California Coronavirus Updates: California Can No Longer Ban Indoor Church Services, Rules Supreme Court

Saturday, February 6

12:50 p.m.: California can no longer ban indoor church services, rules Supreme Court 

The Supreme Court has ruled that California can no longer continue with a ban on indoor church services in response to the pandemic. However, the state can keep in place restrictions on singing and chanting inside. 

Churches in Chula Vista and Pasadena argued that the state had violated their religious liberty last year when it placed limits on in-person attendance at worship services based on COVID-19 rates. 

The court was split over how much leeway states should be given for restricting church attendance in order to keep COVID-19 at bay. 

Read more here.

Friday, February 5

2:16 p.m.: San Quentin State Prison faces huge Cal/OSHA fine over COVID-19 outbreak

California workplace safety regulators say they have hit San Quentin State Prison with by far the state’s largest pandemic-related fine against an employer yet.

San Quentin has been rocked by one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. According to the Associated Press, the prison now has a more than $400,000 fine levied against it. This new fine is several times higher than any others doled out by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as Cal/OSHA.

The announcement comes days after the state’s inspector general said corrections officials “caused a public health disaster” at San Quentin regarding COVID-19. Cal/OSHA said employees were not given adequate training, equipment or proper medical services.

2:15 p.m.: Nevada fights against COVID-19 vaccine disparity

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has introduced a new initiative aimed at addressing COVID-19 vaccine distribution disparities in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, according to the Associated Press.

Sisolak said on Friday that the Equity and Fairness Initiative was created to get vaccines to the communities that need them most, including working-class families, low-income households, and people of color.

The governor said he was alarmed at what he called an equity crisis in the U.S.

Nevada is expected to work with Clark County Emergency Management and the Southern Nevada Health District on the initiative. Progress is expected to be reported publicly to the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation Task Force.

2:00 p.m.: US troops to assist with COVID-19 vaccinations

The Pentagon will deploy more than 1,100 troops to five vaccination centers in what will be the first wave of increased military support for the Biden administration’s vaccination campaign.

According to the Associated Press, President Joe Biden has called to set up 100 mass vaccination centers around the country within a month. Two of those five new military teams will go to vaccination centers opening in California.

The two sites in California will both open on Feb. 16. One will be California State University, Los Angeles, and the other in Oakland.

Coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt said military personnel will arrive at those centers in a little over a week. Three additional centers across the country are expected to be announced soon.

10:42 a.m.: Main State Lab Far Short Of Its COVID-19 Testing Goal

California’s newest state lab remains far short of its goal for processing COVID-19 tests.

The lab in Valencia was hailed as a game-changer when it opened in November, and Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated it would turn around 150,000 tests per day by March.

It is processing roughly that number of tests — but weekly, not daily.

“Trying to get a specimen flow into a laboratory can be difficult,” said Rick Greenwood, adjunct professor of public health at UCLA. “The commercial labs, which are testing way more, have set up logistics for years.”

Commercial labs are processing more than 10-times the number of tests handled by the Valencia lab.

“California is on track with its targeted efforts to increase testing access across the state,” wrote Dr. Gil Chavez, co-chair of the state’s testing task force, in an emailed statement. “We will continue to expand testing while ensuring that capacity is available to meet surges in demand due to outbreaks, community-wide COVID-19 increases, or surveillance and screening.”

The California Department of Public Health declined an interview request.

Experts and the state say vaccine distribution will likely impact the demand for testing over time.

10:36 a.m.: Unemployment fraud during pandemic spans almost the entire nation

Unemployment agencies across the country were bombarded with so many claims during the pandemic that many — including California — struggled to distinguish the genuine from the fake.

According to the Associated Press, simple tax forms are now revealing the extent of the identity theft that made state-run unemployment offices lucrative targets for fraud after millions of people lost their jobs during the pandemic.

California isn’t the only state dealing with fraud. In Ohio, the governor and lieutenant governor learned that fraudulent claims had been filed in both their names.

10:35 a.m.: COVID-19 cases drop at nursing homes, long-term care facilities

Coronavirus cases have dropped at nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the country over the past few weeks, according to the Associated Press.

The dip offers a glimmer of hope that health officials attribute to the start of vaccinations, plus an easing of the post-holiday surge and better prevention among other reasons. Statistics show that more than 153,000 residents of the country’s nursing homes and assisted living centers have died of COVID-19, making up 36% of the U.S. pandemic death toll.

While experts say the vaccination rollout may be contributing to the drop in cases, other factors are likely playing a larger role. However, they caution that threats are still looming, including new, more contagious strains of the virus.

Thursday, February 4

6:43 p.m.: Lawmakers introduce bill package to improve EDD

California state lawmakers Thursday unveiled a package of bills intended to make dramatic improvements to the state’s embattled Employment Development Department. 

One from San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez would change EDD’s contract with Bank of America which currently provides benefits through debit cards.

“It became very clear that this idea that all EDD payments have to go through Bank of America makes no sense,” she said.

Instead, Gonzalez’ bill would give those filing claims the option of getting their unemployment benefits via direct deposit to their bank accounts.

“The problem with everybody going through Bank of America, which we’re seeing, is that if you’re not a customer of Bank of America they have no responsibility to be very accommodating to your concerns about your card being frozen, or fraud or not receiving your card,” she said.

Other bills would require EDD to check the claimants against lists of prison inmates to prevent fraud and would establish an Office of the Claimant Advocate to help people with claim problems. Two separate audits released this year found that the EDD is plagued with bureaucratic inefficiencies, fraud and an inability to pay benefits on time.

All of the legislation will now go through committee hearings in the coming weeks. 

3:22 p.m.: Sacramento County offers public vaccination clinic to people 65 and older

The Sacramento County Department of Public Health is hosting a COVID-19 pop-up vaccination clinic on Feb. 6 for anyone 65 years or older.

Interested people must register online and be 65 or older. Currently, there are enough vaccine doses to inoculate 1,000 people. The clinic is open to anyone 65 and older, regardless of insurance, ability to pay, or legal status. There will be no walk-up appointments.

After registering, people who signed up for a spot will need to bring a form of identification to confirm their age and a printed copy of their registration before they can receive the shot. Those who attend will be automatically registered for a second dose when they receive their first one.

This is not a drive-through clinic, so people must bring masks to get vaccinated. The county department of public health recommends that registered people arrive at least 10 minutes before their appointment, and then factor in another 15 minutes post-shot so you can be monitored for any allergic reactions or side effects.

The person receiving the immunization can bring one other person.

When: Saturday, February 6, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Where: Cristo Rey High School – Multi-Purpose Room, 8475 Jackson Rd, Sacramento

3:17 p.m.: Elko County creates private fund to support coronavirus-related business fines

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has criticized Elko County for undermining COVID-19 restrictions after establishing a fund to raise private money to support coronavirus-related business infractions.

According to the Associated Press, on Wednesday, Elko County commissioners unanimously approved the fund and insisted that the fund won’t include any taxpayer money. The Elko Daily Free Press reports county Republican Party Chairman Lee Hoffman told the commissioners he was ready to become the first contributor, pledging $100.

Commission Chairman John Karr said the ultimate goal is to ease the restrictions that set capacity limits, require masks and social distancing.

3:05 p.m.: US coronavirus deaths surpass 450,000, daily deaths still high

Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have surpassed 450,000, according to the Associated Press.

Daily deaths remain stubbornly high at more than 3,000 new deaths a day, despite falling infections and the arrival of multiple vaccines. Infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping soon, right after cases hit a peak around the beginning of the year.

The new CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says COVID-19 deaths could ebb as early as next week. Still, there’s also the risk that improving infection trends and hospitalizations could be offset by people relaxing and coming together — especially with the Super Bowl happening this Sunday.

On Wednesday, 3,912 COVID-19 deaths were recorded nationwide, down from the pandemic peak of 4,466 deaths on Jan. 12. California has been the biggest driver to the U.S. death toll over the past month, averaging more than 500 deaths per day in recent weeks.

12:06 p.m.: Report shows food establishments most commonly cited place Southern Nevada residents infected with COVID-19

The Southern Nevada Health District has released new data that shows where Clark County residents may have been exposed to the coronavirus, according to the Associated Press.

While the most common exposure site is listed as “other,” the most common specified locations were food establishments with 13,146 potential cumulative exposures with 1,969 possible exposures in the last 30 days.

Next ranked were hotels or motels, which accounted for 12,219 total potential exposures. The following highest potential exposure sites were medical facilities, “work,” grocery stores, casinos, schools and long-term care facilities.

11:48 a.m.: Can I take painkillers before and after getting a COVID-19 vaccine? Probably not.

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

It’s best to avoid certain painkillers before and after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, unless you routinely take them for a medical condition, according to the Associated Press.

Although the evidence is limited, some painkillers might curb the very immune system response the vaccine is trying to generate. Symptoms such as arm soreness, fever, headaches and body aches are common after a vaccine and are signs that the body is mounting a defense against the virus.

Medical experts say people should not take painkillers preventively before getting a vaccine unless a doctor has advised them to.

11:47 a.m.: US scrambles to identify coronavirus mutations

Despite its world-class medical system and its vaunted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. fell behind in the race to detect dangerous coronavirus mutations.

According to the Associated Press, the nation is only now beginning to catch up. The problem hasn’t been a shortage of technology or expertise, but rather an absence of national leadership and coordination.

Scientists say all of that, plus a lack of funding and supplies for overburdened laboratories trying to juggle diagnostic testing with the hunt for mutations.

Wednesday, February 3

5:25 p.m.: California opening two new COVID-19 vaccination center

California is joining with the federal government to open two new vaccination centers as test areas for President Joe Biden’s effort to create 100 mass vaccination sites nationwide in 100 days. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom made the announcementWednesday in front of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, one of the two sites. Newsom says the program will be jointly run with FEMA.

“We’ll be working with the county and local officials, hiring local individuals from the community creating jobs for community members to distribute what we hope is a minimum of 6,000 doses a day hoping to build from that moving forward,” Newsom said.

The other test site is at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Wednesday’s announcement comes as California’s most deadly pandemic surge eases but as the state struggles with vaccine shortages. Newsom promoted the new sites as part of the larger effort to target communities that might otherwise be left behind.

5:20 p.m.: Five more UK variant COVID-19 cases reported in Las Vegas

Health officials in Las Vegas say five more residents have contracted the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, according to the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, the Nevada Health District said that all five people had close contact with the person whose first-in-the-state case was reported on Jan. 25. State health officials have identified the first case, a woman in her 30s with no travel history and reportedly limited contact with people outside her household. 

The UK variant is part of the emerging group of highly contagious mutations evolving around the globe. New variants were also recently first identified in South Africa and Brazil. 

Researchers are looking into whether these mutations are resistant to vaccines.

5:10 p.m.: Yolo County expands vaccine eligibility to all residents 65 and older

Yolo County has opened its vaccine clinics this week to all county residents 65 and older, regardless of medical insurance.

Pop-up clinics will be held from Feb. 3 to Feb. 6 and located in Esparto, Knights Landing, Woodland and West Sacramento. The county said it’s focusing on getting all of their vaccines out effectively and efficiently while trying to focus on residents who are at the highest risk of serious complications or death from the virus.

Here is the county’s vaccine eligibility requirements:

  • 65 or older
  • Yolo County resident or a Yolo County health care worker that has not been vaccinated yet

Residents that meet these requirements can sign up at the following clinics:

For residents who can’t access these sites, need assistance, or are homebound and require an in-home vaccine, the county suggests calling 211 or toll-free at (855) 866-1783 for assistance. For more information about Yolo County’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, residents can visit the county’s website.

10:55 a.m.: San Francisco sues to open up its public schools

San Francisco has taken a dramatic step in its effort to get kids back into public schools, according to the Associated Press.

The city has sued its own school district to try and force classrooms to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. This lawsuit is the first of its kind in California, and possibly the country, as school systems come under increasing pressure from parents and politicians to end online learning.

On Wednesday, the city sued the San Francisco Board of Education and the San Francisco Unified School District with the support of Mayor London Breed and City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Teachers unions in many large school districts, including San Francisco, say they won’t return to classrooms until they are vaccinated.

10:54 a.m.: Study finds that COVID-19 vaccine may reduce transmission

A new study may help answer one of the biggest open questions in suppressing the coronavirus outbreak: Can vaccines reduce transmission in addition to preventing serious illness? It seems so.

According to the Associated Press, Oxford University researchers say that AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine does more than just protect people from falling seriously ill. It also appears to reduce viral transmission.

The study released on Wednesday also suggested that a single dose of the AstraZeneca formula provides a high level of protection for 12 weeks. Up until now, the recommended time between doses in the U.S. has been four weeks.

Tuesday, February 2

6:10 p.m.: California continues to adjust vaccine rollout amidst confusion

California’s vaccine rollout has caused confusion as the state continues to adjust who’s next in line for the shot. 

Right now, people over 65 are eligible for the vaccine, as are food and agricultural workers, educators, and law enforcement. The question of who’s next in line is where it gets tricky.

It was going to be transportation and manufacturing employees, and people who work in homeless shelters, jails and prisons. Then people under 65 with medical conditions, and workers in communications, defense and financial services.

But those categories are all scrapped, according to the state health department. The state’s going to make people eligible by age only. They have not announced which age group will follow people 65 and older, and the old priority list is still on their website.

Find more information about California’s vaccine rollout here.

5:35 p.m.: California hospitalization rates are going down

There are some encouraging trends in California’s battle with the coronavirus. 

Three key measurements — infections, hospitalizations and ICU admissions — have all been trending down for the past two weeks. 

But Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly warns infection rates are still almost three times higher than they were in the fall. He says new variants of the virus, as well as any relaxation in safety measures could prompt a rebound.

“COVID is still abound in our communities,” Ghaly said. ” We’ve gotta keep our guard up. How likely is it that we’ll see another surge? I think again it comes back to the behaviors and our own sense of personal choice and personal responsibility on this.” 

Ghaly says Californians are now being vaccinated at three times the rate they were a month ago, with 3.5 million Californians having had at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We cannot wait long to vaccinate communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID, those communities that may have historically higher hesitancy to vaccines and health care services,” Ghaly said. “Where access is not as robust as it is in other parts of our state.”

Two counties — Trinity and Alpine — moved from the red to the orange reopening tier today, signaling a relaxing of restrictions. Fifty-four of California’s 58 counties are still in the most restrictive purple tier.

5:20 p.m.: Nevada lawmakers open legislative session amid pandemic

Nevada lawmakers are stressing bipartisanship in the opening days of the legislative session ahead of what are expected to be tense policy discussions about pandemic restrictions, taxes and budget cuts. 

Lawmakers kicked off their four-month legislative session on Monday with swearing-in ceremonies scaled back to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Associated Press. 

While the legislative building is usually crowded with staff, lobbyists and lawmakers’ families for opening day festivities, it was pretty empty this time around due to virus-related restrictions. Unlike the special sessions held last summer, the Legislature is offering those permitted in the building rapid tests, hoping to prevent an outbreak that could slow proceedings.

5:15 p.m.: Coronavirus vaccines heading to pharmacies as soon as next week

President Joe Biden’s administration is moving forward to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, freeing up more doses for states, and has plans to start distributing them to retail pharmacies next week.

According to the Associated Press, this latest push comes as there is a new urgency to speed vaccinations to help stem the spread of severe strains of the virus, with more than 445,000 deaths already in the United States.

Starting next week, 1 million doses will soon be distributed to some 6,500 pharmacies across the county. States and territories can also expect a boost of weekly vaccine allocations sent directly to them in the coming weeks.

More pharmacies are expected to get more vaccinations as soon as drug makers increase production. The original goal was to distribute vaccines through more than 40,000 pharmacies nationwide, but the campaign got off to a slow start because some states lack their own infrastructure for mass vaccination. State of local guidelines will dictate whether or not someone can be vaccinated at a local pharmacy.

11:08 a.m.: Gov. Newsom and teacher unions clash over reopening schools

An effort to reopen schools in California is foundering, stoking the frustration of parents and Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to the Associated Press.

As the first anniversary of distance learning approaches, parents are grappling with the toll of isolation and intense screen time on their kids’ academic and emotional well-being. A $2 billion plan by Newsom to reopen schools next month has not been well received, and the Legislature shows no sign of fast-tracking its approval.

Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence — including a new report by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — shows few outbreaks linked to schools where safety measures such as mask-wearing are enforced. 

The state’s teacher unions and biggest school districts say the current state plan is unworkable, raising questions about whether K-12 schools will open at all this academic year.

11:07 a.m.: Nevada health officials say January was deadliest month for COVID-19 deaths

Nevada recorded its deadliest month of coronavirus pandemic in January after reporting eight additional coronavirus deaths over the weekend, according to the Associated Press.

On Monday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the additional deaths on Sunday boosted the statewide death toll to 1,132 — more than a quarter of the 4,278 deaths in the state since the pandemic began.

The state surpassed the previous monthly record of 982 deaths set in December. Health officials also reported 838 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases. University of Nevada, Las Vegas epidemiologist Brian Labus said the new current figures are a lagging indicator because people who died in January were mostly infected between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

11:06 a.m.: Does wearing two masks offer more protection? Yes, but isn’t always needed.

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

Health experts recommend a single cloth mask with multiple layers, but doubling up on masks could offer added protection in certain situations.

According to the Associated Press, the CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask made with two or more layers and ensuring it covers your nose and mouth. However, somebody might want the extra protection if they are caring for a sick household member or in public for a long time, like on a plane.

In situations like these, wearing a cloth mask and a surgical mask could have a similar effect to an N95 mask. The order of mask usage doesn’t matter much. If somebody is looking for “maximum” protection without an N95, then a person can double up on cloth masks with a filter material in one.

Monday, February 1

6:50 p.m.: California inspector general report slams prisons for COVID-19 outbreak

A report by California’s inspector general says misguided attempts to protect inmates from the coronavirus at one prison “caused a public health disaster” at another. 

Outdated tests failed to detect that some of the transferred inmates were already infected, and two of them later died. Corrections officials reiterated Monday that they had the best intentions. 

The report says the transfer of those inmates from the California Institution for Men east of Los Angeles to San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco at the end of May led to the deaths of 28 inmates and a correctional officer there, while infecting 75% of inmates.

6:45 p.m.: U.S. makes deal to provide 15-minute at-home COVID-19 tests

The Biden administration has struck a $231.8 million deal with an Australian company to increase the availability of the first at-home 15-minute test for the coronavirus. 

The FDA gave emergency authorization to the test, made by Ellume, after it showed 96% accuracy in a U.S. clinical study.

Ellume says its contract, with the U.S. Defense Department, will help fund construction of the company’s first manufacturing plant in the U.S. The plant will produce more than 500,000 tests per day when it is completed, says Ellume.

Read more here. 

11:58 a.m.: Community clinics worry Sacramento County may miss vulnerable communities in vaccine rollout

Sacramento County is starting to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to seniors, but some community groups are worried that marginalized people are being left out of the equation.

Currently, the county plans to vaccinate people through a drive-through site at Cal Expo once doses are available, but this won’t be an option for people without personal vehicles.

Community clinics say they want to provide vaccines for people who are unhoused, uninsured, or otherwise hard to reach, but the county hasn’t created walk-up vaccine sites in diverse, low-income neighborhoods like for COVID-19 testing.

The county has said that they’re working with more than a dozen community-based organizations on vaccine logistics, including purchasing two trucks and two trailers that can be taken to underserved communities for pop-up vaccines.

Only people over 65 and certain frontline workers are eligible for the vaccine right now. The county is not currently giving priority to Black and brown Californians hit hardest by the virus.

11:34 a.m.: Nursing home staff across the country are declining COVID-19 vaccines on first offer

Only a little more than a third of nursing home workers have been getting their COVID-19 shots when they are first offered.

According to the Associated Press, that report comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a national accounting of a problem that’s been only noted anecdotally until recently.

The CDC looked at more than 11,000 nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities that had at least one vaccination clinic between the middle of December and the middle of January. A CDC expert says more staffers to choose to get vaccinating once a second or third pop-up clinic is held at a nursing home.

11:33 a.m.: WHO research team visits Hubei disease control centers

A World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited two disease control centers located in the province where the outbreak first emerged, according to the Associated Press.

The investigative team arrived in Wuhan, the Hubei provincial capital, last month to start looking for clues. After finally being released from a mandatory quarantine, the team has visited hospitals and a seafood market where early cases were detected.

On Monday, the team visited the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and its Wuhan city office, amid tight Chinese controls on access to information about the virus. China has sought to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the future global outbreak while promoting some theories that the virus originated somewhere else.

Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here.

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