Newsom Cheers ‘Bold Agenda,’ State Covid Surge May Be Easing

California Today Report, New York Times

As Joe Biden became president of the United States and California’s own Kamala Harris a barrier-shattering vice president, women wore pearls in solidarity.

The Golden State will no longer be the center of the resistance to the White House. (Although Attorney General Xavier Becerra still managed to sue the Trump administration nine more times just on Tuesday, according to a CalMatters tracker.)

In a letter to Biden, Newsom set a new tone for California’s relationship with the president.

“I offer you my full partnership and support as you take office and inherit the tremendous responsibility to restore our nation’s economy and place of leadership on the global stage,” he wrote. “California is eager to support your bold agenda.”

Pandemic update

California’s coronavirus surge, which has overwhelmed hospitals and killed thousands, appears to be subsiding, one of the state’s top health officials said Tuesday.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased by 8.5 percent over the past two weeks, suggesting that a “surge on top of a surge” following the holidays hasn’t been as severe as was feared. The state’s overall transmission rate has decreased.

“These are rays of hope shining through,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary for health and human services, said in a virtual news conference.

But even as the cresting case numbers and hospitalizations started to recede, another variant of the virus—separate from the one found in Britain—was found throughout the state.

Although it is still unknown whether the variant is deadlier or more transmissible than other forms of the virus, it was found in more than half of samples researchers tested last week in Los Angeles, suggesting that it may be a driver of the region’s current crisis.

“We continue to keep our guard up,” Ghaly said.

The state’s vaccine rollout has also continued to be plagued by widespread confusion.

After Newsom announced last week that the state would expand eligibility to anyone 65 and older, Californians who met the criteria scrambled to find appointments, quickly overwhelming county websites and jamming the phone lines of their health care providers.

In an email to members Tuesday in response to a crush of inquiries, Kaiser Permanente, one of the state’s biggest health care providers, said that it cares for 1.5 million people who are 65 and older. Last week, the system received “just 20,000 first doses” of the vaccine.

“At the current rate, we’re looking at vaccine distribution much slower than any of us find acceptable,” the email said.

San Francisco officials said they expected to run out of vaccine doses Thursday after receiving fewer than they asked for.

Ghaly said that as of Tuesday, at least 1.5 million doses had been administered, including a Friday peak of 110,505.

“We continue picking up the pace,” he said. The goal, he said, is to ensure that “the only limiting factor in California is the supply that we receive.”

He said that going forward, more doses were likely to be shifted to what he called multicounty entities—essentially, larger health care systems, rather than counties themselves.

Experts have said that much of the chaos so far is stemming from the fact that California is relying on already overwhelmed county public health departments to manage much of the distribution of vaccines.

And each county has responded to the challenge with its own evolving guidelines, meant to address the tension between vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible and protecting the most vulnerable populations first.

In Los Angeles County, for example, officials at first said they planned to stick with strict priority rules, vaccinating thousands of health care workers first, before broadening eligibility.

“Politically, it’d be easy to say, open it up to 65-plus,” Los Angeles’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, said in an interview with The Times last week.

But Monday, Hilda Solis, chair of the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, announced she was signing an executive order directing the county’s department of public health to make vaccination appointments available to anyone in the county 65 and older.

Solis said in an interview Monday that it would be important in coming weeks to physically bring vaccines to clinics, pharmacies and schools in the county’s hardest-hit communities.

But the most urgent priority now is getting vaccines out the door.

“We learned a lot of these lessons with testing,” she said. “If we can, we’re not going to waste any dose.”

San Diego County also expanded eligibility, to anyone age 75 and older.

Some state lawmakers have asked the governor to develop and implement a “pilot” program aimed specifically at inoculating farmworkers, who have been some of the state’s most critical, and at-risk, residents.

“Farmworkers are the fulcrum of the food chain, ravaged by COVID-19 with no available replacement labor pool,” the lawmakers said in a letter.

Ghaly emphasized Tuesday that the state was working to better communicate with counties, as well as residents about when they might be able to sign up for a vaccine.

To Californians who have been confused, he said: “Stay tuned.”

Copyright 2021 The New York Times Company

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