A cyclist walks through Aquatic Park wearing a mask in San Francisco. The blanket requirement for wearing masks in indoor public spaces will soon be lifted in California and most of the Bay Area.
In the latest pandemic phase, indoor masking is out again, at least for the vaccinated. For some people, the move is overdue, and for others it feels sudden. The risk of getting COVID-19 while pregnant is more to the mother than the baby, research shows, while getting vaccinated against the coronavirus does not pose a risk. A key FDA advisory committee will not meet Tuesday as planned to discuss authorizing Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for children 6 months to 4 years old, instead delaying the meeting to get more data.
Trudeau cracks down on truckers: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked emergency powers Monday to quell the paralyzing protests by truckers and others angry over Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions. He outlined plans not only to tow away their rigs but to strike at their bank accounts and their livelihoods. “These blockades are illegal, and if you are still participating, the time to go home is now,” he declared. His government to freeze truckers’ personal and corporate bank accounts; and suspend the insurance on their rigs.
Microsoft to reopen Bay Area offices later this month: Microsoft announced Monday that it will fully reopen its offices in the Bay Area and Washington on Feb. 28. The company initially planned to bring workers back in October but the delta coronavirus surge stalled that idea. Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela said in a blog post on Monday that declining infections and high vaccination rates would allow reopening later this month, with a 30-day transition period. “As we navigate this new phase of work, we’ll continue to take a data-driven approach to decision making that follows the guidance of public health authorities,” he said. “We’ll adjust our course if necessary,” while monitoring local health data.
Sharp drop in cases stalls: After falling sharply over the past few weeks, the rate of new daily coronavirus cases in the Bay Area appears to be leveling off just as California and local health officials prepare to pull back several COVID-19 safety measures, including indoor mask mandates. The Bay Area is averaging 86 new cases a day per 100,000 residents, compared to 57 cases a day last Monday — marking the first time the number has ticked up at the start of the week since early January. Statewide, the average is hovering around 65 daily cases per 100,000 residents, down slightly from 71 last week. Read the full story here.
California to reevaluate school mask requirements on Feb. 28: California will reevaluate masking requirements in K-12 public schools on Feb. 28, but school kids and staff must wear masks until then, the state’s top health officials said Monday. On Feb. 28 “with some specificity” officials will give “a date when the masking requirement will move to a recommendation” based on the community coronavirus case and vaccination rates at that time, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, in a COVID-19 media briefing. “We anticipate making the change at that point. That change will be met with a lot of excitement from some, and fear in a lot of other circles.” Read the full story here.
Nearly 300,000 child COVID cases reported last week: There were 298,931 child COVID-19 cases reported in the United States from Feb. 3 to Thursday, with children representing over 20% of all reported cases nationwide, according to data Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. The latest count marks a significant decrease from the 631,822 pediatric cases reported in the previous week. About 57% of 12- to 17-year-olds and 24% of children ages 5-11 nationwide are vaccinated against the virus.
COVID hospitalizations in California forecast to fall 62% in a month: There were 8,189 people in hospitals in California with COVID-19 as of Sunday. But as the winter omicron surge subsides that number is expected to trend down over the next month. According to an ensemble forecast from the state’s health department, the projected daily total of virus-related hospitalizations is expected to fall to 3,078 by March 16. Intensive care unit admissions are also expected to decline from 1,841 to 580 over the same period. The state forecasts about 4,500 additional COVID-19 deaths in that time.
Levi’s exec says she resigned rather than end her campaign against COVID school closures: A Levi’s executive who has repeatedly attacked government efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 announced her resignation from the company Monday. She wrote that she was “condemned” by colleagues and corporate leaders for expressing her opinions about the pandemic and particularly about reopening schools. Read the full story here.
Vaccine for kids under 5 delayed due to low case counts in trials: The plan for the FDA to get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5 out by the end of February hit a snag because of a “low number of cases overall in the clinical trial,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the agency and current Pfizer board member, told CNBC on Monday. He added, “Most kids are not getting symptomatic COVID. One case in one direction or another can tip the perception of the vaccine’s overall effectiveness.” The FDA is waiting on data from third-dose trials. “At that point you’ll be able to get more of a fixed perception” of effectiveness in the youngest group, the only cohort not cleared in the U.S. for the shots, Gottlieb said. He said he anticipates only 15%-20% uptake on the vaccines for younger children.
SF State and San Jose State students return for in-person learning: Students and staff at San Francisco State and San Jose State were scheduled to return to in-person learning Monday at their respective campuses after starting the spring semester remotely due to this winter’s omicron surge.
Fewer small businesses are opening in S.F. The pandemic is only part of the problem: Small businesses such as bars and restaurants that opened during the pandemic still face an uphill battle, and fewer are opening citywide. Read the full story here.
Marriages soar in one Northern California county, with more now than pre-pandemic: Love is in the air in Humboldt County. Marriage licenses from the California Department of Public Health show Humboldt County marriage licenses are up 56% in 2021 compared with 2019, from 735 licenses to 1150. Read the full story here.
Former FDA official calls for targeted efforts to reach the unvaccinated: With America’s vaccination rate stubbornly lagging behind that of other developed nations, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner said the Biden administration should plunge resources into getting shots to underserved communities. In an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Gottlieb advised using more mobile clinics and local church and community organizations to ensure harder-to-reach populations have access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Mom, not baby is most at risk due to COVID during pregnancy: The womb of a mother infected with the coronavirus is generally safe for the fetus because the placenta usually stops the pathogen from entering, studies show. The greatest COVID risk, it turns out, is to the pregnant mom. Read the full story here.
Santa Clara County to lift mask mandate in “matter of weeks”: Santa Clara County officials reminded residents the county is not lifting its local indoor masking requirement when California and other Bay Area counties do it this week. But, “the county anticipates that it will be able to lift indoor masking requirements in a matter of weeks, as case rates continue to decline,” the health department said in a weekend release. The county is metrics related to vaccination, hospitalizations, and COVID-19 case rates to make its decision.
What mask mandate?: Face masks were required at Sunday’s Super Bowl but were hard to spot among the thousands of fans tightly packed into SoFi Stadium. Officials said everyone entering would be given a KN95 mask, since face coverings were still mandated at large outdoor events. Local news accounts said those masks were distributed, but people seemed to largely ignore the rule. Coronavirus cases are dropping in Los Angeles County, as they are statewide, but remain high in comparison to previous surges.
Normal? “Not yet”: UCSF’s chief of medicine, Dr. Bob Wachter, used his prolific Twitter page Sunday to break down the latest developments on COVID. “For those of us who favor careful,” he tweeted, the last week has revealed: “1) Waning efficacy of boost after 4 mos, 2nd boost not available; 2) Some concerning signals about long-term risks of Covid; 3) Case rates falling fast but still fairly high.” Wachter concluded: “We all want ‘normal’ but prudent stance is ‘not yet.’
N.J. governor doubles down on easing up: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Sunday defended his decision to lift the requirement that school children wear masks. “Our numbers are improving and I would use the word ‘dramatically,’” Murphy said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Rate of transmission, positivity rate hospitalizations, cases in school transmissions — all going in a dramatically good direction,” Murphy said.
Rita Beamish is a journalist at The San Francisco Chronicle.