Verily Launches Bay Area Antibody Study

This week, the Alphabet-owned company Verily launched the first project of its new COVID-19 research initiative, which is studying antibodies in people previously tested for the novel coronavirus.

The study will collect blood samples from participants three times over the course of several weeks to screen for COVID-19 antibodies, also collecting nasal swab samples to test for current infection.

The serology study is being held in the Bay Area with people tested through the company's Project Baseline, which partners with county health departments to offer community-based testing for SARS-CoV-2.

“The idea is to understand the trajectory of when antibodies form, how long they last, and also which tests are most advantageous,” said Jessica Mega, Verily’s chief medical and scientific officer.

Researchers say determining whether COVID-19 antibodies offer protective immunity will be key to developing treatments and vaccines for the disease, which currently has no cure.


“The more that scientists and public health officials understand about the immune response, the better prepared we're going to be to come up with the right tests, whether they're diagnostics, the right therapeutics, as well as the right vaccine,” Mega said.

— Peter Arcuni (@peterarcuni)

New San Francisco Budget Allocates $446 Million to Coronavirus Response

San Francisco expects to spend $446 million in the coming fiscal year to continue fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor London Breed announced Tuesday.

About $93 million will come out of the city’s general fund, while the rest will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state grants and federal coronavirus relief funds.

“We can crush this virus if we all do our part,” Breed said at a press conference announcing the new budget.

The largest expenditure of about $185 million will support “health operations” and pay for COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment, bolstering hospital and skilled nursing facilities, contact tracing and community outreach.


The mayor’s budget also includes $16.5 million for the city’s COVID-19 command center, which is responsible for coordinating various city agencies’ response efforts. About $183 million is budgeted to pay for shelter, food and medical care for the city’s unsheltered residents, while $46 million will go to programs that address food insecurity.

“People who are confronting the loss of a job or health insurance will need to turn to the city in new ways to help them through this crisis,” said San Francisco Human Services Agency Executive Director Trent Rhorer.

— Monica Lam (@monicazlam), Karishma Patadia (@karishmapatadia)

Veteran San Quentin Guard Dies of COVID-19

A veteran guard at San Quentin State Prison has died as a result of the coronavirus, marking the first COVID-19 death of an employee at the California lockup where a large outbreak has infected staff and inmates, corrections officials said.

Sgt. Gilbert Polanco, an Army veteran and guard at San Quentin since 1988, died after being hospitalized for more than a month, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.

"Our hearts are broken as we awaken to the news of the passing of our beloved Sergeant, colleague, and friend," acting San Quentin Warden Ron Broomfield said in a statement Sunday. "Sgt. Gilbert Polanco demonstrated unwavering commitment and bravery as a peace officer working the frontline every day during this devastating pandemic.


Of more than 260 staff members infected by the virus at San Quentin, Polanco is the first to die. He's the ninth corrections employee to die of the virus statewide.

Also Sunday, corrections officials announced the death of San Quentin inmate Pedro Arias, 58, from "what appears to be complications related to COVID-19." Officials said in a statement that a coroner will determine the exact cause.

At least two dozen inmates at the prison near San Francisco have died from COVID-19 complications.

Arias was sentenced to death in Sacramento County on Feb. 22, 1990 for first-degree murder and second-degree robbery, officials said.

- The Associated Press

Protesters Demand ICE Release Detainees, Citing Pandemic

Protesters are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop transferring undocumented people from state prisons and local jails to immigration detention facilities because of the pandemic.

They gathered at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in downtown San Francisco Saturday to demand the release of undocumented immigrants from ICE detention centers across the state.

Immigration activist Judith Garcia says transfers from state prisons and local jails could introduce COVID-19 into immigration facilities.

"They need to stop," Garcia said. "And we need to pressure Newsom and all the politicians to act on it. So these transfers don't keep happening."

On Friday, a federal judge ordered immigration officials to stop sending new detainees to a private facility in Bakersfield with a growing COVID-19 outbreak.


— Shannon Lin (@LinShannonLin)

SF Chinatown Opens Streets to Walkers to Lure Back Shoppers

San Francisco’s Chinatown is trying to regain its usual foot traffic by closing off streets to cars.

For the fourth weekend in a row, the San Francisco Chinatown Merchants Association has closed off three blocks of Grant Avenue, from California to Washington Street, to make outdoor dining and shopping easier.

Eva Lee, with the merchants association, says businesses and shops have suffered the past few months due to the pandemic.

“This is actually a crucial time when we're supposed to get our major business. Summer to us is like Christmas to Downtown," Lee said.

Lee says one upside is that the traditional tourist hotspot has seen more foot traffic from locals this year.


The streets will continue to be blocked off until late September.

— Julie Chang (@BayAreaJulie)

COVID-19 Surge During Staff Shortage at California Women's Prison

One of California's two state prisons for women is experiencing its second surge in COVID-19 cases.

California Institution for Women first experienced a surge of over 150 inmate cases in May. Cases began to subside, but prison officials have now identified 55 new cases in the last 14 days.

Since the first outbreak, the 1,297-inmate facility has had a total of 344 confirmed cases.

One COVID-19 case at California Institution for Women has resulted in a death, according to state data.

Meanwhile, as inmates battle the virus, a shortage of staff forced the facility to change how it serves meals, which started Friday, August 7.


State corrections officials said a shortage of staff means incarcerated women will receive a cold breakfast, in addition to the normal box lunch and hot dinner.

Terri Hardy, a spokesperson with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) said the prison is operating at 60% of its normal food service staff because some staff have been redirected to “maintain safety and security of the institution.”

Hardy said they are experiencing a shortage because staff are out for various reasons including long-term leave, pre-approved leave, reassignment, medical and/or family leave.

The state corrections department said they anticipate the normal meal schedule to resume Tuesday, August 11.

— Kate Wolffe (@KateWolffe), Lakshmi Sarah (@lakitalki)

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)