Find an updated count of COVID-19 cases in California and by county on our tracker here.
Sacramento County moves out of highest CDC COVID-19 risk level
More countries announce testing requirements for travelers arriving from China
US to resume COVID-19 testing for travelers from China
China to scrap COVID-19 quarantine for incoming passengers
COVID-19 is a contributor to lowered life expectancy in US
12:05 p.m.: Sacramento County moves out of highest CDC COVID-19 risk level
Sacramento County is back out of the highest COVID-19 risk level, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last week Sacramento was in the CDC’s “high” community level. The measurement looks at an area’s risk based on positive tests, hospital capacity and the number of COVID-19 patients.
This week the county’s rates of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations both dropped enough that the CDC moved it into the “medium” community level on Thursday. You can see Sacramento’s COVID-19 data and how other counties rate on the CDC website.
At the medium level, health officials recommend anyone who is immunocompromised or at increased risk of becoming sick wear a mask or respirator in indoor public spaces.
San Joaquin County also moved out of the high community level to medium on Thursday. Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties remained at the medium level. Los Angeles and Imperial are now the only California counties at the highest risk level.
There is still a chance that Sacramento City Unified School District will reinstate its mask mandate for students, depending where the CDC places the county next week.
In a letter to parents, district officials said that if the county returns to the high level when the CDC releases its figures Jan. 5, students will be required to wear masks when they return from winter break on Monday, Jan. 9. Staff working on SCUSD campuses during the break have been required to wear masks indoors, and students have been provided COVID-19 tests to use before returning to classes in January.
12:24 p.m.: More countries announce testing requirements for travelers arriving from China
Moves by several countries to mandate COVID-19 tests for passengers arriving from China reflect global concern that new variants could emerge in its ongoing explosive outbreak — and that the government may not inform the rest of the world quickly enough.
According to the Associated Press, there have been no reports of new variants to date, but China has been accused of not being forthcoming about the virus since it first surfaced in the country in late 2019. The worry is that it may not be sharing data on any signs of evolving strings that could spark fresh outbreaks elsewhere.
The U.S., Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Italy have announced testing requirements for passengers arriving from China.
1:12 p.m.: US to resume COVID-19 testing for travelers from China
The U.S. will soon require COVID-19 testing for travelers from China, according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. joins a few other nations in imposing travel restrictions because of a surge of infections in China. The increase in cases follows the rollback of China’s strict anti-virus control.
Starting on Jan. 5, travelers to the U.S. from China will have to take a COVID-19 test no more than two days before they travel and provide negative results before they board their flights.
The action announced Wednesday is a return to requirements for some international travelers even though the Biden administration lifted the last of such mandates in June.
12:47 p.m.: China to scrap COVID-19 quarantine for incoming passengers
China will drop its COVID-19 quarantine requirement for passengers arriving from abroad starting Jan 8.
According to the Associated Press, the National Health Commission announced the change as a part of the latest easing of China’s once strict virus-control measures.
People coming to China will still need a negative virus test 48 hours before departure, and passengers will be required to wear protective masks on board.
Arriving passengers currently must quarantine for five days at a hotel, followed by three days at home.
China abruptly dropped pandemic restrictions earlier this month, sparking widespread outbreaks that have swamped hospital emergency rooms and funeral homes.
11:35 a.m.: COVID-19 is a contributor to lowered life expectancy in US
The average life expectancy for Americans shortened by over seven months in 2021, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
NPR reports that this decrease follows an already significant decline of 1.8 years in 2020. As a result, the expected lifespan of someone born in the U.S. is now 76.4 years — the shortest it has been in nearly two decades.
The two reports, released by the CDC on Thursday, show deaths from COVID-19 and drug overdoses, most notably fentanyl, were the primary drivers of the drop in life expectancy.
The pandemic claimed nearly 417,000 lives last year — more than even the year before — making COVID-19 the third leading cause of death for the second consecutive year.
11:52 a.m.: CVS, Walgreens to limit children’s pain medication due to supply issues
The nation’s two largest pharmacy chains are limiting children’s pain relief medicine purchases amid a so-called “tripledemic” of respiratory infections this winter.
As reported by NPR, both CVS and Walgreens announced that demand has strained in-store availability across the country for children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen — both of which are pain and fever reducers.
Children’s pain relievers and fever reducers have been in short supply for weeks. Infection rates of both influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have had a comeback as more Americans develop immune protections to COVID-19.
CVS will limit purchases to two children’s pain relief products in CVS stores and online. Walgreens will implement a six-item limit on online purchases, while sales at physical locations are not limited.
12:22 p.m.: China’s sudden end to ‘zero-COVID’ policies is causing confusion and misinformation
After nearly three years of strict “zero-COVID” policies, in recent days Chinese officials have rolled back most of them following rare protests across the country.
According to NPR, mass testing and mass quarantining are now things of the past.
Just as dramatic as the policy shifts is the shift in messaging coming from the public experts the Chinese government has relied on since the virus was first identified in the country in late 2019, risking their credibility ahead of what is likely to be a giant wave of infections.
The about-face didn’t go unnoticed on the Chinese internet. Posts juxtaposing several experts’ TV appearances before and after state policy change have garnered more than 100,000 views.
Much of the online discussion has moved to how to deal with the aftermath of the policy change, including what preventative measures and treatments are available.
12:05 p.m.: US deaths fell this year, but not to pre-COVID levels
The number of U.S. deaths has dropped this year, but there are still more than before the coronavirus hit.
According to the Associated Press, preliminary data from the first 11 months of the year indicates that 2022 would see fewer deaths than the previous two COVID-19 pandemic years.
Current reports suggest deaths may be down about 3% from 2020 and about 7% from 2021.
U.S. deaths usually rise year-to-year, partly because the nation’s population has been growing. The pandemic accelerated that trend, making last year the deadliest in U.S. history, with more than 3.4 million people dying. If current trends continue, this year will mark the first annual decline in deaths since 2009.
If the decline does hold, it will still be a far cry from where the nation was before the coronavirus appeared. This year’s count is likely to end up at least 13% higher than what it was in 2019.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted its latest data on Wednesday. However, it’ll be months before health officials have a full tally.
COVID-19 is the nation’s third leading cause of death — behind heart disease and cancer.
11:47 a.m.: Stockton rental eviction moratorium to end in February
The city of Stockton put a moratorium on residential rental evictions because of COVID-19. It was originally due to expire on May 29.
But the state is ending its COVID emergency proclamation on Feb. 28, andStockton will follow suit.
City Manager Harry Black told the City Council that Stockton used millions in federal funds for rent relief, but not all that money went to the property owners.
“We issued more than $40 million of emergency rental relief assistance to 5,000 households in Stockton,” Black said.
But some say more time is needed to prevent more homelessness.
“We are less than two weeks shy of Christmas,” council attendee Paulo Enriquez said. “Does the Stockton City Council really want to send the message that their priorities lie in making sure that residents can be thrown out on the street as soon as possible?”
Some cited inflation as another setback for households, but Council member Sol Jobrack disagreed.
“I’m not hearing reasons to protect people from impacts of COVID-19,” Jobrack said. “I’m hearing things such as inflation. Inflation is not a reason that we supported that policy.”
The council voted 4 to 3 to end the moratorium on the February date. Stockton renters will have six months at the end of the month to repay back rent or face eviction.
11:01 a.m.: Free mail-order COVID-19 tests are back
Americans can order four more free COVID-19 tests through the mail starting on Thursday. According to NPR, it’s a part of the Biden administration’s plan to deal with an increase in COVID cases sparked by indoor holiday gatherings.
The tests can be ordered on COVIDtests.gov and will start to ship the week of Dec. 19, a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call.
The government is urging people to test themselves when they have symptoms and before visiting with family.
It’s the fourth round of free rapid tests this year.
The White House had suspended the program in September and said that it would not be able to send out more kits because Congress denied requests for more funding for the program — but the administration shuffled around funds to buy more of the tests for the national stockpile, the official said.
Tests are also available at community testing sites, food banks and schools, and through Medicare.
The federal government is also trying to make it easier for Americans to get vaccines, tests and COVID treatments during the winter months. It’s staging supplies like ventilators as well as personal protective equipment and wants to help states set up mobile and pop-up vaccination sites.
11:20 a.m.: Tips to help navigate a possible ‘tripledemic’
This year’s holiday season is arriving right in the midst of an unwelcome “tripledemic” of COVID-19, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), straining hospitals nationwide.
NPR reports that even though COVID cases are much lower than they were last winter, case counts are ticking up nationwide, and nearly 3,000 Americans are dying each week. Meanwhile, other respiratory viruses like the flu and RSV have surged this fall.
More than 77% of hospital beds nationwide are occupied, down slightly from nearly 80% earlier this month, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services — the highest levels since winter’s omicron surge.
NPR spoke with experts about how to keep your family safe. Here’s some tips to keep you safe this season:
You can find more information here.
11:28 a.m.: California’s top health expert urges older adults to have a COVID-19 treatment plan
California’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Tomás Aragón, is urging anyone over 50 years old to have a treatment plan in place in case they get COVID-19.
In the past few weeks, case positivity for the virus has climbed to 11.7%, and thousands of additional people have been hospitalized. The high COVID case rates, paired with an intense flu season and a lingering RSV surge, mean the healthcare system is under strain.
“The hospitals are already packed. They’re already over capacity,” Aragón said. “When you have more patients coming in with any respiratory viruses, it means that there’s less services available for people that have other conditions that have nothing to do with respiratory viruses.”
Especially at risk for hospitalization, Aragón says, are people over 50 years old. He said people in that demographic should make a plan with their doctor so they can get an at-home treatment and avoid having to receive in-patient care.
“Plan ahead of time, so your doctor has it in their notes: ‘If my patient turns positive, and I’m not available, yes, please make sure they get on their medication,’” he said.
In a 2021 clinical trial sponsored by Pfizer, the treatment Paxlovid, which is currently free, reduced some people’s risk of death or hospitalization by 89%. That medication must be taken within 5 days of someone developing symptoms to be effective.
You can hear the full interview with Dr. Aragón here.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated when paxlovid must be taken to be effective. It has been corrected.
11:53 a.m.: Hospitalizations signal rising COVID-19 risk for US older adults
Coronavirus-related hospital admissions are climbing again in the United States, as reported by the Associated Press.
Older adults make up a growing share of U.S. deaths and less than half of nursing home residents are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, causing worry among experts.
These alarming signs point to a difficult winter ahead for the oldest Americans and the people who care for them.
Nursing home leaders are redoubling efforts to get staff and residents boosted with the new version of the COVID-19 vaccine. They worry that the general public has lost a sense of urgency — a change that could put older adults at a higher risk.
12:05 p.m.: High flu activity reports in 44 states
The U.S. flu season keeps getting worse. Health officials say 7.5% of outpatient medical visits last week were due to flu-like illnesses.
According to the Associated Press, that’s as high as the peak of the 2017-18 flu season and higher than any season since.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its latest flu update. It says 44 states reported high or very high flu activity recently.
The measure of traffic in doctor’s offices is based on reports of symptoms like coughs and sore throats, not on lab-confirmed diagnoses, so it may include other respiratory illnesses.
That makes it hard to compare to flu seasons from before the COVID-19 pandemic. Other years also didn’t have this year’s unusually strong wave of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of cold-like symptoms that can be serious for infants and the elderly.
That may not bode well for the near future. It’s likely there was more spread of respiratory viruses during Thanksgiving gatherings and at crowded airports.
11:45 a.m.: Pfizer asks FDA to clear new bivalent shot for children under 5
Pfizer is asking U.S. regulators to authorize its updated COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 5.
The youngest children are already supposed to get three extra-small doses of the original vaccine as their primary series — this would be just to update the formula.
Few of the nation’s youngest children have gotten their COVID-19 vaccinations since the shots were OK’d in June. As reported by the Associated Press, just 2% of tots under 2 and about 4% of 2- 4-year-olds have gotten their primary doses so far.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said that if the Food and Drug Administration agrees, the updated vaccine would be used for the third shot in the series.
The FDA has already cleared the bivalent COVID-19 vaccines for everyone 5 and older.
11:55 a.m.: China eases anti-covid measures following protests
China has rolled back rules on isolating people with COVID-19 and dropped virus test requirements for some public places.
That is a dramatic change to a strategy that confined millions of people to their homes and sparked protests and demands for President Xi Jinping to resign, as reported by the Associated Press.
The move adds to earlier easing that fueled hopes Beijing was scrapping its “zero COVID” strategy. Experts warn that restrictions can’t be lifted completely until at least mid-2023 because millions of elderly people still must be vaccinated and the health care system strengthened.
China is the last major country still trying to stamp out transmission of the virus while many nations switch to trying to live with it.
12:28 p.m.: Military to keep COVID vaccine mandate
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is making clear he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of U.S. troops as Republican governors and lawmakers press to rescind it.
According to the Associated Press, this past week, more than 20 Republican governors wrote to President Joe Biden asking that the administration remove the mandate.
They argue it has hurt the U.S. National Guard’s ability to recruit troops. Congress may consider legislation this coming week to end the mandate as a requirement to gather enough support to pass this year’s defense budget, which is already two months late.
Austin says the mandate has kept the forces healthy.
11:56 a.m.: A year later, omicron surges still worry experts
The omicron variant is driving U.S. COVID-19 case counts higher in many places just in time for the holiday season. The ever-morphing mutant began its assault on humanity a year ago.
According to the Associated Press, experts soon expect a wave to wash over the U.S. Cases nationally now average around 39,300 a day, though that’s believed to be an undercount.
Hospitalizations are at about 28,000 a day, and deaths about 340 a day. Yet, a fifth of the population hasn’t been vaccinated.
Most eligible Americans haven’t gotten the latest boosters, and many have stopped wearing masks. Meanwhile, the mutating virus keeps finding ways to avoid defeat.
The omicron variant arrived in the U.S. just after Thanksgiving last year and caused the pandemic’s biggest wave of cases. Since then, it has spawned a large extended family of sub-variants, such as those most common in the U.S. now — BQ.1, BQ1.1 and BA.5.
They edged out competitors by getting better at evading immunity from vaccines and previous illnesses — and sickening millions.
11:39 a.m.: Northgate Boulevard gets $2 million to support business recovery due to COVID-19 pandemic
The Sacramento City Council has approved allocating $2 million to help boost small businesses along Northgate Boulevard, which is a historically underserved area of the city.
The money is intended to help restaurants and shops recover after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Northgate has really had almost no investment at all for the last 24 years, so this is incredibly significant of what can be achieved with an infusion of money like this,” City Council member Jeff Harris said.
The money comes from the city’s allocation of federal American Rescue Plan funds approved by Congress last year.
Among other things, it’ll help pay for business consulting, lease assistance and training on financial planning. It’ll also be used to help businesses make the upgrade from gas to electric equipment.
“It’s about bolstering the business community on the corridor. It’s about supporting small businesses and bringing them back to life after the ravages of the pandemic,” Harris said.
11:56 a.m.: A record 40 million children missed out on measles vaccine dose last year
The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say measles immunization has dropped significantly since the coronavirus pandemic began, as reported by the Associated Press.
This means that there’s a record high of nearly 40 million children globally who missed a vaccine dose last year.
In a report issued Wednesday, WHO and the CDC said there were about 9 million measles infections and 128,99 deaths worldwide last year.
Scientists estimate that at least 95% of a population needs to be immunized to protect against epidemics — the WHO and the CDC reported that only about 81% of children receive their first dose of measles vaccine, while 71% get their second dose, marking the lowest global coverage rates of the first measles dose since 2008.
The WHO and CDC said continued drops in vaccination, weak disease surveillance, and delayed response plans due to COVID-19, in addition to ongoing outbreaks in more than 20 countries, mean that “measles is an imminent threat in every region of the world.”
Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here.
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