After what felt like an almost lightless holiday season and start to the new year, California officials in recent days have pointed to signs that the state’s overwhelming coronavirus surge is at last subsiding — or at least not getting worse.
“There are some good things to report,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a video message posted late Tuesday night. “We’re starting to see some stabilization both in I.C.U.s as well as in our positivity rate.”
And he formally announced that a strict stay-at-home order affecting the Sacramento area would be lifted, effective immediately, because of expected improvement in the region’s intensive care unit capacity. That means some businesses, including hair salons and restaurants offering outdoor dining, may be able to reopen.
[Track coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across California.]
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said in a virtual news conference Tuesday that the “biggest signal to me that things are beginning to flatten and potentially improve” is the state’s flattening rate of hospital admissions.
New Covid-19 hospitalizations had decreased from about 3,500 per day around Jan. 5, to 2,500 and 2,600 over the previous two days, he said.
Still, hospitals across California’s vast southern region and Central Valley, both of which are still under the stay-at-home order, are full.
And according to a New York Times database on Tuesday, officials reported that more than 720 people died of the virus in California — a daily record.
A vaccine update
The state has also struggled mightily to roll out vaccines, in spite of what leaders have described for months as a detailed, “equity-driven” planning process built on a carefully structured hierarchy of workers and age groups. As of Tuesday, just a quarter of the state’s available doses had been administered.
On Wednesday, though, Mr. Newsom announced that the state was opening up vaccine eligibility to anyone 65 and older, as well as building a new system to alert residents when they’re eligible to be inoculated. That’s set to begin next week.
“There is no higher priority than efficiently and equitably distributing these vaccines as quickly as possible to those who face the gravest consequences,” he said in a statement. “To those not yet eligible for vaccines, your turn is coming. We are doing everything we can to bring more vaccine into the state.”
Some cities and counties are also set to open mass vaccination centers, like at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles — although Los Angeles County is set to continue vaccinating only health care workers through at least the end of the month.
The move comes not long after the federal government ordered states to start using vaccine doses that were set aside for second shots.
[Read the latest story about the shifting federal vaccine rollout guidance.]
Dr. David Lubarsky, the chief executive of UC Davis Health, said on Tuesday that while the governor, Dr. Ghaly and others in the state had been doing their best to navigate a challenging situation, “perfection is the enemy of the good.” The top priority should be getting shots into arms — not spending resources ensuring people don’t cut the line.
“If you are so hellbent on making sure Patient A should come before Patient B before Citizen C, you can’t get people in the door in a sufficient manner,” he said.
He said that the state would be better served by allowing health care providers greater shares of doses to administer to patients, rather than counties.
Health care providers, he said, already have built-in ways to contact regular patients in large groups based on things like their age and mortality risk. And large health systems especially can quickly build algorithms to factor in things like ZIP code, which can indicate whether a patient may live in a particularly vulnerable community.
Dr. Lubarsky said that as of Tuesday, roughly 12,000 of the system’s 13,000 staff members had received at least their first vaccine doses by opening up the process, and that patient vaccinations were set to begin soon.
“We said, ‘If somebody jumped the line, shame on them,’” he said. “If they showed us their ID and worked in the hospital — it was a bit of an honor system.”
[Read four opinion pieces by experts about how to fix the vaccine rollout.]
As a result, he said, the rate of Covid-19 transmission among staff has dropped significantly. In recent weeks, an average of 135 employees were “getting Covid and going home.” This week, he said, that number is in the 20s.
Ultimately, Dr. Lubarsky said that the opening of mass vaccination centers and other efforts to broaden eligibility were positive steps.
“I think they are moving 100 percent in the right direction,” he said.
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On Wednesday, President Trump became the first president in the nation’s history to be impeached twice.
In a House led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco, 232 members of Congress voted to charge the president with inciting a violent insurrection against the U.S. government.
That list included every Democratic representative, as well as 10 members of the president’s own party.
Among the Republicans who voted to impeach was Representative David Valadao, who in November narrowly retook the Central Valley seat he lost in 2018.
Although he said on Twitter that he believed Ms. Pelosi had turned “what should be a thorough investigation into a rushed political stunt,” he had to vote his conscience.
“His inciting rhetoric was un-American, abhorrent, and absolutely an impeachable offense,” Mr. Valadao said. “It’s time to put country over politics.”
Patches — a calico cat who was believed to have been killed alongside her owner in January 2018 when rainstorms sent debris sliding down Montecito hillsides in the wake of the Thomas Fire — was recently found alive and reunited with her owner’s partner, The Associated Press reported.
“Though we don’t know exactly what she’s been doing with her life for the past three years, we can see that both Patches and Norm are thrilled to be reunited,” the shelter that found the feline said in a Facebook post.
That might’ve been enough heartwarming cat news for one day. But then I stumbled across this reporting by The Sonoma Index-Tribune, about a Glen Ellen woman who was also recently reunited with her cat, Mordecai Jones, who was also lost for about three years, after going missing during the 2017 wildfires.
I don’t know if this confluence of pet-related good fortune is meaningful, but I figure that this week, we’ll take what we can get.
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.