Art Gallery That Opened in Defiance of Health Orders Closes After Warnings

A small commercial art gallery that earlier this month reopened in defiance of public health orders has once again closed after receiving warnings from local police in Menlo Park.

Katharina Powers, the owner of Art Ventures Gallery, said in an interview she closed her doors to the public last week after receiving a phone call and visit from Menlo Park police officers.

Powers had decided to reopen with physical distancing precautions on Friday, May 1, reasoning her business posed a low risk of transmitting the disease and that art has therapeutic qualities.

“For me art is essential to the human spirit,” Powers said. “Art has survived everything—during the black plague in Italy, people were running around with paintings under their arms.”

A Menlo Park police commander called Powers to urge her to close, saying it was a “ridiculous” conversation to have about an art gallery, according to Powers. “I didn’t close,” she said.

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Another officer brought her a copy of San Mateo County’s shelter-in-place order, which permits only essential businesses to operate. Powers closed to avoid escalating the conflict, she said.

In Napa, Quent Cordair Fine Art also opened earlier this month in defiance of county shelter-in-place orders. In a letter published in the local newspaper, gallery proprietors Quent and Linda Cordair wrote that they’re “prepared to risk fines, arrest, or jail” to go “back to work.”

Powers voiced support for Tesla head Elon Musk, whose Fremont factory appeared to be resuming production Monday in violation of health orders, the Associated Press reported.

Bay Area health officials have repeatedly warned that easing restrictions too quickly risks a resurgence of cases of COVID-19, exacerbating the disease’s human and economic toll. — Sam Lefebvre (@Lefebvre_Sam)

FEMA Opens Application for COVID-19 Funeral Cost Assistance

Starting Monday, families who’ve lost a loved one to COVID-19 may apply for a reimbursement from the federal government for funeral expenses, which can add up to thousands of dollars.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is now offering assistance of up to $9,000 per funeral for a death in the U.S. attributed to COVID-19.

U.S. citizens and some categories of immigrants with a lawful immigration status may apply for FEMA funds by providing proof of funeral expenses, an official certificate linking the death to COVID and several other documents. There are no income limits for applicants, according to the agency.

“This is the kind of program that we need in this community,” said Antonio López, a City Council member in East Palo Alto, where a majority low-income and Latino population has suffered one of the county’s highest COVID-19 case rates. “You don’t know how many times I’ve seen on Facebook and social media a GoFundMe for a funeral.”

In California, FEMA’s new funeral assistance program could help ease some of the financial stress for tens of thousands of families grieving loved ones during the pandemic, particularly in Latino communities that have been disproportionately impacted.

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Statewide, 47% of those who’ve died due to COVID are Latino, even though Latinos make up only 39% of the population, according to California Department of Public Health figures.

The disparity is even greater among working-age Californians, as Latinos under 65 were four times more likely to die compared to white Californians in that age group.

For FEMA’s funeral assistance program to be effective and reach the neediest families, the federal government must also invest in outreach and help to apply, said López.

“You need to make it as easy as possible for the community to access those services,” López said. “If not, it is going to create a situation where the people who are relatively privileged are going to know about it and the ones who need it most are not going to apply.”

To apply for this aid, visit the COVID-19 FEMA Funeral Assistance website or call 1-844-684-6333 (TTY 1-800-462-7585). The phone line is open Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST.

Farida Jhabvala Romero

San Francisco Plans to Reopen All Public Pools by Mid-June

The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department announced Monday that it expects to reopen all of the city's public pools by the start of summer, and that two indoor pools would open as soon as next week.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Pool in the Bayview District and Sava Pool in the Sunset District will become the first indoor public pools to reopen on April 20.

The agency hopes that by mid-June all nine pools in the city are ready to welcome back swimmers. So far, only Mission Pool has reopened due to the fact it's outdoors.

To reduce COVID-19 transmission, all locker rooms will remain closed. Swimmers will have to sign up ahead of time to reserve 60-minute lap times. At indoor pools, only one swimmer will be allowed per lane.

These rules meet CDC guidelines for pool safety, which ask swimmers to stay at least 6 feet apart while both outside and inside the water.

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Recreation and Parks officials clarified in a press release that "Temperature checks will be performed before entering the building and masks are required outside of the water."

The next pools to reopen will be: Garfield Pool on May 1; North Beach and Coffman Pool on May 17; Balboa Pool on June 1; Hamilton Pool on June 7. The exact date for the reopening of Rossi Pool is not yet known, but city officials expect the date to be around mid-June.

Starting April 16, swimmers interested in signing up for a slot at Martin Luther King, Jr. Pool and Sava Pool can do so here.

Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí

Santa Clara, Alameda and Fresno Counties Expand Vaccine Eligibility to 16 and Up

More California counties are opening up vaccines to younger adults, a week ahead of the state broadening eligibility to everyone 16 and older.

Still, California public health officials warned on Thursday of decreases in supply because of a national reduction of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine in coming weeks.

Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and Fresno counties are the latest to open up vaccinations to everyone 16 and older ahead of the state.

Alameda County has now opened vaccine eligibility for county residents ages 16 and older, although the state's My Turn tool shows that people who work (not live) in Alameda County are eligible, too. Santa Clara, however, has only opened the ability to schedule an appointment now for April 15 or later.

Contra Costa County was the first Bay Area county to widen vaccine eligibility to residents 16 and older. Previously, residents could only make 16+ appointments through the county itself, but those people can now book appointments at locations including Oakland Coliseum through My Turn, or by calling the state's vaccine hotline at (833) 422-4255.

People age 16 and older can get the Pfizer vaccine, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are for those 18 and older.

On Friday, Facebook announced that it would convert part of its Menlo Park headquarters into a vaccination site and hoped to vaccinate as many as 10,000 people in coming weeks.

Vaccine supplies could shrink when eligibility expands next week.

Associated Press, Bay City News

San Francisco Expects to Allow Indoor Concerts, Performances Starting April 15

A return to indoor live events may come sooner than previously expected for San Francisco residents. San Francisco Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax and Mayor London Breed expect to officially issue guidelines next Wednesday, April 14, that will allow indoor live events to return with some limited capacity on Thursday, April 15.

According to Mayor Breed's office, indoor ticketed and seated events will currently be allowed to operate at a maximum capacity of 35%, with attendees required to show proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination for entry. All participants must keep their masks on except when eating and drinking while seated, and social distancing will be required according to state guidelines. Venues operating at up to 35% capacity must also have an approved Health and Safety Plan.

Should a venue choose to operate at only 15% capacity or with less with 200 people, proof of a negative test or vaccination, as well as a Health and Safety Plan, will not be required.

Read the full post.

Samuel Getachew

Community Leaders Urge Latinos to Get Vaccine

Latino leaders, elected officials and health experts are urging the Latino community to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

At a virtual roundtable on Friday, Dr. Sandra Hernández, president and CEO of the California Health Care Foundation, said it’s particularly important for Latinos to get vaccinated because they make up a large portion of the in-person essential workforce and are more likely to be exposed to the virus.

This is especially critical because researchers are still learning about the long-term impacts of COVID-19, Hernández said.

“So it’s not just are you going to survive the loss of taste, but are you going to have foggy brain?” she said. “And are you going to have neurologic conditions? And are you going to have psychiatric conditions? Or are you going to have other organ conditions?”

Hernández added that while reports have focused on seniors as the population at highest risk from COVID, many young Latinos have also become critically ill and died.

“Given the prevalence of this infection in our community, we should be very concerned about understanding long-term COVID symptoms and how those are going to manifest chronically in our communities,” Hernández said.

The roundtable was the first in a series of virtual discussions led by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

Thurmond, who is Afro Latino, said he’s holding the roundtables in order to encourage vaccinations in the Black and Latino communities.

"Twenty three percent of the vaccines have gone to Latinos, while Latinos represent 55% of the cases and more than 40% of deaths," Thurmond said, citing California Department of Public Health figures.

Other participants included civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, AltaMed CEO Cástulo de la Rocha, and Dr. David E. Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA.

They spoke of barriers to getting vaccines — like challenges with technology and signing up for appointments online, the lack of information in Spanish and the need for more vaccine clinics in largely Latino neighborhoods — as well as vaccine hesitancy due to misinformation or mistrust toward the larger health system.

California Sen. Alex Padilla sent a video message urging folks to become vaccinated when eligible, adding that all Californians ages 16 and older will be allowed to get their shots starting April 15. Padilla also urged people to keep wearing masks and social distancing until health care officials say it’s safe to stop.

Julie Chang

Health Officials Brace for Increasing Demand and Shrinking Supply Amid Vaccine Shortfall

The classic problem of skyrocketing demand and shrinking supply is one that health officials had dearly hoped to avoid in the case of COVID-19 vaccines.

But that appears to be the situation as Bay Area public health departments are bracing for a significant shortfall in vaccine doses in the coming weeks, just as they gear up to vastly expand eligibility to everyone 16 and older on April 15.

California health officials on Thursday warned counties to expect a sizable drop in supply of all three vaccines this month.

That’s largely because of a major decline in national production of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the result of a recent manufacturing error at a Baltimore facility that ruined millions of doses.

California officials say they've received about 2.4 million doses this week, but expect just 2 million next week and 1.9 million the week after. That's in addition to doses shipped directly from the federal government to pharmacies and community health centers.

Although state supplies are expected to ramp up again by the end of the month, the shortfall could throw off California’s goal of fully reopening its economy by June 15.

Some Bay Area health officials are anticipating their total vaccine supply to shrink by as much as a third this month, potentially forcing them to limit or delay first-dose appointments.

In San Francisco, the health department is planning to receive just 10,000 doses of all three vaccines next week, down from 16,000 this week, according to a public health department spokesperson. The department is encouraging residents to try to also book appointments through the city's network of private pharmacies, and to not be picky about which vaccine they receive.

"Given the lack of supply, we are advising healthcare providers to prioritize second doses," a department spokesperson said in an email. "As such, appointments for first vaccine doses are limited, and people who are eligible may not be able to get appointments right away."

Across the bay, Alameda County officials are expecting a similar deficit, but say that shouldn't impact residents who already have appointments.

"Like other counties in the Bay Area and across the state, we expect a significant reduction in our allocations of Johnson & Johnson for this upcoming week," said Neetu Balram, a spokesperson for the Alameda Department of Public Health. "Thanks to careful planning, we do not expect to cancel appointments and will carefully monitor our supply and information from the state to make future decisions."

Statewide, more than 22 million doses of the vaccine have been administered, and close to 45% of the adult population has received a least one shot.

Matthew Green

Bill Would Require Public Disclosure of Individual Workplaces With COVID Outbreaks

The California State Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee voted Thursday to forward a bill that would require the California Department of Public Health to post workplace COVID-19 outbreaks on its website.

Five members of the committee, all Democrats, voted yes on Assembly Bill 654, with two Republican assemblymembers voting no.

The bill expands on earlier legislation that mandated that the state post information online about outbreaks by industry, without naming employers. The new bill would go further, requiring state health officials to allow the public to track COVID-19 outbreaks by individual workplace.

The earlier bill, AB 685, went into effect Jan. 1, with the required data posted several months later.

During the hearing, committee Vice Chair Heath Flora, R-Ripon, questioned why business owners should be blamed for outbreaks that may have originated outside of work.

“We’re going to hold a business accountable for things that people do outside of the workplace,” Flora said. “In my district, we have large employers that employ multiple families, multiple people from the same family. If they’re hanging out at a dinner or in the barbecue in the backyard and they bring that to the workplace, how in good faith can we hold the business responsible for that?”

Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, who introduced both bills, replied that the legislation had nothing to do with who’s responsible for an outbreak.

“It has to do with making sure that a worker knows they’ve been exposed,” Reyes said. “And making sure the community knows when there’s an outbreak at one of the workplaces in their community.”

Representatives of the the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council and the California Labor Federation called in to the hearing to voice support for the legislation, saying essential workers have a right to know about outbreaks.

Groups including the Family Business Association of California, Housing Contractors of California, the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities and the Agricultural Council of California voiced opposition. Rob Moutrie, policy advocate with the California Chamber of Commerce, argued the legislation would shame businesses for events they cannot control.

AB 654 will now go to the Appropriations Committee before it heads to the Assembly floor.

Alexandra Hall