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COVID-19 By The Numbers
Monday, February 14
U.S. regulators have put the brakes on their push to speed up distribution of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children under 5.
As reported by the Associated Press, this recent move means another months-long delay for the shots. The Food and Drug Administration had urged Pfizer to apply before its study was even finished on whether the youngsters needed two shots or three.
The agency cited the toll the omicron variant has taken on children, but then the FDA reversed course and said it needed to see how well three shots worked.
That information “made us realize that we needed to see the data from a third dose from the ongoing trial in order to make a determination,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “We take our responsibility for reviewing these vaccines very seriously because we’re parents as well.”
Pfizer said in a statement that it expected that data by early April.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy sat with the Associated Press for a wide-ranging interview, touching on topics from the pandemic to mental health care.
Here’s a snippet of what he had to say relating to the coronavirus pandemic:
On removing face masks
I can imagine that future. I can’t tell you if it’s coming in a couple of months or in six months or in 12 months … We may see waves of old or new variants, but if we have these tools, if we’re using them well, particularly our vaccines and boosters, we can protect the vast majority of people from hospitalizations and deaths.
On the ebb and flow of the pandemic
The pandemic is not over today. We are still seeing record numbers of hospitalizations, deaths, and cases in this country … We also have to have a clear plan for protecting those who are more vulnerable. And we know that there are people in our community, particularly those who are immunocompromised, who may continue to be at higher risk.
Because athletes from countries where COVID-19 has raged are competing in the Winter Games, China’s Olympic workforce is making a big sacrifice, according to the Associated Press.
Tens of thousands of Chinese workers have been hermetically sealed inside the ring-fence of virus prevention measures that China has erected around the games, locked in with the athletes and Olympic visitors.
But while Olympians jet in for just weeks, Chinese workers who cook, clean, transport, care for them and otherwise make the games tick are spending several months sequestered inside the sanitary bubble.
China’s ruling party doesn’t exactly allow workers to air their grievances, so there haven’t been any public complaints from them.
Once workers are dismissed from the games, those inside the bubble will need to be quarantined in Beijing for a week or two before going home. Many will not see their families for over two months.
Friday, February 11
Next month marks two years since California’s original COVID-19 stay-at-home order, and the state is still under a state of emergency. But Republican state lawmakers have been trying to change that.
They argue that since Los Angeles is hosting the Super Bowl this weekend — and don’t expect mask rules to be enforced — that the state of emergency is no longer necessary.
Republicans tried to force votes on a pair of resolutions that would terminate the statewide emergency.
“We have done enormous, incalculable harm to our citizens, especially our kids, with restrictions that continue to this day,” author of one bill, Assembly member Kevin Kiley said. “It is well past time that we allow people to move on with their lives, and we can do that today.”
Inside the Capitol, Kiley and his GOP colleagues donned masks emblazoned with the photo of Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Lakers star Magic Johnson sans masks at the NFC championship game. They asked their colleagues to bring the resolution to end the state of emergency up for a vote. Democrats declined.
In a statement, Newsom’s spokesperson called the Republicans’ move “political theater.” His office also argued the emergency order from March 2020 has helped the state to quickly distribute masks and vaccines and boost hospital capacity.
Sacramento County will join many others in not imposing a new mask mandate when the state’s mandate expires on Feb. 15.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said that while cautiously optimistic, she wants to make sure people know that COVID-19 is still here and is a very serious disease.
She added that even without a mandate in place, residents who still want to wear a mask can be assured that it’s still an effective way to protect themselves.
“Doing this does not mean we have less confidence in the way masks work, but it’s just the recognition that for people that are vaccinated, they can actually make that choice to go into certain public places without a mask,” Kasirye said on CapRadio’s Insight.
She said that she hopes it won’t be necessary to re-impose a mask mandate in the future, but public health officials will be keeping an eye on determining factors like virus case counts and vaccination rates.
9:18 a.m.: Mask mandates are falling across the US
As the omicron surge dips a bit, several U.S. states and cities have lifted mask mandates for schools and indoor businesses.
According to the Associated Press, the White House says talks are underway about how and when to move the country out of the pandemic’s emergency phase.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends masks in indoor settings, with stronger masks such as N95s or KN95s as the best options.
State officials say the main reason for easing mandates is the downturn in hospitalizations and infections, even in places with the most stringent rules.
However, the WHO says the pandemic is not yet over, and that “COVID-19 isn’t finished with us.”
Thursday, February 10
Percentages vary dramatically among Nevada’s public colleges and universities, but overall, three-quarters of the state’s higher education system’s students were vaccinated against COVID-19 before an emergency mandate even kicked in.
According to the Associated Press, a breakdown by campus provided in a Feb. 1 memo to the state Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the percentages for individual campuses ranged from 45% at Western Nevada College in Carson City to 91% at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Other campus percentages included 87% at the University of Nevada, Reno, 65% at Nevada State College in Henderson and 58% at the College of Southern Nevada in the Las Vegas area.
9:22 a.m.: Hospital staff exhausted after omicron surge
Hospitalizations fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant in the U.S. have begun falling after peaking at record levels in some communities, as reported by the Associated Press.
However, the surge has left in its wake postponed surgeries, exhausted staff members, and uncertainty over whether this is the last big wave or whether another one lies ahead.
“We’ve been proved wrong twice already, with delta and omicron,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “So that adds to people’s anxiety and uncertainty and a sense of like ‘When does this end?’”
Another reason for anxiety — COVID-19 hospitalizations aren’t even all that low. They’re at a level seen in January 2021, amid last winter’s surge.
As more places drop mask orders and other COVID-19 precautions, there’s a new urgency in finding ways to protect up to 7 million Americans with severely weakened immune systems.
According to the Associated Press, vaccines don’t always work for people who are immune-compromised because of cancer, organ transplants, or other conditions.
“The pandemic has not spared them yet,” said Dr. Ghady Haidar, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
There aren’t many options for the immune-compromised as community-wide COVID-19 precautions wane. For now, health authorities are pushing a fourth vaccine dose for these vulnerable patients since they get at least some small measure of extra protection from repeated vaccinations.
Currently, the immune-compromised are supposed to get three up-front doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, followed by a booster — meaning they get one more shot than most others in the U.S. would typically get.
There’s a tiny glimmer of hope, though. AstraZeneca has been working on a drug that promises to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection for six months. It’s different from the regular COVID-19 vaccines in that it’s for those who can’t make their own virus-fighting antibodies.
However, it’s in short supply and currently restricted to only the highest-risk patients.
Wednesday, February 9
2:53 p.m.: Yolo County will drop mask mandate Feb. 16
Yolo County will align with the state and drop its mask mandate after Feb. 15.
Dr. Aimee Sisson, public health officer for Yolo County, said in a press release that the county is lifting the order in part because of more options to combat the virus, such as “effective vaccines, effective treatments, and a variant that causes less severe disease.”
“I still recommend that everybody wears a mask indoors in Yolo County, but it will no longer be required in most settings for fully vaccinated persons starting February 16,” Sisson wrote.
On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California would not extend the state’s mask mandate, which requires all people to wear masks in indoor public spaces, when it expires Feb. 15. Sacramento County announced it anticipates following the state’s lead and dropping its mandate as well.
Masks will still be required indoors for unvaccinated people and for all people in higher risk locations like public transit or congregate living facilities.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently announced that “COVID isn’t finished with us.”
His statement came as he appealed for extra help to fight the pandemic after his agency reported case counts and deaths fell worldwide over the past week.
Ghebreyesus led the launch of a new $23 billion campaign to fund WHO’s efforts to lead a fair rollout of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines worldwide.
WHO’s weekly report showed that case counts fell 17% worldwide over the last week, while deaths globally declined 7%.
The figures include a 50% decline in new daily infections in the U.S.
Experts say it’s too early to know whether people infected with the omicron variant will develop long COVID. Many doctors believe it’s possible to have long-term effects from the omicron variant, as reported by the Associated Press.
Long COVID is usually diagnosed many weeks after someone gets sick with COVID-19. Overall, some estimates suggest more than a third of COVID-19 survivors will develop some symptoms of long COVID, including fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, insomnia, anxiety, depression and more.
Scientists are racing to figure out what’s behind the mysterious condition and whether vaccines could be part of the answer.
The police department for metro Las Vegas has lifted its requirement that new hires be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he still encourages Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department personnel to get vaccinated but lifted the requirement for new hires about a week ago due to a dip in positive cases at the department.
The department imposed the vaccination requirement last summer, saying that applicants had to show proof of vaccination before being hired, however, the requirement didn’t apply to current employees.
Tuesday, February 8
California’s indoor masking requirement will end next week for vaccinated people, but masks will still be the rule for school children.
As reported by the Associated Press, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration brought back the masking mandate in mid-December as the omicron variant gained momentum, and last month extended it through Feb. 15.
State health officials said on Monday that the mandate would end that day. But local health officials can continue their own requirements.
The state is also lifting a requirement that people test negative before visiting hospitals and nursing homes, effective immediately.
In the meantime, health officials said they are continuing to evaluate the masking requirement for school children.
A group of states is renewing a challenge to President Joe Biden’s requirement that millions of healthcare workers across the U.S. be vaccinated.
According to the Associated Press, the requirement for many health providers that participate in Medicare or Medicaid took effect in January for half the states and is scheduled to start in February for the other half after it was allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
That ruling was part of Biden’s attempt to drive up vaccination in private-sector workplaces. But the high court blocked a different Biden rule that would have required vaccines or regular COVID-19 testing for employees of larger companies.
Lower courts have also blocked a vaccine requirement for employees of federal contractors.
Pfizer is asking U.S. regulators to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, according to the Associated Press.
The move could open the way for the very youngest Americans to start receiving shots by early March. Currently, the nation’s 19 million children under 5 are the only group not yet eligible for vaccinations against the coronavirus.
Many parents have been pushing an expansion of shots to toddlers and preschoolers, especially as the omicron wave sent record members of youngsters to the hospital.
If the Food and Drug Administration agrees, Pfizer shots containing just one-tenth of the dose given to adults could be dispensed to children as young as 6 months.
Monday, February 7
Transportation workers for Sacramento City Unified Schools say the district is creating unsafe conditions during the omicron surge for themselves and students.
Bus drivers were told by the district that once classes restarted, there would be only one kid per seat and they’d all be three feet apart.
However, drivers like Jennifer Sharp have said that school buses are packed full.
“No kids are safe together. We have no protection, absolutely no protection at all,” Sharp said.
She’s been with the district for over 18 years and is one of the dozens of transportation workers who showed up at the district’s headquarters on Friday to protest unsafe working conditions and low wages.
Veteran driver Gil Patterson wants people to know that conditions on buses are hurting everyone involved — drivers, students and families.
“You’re risking your children’s lives,” he said. “You’re risking your own lives.”
A district spokesperson said all workers who test positive for COVID-19 are sent home immediately, but drivers said they’re asked to continue working even if they test positive.
Propelled in part by the extremely contagious omicron variant, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has hit 900,000 less than two months after eclipsing 800,000, as reported by the Associated Press.
The number of deaths compiled by Johns Hopkins University is more than the populations of Indianapolis, San Francisco or Charlotte, North Carolina.
The U.S. death toll is the highest in the world, surpassing Brazil — the second-highest total — by nearly 300,000 deaths.
To public health experts, the milestone is made all the more tragic because so many of the recent deaths were preventable — just 64% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.
President Joe Biden acknowledged that the pandemic has been “incredibly difficult to bear” and again urged Americans to get vaccinations and booster shots.
Officially, the Beijing Olympics are taking place inside what organizers are calling “the enclosed compound activity area” — or rather a closed-loop system, or the “bubble.”
According to the Associated Press, bubbles are now part of the norm at many major sporting events.
The premise of this bubble is simple — keep those who passed multiple tests just to get access to the Olympics in, keep the rest of the world, and hopefully, COVID-19 out.
It’s worked for the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Grand Slam tennis events, college sports and the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.
At the Winter Games, venues are open to members of the Olympic family, while the rest of Beijing is basically closed. The arrivals section of the usually bustling Beijing Capital International Airport was a ghost town, sans for those in full protective equipment tasked with administering coronavirus tests and directing visitors to the proper bus.
Testing is a daily requirement, and in some cases, it happens multiple times a day. Some members of the Olympic family were told that if they had recently visited one of the alpine skiing venues, they would need a second PCR test that day instead of just one.
Saturday, February 5
11:10 a.m.: California passes 80,000 COVID-19 deaths
Coronavirus deaths in California have topped 80,000 and another nearly 3,000 people are expected to die by month’s end, according to the Associated Press.
Statistics from Johns Hopkins University say the state’s death toll reached 80,688 on Friday. That’s more than Texas with 80,300 deaths and more than Florida and New York, which have tolls exceeding 65,000.
Other indicators show that California is clearly past the peak of the omicron wave. Infections, hospitalizations and intensive care cases have fallen almost as fast as they climbed during the rapid-fire omicron wave of the pandemic.
Los Angeles County may soon end outdoor mask requirements, but probably not before the Feb. 13 Super Bowl.
Friday, February 4
COVID-19 is still the number one issue on the minds of state residents, according to a new survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.
PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldessare says people are cautiously optimistic.
“Two-thirds say the worst is behind us, so that’s pretty optimistic. But keep in mind that the last time we asked that question, which was last May, there were 86% who said that the worst was behind us,” Baldessare said. “So, you know, we’ve lost some ground during the course of omicron.”
Jobs, the economy and inflation are the following three top items of concern for Californians.
And although it doesn’t fit the official definition, 53% of those surveyed say they believe the state is in a recession because of their inflation-reduced buying power.
It’s time to raise the curtain on the Beijing Winter Olympics, with the opening ceremony at the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium on Friday night.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, these will be some of the hardest-to-navigate Games in history, as reported by the Associated Press.
Everything is being held in a “closed-loop” system in which every participant must pass a COVID-19 test every day. It’s one of several challenging issues involved in making Beijing the first country to host both a Summer and Winter Games.
Participants will be placed in isolation if they test positive, which surprised some since the stakes of the system have not been clearly spelled out to participants.
In 2008, China invited the world to explore its country with that year’s Summer Olympics Games. However, fourteen years later, it’s less concerned about what others think.
Critics have assailed the host for a range of issues, from its poor human-rights issues to its zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy, to its treatment of star tennis player Peng Shuai. Others say that the COVID-19 restrictions offer a convenient justification for not letting journalists wander the country to report on what’s really going on.
For more than two years, the isolation of the Pacific archipelago nation of Tonga helped keep COVID-19 at bay.
However, last month’s volcanic eruption and tsunami brought outside deliveries of desperately needed fresh water and medicine, along with the virus.
According to the Associated Press, Tonga is one of several Pacific island countries to experience their first outbreaks over the past month.
There are growing concerns that their precarious health care systems might quickly become overburdened and that the isolation that had protected them may now make helping them difficult.
Despite strict precautions unloading ships and plans from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Britain and China, two Tongans handling aid shipments at a wharf were the first to test positive.
Thursday, February 3
Public health officials say they’re cautiously optimistic that the current surge of COVID-19 is on the wane — but the omicron variant spread so quickly it affected just about every aspect of daily life.
This surge has been different from the one in 2021 because of the vaccines’ wide availability and effectiveness, though not everyone is getting them.
Yolo County Public Health Officer Dr. Amy Sisson sat with CapRadio’s Insight host Vicki Gonzalez to discuss why vaccination remains a challenge.
“I like to call them the ‘vaccine curious.’ I’m trying to move away from the term ‘vaccine-hesitant,'” Sisson said. “But I think we all continue to be frustrated that there are individuals who are choosing not to take advantage of the tremendous resource of a vaccine.”
Sisson says choosing not to get vaccinated has ripple effects: from being hospitalized for COVID-19 to the limited ability to care for people with another disease and a shortage of healthcare workers.
While COVID-19 vaccines are still saving an untold amount of lives, omicron’s easy spread has many wondering if they will need boosters every few months or even a new kind of shot altogether, as reported by the Associated Press.
The aim would be to save lives and avoid the disruption that even mild infections can bring.
Researchers are working on shots that could target more than one strain at once or even stop the virus, no matter how it mutates. Vaccines squirted in the nose are also being tested.
Still, many experts say it’s unrealistic to expect the vaccines to forever protect against any infection, as long as they stop death.
The Army said it will immediately begin discharging soldiers who have refused to get their mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, putting more than 3,300 service members at risk of being fired.
According to the Associated Press, the Army’s announcement makes it the final military service to layout its discharge policy for vaccine refusers. The Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy have already discharged active-duty troops for entry-level personnel at boot camps for refusing the shots.
So far, the Army has not discharged any. Roughly 97% of all Army soldiers have gotten at least one shot.
More than 3,000 service members have requested medical or religious exemptions.
Wednesday, February 2
COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5 may be available in the U.S. as early as March, but there are still several hurdles still to clear, according to the Associated Press.
Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months through 4 years.
The FDA said it’ll review the application and convene a panel of outside advisers in mid-February to debate the data. The agency will use that advice in deciding whether the new doses are safe and effective.
After that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will then gather its own expert panel to help decide if the shots should be recommended for this age group.
The World Health Organization chief says 90 million coronavirus cases have been reported since the omicron variant was first identified 10 weeks ago, amounting to more than in all of 2020.
As reported by the Associated Press, with so many countries easing restrictive measures, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus cautioned that omicron should not be underestimated even though it has been shown to bring less severe illness than earlier variants.
He cited “a very worrying increase in deaths in most regions of the world.”
A considerably shortened torch relay for the Beijing Olympics has started with 80-year-old former speedskater, Luo Zhihuan, carrying the flame.
According to the Associated Press, the relay length was clipped due to concerns about the coronavirus.
The torch will be carried through the three Olympic zones, with it starting in downtown Beijing before heading to Yanqing district and finally to Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei Province.
The Beijing Games have already been impacted on a scale similar to that experienced by Tokyo during last year’s Summer Olympics. China says only selected spectators will be allowed to attend the events.
Tuesday, February 1
Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing criticism for his decision to shed his face mask.
The latest scrutiny came after Earvin “Magic” Johnson tweeted a photo of himself with Newsom at the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium — both with beaming, unmasked smiles.
Earlier this month, state health officials extended the mask mandate through Feb. 15 as omicron cases surged. Stadium regulations require people to wear masks, except when they’re eating or drinking.
Newsom told reporters in Los Angeles that he removed his mask only briefly and was otherwise “very judicious” in wearing it.
You can see it in the masks, the seating charts, and even the distribution of water glasses at the White House.
President Joe Biden’s staff is making extraordinary efforts to keep him from getting COVID-19, even though he’s been vaccinated three times over.
It’s no surprise that unusual steps are taken to protect the president, but the strict precautions threaten to undercut his administration’s own efforts to convince vaccinated and boosted Americans that they can face their lives through the omicron wave.
U.S. regulators are urging drugmaker Pfizer to apply for emergency authorization for a two-dose regimen of its COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years old — according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
The Biden administration aims to clear the way for the vaccines as soon as late February, with the application expecting to be submitted as soon as Tuesday.
Early Pfizer data has shown the vaccine is safe and produces an immune response. The formulation administered to younger kids is at one-tenth the strength of the adult shot.
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