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)

San Franciso Finalizes Plan to Distribute Vaccine Access Codes to Teachers

San Francisco has finalized a plan with state officials to distribute access codes for educators to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, Mayor London Breed said Wednesday.

Teachers and other school staff became eligible for receiving the vaccine a week ago as the city entered Phase 1B of the state's vaccine plan.

On Monday, the city was set to receive 5,000 codes for teachers to make expedited appointments to get the vaccine, but the codes didn't arrive until late Tuesday.

According to Breed, the codes were delayed due to confusion by state officials on where to send them, since the city doesn't have a county office of education.

"We've distributed the first set of codes to the San Francisco Unified School District for distribution to public school educators and support staff, including charter schools that are slated to return to the classroom first," she said.

Breed added that the city's Department of Public Health is working with private and parochial schools to ensure those teachers also have access to the vaccine.

So far, SFUSD has received 2,650 codes for teachers, with this first batch meant to prioritize those returning to the classroom soon, such as elementary school teachers.

Breed has been a staunch advocate for reopening schools, supporting a lawsuit filed by the city attorney last month that seeks a court order to bring students back into classrooms as soon as possible.

"We still need a clear timeline for the district on reopening," she said. "All of our kids need to be back in the classroom safely as soon as possible, and that includes working to get them back five days a week for full days as soon as possible."

Both Board of Education President Gabriela López and SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews called on Breed to improve access to the vaccine in light of the recent delay.

"Up to now, teachers have been scrambling to make appointments at Walgreens and CVS, but without the priority codes, they had to get things done the best way they could," López said. "Many teachers have been taking BART across the bay to the Oakland Coliseum to get a shot. We can do better."

Matthews said the city has had the ability to vaccinate educators for over a week, but "staff are still having trouble getting appointments. As we've repeatedly stated, we need the city to immediately prioritize access for our educators."

United Educators of San Francisco President Susan Solomon decried the slow pace of teacher vaccinations.

"We've been advocating for a clear vaccination plan for educators and school staff for months now," she said. "We continue to watch as other counties, cities and districts work together to streamline the vaccination process and each week continue to see lack of movement here in San Francisco."

Annie Phan, a high school teacher in the city, says educators have received little to no information on vaccinations from San Francisco or the school district.

"I just don’t see the end of the tunnel, it all just feels like we’re going to be kept in the dark for a long time," Phan said.

-Bay City News and MJ Johnson

Legislature Approves $6.6 Billion Plan to Reopen Schools

The California state Legislature approved a $6.6 billion plan on Thursday to encourage school districts to resume in-person education for the youngest public school students in the state.

Assembly Bill 86 was the Legislature's most decisive action yet to reopen schools, in the face of rising political pressure from parents who have dealt with nearly a year of distance learning in many districts. But the legislation falls short of actually mandating a reopening; the decision of when and how to bring students and teachers back to class will now be decided in hundreds of local school districts across the state.

“[AB 86] really does provide an incentive for people to reopen. It really enables people to open," said state Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, who acknowledged that "we let the school boards decide, we let the locals decide how it best works."

The bill cleared the state Senate on a 36-0 vote, followed by a 72-4 vote in the Assembly.

Gov. Gavin Newsom could sign the bill into law as soon as Friday.

AB 86 sets a deadline of April 1 for districts to begin reopening their doors. Each day after that date that schools stay closed, districts will have to return a portion of the $2 billion in incentive grants, with a deadline of May 15.

The remaining $4.6 billion will be budgeted to help mitigate learning loss — through extra tutoring, counseling and potentially expanded summer school. Most of that money will only go to schools that return children to class.

Read the full story.

Guy Marzorati

San Jose Official Condemns Hospital That Let Wealthy School District's Staff Jump Vaccine Line

A San Jose city councilmember is condemning a local hospital that let dozens of teachers and staffers from an affluent school district in Los Gatos jump the line for COVID-19 vaccines for which they weren’t eligible.

"I was appalled that the hospital let people jump the queue," Councilmember Pam Foley, who represents the district where Good Samaritan Hospital is located, told KQED.

Her remarks on Wednesday came one day after Joe DeSchryver, CEO of Good Samaritan, resigned, weeks after the vaccine scandal first broke.

"The county had a specific rollout on how vaccinations were to be distributed," Foley said. "And Good Samaritan Hospital didn't honor that commitment. They gave them to people who represent a wealthy school district. That's about equity and fairness."

"Frankly, people in our needy areas of San Jose who have a higher level of COVID should be further up the line to get the vaccines," she added.

In response to the incident, Santa Clara County stopped providing COVID-19 vaccines to Good Samaritan.

Foley described that decision as "unfortunate."

"There are still people in the area who need vaccines," she said.

Antonio Castelan, a spokesperson for Good Samaritan's parent company HCA Healthcare, said in a statement that DeSchryver resigned "to pursue external career advancement opportunities."

"We are grateful for [DeSchryver's] leadership at Good Samaritan Hospital over the past four years and the remarkable job he has done, including the intense past year marked by COVID-19," a statement from HCA Healthcare said.

DeSchryver will remain at the hospital for the next few months, and the company will look nationally for his replacement, according to HCA.

Farida Jhabvala Romero

California Reserves 40% of Vaccines for Most Vulnerable Neighborhoods

California will begin setting aside 40% of all vaccine doses for people who live in the most vulnerable neighborhoods in an effort to inoculate people most at risk from the coronavirus and get the state’s economy open more quickly.

The doses will be spread out among 400 ZIP codes with about 8 million people eligible for shots, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health and human services secretary. Many of the neighborhoods are concentrated in Los Angeles County and the Central Valley, which have had among the highest rates of infection. The areas are considered most vulnerable based on metrics such as household income, education level, housing status and access to transportation.

“With vaccines still scarce, we must target vaccines strategically to maximally reduce transmission, protect our health care delivery system and save lives," Ghaly said in a briefing Thursday.

Once 2 million vaccine doses are given out in those neighborhoods, the state will make it easier for counties to move through reopening tiers that dictate business and school reopenings.

Right now, a county can move from the most restrictive purple tier to the lower red tier based on several metrics, including having seven or fewer new COVID cases per 100,000 people per day over a period of several weeks. That metric will change to 10 new cases or fewer. In the red tier, businesses such as restaurants and gyms can open for indoor services at limited capacity.

Read the full story.

Kathleen Ronayne, Associated Press

As SFO's United Workers Face Furloughs, Lawmakers Say Relief Bill Could Help Save Bay Area Jobs

Bay Area members of Congress are calling on Republican lawmakers to support a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that was passed by the House and is now being considered by the Senate. The push comes as thousands of local workers in battered industries, including most recently United Airlines workers at SFO, face a fresh round of furloughs and layoffs.

In a press event Tuesday, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Marin, said the pandemic has devastated his district’s economy, which is driven by tourism, travel and recreation.

“We still got a really long, difficult road ahead of us and without decisive, comprehensive help, families and employers in my district, also throughout California and around this country, just can't keep the lights on for much longer,” said Huffman, whose district spans from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.

On Jan. 29, United Airlines notified more than 3,100 workers based at San Francisco International Airport of potential involuntary furloughs starting in April, according to official filings the company submitted to the California Employment Development Department.

About two-thirds of the United workers at SFO who are facing furloughs are flight attendants, said Taylor Garland, a spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines.

Read the full story.

Farida Jhabvala Romero

Agreement Ratified, Berkeley Looks to Start Reopening Schools This Month

Berkeley Unified School District teachers have signed on to reopen schools for in-person classes.

The plan, agreed to last month, got a final stamp of approval Monday when 88% of union members in the Berkeley Federation of Teachers voted to ratify the deal.

The agreement hinges on vaccinating teachers and bringing back the youngest students at the end of March and older grades in April.

Current plans, which the district expects to finalize in the next two weeks, call for middle and high school students to continue distance learning until noon each day. Then, two days per week, students would come to classrooms around 1 p.m. for instruction, with an option to stay for academic and social activities from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

In a message to families Tuesday, Superintendent Brent Stephens wrote: "Our reopening dates are solid," though the county would have to move into the red tier from its current purple tier designation in order to go ahead with the plan. "But it appears that we could be in the Red tier soon," Stephens said.

He also clarified opening dates for middle and high school. The schedule is now:

March 29
Preschool, transitional kindergarten, and kindergarten through second grade

April 12
Grades 3-5 in elementary schools
Grades 6-8 in middle schools
Grade 9 at Berkeley High School
Berkeley Technology Academy

April 19
Berkeley High School grades 10-12

All teachers, "except those with district-approved accommodations plans, will return to in-person work," Stephens wrote.

"We are resolute in our commitment to five days of in-person school at all grades in the Fall," he said. "We see that school reopening in April is one step on the road to a full return to in-person school."

Still, some Berkeley parents reacted with frustration after learning that middle and high school students would likely continue to spend the majority of their academic day in distance learning for the remainder of the school year.

"We know it can be done safely, and now teachers are being vaccinated. So I’m ... mystified that this is where we are," said Berkeley parent Sara Woolf at a protest Monday morning outside Berkeley Unified district offices.

Vanessa Rañcano and Jon Brooks

Sutter Patients Wait, Scramble for Second Doses After Thousands of Appointments Canceled

Sutter Health is canceling second-dose vaccine appointments through March 9 due to a lack of supply.

About 40,000 patients with second-dose appointments between March 3 and March 9 are in the process of being rescheduled in order of the dates they were originally slated to come in. Another 50,000 appointments starting March 10 are in danger of being canceled as well.

“This is an extremely unfortunate situation for our patients, and one that is avoidable if we can get additional vaccine supply,” said Angeline Sheets, director of media relations for the company, which has requested additional allocations from the state.

Sutter plans on calling all affected patients within 7-10 days to reschedule their appointments. Patients can also get a second vaccination from alternative providers. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, second doses can be delayed for up to six weeks; beyond that, only limited data on efficacy is available.

“It’s these kinds of barriers that have not just an impact on efficiency, but also on equity,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California. “The people who are least able to deal with these cancellations and rescheduling and issues are the people that may be the most vulnerable to the disease because of their situation.”

Leslie Silberman’s mother, Linda, is 82 years old and considered high risk due to her compromised medical situation. She received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine from Sutter Health’s Van Ness campus on Jan. 26. Her second dose was scheduled for Feb. 23 but was postponed because of storms around the country that affected vaccine shipments. Silberman helped her mother reschedule the appointment for March 5.

But on March 1, Sutter Health notified Linda it was postponing her final dose a second time due to insufficient supply.

“Obviously, something went wrong, and they’re trying to rectify the situation,” Leslie Silberman said. “California has some supply issues, but I don’t think that it was fair for the patients to be sort of at their mercy, and then all of a sudden be dropped like that.”

Silberman turned to Stanford Health Care and scheduled her mother’s vaccine appointment for March 5, the same day she would have received her second dose at Sutter.

When asked whether any steps were being taken to get Sutter more doses, the California Department of Public Health would only say that: “Every county, every state, every country wishes they had more vaccines ..., but California continues to work closely with the Biden administration to increase supply for providers statewide.”

Emily Hung