East Bay Venue Sues Insurance Company Over Pandemic Claim Denial

The Ivy Room, an independent bar and venue in the East Bay town of Albany, is spearheading a class-action lawsuit against its insurer, First Mercury, over the denial of its business interruption insurance claim. Represented by Oakland’s Gibbs Law Group, the owners of Ivy Room, Summer Gerbing and Lani Torres, hope to rally other shuttered California music venues in their legal fight.

Gerbing and Torres tell KQED they believe their business interruption insurance should protect them from loss of income during their forced closure due to California’s shelter-in-place orders. Their court complaint alleges that First Mercury’s reasons for a claim denial “appear to rest on crabbed readings of coverage language and overbroad readings of exclusions. That gets insurance law exactly backwards—and raises the specter of bad-faith denials.”

First Mercury could not be reached for comment, but experts tell KQED that insurance companies began excluding loss of business due to contagions after the 2003 SARS outbreak. Read the full story from Andrew Gilbert here.

— Nastia Voynovskaya (@nananastia)

Delays as State Officials Face Deluge of COVID-19 Reporting Data

State health officials say there have now been more than 10,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus in California. This comes as Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly gave an update Friday on a technical glitch with the electronic lab reporting system for COVID-19 cases.

Ghaly said a server outage on July 25 led to an extensive backlog of unreported COVID-19 tests results. The state reporting system, known as CalREDIE, suffered another hiccup between July 31 and Aug. 4, during which it failed to receive test results from a major commercial lab.

Ghaly said the CalREDIE reporting system has been challenged by the cascade of COVID-19 data — that it was not built to handle such a high volume. He said the state is accelerating development of a new laboratory reporting system for COVID-19, but he did not indicate when it would be online. New protocols and notifications have been put in place, and servers now have larger capacity. In addition, he said Gov. Gavin Newsom has directed an investigation of what went wrong.

The state plans to sort through the backlog of 250,000 - 300,000 test records — most of them COVID — in the next few days.

Ghaly said the unaccounted-for lab results could be positive or negative and he remains confident the number of new cases is stabilizing.


The backlog has created difficulties for some county public health departments, where officials have described the reliability of COVID-19 data as “flying blind” and hindering their contact tracing abilities.

— Peter Arcuni (@peterarcuni)

COVID-19 Outbreak at Psychiatric Hospital Spurs Lawsuit

Oakland-based Disability Rights California is suing the state to compel it to move people out of a psychiatric hospital that’s battling a COVID-19 outbreak.

About 115 patients and 150 staff have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least two have died at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino.

“These are individuals who are not being punished for a crime,” said Anne Hadreas, an attorney with Disability Rights California. “They are there to receive treatment, that they cannot be held legally under conditions where they are not reasonably safe.”

Advocates say that similar to jails and prisons, COVID-19 spreads easily in locked psychiatric facilities, but there hasn’t been an effort to reduce those populations. There are currently more than 1,500 patients and 2,000 staff at Patton.

Hadreas says they want patients to be discharged to family or transferred to safer facilities where they wouldn’t live in congregate environments.


Richard Hart, 66, a plaintiff in the suit, was sent to Patton after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for a 1998 crime that didn’t “result in bodily harm.” According to the complaint, Hart had lung cancer last year and is at high risk of serious illness if he contracts the virus.

According to Hadreas, Hart has been deemed “low-risk” and doesn’t need treatment aside from medication and twice-monthly therapy.

“Individuals with mental health disabilities shouldn't be left behind in ensuring that we're creating safe spaces for people who have little means to protect themselves,” Hadreas said.

A spokesperson for the California Department of State Hospitals said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation and is following guidance from the California Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other state and local partners in their ongoing COVID-19 response.

— Kate Wolffe (@katewolffe)

California Health Care Workers Urge Senate to Pass Coronavirus Relief Package

Health care workers at 24 Bay Area hospitals held protests Wednesday, calling on their employers and the government to do a better job of handling the coronavirus crisis.

The protests were part of a nationwide effort of more than 200 events, led by nurses, urging the U.S. Senate to pass the HEROES Act. If passed, it would invoke the Defense Production Act and trigger a mass production and delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies. It would also mandate the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases.

Zenei Cortez, a registered nurse and president of the California Nurses Association, says health care workers need “optimal” PPE, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“We have been protesting and demanding many, many times, and still they have failed us,” Cortez said, “I don't think they're even trying. Nurses continue to put their lives on the line, and so the number of deaths among nurses and other front-line workers continues to go up.”


Employers say they are following guidelines issued by public health experts, and that they’ve had to ration their stockpile of PPE amid a worldwide shortage.

“Our procurement teams have made sure we have had the appropriate PPE to protect our teams today and have stabilized our supply chain for the potential of future surges in this pandemic,” said a Kaiser Permanente spokesperson in a statement. “We could not have achieved this without the diligent work of our staff to follow PPE protocols and conservation efforts.”

Other demands from the health care workers include better staffing and contact tracing efforts by employers, for the government to invest in public health and for the dismantling of structural racism that disproportionately affects the lives of Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

According to the California Department of Public Health, nearly 25,000 health care workers have tested positive for the virus and 131 have died.

— Julie Chang (@BayAreaJulie)

Speaker Pelosi Stumps for Democrats' COVID-19 Relief Package

With extra unemployment benefits having run out for millions of Americans who've lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said it's critical the federal government pass another relief package.

The Democrat-controlled House passed the HEROES Act about three months ago, but it has not been taken up by the Republican-led Senate, which has its own proposal, the HEALS Act. Negotiations are continuing between the parties and President Trump.

During a virtual discussion with the Public Policy Institute of California, Pelosi said one of the sticking points between the parties is whether to continue paying $600 in additional weekly unemployment benefits to people who lost their jobs because of COVID-19.

"Tens of millions of people have filed for unemployment insurance," Pelosi said. "So we really do need the federal government to put that money in the pockets of the American people."

Pelosi said there's also disagreement about additional money for state and local governments. Republicans are not proposing any new funds, while Democrats have earmarked $1 trillion in additional state and local aid.


The outcome of that negotiation could have a big impact on California. The recently passed state budget includes more than $11 billion in cuts that could be rescinded if California receives more money from the federal government.

— Katie Orr (@1katieorr)

Great Plates Delivered SF Program Extended Through Sept. 9

San Francisco officials have announced the extension of Great Plates Delivered SF, a free meal delivery program for eligible seniors experiencing food insecurity during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, through Sept. 9, 2020. "The program’s extension is critical for so many of our older residents, while also supporting local businesses at the same time," Mayor London Breed said in a statement. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the program in late April, funded largely by money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Public Assistance grant program.

Eligible seniors receive three meals a day, usually on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, unless they need daily delivery due to a lack of refrigeration, according to Shireen McSpadden, executive director of San Francisco's Department of Disability and Aging Services. In a press briefing Tuesday, McSpadden said dietary restrictions are accommodated, for example, low-sodium, vegetarian or  pork-free meals are provided. Great Plates Delivered SF has fed more than 350,000 meals to over 2,500 seniors in need, so far. The majority (more than 80%) of food vendors and restaurants participating in the program are minority owned.

McSpadden said food insecurity in San Francisco saw about 1 in 4 people needing help before the coronavirus hit. She said the city's food partners have reported a surge in need as the pandemic has progressed, with Latinx and Black populations hit particularly hard by both the virus and food insecurity.  McSpadden encouraged anyone who needs help to call 415-355-6700 (and press "4") to determine eligibility for Great Plates Delivered SF.

People can also call 311, the general city customer support line, 24-hours-a-day, to get information about this and several other food assistance programs. The line is staffed in multiple languages.

  • Polly Stryker (@hamrashaar) 



The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Rejects Petition for Release

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has rejected a group of petitions from several people in San Quentin State Prison.

In July, 42 incarcerated men filed individual petitions for release alleging that the agency violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

In a rare move last week, a Marin County Superior Court judge grouped these petitions into one case and ordered CDCR to issue a response.

The agency rejected the petitions arguing that those incarcerated did not go through proper channels to file grievances with prison staff and failed to provide enough evidence to demonstrate that officials acted indifferently.

Charles Carbone, an attorney representing 20 of the petitioners disagrees. “The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “The proof is in the 22 people that died these preventable deaths.” As of August 4, San Quentin reported 2,210 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 22 deaths.


Marin County Superior Court is expected to present a ruling on the petitioner’s case by the end of the month.

— Shannon Lin (@LinshannonLin), Lakshmi Sarah (@lakitalki)

Some California Schools Can Apply to Reopen On-Campus Classes, but Rules are Strict

This post has been updated.

Elementary schools on the state’s coronavirus watchlist can apply to reopen in-person classes.

The new guidelines — released by California's Department of Public Health on Monday — allow public, charter and private schools to petition their local public health departments for permission to reopen, but only for transitional kindergarten through sixth grade.

However, if the rate of COVID-19 cases in the county is more than two-times the threshold to be on the county monitoring list — 200 cases per 100,000 residents over a period of two weeks — the state recommends that schools do not apply for the waiver, as they will likely not qualify.

Schools must also show they have consulted with parents, community and labor organizations.


But some are concerned that reopening school campuses this way raises equity issues.

"A school in Moraga, just because there are fewer essential workers, therefore fewer cases, shouldn't be able to open if we haven't got it under control in Richmond," said Marissa Glidden, who's part of a teachers union collective calling for no waivers at all because of these concerns.

Glidden said 29 teachers unions in Alameda and West Contra Costa counties have signed a letter to public health officials calling for ZIP code data to be used, rather than county averages.

Schools that do apply must show plans for cleaning, face coverings and health screenings, among other safety measures.

The state said more rules for how smaller sets of students with special learning needs might be allowed to return safely to campus will be forthcoming.

— Julia McEvoy (@juliamcevoy1)