COVID-19 States of Emergency Are Ending. What Does That Mean For You?

Answers about expiring emergency declarations

California is poised to record its 100,000th COVID-19 death. But at the end of this month, the Golden State — the first in the nation to lock down because of the virus — will end its pandemic state of emergency.

A few months later, on May 11, the federal government will halt its COVID public health emergency.

In many ways, it’s a symbolic victory over a virus whose threat has eased after more than two years of successive waves of infections, hospitalizations and 1.1 million U.S. deaths.

But the declaration also has implications for detection and treatment of a disease that continues to kill more than 400 Americans a day and to mutate in ways that could potentially lead to more virulent outbreaks. Here’s what we know about the ending of the states of emergency.

Q: Why is California’s COVID-19 State of Emergency ending Feb. 28?

A: Gov. Gavin Newsom, criticized for extending the state of emergency he declared March 4, 2020, even after lifting mask and social distancing requirements last year, announced in October that the declaration would be lifted this month. He said the extra time would allow for “flexibility to handle any potential surge” in cases over the winter and give local governments and health care providers time to plan for the coming changes.

Q: What did California’s state of emergency do?

A: Since first declaring the state of emergency, Newsom has issued 74 executive orders with 596 operative provisions. Of those, just 27 provisions remain in effect until Feb. 28. The provisions loosen state rules to streamline health care delivery and response, like allowing pharmacists and pharmacist technicians to conduct COVID-19 tests.

Q: Might we still need some of those rules?

A: Newsom has asked lawmakers for two statutory changes that would continue some provisions. One would continue to allow nurses to dispense COVID-19 treatments, and another would maintain the ability of laboratory workers to solely process COVID-19 tests.

Q: What does the federal Public Health Emergency do and what will change when it ends May 11?

A: Much like California’s state of emergency, the declaration in effect since January 2020 waived regulations to allow more flexibility in the health care system. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, many of those provisions have since been made permanent or extended, while others are no longer needed with reported cases down 92% and hospitalizations and deaths down 80% since the peak of the omicron variant surge at the end of January 2022.

There will be some changes. The requirement for private insurance companies to cover COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing will end. State Medicaid programs won’t have to provide test coverage after Sept. 30, 2024. Medicare Part B enrollees will continue to get free laboratory-conducted COVID-19 tests when ordered by a provider, but will no longer get free over-the-counter tests.

But federally purchased vaccines and treatments like Paxlovid must be provided at no cost as long as those supplies last, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Q: How will ending both states of emergency affect access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments in the state?

A: The California Department of Public Health said health insurers here must provide enrollees free vaccines, testing and therapeutics from any licensed provider, including those outside the health plan network until Nov. 11. After that, enrollees may face cost-sharing or coinsurance payments for vaccines, testing or therapeutics from an out-of-network provider.

Q: What about the uninsured?

A:  Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, said in a recent Twitter thread that “for nearly all Americans, vaccines will remain free.” For the uninsured, he said that “we are committed to ensuring that vaccines and treatments are accessible and not prohibitively expensive for uninsured Americans.” How that will happen he left unclear, adding only: “more details to follow.”

Q: Will I still be able to get boosters or tests at the local mass vaccination and testing sites?

A: Those are being wound down. Local mass testing and vaccine sites are closing by the end of the month, but county health departments say they will continue to provide vaccination, testing and medical services to their patients.

Q: What about access to COVID-19 information, vaccines and tests at schools?

A: Oakland Unified said it will continue asking students to report COVID-19 illness and to advise them of isolation and return-to-school policies, and that it will continue to make high-quality masks and rapid at-home tests available at all schools. But the district will no longer notify classrooms of a positive case in the classroom. There will be one regional testing site a day at different schools with rapid tests. A vaccine requirement for volunteers is being dropped.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

LA County Inches Closer To Mandatory Indoor Mask Mandate

‘No one wants masks again’

Los Angeles County inched closer to returning to an indoor mask mandate on Thursday, with the rising number of COVID-19 cases moving the County back into the “medium” COVID activity level.

Since the repeal of state and local indoor mask mandates in the late winter and early spring of this year, fluctuating COVID-19 transmission rates, as well as recent new case rises and new variants, have had counties considering a return of some form of mask mandate. During the summer, Alameda County brought their mandate back briefly, with LA County nearly doing so but dropping plans to do so at the last minute due to both a turnaround of new cases and enormous public outcry.

A dip in cases during the fall quelled fears of a mandate for a time, but with the number of cases climbing again, LA County Public Health Department began to strongly recommend wearing masks indoors last month. The number of cases has continued to increase since. On November 21st, 1,123 new cases of COVID-19 were announced by LA Public Health. On Thursday, LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer  said that the number of new cases a day were over 2,700, with an average of 192 COVID-related hospital admissions, with Thursday’s total going well above that average with 4,493 new cases. Since November 1st, the average number of COVID infections a day has gone up 180%, with COVID hospital admissions up 200%.

“There is this common line of thinking that the pandemic is over and COVID is no longer of concern, but these numbers clearly demonstrate that COVID is still with us,” Ferrer said on Thursday. “Given both the increases in hospitalizations and the lack of certainty in the winter trajectory for COVID-19, continuing some common-sense mitigation strategies that we know work to limit transmission and illness, including masking and being up to date on vaccines and boosters, remains a very sensible approach.”

While the number of cases has pushed the county into the “medium” community level and a “high” level expected sometime in the next few weeks, Ferrer said that a mandate would not be put into effect until CDC thresholds were met. Specifically, a mandate would not happen until there was an average COVID admission rate of more than 10 out of 100,000 residents in the County and that 10% or more inpatient hospital beds had COVID patients.

“However, it does signal that case rates and hospitalizations are elevated, and we could be in the ‘high’ community level as soon as next week,” added Ferrer.

Many healthcare workers noted that reaching the CDC thresholds would take some time to meet, and would likely not be reached until after Christmas.

“If they are met, and that is still a big if, there would still be other County thresholds to meet, as well as a two week period to make sure those rates stayed that high,” Luisa Renteria, a nurse in Los Angeles who has assisted COVID patients since March 2020, told the Globe on Thursday. “That’s what stopped the mandate from returning this summer, and in all likelihood, would stop it again in, say, January or February.”

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

Schlok’s Is Finally Opening Its bagel Shop Next Week After ‘Bleeding Money’ Over S.F. Bureaucracy

Despite San Francisco’s notorious bureaucratic red tape, a new destination for chewy, malty bagels is on track to open next week.

Schlok’s, the pandemic-born pop-up that used to sell out in minutes, opens its permanent shop at 1263 Fell St., near Broderick St. on March 2. It comes from James Lok, formerly a chef at Michelin-starred destinations like Benu and the Restaurant at Meadowood, and Zack Schwab, who also co-owns Pacific Heights bar the Snug.

Finally getting to this debut has been a bumpy journey. On Wednesday, Schlok’s shared a dramatic update on social media, saying it couldn’t open this week as planned because the Department of Building Inspection was still in the process of approving a three-sentence statement that was submitted on Feb. 7. It called on fans to contact San Francisco officials “to help them understand the extreme burden that continues to be placed on small businesses trying to open in this city.”

The Schlok’s space used to be a laundromat, so significant work was needed for the build-out. Toward the end of construction, Schwab said everything from plumbing to electrical seemed fine. But then the city needed clarification on a door Schlok’s installed. It took 10 business days to schedule another inspection and sign off on the door — too long for a small business, in Schwab’s opinion, but actually the target length of time for the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), according to spokesperson Patrick Hannan. He also noted that Schlok’s cancelled three previous inspections, though Schwab said that was because the inspector was on vacation.

At Wednesday’s inspection, DBI cleared Schlok’s to open, though the business still needs to complete more paperwork and two more inspections with the agency. Ultimately, Schlok’s couldn’t schedule its final health inspection until that door sign-off from DBI, which he hoped wouldn’t take two weeks because of its seeming simplicity. Every day of waiting resulted in “bleeding money,” Schwab said.

“When you’re pretty much done with your inspections, you have to start planning to ramp up your operations and open,” he said. “We hired five people in addition to our two managers who have been on salary for months now. We started ordering product.”

When Schlok’s first secured its Lower Haight space last April, Schwab was optimistic that the shop could open by September thanks to Proposition H, a measure aimed at streamlining the permitting process for small businesses. Despite his estimate being off by several months, he thinks Prop. H probably still helped considering the horror stories he’d heard in the past.

“But I think the issue was Prop. H only gets you so far,” he said. “It’s just getting those permits, then you’re just where everyone else finds themselves with the bureaucracy and delays and everything else that’s been so hard for small businesses.”

With the ordeal mostly behind them now, Schwab is eager for customers to visit next week. The modern bagel shop will bring the essentials to the Lower Haight: bags of fresh bagels ($3 each or $33 for a dozen), bagel sandwiches and schmears. But Lok’s take on these typically New York-style classics is unique, with vivid malty notes and a thin crust. Now operating out of shop designed to produce bagels and outfitted with new equipment, Schwab says the bagels are tasting better than ever.

Schlok’s will make its own schmears as well as cure and slice gravlax-style lox in-house. Coffee comes from San Francisco’s Saint Frank. Schwab said he’s expecting more demand than the shop can handle at first. To cut back on the inevitable lines, it’ll make most bagels available for pre-order online starting at 6:45 a.m.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

Omicron Surge Prompts Newport Beach To Close City Hall, Other Spots, To Public

Newport Beach’s City Hall, community centers and other spots will be mostly closed to the public beginning Monday, Jan. 3 amid the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 and the surge of infections expected following the holiday season, officials said this weekend.

Omicron’s rapid spread has affected businesses, air travel, sports, entertainment and other aspects of life around the nation. COVID-19 cases and potential exposures skyrocketing in Orange County have sent people scrambling to get tested.

In Newport Beach, non-city employees will not be allowed into certain facilities. But all city services will still be conducted either over the phone, online or through drop-off services. People who need to submit physical documents or payments can deposit those into bins placed outside of City Hall, a workaround which had been used in “previous COVID protocols,” officials said in an announcement on the city’s website.

“We anticipate these protocols will be in place for at least two weeks, through mid-January,” Newport Beach officials said in the announcement. “However, we are carefully monitoring the COVID Omicron outbreak in consultation with Hoag Hospital and County health officials, and will adjust as necessary.”

Libraries will remain open but no in-person meetings will be allowed. Recreational classes hosted at the city’s community centers will continue as scheduled, but face coverings will be mandatory indoors and no spectators will be allowed.

The return of coronavirus-related closures came as a surprise, even to some city officials, Newport Beach spokesman John Pope said. He added that early estimates regarding the duration of the precautionary measures may be “optimistic.”

The decision to implement the restrictions was based on concerning data from county officials regarding the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.  It was made by City Manager Grace Leung as a growing number of city staff reported recent exposure to coronavirus, Pope said.

City leaders intend to “amplify the message of health professionals,” he said. They are urging everyone to get vaccinated, and advise those who are to get their booster shots.

This is at least the third time the coronavirus has prompted officials to temporarily bar the public from entering City Hall, Pope said. It, as well as community centers, playgrounds, houses of worship and other facilities were shuttered in the Summer of 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19.

Those previous closures each lasted about a month, Pope said. They followed guidance outlined in the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom when lockdowns first went into place in 2020, more than a year before vaccines for the virus were approved for emergency use.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

On Omicron, Pols Must Resist Overreacting

There’s a new COVID variant and the world is freaking out.

Omicron was first found in South Africa, prompting President Biden to restrict travel from eight African countries. Japan, Israel and Morocco closed their borders. The UK is considering tighter mask and travel rules. New York declared a state of emergency.

Though Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, said omicron would “inevitably” appear in the United States, no cases have been detected yet.

Fauci also said it could take a few weeks for the global science community to learn just how serious omicron is, and urged caution. “We should not be freaking out,” Fauci said.

We agree.

It’s true that cases have been reported in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Australia, the UK, Austria and Italy, but scientists are not yet sure how contagious, how virulent and how vaccine-resistant omicron is. While variants of the coronavirus are cause for concern, the limited number of cases globally give little upon which to draw conclusions and even less reason for heavy-handed government responses.

On Twitter, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that California officials are “monitoring” what’s happening, and announced no new restrictions. Los Angeles County has consistently been more aggressive than Newsom in terms of COVID response, but has so far followed Newsom’s lead on omicron.

This measured, wait-and-see approach is wise.

We are much better off as a society now than during the early days of COVID-19. We enjoy high vaccination rates, broad access to boosters for high-risk populations, widespread natural immunity and the ongoing development and availability of new, effective treatments.

Individuals are also now well-experienced with adapting according to their level of risk without the government needing to tell them what to do.

Click here to read full article at OC Register