Vaccines may have saved 20,000 California lives last year

To mask or not to mask? On public transportation, that divisive question continues. As airlines lifted mandates — even welcoming back passengers previously blacklisted for disobeying masking rules — Los Angeles said it would continue requiring masks on mass transit. Cal/OSHA moved to update and streamline its workplace rules surrounding the pandemic, even as California’s Supreme Court will have to decide whether a worker’s spouse who contracts COVID-19 can sue the worker’s employer. And how would you like to have had COVID for almost a year and a half? One patient in the U.K. was sick for 505 days, confounding doctors not used to such persistent cases.

Vaccines may have averted nearly 20,000 California deaths last year: During the first 10 months after their introduction in 2021, COVID-19 vaccines may have prevented more than 1.5 million cases, 72,000 hospitalizations and nearly 20,000 deaths in California alone, according to a study carried out by UCSF and the California Department of Public Health and published Friday in the JAMA Open Network. The collaborative research project modeled the impact of COVID vaccines by tallying cases and illness from before the shots were available and extrapolating the probable impact if they hadn’t been administered. The projection “provides evidence of the public health benefit of COVID-19 vaccination in the United States and further supports the urgency for continued vaccination,” its authors said. A separate study from the Commonwealth Fund estimates that vaccines have saved 2.2 million American lives between Dec. 2020 and the end of March, 2022.

S.F. to drop mask mandate for indoor meetings on Monday: Starting April 25, masking will be recommended but no longer required during in-person meetings in public commission or board hearing rooms in city facilities. Indoor masking requirements had already been dropped for City Hall and other city facilities as of March 18, but were maintained for public hearing rooms, as well as in high-risk locales such as hospitals, health care facilities and jails, regardless of vaccination status, according to state law. “Individual members of the public and employees who wish to continue to wear masks in indoor settings are encouraged to do so,” San Francisco said in its public statement. “Should local conditions change, masking requirements and other health precautions may need to be re-imposed.”

Afraid to fly with unmasked passengers? Airlines weigh options for COVID cautious customers: Some airlines may offer refunds or credits for people worried about flying now that other passengers aren’t required to wear face masks. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told NBC on Thursday that his airline will be flexible with people who have a weak immune system or are concerned about mask-optional flying for any other reason. “We are working with those customers…to find another option, give them a credit, or if they just don’t ever want to fly again, (we are) actually willing to give them a refund,” Kirby said. American Airlines CEO Robert Isom told the Associated Press that his airline hasn’t fielded many refund requests. “But like we do in all these events, we are taking a look at our policies and…asking them to get in touch with our reservations office, and we will make sure that we accommodate them in an appropriate fashion,” Isom said. A Delta Air Lines spokesman said customers who wish to cancel a trip should contact the airline. Decisions about how to handle those requests are made on a case-by-case basis, he said. Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue, Spirit and Frontier did not reply to inquiries.

Mask mandates return to U.S. college campuses as cases rise: The final weeks of the college school year have been disrupted yet again by COVID-19 as universities bring back mask mandates, switch to online classes and scale back large gatherings in response to upticks in coronavirus infections, the Associated Press reports. Colleges in Washington, D.C., New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Texas have reimposed a range of virus measures, with Howard University moving to remote learning amid a surge in cases in the nation’s capital. Mandates were shed widely in the wake of spring break as case numbers dropped following a winter surge fueled by the omicron variant. But several Northeast cities have seen a rise in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, as the BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant continues to rapidly spread throughout the U.S.

Oakland weighs mask mandate for large indoor events: An Oakland councilmember will introduce an ordinance next month that requires people to wear masks at large indoor gatherings of 1,000 people or more. The ordinance would drop the city’s current requirement that people must show proof of vaccine to enter bars, restaurants, gyms and other businesses, though they’d still have to show proof of vaccine entering senior centers and assisted care facilities. Changing the rules would be done partly to align Oakland with neighboring cities, San Francisco and Berkeley, which have also abandoned proof of vaccination requirements in some situations. Read the full story.

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2021: COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the United States in 2021, according to a pair of reports published Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It marks the second consecutive year that coronavirus fatalities have ranked behind heart disease and cancer, with one report showing the overall age-adjusted death rate for all causes increased by nearly 1% from 2020 to 2021.

S.F.’s COVID-19 test positive percentage tops “too high” rate of 5%: The coronavirus test positive rate in San Francisco hit 5% on Friday, according to the city’s public health data. The higher a region’s percent positive is, the more worrisome, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The city’s official figures are from April 14, but preliminary data shows the number rising above 7% by April 17. By comparison, California’s statewide test positive rate is 2.6%. The last time the city reached 5% was days before the winter omicron surge. Read the full story.

Philadelphia to end mask mandate, days after reinstating it: Philadelphia is ending its indoor mask mandate, which went into effect Monday amid a sharp increase in infections. The Board of Health voted Thursday to rescind the mandate, the Associated Press reports. Acting health commissioner, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, told the Board of Health at a public meeting Thursday night that hospitalizations had unexpectedly gone down 25% in a matter of days.

California launches WhatsApp chatbot to combat vaccine misinformation: The California Department of Public Health on Thursday announced it has created a chatbot tool on the messaging app WhatsApp aimed at dispelling misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, particularly in the Latino community. The free tool is in English and Spanish and gives users information about vaccine safety and how to book vaccination appointments. The state partnered with Facebook owner Meta, which also owns WhatsApp, to create the tool. It can be accessed by scanning a QR code or texting “hola” to 833-422-1090.

Pregnant Coachella performer cancels second weekend set due to COVID-19: Bishop Briggs has canceled her second weekend set at the Coachella music festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio this weekend due to COVID-19. The singer-songwriter, who performed at the festival last Friday, posted on her social media Thursday that she has COVID-19. “I’ve taken multiple tests and they are all positive,” Briggs said. “In order to keep you guys, my band and crew safe I won’t be able to make my Coachella set tomorrow. I am beyond bummed and fighting back tears as I write this.”

Los Angeles retains mask mandate for public transportation: Los Angeles County’s public health department said on Thursday that it would continue requiring masks in all public transit and indoor transportation hubs despite California’s announcement that it would drop the mandate in alignment with the CDC. Health officials cited rising case rates as the reason behind the updated order. “Public Health will reassess the indoor masking requirement when COVID-19 community transmission in Los Angeles County drops to the moderate level, or the CDC’s assessment is that an order requiring masking in the transportation corridor is no longer necessary for protection of the public’s health, or within 30 days of this order, whichever occurs first.” Los Angeles County is reporting 8 cases per 100,000 residents, less than half the figure reported in San Francisco.

California streamlines workplace pandemic rules: California workplaces will see some minor changes to coronavirus prevention procedures under new rules adopted Thursday that will last until year end. Many of the rules are now tied to California Department of Public Health guidelines, giving them more flexibility since that agency can be more nimble in adapting to changing conditions. The Cal/OSHA Standards Board, a seven-member body appointed by the governor to oversee workplace regulations, approved the streamlined regulations Thursday. Read the full story.

Evusheld cuts the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 up to 83%, study finds: In a randomized trial of about 5,200 patients, AstraZeneca’s monoclonal antibody treatment Evusheld (composed of tixagevimab and cilgavimab) reduced the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 infection by 83% compared to those who received a placebo, according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Evusheld is an injection drug for those who cannot get vaccinated or do not mount an immune response to vaccination. It is currently authorized for people over 12 years old who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, such as organ transplant recipients, or people on chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

Patient had COVID-19 for 505 days straight, study shows: A patient with a severely weakened immune system had COVID-19 for almost a year and a half, according to a report from researchers in the U.K. The scientists said they did not know if it is the longest known case of coronavirus infection, but at 505 days, “it certainly seems to be the longest reported infection,” Dr. Luke Blagdon Snell, an infectious disease expert at the Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, told the Associated Press. His team will present its findings among studies of other “persistent” COVID-19 cases at a global infectious diseases meeting in Portugal this weekend. Persistent COVID-19 is rare and different from long COVID. “In long COVID, it’s generally assumed the virus has been cleared from your body but the symptoms persist,” Snell said. “With persistent infection, it represents ongoing, active replication of the virus.”

Can an employee’s spouse who contracts COVID sue the employer? In a case from San Francisco, a federal appeals court asked the California Supreme Court Thursday whether a worker’s spouse who contracts COVID-19 can sue the worker’s employer — an answer that seems likely to be affirmative, based on the state court’s past actions. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said California law exempts some workplace cases from workers’ compensation limits. The three-judge panel asked the state’s high court whether employers “owe a duty to the households of its employees to exercise ordinary care to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” Read the full story.

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