CDC to unveil new metrics to assess virus risk

Three Bay Area counties improved to the “moderate” coronavirus infection rate, as coronavirus cases nosedived in the region this month. Is it time we all started getting booster shots? Experts say keep your sleeve rolled down for now: There’s not enough data to recommend fourth shots for everyone and the current booster regime provides plenty of protection.

CDC to unveil new metrics for assessing virus risk: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will change the way it assesses “community levels of disease” for COVID-19 as early as Friday, according to a source inside the agency who spoke with CNN. The updated metrics will help many counties nationwide to move closer to lifting safety measures aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus, such as mask mandates. By current standards, 97% of the counties in the US are at substantial or high levels of virus transmission – tiers for which the agency recommends masking indoors. The agency will move away from looking at case rates and positive test rates in determining virus risk, according to the source, and also incorporate hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths in each region.

LA County drops mask mandate for businesses that verify vaccination: Businesses and venues in Los Angeles County that verify vaccination status will be allowed to make masking indoors optional for fully vaccinated customers and workers beginning Friday, according to a modified order issued by the health department. “With lower rates of hospital admissions and COVID hospitalizations, it is appropriate in settings verifying vaccination or negative test status, that we transition to strongly recommending masking instead of requiring masking,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, in a statement.

Contra Costa doctor cleared by medical board for giving shots: Dr. Rebecca Parish, the Lafayette internist who was accused of giving COVID-19 vaccines to people not yet eligible for them during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, was cleared of the charge in January 2022 by the state Medical Board that licenses and governs doctors, The Chronicle has learned. Read the full story here.

Vaccine demand in US falters following omicron surge: The average number of Americans getting their first shot of a vaccine against COVID-19 has fallen to about 90,000 a day, according to federal data – the lowest number since December 2020, when shots were available on a limited basis. Nearly 25% of the eligible US population has not yet received even one dose of vaccine, and more than 35% are not fully vaccinated. The trend does not appear likely to reverse anytime soon as government leaders have abandoned incentive programs and some vaccine mandates. Demand for shots has bottomed out, especially in conservative regions and among communities of color where distrust of the government runs deep, according to a report by the Associated Press. In California, about 74% of the eligible population is fully vaccinatedwith only 56.3% having received a booster dose, which health officials say is critical in protecting against omicron, especially as the state winds down other COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Vaccines offered less advantage against infection during omicron surge: Vaccinated Americans continued to enjoy higher levels of protection against COVID-19 during the winter surge than those who had not had shots. But the level of protection was lower against the highly infectious omicron variant of the coronavirus than for the earlier delta and alpha variants, a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms. The reduced protection resulted in an unprecedented spike of cases, and also substantially increased hospitalizations and deaths, even for people who were fully vaccinated or, in some cases, boosted. At the peak of the summer delta surge, the risk of testing positive for the virus was 400% higher for those who were unvaccinated than for those who had completed their initial vaccine series. At the peak of the winter omicron surge, that relative gap closed to 120%. Still, shots and boosters still made a big difference in outcomes: Unvaccinated adults were 14 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated, while unvaccinated adults were 41 times more likely to die than those who were both vaccinated and boosted.

Up to 12,800 Americans may die of COVID-19 by mid-March: The number of newly reported COVID-19 deaths will likely decrease over the next 4 weeks according to federal forecasts, with 5,400 to 12,800 new deaths likely reported in the week ending March 19. The national ensemble used by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that a total of 963,000 to 983,000 COVID-19 deaths will have been reported by that date. California is forecast to see between 500 to 1,500 additional COVID deaths over the same period, bringing the state tally of lives lost closer to 90,000.

Rise of BA.2 not slowing overall global case decline, WHO reports: The BA.2 sublineage of the omicron coronavirus variant should continue to be considered a variant of concern but does not warrant a distinct Greek letter, nor is it extending the tail of the current surge of COVID-19 cases, the World Health Organization said in a special bulletin on Tuesday. “Although BA.2 sequences are increasing in proportion relative to other omicron sublineages (BA.1 and BA.1.1), there is still a reported decline in overall cases globally,” the agency said. BA.2, which is reportedly 30% more contagious than its parent strain, accounts for about 3.9% of all new infections in the US, and that rate appears to be doubling weekly. It has already become the dominant version of the virus in at least 10 countries, including Denmark, China and India.

CDC recommends waiting 8 weeks between initial vaccine doses: Some people getting Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines should consider waiting up to eight weeks between the first and second doses, instead of the three or four weeks previously recommended, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in guidance it quietly updated on Tuesday. Officials said they were reacting to research showing that the longer interval can provide more enduring protection against the coronavirus, the Associated Press reports. Research suggests that 12- to 64-year-olds – especially males ages 12 to 39 – can benefit from the longer spacing, the CDC said. The original, shorter interval is still recommended for people with weakened immune systems; people 65 and older; and anyone who needs fast protection due to risk of severe disease.

US truckers plan convoy protest inspired by Canadian counterparts: Inspired by the recent trucker protests in Canada, groups of American truckers from several states plan to descend on Washington DC for President Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1, according to federal officials. The Pentagon plans to deploy up to 800 unarmed National Guard troops to the nation’s capital, according to press secretary John Kirby, “to provide support at traffic control points in and around the district” and stand ready in case of possible disruptions at key traffic arteries. ” According to a series of online posts, Reuters reports the truckers want to see an end to pandemic safety measures such as mask and vaccine requirements.

Point Bonita Lighthouse reopens after two-year pandemic closure: The Point Bonita Lighthouse in the Marin Headlands has resumed tours for the first time in nearly two years after closing its doors for the coronavirus pandemic. The 167-year-old lighthouse, which is accessible by a suspension bridge, is open Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 to 3:30 pm, according to an update from the Golden Gate National Park Service. “A secret jewel of the Bay Area, the Point Bonita Lighthouse, built in 1855, was the third lighthouse built on the West Coast and helped shepherd ships through the treacherous Golden Gate straits,” the agency says. It also advises “lines can be long” and guests should arrive early “to ensure you get to cross the suspension bridge.”

Drugmakers say their COVID vaccine is 100% effective against severe illness: Drugmakers Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline said their COVID-19 vaccine was 100% effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalizations, according to a statement released by the companies Wednesday. The companies are now seeking regulatory approvals for their vaccine, which may also prove useful as a booster shot, the companies said.

US flight attendants push to keep passengers masked until more are vaccinated: A union representing US flight attendants has asked the Biden administration to delay a plan to lift masking requirements on flights, the New York Times reported. Officials with the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said removing masks put flight staff and medically vulnerable people at risk. Transportation officials plan to lift the mask mandate on flights on March 18.

Cases down 80% in Bay Area: The number of new coronavirus cases in the Bay Area has fallen by nearly 80% since the beginning of the month, but all but three counties in the region still have high or substantial transmission rates, as does most of California, according to federal data. The daily death rate – a lagging pandemic indicator – is up about 10% since the beginning of the month, making California one of a handful of states not to see a steady decline in fatalities coming out of the omicron winter surge. Read the full story.

Bill would require schools to have a virus testing plans: Each California school district would have to have a coronavirus testing plan under legislation introduced Tuesday by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. SB 1479 also would provide resources to implement such planscontingent on appropriations, “as part of a broader legislative package to keep schools open and safe and protect public health,” and require the California health department to help districts develop the plans for each school.

SF data shows widening racial and ethnic disparities in child vaccination rates: San Francisco health officials on Tuesday highlighted widening racial and ethnic disparities in coronavirus vaccination coverage among children ages 5 to 11. About 67% of the age group have received their shots. But the racial divide is large: 81% of Asian and 64% of white children are vaccinated, compared to 22% of of American Indian and Alaska Native children, and 44% of Pacific Islander, 48% of Latino, and 29% of Black children. Among Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Samoan children 34% are vaccinated, Said Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s health director, in a statement: “We are listening to the needs of the community and working on tailoring solutions to bridge these gaps so that all children in San Francisco can receive the best defense against the virus.”

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