LA County Outlines Requirements For Dropping Mask Rules: Los Angeles County officials said Thursday that face coverings no longer will be required in certain outdoor settings once covid hospitalizations drop, and indoor mask rules could be loosened after further gains. The county would enter this “post-surge” phase when coronavirus-positive hospitalizations drop below 2,500 for seven straight days, about 26% below the current figure. Read more from the Los Angeles Times and City News Service.

California’s ‘Vaccine Czar’ Resigns: The woman Gov. Gavin Newsom called California’s “vaccine czar” is leaving state service for a job in San Francisco, she told employees Wednesday. Yolanda Richardson, the secretary of the Government Operations Agency, will take over San Francisco’s Medi-Cal plan, she announced in an email. Her last day will be March 2. Read more from The Sacramento Bee and San Francisco Chronicle.

Below, check out the roundup of California Healthline’s coverage. For today’s national health news, read KHN’s Morning Briefing.

Modesto Bee:
Medicare To Let Seniors Get COVID-19 Home Tests At Drugstores 

By early spring, Medicare will allow California seniors to go to their local drugstores to get up to eight home tests for COVID-19 each month at no cost, rather than requiring them to check to see if their insurers will reimburse them, federal officials announced Thursday. It’s the first time that Medicare would be paying for an over-the-counter test for free, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (Anderson, 2/4)

The New York Times:
Medicare Will Soon Provide Free At-Home Coronavirus Tests 

Medicare, which covers roughly 60 million Americans, will provide free over-the-counter rapid coronavirus tests beginning in the spring, according to the federal government’s Medicare and Medicaid agency. The policy would “allow Medicare beneficiaries to pick up tests at no cost at the point of sale and without needing to be reimbursed,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said on Thursday, adding that it would be the first time Medicare covered the whole cost of an over-the-counter test. (Weiland, 2/3)

The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat:
Petaluma COVID-19 Testing Site Deemed ‘Suspicious’

Nancy Arata went through radiation and chemotherapy last year, and it had been a long time since she had gotten tested for COVID-19. So, on Jan. 14, when she drove by the Petaluma Community Center in Lucchesi Park and noticed a pop-up testing site, she decided to stop. “There were only like two people ahead of me, and I thought, ‘Wow this is great,’” the 71-year-old Arata said. “I didn’t look to see if it was legit. I just assumed it was…And then I didn’t hear from them again.” (Endicott, 2/3)

Bay Area News Group:
COVID: ‘Stealth Omicron’ Is Spreading, But Not So Fast

The new cousin of the super-contagious omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 hasn’t spread as fast as health officials had feared, raising hopes it won’t extend the devastating case surge that has filled hospital wards this winter. The sub-lineage of the omicron variant known as BA.2 has been dubbed “stealth omicron” because it is harder to detect, and its rapid spread in other countries has worried health officials that it could overtake the dominant omicron strain and perhaps prove more virulent or vaccine resistant. (Woolfolk, 2/3)

The Washington Post:
Yes, It’s Still A Pandemic Of The Unvaccinated — Arguably Even More So Now

New data shows that the gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans remains stark. In fact, when you compare unvaccinated people to those most protected by the vaccines, the gap has grown. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data this week from Los Angeles County. The data covered the period between Nov. 7 and Jan. 8, which means the vast majority of cases involved came after the rise of omicron. What you’ll see right away is that there are indeed lots of infections among both unvaccinated people and vaccinated people — more specifically, vaccinated people who haven’t gotten boosters. (Blake, 2/3)

‘I Felt As If I Failed’: Why Do Some People Feel Shame At Getting COVID? 

Getting COVID can make a person feel a variety of emotions: anger, fear, frustration. But many folks have reported experiencing another kind of reaction to their own positive test result: a feeling of shame. For those who haven’t experienced it themselves, the idea of being ashamed at getting COVID — during a literal pandemic, no less — might seem odd. And yet when we asked KQED audiences for their stories, “COVID shame” was something that many people told us they couldn’t help but feel. (Severn, 2/3)

Sacramento Bee:
COVID-19 Outbreaks At ICE Detention Facilities Raise Concerns 

As COVID-19 cases have spiked among immigrants and staff in several of California’s privately operated immigrant detention centers in recent weeks, advocacy groups have increased pressure on the state to intervene and provide detainees with better safeguards against contracting the virus. In a Jan. 28 letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Tomás Aragón, more than 50 statewide organizations, legal service providers and advocacy groups denounced the treatment of detainees in federal immigration detention facilities. (Lopez, 2/3)

California Eyes Endemic COVID Strategy

California is approaching yet another pandemic inflection point — one that could mark the state’s transition to treating COVID like any other virus. Gov. Gavin Newsom has hinted at a forthcoming “endemic strategy” for dealing with COVID-19 at least twice in the past two weeks. California’s statewide mask mandate is set to expire on Feb. 15 — and given decreasing test positivity rates, cities such as San Francisco relaxing their mask rules and photos of a maskless Newsom at last weekend’s NFC Championship game, state health officials may not be inclined to extend it. (Hoeven, 2/3)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Expanded COVID Sick Leave In California Could Take Effect Next Week

Many California workers are one step closer to regaining access to expanded COVID-19 supplementary sick pay after a bill published Wednesday outlined who would be eligible and the limits on how much businesses would have to pay. The further details come after Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders announced a deal last week to revive the emergency sick pay for people affected by the virus and their families. (DiFeliciantonio, 2/3)

Garcetti Defends Maskless Photo At NFL Game: ‘I Hold My Breath’ 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters on Wednesday that he held his breath while taking a photo last weekend with San Francisco Mayor London Breed and former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson in which all three were not wearing masks. Johnson posted the photo, taken at an NFL playoff game last Sunday between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams, on his Twitter account. Spectators at the game were required to wear masks. (Gedeon, 2/3)

The Washington Post:
L.A.’s Mayor Took A Maskless Photo With Magic Johnson, Defying Covid Rules. His Defense: ‘I’m Holding My Breath.’

Over the weekend, Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson took to Twitter to share several photos he had taken as the L.A. Rams faced off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game. “Hanging out at SoFi Stadium today!” Johnson tweeted, referencing the Rams’ home in Inglewood, Calif., along with four pictures that appeared to be taken from a luxury suite. (Salcedo, 2/3)

California Coronavirus Updates: Yolo County Health Officer Encourages ‘Vaccine Curious’ To Get Their COVID-19 Shot 

Public health officials say they’re cautiously optimistic that the current surge of COVID-19 is on the wane — but the omicron variant spread so quickly it affected just about every aspect of daily life. This surge has been different from the one in 2021 because of the vaccines’ wide availability and effectiveness, though not everyone is getting them. Yolo County Public Health Officer Dr. Amy Sisson sat with CapRadio’s Insight host Vicki Gonzalez to discuss why vaccination remains a challenge. (2/3)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Why Are So Few People In The Bay Area Getting COVID Booster Shots?

It is well established that the protection offered by the initial series of COVID vaccines wanes over time. But despite months of availability, booster shots remain comparatively unpopular, even in a highly vaccinated region like the Bay Area, where hundreds of thousands of people have so far taken a pass on the third dose. Many public health experts think that low uptake of boosters not only exacerbated the devastating winter omicron surge, but is extending the tail of the pandemic. That means it will take longer to lift restrictions — and it could leave the population vulnerable to other variants and more waves of cases and hospitalizations. (Hwang and Vaziri, 2/4)

Los Angeles Times:
L.A. County Schools See Big Decline In Coronavirus Cases

Coronavirus infections have declined about 70% since the start of the spring semester among students in L.A. County, but overall rates remain significantly higher than they were before the current surge. The decline in the latest countywide figures, released Thursday by Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, aligns with other data suggesting that the peak of the explosive growth due to the Omicron variant has passed. Health officials warned, however, that it remains important to take precautions — many of which remain required under local health orders. (Blume, 2/3)

Modesto Bee:
By The Hundreds, Oakdale Students Refuse Masks At Schools 

About 375 Oakdale Joint Unified students refused to wear masks on Wednesday as parents protested California’s mask mandate outside campuses, Superintendent Dave Kline said. The student action continued Thursday, according to the district. Students who did not wear or accept masks across all grade levels created a “difficult” and time-consuming situation for school officials, who are required by law to ensure students wear face coverings indoors, Kline said Wednesday. “Small numbers” of people protested, he said. (Isaacman, 2/3)

Los Angeles Times:
California Bill Would Let Patients Have Voice In Doctor Discipline 

For nearly three decades, California law has forbidden the state Medical Board from considering victim statements in their decision making. Instead, a person filing a complaint to the Medical Board can provide a statement to a deputy attorney general assigned to their case, but those words are not allowed to be shared with board members who ultimately determine what discipline, if any, is warranted. “People feel they don’t have a voice in the disciplinary process and they want to be able to tell their side and be heard,” Hurtado said. “I don’t think they are expecting everything to change overnight, but it is something they desperately want.” (Gutiérrez, Mejia and Dolan, 2/3)

Could A New Policy Approach Solve Inequality? 

Despite a suite of well-intended policies aimed at improving education, health and economic outcomes for disadvantaged groups, California’s racial inequalities aren’t getting smaller. Often, they’re growing. That’s prompting some researchers to rethink how they approach policymaking. (Bedayn, 2/3)

Voice of OC:
Bladder Infections, Padded Underwear ‘Just Part Of The Job’ For Some OC Bus Drivers, Say Those Decrying Bathroom Break Policies

For some Orange County bus drivers, stopping to use the restroom with passengers aboard can be a calculated risk, given the potential for rider complaints and traffic delays, which can already chip away at the limited rest time allowed by their employer, the region’s public transit agency. The result? Embarrassing and even unhealthy scenarios such as bladder infections from holding urine, urinating right outside the bus, wearing padded underwear, or even wetting one’s self can become “part of the job” as a driver for the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), said union leaders and a former driver in interviews with Voice of OC this week. (Pho, 2/3)

San Francisco Chronicle:
S.F. Election: Where Assembly Candidates Stand On City’s Hottest Issues From Housing To Overdoses

The four candidates are David Campos, former District Nine supervisor who is taking a break from his job as chief of staff to District Attorney Chesa Boudin; Matt Haney, District Six supervisor; Bilal Mahmood, scientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist; and Thea Selby, City College trustee, transit advocate and business owner. As the election nears, here’s your quick guide to where they stand on the hottest issues in San Francisco. (Moench, Gardiner and Garofoli, 2/3)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Sonoma Vineyard Workers Fight For Safety Ahead Of Fire Season. It’s An Uphill Battle

The ag pass is intended to protect the livelihoods of farmers, grape growers and winery owners. But a grassroots effort that began growing in Sonoma County last year argues that it also presents very real dangers to their workers — who are sometimes asked to risk their health and safety by entering smoke-filled fire zones. Called North Bay Jobs with Justice, a local coalition of community organizations, allies and activists has created a list of five demands, including hazard pay and disaster insurance, that they want added to the ag pass program ahead of the 2022 fire season. (Lander, 2/3)

San Diego Baby Born 2/2/22 At 2:22 P.M. At Kaiser Permanente

At Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center, a baby was born on 2/2/22 at 2:22 p.m.! Hospital staff shared heartwarming photos of first time parents Natalie and Angel who live in Carlsbad. Their son Ramon weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces and is 19 inches long. … Can’t get enough of the number two? Baby Ramon is also the 22nd great grandchild of Natalie’s grandmother Josephine. (Summerville, 2/2)

Los Angeles Times:
As Planet Warms, Air Conditioning Could Exceed Power Supply 

As climate change pushes temperatures ever higher, Californians could lose air conditioning for roughly one week each summer because the demand for cooling will have exceeded the capacity of the electrical grid, a new study has found. Absent any improvement to the power infrastructure or the efficiency of air conditioners, researchers say the state could hit this sweltering mark by the early 2030s, when global average temperature is predicted to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. (Wigglesworth and Vives, 2/4)

Study Identifies Virulent HIV Variant Unrecognized For Years 

Scientists have found a previously unrecognized variant of HIV that’s more virulent than usual and has quietly circulated in the Netherlands for the past few decades. Thursday’s report isn’t cause for alarm: HIV medicines worked just as well in people with the mutated virus as everyone else and its spread has been declining since about 2010. It was discovered as part of efforts to better understand how HIV continues to evolve. (Neergaard, 2/3)

Los Angeles Times:
Venice Beach Residents Still Unhappy With Homeless Camps 

Venice residents and community activists who worked with Councilman Mike Bonin’s office and other city departments on the encampment-to-housing project view those sketchy characters not as a part of the boardwalk’s offbeat mystique but as evidence of a job that was never completed. Rather than accept the shelter that was offered, dozens of people simply slipped away, taking up residence in alleys near the beach, joining encampments that already existed and starting a new one on the median of Venice Boulevard. (Smith, 2/3)

Sacramento Bee:
Will Newsom’s Homelessness Plan Help California’s Unhoused? 

Standing alongside a San Diego highway in front of orange trash bags and cleanup crews earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared the homelessness crisis in California was “unacceptable” and said he’s going to do something about it. “Not only are we meeting this moment by recognizing what everybody’s recognizing, that it’s out of control and unacceptable what’s happening on the streets all across the state,” he said. “But we are starting to deliver on what we’ve been promoting.” (Korte, 2/3)

The Washington Post:
Wealthy California Town Says It Can’t Build Mandated Affordable Housing. The Reason: Mountain Lions.

An affluent Bay Area town is blocking the development of new affordable housing because of the supposed endangerment of mountain lions in the area, in a move to skirt state law that’s been described by lawmakers and critics as “absurd” and “shameless.” The town of Woodside, Calif., was among the areas facing the prospect of building new housing as part of Senate Bill 9, the state’s new split-lot law. The law, which went into effect last month, allows homeowners to divide single-family lots and build up to four residential units in a lot. (Bella, 2/3)

Los Angeles Times:
 California Single-Payer Healthcare Is Out Of Reach 

After all the scuffling over single-payer healthcare legislation, the author mercifully killed the bill himself. It was smart — the only possible move that made sense. If he had pushed for a vote on the Assembly floor, the measure would have gone “down in flames,” Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) told angry supporters in a Zoom call after he allowed the bill to die peacefully. (George Skelton, 2/3)

Los Angeles Daily News:
Single Payer Diagnosis: The Union Parasite Is Eating Its Own 

An attempted state takeover of healthcare has stalled again, meaning that Californians can breathe more easily – through masks, of course, and likely only for the moment. Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, author of Assembly Bill 1400, proposed to create CalCare, a kind of DMV for California healthcare. CalCare would be a government-run healthcare system that eliminates private insurers and allows government regulators to dictate the activities of anyone associated with medicine — prices, practices, staffing, prescriptions, tests and more. It would do all that and, remarkably, double taxes in the most taxed state in the nation. (Will Swaim, 2/3)

Sacramento Bee:
Health Care Bill Failure Shows Weaknesses Of CA Democrats

California’s latest attempt at creating a single-payer health care system ended in spectacularly underwhelming fashion on Monday, but the outcome and way it played out was familiar for a modern political party that’s allergic to its own platform. The demise of Assembly Bill 1400, the integral first piece in a legislative package to create a state-funded guaranteed health care system called CalCare, was more about the failings of the Democratic Party than the politics of establishing health care as a human right. (Yousef Baig, 2/2)

East Bay Times:
Universal Coverage In California Is A Better Bet Than Single-Payer

After all the scuffling over single-payer health care legislation, the author mercifully killed the bill himself. It was smart — the only possible move that made sense. If he had pushed for a vote on the Assembly floor, the measure would have gone “down in flames,” Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, told angry supporters in a Zoom call after he allowed the bill to die peacefully. He hoped to leave open the possibility of a resurrection next year in a new Legislature. (George Skelton, 2/4)

Orange County Register:
Learn Lessons Of Telehealth In This Pandemic 

In the teeth of a terrible pandemic, millions of Americans, both patients and healthcare providers, for the first time plunged into telemedicine. Initially, skepticism abounded on both sides of the screen. Necessity — the strong desire to not get infected with COVID-19 — was as usual the mother of invention. But physicians and patients alike really doubted whether looking at and talking to each other through a computer screen — or even a phone! — could have anything like as good an outcome as an in-person visit could provide. (2/3)

Los Angeles Times:
California’s Blocked Vaccine Mandate For Prison Guards Is Public Health Idiocy

After the federal receiver in charge of California’s correctional healthcare system pleaded for a vaccine requirement, U.S. District Judge John Tigar finally ordered one in September — only for Gov. Gavin Newsom, otherwise a staunch vaccine supporter, to side with the corrections department and the guards’ union in opposing the mandate. Their appeal is still pending with the 9th Circuit, and at this point there is no general requirement that prison staff become vaccinated. (Hadar Aviram, 2/1)

San Francisco Chronicle:
My Preschooler Coughed In My Face And Gave Me COVID. Why The Doctor In Me Died A Little That Day

A few weeks ago, an unvaccinated COVID patient coughed in my face, pinched me and told me she loved me. Not surprisingly, five days later, I tested positive, too. As a COVID intensive-care doctor, a long-COVID doctor and a lung doctor, I’ve had several close calls with patients and colleagues but have managed to protect myself and my family with the strictest precautions. But I made the mistake of letting my guard down with this individual because she wasn’t just a patient. (Lekshmi Santhosh, 2/3)

Los Angeles Times:
Neil Young Can’t Persuade Spotify To Stop COVID Misinformation 

Last week, Neil Young issued an ultimatum to Spotify after growing frustrated with podcast king Joe Rogan spreading COVID misinformation on the platform. “They can have Rogan or Young,” he declared. “Not both.” Spotify chose Rogan; a firestorm ensued. Joni Mitchell and some other musicians ditched the service, while author Brené Brown paused her Spotify-exclusive podcast. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, who have a big Spotify deal, voiced “concerns.” The company’s stock has shed billions in value over the past week, prompting founder Daniel Ek to respond Sunday by publishing a set of platform rules and promising to add content advisories. (Zach O’Malley Greenberg, 1/31)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Cancer Is Far Deadlier Than COVID. It Doesn’t Have To Be

In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its final count of COVID deaths for 2020. Identified as the underlying cause of death of 350,831 people that year, COVID-19 catapulted into becoming the third leading cause of death in the country. But while all things pandemic related continue to dominate the headlines, another killer continues to ravage the country as it always has, and it is nearly twice as deadly. (Rob Tufel, 2/2)

Modesto Bee:
Hughson And Denair Schools Focus On Educators’ Mental Health 

With constantly changing teaching and learning conditions during the pandemic, teachers and other public-school employees face enormous challenges. Support for educators’ behavioral and physical health is essential to ensure that teachers and staff support effective student learning. Two rural California school districts, Denair and Hughson, are tackling the challenge. (Jeffrey Lewis, 2/3)