Ask KHN-PolitiFact: Is My Cloth Mask Good Enough? The 2022 Edition

With the omicron variant surging throughout the U.S., many experts warn that a single-layer cloth mask is not enough protection. Instead, they recommend an upgrade: layering wardrobe masks with surgical masks or wearing an N95 or KN95 respirator. Some places, including Los Angeles County, are already implementing stricter policies. (Victoria Knight,

Prisons, Jails Go On Covid Lockdown: California state prisons, including San Quentin, have been placed on a 15-day lockdown hoping to stem the tide of staff and inmate covid-19 outbreaks. Read more from the (Chico) Enterprise-Record. In related news, the Bay Area’s two largest jails are seeing massive spikes in covid cases, prompting the jails to halt visitation through at least Jan. 25. Read more from the Bay Area News Group.

Oakland Students Demand Better Covid Precautions: Students from the Oakland Unified School District have threatened a walkout unless the district reverts to remote learning or complies with a list of health demands that include KN95 masks for students, more testing and expanded outdoor space for lunchtime. Read more from The Washington Post and KPIX.

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

Modesto Bee:
Omicron Accounts For Nearly 60% Of COVID Cases In Stanislaus 

Stanislaus County health officials estimated Tuesday the omicron variant makes up 56 percent of COVID-19 infections in the county, based on testing of wastewater. Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, county public health officer, said the county has a project with Stanford University to sample Modesto’s wastewater for traces of COVID-19 strains. (Carlson, 1/11)

Bay Area News Group:
Tale Of Two Surges: Omicron Outbreak Playing Out Very Differently For LA County Hospitals

A tale of two surges was laid out by Los Angeles County Public Health officials to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 11. While this season’s outbreak has not killed as many people or forced as many into hospitals, it is spurring its own array of challenges. Meanwhile, the daily caseload numbers continue to skyrocket, with 34,827 new positive cases and 15 deaths posted Tuesday, pushing the totals since the pandemic began to 2,046,208 and 27,812, respectively. (Grigoryants, 1/12)

Modesto Bee:
Map Of California Hospital Bed Capacity During Omicron Surge 

Some hospitals in California are nearing 100% occupancy, while others hover in the 90% range and below, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Only 19% of California’s staffed adult intensive care unit beds are available, with 32.2% of them taken by COVID-19 patients as of Monday, state data show. (Taylor, 1/12)

The New York Times:
California Hospitals Find Omicron Causes Fewer Hospitalizations, Shorter Stays 

A new study of nearly 70,000 Covid patients in California demonstrates that Omicron causes less severe disease than other coronavirus variants. The new research, posted online Tuesday, aligns with similar findings from South Africa, Britain and Denmark, as well as a host of experiments on animals. Compared with Delta, Omicron infections were half as likely to send people to the hospital. Out of more than 52,000 Omicron patients identified from electronic medical records of Kaiser Permanente of Southern California, a large health system, Dr. Lewnard and his colleagues found that not a single patient went on a ventilator during that time. (Zimmer, 1/11)

Los Angeles Times:
California To COVID-Positive Healthcare Workers: Keep Working

Daylong waits in the emergency room. No one to answer the phones. No one to take out the trash. And more patients arriving each day. That’s the scene playing out at some hospitals across Southern California as the Omicron-fueled surge of COVID-19 contributes to a crippling shortage of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. While Omicron is causing significantly fewer serious illnesses than last year’s winter surge, the unprecedented number of people becoming infected has left the medical infrastructure on edge. (Smith, 1/12)

San Diego Union-Tribune:
Expected COVID Surge Threatens Surgeries, Procedures Across Region 

Already pushed to the brink due to their own workers testing positive, hospitals appear to be in for an even more difficult ordeal next week, according to the latest statistical analysis of the pandemic in San Diego. During her monthly COVID-19 report to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the region’s public health officer, presented the results of recent epidemiological modeling out of UC San Diego, showing that hospitals are in for a very tough time through the remainder of January and into February. (Sisson, 1/11)

The Washington Post:
FDA Head Says ‘Most People Are Going To Get Covid’ At Hearing With Fauci 

“I think it’s hard to process what’s actually happening right now,” said Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, “which is most people are going to get covid. ”Woodcock pitched this as being a necessary acknowledgment when it comes to charting the path forward — recognizing that the focus now needs to be on averting the worst that widespread infections could bring in the near term. (Blake, 1/11)

The Washington Post:
Omicron Will Infect ‘Just About Everybody,’ Fauci Says

The omicron coronavirus variant will infect “just about everybody” regardless of vaccination status, top U.S. infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci said Tuesday. But those who have been vaccinated will “very likely, with some exceptions, do reasonably well,” and avoid hospitalization and death, said Fauci, speaking at a virtual “fireside chat” with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Fauci also said in a Senate hearing the same day that the unvaccinated are 20 times likelier to die, 17 times likelier to be hospitalized and 10 times likelier to be infected than the vaccinated. (Jeong and Francis, 1/12)

The Hill:
Biden Health Officials Slammed At Hearing For Confusing Pandemic Messaging

Top Biden administration health officials faced pointed questions during a Senate hearing Tuesday about confusion surrounding pandemic guidance. Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Health Committee, blasted the administration’s difficulties in communicating information on testing, boosters and isolation. “This administration has time and again squandered its opportunities and made things worse in the decisions you’ve made on testing and treatments and most crucially in communicating with the American people,” Burr said during the hearing. (Weixel, 1/11)

Bay Area News Group:
Five Charts That Show How Different Omicron Is

There is more coronavirus circulating in California right now than ever before, but as California enters the third year of the pandemic the COVID landscape might be more complicated than ever. The case rate statewide just doubled in only six days from an already record high, challenging the public health policies and strategies adopted since vaccinations became widely available this summer. Here are five charts that show what’s different about this winter’s COVID surge. (Rowan, 1/12)

Sacramento Bee:
Finding N95 Mask In California During COVID, Plus KN95 Fakes 

Health officials have been urging people to ditch their cloth face coverings and upgrade to higher quality masks as the omicron coronavirus variant quickly spreads across the country. The California Department of Public Health, which recently extended its statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces and workplaces to Feb. 15, updated its mask guidance Monday. (Truong, 1/11)

Los Angeles Times:
L.A. County Moves To Crack Down On COVID-19 Testing Scams 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion Tuesday to address fraudulent coronavirus test sites and at-home kits as a surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant has many people scrambling to find testing appointments and equipment. “In the past month, demand for COVID-19 testing in Los Angeles County and across the country has skyrocketed, drastically outpacing supply,” according to the motion, introduced by Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “Unfortunately, this has led to some taking advantage of the situation by distributing and setting up fraudulent COVID-19 tests and testing sites.” (Martinez, 1/11)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Google Is Giving Employees Access To Free COVID Tests, But A Union Says Access Is Unequal

Full-time Google employees have access to at-home COVID-19 tests for themselves and their families, but that’s not the case for thousands of company contractors and temporary workers, according to a Google engineer. A Google spokesperson said in an email the company has free, at-home and in-person testing options available to employees as well as temps and vendors. (DiFeliciantonio, 1/11)

Modesto Bee:
CA Notify: Experts Say State COVID-19 Tracing App Needs Work

Launched over a year ago as a high-tech answer to California’s contact tracing woes, most people who test positive for COVID-19 still are not using the “exposure notifications” smartphone app to warn close contacts of potential infection, data show. The CA Notify app also does not yet have an option for people who test positive at home to share their diagnosis. That means thousands of infected people who want to anonymously alert others have no easy way to do so. (Pohl, 1/12)

Cannabis Compounds Prevented Covid Infection In Laboratory Study

Cannabis compounds prevented the virus that causes Covid-19 from penetrating healthy human cells, according to a laboratory study published in the Journal of Nature Products. The two compounds commonly found in hemp — called cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA — were identified during a chemical screening effort as having potential to combat coronavirus, researchers from Oregon State University said. In the study, they bound to spike proteins found on the virus and blocked a step the pathogen uses to infect people. (Matsuyama, 1/12)

Study Finds Cannabis Compounds Prevent Infection By Covid-19 Virus

Although further research is needed, van Breemen noted that study shows the cannabinoids could be developed into drugs to prevent or treat Covid-19. “These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” [lead researcher Richard] van Breemen noted. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2. CBDA and CBGA are produced by the hemp plant as precursors to CBD and CBG, which are familiar to many consumers. However, they are different from the acids and are not contained in hemp products.” (Herrington, 1/11)

Modesto Bee:
New CA COVID-19 Workplace Rules Take Effect This Week 

California’s COVID-19 workplace rules are set to change Friday with more stringent requirements taking effect for employee testing and mask-wearing. They new rules from Cal-OSHA come as California struggles to respond to a new wave of omicron variant COVID-19 cases. One of the biggest changes has to do with employees who have to get a COVID-19 test after exposure in the workplace. (Sheeler, 1/12)

Bay Area News Group:
Unvaccinated Health Care Workers And Others Must Be Tested Twice A Week

Santa Clara County is backing off from its no-exceptions stance in requiring health care workers and others in high-risk settings to get booster shots after hospitals complained such a mandate would further strain staffs already under immense pressure because of the rampant omicron variant. The county decided Monday to set up a waiver process to allow unvaccinated or non-boosted workers in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, jails and other congregate places to remain in their current positions. (Greschler, 1/11)

The Washington Post:
Federal Agencies Must Test Unvaccinated Workers Weekly Starting In February, Biden Administration Says 

Federal agencies must start testing unvaccinated employees at least weekly for the coronavirus by Feb. 15, the Biden administration said in new guidance issued Tuesday. The testing, which mainly affects those exempted from President Biden’s vaccination mandate for federal workers, would be required during any week in which those employees “work onsite or interact in person with members of the public as part of their job duties,” the guidance says. (Yoder, 1/11)

Los Angeles Times:
L.A. County Urges Residents To Postpone Nonessential Gatherings 

As an unprecedented wave of coronavirus infections washes over the region, Los Angeles County health officials are urging residents to postpone nonessential gatherings and avoid some activities — especially those with people who are unmasked, unvaccinated or at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness. The ask comes just ahead of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend. The Lunar New Year is also right around the corner on Feb. 1, and the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood is a month away. (Money, Lin II, Evans and Alpert Reyes, 1/11)

Bay Area News Group:
COVID: Will More Bay Area Counties Ban Gatherings Like Sonoma?

Invoking the kind of restrictions on activities that marked the early months of the pandemic, Sonoma County starting Wednesday will prohibit large gatherings — indoors and out — in an effort to tamp down the alarming spread of COVID-19 from the super-contagious omicron variant. For now, health officials in other Bay Area counties say they have no plans to follow suit, even though their virus transmission rates are in many cases worse than Sonoma County’s. But more restrictions elsewhere aren’t completely off the table. (Woolfolk, Lin, Harrington and Greschler, 1/11)

SF Gate:
SF Mayor Gives Omicron Update, Says No New Restrictions

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and city officials struck a generally optimistic tone at a Tuesday press conference, announcing a new measure to access testing amid skyrocketing cases and reassuring residents that no new restrictions are coming at this time. “We are learning to live with COVID and that means everyone assessing their own risk,” Breed said. (Graff, 1/11)

San Francisco Chronicle:
No New Restrictions For Most Bay Area Counties Despite Record-High Case Counts

Even as coronavirus cases break records almost daily across the Bay Area, many county health officials said Tuesday that they have no plans for new restrictions and are leaning on the region’s high vaccination rates to keep the omicron surge from overwhelming hospitals. The average number of new daily coronavirus cases is well over 10,000 for the Bay Area — more than double the peak of last winter’s surge. COVID hospitalizations for the region are currently about 65% of last winter’s peak. (Allday, 1/11)

Modesto Bee:
COVID Cases Affect Stanislaus Schools 

More than 150 students and staff reported testing positive for Covid-19 during Turlock Unified School District’s first week back from winter break. That’s at least four times as many than the case counts in weeks leading up to break. A post on the district’s Twitter account Monday said the surge is caused by the omicron variant, which has led to record case numbers in Stanislaus County. (Isaacman, 1/11)

California Makes It Easier To Hire Teachers Amid Shortages

California is making it easier for school districts to hire teachers and other employees amid staffing shortages brought on by the latest surge in coronavirus cases, the governor said Tuesday. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he has signed an executive order to allow schools more flexibility in staffing decisions like giving additional hours to substitute teachers and rehiring recent retirees for short stints. The order expires at the end of March. (Weber, 1/12)

SCUSD Schools Are Short On Substitute Teachers Due To Coronavirus Infections 

Surging COVID-19 cases are having an impact on attendance and instruction at Sacramento City Unified District schools. According to an email sent to parents last Friday, 21% of district staff called in sick that day. The district said there were only enough substitute teachers to cover half of the absences. In order to cover teacher vacancies, the district is turning to principals, credentialed central office and site staff. Even parents have been asked to help supervise classrooms. (1/11)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Schools ‘Nearing Their Breaking Point’ As Bay Area Districts Grapple With Staffing, Testing And Masking Challenges

The current COVID-19 surge has pitched many Bay Area schools into disarray, as districts struggle to keep classrooms open amid a record-high number of cases, too few substitutes, a shortage of tests and teacher sickouts, among other challenges. The return to school after the winter break — just as the full force of the omicron variant hit California — has created confusion in many communities, with some teachers, parents and students pushing to go back to distance learning. (Tucker, 1/11)

Bay Area News Group:
Bay Area Schools Are All Over The Map On Openings, Closures

As the omicron surge threatens to upend months of careful planning to bring kids back to the classroom this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state leaders scrambled this week to help schools solve crippling, infection-induced labor shortages — while students, parents and teachers continue to worry that not enough is being done to make schools safe. Newsom signed an executive order Tuesday allowing schools more flexibility to hire retirees and extend substitute contracts to fill the gaps. It expires at the end of March, he said at a news conference. (Jimenez, 1/11)

Los Angeles Times:
L.A. Schools Open Amid Omicron Anxiety, Absences, Confusion 

Hundreds of Los Angeles Unified school district employees rushed to campuses to help cover for absent teachers and staff. Students waited in long lines to get on campus after the health screening system sputtered during morning rush. And in many classrooms, empty desks reflected both a massive increase in positive coronavirus cases among students and pandemic-worried families who kept students home. (Esquivel, Shalby and Gomez, 1/12)

The Bakersfield Californian:
Rapid Tests Distributed By School Districts See Few Reporting Results 

Last Thursday, Kern County school districts began to distribute 195,000 rapid COVID test kits from the state to K-12 students — one for just about every student in the public school system. The state’s goal was to provide students with a way to take a COVID test as they returned to class from winter break. The California Department of Public Health instructed school districts to encourage parents to share the test results of students — positive or negative — with Kern Public Health. (Gallegos, 1/11)

The New York Times:
Why Coronavirus Testing Is Falling Short In Many Schools Across The U.S. 

In California, storms over the winter break destroyed a million coronavirus test kits that were meant to help schools screen returning students. In Seattle schools, children waited for hours for virus testing, some in a driving rain. In Florida this month, an attempt to supply tests to teachers in Broward County turned up expired kits. And in Chicago, a labor dispute, partly over testing, kept students out of school for a week. (Hubler, 1/11)

‘Hopefully This Will Change Lives’: Mental Health Curriculum Added To California High School Health Classes 

Health classes in California high schools soon will cover more than just nutrition and exercise. Thanks to a new law that went into effect Jan. 1, students will learn about depression, schizophrenia, mood disorders and other serious mental health conditions. Senate Bill 224 requires all school districts that offer health classes to include mental health as part of the curriculum. The California Department of Education has until Jan. 1, 2023, to incorporate mental health into the state standards, and districts have until Jan. 1, 2024, to begin teaching the new material. (Jones, 1/11)

Universal Health Care Bill Advances In California Assembly 

California Democrats on Tuesday took their first step toward abolishing the private health insurance market in the nation’s most populous state and replacing it with a government-run plan that they promised would never deny anyone the care they need. But the proposal that cleared a legislative committee in the state Assembly is still a long way from becoming law. It faces strong opposition from powerful business interests who say it would cost too much. And even if it does become law, voters would have to approve a massive income tax increase to pay for it — a vote that might not happen until 2024. (Beam, 1/12)

The Bakersfield Californian:
Newsom Debuts Expanded Health Care For Undocumented Immigrants In Kern County 

Gov. Gavin Newsom visited Lamont on Tuesday to debut “universal access to health care” regardless of immigration status. The new policy was part of Newsom’s 2022-23 state budget proposal, which he announced Monday. Dubbed “The California Blueprint,” the proposal would expand Medi-Cal coverage to an estimated 764,000 undocumented immigrants beginning in January 2024. (Morgen, 1/11)

Will California Create Nation’s First Universal Health Care System?

Frustrated with partisan stalemates in Washington, California’s overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature on Tuesday began debating whether to create their own universal health care system — a move that will test how far the state’s progressive politicians can go to fulfill their campaign promises. Government-funded health care for everyone has been a staple of California political rhetoric for decades. Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to do it when he ran for governor in 2018, and voters elected him in a landslide. (1/11)

California Health Insurance: Newsom Stops Shy Of Single Payer 

Don’t ask Gov. Gavin Newsom about Democratic lawmakers’ proposal to create a state-funded single-payer health care system — he hasn’t read it. “I have not had the opportunity to review that plan, and no one has presented it to me,” Newsom said Monday while unveiling his record-high $286.4 billion budget proposal — which includes an estimated $45.7 billion surplus — for the fiscal year that begins July 1. (Hoeven 1/11)

Los Angeles Times:
California Democrats’ Single-Payer Healthcare Plan Passes First Hurdle 

In any other year, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to add an estimated 700,000 immigrants without legal status to the state’s healthcare program for low-income residents would be a monumental lift. On Tuesday, it was painted as the “status quo” as legislators considered a separate proposal with a much broader reach. A group of Democratic lawmakers are pushing a massive restructuring of the state’s healthcare system under legislation that would guarantee medical coverage for every resident in the state by enacting billions in new taxes to create a single-payer system. Assembly Bill 1400 passed its first hurdle during a contentious Assembly Health Committee hearing on Tuesday evening, moving forward legislation that has so far overshadowed Newsom’s proposal, but also faces significant bipartisan challenges moving forward. (Gutierrez, 1/12)

Los Angeles Times:
Gov. Newsom Announces Plan To Deal With Extreme Heat

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration this week announced a plan for addressing extreme heat that includes recommendations on how to monitor deaths caused by heat waves and the possible establishment of temperature limits for residential units. The release of the plan follows the publication of a Los Angeles Times investigation that revealed that California has done a poor job tracking the number of people who have died due to extreme heat and has largely failed to provide resources to communities that are most vulnerable to the effects of heat and global warming. (Carcamo, 1/12)

Medicare Plans To Restrict Access To Controversial, Pricey Alzheimer’s Drug

Medicare plans to cover the controversial, pricey Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, but only for certain patients enrolled in clinical trials, the agency announced on Tuesday. The proposed move would likely mean some patients will not be able to access the Biogen drug, which is the first Alzheimer’s treatment approved in nearly two decades. Since it got the green light this summer, doctors and scientists have raised questions about whether it actually works, government watchdogs have begun investigating whether the Food and Drug Administration followed proper procedure to approve it, and policy experts have questioned whether it is effective enough to justify its hefty price tag. (Cohrs, 1/11)

Modern Healthcare:
HHS: Private Insurers Get Clarity On Preventative Care Coverage

The Health and Human Services Department on Tuesday clarified what private insurers must cover under preventative care guidelines for women, including screenings and counseling without co-pays or deductibles for 2023 plans. The Health Resources and Services Administration guidance is meant to help clinicians decide which preventive services to offer patients. The Affordable Care Act also requires insurers to cover the recommended services without cost-sharing. (Goldman, 1/11)

Los Angeles Times:
L.A. County Foster Care To Improve Indigenous Services 

After a 4-year-old boy was severely injured while in the care of his foster mother, Los Angeles County officials will strengthen efforts to provide interpreters in Indigenous languages to families in the foster care system. On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion directing the Department of Children and Family Services to come up with a plan to improve its language services for Indigenous families and to strengthen its Asian Pacific and Native American programs. (Cosgrove, 1/12)

Los Angeles Times:
The Red Cross Warns Of A Blood Shortage. Here’s How To Donate 

You can schedule your appointment by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, downloading the Donor App or calling 1-800-RED CROSS. Or you can find your local center. For Angelenos, the Red Cross Greater Los Angeles Chapter Blood Donation Center in West Hollywood is open on the first Monday, second, forth and fifth Thursday and every Saturday of the month. (Amato, 1/12)

Los Angeles Times:
Kroger Workers Struggle To Afford Food And Housing 

More than two-thirds of Kroger workers struggle to afford food, housing or other basic needs due to low wages and part-time work schedules, a report published Tuesday by a Los Angeles-based research group found. Fourteen percent of Kroger workers are homeless now or have been during the last year, according to the report. (Ding, 1/11)

California Homelessness: Newsom Expands Bid To Clear Camps

In his January budget proposal to the state Legislature, Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a clear message: California needs to move people off the streets. “I don’t want to see any more people die in the streets and call that compassion,” Newsom said Monday, detailing his $286.4 billion blueprint. “There is nothing compassionate about someone dying in the streets or stepping over someone on the streets or sidewalks.” (Tobias, 1/11)


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