those increased purchases have clogged ports and warehouses, exacerbating supply shortages of semiconductors and other computer parts.
Tuesday, January 11
Surging COVID-19 cases are having an impact on attendance and instruction at Sacramento City Unified District schools.
According to an email sent to parents last Friday, 21% of district staff called in sick that day.
The district said there were only enough substitute teachers to cover half of the absences. In order to cover teacher vacancies, the district is turning to principals, credentialed central office and site staff. Even parents have been asked to help supervise classrooms.
Between staff and students, the district recorded nearly 1,600 COVID cases last week. The surge comes amid a nationwide explosion of cases brought on by the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Restaurants are once again bracing themselves as case counts of the omicron variant are continuing to rise in Sacramento.
At Binchoyaki in Southside Park, the people lined up under the restaurant's overhang aren't always waiting for food — instead, the restaurant's owners have set up their outdoor patio as a COVID-19 testing site.
Owner Tokiko Sawada said they've been offering free testing to anyone who needs it since August. They've noticed that the lines seem to have gotten longer in the past few days.
"We've been doing, on average, almost a hundred [tests] a week, but the last two weeks, it's been really over a hundred easily," Sawada said.
She explained that the restaurant is taking the surge seriously. They haven't had any positive cases amongst the staff, but they've been closed for two weeks and will reconsider indoor dining when they return.
"It's like one thing after another, it's rough. You can't really forecast anything ahead, you can't expect anything, any changes you decide to make, you have to change it again because the waves change constantly," she said.
A number of other restaurants have stopped offering indoor dining or closed entirely for the next few weeks due to the omicron surge and the shortage of workers. Sawada said they hope to be reopening for outdoor service soon.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 is causing cases and hospitalizations to rise dramatically in California, and rural areas aren’t immune.
Dr. Marcia Nelson is the Chief Medical Officer at Enloe Medical Center in Chico. She said that the more transmissible and contagious omicron variant is leading to a surge in cases and hospitalizations.
“To put that into context, we have 29 to 30 patients this week in the hospital with COVID,” Nelson said. “And about two weeks ago, that was 16, in the middle teens, so we’re seeing a consistent increase.”
She said the surge is expected to peak in California towards the end of January. With Butte County likely being a week or two behind that curve, Nelson said the hospital is currently expecting to see an increase in cases through early February.
She asked that the public help keep caseload numbers down by taking the pandemic seriously.
“And just be acting as if this is real because it is real,” she said. “We’re living this every single day. We’re having staff members, physicians, who are having breakthrough cases, fortunately mild, but this omicron variant is different than anything we’ve dealt with before.”
Nelson said of the COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Enloe, 89% were not fully vaccinated against the virus.
Adventist Health and Rideout in Marysville are also seeing an overwhelming number of hospitalizations. Yuba and Sutter County health officials said the surge is driven by COVID-19 cases and non-COVID-related medical conditions.
Officials are asking residents not to go to the emergency room for COVID-19 testing as hospital staff are overwhelmed.
Monday, January 10
Millions of workers whose jobs don’t provide paid sick days are having to choose between their health and their paycheck as the omicron variant of COVID-19 rages across the country.
While many companies instituted more robust sick leave policies at the beginning of the pandemic, some of those have since been scaled back with the rollout of vaccines, despite omicron managing to evade shots.
According to the Associated Press, the current labor shortage is adding to the pressure of workers having to decide whether to show up to their jobs sick or forgo a paycheck.
Low-wage workers are especially vulnerable. Only 33% of workers whose wages are at the bottom 10% get paid sick leave, compared with 95% in the top 10%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The coronavirus pandemic is beginning to recede as a top priority in the minds of Americans, according to the Associated Press.
Instead, many are growing increasingly concerned about the economy, personal finances, and inflation. That potentially spells political trouble for Democrats heading into the midterm elections.
A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds just 37% of Americans say COVID-19 is a top priority for the government to work on in 2022, compared with 53% who said it was at the start of last year.
This year, 68% of Americans polled named the economy as the government's top concern, while 14% mentioned inflation — including 18% of Republicans and 10% of Democrats.
Pope Francis recently spoke about getting the coronavirus vaccination as a “moral obligation,” according to the Associated Press.
Francis used some of his strongest words yet, calling for people to get vaccinated in a speech to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See on Monday. He denounced how people had been swayed by “baseless information” to refuse one of the most effective measures to save lives.
Francis has generally shied away from speaking about vaccination as a “moral obligation,” though his COVID-19 advisory body has spoken of a “moral responsibility.”
On Monday, he said individuals had a responsibility to care for themselves, “and this translates into respect for the health of those around us.”
Sunday, January 9
Gov. Gavin Newsom is asking the Legislature for $2.7 billion to pay for increased testing, vaccination efforts and support for hospitals, which are filling up with patients amid a COVID-19 surge.
The governor will ask lawmakers to fund $1.4 billion immediately rather than in June, when the state budget is typically completed. The ask comes before Newsom presents a full budget proposal Monday morning, including plans for spending an estimated $31-billion surplus.
The total COVID-19 package would include $1.2 billion to boost testing, including millions of antigen tests for local health departments, schools and community clinics.
Administration officials say 9.4 million test kits have now been delivered to county offices of education as part of Newsom’s promise that every student would get a test after the holiday break. According to the Los Angeles Times, less than half arrived before many students returned to classes on Monday, and as of Friday, 17 counties still had not received any tests.
California’s total number of hospitalizations is dangerously close to the peak of 53,000 during last winter’s surge. As of Saturday, 52,057 hospital beds were occupied, including patients with COVID-19 and other ailments. The administration is asking for $614 million to pay surge staff at strained hospitals.
The package also includes:
- $583 million for in-home vaccinations, transportation and outreach to encourage more Californian to get vaccines and booster shots.
- $200 million to support the California Department of Public Health and Office of Emergency Services.
- $110 million to test and vaccinate people at the California-Mexico border and expand statewide contact tracing.
Friday, January 7
California hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients, with an uptick in children being admitted. Experts say it's going to get worse.
Just over the last month, hospitalizations jumped 165% in the state. Health officials said more children are being admitted now than they were this time last year, with hospitals seeing staffing shortages due to the virus.
Stanford University immunologist Dr. Anne Liu said children in regions with low vaccination rates are at the highest risk.
"I worry about the ability of these health systems to be able to take care of sick kids as well as other sick adults who have conditions besides COVID," Liu said.
The surge is a significant concern for parents — especially those with kids younger than 5, who aren't eligible for their shots yet.
Sacramento resident Pahelen Parker has a kindergartner and a 3year old. He's found that it's "added a whole layer of stress and caution to our behavior."
His older child is immunized, but since she's attending school in person, it makes him nervous for his toddler.
"He probably wouldn't have much more than a cough for a fever," Parker said. "But also his body and his mind is developing, and I'd rather not have him have that exposure, if possible."
Health officials are urging people not to go to the emergency room unless they have an urgent problem.
A surge in coronavirus cases has shut down California schools and sidelined thousands of police, firefighters and health care workers, but officials hope it’ll be short-lived.
Los Angeles County’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, said that she hopes the surge will start easing in February, according to the Associated Press.
Ferrer also said vaccinations and boosters are protecting many people from severe illness. California’s number of confirmed COVDI-19 cases has soared five-fold in two weeks, leading to hours-long waits for COVID tests and straining school systems.
All 54 schools in one San Francisco Bay Area school district closed Friday, and some Oakland teachers planned a sickout to demand more virus protections.
Governors across the U.S. took sweeping action during earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic but are taking a much different approach during the record-setting caseloads caused by the omicron variant.
According to the Associated Press, previously, many of them closed schools or ordered businesses to shut down. They also issued mask mandates, vaccine requirements, and in some places, quarantines for those who had traveled to hot spots out of state.
While governors are sending help to hospitals, there seems to be little appetite for widespread public orders or shutdowns again, even as the omicron surge shatters COVID-19 case records.
Even Democratic governors who passed strict mandates early on are relying more on persuasion than dictates.
Thursday, January 6
New COVID-19 cases in Sacramento County have had sustained day-over-day case rate increases, causing the county public health officer Dr. Olivia Kasiyre to issue a health order to require all public boards, councils, commissions, and other similar bodies to suspend in-person public meetings and transition to virtual.
The county’s previous public health order passed on July 29, 2021 and required all people in Sacramento County to wear face coverings indoors. This order remains in place, and is unaffected by the new order.
The rapid emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant, coupled with holiday gatherings, has led to an unprecedented case rate in the county.
On Dec. 30, there were 1,917 new cases reported, which is 51.3% higher than the highest episode date of the winter surge of 2020. On Jan. 4, 2022, the county reached an all-time high of 80.3 cases per 100,000 residents.
“The steep increase in cases and high transmissibility of the omicron variant is very concerning,” Kasirye said. “This order is necessary to protect essential government functions.”
Getting vaccinated, getting a booster, getting tested, and following local mask guidance while avoiding crowded places are all important things to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
If you can’t avoid or postpone traveling or gathering, it’s recommended to get tested one to three days before and three to five days after the event. For a list of vaccination clinics, visit the Sacramento County Public Health Vaccination website, call 2-1-1 or visit www.MyTurn.ca.gov. Homebound residents can contact 2-1-1 to request in-home vaccination services.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in California. Experts say testing is key to slowing transmission, but it’s still not that easy to find test kits.
Across the state, at-home test kits are in low supply and high demand. California Association of Health Officers Director Kate Deburgh said there’s a huge dearth of testing kits.
“There just simply aren’t enough to test everybody who needs to be tested,” Deburgh said.
When at-home test kits are available, health departments try their best to distribute them to neighborhoods hardest hit by the virus.
Meanwhile, lines at testing sites are exceedingly long because there isn’t enough staff. Deburgh said that if you’re struggling to find a testing appointment, just keep checking.
“Check with your provider if you have one. Check to see if your local pharmacies test, which they probably do, or if they have over-the-counter tests that you can use,” they said.
The state is distributing at-home test kits for school-aged children. Some counties are also giving away home tests at libraries and other sites, though Sacramento County libraries ran through their supply this week and don’t expect to receive more.
A spike in COVID-19 cases is driving an extension of California’s indoor mask mandate.
The month-long mask requirement was initially set to expire on Jan. 15, but the state’s top health official Dr. Mark Ghaly said it’ll stay in place for another month.
“It will be extended until February 15,” Ghaly said. “At that time, we will again re-evaluate the conditions across California, our communities and our health care delivery settings.”
Health officials recommend a tight-fitting mask or double masking in public places. The omicron variant is causing cases and hospitalizations to spike, but Ghaly said the state is better prepared to handle a surge than it was last winter when vaccines were just rolling out.
Masks will also be required at large events, including next month’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles, where Ghaly said pandemic measures will be in place, including a mask requirement.
“The work is to make sure that as it is moving forward as planned, that the mitigation strategies create safety around that event are in place.”
However, Ghaly said he and Gov. Gavin Newsom were not discussing business or school closures during the surge.
Wednesday, January 5
With students returning from winter break this week, school districts around the region have been scrambling to provide adequate testing in hopes of keeping COVID-19 off their campuses and school buildings.
Thanks to an early allotment of testing kits, Sacramento City Unified was one of the few districts to send the majority of their students home for the holidays with a test kit.
SCUSD’s Director of Student Support and Health Services, Victoria Flores, said they sent home 38,000 kits that ultimately helped identify 500 cases.
“We know that we prevented a lot of exposure with those 500-plus positive cases because they did not come to school,” Flores said. “They knew to stay home from work or from school and care for themselves.”
In December, Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged to provide kits so students could be tested “as they return to school from winter break.” Many districts are just now receiving those kits.
Sacramento County Office of Education Spokesperson Tim Herrera said 213,000 tet kits are in the process of being delivered to area school districts.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure everyone is safe. We want everyone to feel safe, for sure,” Herrera said. “And that’s one of the reasons why we’re making sure that these tests are available to our students.”
State public health officials have yet to respond to questions about the uneven allot of COVID test kits.
Mental health challenges have gained more attention as the pandemic wears on, contributing to feelings of anxiety around health, safety and attending school or work in person.
Plus, many have found the loss of regular in-person activities like concerts and movies upsetting.
Sacramento County Behavioral Health Services clinical psychologist Dr. Andrew Mendonsa said that this confusing and distressing time has caused some people to struggle to adapt to a post-covid world.
“There’s really this uncertainty that I think folks have, some have adapted to … and have gotten used to. Things are changing every day,” he said. “And others are still really struggling to really get a firm base underneath them to be able to really kind of forge forward in what’s ahead.”
To cope, he recommended going out for a walk, healthy eating and maintaining contact with friends and co-workers. The goal is not to retreat or isolate oneself.
9:37 a.m.: Pediatric COVID-19 cases continue to rise
Cases of the omicron variant are on the rise, and in the last week of December, cases in Sacramento County more than tripled from around 600 to almost 1,900 a day.
The number of children being admitted at hospitals is also starting to tick up, according to Dr. Dean Blumberg, UC Davis Health’s chief of pediatric infectious diseases. In an interview with Insight, he said the silver lining is that while child admission rates are increasing, it’s still below last summer’s surge.
However, Blumberg stressed that this doesn’t mean children aren’t at risk.
“There is no vaccine available for children less than 5, so they remain vulnerable to infection,” he said. “And for the 5- to 11-year-olds, we only had a recent recommendation for immunization, and we only have about 25% vaccination rate in that group.”
Because of this, he said pediatric cases are likely to continue rising. He cautioned that while COVID-19 infections tend to be less severe in children, thousands have been hospitalized and over 1,000 in the U.S. have died.
Tuesday, January 4
Updated at 3:01 p.m.
Sacramento County announced Tuesday morning it would distribute more than 91,000 free at-home COVID-19 test kits through public libraries, but by the afternoon many locations were out. In a note on its website, the Sacramento Public Library system said that it hopes to "have a limited supply available tomorrow, January 5 at all locations."
3:20 p.m. Update: Folsom's allotment of COVID-19 home test kits from Sacramento County Public Health has been exhausted. We do not anticipate any additional supply. For more COVID-19 testing resources and locations, visit https://t.co/r0HJJuBUMh.— City of Folsom (@CityofFolsom) January 4, 2022
The kits are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. There’s also a limit of two test kits per person. The Sacramento County Public Health Department is partnering with the county library system and the Folsom Public Library to provide the free at-home test kits.
Those seeking at-home test kits through the Sacramento Public Library can visit any of the library’s 28 locations during regular hours of operation for curbside test kit pick up, or indoors at the library counter at some locations.
The kits are free to the public, and no library card is required.
Each rapid test kit will contain two tests and results are available within 15 minutes of completing the test.
“Testing before and after gathering in groups or attending large events help lessen the spread of COVID and the new omicron variant,” county Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said.
Getting vaccinated, getting a booster when eligible, getting tested following local mask guidance, and avoiding crowded places are the most important things people can do to prevent the spread of omicron and other variants, according to health officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and prevention has signed off on two measures to increase access to additional doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.
According to the Associated Press, the CDC recommended shortening the waiting period between the original Pfizer vaccinations and when a person should receive a booster shot, from six months to five months.
The agency has not changed the recommended booster interval for people who got other vaccines — Johnson & Johnson booster interval is two months, while the Moderna vaccine can be given six months after initial doses.
The CDC also recommended that kids ages 5 to 11 with moderately or severely weakened immune systems receive an additional dose 28 days after their second Pfizer shot. Currently, the third vaccine is only recommended for that age group and pharmaceutical brand.
This latest decision follows the Food and Administration’s approval of Pfizer booster shots for kids ages 12 to 15. While the CDC has not announced a recommendation about that, an expert advisory committee is expected to take up the matter during a meeting tomorrow.
Why are so many vaccinated people getting COVID-19 lately? A couple of factors are at play, starting with the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant, according to the Associated Press.
Omicron is more likely to infect people, even if it doesn’t make everyone sick. Plus, the surge coincided with the holiday travel season in many places globally.
Some mistakenly think that COVID-19 vaccines will completely block infection, but experts say the shots are mainly designed to prevent severe illness, not stop all possibility of infection.
However, vaccines are still doing their job at protecting people from serious illness, particularly for people who’ve gotten boosters. Experts noted that breakthrough infections appear to be much more likely with omicron.
Monday, January 3
Updated at 4:40 p.m. with new hospitalization data
Sacramento County set new records for daily COVID-19 cases by episode date and the seven-day daily average of cases per 100,000 residents over the holiday as the omicron variant continues to spread.
The county reported 1,871 cases with an episode date of Dec. 30, the highest ever reported. A cases’ episode date is the closest estimate of when the illness started, and refers to the earliest of these dates that is available in the case: symptom onset, diagnosis, specimen collection, specimen receipt or death.
The high during this summer’s delta variant surge was 853 cases with an episode date of Aug. 11, and the high during last winter’s surge was 1,267 on Dec. 14, 2020.
As of Dec. 30, Sacramento County’s seven-day case average for every 100,000 residents was 72.4, another record high, compared to 46 statewide as of that date. The county reported 6,504 new cases over the long holiday weekend.
No new deaths were reported over the long weekend, but hospitalizations have risen starkly. There are 267 people hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sacramento as of Jan. 2, up nearly 95% from two weeks ago.
The U.S. is expanding COVID-19 boosters as it confronts the omicron surge. According to the Associated Press, the Food and Drug Administration on Monday allowed extra Pfizer shots for children as young as 12.
Boosters are already recommended for everyone 16 and older, and the FDA said they’re also warranted for 12- to 15-year-olds.
The FDA also said everyone eligible for a Pfizer booster can get one as early as five months after their last dose, rather than six months.
But for the move, coming as classes restart after the holidays, isn’t the final step. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must decide whether to recommend boosters for the younger teens.
A winter storm hitting the mid-Atlantic combined with the pandemic to further frustrate air and train travelers whose return trips home from the holidays were canceled or delayed in the first few days of the new year.
According to the Associated Press, the tracking service FlightAware reports that more than 2,600 U.S. flights and more than 4,100 worldwide were grounded as of midday Monday. Another 8,500 flights were delayed, including 3,100 in the U.S.
In the last 24 hours, the Sacramento International Airport has canceled 25 flights and is reporting a change in flight activity of -22% when compared to the same week in 2020, before the pandemic rocked the airline industry.
That follows Sunday’s cancellation of more than 2,700 domestic flights and more than 4,4000 worldwide.
Due to a mix of weather issues and coronavirus cases among workers, about two dozen Amtrak trains on both the Northeast Corridor and long-distant routes will be affected. Travelers could take hope from an improving weather forecast.
The fast-moving omicron variant is complicating a key question — how does the COVID-19 pandemic end and the world coexist with the virus?
Experts agree that the coronavirus is here to stay and that ending the pandemic won’t be like flipping a light switch, according to the Associated Press.
Scientists also do not expect omicron to be the last mutation either. However, at some point, different parts of the world — probably at different times — will tamp down the virus enough to ease up on the constant state of red alert and to consider it another of the health threats we live with.
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