COVID-19 By The Numbers
Tuesday, December 7
The University of the Pacific has created an accelerated graduate program to help meet California and the country’s critical nursing shortage.
While the pandemic has worsened the problem, UOP has started thinking about a program of this kind back in March 2020. Nicoleta Bugnariu, the founding dean of UOP’s School of Health Sciences, thinks the program could bring more people into the shrinking industry.
“Prior to the pandemic, there was a shortage of nurses in California. I don’t pretend that we know at that point how long this pandemic will last and the impact, but where we are now, that shortage has increased,” Bugnariu said.
According to UC San Francisco, California is experiencing a shortage of over 40,000 registered nurses. While the situation has pre-dated the pandemic, things have only gotten worse.
Bugnariu said that one of the primary goals is to help students deal with the stresses of the job through self-assessment.
“How do I address this? What can I do for myself to bring myself to a healthier, more grounded center if you want? And then reach out to a network, build that community, so you don’t do this alone,” she said.
These foundational skills need to be developed to help students stay in the nursing profession long term, she said.
There’s another COVID-19 vaccine ready to soon roll out to the world — Novavax. And while it won’t necessarily replace the current vaccinations we have, it can make a huge impact on the course of the pandemic in lower-resourced countries.
According to NPR, the inoculation will be what’s called a “protein subunit vaccine.” It works by injecting people with a tiny portion of the virus, which in this case, would be the spike protein critical for the virus to enter cells.
This could make a dent in the global unvaccinated population because protein subunit vaccines are often very stable and don’t require freezers for storage. Since it’ll just need a regular refrigerator, it’ll make disturbing the vaccines much easier.
Two new drugs that treat patients with COVID-19 are awaiting authorization from the Food and Drug Administration — Merck makes one, and the other is by Pfizer.
While the Merck drug has been in development for years, Pfizer’s drug didn’t even exist when the pandemic began. The tale of two drugs could be an example of how the coronavirus pandemic has sped up the drug and vaccine development process.
However, Pfizer wasn’t exactly starting from zero, according to NPR. Back in 2003, when the SARS outbreak happened, the company began searching for ways to combat that version of the coronavirus.
Monday, December 6
Northern California parents knowingly sent their COVID-19 positive child and a sibling to school last month in violation of isolation and quarantine rules, causing a coronavirus outbreak in an elementary school.
According to the Associated Press, the superintendent of the Larkspur-Corte Madera School District located in Marin County said that the child tested positive for the virus during the week of Nov. 8.
Both children continued to attend school the rest of the week and into the following week. The child and their sibling, who later also tested positive, are students in the district’s Neil Cummins Elementary School. The parents could face a fine or a misdemeanor charge for violating Marin County’s health order.
To protect yourself against the omicron variant, experts say to do what you would against any other variant — getting vaccinated, if you’re not already getting a booster if you’re eligible, and stepping up other precautions you may have relaxed, like mask-wearing.
For all of the attention omicron is getting, the overwhelming cause of infections in many places is still the delta variant, according to the Associated Press.
As scientists work on learning more about omicron, experts note the importance of layering protection. That’s especially true with holiday travel and gatherings around the corner. A booster shot could be one of those protective layers.
U.S. health officials say that while the omicron variant of the coronavirus is rapidly spreading in the country, early indications suggest it may be less dangerous than delta, the current scourge of hospitalization surges.
According to the Associated Press, the country’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that scientists need more information before drawing conclusions about omicron’s severity.
But reports from South Africa, where it’s becoming the dominant strain, suggest hospitalization rates have not increased much. Omicron has been detected in about a third of U.S. states as of Sunday.
Fauci said the Biden administration is considering lifting travel restrictions against noncitizens entering the U.S. from several African countries.
Sunday, December 5
As 2021 comes to a close at the end of this month, many organizations are evaluating how the pandemic has affected their bottom lines.
Despite a string of large-scale events since June, including Friday’s California International Marathon, in looking at how downtown may fare going into 2022, there’s one significant wild card: a possible lack of state office workers, says Mike Testa, president and CEO of Visit Sacramento.
“There’s a huge population of California State employees that were working in downtown every day and so many of them are working at home,” Testa said. “If that continues, there’s great concern of the impact that will have on businesses, because it’s tens of thousands of people on a daily basis who just aren’t in Sacramento.”
Testa says compared with 2019, convention business is a bit down, but several large events scheduled for early 2022 are signaling a likely increase in attendance.
Friday, December 3
While Sacramento has not seen any cases of the new variant, county public health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye says it’s still a variant of concern. She said that it's difficult to predict when the variant may spread to Sacramento, but with people traveling for the holidays, it’s only a matter of time.
“We know it’s going to happen at some point,” Kasirye said. “So we just need to continue to be vigilant and do the things that we know will protect everyone,” like getting vaccinated, getting tested and wearing masks.
As of now, very little is known about omicron. It’s not clear how fast it spreads or how severe symptoms can be.
“And of course that means we also need to look at, for people that are vaccinated, what is the level of protection,” Kasirye said. “Our hope is that our vaccines will hold up, and the people that are vaccinated will continue to be protected.”
Kasirye said that it's difficult to predict when the variant may spread to Sacramento. But when it does, she says her department will be able to detect it much sooner than they have in the past, thanks to tools the county’s lab just received.
“In order to identify the variant, you have to do the genome sequencing,” Kasirye said. “So being able to do it in-house increases our capacity to be able to continue the surveillance.”
Prior to getting access to the sequencing tools, Kasirye says the county was sending specimens to the state’s lab, which delayed identifying new cases of variants. As of now, she says delta is still the dominant variant in Sacramento.
California recently reported its second confirmed case of the omicron variant in Los Angeles County.
According to the Associated Press, the county’s public health department said a county resident is self-isolating after apparently contracting the infection during a trip to South Africa last month.
The U.S. recorded its first confirmed omicron case on Wednesday in a San Francisco resident who had recently traveled to South Africa and developed mild symptoms after returning on Nov. 22. The little-understood variant was first identified a week ago in South Africa, and it’s been spreading.
California isn’t the only state with infections — five other states, including New York, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Colorado, have all identified omicron variant cases.
Experts have said that this shows how quickly mutations of the virus can circumnavigate the globe with speed and ease. Just one day after the first known U.S. case was found in California, tests showed that the omicron variant had infected at least five people in New York City, plus a man from Minnesota who attended an anime convention in Manhattan in late November.
Officials reported another case in a Colorado woman who had recently traveled to southern Africa. The variant was also confirmed in an unvaccinated Hawaii resident with no recent travel history.
Nevada state workers enrolled in public employee healthcare plans will be charged up to $55 per month if they aren’t fully vaccinated, according to the Associated Press.
The Nevada Public Employees Benefits Program Board voted on Thursday to impose a surcharge on unvaccinated workers to offset medical costs of those who haven’t gotten shots. The surcharge will fund the testing that unvaccinated workers are required to undergo.
Laura Rich, the benefits program’s executive officer, said Nevada would be the first in the U.S. to impose premiums on state workers who aren’t vaccinated. Nevada estimates roughly 5,000 state workers aren’t vaccinated and hopes that the policy will convince more people to get their shots.
South African scientists are warning that the new omicron variant may be causing more reinfections among COVID-19 survivors than earlier virus mutations, according to the Associated Press.
A research group has been tracking reinfections in South Africa, and they spotted a jump with the arrival of omicron, saying the timing suggests “substantial” evidence that the variant can overcome the immunity protection provided by a prior infection more than the extra-contagious delta variant.
The findings are preliminary and were posted online Thursday before scientific review. The researchers didn’t say what portion of the reinfections were confirmed as omicron cases or examine how much protection against the new variant vaccines offer.
Thursday, December 2
The Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the U.S. is on hold because of legal challenges, but employers can still require the shots, according to the Associated Press.
The regulation says businesses with 100 or more employees need to require COVID-19 vaccinations or have workers tested weekly for the virus. It was set to take effect Jan. 4, 2022, but has faced legal challenges from businesses, Republicans and others.
A federal appeals court put the rule on hold. Then all legal challenges were consolidated in another appeals court, which is taking written arguments from parties that want to join the case.
Governments worldwide are weighing new measures for those who may be tired of restrictions and vaccine mandates, as the delta variant pushes up cases in Europe and other parts of the world.
According to the Associated Press, different countries have been turning to varying measures to get their populations vaccinated and healthy.
For example, residents over 60 who refuse to get vaccinated will be hit with monthly fines of 100 euros ($113) a month in Greece. Potential carriers of omicron in Israel could be tracked by the nation’s domestic security agency.
In South Africa, restrictions include curfews and bans on alcohol sales. However, in the U.S., there is essentially no political willpower from either major party to enact any lockdowns or contact tracing. Even enforcing simple measures like mask-wearing has become a political flashpoint.
Governments are facing a thorny calculus made more difficult by the prospect of backlash, increased social divisions and the fear of being voted out of office.
While all eyes are on the new and little-understood omicron variant, the delta form of the coronavirus isn’t finished wreaking havoc in the U. S., sending record numbers of patients to the hospital in some states, especially in the Midwest and New England.
According to the Associated Press, the U.S. recorded its first known omicron infection on Wednesday in a fully vaccinated person who had returned to California from South Africa, where the variant was identified just over a week ago.
For now, the extra-contagious delta variant accounts for practically all cases in the U.S. and continues to inflict misery at a time when many hospitals are struggling with shortages of nurses and a backlog of patients.
The fear now is that the latest variant will foist more patients and perhaps sicker ones into more hospital beds.
Wednesday, December 1
The first case of the COVID-19 omicron variant in the U.S. was found in San Francisco late last month, according to state and local health officials.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29. The person was vaccinated but had not received a booster shot, according to the Associated Press.
The news comes as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new strain of the virus. The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from Southern Africa, despite the Netherlands being the first country to identify an infection.
Where the variant originated is still unclear, but clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other nations.
Scientists say it could be weeks before they better understand how dangerous the omicron variant is.
According to the Associated Press, it’s still unknown whether the newest coronavirus “variant of concern” spreads faster than delta or makes people sicker.
According to the Associated Press, it also isn’t clear how much protection is offered either by our vaccines or a person’s immunity after recovering from another COVID-19 variant.
There are lots of guesses but little hard evidence as scientists race to find answers amid scrutiny from an anxious public. In the meantime, scientists urge people to get vaccinated and take other public health measures such as masking indoors.
As supply chain bottlenecks create shortages of many items, some charities are struggling to secure holiday gift wishes from kids in need, according to the Associated Press.
They’re reporting they can’t find enough items in stock or are facing shipping delays both in receiving and distributing the gifts.
The founder of One Simple Wish said many gift requests for gaming consoles and electronic items submitted to the charity have been out of stock. Another charity can’t find enough doll styling heads, racially diverse Barbies and other things to give to kids in need.
One expert believes charities are also bound to see fewer toy donations directly from manufacturers this holiday season.
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