The State of California Wants Your Coronavirus Stories

While most California officials focus on current-day solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic, at least one state office is already considering its place in future history books.

The California State Archives, a division of the Secretary of State, on Thursday launched the California COVID-19 Archive. All California residents are welcome to submit their stories reflecting the challenges and uncertainty of the current pandemic, and the ways they have adapted. Submissions are accepted at an online portal here.

"Your submission will serve as an important contribution to this community memory project and will be a critical primary source so that future generations can better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Californians," reads the site. Submissions will become a part of the official state historical collection.

The state project mirrors local efforts to document San Francisco's response to the pandemic, led by the San Francisco Public Library. The COVID-19 Community Time Capsule project solicits stories as well as a broad range of ephemera, including "photographs; blog posts or social media posts (screenshots okay); video or audio; notices, signs or posters, including government notices or signs from private businesses; letters, emails, postcards; community newspapers; personal journal and diary entries; and creative work, such as drawings, paintings, graffiti, poetry, recipes and games."

Submissions will become a permanent part of the City and County Archives of San Francisco, and can be made here.

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— Gabe Meline (@gmeline)

Contra Costa Looking to Soon Move Up to Red Tier

Public health officials told the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that the county has made enough progress against COVID-19 that it will likely emerge from the state's most restrictive purple tier within two or three weeks.

Supervisor John Gioia said the county could move into the less restrictive red tier even earlier if the state relaxes the current threshold required for that category, currently seven new reported coronavirus cases daily per 100,000 people for two consecutive weeks. Gioia said state officials told him that is under consideration.

"They would announce that later this week," Gioia said. "They didn't say what [the threshold] would be."

Contra Costa Health Services Officer Chris Farnitano said if the state does change the threshold for reopening, it may do so based on reaching certain vaccination numbers.

"We're still waiting for details," he said.

Aside from the state possibly changing the requirements for moving to less restrictive tiers, the county could also graduate to red by fulfilling the state's health equity metric, even if the overall case rate doesn't qualify it for a move up, Farnitano said.

Meanwhile, Anna Roth, the county's health director, told the board that Contra Costa was "on the other side of the winter wave" and that it was now focused on vaccination.

She said 323,000 vaccine doses have been administered in the county since March 1, though Board Chairwoman Diane Burgis pointed out that vaccine numbers in East Contra Costa still lag compared to other parts of the county, and she called for more vaccination sites in the area. The county will soon open more mass vaccine sites, including one at Diablo Valley College's San Ramon campus by March 15.

Roth said 86 percent of county residents 75 and over have received at least one vaccine dose, along with 60 percent of those 65 to 74.

Farnitano said the county so far hasn't had to deal with the more serious new variants of coronavirus but has purchased new gene-sequencing equipment for detection. The county has seen 85 cases of the so-called California variant, which is considered less potentially problematic than those from the United Kingdom, South Africa or Brazil.

Roth said now is not the time to relax mask-wearing and social distancing.

"And when it's your turn, please sign up, please get your vaccine," she said.

—Bay City News and KQED News

Asian Art Museum, SFMOMA, de Young Reopen This Week

The Asian Art Museum, de Young Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will all reopen to the public this week after over three months of closure. The Asian Art Museum will reopen Thursday, March 4, followed by de Young on March 6, and SFMOMA on March 7. The news follows Mayor London Breed’s announcement today that San Francisco has entered the red tier, which allows cultural institutions to operate at 25% capacity.

All three museums will boast new exhibitions, installed during their temporary closure due to the pandemic’s winter surge. At the Asian Art Museum, that includes Zheng Chongbin: State of Oscillation, an “ephemeral chamber” of paintings, videos and translucent material in the light-filled Bogart Court; After Hope: Videos of Resistance, 50 short videos made by artists across Asia and the Asian diaspora; and Memento: Jayashree Chakravarty and Lam Tung Pang, an exhibition of two large-scale works by contemporary artists from Kolkata and Hong Kong, respectively.

The de Young hosts Calder-Picasso, a touring exhibition making its first U.S. stop in San Francisco. SFMOMA reopens with Close to Home: Creativity in Crisis, featuring newly commissioned work by seven Bay Area artists, and fresh additions to the series Bay Area Walls by Liz Hernández, Erina Alejo and Adrian L. Burrell.

Read the full story.

Sarah Hotchkiss

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One Medical's Vaccine Practices Spark Congressional Investigation

The consequences are deepening for San Francisco-based concierge health care provider One Medical following an NPR investigation that found the company administered COVID-19 vaccinations to those with connections to leadership, as well as ineligible patients.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis is launching its own investigation into the company's practices, NPR has learned. The probe has plunged the publicly traded company, whose business model depends on patients paying a $199 annual fee for VIP health care services, into damage control mode.

"Despite being warned that the company's lax oversight of vaccine eligibility rules was allowing ineligible patients to jump the line, One Medical has reportedly failed to properly implement an effective protocol to verify eligibility and instructed staff not to police eligibility," wrote subcommittee Chairman James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, in a letter sent to One Medical late Monday night.

Clyburn cited multiple news reports, including NPR's investigation, to denounce One Medical's "irresponsible practices," adding that "prioritizing the vaccination of Americans who are at higher risk from the coronavirus is critical to saving lives and controlling the pandemic."

The letter demands documents and information on One Medical's COVID-19 vaccination practices within two weeks, with a deadline of March 15. Among other topics, it seeks demographic breakdowns of COVID-19 vaccines administered to date and communications related to vaccination appointments arranged for those close to the company's executives.

Read the full story.

Tim Mak, NPR

San Francisco, Santa Clara, Napa Counties Move to Less Restrictive Reopening Tier

Indoor dining, movie theaters, gyms and museums can reopen — with strict limitations — within 24 hours in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed triumphantly proclaimed on Tuesday, as she announced the county's move into the red, less-restrictive, reopening tier.

Officials in Santa Clara and Napa counties on Tuesday also announced their advancement into the state's second-most restrictive operating tier.

San Francisco, Santa Clara and Napa counties join Marin and San Mateo counties, which last month also advanced into the red reopening tier. In that tier, indoor restaurant dining rooms and movie theaters can reopen at 25% capacity, or up to 100 people, whichever is fewer. Gyms and dance and yoga studios can open at 10% capacity. Museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoor activities at 25% capacity.

“Go outdoors. Keep your mask on whether you’re indoors or outdoors,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County's top health officer, in announcing the loosened restrictions. “Keep your distance from others. And finally, get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”

The change follows a dramatic drop in the rate of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths statewide.

El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc and San Luis Obispo counties also moved up one spot on Tuesday.

Read the full story.

Janie Har, Associated Press

Officials Cite East Palo Alto to Highlight Vaccine Inequity

Elected officials in San Mateo County are calling on the federal government and California to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for the hardest-hit communities. 

Democratic state Sen. Josh Becker, who represents most of San Mateo County, said he is pressing for greater vaccine supply and more resources to inoculate East Palo Alto residents, many of whom are low-wage essential workers.

This community has been on the front lines, and providing human capital to allow those of us who have the privilege of working from home to continue to do so,” said Becker at a press conference near Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto. “They have stood with us during our darkest hours, and they must be treated like the priority that they are.”

East Palo Alto has one of the county’s highest COVID-19 case rates, but also the lowest proportion of eligible residents who have been inoculated. Nearly 12% of people who live in the predominantly Latino city have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 47% of the population in much wealthier Atherton, according to county figures.

East Palo Alto has a slightly lower population than neighboring Menlo Park, but three times as many COVID-19 cases, according to county data

“An aggressive vaccination rollout is what the fight for racial equity and social equity is and looks like in 2021,” said East Palo Alto City Council member Antonio López. "There are still two sides to the Bay Area. One with instant and immediate access to basic resources, and the other living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to figure out how to keep their family safe.”

David Canepa, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, says he's hopeful the recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose instead of two, could be a “game changer,” and that newly available  vaccine supply should be allocated to essential workers like those in East Palo Alto.

Farida Jhabvala Romero

Another Pandemic-Proof Business: Horse Racing

Betting windows at California horse tracks remained closed for much of last year.

But people are still betting on races.

Fans wagered about $2.8 billion last season, just shy of the 2018-19 season’s total of about $2.9 billion.

Scott Chaney, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, says remote betting on horses boomed during the pandemic, “and that can all be explained by people sitting on their couch wagering on horse races.”

“There has been a trend away from brick-and-mortar, satellite, on-track attendance,” he explained. “But COVID massively accelerated that.”

The vast majority of bets — nearly 80% — were placed remotely, and often out of state.

Chaney says he’s encouraged by the sustained level of interest in the sport, but he says race tracks will likely see less revenue as remote betting continues to grow.

While business may be good, the sport itself has not been free of trouble during the pandemic. In Berkeley, a huge outbreak of more than 300 cases at Golden Gate Fields forced the track to close for six weeks.

Scott Rodd, Capital Public Radio and The California Report

Newsom, Legislative Leaders Reach Deal Encouraging Schools to Reopen

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislative leaders have agreed on a deal to resume in-person education for some California public school students, providing incentives — but not a mandate — for thousands of schools to open their doors by the end of March.

The legislation, announced Monday, comes after weeks of high-stakes negotiations between Newsom and top Democrats in the Senate and Assembly. The two sides were tasked with balancing the demands of parents eager for their children to return to class and the hesitancy of powerful teachers unions who are demanding heightened COVID-19 protection measures for their members.

"We all are united around coming back safely into the schools and helping with the social and emotional supports that our kids so desperately need," Newsom said at a press conference announcing the deal.

Newsom has faced daily questions about the progress of reopening talks, as his political opponents have made the school debate a centerpiece of their effort to recall him from office.

Under the agreement, the state is dangling $2 billion in incentives for school districts to open classrooms — without many of the hurdles contained in previous proposals.

For one, children in kindergarten through second grade will be able to return to class if they are in a county in the purple, most restrictive, reopening tier (with at least seven new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents and a test positivity rate of 8%), which the vast majority of the state currently falls under.

Read the full story.

Guy Marzorati