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5:16 p.m.: In diverse Stockton, people of color still underrepresented in vaccination People of color in California are still underrepresented among COVID vaccine recipients, even in Stockton, which U.S. News and World Report ranked last year as the most racially diverse city in the country. But Darryl Rutherford, who heads The Reinvent South Stockton Coalition — a nonprofit group working to uplift one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods — says that diversity doesn’t mean equity. He says his biggest concern is access to vaccinations. “Are folks still going to have to travel completely over to the other side of the city in order to get to the vaccines?” he said. “So that’s something that we’re going to be working through.” Data from the state Department of Public Health show Black Californians have received less than 3% of the first available doses of the coronavirus vaccine. That compares to 38% for white people, 16% for Latinos and 13% for Asians. The number of visitors to Yosemite National Park last year plunged by almost half. The decrease wasn’t attributed to just the pandemic but rather a series of closures. In 2019, Yosemite hosted 4.5 million campers, tourists and day visitors — whereas last year, only 2.3 million visitors roamed the valley, climbed at any of the 750 hiking trails or stood beneath the park’s towering waterfalls. This is the lowest attendance that the park has had in 35 years. What turned the flow of visitors to a trickle included smoke from wildfires and the pandemic, which closed the park from March to June. The park is now accepting visitors with a reservation system to keep the number of visitors to half of normal. “[The reservation system] was successful. People came in, we didn’t have shuttle busses, but they were able to park, get around,” Ranger Scott Gediman said. “People are good about social distancing.” Gediman said the reservation system will stay in place, and the national park will work with local health officials to keep the public safe. 1:29 p.m.: San Jose gym slapped with $1 million in fines for violating coronavirus health orders A San Jose gym has closed after racking up nearly $1 million in fines for skirting COVID-19 orders, according to the Associated Press. On Wednesday, Santa Clara County health officials announced that the owner of California Ripped Fitness had submitted a statement of compliance with public health regulations. The gym had ignored rules against indoor operations for months, defiantly posting window signs saying it was exercising its constitutional rights. The county said it had received dozens of complaints. The county said it would work with the gym to resolve outstanding fines and warned that more penalties were possible if the gym reopened. XPrize founder Peter Diamandis thought he could hold a conference in an “immunity bubble” in the middle of California’s COVID-19 surge last month but instead created a superspreader event that infected attendees, staff and himself. According to the Associated Press, Diamandis said he was wrong in a blog post that details the implications of a false sense of security created by negative test results and his conclusion that face masks are effective. The pandemic prevented Diamandis from holding the conference in a hotel, so he turned his office into a TV studio with a small audience that wasn’t required to constantly wear masks. The small group that attended all had to take COVID-19 tests within 72 hours of the event and then were tested every morning. Doctors were also on-site to support COVID-19 safety. A total of 452 tests were taken over four days, and 451 came back negative. The one positive person was not admitted to the event. However, another member tested positive with an antigen test but then tested negative once they took a PCR test. Despite all of the testing and doctors, 21 people developed COVID-19. The production crew that wore their masks the entire time and isolated in a corner had no cases. 1:15 p.m.: How do we know if COVID-19 vaccines are safe? Scientists continue to monitor vaccines To check the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, scientists look for issues during the testing phase and continue their monitoring as shots roll out. According to the Associated Press, so far, the only serious warning to emerge is a rare risk of severe allergic reactions. The U.S. uses Pfizer and Moderna shots, while Britain and Europe have authorized those plus the AstraZeneca vaccine. Studies found that common side effects were minor and typical of the immune system revving up after any vaccination. However, scientists still have their eyes on the vaccine and continue to monitor it. With more than 52 million doses administered in the U.S., health officials say they haven’t detected a safety problem. 10:39 a.m.: Health experts say to reopening states: be careful with new virus variants States are starting to ease up on coronavirus restrictions, but health experts say that we don’t know enough yet about the new variants to begin rolling back measures that slow spread. According to the Associated Press, as more people are vaccinated and the daily number of COVID-19 cases and deaths drop, public health officials are starting to relax on containment strategies. Businesses like restaurants, bars, and retail establishments are slowly reopening, but the country’s genetic surveillance system is still not robust enough to accurately track variants, which means the variants could be spreading clandestinely.
Experts say that continued public health measures like social distancing can help avoid a stronger variant-based virus surge.
11:19 a.m.: Latinos in the U.S. face language barriers, fear around COVID-19 vaccine
Across the country, Latinos are facing daunting barriers to getting COVID-19 vaccines, creating a public health risk as the coronavirus mutates and spreads.
According to the Associated Press, many are struggling with a lack of knowledge about the shots, and many state vaccine websites don’t have instructions in Spanish. Some are struggling to find appointments in their communities and fear they could be targeted for immigration enforcement if they sign up.
Ranging from the older Cuban American adults in Florida to farmworkers in California, some Latinos find themselves in a difficult spot. Health issues like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension are common in Latino communities, making them one of the highest risk groups for COVID-19 in the U.S.
Health officials are urging Californians to protect their loved ones from the coronavirus by celebrating Valentine’s Day virtually this year.
The governor’s office of emergency services tweeted a message Saturday, telling people to “have a heart, stay apart.”
Meanwhile, San Francisco public health officials are taking a more direct approach. They updated a six-page tip sheet this week on how to have sex as safely as possible during the pandemic.
While stressing that people should avoid close contact — including sex — with anyone outside their household, the city’s public health department told the San Francisco Chronicle it was updating guidance it first issued last year “to reflect the latest science on COVID-19.”
12:09 p.m.: Some fitness trainers got vaccine as ‘health care workers’
Some fitness trainers in California were able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after state health officials created a loophole that helped them qualify as health care workers.
KGO-TV reports that in January, the California Department of Public Health released updated guidelines on vaccination allocation that classified outdoor recreation as health care, the first tier eligible to get the vaccine along with people over 75.
Some fitness clubs jumped at the chance of getting their employees vaccinated. But last Friday, state health officials updated the rules and they no longer include outdoor recreation as health care.
California is expanding its list of people eligible for coronavirus vaccinations by another 4 million to 6 million people.
State Health Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said Friday that starting March 15 severely disabled people and those with health conditions that put them at high risk can get in line for shots. Among those included are people with certain cancer, heart, lung and kidney conditions, as well as pregnant women, those with Down syndrome, organ transplant recipients and the severely obese.
California has been plagued by vaccine shortages and Ghaly acknowledged he’s not sure how long it will take for the federal supply of shots to meet demand.
3:24 p.m.: Pandemic fever got you down? Smash up stuff at LA’s rage room
Meditation and Pilates may be good and fine for some people, but after nearly a year in COVID-19 isolation, some people just want to grab a sledgehammer and smash everything in sight.
Thankfully for them, there are now two “rage rooms” in the Los Angeles suburb of Westlake Village where they can do just that. According to the Associated Press, the rooms are part of Smash RX LLC, opened by licensed marriage and family therapist Yashica Budde to give people a way to release stress.
Participants can destroy items like TVs, computers, cups, plates, even furniture — pretty much anything Budde can get her hands on to help keep them calm.
A recent surge in COVID-19 cases at the University of California, Berkeley, has prompted school officials to extend a lockdown on about 2,000 students living in residence halls and ban them from outdoor exercise.
According to the Associated Press, the university website says more than 400 people have tested positive for the virus since an outbreak started in mid-January. A weekly breakdown of the cases shows about 200 positive tests since the first week of February.
The lockdown put in place has been extended through at least Feb. 15. Among the strict new rules is a ban on outdoor exercise that goes beyond the state’s own guidelines that encouraged getting outside to exercise.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is scheduled to provide an update on the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic in the state on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
The announcement comes one day before restrictions on businesses and gatherings are set to expire. While the spread of the virus has begun to slow down in the state, January was still the deadliest month since the start of the pandemic.
Sisolak tightened restrictions in late November. Restaurants, bars, gyms, places of worship and casinos have since had their capacity capped at 25%. He told residents the restrictions would be temporary, assuring them that adherence would slow the virus’s spread, but later extended them twice.
3 p.m.: Californians urged not to gather for game amid virus gains
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.
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.
10:55 a.m.: San Francisco sues to open up its public schools
Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here.