Category Archives: California

Reopening California: State to allow schools, pro sports, gyms, bars to begin resuming operations

Most of the new businesses are part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s methodical four-step process for reopening.

ABC7 Bay Area News, June 5, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will allow schools, day camps, bars, gyms, campgrounds and professional sports to begin reopening with modifications starting next Friday.

The state will release guidance later Friday for counties to follow to reopen a broad range of businesses that have been closed since mid-March because of concerns about spreading the coronavirus, said Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services agency.

The rules on schools and day camps will apply statewide. But only counties that have met certain thresholds on the number of cases, testing and preparedness will be allowed to start reopening the other sectors. Almost all of the state’s 58 counties have met those metrics. The state’s guidance will also include rules on hotels, casinos, museums, zoos and aquariums and the resumption of music, film and television production.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has been moving the state through a methodical four-step process for reopening. Most of the new businesses are part of “Phase 3.” Nail salons will not be included in the list, Ghaly said.

When students return to classrooms, things could look vastly different. In addition to requirements for physical distancing, the state plans to supply every school and childcare center with no-touch thermometers, hand sanitizer, face shields for every teacher, cloth face coverings for staff and students and tight-fitting N-95 masks for health care professionals in schools.

California has already allowed most counties to reopen restaurants, hair salons, churches, and retail stores with modifications.

Guidelines on how to reopen schools have been highly anticipated. The state cannot order schools to close, but it can offer guidelines for districts to follow around reopening. They have been closed since mid-March, when Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order, and developed distance-learning plans on the fly.

The idea of classes resuming in the fall is a relief for both teachers and parents, and raises new concerns about safety. Districts are also facing the prospects of billions of dollars in state budget cuts as the state scrambles to plug a deficit brought on by the virus.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said last week that he expects a “hybrid model” of instruction at schools, balancing traditional classes and distance learning to accommodate the need for physical distancing.

Leaders in the entertainment industry, meanwhile, have been brainstorming safe ways to get back to work since film, television and commercial production in Los Angeles shut down completely on March 20.

The Directors Guild enlisted “Contagion” director Steven Soderbergh to head a committee to determine when and how productions can resume in collaboration with epidemiologists and “sister guilds,” unions and employers.

Film, television and commercial production make up a significant amount of the Los Angeles economy. According to not-for-profit film office FilmLA, nearly 17% of the local workforce is tied to the industry, which has been out of commission for over two months now.

California’s coronavirus cases and hospitalizations remain stable as the state moves toward a broader reopening. But the state is monitoring and preparing for a potential increase in cases due to broader reopening and mass protests across the state against racial injustice.

California has reported more than 122,000 coronavirus cases and more than 4,400 deaths.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia and death.

New Coronavirus Hot spots emerge across South and in California, as Northeast slows

Maria Banderas (left) answers questions from medical assistant Dolores Becerra on May 18 before getting a coronavirus test at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles, one of the LA neighborhoods hit hard by COVID-19. Al Seib/LA Times via Getty Images
NPR KQED, by Martha Bebinger, Blake Farmer and Jackie Fortier, June 5, 2020

Mass protests against police violence across the U.S. have public health officials concerned about an accelerated spread of the coronavirus. But even before the protests began May 26, sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, several states had been recording big jumps in the number of cases.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, registered his concern at a congressional hearing Thursday. He shook his head as a congresswoman showed him photos of throngs of people at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri over Memorial Day weekend and crowds in Florida that had assembled to watch the May 30 launch of the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule.

“We’re very concerned that our public health message isn’t resonating,” Redfield said. “We continue to try to figure out how to penetrate the message with different groups. The pictures the chairwoman showed me are great examples of serious problems.”

The U.S. is still seeing roughly 20,000 new cases a day. There’s a wide range from state to state, from one case a day, on average, last week in Hawaii all the way up to to 2,614 new cases a day in California. Specific areas in the Golden State have become hot spots, along with certain counties in every Southern state.

The northeastern states of New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts — which among them accounted for a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. — are seeing a substantial slowing of new cases.

A closer look at these hard-hit areas highlights some of the common and unique challenges states face as they manage protests and begin efforts to reopen the economy amid the risks of more disease and death.

Tennessee and the Carolinas among Southern states showing jumps

In the South, the timing of new cases appears to be linked to the reopening of restaurants, barber shops and gyms, which started in most states more than a month ago. Figures tracked by NPR show the number of cases in North Carolina and South Carolina this week is up by roughly 60% from two weeks ago. In Tennessee, that increase is 75%.

Georgia and Louisiana look steadier, but they experienced some of the highest cases counts and fatalities in the region in recent weeks, at the height of the pandemic.

In Southern states that were quick to reopen, officials sometimes felt the need to explain big increases in case counts on some days. In Georgia, for example, a state health official said a big one-day increase was because of a backlog of reporting cases from a commercial lab. In Tennessee this week, a daily jump of 800 cases was blamed partially on an ongoing prison outbreak that yielded 350 new positive test results.

California case counts driven by populous Los Angeles County

In California, counties are continuing to allow businesses to reopen even as newly confirmed coronavirus cases climb. The state experienced a 40% jump in cases over the last week. Large metro areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco have gradually lifted restrictions and Californians have responded by traveling to beaches and neighboring areas, blurring the effectiveness of the varying degrees of restrictions between adjacent counties.

Los Angeles County, home to more than 10 million people, has the highest number of cases in the state. Numbers tracked by NPR show that, on average, health officials report around 1,300 new cases daily. The county has blamed slow lab results for a backlog, while acknowledging that community transmission has been ticking up, especially among communities of color.

In the Northeast, where New York City became the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic for weeks, there are still thousands of new cases every day, although the rate of increase has slowed. It’s down 41% in New Jersey over the past two weeks, down 33% in New York and down 13% in Massachusetts. But health officials caution that doesn’t mean the coronavirus is under control in these three states. New York is still seeing more than 1,000 new cases a day; over the past week, Massachusetts averaged just over 500 a day, and New Jersey had close to 800.

Ethnic disparities persist across the country

In Los Angeles, elderly people, particularly those who live in nursing homes have been disproportionately impacted. Almost half the people who have died from COVID-19 in the county were nursing home residents. County health officials were slow to test for the virus in nursing homes, and recent data reported by the health department shows that two-thirds of the Los Angeles County health care workers who died from the virus worked in nursing homes.

People of color have been disproportionately affected in California, as elsewhere: Latinos make up over half of the COVID-19 cases in California, where they are about 40% of the state’s population. In Los Angeles County, the highest COVID death rates have been among native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and black residents. Minorities have an increased risk of developing underlying health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, making them more likely to develop a more severe illness if infected with the virus.

In Tennessee, which has one of the nation’s fastest-growing case counts, neighborhoods that are home to large immigrant populations have emerged as persistent hot spots. Nashville’s public health department has hired specialized community outreach workers, in partnership with immigrant advocacy organizations, to conduct contact tracing and connect families with coronavirus testing.

“We knew we had to do something different, and that’s what we’re doing now,” says Leslie Waller, a city epidemiologist who oversees the project.

Waller acknowledges that many of the people at risk work in jobs that have been deemed essential or own businesses that can’t be run remotely. Public health officials also express concern that co-workers in close-knit immigrant communities often carpool to the same jobs, and some job sites have experienced large outbreaks.

But in Southern states, rising case counts have not slowed the momentum for further lifting of restrictions. On Thursday, Tennessee announced additional loosening of restrictions for community events, allowing fairs, expos and parades. Instead of limiting the number of people who can gather, the focus has shifted to ensuring everyone can maintain social distance.

“Thanks to the continued hard work of Tennesseans and business owners operating responsibly, we’re able to further reopen our state’s economy,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a written statement. “These new guidelines provide useful information so that we can enjoy the events that connect us to our neighbors and communities.”

There’s virtually no public discussion of reinstating business restrictions, so long as hospitals can handle any uptick in illness.

Northeast states take a slower, more cautious approach to reopening

Some states in the Northeast have found ways to bring down infection rates, though many of them have put much stricter rules on businesses and public spaces.

You still can’t sit down in a restaurant in New York City or anywhere in Massachusetts and New Jersey. That may be allowed in the coming weeks, but only outdoors. These states are all still in the early stages of reopening, after residents were told to stay home for almost two months and all but the most essential businesses were closed.

While most states do not have broad requirements for face coverings, rules requiring them are more common in the Northeast. In Massachusetts, some kind of face covering is required indoors and outside, if you can’t stay at least 6 feet away from other people. In New York and New Jersey, masks are required in public and while riding buses or trains. Within some states, counties have varying rules, which can cause confusion. In Los Angeles County, health officials made cloth face coverings mandatory at all times when outside your home, while San Diego County only requires masks when you are within 6 feet of another person.

Residents everywhere are chafing at the rules, but in the hardest-hit states, there’s a wider acceptance of social-distancing rules. A poll out last week found twice as many New York residents were worried about opening too quickly, compared with the number of New Yorkers who were worried about it happening too slowly. Polls in New Jersey and Massachusetts also have shown better than majority support for gradual, phased openings.


This story comes from NPR’s reporting partnership with WBURNashville Public RadioSouthern California Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.

They’re trapped, and the killer virus knows where to find them in California

Los Angeles Times reports on huge numbers in our nursing homes and prisons

Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-San Pedro) speaks during a news conference after touring the federal penitentiary at Terminal Island to inquire about the high number of COVID-19 cases among inmates and prison staff. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times, by Steve Lopez, May 13 2020

There are two places in California where, as the pandemic rages, you do not want to be.

Prisons and elder care facilities.

An astounding 49% of all COVID-19 deaths in California were linked to elder care facilities as of last week, with more than 1,200 cases, along with hundreds more infected patients and employees.

Meanwhile, 886 inmates at the federal prison in Lompoc (almost 70%) have been infected with the virus; 396 infections, including five deaths, were reported at the state prison in Chino; and there have been 709 infections and seven deaths at Terminal Island federal pen in San Pedro.

Family members protested at the San Pedro facility last week and Congresswoman Nanette Barragán, who represents the area, told the Times’ Richard Winton she felt the warden was not doing enough to protect inmates with medical conditions. She said she reported the situation to Trump administration health official Dr. Anthony Fauci, who “seemed a little alarmed.”

I think he might want to be a lot alarmed.

Tiffani Fortney’s father was at Terminal Island serving a 26-month sentence for tax-related crimes, and she was biting her nails at her home in Arizona. Her dad had diabetes and heart issues that made him a sitting duck in the tight confines of a communal setting.

“It was hell,” she said about trying to get information on her father’s welfare. “I talked to him on Easter and he told me one person there had the virus and they were separating everybody.… He told me he’d call in a few days and he never did.”

Unbeknown to Fortney, her father, 70-year-old Scott Douglas Cutting of Apple Valley, got sick. Very sick. And Fortney said she did not learn until the end of last month that her father had been hospitalized in mid-April with COVID-19 symptoms.

“I tried calling the prison but couldn’t get answers. I left a message sometimes, but other times I couldn’t even get to the message thing,” she said.

On May 1, the federal public defender’s office filed an emergency application for the release of medical records and for prison compliance with family notification policies. According to the filing, Fortney’s brother Scott was informed on April 29 that their father had been hospitalized and intubated. The next day, Fortney got a call from a prison staff member saying her father was “not doing well.”

Fortney told me she and her brother were able to speak to him by phone and say goodbye, thanks to the “amazing staff” at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance. On Saturday, May 9, Cutting became the seventh inmate to die of COVID-19 while serving time at the aptly named Terminal Island.

“No one deserves to die like that,” Fortney said. “I don’t care if they’re criminals or not.”

A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons declined my request for an interview, but sent a long list of steps taken since the pandemic began.

“We are deeply concerned for the health and welfare of those inmates who are entrusted to our care, and for our staff, their families, and the communities we live and work in,” said the spokesperson, adding that the bureau is doing “everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities.”

Across the country, thousands of prisoners have been released early to stem the spread of the virus to inmates and jail staff, and in L.A. County some jail inmates are even suspected of trying to infect themselves with the virus thinking that might get them sprung early.

Civil rights attorneys and relatives of inmates have argued for broader release of elderly or sick inmates, and for more testing and protective measures. But despite support from public health experts, that’s not an easily winnable argument given resistance from top federal officials, says Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel.

“The responsibility is mistakenly placed on the officials who run these facilities, but it’s the government that is defending” the status quo, said Rosenbaum. “It is punitive and it is a means of saying these are subhuman individuals and what happens to them and their communities does not matter.”

That same societal judgment has been made about those living in some elder care facilities, which is one reason they’ve become such deathtraps.

“People are really shocked that this has happened, but I’m not surprised,” said Charlene Harrington, 78, an emeritus UC San Francisco nursing professor who has spent decades fighting for stricter nursing home regulations and more oversight. “Even before the virus hit, three-fourths of nursing homes didn’t have adequate staffing and did not meet what we would consider to be reasonable standards.”

You’d think that with the virus being particularly deadly for older people, Harrington said, nursing facilities would have gotten a higher priority when it came to testing and doling out protective equipment for staff.

Part of the problem, she says, is a shift in the nursing home industry as independently owned mom and pop operations have given way to big chains and private equity investors.

“They squeeze out every cent that they can,” Harrington said, paying “the lowest possible wages,” often to minorities and immigrants, usually with no healthcare insurance and no sick leave. That raises the possibility of employees reporting to work when they’re sick, or getting sick at work and then infecting friends and relatives outside the facility.

So why can’t a civilized society do a more humane job of caring for grandma and grandpa?

As we’ve been reminded in recent weeks, some people seem to think old folks — especially those already warehoused —are expendable. But the more accurate answer involves money and politics.

The nursing homes wield tremendous influence over policymakers. And even though taxpayers cover the majority of the cost of care through Medicare and Medicaid, Harrington said, “nursing homes have gotten away with minimal enforcement for over 20 or 30 years, so they were ripe for disaster.”

And Harrington said that just as with the other COVID-19 hot-spots — jails and prisons — we can’t be entirely sure what’s going on behind closed doors. For nursing homes, she said, there’s an incentive for under-playing the number of cases to families that are now barred from visiting facilities.

In fact, one source directed me to discrepancies between what one L.A. County nursing facility has acknowledged about COVID-19 infections and deaths among patients and staff, and the much larger numbers listed on the L.A. County Health Department website.

This virus doesn’t play fair. It goes after the trapped, the poor and the elderly, and the mounting list of casualties is unacceptable.

If you know an inmate or prison staffer who got sick or died, or if you know an elder care facility patient or employee who got sick or died, I’d like to hear your story.

Who is reporting on COVID-19 in California meat packing plants?

By Roger Straw, May 8, 2020

Are the midwestern superclusters coming our way anytime soon?

File image of meat processing plant (KOIN)

Meat Packing Plants

I did a little digging on meat packing plants in California…  Here’s a Google map of meat our packing plants.

I didn’t spend much time looking into plants nearest to the Bay Area as yet.  I ran out of time because my eye was caught by recent headlines about one CA plant – Central Valley Meat Company in Hanford CA (Kings County).  On May 7, the Associated Press reported that At least 138 employees contracted COVID-19 at California meat packaging plant.

HANFORD, Calif. (AP) — At least 138 employees at a meat packing plant in central California have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Reports say several employees at the Central Valley Meat Company in Hanford first tested positive for the virus more than a week ago.

Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon said the meat packing plant now accounts for nearly two-thirds of the coronavirus cases in the rural county. The company employs about 900 workers at two plants in Hanford and Vernon and continues to operate.

Company officials say they are following CDC guidelines to keep their employees safe.

The Kings County website is not sharing any information on locations of outbreaks, but most of the cases are clearly related to Central Valley Meat, located in Hanford.  See the charts below (from the Kings Co. website on May 8, and note how the Kings curve is shooting out of sight!The Central Valley Meat website gives no information on the infection. But the website displays the following message as a delayed overlay to the front page, all but ordering employees to show up.

Central Valley Meat    In light of the Coronavirus pandemic and the new statewide “shelter in place” order from California’s governor, we want to remind all Central Valley Meat Company employees as well as our customers and consuming public that Central Valley Meat Company is considered an “essential business”. Because Central Valley Meat is an important component of the food supply chain all employees are asked to report to work for their normal shift and times. We are also hiring additional workers and we encourage those seeking work to apply at https://www.centralvalleymeat.com/careers

National context and background

MSNBC’S Lawrence O’Donnell reports on meat packers, prisons and nursing homes…

California journalists and reporters need to better investigate the COVID-19 effects in our meat packing plants, prisons and nursing homes.