Over 10 million Californians infected since pandemic started

Panel urges FDA to OK boosters targeted to omicron

Federal vaccine advisers on Tuesday urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to move toward authorizing a COVID-19 booster shot that targets the omicron variant — the parent of today’s dominant subvariants in the United States. The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee recommended including an omicron component for booster vaccines. It is a first step toward potentially making omicron-specific boosters a reality as soon as October, with the goal of better protecting Americans against variants that the current vaccines don’t work as well against. Vaccines already in use tend to hold up well against severe disease and death, if people are boosted, but not as well at preventing infection. Read more about what’s at stake with the FDA’s deliberation and decision on new COVID booster shots.

Number of patients with COVID in California hospitals rises 46% from start of month

State date on Tuesday showed there are 3,405 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across California, up 46% from the beginning of the month. The Bay Area is currently seeing about 49 infections per day per 100,000 residents. A spate of community events and gatherings, starting with Memorial Day concerts and celebrations through to crowded parades for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco’s Pride, may keep those numbers high, with fast-spreading offshoots of the omicron coronavirus variant tightening their grip on the region. Read more about the upward COVID infection trends in California and the Bay Area.

More than 10 million Californians have been infected since start of pandemic

California has now reported more than 10 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, according to state data analyzed by The Chronicle, and the Bay Area has crossed the threshold of 1.5 million total cases. Those figures do not include results of widely used home tests that are not reported to officials, nor does it include cases that go undetected. The state’s percentage rate of tests coming back positive for COVID-19, has increased to 13.2%, climbing steadily since mid-March, and is now nearly double what officials reported on June 1. To control virus spread, it should be under 5%.

California case numbers remain high as “all bets are off”

COVID-19 cases remain stubbornly high across California despite some earlier indicators the state may have passed the peak of its spring surge. The Bay Area continues to outpace other regions with its rate of infections. “You have new transmissible variants and people being fed up,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist with UCSF. “If people were still being cautious and we had the same variant for a long time, you would have that quick downslope that we saw in the winter. But now all bets are off.” State numbers Tuesday showed a pace of 42 new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents after nearly a month hovering around 35 cases per 100,000. Read more about the “steady state of people getting infected” by the coronavirus.

Convicted killer Scott Peterson’s court hearing delayed due to COVID

A hearing for convicted murderer Scott Peterson in Redwood City was delayed because of COVID-19, a court spokeswoman for Santa Clara County said Tuesday. One of Peterson’s attorneys tested positive for the virus, according to Deputy Court Executive Officer Sarah Lind, who spoke with KTVU. Peterson was also exposed to COVID at San Quentin, she added, and is under “loose quarantine.” He has been seeking a retrial since he was convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and unborn son 20 years ago.

FDA advisory panel faces “crystal ball” moment on vaccines

Government advisers debating if Americans should get a modified COVID-19 booster shot this fall grappled Tuesday with the unknowability of what’s to come in terms of virus mutations.  “That’s the problem — we’re being asked to more or less have a crystal ball today,” said Dr. Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan, who heads the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee. Current COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives globally and still offer strong protection against hospitalization and death — especially after a booster dose. But their ability to block infection markedly dropped when the super-contagious omicron mutant emerged. The FDA intends to decide early next month whether to modify the vaccines to better meet specific new mutations of the virus.

Hate crimes in California rocket up again in second pandemic year

Hate crimes in California shot up 33% to nearly 1,800 reported incidents in 2021, the highest since after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the state attorney general’s office said Tuesday. Crimes against Asian Americans, which had increased startlingly in 2020 after the emergence of the coronavirus in China, again were up, rising 178% to 247 incidents, said Attorney Gen. Rob Bonta. Crimes against Black people were again the most prevalent in 2021, climbing 13% during 2021 to 513 reported incidents. Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation bias increased nearly 50% to 303 incidents. “One hard truth in our state, just as we see across the nation, is that the epidemic of hate we saw spurred on during the pandemic remains a clear and present threat,” said Bonta, a Democrat, at a news conference. “Each of these incidents represents an attack on a person, a neighbor, a family member, a fellow Californian.”   Bonta blamed the upswing in anti-Asian American crimes on “the bigoted words of our former president” that turned “a trickle” of racial animosity into “a flood.”

Disrupted menstrual cycles, mental health issues, seen in female COVID-19 patients

Women hospitalized with COVID-19 had menstrual changes and increased symptoms of mental health disorders, according to a study published in PLOS ONE. Analyzing data from a pair of patient surveys conducted between January and August 2021, researchers tracked the progress of patients who were discharged from an isolation ward. About 37.3% of the patients reported irregular menstrual cycles after infection with COVID-19, 32.3% of the women described neurotic symptoms, and 12.7% had psychotic symptoms. About 38% had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, the study found that patients with symptoms of mental health disorders were twice as likely to report a menstrual change. “The length of isolation was the key factor affecting overall menstrual changes and mental health in hospitalized female COVID-19 patients,” the authors write. “Health care providers who treat COVID-19 patients cannot ignore these health problems.”

California health workers slated to get pandemic bonuses of up to $1,500

Frontline health care workers in California who worked through the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic are set to receive a bonus from the state under a budget deal reached by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders. Eligible full-time employees may receive up to $1,500: part-time employees $1,250, and physicians up to $1,000, per Assembly Bill 184. “The Legislature finds and declares that stability in the California health care workforce will further its efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and address other public health issues that face Californians,” the lawmakers said.

What COVID-19’s evolution means for our future

Will we ever be able to get ahead of the relentless coronavirus? It’s surpassed the expectations of health experts and scientists: With each mutation, it’s more infectious than ever and, pandemic fatigue aside, is on track to maintain a major role in our lives. On The Chronicle’s Fifth & Mission podcast, Chronicle health reporter Erin Allday explains the evolution of the virus in discussion with host Cecilia Lei. Listen to hear what experts have to say about this wily coronavirus and what they are learning.

Vaccination for a Muppet: Elmo gets his shot

The beloved Sesame Street character Elmo got his COVID vaccination Tuesday. It was part of a public service campaign to increase vaccine uptake among kids by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind the long-running TV show. In a clip posted to YouTube, Elmo and his Muppet dad Louie answer some common questions about the vaccine: “Was it safe? Was it the right decision?’ I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice,” Louie says. “I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love.” About 18% of parents of children under 5 said they would vaccinate their child as soon as a vaccine was available — which is now is — according to a survey conducted earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

China reduces quarantine time for international travelers

China is easing its quarantine requirement for people arriving from abroad but its Tuesday announcement stopped short of lifting what remains a comparatively stringent COVID-19 policy, the Associated Press reports. Anyone coming into the country will be required to stay in a quarantine hotel for seven days, followed by three days of home quarantine, the National Health Commission said in its latest pandemic response plan. The previous plan called for 14 days in a hotel plus seven days of home quarantine.

FDA will decide on redesigned COVID vaccines by early July

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will decide by early July on whether to change the design of COVID-19 vaccines this fall to make them more effective against the omicron variant and its sublineages. The agency hopes to launch a booster campaign by October, officials said during a Tuesday meeting with an independent vaccine advisory committee that was discussing the issue of tailoring new vaccines.

Omicron subvariants BA.4, BA.5 causing more than half of COVID cases in U.S.

The fast-spreading BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of omicron made up a combined 52% of COVID-19 cases in the United States last week, according to estimates published Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The highly transmissible sublineages are crowding out BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, with BA.5 making up about 36.6% of new cases nationally and BA.4 about 15.7%. The proportions are roughly the same in the Northern California region. Many public health officials are uncertain about what impact these newer BA.4 and BA.5 mutations will have in terms of more severe disease outcomes.

2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini out with COVID-19

Matteo Berrettini, last year’s runner-up at Wimbledon, dropped out of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament hours before he was scheduled to play his first-round match Tuesday, saying that he tested positive for COVID-19, the Associated Press reports. The All England Club announced Berrettini’s withdrawal, and he posted about it on Instagram. He wrote that he was “heartbroken” and has been isolating himself “the last few days” with flu-like symptoms. He’s the second high-profile player to pull out of the draw within the first two days due to coronavirus infection. He joins 2014 U.S. Open champion and 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic, who was seeded 14th.

Sonoma County scaling back COVID response team

Sonoma County is trimming its coronavirus task force this week, reducing a temporary workforce of about 60 staff within the county health department by a third. County health officials told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that the shift aligns with the evolving nature of the pandemic. It comes just ahead of a June 30 deadline when millions of dollars in government pandemic funding is set to run out. They said everyone knew the pandemic response would scale back at this time, with some workers notified last week and others sooner. “Many had already resigned weeks ago, and a month ago, because they knew that come June 30, the COVID response was being demobilized,” Health Services Director Tina Rivera told the newspaper. But many temporary workers were in the dark on details, and some providers operating clinics and COVID-19 services said they didn’t know until last week whether they would continue to be part of the county’s vaccination program after June 30, the newspaper reported.

CDC: Paxlovid prevented 99% of hospitalizations in patients with mild-to-moderate COVID

Fewer than 1% of COVID-19 patients required hospital admissions and emergency department encounters 5-15 days after completing Paxlovid treatment, a CDC study found using data from Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “The rarity of these outcomes is consistent with evidence from recent case reports and large observational studies, which found that symptoms experienced by patients with COVID-19 rebound after treatment with Paxlovid are milder than those experienced during the primary infection” and are unlikely to lead to hospitalization, the authors wrote. However, they indicated that further research is needed to determine the cause of rare rebound infections that can occur after taking Paxlovid: “The recurrence of COVID-19 symptoms after Paxlovid treatment might also be related to other factors, including viral reinfection or the emergence of treatment-resistant mutations.”

UCSF opens new psychiatry building aiming to “redefine mental health services”

UCSF is welcoming its first patients to one of the few buildings in the nation that combines outpatient mental health care for all ages with top programs in psychiatry and psychology training, the Nancy Friend Pritzker Psychiatry Building. UCSF said the timing of the opening coincides with the mental health crisis tied to the COVID pandemic, and the building aims to “redefine mental health services and make a bold statement against stigma.” The five-story,150,000-square-foot building is seen as a departure from traditional psychiatry facilities, with its “central location and proximity to transportation hubs, together with its light-filled atrium and interior transparency” that “signal openness to the community outside, as well as within the building itself.” Matthew W. State, chair and Oberndorf Family Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, emphasized the building’s features of light and nature aiming to integrate physical and mental health services and “healing in a low-stress environment.”

California COVID death rates for Latinos have declined, but advocates say more help is needed

The success of vaccination campaigns has narrowed disparities in COVID death rates in California, especially for the Latino community, which has been disproportionately affected with coronavirus infection during the pandemic. Since the state began tracking deaths in April 2020, more than 91,000 Californians have died from COVID-19 — approximately 230 deaths per 100,000 people — according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Will the Bay Area’s massive outdoor parades and protests spur any outbreaks?

A spate of massive outdoor crowd events swept through the Bay Area over the past week, with the region still beset by fast-spreading offshoots of the omicron coronavirus variant. Risk of transmission is less outside than indoors, and the region is comparatively highly vaccinated, so it’s not known to if outbreaks might occur such as those tied to some crowded festivals and events elsewhere, San Francisco’s Pride parade on Sunday was estimated at 500,000 celebrants who marched and mingled along Market Street for four hours and ended up at a pulsating party at the Civic Center. That followed numerous protest gatherings with people converging in the streets after the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion rights. And the week kicked off with throngs also crowding Market to celebrate the NBA championship of the Golden State Warriors. All involved people in close proximity for extended periods.

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