Find an updated count of COVID-19 cases in California and by county on our tracker here.
Omicron now makes up 41% of Yolo County COVID-19 cases
US approves second COVID-19 pill, this time from Merck
To grandmother’s house we go? People are debating holiday celebrations as omicron surges.
Cal State system to require students, faculty and staff to get COVID-19 booster shots
FDA approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill
COVID-19 By The Numbers
Thursday, December 23
1:48 p.m.: Omicron now makes up 41% of Yolo County COVID-19 cases
Yolo County officials say they identified 42 people with the omicron variant of COVID-19 through recent testing, representing 41% of all the cases in the county.
County Public Health officer Aimee Sisson says she suspects other counties are facing a similar omicron outbreak. This week Sacramento County reported its first two confirmed omicon cases.
“I don’t doubt that Sacramento County has more than two COVID cases,” Sisson said. “I would guess that Sacramento County also has 41% of its COVID being caused by omicron. They’re just not running the genotyping or the whole genome sequencing to know that.”
While other counties test just a fraction of COVID-19 cases to determine the variant, the UC Davis Genome Center provides that information on all of the cases from the Healthy Davis Together testing sites throughout Yolo County.
On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom reported that omicron is the dominant variant in the state, making up more than 50% of cases statewide.
12:03 p.m.: US approves second COVID-19 pill, this time from Merck
U.S. regulators have authorized a second pill against COVID-19, an antiviral drug from Merck that may help blunt the wave of infections driven by the omicron variant, according to the Associated Press.
The Food and Drug Administration granted the drug emergency use authorization for adults with early COVID-19 symptoms but face the highest risk of hospitalization.
It comes after the FDA greenlit a more effective pill from Pfizer. As a result, Merck’s drug may play a far smaller role than initially thought. Final studies show Merck’s drug is much less effective than originally predicted.
Also, the drug will carry strict safety warnings due to the risk of congenital disabilities when used during pregnancy.
9:20 a.m.: To grandmother’s house we go? People are debating holiday celebrations as omicron surges.
For the second year in a row, the ever-morphing coronavirus presents would-be holiday revelers with a difficult choice — cancel their trips and celebrations again or figure out how to somehow safely travel.
According to the Associated Press, many health experts are begging people not to let down their guard, but pandemic fatigue is settling in for some.
While travel restrictions have forced cancellations in some places, many governments have been reluctant to order more lockdowns.
Instead, governments have found themselves leaving health considerations in the hands of an exhausted public.
Wednesday, December 22
10:03 a.m.: Cal State system to require students, faculty and staff to get COVID-19 booster shots
The California State University system announced that it’ll require faculty, staff, and students attending classes or working on campus to receive a COVID-19 booster shot.
Students, faculty, and staff will be required to be vaccinated by Feb. 28, 2022, or six months after they receive their final dose of their first set of vaccinations. However, individual campuses may establish an earlier date for compliance based on local circumstances.
“Vaccination, including a booster when eligible, remains our most effective strategy against infection and severe disease,” CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said. “Implementing the booster requirement now will help mitigate the potential spread of the variant on campuses as they repopulate in January after the winter break.”
CSU’s COVID-19 vaccination policy does allow students and employees to seek exemptions based on medical or religious grounds.
9:29 a.m.: FDA approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill
The U.S. has authorized the first pill against COVID-19, a Pfizer drug that Americans take at home to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, according to the Associated Press.
The Food and Drug Administration announcement comes as the country braces for a wave of new infections from the omicron variant threatening already-strained hospitals.
Pfizer’s prescription pill is the first U.S. medication that doesn’t require an injection or an IV, making it a long-awaited milestone in the battle against the virus.
However, initial supplies will be extremely limited with just enough to treat tens of thousands of people since it was authorized only for high-risk patients who are most likely to get severe illness.
9:18 a.m.: Secret Service says nearly $100 billion in pandemic relief funds was stolen
The U.S. Secret Service says nearly $100 billion has been stolen from COVID-19 relief programs set up to help businesses and those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
According to the Associated Press, this staggering sum represents only a small percentage — less than 3% — of the pandemic benefits program funds.
The estimate is based on Secret Service cases and data from the Labor Department and the Small Business Administration, however, it doesn’t include cases handled by the Justice Department.
The Secret Service’s national pandemic fraud recovery coordinator said that the agency has more than 900 active criminal investigations into pandemic fraud.
Tuesday, December 21
5:15 p.m.: California to require health care workers get booster shots
California is expected to require health care workers to receive a COVID-19 booster shot, according to a tweet by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“With Omicron on the rise, we’re taking immediate actions to protect Californians and ensure our hospitals are prepared,” Newsom tweeted Tuesday evening. He said more details would be given Wednesday. The governor has a public appearance scheduled at a vaccine clinic in Alameda County that day.
The state has required health care workers to be vaccinated since August, after initially putting a vaccine or testing policy in place in July.
California will join a number of other states and institutions that are requiring boosters. New Mexico was the first state to require health care workers and public employees to get a booster shot.
Wednesday will also be one week since state health officials reinstated an indoor mask mandate for indoor areas for all Californians regardless of vaccination status.
2:50 p.m.: First Sacramento County omicron variant cases confirmed
Sacramento County announced its first confirmed omicron COVID-19 cases Tuesday, a day after the variant became the most common in the United States.
County health officials reported two cases, though said they are unrelated and neither has a history of travel. One person has mild symptoms and the other is asymptomatic, but was found through weekly testing. One person is vaccinated and the other is not.
“The Omicron variant can be very contagious,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Olivia Kasirye said in a statement. “Our best protection against COVID-19 continues to be the vaccine. We urge all eligible residents to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves, and their family and friends.”
As of Monday, 64% of Sacramento County residents have been fully vaccinated.
While these are the first confirmed cases in Sacramento County, researchers from Stanford University announced earlier this month that they had discovered traces of the omicron variant in the county’s wastewater in samples taken Nov. 30. California health officials announced on Dec. 1 that one person in San Francisco tested positive for the variant when they returned to the Bay Area from South Africa.
The first confirmed omicron case in the region was found in Yolo County Dec. 9. Last week an outbreak of the new variant was identified at a West Sacramento high school.
12:02 p.m.: Infectious disease expert recommends wearing N-95 masks while traveling
The CDC has confirmed that the omicron variant is now the most dominant COVID-19 variant in the U.S. At the end of last week, it accounted for just 3% of cases, but it now makes up 73%.
UC Davis Health Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Dr. Dean Blumberg said that since omicron is so contagious, vaccines and masks are essential. However, cloth masks are tricky since they aren’t standardized.
“The disposable surgical masks, those are standardized, so those are worthwhile using,” he said. “Double masking is another strategy, and if you’re going to be somewhere where you’re not able to social distance for a prolonged period of time, using an N-95 is a good idea.”
More than 109 million people are expected to travel over the next two weeks, despite the latest COVID-19 surge.
Blumberg recommends N-95 masks for plane travel and crowded buses and trains.
11:47 a.m.: City of Sacramento launches e-gift card program to encourage residents to support local businesses affected by the pandemic
The city of Sacramento has launched “Shop 916,” a citywide e-gift card program to entice people to spend their money at local businesses.
Shoppers who buy a gift card ranging from $25 to $100 will get a bonus gift card anywhere between $10 to $50.
The cards can be used at participating retailers, restaurants and other stores. Shop 916 is funded with $200,000 from the federal American Rescue Plan as a part of the City Council’s approved $8.2 million framework for business recovery efforts.
“This is the first ARP-funded business program to launch, and the goal is to keep local dollars local,” Assistant City Manager Michael Jasso said.
Businesses within the city of Sacramento that have 500 or fewer full-time employees, except home-based businesses, franchises, liquor-only stores, and cannabis businesses, can participate in the program.
The promotion will run until Feb. 15, but bonus gift cards will expire by Feb. 27. Bonus cards are also limited to five per purchaser.
9:40 a.m.: Omicron’s domination brings fear and uncertainty in the US
Just as Americans and Europeans were eagerly awaiting their most normal holiday season in a couple of years, the omicron variant has turned everyone’s plans upside down by unleashing a fresh round of fear and uncertainty.
Everyone, from travelers, shoppers, party-goers and more, have all been affected. According to the Associated Press, the Rockettes have canceled their annual Christmas show in New York City.
The National Hockey League suspended its games until after Christmas, and cities like Boston now plan to require diners, revelers and shoppers to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, and stores.
Monday, December 20
3:06 p.m.: Omicron now makes up a majority of new U.S. COVID-19 cases
Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S.
According to the Associated Press, on Monday federal health officials said that omicron accounted for an estimated 73% of new infections last week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers show nearly a six-fold increase in the proportion of infections in only one week.
Since the end of June, the delta variant has been the main version causing U.S. infections. Scientists in Africa first sounded the alarm about omicron less than a month ago.
Read more from NPR.
9:45 a.m.: Omicron may be sidelining two COVID-19 treatments
The rapidly-spreading omicron variant may soon leave U.S. doctors without two of the standard treatments they’ve used to fight COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.
Antibody drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly have been the go-to drugs to keep patients out of the hospital, but the drugmakers are warning that their infused medications are far less potent against the latest variant.
A third drug from GlaxoSmithKline may be effective, but it’s not widely available in the U.S.
For now, federal officials are stockpiling doses for use in the coming weeks, as experts predict omicron could dominate the U.S. outbreak by early next year.
9:41 a.m.: Hospitals around the country are struggling again as beds keep filling with COVID-19 patients
Many hospitals across the country are struggling to cope with burnout among doctors, nurses and other workers.
Already buffeted by a crush of patients from the ongoing surge of the delta variant, they’re now bracing for the fallout of omicron, according to the Associated Press.
Some states have found themselves turning to difficult decisions. Ohio has become the latest to deploy the National Guard to overwhelmed facilities, Nebraska hospitals may soon ration care, and Kansas and Missouri are delaying surgeries.
Los Angeles has had to switch up their Grand Park New Years’ Eve celebration to go back to virtual after plans were in motion to do a small invite-only party of first responders and frontline workers. While in New York City, Christmas shows and some Broadway plays have shuttered their doors again for the season.
“We are in a situation where we are now facing a very important delta surge, and we’re looking over our shoulder at an oncoming surge,” Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said of the two COVID-19 variants.
The national seven-day average of COVID-19 hospital admissions was 60,000 by Wednesday, far off last winter’s peak but still 50% higher than in early November. The situation is more acute in cold-weather regions, where people are increasingly gathering inside and new infections are piling up.
9:23 a.m.: Military service members are finding it challenging to get religious exemptions for COVID-19 shot
More than 12,000 military service members are refusing the COVID-19 vaccine and seeking a religious exemption. So far, they’re having no success, as not a single request has been granted.
According to the Associated Press, the services are urgently trying to keep the pandemic in check by getting virtually all troops vaccinated. However, the military branches are besieged with exemption requests they’re unlikely to approve.
Meanwhile, troops claiming religious reasons for avoiding their vaccinations are perplexed because the exemptions are theoretically available but seemingly impossible to obtain.
Getting an exemption is rooted in a process that predates the pandemic. It’s been used for decisions such as whether troops on duty can wear head coverings or beards for religious reasons.
Saturday, December 18
1:09 p.m.: Biden’s vaccine-or-test rule for workers is back on
A Biden administration rule that requires workers at companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated against Covid or undergo weekly testing was on again Friday evening after getting blocked on Nov. 6—just one day after a stay on the rule was formally issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“The harm to the government and the public interest outweighs any irreparable injury to the individual petitioners who may be subject to a vaccination policy,” wrote Circuit Judge Jane B. Stranch.
Read more here.
Friday, December 17
9:44 a.m.: CDC is now endorsing ‘test-to-stay’ policies in schools
U.S. health officials are endorsing “test-to-stay” policies that allow close contacts of students infected with the coronavirus to remain in classrooms if they test negative, according to the Associated Press.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to more firmly embrace the approach after research of such policies in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas found COVID-19 infections didn’t increase when schools switched to test-to-stay.
Initially, the CDC had recommended that when somebody in a school tests positive, those deemed to be in close contact with them should stay out of school for 10 days.
9:18 a.m.: Can our family pets get COVID-19? Yes, but the risk of them spreading to us is low.
Health officials say pets and other animals can catch COVID-19, but the risk of them spreading it to humans is low, according to the Associated Press.
Dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, otters, hyenas and white-tailed deer are among the animals that have tested positive, in most cases after contracting it from infected people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said humans with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should avoid contact with pets, farm animals and wildlife, as well as other people.
They said the best way to prevent the virus from spreading to our furry family members is to control the spread among humans.
8:57 a.m.: Some colleges and universities are reimposing mask mandates or weekly COVID-19 testing
Colleges across the U.S. are starting to require booster shots, extending mask mandates and reverting to online classes as they brace for the new omicron variant.
As reported by the Associated Press, more than 30 colleges have said they’ll require boosters. Others are extending mask mandates into the next year or will get students tested weekly, like at Stanford University.
Still, other universities are planning to start next term online to prevent outbreaks after the holidays. The new variant comes as a gut punch to schools that were hoping to relax safety measures this spring and take a step towards normalcy.
Thursday, December 16
2:26 p.m.: Kings facing possible COVID-19 outbreak
The Sacramento Kings are grappling with a potential COVID-19 outbreak among the team and possibly other staff.
An NBA source has confirmed with CapRadio that interim head coach Alvin Gentry tested positive for the virus this week. That source also says there are additional cases and at least two players in what the league refers to as “health and safety protocols.” The team canceled a planned practice Thursday.
The league rules for COVID-19 can get a little complicated. If a player or coach enters these so-called protocols, it doesn’t mean they’ve tested positive for the virus. It may indicate they’ve been in close proximity to someone who’s the virus, a possible exposure.
To return to the team, an individual will need multiple negative COVID-19 tests in a 24-hour period.
The Kings have a game in Sacramento Friday night, and the NBA, which is in charge of the league schedule, would announce if that game happens as planned or is canceled.
The virus is affecting other NBA teams this week, including the Chicago Bulls, who have had two games canceled, and also star players such as Giannis Antentokuompo and Russell Westbrook, who have entered COVID-19 protocols in recent days.
10:11 a.m.: Pandemic and other factors leading to decline in California urban school enrollments
A new report from the Public Policy Institute of California looked at gains and losses in K-12 public school enrollment and found that some of the state’s urban counties are losing a significant number of students while more rural ones are gaining them.
PPIC researcher Julien LaFortune explained that the decline could be attributed to a few factors, including the pandemic.
“After a decade of roughly flat enrollment statewide, we were beginning to see a decline in the last few years, and that was projected to continue through the 2020s, due to a lot of demographic factors, such as population growth and declining fertility” LaFortune said.
Last year, enrollments in urban school districts declined even more than projected, due to the pandemic, especially with younger children.
10:05 a.m.: New California mandates end distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees
California workplace regulators are poised to extend the state’s coronavirus pandemic regulations into next year with some revisions.
According to the Associated Press, the main change in the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s revised rules would erase current distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, meaning that both would be prohibited from workplaces if they come in close contact with someone infected with the virus.
Exposed workers who are vaccinated but asymptomatic would have to stay home for 14 days even if they test negative. When they return to work, they would have to wear masks and stay 6 feet from other people for about two weeks.
9:52 a.m.: The Army gets 98% of their active service members vaccinated against COVID-19
The Army says 98% of its active duty force has gotten at least one dose of the mandatory coronavirus vaccine as of this week’s deadline for the shots, according to the Associated Press.
But the Army also said that 3,800 soldiers flatly refused and could start being removed from the military next month. The Army has more than 478,000 active duty soldiers and had the latest vaccine deadline for their active duty troops yesterday.
However, the Army did come in with the second highest vaccination rate among those who have gotten at least one shot at 97.9%.
The Navy leads with more than 98%. The Air Force is at 97.5%, and the Marine Corps is at 95%.
Wednesday, December 15
10:33 a.m.: Kings coach tests positive for COVID
Alvin Gentry, who took over as the Sacramento Kings head coach last month, has tested positive for COVID-19, according to ESPN.
Sacramento Kings coach Alvin Gentry tested positive for Covid and won’t coach vs. Wizards tonight, Gentry tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 15, 2021
He will not be at Wednesday’s game at the Golden 1 Center against the Washington Wizards. ESPN also reports that the team canceled morning practice and is conducting additional tests to determine if there are other cases.
Several NBA teams and players have been affected by a recent uptick in cases. The league canceled its first games of the season due to COVID-19 this week, and several star players — including NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks — are not playing due to league protocols.
9:44 a.m.: WHO says omicron is spreading faster than any previous variant
If you’re worried about the new omicron COVID-19 variant, you’re far from alone — The World Health Organization is warning that omicron is spreading like no other strain has before, according to NPR.
Omicron has been found in 77 countries less than a month after it was officially reported. The WHO added, “the reality is that omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet.”
The variant’s unusually high number of mutations on its protein spike quickly prompted fears that it would be more transmissible than any other variant and that it could potentially elude vaccine protections.
While early data from South Africa shows that the variant has led to fewer hospitalizations, experts still stress that the dynamic might not be the same for every country. Some of South Africa’s situation could have more to do with the very high proportion of citizens who’ve been previously infected.
Due to the particularly high transmission rate, health officials are bracing for a wave of new patients, just the same.
9:35 a.m.: Evictions rise months after the federal moratorium ends
Housing advocates say evictions are increasing around the country several months after a federal moratorium was allowed to end.
According to the Associated Press, there’s been a rise in evictions, but it still is below pre-pandemic levels in most states and cities thanks to an infusion of federal rental assistance and other pandemic-related money like child tax credit payments.
However, part of the eviction increase is due to courts catching up on the backlog of eviction cases. Advocates say the surge shows the limits of federal emergency rental assistance in places where distribution remains slow and tenant protections are weak.
Rising housing prices in many markets also are playing a role.
Data collected by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University show that evictions have been rising in most of the 31 cities and six states where it collects data since the federal moratorium ended in August.
Tuesday, December 14
9:47 a.m.: California brings back indoor mask mandate
California is bringing back a statewide indoor mask mandate that’ll last about one month, starting tomorrow.
The state has seen a 47% increase in daily case rates since Thanksgiving with 14 new cases per 100,000 residents. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 75,000 people in California have died due to COVID-19 — nationally 800,000 have died.
The state is also tightening existing testing requirements by ordering unvaccinated people attending indoor events of 1,000 people or more to have a negative test within one or two days, depending on the type of test.
California joins other states with similar indoor mask mandates, including Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada, Hawaii and New York, according to the Associated Press.
9:26 a.m.: Pfizer’s data shows that its COVID-19 pill is effective against severe illness
Pfizer recently released additional data about its COVID-19 pill that shows it may effectively prevent hospitalizations and death when taken by people with mild to moderate illness within the first few crucial days of symptoms.
Dubbed Paxlovid, the medicine is taken twice a day for five days and combined with a second medicine called ritonavir, a generic antiviral, as reported by NPR.
The results from their study include more than 2,200 people at high risk for developing serious illness. It found that the drug reduced their risk of hospitalization or death by 89%, compared with a placebo, when taken within three days of first symptoms of illness.
According to Pfizer’s study, when patients took the medication within five days of showing symptoms, the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 88%.
9:15 a.m.: New data suggests vaccines not as effective at stopping omicron infection, but stops limits severe disease
An analysis of data from South Africa shows the omicron variant appears to cause less severe disease than previous coronavirus mutations, but the Pfizer vaccine seems to offer less defense against infection.
Despite this, the vaccine still offers good protection against hospitalization.
According to the Associated Press, these findings have not been peer-reviewed, but they line up with other early data about omicron.
Some experts cautioned it’s too soon to draw conclusions about outcomes from omicron. The analysis is from insurer Discovery Health and the South African Medical Research Council.
Monday, December 13
10:48 a.m.: South African researchers find that omicron may be more mild than delta
Health experts still don’t know if the omicron variant is causing milder COVID-19, but more indicators might be emerging from South Africa.
As reported by the Associated Press, doctors say there are patients they are seeing now that aren’t as ill as those infected with the delta variant.
Recent data shows far fewer hospitalizations and deaths compared to previous waves. However, it’s only been two weeks since omicron first was reported in the country, and scientists caution that it’ll take many more weeks to know whether early observations hold up.
While delta is still the dominant strain worldwide, omicron is popping up in dozens of countries and has become dominant in South Africa.
10:12 a.m.: New poll shows Americans are increasingly concerned about omicron but aren’t keeping up with safety measures
As the omicron variant sparks worldwide fears of renewed virus outbreaks, Americans’ worries about infection are again on the rise, according to the Associated Press.
Despite the increased concerns, fewer Americans say they are regularly wearing masks or isolating compared with the start of the year.
A new poll conducted by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 36% of Americans now say they are very or extremely worried that they or a member of their family will be infected with COVID-19, up from 25% in late October. Another 31% now say they are somewhat worried.
9:32 a.m.: Some states turn once again to the National Guard for help with COVID-19 surges
Many U.S. states desperate to defend against COVID-19 are calling on the National Guard and other military personnel to assist.
According to the Associated Press, hospital staff and other care centers are being worn down by a rise in virus cases that began before Thanksgiving, with many hot spots in the Northeast and Upper Midwest states.
The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the nation rose over the past two weeks to 117,677 by Thursday, compared to 84756 on Thanksgiving Day.
Friday, December 10
9:44 a.m.: Adult in Sacramento region tests positive for omicron
A person in the Sacramento region has tested positive for the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Public health officials in Yolo County say the case is in an adult in West Sacramento. County spokesperson John Fout said the person was tested on Dec. 2.
When a positive result came back earlier this week, the UC Davis Genome Center sequenced the sample.
“On Monday, we had an indication that there was something different about this particular test, that it wasn’t delta,” Fout said. “So then they decided to run the full, full sequencing, and then that later confirmed that that was omicron.”
He said the California Department of Public Health confirmed the result. The person who tested positive is experiencing mild symptoms. Contract tracing has been conducted, and no other additional cases were found.
9:21 a.m.: Anti-vaccine group targets president of California’s medical board
The president of California’s medical board, Kristina Lawson, says a group of anti-vaccine activists talked her at home and followed her to her office where four men confronted her after work in a dark parking garage.
She described it as a terrifying experience, as reported by the Associated Press. As she described it on social media, a group with America’s Frontline doctors stalked her home and followed her to her office.
The group told police they wanted to interview Lawson, but she said they never called the board or her workplace to request to speak with her. The medical board issues medical licenses and disciplines doctors.
8:59 a.m.: Companies are rethinking their return-to-office plans
Companies are rethinking their plans to send workers back to the office as the new omicron variant adds another level of uncertainty.
According to the Associated Press, Google and Ford are among those once again delaying their return-to-office plans. Other businesses whose workers are already back in the office are considering adding extra precautions like masks and COVID-19 testing.
These moves are the latest marker of companies still attempting whatever they can to get workers back at their desks. However, with worries about a spike in new cases or new variants shifting return-to-office deadlines.
Thursday, December 9
10:15 a.m.: FDA clears booster shots to people 16 and older
The U.S. is expanding access to COVID-19 boosters, opening a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine to people as young as age 16, as reported by the Associated Press.
But it’s not yet clear if younger teens will need a booster, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must recommend that 16 and 17 year olds get the booster before they can actually get the shots.
The U.S. and many other nations already urge adults to get a booster to pump up their immunity months after initial vaccinations. Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is the only option approved for children and teenagers in the country.
9:40 a.m.: Here’s how we’ll know when the pandemic is over
There’s no clear-cut definition for when a pandemic starts and ends or how much of a threat the global outbreak poses for each country.
According to the Associated Press, back in January 2020, the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus outbreak a global health crisis “of international concern.”
A couple of months later, WHO described it as a “pandemic,” reflecting the spread of the virus. The pandemic may be widely considered over when WHO decides COVID-19 is no longer an emergency of international concern, a designation its experts have been reassessing.
However, when the acute phases of the crisis eases within individual countries could vary.
9:20 a.m.: US vaccinates about 200 million people, but hospitalizations still rising
The U.S. has reached a COVID-19 milestone of roughly 200 million fully vaccinated people, but cases and hospitalizations are still spiking, even in highly immunized pockets of the country like New England.
According to the Associated Press, the situation is not as dire as last year’s post-holiday surge before the public had any access to vaccines. Still, experts say that the roughly 60% of the U.S. population that is vaccinated is not enough to prevent hotspots.
The colder weather, Thanksgiving and upcoming holidays mixed with pandemic fatigue are all playing a role in increased cases. At the same time, researchers are trying to figure out the remaining questions about omicron.
Wednesday, December 8
9:46 a.m.: COVID-19 drives up recall attempts in California and nationally
It’s not just Gov. Gavin Newsom: Voters across California and the country are targeting their city, county and school board officials for recall.
Geoff Pallay with the election tracking website Ballotpedia says 120 local officials in California have been the subject of a recall attempt this year. That’s nearly twice the annual average of 67 over the past decade.
Pallay says COVID-19 rules have played a major role in the uptick.
“Things like closing up schools or mask requirements or vaccine requirements. COVID-related recalls … have been a significant contributor to the overall rise in recalls nationwide,” Pallay told California lawmakers at a hearing this week.
Nationally, 491 local recall attempts were filed in 2021, compared to an average of 324 per year in the decade prior, Pallay said.
School closures are at the center of a recall against three San Francisco School Board members set for February 2022. Shasta County Supervisor Leonard Moty is also facing a February recall election after voters say he didn’t do enough to fight California’s pandemic restrictions.
But the recall fever doesn’t always pan out. According to Ballotpedia, 9% of this year’s local recall attempts in California have qualified, though 32% are still in a signature gathering or review phase.
After the unsuccessful attempt to remove Newsom, the Legislature is reviewing the rules governing state and local recalls. Lawmakers will likely introduce a bill with proposed changes next year, though any major tweaks would require voter approval.
9:10 a.m.: Pfizer says their vaccine offers some protection against omicron
Pfizer says a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine appears to offer important protection against the new omicron variant, according to the Associated Press.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech tested how well vaccine-produced antibodies could neutralize omicron in lab dishes, and they found significant weakening after the standard two doses. However, a booster dose increased the antibody levels by 25-fold.
The companies said two doses still may protect against severe illness, but they’re working on developing an omicron-specific vaccine in case it’s needed. Together the companies announced the findings today in a press release.
The data is preliminary and hasn’t undergone scientific review yet.
8:49 a.m.: Federal judge blocks President Biden’s vaccine mandate
A federal judge recently blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors in a win for Republican-led states refusing to accommodate pandemic policies.
According to the Associated Press, the judge issued a stay to bar enforcement of the mandate nationwide.
The order came in response to a lawsuit from several contractors and several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. The stay applies across the country because one of those challenging the order is the trade group Associated Builders and Contractors Inc, whose members do business nationwide.
Separately, Biden has imposed vaccine requirements for the federal government and military employees. The mandates are a key part of the administration’s strategy to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 788,000 Americans since last year.
Tuesday, December 7
4:30 p.m.: No positive tests, but omicron variant ‘most likely present’ in Sacramento, county health officials say
The new omicron variant of COVID-19 is “most likely present” in Sacramento, health officials confirmed in a statement Tuesday afternoon. The announcement comes after Stanford University researchers said they detected the variant in the region’s wastewater.
As of Tuesday, no Sacramento County resident has tested positive for the omicron variant.
During a weekly briefing last week, county public health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said omicron would come to Sacramento “at some point” because of how much travel happens during the holidays.
“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, she said.
The researchers from Stanford University were conducting epidemiologic surveillance for COVID-19 in several California counties, and partnered with the Sacramento Regional Sanitation District to test in Sacramento.
The researchers gathered a sample of Sacramento wastewater on Nov. 30, and found “low concentrations of a mutation used as a marker” for the omicron variant, county officials said.
The county said it received the results of the study on Friday, and confirmed them on Monday.
“There is much we do not know, at this time,” county spokeswoman Janna Haynes wrote in an email. “First, it is unclear whether Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta Variant. Second, it is unknown whether Omicron Variant infection is associated with more severe disease.”
The omicron variant first popped up in European and south African countries in November. California health officials announced on Dec. 1 that one person in San Francisco tested positive for the variant when they returned to the Bay Area from South Africa.
Cases have since popped up in at least 19 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
10:21 a.m.: University of the Pacific sets up a nursing graduate program for non-nursing backgrounds
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.
10:13 a.m.: A new type of COVID-19 vaccine is almost finished with development
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.
9:30 a.m.: New COVID-19 treatments show how pandemic has sped up drug and vaccine research
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.
More about the development of coronavirus drugs here.
Monday, December 6
9:44 a.m.: Marin County parents knowingly sent child sick with COVID-19 to in-person school
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.
9:26 a.m.: Here’s how you can protect yourself from the omicron variant
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.
9:05 a.m.: Fauci says early reports from omicron are hopeful
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
12:10 p.m.: Convention business in downtown Sacramento has been down but will likely increase in early 2022
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
11:48 a.m.: Omicron hasn’t reached Sacramento, but it will, county public officer says
The omicron variant of COVID-19 that’s sweeping through several South African and European countries has made its way to California, with cases popping up in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
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.
9:27 a.m.: California confirms second omicron case in Los Angeles
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.
9:23 a.m.: Unvaccinated Nevada state workers will be charged an insurance premium
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.
9:20 a.m.: Latest studies suggest previous COVID-19 infection may not fend off omicron variant
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
11:33 a.m.: Status of COVID-19 vaccine mandate is still up in the air
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.
11:26 a.m.: Omicron and delta variants could spell the return of more restrictive safety measures
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.
10:47 a.m.: While we’re looking at omicron, we can’t forget the delta variant, experts stress
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
11:42 a.m.: Mysteries of the omicron variant could take weeks to untangle
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.
11:35 a.m.: Supply chain woes hit toy-giving charities during the holiday season
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.
Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here.
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