Families Complain as States Require Covid Testing for Nursing Home Visits

California is among a few states requiring people to show proof of a recent negative covid test before visiting a nursing home. Relatives say it’s vital they be allowed in because staff shortages are affecting care. And many are still upset about lengthy separations from loved ones during earlier lockdowns. (Judith Graham,

One Week, 1 Million More Covid Cases: California has recorded more than 7 million coronavirus cases, after its fastest accumulation of reported infections in the history of the pandemic. The unprecedented count, recorded late Monday, comes one week after the state tallied its 6 millionth coronavirus case. Read more from the Los Angeles Times.

In related news —

Hospitals Declare ‘Internal Disasters’: A continuing crush of patients in the South Bay became so severe Tuesday that the region’s two main medical facilities declared internal disasters, a term used to indicate that conditions have worsened to the point where patient care may be affected. Read more from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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

Los Angeles Times:
Federal Website Offering Coronavirus Tests Hits Some Snags On Its Beta Day 

Americans on Tuesday were able for the first time to request coronavirus tests from a federal website, but some reported hitting snags that prevented them from finalizing orders of a critical diagnostic tool.Covidtests.gov opened for business a day ahead of schedule in what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said was part of its “beta testing” phase. She added that the administration was anticipating having to address a “bug or two” in its rollout. That caveat turned out to be true, with dozens of people taking to social media to complain they were not able to finalize their orders of at-home tests that experts say are needed to help combat the surging COVID-19 pandemic. (Kaur, 1/18)

You Can Now Order Free COVID At-Home Tests Via USPS 

You can now order free at-home COVID-19 tests online from the federal government and the United States Postal Service. The White House program, which went live Tuesday — a day earlier than previously announced — offers four at-home COVID tests to every household in the United States, to be shipped by USPS. The tests and shipping are completely free of charge. (Severn, 1/18)

Los Angeles Times:
5 Things To Know About Ordering Free COVID Tests (Starting Today) 

The federal website to order free rapid coronavirus tests went live on Tuesday, ahead of its scheduled Wednesday launch.Covidtests.gov is an attempt by the Biden administration to remedy nationwide shortages of such at-home tests, with the president pledging the government will provide millions of such kits to Americans for free in coming months. (Kaur, 1/18)

Website For Free Virus Tests Is Here. How Does It Work? 

Free tests can be ordered at covidtests.gov or at usps.com/covidtest. The first tests will ship by the end of January. The White House says “tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering” through the U.S. Postal Service. USPS reports shipping times of 1-3 days for its first-class package service in the continental United States. Shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, Army Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO) and Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) addresses will be sent through Priority Mail. (Miller and Superville, 1/19)

Biden Administration’s Rapid Testing Website Hits Speed Bumps For Some Apartment Residents

Some residents in multi-unit dwellings tried to register to have tests delivered but received error messages saying tests already had been ordered for their address. An administration official said the problem was not widespread and that orders are being prioritized for people in areas facing disproportionate Covid-19 cases and deaths — the first 20 percent of test orders processed will be for people in vulnerable ZIP codes. (Leonard, 1/18)

CBS News:
Rapid COVID-19 Tests Are Highly Accurate For Kids, Study Finds 

While PCR tests for COVID-19 have become the “gold standard” in detecting the virus, a new study says rapid tests are highly accurate when it comes to children and teens. The study, led by researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in collaboration with other institutions and published in MedRxiv, shows that rapid tests given to adolescents at school or at home has a similar accuracy to PCR tests. (O’Kane, 1/18)

Biden Will Make 400 Million N95 Masks Available To Americans For Free

President Joe Biden will make 400 million highly protective N95 masks available to Americans for free at pharmacies and community health centers around the U.S., a White House official said. The masks will start to become available late next week, and the program will be fully up and running by early February, according to the official. The White House said the free masks are the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history. (Kimball, 1/19)

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. The agency recommends different tiers of mask effectiveness in protecting individuals from COVID-19, with N95 masks as the most effective. KF94, KN95, double masks and fitted surgical masks are in the second tier: “more effective”. Surgical masks are at third and cloth masks with three or more layers are least effective. (Truong, 1/18)

Omicron FAQ: How Long Does COVID-19 Last In A Room? Can Cloth Masks Be Safer? Can I Reuse An N95 Mask? 

It’s normal to be overwhelmed or anxious about doing anything as the pandemic continues to wear on and scientists and epidemiologists learn new information about COVID-19, resulting in continually updated guidance. Much of that guidance revolves around what we now know about the omicron variant, which is behind recent surges throughout the U.S.. Sacramento County broke its record of hospitalizations during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, with 570 people in the county hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Jan. 17, more than the 518 reported on Dec. 20, 2020 during the pandemic’s initial winter surge. (Salanga, 1/18)

California Just Distributed 21 Million N95 Masks For Schools. Here’s Where They Went

Nearly 21 million high-quality N95 masks have gone out to county boards of education across California over the past 10 days and millions more kid-sized KN95 masks could be arriving as early as the end of this week, according to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Cal OES has partnered with the state’s Department of Education for the distribution and so far 51 of the state’s 58 counties have made the requests. (Macht, 1/18)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Number Of S.F. Hospital Patients With COVID Nears All-Time High

The Bay Area’s postholiday omicron surge may be tapering off, but health officials remain on high alert as hospitalizations continue upward — San Francisco is on the cusp of its COVID patient record — and California’s infection rate hovers in reach of the all-time high. As of Monday, the state has passed the 7 million mark for the number of Californians who have been infected by the coronavirus in the two years since the pandemic began. California reached the milestone barely a week after crossing the 6 million-case threshold in cumulative infections. (Vaziri and Allday, 1/18)

Fresno Bee:
Fresno County Transmission Rate And COVID Cases Stay High 

The number of COVID-19 infections in Fresno County is growing at an extreme pace as the transmission rate climbs locally, according to state numbers reported Tuesday. The county added 2,141 new cases Tuesday, increasing its total number of confirmed cases to 176,959, according to state numbers. That is 175.6 new cases per 100,000 residents in Fresno County on average for the past seven days. The rate grew from 125 cases per 100,000 residents on Friday. (Miller, 1/18)

Modesto Bee:
Stanislaus County Will Exceed Total Of 100,000 COVID Cases 

The COVID omicron surge shows no signs of peaking in Stanislaus County. News reports suggest the fast-spreading omicron surge was reaching a high point in parts of the Bay Area and in states that were struck early by omicron. Stanislaus County reported 2,961 new cases from Friday to Sunday, a number that’s probably a significant undercount because of the use of home tests and delays in getting PCR test results. (Carlson, 1/18)

Orange County Register:
OC Health Officials Hope COVID-19 Surge Reaches Crest Soon 

Orange County is in its third straight week of surging COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, but health officials hope they’ll soon see a swift decline in cases as did South Africa and other countries where the omicron variant first hit, county officials said in a Tuesday, Jan. 18, press conference. Even though COVID-19 is having less of an impact on hospitals than it did in last winter’s surge, the county health system is “really overtaxed” right now because more health care workers are sick or in quarantine after exposure to the virus, OC Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau said. (Robinson, 1/18)

US Faces Wave Of Omicron Deaths In Coming Weeks, Models Say 

The fast-moving omicron variant may cause less severe disease on average, but COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are climbing and modelers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March. The seven-day rolling average for daily new COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has been trending upward since mid-November, reaching nearly 1,700 on Jan. 17 — still below the peak of 3,300 in January 2021. COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents started rising slightly two weeks ago, although still at a rate 10 times less than last year before most residents were vaccinated. (Johnson, 1/18)

NBC News:
Nearly 1 Million Pediatric Covid Cases Reported Last Week

Nearly 1 million cases of Covid-19 were reported among children in the United States last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Tuesday. The pediatric case count ending the week of Jan. 13 — 981,488 — reflects a 69 percent increase from the previous week’s 580,247 cases. (Edwards, 1/18)

U.S. Could See Over 1 Million More Hospitalizations Before Omicron Subsides

Despite some recent positive signs, a new report predicted on Monday that the U.S. could see a significant amount of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths before the Omicron variant subsides. Using several predictive models, a team of analysts has predicted that around 1.5 million Americans could be hospitalized with around 191,000 being hospitalized from COVID as a result of the Omicron surge. The data accounts for a span of time lasting from mid-December, when the variant began to take hold, through mid-March, when it is expected to subside. (Kika, 1/18)

The Bakersfield Californian:
Kern Medical Receives COVID-19 Medication For Immunocompromised People 

Kern Medical announced Tuesday that the facility will administer doses of a newly-approved medication that shields vulnerable populations from a deadly infection of COVID-19. Sally Shelby, the director of marketing and communications at Kern Medical, said the California Department of Public Health designated the hospital as the only health care facility in Kern County to administer AstraZeneca’s medicine Evusheld. (Desai, 1/18)

The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat:
Sonoma County Supervisors To Discuss Pandemic Health Order During Special Public Meeting Wednesday

A week into Sonoma County’s latest health order banning large gatherings, the Board of Supervisors is set to hold a public meeting Wednesday to discuss the restrictions, the supporting data and the process for issuing future health orders. Local hospital leaders and Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steve Herrington will join the special online meeting — held outside of the board’s regular Tuesday schedule — in addition to county public health officials, led by Dr. Sundari Mase, the county health officer. (Murphy, 1/18)

Bay Area News Group:
San Jose: Police Patrol Division Hit Hard By COVID Infections

Nearly 50 San Jose patrol officers have COVID infections, a development that has prompted the police department to ask officers from other divisions to fill in, and a warning from the police chief that if the situation worsens, it could lead to a broader redeployment. Police officers were informed of the fill-in plan late Saturday night by Chief Anthony Mata in an email obtained by this news organization, which outlined how patrols will have to be buoyed by voluntary overtime shifts at least through Sunday. (Salonga, 1/18)

Bay Area News Group:
COVID Outbreak Among Staff And Inmates Rages At San Quentin State Prison 

The latest surge tied to the omicron variant is fueling an exploding COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, prompting concern among health officials and inmate advocates. As of Tuesday, San Quentin logged 240 prisoner and 128 staff cases in the last 14 days, up from six inmate and 73 staff infections a week earlier. The institution houses 3,140 prisoners, a little more than half of whom have been tested, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (Hanson, 1/19)

COVID-19 Surges At San Diego Immigration Detention Center

A San Diego detention center that houses U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees saw COVID-19 cases surge last week, reporting the third highest number of active cases among ICE detainees at any of the federal agency’s more than 130 detention centers. On Jan. 10, the Otay Mesa Detention Center reported having 91 people in isolation or being monitored with confirmed cases, ICE reported in online data. That number was an all time high for the San Diego facility and was surpassed only by facilities in Arizona and Texas, similarly situated near the U.S.-Mexico border. The Otay Mesa Detention Center at any given time houses hundreds of ICE detainees awaiting court dates or deportation as well as federal inmates under U.S. Marshals Service custody. The facility has seen more than 750 COVID-19 cases among ICE detainees alone since the start of the pandemic, including one death. (Mejías-Pascoe, 1/18)

NBC News:
Genetic Risk Factor Found For Covid-19 Smell And Taste Loss, Researchers Say

Scientists are piecing together why some people lose their sense of smell after contracting Covid-19. A study published Monday in the journal Nature Genetics identified a genetic risk factor associated with the loss of smell after a Covid infection, a discovery that brings experts closer to understanding the perplexing pattern and may point the way toward much-needed treatments. (Sloat, 1/17)

The Hill:
Pfizer Says COVID-19 Antiviral Pill Effective Against Omicron 

Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment pill Paxlovid appears to be effective against the omicron variant, the company announced Tuesday. Pfizer said three separate lab studies showed nirmatrelvir, the drug’s main protease inhibitor, maintains its effectiveness against the omicron variant of the virus. A protease inhibitor is a class of drugs that stop a virus from replicating. Patients take two tablets of nirmatrelvir with one tablet of another antiviral, called ritonavir, twice a day for five days. (Weixel, 1/18)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Hispanic Women Were More Likely To Contract COVID During Pregnancy, Study Says

A Sutter Health study released last month found that Hispanic women were more than twice as likely than their white counterparts to contract COVID-19 during pregnancy, increasing their risk for premature deliveries, stillbirths and even dying in childbirth. While the study was conducted from May 2020 to December 2020, it remains relevant as the highly contagious omicron variant continues to surge in the Bay Area and across the country, says its lead author. (Narayan, 1/19)

Bay Area News Group:
Is COVID Becoming Just Like The Flu? Here’s How Much Worse It Is

With the U.S. recording more than 750,000 new cases and nearly 2,000 deaths a day from the super-contagious omicron variant, and hospitals in many parts of the country still bracing for the worst, it’s difficult to foresee the day we can liken COVID to influenza. “We’ve learned to kind of accommodate and live with influenza,” said Warner Greene, a virologist at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco. “Hopefully we can get there with COVID, but we’re not there yet.” (DeRuy and Rowan, 1/19)

Orange County Register:
Man Charged With Attacking Medical Workers At Tustin Vaccination Site 

A man accused of attacking medical staff at a Tustin vaccination site, and later groping a nurse while she was treating him, was charged Tuesday with battery and resisting arrest. Thomas Apollo, 44, of Poway is facing misdemeanor charges for allegedly attacking workers at the Families Together of Orange County Community Health Center’s clinic on Dec. 30, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. (Emery and Licas, 1/18)

Bay Area News Group:
Around 40 Santa Clara County Firefighters Have Submitted Exemptions For The Booster Mandate

About 40 firefighters with the the short-staffed Santa Clara County Fire Department have submitted requests to be exempted from a new booster mandate, putting their bosses and union representatives in a quandary. Like many other sectors across the region, including hospitals and schools, the fire department is struggling to field a full workforce amid the rapid spread of the omicron variant that has sent COVID-19 cases surging again. The department says it’s running at only 90% in part because of the  pandemic — and the last two training academies were smaller than usual due to COVID protocols set by the county. (Greschler, 1/19)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Another Oakland Teacher Sickout Stopped Classes At Three Schools — And Students Say They’ll Skip Classes All Week

A third teacher sickout halted instruction in three Oakland schools on Tuesday while an unknown number of students boycotted class, the latest in a string of protests over safety demands amid the omicron surge. Administrators cancelled classes at three OUSD schools — Acorn Woodland Elementary, Bridges Academy and United for Success Academy — after teachers called in sick in solidarity with student boycotts across the district. Organizers of the student boycott said young people will continue to stay out of school through the week if demands — particularly related to testing — aren’t met. (Vainshtein, 1/18)

Orange County Register:
School Board Meetings Become Verbal Battle Zones In COVID Era 

As coronavirus re-surges, and social issues such as race and politics boil over, school boards have become venues for the expression of citizen discontent. The non-partisan boards – typically low-profile until not long ago — are now, often, a community’s focal point. In the past year, there have been protests and heated rhetoric at board meetings across the county, including the Placentia-Yorba Linda, Tustin, Orange, Capistrano and Los Alamitos unified school districts. (Kopetman, 1/18)

Bay Area News Group:
Hundreds Sign Petition To Repeal Stanford University’s COVID-19 Booster Vaccine Mandate

Hundreds of people have signed a petition urging Stanford University to repeal its mandate that all students and staff get a booster shot before the end of the month. Nearly 1,600 people have signed the petition started by Stanford PhD candidate Monte Fischer a week ago asking the school to take back its Dec. 16 decision requiring everyone to get boosters unless they have a medical or religious exemption. (Toledo, 1/18)

The Hill:
FDA-Funded Study Aims To Lift Restrictions On Blood Donation For Gay, Bisexual Men 

A new study currently underway could ease eligibility requirements for gay and bisexual men seeking to donate blood. The study, funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, aims to evaluate alternatives to the blood donor deferral policy known as men who have sex with men, or MSM, put in place to reduce the transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. Under current FDA guidelines, men who have sex with men are ineligible to donate blood if they have had sexual contact with another man less than three months prior to donation. (Migdon, 1/18)

ABC News:
Biden Administration Speaks Out On Federal Blood Donation Policy Impacting Gay Men Amid National Blood Shortage 

For the first time, the Biden administration is commenting on the Food and Drug Administration’s long-time blood donation guidelines, which are impacting the LGBTQ+ community by preventing gay and bisexual men from being eligible blood donors. The statement, made by a White House official exclusively to ABC News, acknowledges the painful origins of the policy and comes on the heels of the American Red Cross declaring their first-ever national blood crisis last week, as supplies at hospitals and blood banks become dangerously low. (Morrison, 1/18)

The Wall Street Journal:
Drugmaker Gilead Alleges Counterfeiting Ring Sold Its HIV Drugs

Drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc. said that a network of little-known drug suppliers and distributors sold illicit and potentially dangerous fake versions of its HIV medicines that ended up in pharmacies and in the hands of patients. In all, Gilead identified 85,247 counterfeit bottles of its branded medications worth more than $250 million that were sold to pharmacies over the past two years following an intensive investigation and court-approved civil seizures, a company spokesman said. (Walker and Ramey, 1/18)

Newsom Floats Youth Education On Opioid Risks In Latest Budget

California would funnel $50 million into educating young people about the risks of opioids and fentanyl under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest budget proposal, which comes as colleges are trying to make students aware of the dangers of those drugs. Opioid overdoses nationwide have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 100,000 Americans — and about 10,000 people in California — died of drug overdoses in the year ending in April 2021, a nationwide increase of 28.5% from the year before. (Forschen, Luna and Murphy, 1/18)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Tenderloin Emergency: S.F. Opens Service Center; Police Say They Won’t Force Those On Streets To Go There

San Francisco opened a linkage center at U.N. Plaza on Tuesday to connect people in the Tenderloin to housing, drug treatment and other services, a major component of Mayor London Breed’s initiative to address conditions and overdose deaths in the neighborhood. The city said anyone can come in off the street to 1170 Market St. to get food or clothing or to bathe or use the bathroom. They can then get referrals for mental health care, substance use treatment, shelter and other resources. (Moench, 1/18)

Sacramento Bee:
CA State Government To Adjust Employment Drug Test Appeals 

In a sign of changing norms and attitudes regarding drug use, the California State Personnel Board is considering making minor changes toward its pre-employment drug screening policy. The proposed regulation would amend state policy concerning when an applicant for a state job is allowed to appeal the results of a failed pre-employment drug test. (Sheeler, 1/19)

NBC News:
Snapchat Makes It Harder For Kids To Buy Drugs

Snapchat’s parent company announced Tuesday that it was taking more steps to curb drug dealing on the app, including making it harder for users to find the accounts of minors under age 17. It is making the change as drug overdoses are spiking across the U.S., partly because of the proliferation of the potent opioid fentanyl. An NBC News investigation published in October found that Snapchat was linked to the sale of fentanyl-laced pills that killed teenagers and young adults in over a dozen states. (Matsakis and Snow, 1/18)

Los Angeles Times:
Teens Got $600 In ‘Donations’ With Fake Cancer Story 

A group of teenagers and young adults solicited nearly $600 in donations in Perris with a false story about a juvenile suffering from a medical condition, authorities said. The adults, 18-year-olds Davide Nistor and Ana Maria Dumitru of Anaheim, were arrested on suspicion of soliciting and theft by false pretenses. A 16-year-old and a 14-year-old were taken into custody and released to child protective services. (Martinez, 1/18)

San Diego Union-Times:
Newsom, Gloria Give Momentum To Expand Conservatorships For Mentally-Ill Homeless People 

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested the law needed to be changed to require treatment for homeless people “who truly can’t help themselves.” Two days later, Mayor Todd Gloria echoed that sentiment. “I am pushing for state action on conservatorships so that people who cannot help themselves aren’t left vulnerable to the dangers of life on the streets,” he said in his State of the City speech last Wednesday. (Smolens, 1/19)

Bay Area News Group:
Fremont Seeking $40 Million To House Homeless People In Converted Motel

The Fremont City Council unanimously approved Tuesday a plan to apply for a $40 million state grant to purchase a motel in the city and into permanent affordable housing for more than 150 people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The city is hoping to secure the funding through Project Homekey, the state’s massive effort to quickly house thousands of homeless people and people earning very low incomes across the state in converted hotels, motels, apartment complexes and other buildings. (Geha, 1/19)

Tracking Biden’s 1st-Year Progress Delivering On Promises

During his first year in office, President Joe Biden took action on a number of his key campaign promises, from rebuilding U.S. alliances globally to distributing vaccines across America and the world. But others remain works in progress or dependent on Congress to address. That’s particular true of his promises to reform the nation’s immigration system, where Biden is caught between the demands of his Democratic base and Latino voters and the realities of a steep influx of migrants to the U.S. Here’s a look at where Biden stands on some of his key promises as he rounds out his first year. (Jaffe and Madhani, 1/19)

The Washington Post:
Assessing Biden’s Covid Response After One Year 

President Biden entered office a year ago this week, staking his presidency on defeating the coronavirus pandemic with a battle plan hailed for its scope and specificity. “Our nation continues to experience the darkest days of the pandemic,” the White House declared in its national pandemic strategy, released Jan. 21, 2021, Biden’s first full day as president. “Businesses are closing, hospitals are full, and families are saying goodbye to their loved ones remotely.” (Diamond, 1/18)

CBS News:
How To Watch President Joe Biden’s First 2022 Press Conference

President Biden is holding his first press conference of 2022 on Wednesday, January 19, the eve of the first anniversary of when he took office. The press conference comes as his presidency  — and the country  — is struggling amid the Omicron COVID-19 surge and rising inflation, and as his signature legislation, Build Back Better, is stalled in Congress. CBSN will carry Mr. Biden’s press conference live. (Linton and Watson, 1/19)


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