Free Antiviral Pills Available In LA County: Los Angeles County has launched the “test to treat” covid-19 program announced by President Joe Biden in his State of the Union address. The program offers free antiviral pills — paxlovid and molnupiravir — to  newly infected people who get tested, or show their test results, at select pharmacies with on-site clinics. Read more from the Los Angeles Times.

Sutter Health Wins Lawsuit: Sacramento-based Sutter Health successfully defeated a class-action lawsuit alleging that it had used its market power to negotiate higher rates from major insurers. Jurors returned a verdict Friday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The health care giant fended off what would have been damages totaling roughly $1.2 billion. Read more from The Sacramento Bee and Modern Healthcare.

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

The Bakersfield Californian:
Schools Share Optimism, Caution Amid End Of State Mask Mandate In Classrooms 

While K-12 classrooms in Kern County will no longer be under a state mask mandate starting Monday, a number of local school districts noted there will be protective measures in place, and some pointed out wearing a mask is still “highly recommended.” Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Feb. 28 the mask mandate for classrooms issued by the state’s Department of Public Health in January of 2021 would expire March 11. (Desai and Smith, 3/13)

Voice of San Diego:
State Officials Refused To Answer Why They Interviewed Toddlers, Owner Says 

State officials met with the owners of Aspen Leaf Preschool this week and refused to answer questions about why they interviewed small children alone about masks, said Howard Wu, one of the preschool’s owners.  Aspen Leaf previously had a policy in place not to mask its students, despite a state mandate that required preschoolers to wear masks except when they were sleeping and eating. State regulators were aware of the preschool’s policy, but showed up at Aspen Leaf’s three facilities in mid-January to conduct an investigation. They interviewed children alone without a familiar adult present, outraging Aspen Leaf’s parents, Voice of San Diego reported Monday. (Huntsberry, 3/11)

Sacramento Bee:
Placer County Battled Newsom On COVID-19 Rules. Was It Right? 

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Roseville restaurant owner Matthew Oliver practically challenged California Gov. Gavin Newsom into cracking down on his Placer County businesses. Oliver is a pastor who owns three restaurants. In November 2020 he pledged to keep one open after a curfew in defiance of state public health orders. In a social media post, he promoted his plan as a “Newsom hour.” (Sullivan, 3/13)

The Hill:
Barack Obama Tests Positive For COVID-19 

Former President Obama shared on Sunday that he had tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing some symptoms for “a couple days.” “I just tested positive for COVID. I’ve had a scratchy throat for a couple days, but am feeling fine otherwise. Michelle and I are grateful to be vaccinated and boosted, and she has tested negative,” Obama tweeted. “It’s a reminder to get vaccinated if you haven’t already, even as cases go down.” (Choi, 3/13)

Los Angeles Daily News:
LA County’s COVID Hospitalizations Hit Lowest Level Since Last July 

The number of COVID-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals continues to fall, declining by another 28 people to 537, according to the latest state numbers out today. Of those patients, 107 were in intensive care, the same as Saturday’s total. The county’s COVID hospitalizations haven’t been this low since July 2021. The total has been declining steadily since reaching more than 4,800 in mid-January, at the height of the Omicron-fueled winter surge. (3/13)

Los Angeles Times:
How Will L.A. County Find Warning Signs Of The Next Coronavirus Surge?

As the Omicron surge of the coronavirus continues to wane, Los Angeles County has been lifting COVID-19 mandates, including indoor masking and vaccine verification in certain settings. But with those guardrails removed, how will health officials detect signs of potential surges? The obvious tools of tracking new coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations are still in place. But there are seven other indicators that L.A. County plans to monitor as part of an early warning system, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. (Lin II and Money, 3/13)

In America, A Few Days In March 2020 Echo Two Years Later

The conversations went like this: It will be just a few days. It can be kept at bay. There will be some inconvenience, sure, but the world will merely be paused — just a short break, out of an abundance of caution, and certainly not any kind of major grinding to a halt. Certainly not for two years. Certainly not for hundreds of thousands of Americans who were among us at that moment in mid-March 2020 — who lived through the beginning, watched it, worried about it (or didn’t), and who, plain and simple, aren’t here anymore. (Anthony, 3/13)

For Kids With COVID-19, Everyday Life Can Be A Struggle 

Eight-year-old Brooklynn Chiles fidgets on the hospital bed as she waits for the nurse at Children’s National Hospital. The white paper beneath her crinkles as she shifts to look at the medical objects in the room. She’s had coronavirus three times, and no one can figure out why. Brooklynn’s lucky, sort of. Each time she has tested positive, she has suffered no obvious symptoms. But her dad, Rodney, caught the virus — possibly from her — when she was positive back in September, and he died from it. (Long and Kaster, 3/14)

A 4th Dose Of Covid-19 Vaccine Will Be Needed, Pfizer’s CEO Says, But The Company Is Working On A Shot To Handle All Variants

To help fend off another wave of Covid-19, people will need a fourth dose of vaccine, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CBS on Sunday. “Many variants are coming, and Omicron was the first one that was able to evade — in a skillful way — the immune protection that we’re giving,” Bourla told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “The protection we are getting from the third (dose) it is good enough — actually quite good for hospitalizations and deaths,” Bourla said. But protection after three doses is “not that good against infections” and “doesn’t last very long” when faced with a variant like Omicron. (Christensen and Yan, 3/13)

San Francisco Chronicle:
S.F. Scrambles To Close Vaccine Gap Among Kids Of Color Ahead Of State Mandate

In the gym at Bret Harte Elementary School in San Francisco’s Bayview district, families showed up on a Friday afternoon not for sports activities but to get vaccinations, mostly for kids between the ages of 5 and 17. The after-school event on March 4 was one of two community clinics — each lasting eight weeks at different elementary schools — put together by the San Francisco Department of Public Health and San Francisco Unified School District to increase the number of children getting COVID shots and boosters in the city’s communities of color. (Narayan and Cabanatuan, 3/12)

COVID Vaccine Uptake Low In Young US Kids In First Months Of Availability

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said COVID-19 vaccine uptake among children 5 to 11 years old in the United States remained low during the first 11 weeks of vaccine eligibility, especially in high social vulnerability index (SVI) areas. The research was published today in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). (3/11)

The New York Times:
Which Coronavirus Vaccine Will Work In The Youngest Children?

Over the past 10 months, as tens of millions of children and teenagers received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the companies’ main rival, Moderna, sat on the sidelines, its shot limited to adults. But Moderna may now be poised for a comeback at a critical juncture in the nation’s vaccination campaign. The company is expected to send federal officials initial data this week on how well its coronavirus vaccine works for the nation’s youngest children. (LaFraniere and Weiland, 3/14)

Bay Area News Group:
California’s First Genetically Modified Mosquitoes May Take Flight

A biotech firm is seeking permission to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the open air of California for the first time later this year, aiming to reduce the expanding populations of invasive mosquitoes and prevent deadly disease. The controversial research project – planned for the Tulare County community of Visalia, with potential expansion into Fresno, San Bernardino and Stanislaus counties – will over time introduce 2 million male mosquitoes with a “kill switch” built into their DNA. When they mate with wild insects, their offspring die, causing an eventual collapse of the population.
(Krieger, 3/14)

San Diego Union-Tribune:
A Living Laboratory: San Diego Botanic Garden Embarks On A New Scientific Journey 

Drug discovery in plants has generally been hit-or-miss, with scientists cutting samples from living species, then drying them out and taking them back to the lab to see what kinds of interesting chemical compounds they contain. While that approach has filled mankind’s medicine chest, many believe that it has missed much and that a holistic approach, one informed by Indigenous traditions, can yield a far-greater spectrum of interesting and potentially beneficial substances with medicinal potential. (Sisson and Mapp, 3/13)

Los Angeles Times:
California Backs Syringe Programs. But They’re Nowhere To Be Found In Orange County

Ronnie Warn was bewildered when he spotted the sign on the door of the Santa Ana office where he routinely brings used needles and picks up clean ones. The Harm Reduction Institute was closed, it said, “due to unforeseen circumstances.”Warn turned away from the homey building on 4th Street and tried to calculate how long his supply of clean syringes would last him. Decades earlier, the 60-year-old had first gotten hepatitis, the enduring result of turning to a used syringe when he was desperate. (Reyes and Brazil, 3/13)

Sacramento Bee:
Sacramento Cops, Firefighters Got Six-Figures In Paid Leave 

At least six City of Sacramento firefighters and police officers received six-figure salaries while on paid leave last year during criminal or administrative investigations, according to records obtained by The Sacramento Bee. … On Feb. 25, 2020, Harriet Jefferson called 911 to request emergency assistance for her son, Reginald Payne, a diabetic suffering from low blood sugar, according to a lawsuit the family filed in federal court. In a video released by the department, a firefighter can be heard telling a police officer that they called the police for help because the man was large and was swinging his legs and arms around. The officers place Payne on his stomach and cuff his hands behind his back so medics can provide treatment. At least three officers can be seen holding down Payne while he screamed and sobbed. About 14 minutes after the first officer arrived at the home, Payne stops making noises and stops moving, the videos show. He never regained consciousness, and died several days later. Five Fire Department employees who are named in the family’s lawsuit against the city received between $112,000 to $138,00 each while on paid leave for about 13 months after the death. (Clift, 3/14)

The Washington Post:
Disney To Pause All Political Donations In The Wake Of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

Disney announced on Friday that it would pause all political donations in Florida in the wake of a controversial state bill that restricts discussion of LGBTQ issues in public schools. Over the last few weeks, the company had received criticism for remaining silent about what critics call the “don’t say gay” bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). In a statement sent to employees on Friday, Disney CEO Bob Chapek also announced that the company would increase support for advocacy groups fighting similar laws elsewhere (such as one recently introduced in Georgia) and would reassess Disney’s political donation policies. (Ables, 3/12)

The New York Times:
‘Think Of Groundhogs’: For Life Advice From A Grade Schooler, Press 2 

If, for some reason, you happen to find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious about matters personal, professional or geopolitical, a new hotline offers advice on how to deal with those big feelings. “If you’re nervous, go get your wallet and spend it on ice cream and shoes,” a distinctly young-sounding voice enthusiastically advises. “If you’re frustrated, you can always go to your bedroom, punch your pillow or cry on it. And just go scream outside,” another child says matter-of-factly. … At various points since it became operational late last month, about 9,000 people an hour were calling PepToc, a hotline dispensing the wit and wisdom of students at West Side School, a small primary school (enrollment: 147) in rural Healdsburg, Calif., about 70 miles north of San Francisco. (Paz, 3/13)

US Ends Asylum Restrictions For Children Traveling Alone 

Unaccompanied child migrants trying to enter the United States will no longer be denied a chance to seek asylum under new guidance announced by U.S. health authorities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in announcing the change late Friday night, said “that expulsion of unaccompanied noncitizen children is not warranted to protect the public health.” (3/12)

San Francisco Chronicle:
The Housing Crisis Is Pushing Both Bay Area Landlords And Tenants To The Financial Brink

In a quiet corner of Oakland, Pat McHenry Sullivan agonizes over taking out a life insurance loan to pay off rent debt for her and her husband, who lives with dementia .A few miles north in Berkeley, Susan Marchionna is in the reverse predicament: She’s debating selling her house of four decades after a drawn-out dispute with a tenant who she says in state filings has not paid rent since the fall. (Hepler, 3/13)

Marin Independent Journal:
Marin Races To Distribute Rental Aid Before Evictions Resume

Marin County is working to get millions of dollars in rental assistance funds out to tenants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic before a protection against evictions expires at the end of this month. County supervisors approved a $347,500 contract Tuesday with LiveStories Inc., which will boost the number of case managers processing the applications from 20 to 30. The supervisors also approved a $123,846 contract with Neighborly Software. (Halstead, 3/13)

The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat:
Petaluma Motel Site In Line For $15 Million From State For Homeless Housing Conversion

Petaluma is set to receive a $15.6 million state grant to help buy a motel and convert it to permanent housing for dozens of local homeless people. The city last week announced the award from California’s Project Homekey program means it can move forward with purchasing the 60-room Americas Best Value Inn at 5135 Montero Way. The site will house chronically homeless people who have spent years on the street and provide them with counseling and case management services. (Varian, 3/13)