Is It Safe to Keep Loosening Coronavirus Restrictions? Medical Experts Weigh In

The nine Bay Area counties are in the process of incrementally reopening businesses and activities that were shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Now, with hospitalizations and deaths for COVID-19 having plateaued throughout the region, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties are loosening restrictions according to the state’s road map, while Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are taking a more deliberate approach. You can see the current reopening status of all the counties here.

But no matter which county you live in, the fact is there are now more people interacting with each other than at any time since the Bay Area basically closed up shop in March, which by definition provides more opportunities for the virus to spread.

To get an epidemiological take on what to expect, KQED asked infectious disease and medical experts from UCSF, Stanford and UC Berkeley what these reopenings could mean for the Bay Area and what health officials should watch for as they grapple with the possibility of having to reinstate closures.

Read the full story by KQED's Peter Arcuni here.

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)

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)