Coronavirus Sickens About 100 People at Solano County Nursing Facility

The coronavirus has sickened nearly 100 people and killed two at the Windsor Vallejo Care Center, a skilled nursing facility in Solano County. More than half of the county's reported cases are connected to this one outbreak.

County Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas says only a handful of patients from Windsor have required hospitalization so far, but he warned a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday that could change.

Working with county officials, Windsor is separating patients by their “risk of transmission to others,” Matyas said. That means COVID-positive patients are separated from those suspected of having the virus, and both those groups are kept apart from residents who test negative.

In addition, Matyas says they’re retesting everyone, in an effort to catch those who have the virus but show no symptoms. Because of the risk that patients in other facilities may be transmitting COVID-19 asymptomatically,  the county with the help of hospitals and other groups plans to “proactively" test staff in all long-term care facilities, "as soon as we are able to,” Matyas said.

The initial introduction of the virus into Windsor Care Center has been traced to staff members becoming infected in their homes, Matyas says. Workers then brought the virus into the facility, where it spread.

Lessons from the Windsor outbreak include using personal protective equipment in care facilities as regularly as hospitals, according to Matyas.

— Molly Peterson (@Mollydacious)

Bay Area Restaurants Reeling From Shifting Public Health Orders

Restaurants are reeling from the uncertainty of new stay-at-home orders in the Bay Area that will restrict even outdoor dining.

Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and the owner of two San Francisco restaurants, Rose’s Café and Terzo, says many restaurant managers and staff are frustrated with the uncertainty of the pandemic and state and local health orders.

“The goalposts keep changing. That makes it really hard to run a business and inform your employees about how their lives are going to be affected,” she said. “Do you cancel orders that you just placed? When are they going to shut you down? What’s going to be shut down? What do I tell my employees about their paychecks?”

She told KQED’s Forum radio show that many eateries are considering “hibernating” over the holidays.

“It doesn't make sense to stay open to just to do takeout and delivery, that you'll lose more money doing that and they'll choose to close hopefully temporarily, 'til we get more federal relief,” Thomas said.

A recent survey of the GGRA’s members found that 63 percent of restaurateurs who responded said their businesses are losing money by offering outdoor dining and takeout. Another 26 percent said they're just barely breaking even.

Thomas conceded that when restaurants set up outdoor dining areas that are heated, tented and enclosed, they shouldn’t count as outdoors anymore, because the whole point is to improve ventilation. But she believes well-ventilated outdoor spaces can help restaurants survive the pandemic.

Now, with the new shutdown orders, even outdoor dining won't be allowed.

—Raquel Maria Dillon (@RaquelMDillon)

Widespread Outbreak at Fresno County Prison

Widespread COVID-19 infections at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga have resulted in one of the largest active outbreaks in California’s prison system.

More than 1,000 inmates and employees at the prison, located southwest of Fresno, have tested positive, a majority in the past two weeks. Currently, 652 incarcerated people and 153 staff members are infected. One person has died.

Sophie Hart, an attorney with the Prison Law Office, said prison medical officials have reported positive cases in nearly every yard of the prison, suggesting the pervasive spread of the virus throughout the facility. Medical officials believe the outbreak originated with prison staff.

“I think what this outbreak shows is that it’s incredibly difficult to control the virus in a prison and that the prisons are not going to be spared in this second wave of COVID,” Hart said. “As the virus circulates in the community, it’s going to make its way into the prisons, and CDCR’s experience with the pandemic so far has shown that it’s very difficult for them to control it once it gets in.”

Aaron Francis, an information officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the facility is testing employees and inmates weekly and isolating incarcerated people who are positive.

—Alexandra Hall (@chalexhall)

5 Bay Area Counties Implement Strict New Stay-at-Home Order Ahead of Schedule

Public health officials from five Bay Area counties are moving faster than the state requires to impose stay-at-home orders that they hope will contain the surging coronavirus.

The counties of San Francisco, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin, plus the city of Berkeley, have issued a new health order that will shut many indoor businesses, require others to reduce capacity to 20%, and close indoor and outdoor dining except for takeout and delivery. The orders in all the counties except Alameda and Marin take effect Dec. 6. Alameda's order goes into effect on Dec. 7, and Marin's Dec. 8.

The restrictions will remain in force until Jan. 4, 2021.

Bars, museums and personal care services such as nail and hair salons are among the businesses that will have to suspend services altogether. Also required to shut down are movie theaters, playgrounds and museums. Hotels and lodging will operate only for critical infrastructure support. Religious services will only be permitted outdoors.

In addition, the order prohibits gatherings between people from different households.

The state's threshold for the mandatory imposition of these restrictions is an 85% occupancy rate for ICU beds in hospitals for an entire region. The Bay Area as a whole has not yet risen above that level, but Contra Costa County's health officer, Dr. Chris Farnitano, says the counties had to act to prevent hospitals and ICUs from becoming overwhelmed.

Read the full story here.

—Raquel Maria Dillon (@RaquelMDillon)

Berkeley Parents Put Pressure on Schools to Reopen

Bay Area parents who are upset that their public schools have yet to reopen in-person classes are holding rallies in Oakland and Berkeley Saturday.

The demonstrations are the latest sign that even amid a severe surge of coronavirus cases, parents are starting to balk at the idea of prolonging time away from the classroom for their children.

In Berkeley, hundreds of parents have signed a petition to pressure the school district into reopening. Parents surveyed by the district are actually about evenly split over whether or not their public schools should bring students back in person, but those frustrated with the lack of progress on reopening campuses accuse the district of dragging its feet at the expense of kids.

"We have our doctors now saying the mental health of our children is being affected and these are long-term effects," said Lei Levi, who has a first-grader in the district. "These are generational effects, that's what I'm really concerned about. That's why I started to stand up."

The Berkeley Unified School District and the teachers' union, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, have already agreed on the complex health and safety protocols that need to be in place for reopening. But bargaining has just begun on how a hybrid model that accommodates both in-person and remote learning will work for teachers.

Read the full story here.

— Julia McEvoy (@juliamcevoy1)

UC Berkeley Suffers Unprecedented Deficit Due to Pandemic

The Bay Area’s flagship public university, UC Berkeley, is trying to work its way out of an unprecedented $340 million deficit due to the pandemic. And that means some of the hardest-hit departments and individuals on campus are having to fend for themselves.

The campus has seen plunging revenue on several fronts, including $35 million in tuition fees.

"We had about 800 students that decided not to come back to the fall," said Rosemarie Rae, Berkeley's vice chancellor of finance and chief financial officer.

Then there's the $100-$140 million anticipated loss in housing and dining income. Plus $33 million in revenue from sports events.

On top of all of the losses, Rae pointed to tens of millions of dollars in additional pandemic-related expenses — from COVID-19 testing and sanitization, to upgrading systems to accommodate remote learning and meetings.

Rae came in seven years ago to oversee the university’s complex $3 billion budget. She spent those years getting the campus out of a $150 million shortfall caused by declining state support, years of frozen tuition and substantial long-term debt.

"We were already running skinny as we came into COVID-19," Rae said. "We're fragile."

Read the full story here.

—Chloe Veltman (@chloeveltman)

Newsom Announces Sweeping New Stay-at-Home Order

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced a sweeping new stay-at-home order that will force the shutdown of many businesses and activities in vast regions across California where hospital intensive care units are nearing capacity due to soaring COVID-19 rates.

Health officials, Newsom said, will track ICU capacity in five regions the state has designated as the Bay Area, Northern California, the greater Sacramento region, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The order will go into effect for an entire region  for at least three weeks within 48 hours of that region's overall hospital ICU capacity dropping below 15%.

The order mandates the closure of a wide swath of businesses and activities, akin to those forced to close during the first statewide shutdown in March.

Businesses that must close when the order is triggered include:

  • Hair salons
  • Indoor recreation centers
  • Movie theaters
  • Bars and wineries
  • Personal care services
  • Museums
  • Outdoor playgrounds

Restaurants will only be allowed to offer take-out and delivery service – even outdoor dining will be prohibited – and occupancy at grocery stores and other retail outlets will be reduced to 20% capacity. Additionally, the order restricts all nonessential travel. As it currently stands, the order does not impact schools — those that are currently open can remain so.


None of the five regions currently meet the threshold to trigger the order, Newsom said, but all are projected to reach it within days except the Bay Area, where the order will likely take effect by mid-December.

Individual counties will be eligible to emerge from their regional order after three weeks if their hospital ICU capacity, projected four weeks out, increases to at least 15%, at which point they will go back to the color-coded reopening tier system the state has been using. But the chances of that happening anytime soon is slim, Newsom said, anticipating that the entire state will likely remain under the order into early 2021.

Read the full story and explore a map showing Caifornia's ICU capacity here.

—Matthew Green (@MGreenKQED)

Severe Outbreaks in Santa Clara County's Long-Term Care, Homeless Shelters

Health officials in Santa Clara County are warning that an increase in COVID-19 transmission is leading to more severe outbreaks in long-term care facilities and homeless shelters.

The county says it's conducting investigations into multiple outbreaks at long-term care facilities in San Jose. Two facilities, identified by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Mercury News as Amberwood Gardens and Skyline Healthcare Center, have reported 151 and 86 cases, respectively.

The virus is also making its way into homeless shelters, where relatively few cases of COVID-19 have appeared since March. The Boccardo Reception Center, an emergency shelter in San Jose for homeless people, has reported 60 new cases of the virus since late November. South Hall, another homeless shelter in San Jose, has reported seven new cases since Nov. 18, according to a county press release.

Those who tested positive were placed in hotel rooms for the duration of their quarantine, the release said. The county is urging residents to wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid contact with people outside their household.

During a press conference Thursday, Santa Clara County Deputy Health Officer Dr. George Han said the general surge of cases in the county is spilling over into group settings.

“People who reside and work at congregate settings are members of our community, so what happens as cases increase in our community, that increases the chances that more cases will be introduced into the congregate setting," he said.

Han urged residents to go above and beyond in reducing their chances of catching and spreading the virus.

“It is more dangerous right now in our community than at any other point in the pandemic,” Han said.

Marco Siler-Gonzales (@mijo_marco)