As LA Schools Backtrack On COVID Vaccine, Dozens More Districts Push To Mandate It

At least 40 California schools have tried to implement their own vaccine mandate ahead of the state mandate that will take effect next fall.

As omicron rages throughout California, some schools have already added another layer of defense: At least 40 California districts are or soon will require vaccinations for staff or students, or both. 

Some of these policies are stricter than Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans to require vaccination for all K-12 staff and students before the next school year, according to a CalMatters investigation. While large districts like San Diego Unified and Los Angeles Unified have garnered national attention for their independent mandates, several dozen have gone largely unnoticed by state and national media.

Neither the California Department of Education nor any other agency is keeping track of all individual district policies. CalMatters contacted all 940 public school districts to create the first living database recording the state patchwork of COVID-19 vaccination requirements for schools. 

County education offices must follow local health guidelines, which the state Department of Public Health ultimately oversees, state education department information officer Scott Roark wrote in an email to CalMatters.

But public health officials aren’t tracking this information either. The California Department of Public Health “does not maintain official records about the actions of local school districts for which there is no formal requirement to report to the state,” the office of communications said in an email to CalMatters.

“I am surprised that there is no central body that regulates school districts,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics and of epidemiology at Stanford University. “This clearly isn’t good public health policy.” 

Information collected from over 630 school districts reveals that over 1 million students are already affected by some kind of mandate, independent of the upcoming statewide rule. Just about 300 districts’ administrators didn’t respond to several attempts to contact them; 10 refused to comment. 

Uneven vaccine mandates

The scope of the mandates varies: Some apply only to new employees, athletes or children attending overnight school trips. Others affect the entire school population.

The uneven requirements across districts are a product of legal concerns, minimal state guidance and local politics. 

“There is no way you can come up with an argument where a patchwork approach to anything is going to be helpful for public health,” Maldonado said. “Viruses don’t look at borders…You can have a massive outbreak triggered in a small district that can cross borders.”

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

California Throws More Money at COVID-19 Contact Tracing, But Is It Too Late?

One expert says that because omicron spreads so quickly, the millions spent on contact tracing could be better spent on more effective masks and more testing

Intensive contact tracing has helped contain COVID-19 outbreaks in some Asian countries. People test positive, they quarantine, and the folks they’ve had contact with are tracked down and asked to — or, in some nations, forced to — quarantine as well.

The U.S. has spent billions on contact tracing, and California alone will have spent $300 million on it through the next fiscal year. But researchers have found that 2 of 3 people with confirmed COVID-19 in the U.S. were either not reached or wouldn’t name contacts when interviewed, and public health authorities haven’t been able to monitor enough cases to stem the tide.

Now, as the pandemic enters its third year, the highly contagious omicron variant spreads like fire through dry grass. The incubation period can be as short as two days. The Centers for Disease Control recommends isolation for as little as five days. More people are testing at home — cases authorities don’t even count in their tallies — and some officials are throwing their hands up and suspending contact tracing.

“(T)he sheer speed of omicron’s transmission means people are exposed, infected and then contagious before the local health department can even identify an outbreak, much less get word to those who are exposed,” said officials in Oregon’s Multnomah County. “Because of that dynamic, contact tracing has become much less effective at lowering COVID-19’s risk, especially when cases are surging so high and when spending time in any indoor public space is essentially considered an exposure for anyone who isn’t up-to-date on their vaccines.”

Financial commitment waning

The financial commitment to contact tracing in California appears to be waning, but remains. The governor’s proposed budget shows that $258.3 million was spent on contact tracing over the first two years of the pandemic, with another $38.9 million going forward through the end of the next fiscal year.

The current and future spending breaks down to a projected $20.6 million this fiscal year, and $18.3 million next fiscal year, said Sonja Petek, principal fiscal and policy analyst for the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“Contact tracing remains one of our many key tools in responding to the spread of COVID-19,” said a statement from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s press office. “It’s also an important measure utilized in high-risk and congregate settings. Contact tracing assists with notifying exposed people for possible post-exposure treatment, testing, and quarantine in a timely manner.”

Overall, Newsom’s budget proposes $110 million to increase public health and humanitarian efforts at the California-Mexico border — including vaccinations, testing, isolation and quarantine services — “and expanded statewide contact tracing activities to help keep Californians safe and slow the spread.”

Currently, 268 state employees have been redirected to contact tracing efforts, the governor’s press office said. But experts aren’t sure the investment will bring great returns — at least not right now.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

McCarthy, Foxx Demand Biden Ed Boss Cardona Turn Over Teacher Union Emails

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Education Committee ranking member Virginia Foxx sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Wednesday demanding copies of emails between his DOE, the White House and the teachers’ unions.

In the letter, obtained by Fox News, the Congressional Republican leaders blasted federal education officials for “radical spending” during the pandemic and accused them of mishandling school closures and billions of dollars of COVID-19 education relief.

“We noted Congress had already appropriated nearly three times the funding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said was needed to operate schools successfully,” the Republicans wrote.

“Unfortunately, rather than continuing Congress’s bipartisan approach to addressing COVID-19, Democrats advanced their partisan agenda, approving more than $120 billion in additional funding for schools” in last year’s $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief bill.

McCarthy and Foxx wrote that Democrats argued “radical spending was necessary for schools to reopen safely for in-person instruction,” but said the claims were proven false by data that showed only 4 percent of the relief funds were used as the vast majority of US schools reopened in the fall, according to the report.

“Despite Democrats’ claims to the contrary, these funds were not needed to reopen schools,” the lawmakers reportedly wrote. “Because of this, some schools are grasping at any project they can find on which to waste these taxpayer funds, including indoctrinating students and staff with racist and divisive ideologies.”

As they accused the Education Department of misappropriating funds, McCarthy and Foxx also called the Biden administration’s handling of academic disruptions “appalling,” as “one million public school students across the country were impacted by district-wide school closures” as 2022 began.

Click here to read the full article at the NY Post

Remembering Kelly Ernby, A Dedicated Public Servant

The tragic passing of Orange County Deputy District Attorney Kelly Ernby from COVID-19 has brought forth praise for this wonderful woman’s devotion to her family, her friends, her work and her country.

She was a passionate and dedicated public servant.  She worked hard as a highly skilled prosecutor. She advocated for the people.

She handled civil and criminal prosecutions of unlawful business practices, false advertising, labor violations, environmental pollution, unlawful prescribing of narcotic pills and workplace safety violations.

She also volunteered with the DA’s Gang Reduction Intervention Program to educate children, teachers and parents about staying away from crime, bullying and gangs. This is the kind of work that saves lives.

Within the Republican Party, Kelly took the reins of the Precinct Advisory Committee. She organized our volunteers and mobilized them to Get-Out-The-Vote. She dedicated countless hours recruiting and developing grassroots workers. She brought forth a devotion for this role that I had not seen for many years.

I didn’t always agree with Kelly. But I have been left frustrated and disappointed in those who have disparaged her to score cheap political points.

Kelly was not only a wife and daughter, but she was a human being.  Within hours after word got out on her passing, the airwaves reduced her life of public service to a “trending topic.”

Disagreeing with someone’s views is one thing. But besmirching her for causing the death of others is unconscionable.  Have we lost all our social graces, respect for the dead and any humility?

The worst was by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a physician and pediatrician. He tweeted, “Tragically Kelly Ernby died of #COVID19 because she was unvaccinated, but sadly she infected others with #coronavirus or vaccine disinformation before she died that will led to death or disability for others in her community.”

But none other than Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC News on August 1, “In fact recent studies have shown the level of virus in the nasopharynx of a vaccinated person, who may not be symptomatic or mildly symptomatic, is the same as an unvaccinated person.”

Then there’s’ the Goldwater Rule, under which it’s unethical for physicians to publicly comment on the health of politicians not their patients. Pan was not her physician. He never examined her and only was going by media reports. His statement went well beyond the politics of the situation.

Ernby’s views were like many of those within the Republican Party, who believe personal liberty should determine the direction of your individual lifestyle, including health care.

Personally, I am vaccinated and I believe vaccinations work.  However, I completely oppose government mandated vaccinations.

It’s important to determine what works for you. I consulted with doctors and medical professionals. What works for me, though, doesn’t necessarily work for you. It’s why I don’t ask people if they are vaccinated and why I don’t get mad at others if I find out they haven’t received their vaccinations. 

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

San Francisco Now Has 3rd Highest COVID Transmission Rate In California

San Francisco now has the third-highest coronavirus transmission rate in California, with a daily average case rate of about 104 per 100,000 residents.

The county recorded a seven-day average of 896 cases per day on Dec. 30, the most recent available data. That is more than double the previous peak of 388 cases, a seven-day average recorded on Jan. 12 last year.

At least one Bay Area county, Napa, is out of available intensive care beds as the virus once again tightens its hold on the region.

San Francisco’s transmission rate ranks in California behind only Los Angeles County, with 118 cases per 100,000 residents — the highest reported there since the start of the pandemic — and Mono County with 109 per 100,000. Across California, the seven-day average is 75 cases per 100,000, and in the Bay Area, it is 63 cases.

San Francisco officials said infections among staff members are starting to affect city departments. The Municipal Transportation Agency said Monday in a memo obtained by The Chronicle that it is implementing COVID protocols at its offices on South Van Ness Avenue after an outbreak involving several staff members.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Bay Area also hit their highest number since mid-September over the weekend.

Data analyzed by The Chronicle shows 746 Bay Area hospital patients testing positive with the coronavirus as of Sunday — a figure not seen since the tail end of the summer delta surge. Of those patients, 149 were in intensive care unit beds — a 50% jump since Christmas.

That is already putting stress on some hospital systems in the region. Napa County has no ICU beds currently available, said Leah Greenbaum, the county’s emergency services coordinator.

“The current surge is driving more patients to the health care system, and it is also impacting staff,” she said. “When staff become infected with COVID-19, they cannot come into work and care for patients, which can cause significant strain on the health care system.”

The number of hospitalizations in the Bay Area, a lagging indicator of pandemic trends, has risen sharply since mid-November with the spread of the omicron variant and the persistence of the delta variant, and it shows no sign of abating.

Click here to read the full article at San Francisco Chronicle

Did California Get Its Money’s Worth From $1.7 Billion COVID Test Contract?

The Valencia lab, a public-private venture between the state and PerkinElmer, processed only 1 to 8% of all Californians’ COVID tests in the first 10 months of the contract. And the lab was riddled with dozens of problems, according to an inspection report.

A patient sample that wasn’t processed for more than 30 days. A test used without proper validation of its accuracy. Patient results changed without notification. Safety and disinfection procedures called into question. 

These are just a few of the myriad problems at the Valencia Branch Laboratory, a public-private COVID-19 testing lab operated by PerkinElmer that the California Department of Public Health hired in a no-bid, $1.7 billion annual contract.

An inspection report released last month by the health department outlines major problems dating back further than a year ago, raising new questions about how the state is spending taxpayer dollars to combat the pandemic. The report shows the lab has routinely underperformed, failing to meet the contract’s goals for turnaround times and numbers of processed tests. But the state auto-renewed the year-long contract at the end of October.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officials say the laboratory has been crucial to expanding the state’s testing capacity for schools and underserved communities. 

But California’s two largest school districts — Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified — aren’t relying on the lab because it was unavailable when they needed it. 

A CalMatters analysis shows each test at the PerkinElmer Valencia lab costs the state more than three times the amount the Los Angeles Unified pays a Bay Area startup, SummerBio.

Already, the state has paid more than twice as much to PerkinElmer for 5.5 million tests as LA Unified’s total projected $350 million cost for the entire school year. The school year is less than half complete, but LA Unified already has administered 7.4 million COVID tests while never using the state’s PerkinElmer lab.

In the 10 months following its October 2020 opening, the lab processed between 1 and 8% of all COVID-19 tests administered in California each week, according to available data archived by CalMatters. During the first week of December, the lab processed roughly 8.5% of California’s tests, according to the most recently available data.

PerkinElmer, a global testing diagnostic company, did not respond to a request for comment about the cost of the testing and the reported problems at the lab.

“CDPH probably should have canceled (the contract) because honestly, there’s other vendors out there. They’re doing it for a lot less money more efficiently.”

STATE SEN. SCOTT WILK

State health department officials, in an unsigned statement in response to questions, said the PerkinElmer contract was renewed because of the potential for a winter surge and continued need for testing.

But the health department’s report, which was released eight months after officials indicated it would be completed, revealed that inspectors from the state’s Laboratory Field Services threatened sanctions for major deficiencies just 10 days before the contract was renewed.

The state public health department “probably should have canceled (the contract) because honestly, there’s other vendors out there. They’re doing it for a lot less money more efficiently,” Republican Senate minority leader Scott Wilk, who represents the area surrounding Valencia, told CalMatters. 

Wilk has been the most outspoken critic of the contract, repeatedly calling on the Newsom administration and the health department to halt the auto-renewal. Wilk said his office is working on a proposal to reform the no-bid contracting powers that the Legislature granted Newsom at the beginning of the pandemic. 

“I think there have been abuses there,” Wilk said. 

Public health experts and advocates say despite the lab’s troubles, it provides critical testing for smaller school districts, rural counties and underserved communities. Roughly 62% of tests processed at the lab are from communities of color, with about a third from the state’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods, based on the California Healthy Place Index.

In Madera County, for instance, the lab allowed the county and its partners to ramp up testing in a speedier time frame. 

“Valencia has been a net positive for Madera County. Residents would have been at a significant disadvantage without the combination of the Valencia lab and state contracts like the one with OptumServe,” said Sara Bosse, Madera County’s public health director.

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

The U.S. Imposes Travel Restrictions in Response to New COVID-19 Variant. Again.

The U.S. is once again imposing travel restrictions to stem the spread of yet another COVID-19 variant. Today, travel restrictions snap into place for noncitizens traveling by air from South Africa and seven other African countries in response to the spread of the newly discovered omicron variant in that region.

This new variant was discovered by South African scientists last week. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as a “variant of concern” on Friday.

That same day, President Joe Biden announced his latest round of travel restrictions, which he described as a “precautionary measure” that would give his administration more time to learn about the new variant.

The White House hasn’t said when these travel restrictions might be lifted. Biden, in a statement issued Friday, said only that “we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises.”

He encouraged people to get vaccinated or, if already vaccinated, a booster shot. The president also urged other countries to lift intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines as a means of boosting the global vaccine supply.

Other countries affected by the travel restrictions include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.

The new restrictions are already producing chaos. The Washington Post reports on how canceled flights to and from the affected countries are leaving people stuck abroad or forcing them to cancel their plans to visit family.

The Post notes that the U.S. had lifted travel restrictions on 33 countries just a few weeks prior. Biden’s latest move is yet another blow for the travel industry and those who had hoped that pandemic-era border controls would be a fading policy.

Dozens of other countries are also imposing restrictions on travel in the face of this new, quickly spreading variant.

Cases of people infected with the omicron variant have been reported in a number of countries, including the Netherlands, Israel, and Australia. On Sunday, Canada reported its first two omicron cases.

There are still many open questions about omicron, including how severe its symptoms are, how transmissible it is, and how well existing vaccines or prior COVID-19 infections protect people against this new variant.

The South African doctor who first noticed the omicron variant has said that all the cases she’s seen have been pretty mild, reports CNBC. Disease experts who spoke to The New York Times say that omicron might be more transmissible than even the very infectious delta variant.

Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna are currently testing whether their existing COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the omicron variant.

Thus far, the WHO has said that it’ll take several weeks before we have more clear answers to many of these questions.

Here we go again.

Click here to read the full article at Reason.com