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January 2022: Coronavirus Blog Archive

An undated artist rendering of the coronavirus.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
An undated artist rendering of the coronavirus.

San Diego County's total COVID-19 cases near 700,000, even as omicron surge declines
– 7:13 p.m., Monday, Jan. 31, 2022

San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency reported 2,049 new COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths Monday, as a surge in omicron cases appears to be on the decline.

Monday's data follows 4,218 cases reported Sunday and 5,027 on Saturday and increased the county's cumulative totals to 697,429 cases and 4,686 deaths. The HHSA does not report data on the weekends.

The number of COVID-positive patients in San Diego County hospitals decreased by 30 people to 1,180, according to the latest state figures. – City News Service

How to use the free N95 masks and rapid tests now available in San Diego
– 5:15 p.m., Monday, Jan. 31, 2022

No-cost COIVD-19 rapid tests and N95 masks are now available to San Diegans, but not all local pharmacies have the masks yet and the ones that do report they are going fast.

"My recommendation at this time is if you’re getting it (N95 mask), go ahead and use it," said Kaiser Permanente San Diego's Dr. William Tseng.

Tseng said, in terms of masks, N95s offer the best protection. They are used by hospital staff working directly with COVID-19 patients and the facial coverings can prevent virus transmission as well as infection. – Matt Hoffman, KPBS health reporter

US gives full approval to Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine
– 10:18 a.m., Monday, Jan. 31, 2022

U.S. health regulators on Monday granted full approval to Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, a shot that's already been given to tens of millions of Americans since its emergency authorization over a year ago.

The action by the Food and Drug Administration means the agency has completed the same rigorous, time-consuming review of Moderna's shot as dozens of other long-established vaccines.

The decision was bolstered by real-world evidence from the more than 200 million doses administered in the U.S. since the FDA cleared the shot in December 2020. The FDA granted full approval of Pfizer’s vaccine last August. – Associated Press

Padilla, children's hospitals push for more vaccinations
– 6:39 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022

California Senator Alex Padilla is calling for a more aggressive push to get school-aged children vaccinated against COVID-19. He was joined in that call Thursday by the California Children’s Hospital Association, assembling a ZOOM room of doctors and administrators representing Children’s hospitals across California.

They included Rady Children’s Hospital CEO Dr. Patrick Frias, who said, “We need kids to get vaccinated and their families to get vaccinated so we can all get out of this and on to some semblance of normal life.”

Padilla spoke in both English and Spanish to make sure his message got through to as many Californians as possible. “Scientists have proven with months of careful research that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for kids and it will protect against life-threatening complications of COVID,” he said.

While officials pushed for more vaccinations online, San Diego Unified School District’s Vax Van continued its travels Thursday with a stop at Hoover High School. The UC San Diego Health mobile unit continues to offer vaccination options to San Diego Unified students, staff, and anyone who wants protection from coronavirus.

San Diego County reports 6,108 new COVID-19 cases, 18 deaths
– 7:31 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022

San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency reported 6,108 new COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths in its latest data as health officials reminded residents to receive vaccine booster shots.

A total of 1,021,730 — or 49.9% of San Diegans who are fully vaccinated — have received a booster, according to the HHSA. Boosters are currently available for everyone 12 years and older.

"While we're seeing more breakthrough infections due to the COVID-19 Omicron variant, research has shown that people who have received their booster are not getting seriously ill and therefore do not end up in the hospital," said Dr. Wilma J. Wooten, county public health officer. "San Diegans should get a booster immediately, if they are eligible." — City News Service

California appears to pass peak of omicron variant wave
– 3:05 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022

California showed signs it turned the corner on the omicron wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with infection rates falling and hospitalizations well short of the overwhelming deluge officials feared a few weeks ago.

Over 15,000 people are hospitalized with coronavirus, a huge figure but well short of last January's peak of about 22,000 and half of what officials had feared. Positivity rates are down 15% from earlier this month and the state's projection model shows the number of hospitalizations falling by half, to less than 7,700, in another month.

“This omicron spread like wildfire and now it’s dropping very rapidly. And that’s exactly what we expect,” Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiologist at the University of Southern California, said Tuesday. “It’s like when a wildfire burns up all the fuel. There’s no more fuel to burn and the wildfire goes out.” — Associated Press

Slight decrease in local cases could bode well for COVID outlook
– 12:43 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022

Although the spread of COVID-19 remains high, San Diego County has seen a slight reduction in reported cases over the past week.

While the recent data does suggest a positive trend, it's still too early to tell whether or not case numbers will continue to trend downward.

Despite this, the recent decrease in case numbers does coincide with an anticipated slowing of cases that researchers had recently predicted. — Christina Kim, KPBS Racial Justice and Social Equity Reporter

Free N95 masks are arriving at pharmacies and grocery stores. Here's how to get yours
– 12:39 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022

Nearly a week after the Biden administration announced it will deploy 400 million free N95 masks to the public, the high-quality face coverings are starting to arrive at pharmacies and grocery stores.

"Every person is allowed up to 3 free masks pending availability," the Department of Health and Human Services states.

The White House launched its latest effort to combat COVID-19 following new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC now says cloth masks are no longer as effective in preventing the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus and that people should wear an N95 or KN95 mask. — Vanessa Romo, NPR

There's one population that gets overlooked by an 'everyone will get COVID' mentality
– 12:35 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022

Ten-year-old Chase and 11-year-old Carson have alert minds and radiant smiles, but very uncooperative bodies. The two brothers have a rare genetic disorder called MEPAN syndrome. They can't sit, stand, walk or talk. For their parents, Danny and Nikki Miller, this means wheelchairs, electric lifts, diaper changes and spoon feeding.

Before the pandemic, the Marin, Calif., family relied heavily on several types of therapists and individual aids — and the boys' skills were slowly improving. But when COVID struck, all that support went online or stopped entirely. Danny and Nikki struggled to balance their own careers with homeschooling their boys.

"We were taxed," says Danny. "I tried to teach the boys physical therapy while it was being demonstrated over Zoom. We had a lot more responsibility, a lot more on our shoulders. You know, as if we didn't have enough already." — Lesley McClurg, KQED

Gov. Newsom extends COVID paid sick leave
– 11:12 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022

COVID-19 paid sick leave has been extended to Sept. 30, 2022, for California workers, officials announced Tuesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, Senate President pro temp Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), said they reached an agreement on a framework to ensure access to the sick leave program.

“By extending sick leave to frontline workers with COVID and providing support for California businesses, we can help protect the health of our workforce, while also ensuring that businesses and our economy are able to thrive,” Gov. Newsom, Sen. Atkins and Assemblymember Rendon said in joint a statement. – Lara McCaffrey, KPBS Web Producer

Pfizer and BioNTech begin testing an omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine
– 8:05 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022

Pfizer and BioNTech have begun a clinical trial to evaluate a new, omicron-specific vaccine for COVID-19, the pharmaceutical companies announced Tuesday.

Though people who are vaccinated and boosted appear to be better protected against severe disease and hospitalization from omicron, the highly contagious variant has still led to breakthrough cases and a surge in overall infections across the world.

"While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with Omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address Omicron and new variants in the future," Kathrin U. Jansen, Pfizer's senior vice president and head of vaccine research and development, said in a statement. – Joe Hernandez, NPR

San Diego County reports 5,482 new COVID-19 cases, 20 deaths
– 6:08 p.m., Monday, Jan. 24, 2022

San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency Monday reported 5,482 new COVID-19 cases and 20 additional deaths associated with the virus.

Those numbers reflect totals as of Sunday. Along with 10,192 cases identified Friday and 7,173 cases Saturday, the numbers brought the county's cumulative totals to 662,504 cases and 4,586 deaths since the pandemic began.

The county does not release COVID-19 data on weekends. – City News Service

COVID vaccination in California schools would be required under proposed bill
– 1:17 p.m., Monday, Jan. 24, 2022

California state Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) on Monday announced legislation to require California students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for in-person school attendance.

Called the “Keep Schools Open and Safe Act,” the bill removes a mandatory personal belief exemption so that the State Department of Public Health is able to enforce vaccination against COVID-19.

“Pundits are declaring a false duality: Shut down schools to stop outbreaks or surrender to COVID by allowing everyone to get infected,” Pan said. “But these are not good options. They both have unacceptable costs from either disruption of education or disability from long COVID or death. That’s not the choice we should be looking at. That’s why we want a third option – a better one – that the availability of a safe and effective vaccine can provide us.” – Alexander Nguyen, KPBS North County Multimedia Producer and Lara McCaffrey, KPBS Web Producer

Why rapid COVID tests aren't more accurate and how scientists hope to improve them
– 12:42 p.m., Monday, Jan. 24, 2022

How much should you trust the results of a rapid antigen test? That's a question many people are asking these days amid recent research and anecdotes suggesting these tests may be less sensitive to omicron. Researchers are working fast to figure out what's going on and how to improve the tests.

That includes people like Dr. Wilbur Lam, a professor of pediatrics and biomedical engineering at Emory University and one of the lead investigators assessing COVID-19 diagnostic tests for the federal government. His research team began evaluating rapid antigen tests against live samples of the omicron variant last December in the lab, and in early assessments, he says, some tests failed to detect the coronavirus "at a concentration that we would have expected them to catch it if it were another variant."

That finding prompted the Food and Drug Administration to update its online guidance in late December to note that, while rapid antigen tests do detect the omicron variant, "they may have reduced sensitivity." — Maria Godoy, NPR

Los Angeles Unified updates COVID-19 mask, testing requirements
– 11:10 a.m., Monday, Jan. 24, 2022

Students at Los Angeles Unified School District were being required to wear higher-grade, non-cloth masks starting Monday, and the district has also extended weekly COVID-19 testing, regardless of vaccination status, through the end of February.

Students must now wear "well-fitting, non-cloth masks with a nose wire" at all times, indoors and outdoors. All employees were already required to wear surgical grade masks.

District officials said they will continue to provide masks to students and employees at school sites, as needed. And, as with the previous masking requirements, the mask requirements do not apply to people with mask exemptions. – City News Service

Seniors are at high risk of COVID, but Medicare doesn't pay for rapid tests
– 9:44 a.m., Monday, Jan. 24, 2022

What group is especially vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19 even if fully vaccinated and boosted? Seniors. And who will have an especially tough time getting free at-home COVID tests under the Biden administration's plan? Yes, seniors.

As of Jan. 15, private insurers will cover the cost of eight at-home rapid COVID tests each month for their members — for as long as the public health emergency lasts.

Finding the tests will be hard enough, but Medicare beneficiaries face an even bigger hurdle: The administration's new rule doesn't apply to them.

It turns out that the laws governing traditional Medicare don't provide for coverage of self-administered diagnostic tests, which is precisely what the rapid antigen tests are and why they are an important tool for containing the pandemic.

"While at this time original Medicare cannot pay for at-home tests, testing remains a critical tool to help mitigate the spread of COVID," a statement from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said.

Medicare patients are left to seek free tests other ways, including through the administration's new website, COVIDtests.gov, and at community centers. The Medicare program does cover rapid antigen or PCR testing done by a lab without charging beneficiaries, but there's a hitch: It's limited to one test per year unless someone has a doctor's order.

More needs to be done, advocates say. – Michelle Andrews, NPR

San Diego County reports 11,235 COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths
– 6:00 p.m., Friday, Jan. 21, 2022

San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency reported 11,235 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths in its latest data.

Friday's data increased the county's cumulative totals to 639,139 cases and 4,566 deaths.

The number of COVID-positive patients in San Diego County hospitals decreased by 15 people to 1,288 on Friday, according to the latest state data. – City News Service

Preteens may be vaxxed without parents under California bill
– 3 p.m., Friday, Jan. 21, 2022

California would allow children age 12 and up to be vaccinated without their parents’ consent under a proposal introduced Friday by a state senator who said youngsters “deserve the right to protect themselves” against infectious disease.

Currently in California, minors ages 12 to 17 cannot be vaccinated without permission from their parents or guardians, unless the vaccine is specifically to prevent a sexually transmitted disease. Parental consent laws for vaccinations vary by state and region and a few places such as Philadelphia, San Francisco allow minors to consent to their own COVID-19 vaccines.

Wiener's bill would lift the parental requirement for that age group for any vaccine that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the bill passes, California would allow the youngest age of any state to be vaccinated without parental permission. – Associated Press

There's now a phone line to order your free at-home COVID tests
– 1:13 p.m., Friday, Jan. 21, 2022

The Biden administration on Friday opened a phone line for people to order free at-home COVID-19 tests.

The phone number — 1-800-232-0233 — follows the launch earlier this week of a website to order the tests, and is available for those who may have difficulty accessing the internet or need additional help to place their orders.

According to the White House, the phone line is open from 8 a.m. to midnight ET seven days a week, and offers assistance in more than 150 languages. – Benjamin Swasey, NPR

San Diego County reports 14,025 COVID-19 cases, 6 deaths
– 12:36 p.m., Friday, Jan. 21, 2022

San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency reported 14,025 new COVID-19 cases and six deaths in its latest data.

Thursday's data increased the county's cumulative totals to 627,828 cases and 4,559 deaths.

The number of COVID-positive patients in San Diego County hospitals decreased by 15 people to 1,288 on Friday, according to the latest state data.

Of the hospitalized patients, 205 were in intensive care, down nine from the previous day.

Some of those patients may have been hospitalized for other reasons and had their COVID status discovered by hospital-mandated tests.

To help alleviate the strain on local hospitals and prepare them for the expected surge in admissions, the HHSA recommends that only people needing emergency care should go to a hospital emergency department. – City News Service

San Diego County reports 9,382 COVID cases, 5 deaths, expands testing sites
– 12:50 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022

San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency reported 9,382 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths in its latest data as the county continues to expand testing locations amid increased demand because of the omicron variant.

The county has a network of free testing sites, both walk-up and appointment-based. The newest testing center is a site at Palomar YMCA in Escondido, which can provide up to 800 tests a day, Monday to Friday. New appointments are made available daily and can be booked up to three days in advance.

Local health care providers offer testing to members who meet each systems' criteria and many neighborhood pharmacies offer same-day testing.

The federal government rolled out a program this week that allows every residential household in the United States to order up to four at-home COVID-19 test kits free of charge. Tests can be ordered online at COVIDtests.gov. Those ordering the test kits need only provide a name and address. No identification, credit card or health insurance information is required. — City News Service

COVID-19 wastewater surveillance shows San Diego's case surge is slowing
– 7:02 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022

COVID-19 wastewater data now shows that the record spread of the virus in San Diego is beginning to fall.

"We’re coming off the surge for sure," said UC San Diego Professor Rob Knight. "However, it’s possible that cases will continue to rise or maybe peak around now."

Knight leads the project that has been analyzing San Diegans sewage from the Point Loma treatment plan over the last two years. He said wastewater is a leading indicator of the virus’ spread, with data typically three weeks ahead of confirmed cases.

The decreasing numbers are welcome news for hospitals that are up against dwindling capacity, but with thousands of cases still being reported daily, we are not out of the surge yet. — Matt Hoffman, KPBS Health Reporter

The Postal Service is now taking orders for free COVID-19 test kits
– 4:00 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022

The U.S. Postal Service has begun taking orders for free at-home coronavirus test kits.

The website COVIDtests.gov was originally slated to begin taking orders on Wednesday. White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the site is in the "beta testing" stage and "will be launched formally tomorrow morning [Wednesday]."

Each household order will contain four rapid tests, which the Postal Service says will be shipped for free "in late January." — Brian Naylor, NPR

White House soft-launches COVID-19 test request website
– 10:11 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022

The Biden administration on Tuesday quietly launched its website for Americans to request free at-home COVID-19 tests, a day before the site was scheduled to officially go online.

The website, COVIDTests.gov, now includes a link for Americans to order four at-home tests per residential address, to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. It marks the latest step by President Joe Biden to address criticism of low inventory and long lines for testing during a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the website was in "beta testing" and operating at a “limited capacity” ahead of its official launch. The website will officially launch mid-morning Wednesday, Psaki said.

San Diego County sees rise in COVID hospitalizations
– 9:59 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022

The number of COVID-positive patients in San Diego County hospitals has increased by four people to 1,260, according to the latest state data released Tuesday.

Of those patients, 193 were in intensive care, up four from the previous day.

San Diego County had the second-most COVID-positive patients in California, behind only Los Angeles County.

Some of those patients may have been hospitalized for other reasons and had their COVID status discovered by hospital-mandated tests.

San Diego County reported 9,878 new COVID-19 infections and five additional deaths on Friday.

Friday's data from the county Health and Human Services Agency increased the county's cumulative totals to 568,212 cases and 4,545 deaths since the pandemic began.

The county doesn't release information on tests, infections or deaths on weekends or holidays. – City News Service

Amid low COVID vaccine rates, more California children hospitalized in omicron surge
– 5:12 p.m., Monday, Jan. 17, 2022

COVID-19 hospitalizations among California’s children — especially those too young to go to school — are the highest they have been since the pandemic began.

Chalk it up to the highly contagious omicron variant, kids exposed during in-person instruction at school and other public places, and infants and preschoolers being ineligible for vaccination.

The state has tallied nearly 850,000 cases of COVID among kids 0 to 17 since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those, 44 have died — equivalent to an entire school bus filled with kids. — Elizabeth Aguilera, Calmatters

San Diego Councilman Chris Cate, community groups to open COVID-19 testing sites
– 8:05 a.m., Monday, Jan. 17, 2022

San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate has partnered with local community organizations to open a new COVID-19 testing site at Zion Market on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard at 9 a.m. Monday.

The site — in Zion Market's parking lot — will offer free COVID-19 tests to members of the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday. Additional days may be added based on demand.

"With the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases, it's more important than ever to stay vigilant in protecting one's own health and the health of those around you," Cate said. "Folks shouldn't have to drive all over town to find a free COVID-19 test or pay out of pocket to get tested.

Cate is partnering with the Asian Business Association of San Diego and Broadwell Health to establish free COVID-19 testing sites across City Council District 6 in the coming weeks. – City News Service

Federal testing website launches next week, 4 tests per home
– 12:48 p.m., Friday, Jan. 14, 2022

The federal website where Americans can request free COVID-19 tests will begin accepting orders on Wednesday as the White House looks to address nationwide shortages, but supplies will be limited to just four free tests per home.

Starting on Jan. 19, the website COVIDTests.gov will provide tests at no cost, including no shipping fee, the White House announced Friday.

As he faced criticism for low inventory and long lines for testing, President Joe Biden announced last month that the U.S. would purchase 500 million at-home tests to launch the program and on Thursday the president announced that he was doubling the order to 1 billion tests. – Associated Press

San Diego County reports 14,437 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths
– 10:34 a.m., Friday, Jan. 14, 2022

San Diego County reported 14,734 new COVID-19 infections and 11 deaths in its latest data as an "unprecedented" rate of cases and hospitalizations continue to roll in.

Thursday's data increased the county's cumulative totals to 558,356 cases and 4,540 deaths since the pandemic began.

COVID-related hospitalizations in San Diego County increased by 76 to 1,226 on Thursday, which follows a record-setting weekend when hospitals struggled to keep up. Hospitalizations have increased at a steeper rate than when the county reached its peak — 1,725 on Jan. 11, 2021, according to the latest state figures.

Of the hospitalized patients reported Wednesday, 173 were in intensive care, up four from the previous day. – `City News Service

Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for US businesses
– 12:06 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022

The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job.

At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.

The court’s orders Thursday during a spike in coronavirus cases was a mixed bag for the administration’s efforts to boost the vaccination rate among Americans. – Mark Sherman and Jessica Gresko, Associated Press

San Diego County reports 14,734 new COVID-19 cases, nine deaths
– 8:55 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022

San Diego County reported 14,734 new COVID-19 infections and nine deaths in its latest data as an "unprecedented" rate of cases and hospitalizations continue to roll in.

Wednesday's data increased the county's cumulative totals to 550,639 cases and 4,529 deaths since the pandemic began.

COVID-related hospitalizations in San Diego County increased by 89 to 1,150 on Wednesday, which follows a record-setting weekend when hospitals struggled to keep up. Hospitalizations have increased at a steeper rate than when the county reached its peak — 1,725 on Jan. 11, 2021, according to the latest state figures. – City News Service

San Diego doctors continue fight against COVID-19 misinformation as omicron surges
– 7:25 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022

COVID-19 cases are surging like never before and so is misinformation, which is forcing county officials and physicians to continue their frustrating fight to provide people with the facts of the pandemic.

"It's just not true, it's not true," said San Diego County's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric McDonald responding to public comments regarding children made during Tuesday's board of supervisors meeting.

Supervisors declared COVID-19 misinformation a public health crisis last year. Since then, McDonald and other doctors from around San Diego have been hosting panels to combat it. – Matt Hoffman, KPBS Health Reporter

The White House will distribute 10 million more COVID tests per month to schools
– 10:51 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022

With schools all over the country struggling to deal with a surge of coronavirus cases from the omicron variant, the White House on Wednesday announced it is increasing the supply of COVID-19 tests for schools to help keep facilities open for in-person learning.

President Biden and others in his administration insist schools should stay open, even with the omicron wave making it harder than ever to manage.

The administration will increase the number of COVID tests available to schools by 10 million per month — 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests. — Alana Wise, NPR

California National Guard enlisted for help at test sites around the county, state
– 3:06 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022

The California National Guard is being deployed in San Diego to help with COVID-19 testing. It is part of a request from the governor to help shorten lines throughout the state.

COVID-19 testing lines have been backing up at test sites around San Diego County since the emergence of the omicron variant.

“Either they are getting their test for work. Getting their test for school or just getting their test for sanity's sake," said Master Sgt. Jose Mercado, spokesman for California National Guard. "It’s such a vulnerable time for us. We don’t know if we have just a cold or we’re really transmitting something to our families.” — Steve Walsh, KPBS Military and Veterans Reporter

Rady Children's Hospital sees record pediatric COVID infections
– 3:07 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022

"This omicron variant is spreading like wildfire in the community," said Dr. John Bradley, the director of infectious diseases at Rady Children's Hospital during a news conference on Monday morning outside their emergency room.

The number of children testing positive for COVID-19 is the highest it’s ever been at the hospital, he said. That's following a nationwide trend.

"Omicron, compared to delta, we are probably twice the number of hospitalizations that we had compared with last winter. But again the kids aren’t as sick," Bradley said. "The number of positive tests is through the roof. That’s ... five times more positive cases are being reported now since last year." — Kitty Alvarado, KPBS General Assignment Reporter

Holiday delays plague transit COVID-19 testing sites in San Diego
– 3:07 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022

Demand for COVID-19 testing has been high, but some free testing sites are not measuring up.

Most San Diego County testing turnaround times have been efficient, with results on average completing tests in 1.8 days, but not everyone is getting their results quickly.

Some people have encountered issues at testing sites at San Diego transit stations. — Matt Hoffman, KPBS Health Reporter

San Diego County sees another rise in COVID-positive hospital patients
– 3:08 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022

COVID-19 related hospitalizations in San Diego County increased by 73 to 1,061 Tuesday, an "unprecedented pace" that follows a record- setting weekend where hospitals struggled to keep up.

Hospitalizations have increased at a steeper rate than when the county reached its peak — 1,725 on Jan. 11, 2021, according to the latest state figures.

Of the hospitalized patients reported Tuesday, 166 were in intensive care, down two from the previous day. The number of available ICU beds increased by four to 187. — City News Service

U.S. COVID hospitalizations hit new record high, raising risks for patients
– 3:09 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022

The omicron-driven surge has sent COVID-19 hospitalizations skyrocketing across the U.S., reaching a new pandemic high this week with 145,982 patients hospitalized.

This exceeds the previous high recorded in January last year, according to data tracked by the Department of Health and Human Services, from more than 5,400 hospitals in the country.

Patients with COVID now fill about 30% of ICU beds in the nation and pediatric COVID hospitalizations are also at the highest rate of the pandemic. — Will Stone & Carrie Feibel, NPR

Welcome to the era of omicron rules and regs
– 3:10 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022

The unwanted arrival of the omicron variant of COVID has been accompanied by an unwanted new set of social restrictions in many parts of the globe.

Starting next week, diners in Germany will not only have to show proof that they're vaccinated against COVID but that they're fully boosted to sit down at a restaurant.

Students in Ontario, Canada who had just recently returned to school have been ordered back to their virtual classrooms. — Jason Beaubien, NPR

US hospitals letting infected staff members stay on the job
– 1:56 p.m., Monday, Jan. 10, 2022

Hospitals around the U.S. are increasingly taking the extraordinary step of allowing nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus to stay on the job if they have mild symptoms or none at all.

The move is a reaction to the severe hospital staffing shortages and crushing caseloads that the omicron variant is causing.

California health authorities announced over the weekend that hospital staff members who test positive but are symptom-free can continue working. Some hospitals in Rhode Island and Arizona have likewise told employees they can stay on the job if they have no symptoms or just mild ones. — Associated Press

San Diego medical military team help hospital on brink of collapse
– 1:03 p.m., Monday, Jan. 10, 2022

San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, New Mexico serves a vast area in the Four Corners. Dr. Brad Greenberg, medical director of emergency preparedness at the hospital, said they care for all people no matter who they are or where they come from.

"We serve a mixture of urban, rural and frontier areas and also a referral center for many of the facilities that exist on the Navajo Nation," said Greenberg.

COVID has not been kind to the region. They’ve had five COVID waves and the last 13 weeks have been especially tough. — Kitty Alvarado, KPBS General Assignment Reporter

San Diego County's COVID hospitalizations increase to 943
– 1:00 p.m., Monday, Jan. 10, 2022

The number of COVID-positive patients in San Diego County hospitals has increased to 943 from 889 on Saturday, according to the latest state figures.

Of those patients, 169 were in intensive care, up nine from the previous day. The number of available ICU beds decreased by one to 169.

Because of a massive influx in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, San Diego County public health officials are urging residents to not only get all vaccinations and the booster shot, but to only seek testing for the illness if necessary. — City News Service

Ambulances forced to wait longer as COVID fills up emergency rooms
– 12:52 p.m., Monday, Jan. 10, 2022

There’s little to no room in many emergency rooms across San Diego County. COVID infections are spreading faster than ever because of the more contagious omicron variant.

Jeff Behm is the managing director of Falck San Diego, the city’s emergency services contractor. He said he’s never seen COVID calls as high as now — and he went through the surge on the East Coast in 2020.

"This is the worst situation that we’re seeing because of the call volume because there’s no lock down everybody's out and about doing their thing," said Behm. — Kitty Alvarado, KPBS General Assignment Reporter

FDA shortens the wait time between Moderna vaccine and booster to 5 months
– 3:55 p.m., Friday, Jan. 7, 2022

The period between getting the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and the first booster shot has been shortened to five months from six for people ages 18 and up, the Food and Drug Administration says.

The FDA's announcement Friday comes as the highly contagious omicron variant is spreading rapidly around the country and immunity from the first round of vaccines is fading. Over the weekend, more than 1 million people in the U.S. were diagnosed with COVID-19.

"Vaccination is our best defense against COVID-19, including the circulating variants, and shortening the length of time between completion of a primary series and a booster dose may help reduce waning immunity," said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement. – Deepa Shivaram, NPR

More than 500 SDPD employees have filed requests to be exempt from COVID vaccinations
– 3:53 p.m., Friday, Jan. 7, 2022

Nearly 1,100 city of San Diego employees have so far filed requests to be exempt from the city’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement — and more than half of those requests have come from San Diego Police Department (SDPD) employees, according to city records reviewed by KPBS.

As of Wednesday, the city had received 525 exemption requests from the SDPD, which accounts for more than 20% of the department’s workforce, the records show. Other city departments with high numbers of requests include fire, transportation, storm water and environmental services. Those departments, including the police, account for nearly 75% of all requests, the records show.

The numbers are particularly concerning to public health experts because employees of these departments have the most frequent interactions with the public, especially the police. And people don’t always have a choice about whether they come in close contact with police officers, said Rebecca Fielding-Miller, an epidemiologist at UC San Diego.

“It’s not like you can just walk away from a police officer if you don’t feel safe,” she said. “If it's mandatory that you have to spend time with somebody face to face, then that other person should have to be vaccinated because it's an airborne infectious disease.”

The police and fire unions did not return requests for comment. – Claire Trageser, KPBS Investigative Reporter

San Diego Unified pauses hunt for new superintendent amid COVID-19 spike
– 12:18 p.m., Friday, Jan. 7, 2022

Citing rising COVID-19 infections rates in the county, San Diego Unified School District board leaders announced Friday that during the month of January, they would pause all activities related to the search for the district's next superintendent.

Public forums planned for the coming week have been postponed. The State of the District Address, which was scheduled for Jan. 18, will also be postponed.

Christopher Rice-Wilson, chair of the district's Superintendent Search Advisory Committee, said he supported the board of trustees in the decision to postpone events.

"Dealing with this current COVID-19 surge should be the number one priority of school and district staff," he said in a statement. "There is no need to rush this search process and endanger our school community and stakeholders. Everyone's efforts should be focused on getting our district and community safely through yet another surge of this devastating pandemic." – City News Service

Official: California COVID surge could ease next month
– 9:04 a.m., Friday, Jan. 7, 2022

The California surge in coronavirus cases has shut down schools and sidelined thousands of police, firefighters, teachers and health care workers but officials are hoping it will be short-lived.

“My hope is that, you know, by the time we get to February, we’re on the downside of seeing that massive amount of community transmission,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

California's number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has soared five-fold in two weeks and hospitalizations have doubled. LA County, the state's largest with 10 million residents, reported more than 37,000 new cases on Thursday, which was the highest level since the pandemic started. – Associated Press

County residents without severe COVID symptoms urged to stay away from ERs
– 3:10 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022

San Diego County residents were being urged Thursday to avoid emergency rooms for COVID-19 testing, amid increases in both hospitalizations and staffing shortages exacerbated by a surge in coronavirus infections.

The county Health and Human Services Agency recommended that people worried about COVID-19 infection and others seeking COVID-19 testing only go to a hospital to be tested if they have severe symptoms.

"Do not go to an emergency department just to get tested, and only go when you have symptoms that need emergency care," said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, county deputy public health officer. "If you're experiencing no COVID-19 symptoms, have mild illness or have not been exposed to someone who tested positive, go to one of the many testing locations available in the region."

Together, all testing sites in the county have the capacity for around 45,000 tests daily. The HHSA said rapid antigen tests, which are available at many local pharmacies, are a good option if a testing site is unavailable. Those who test positive on a rapid should follow the healthcare guidance and generally do not need a confirmatory PCR test unless instructed by a doctor. — City News Service

State COVID kit delivery falls short for many San Diego school districts
– 3:07 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022

Several San Diego County school districts and charter schools received relief Wednesday in their desperate search for COVID-19 home test kits.

The State Department of Public Health delivered 193,000 at-home antigen rapid test kits to the County Office of Education late Tuesday. Based on Gov. Newsom’s December promise to provide 6-million rapid tests to public schools across the state, the county had requested 500,000 tests to cover every public school student.

The much smaller supply forced a distribution Wednesday of first-come, first-served to districts quick enough to respond to the email alert sent out.

All the districts and charters that did not get supplied are now on a waiting list for the next shipment. It is unknown when that shipment will come from the state or how many home tests will be included. – M.G. Perez, KPBS Education Reporter

Omicron surge hitting San Diego County employers hard
– 3:00 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022

The San Diego region’s employers are finding it hard to keep staffing levels up in the midst of the current surge of COVID-19 infections.

Health officials say the omicron variant is now the region’s dominant COVID-19 strain and the virus is driving record numbers of infections.

Big employers — like Sharp HealthCare — are being buffeted by the disease.

“At present, we have 510 Sharp COVID team members that are COVID-19 positive and currently not working,” said Chris Howard, Sharp Healthcare CEO. “And without a doubt, the current omicron surge is exacerbating what has already been a difficult situation in terms of staffing.”

UC San Diego’s Medical complex is also feeling the crush of new infections. That hospital facility has had more than 600 positive COVID cases among staff members in the past week.

“From the very first patients that we took from Wuhan China when the first planes landed at Miramar and to now, this has been where I’ve been the most concerned about where we sit and it's just because every day so many staff are going out,” said Patty Maycent, UC San Diego Health CEO.

Officials say 196 UC San Diego Health staffers had positive tests in just a 24-hour period early this week. – Erik Anderson, KPBS Environment Reporter

With omicron driving COVID surge, California extends indoor mask mandate
– 2:57 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022

A statewide mandate requiring people to wear masks in indoor public settings will remain in place until at least Feb. 15, the state's Health and Human Services secretary announced Wednesday, pointing to rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

The state-imposed the mandate on Dec. 15, and it had been scheduled to expire on Jan. 15.

Among the indoor public spaces affected are retail stores, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers and government offices that serve the public. — City News Service

SDSU makes temporary shift to remote learning
– 11:05 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022

San Diego State University (SDSU) announced a temporary shift to online instruction for the first two weeks of its spring semester. The decision comes as San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency anticipates a mid-January spike in coronavirus cases.

Most classes will be virtual from Jan. 19 to Feb. 4 with a plan to return to in-person instruction on Feb. 7. Students in courses with in-person activities scheduled will receive an email from their professor with further instruction.

During this two week period, the campus will remain open. On-campus residences will reopen Jan. 17 as planned. However, SDSU is encouraging residential students to delay their return to campus.

Campus services such as Student Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services and the University Library will remain open as well.

“The temporary start in the virtual space will allow the January case spike to subside, and also provide a window for those who recently received their COVID-19 booster an additional two-week period for it to take full effect,” read a statement from SDSU leadership. – Lara McCaffrey, KPBS web producer

San Diego County Reports 7,786 New COVID-19 Cases, 11 Deaths
– 11:00 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022

The number of coronavirus cases continues to increase at an alarming pace in San Diego County, with the county's Health and Human Services Agency reporting 7,786 positive cases and 11 deaths in its latest data.

Tuesday's numbers increased the county's cumulative totals to 457,504 cases and 4,487 deaths since the pandemic began. The county reported 13,587 new cases of the virus on Monday.

A total of 18,903 tests were reported Tuesday, and the seven-day average positivity rate was 24.1%, up from 23.3% on Monday. — City News Service

More COVID home test kits to be distributed starting Wednesday to San Diego schools
– 2:31 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022

The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) on Tuesday received 200,000 COVID-19 home test kits and will start distributing them to schools Wednesday. Parents will be contacted by their district on how to receive testing kits.

Local school districts and charter schools will begin to pick up test kits from the Office of Education’s warehouse. Because SDCOE has only received part of its promised allocation of 300,00 kits, tests will be given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each San Diego County K-12 student will receive one to two at-home antigen (rapid) tests to use as they return to school from winter break.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Dec. 22 that the state would provide 6 million rapid tests to California’s schools. The kits are intended to stop the spread of COVID-19 among students as they return to in-person classes. – Lara McCaffrey, KPBS web producer

WATCH LIVE: President Biden addresses the nation as omicron cases surge, inundating hospitals
– 11:18 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022

These are the numbers health officials are watching at this point in the pandemic
– 11:32 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022

The U.S. is now averaging more than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases a day. This comes after a week where new case counts shattered the previous day's records again and again. And even those staggering numbers are probably an undercount.

Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR last week that with so many people testing at home, it is hard to capture the true number of cases.

Many people are wondering how meaningful the case numbers are at this point in the pandemic, but Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at Emory University, says they're still useful because they reflect how much infection is in a community. — Mary Louise Kelly, Megan Lim, Christopher Intagliata, NPR

Congress' doctor urges lawmakers to work remotely and upgrade masks as omicron rages
– 11:29 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022

The chief doctor for Congress is urging lawmakers and staff members to take greater precautions in protecting themselves from the coronavirus as the U.S. Capitol grapples with an explosive spike in COVID-19 cases.

The Capitol's attending physician, Brian Monahan, said Monday that the Capitol COVID-19 testing center's seven-day "positivity rate went from less than 1 percent to greater than 13 percent" since the end of November.

In a letter to congressional offices, Monahan advised members to shift toward remote work, noting that hundreds of people have been infected. For those choosing to remain on the Hill, he suggested cloth face coverings should be swapped out with more robust N95 or KN95 masks. — Vanessa Romo, NPR

CDC signs off on Pfizer extra dose measures– 11:28 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has signed off on two measures to increase access to additional doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

The CDC on Tuesday recommended shortening the recommended interval of time between when people who had an initial series of Pfizer vaccinations and when they receive a Pfizer booster shot, from six months to five months.

The agency has not changed the recommended booster interval for people who got other vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson booster interval is two months and the Moderna vaccine can be given six months after initial doses. — Associated Press

More than 1 million Americans were diagnosed with COVID over the long holiday weekend
– 11:25 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022

The U.S. reported a record 1,082,549 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. It's the latest in a series of staggering milestones brought on by the highly transmissible omicron variant, which is sweeping across the U.S. and around the world.

The U.S. has broken several of its own COVID-19 records in recent days. Last week Johns Hopkins reported more than 480,000 new cases in a single day, more than double the number of daily cases reported during the peak of the delta surge. The seven-day average topped 280,000.

For reference: The country was averaging about 70,000 cases a day in early November. — Rachel Treisman, NPR

The CDC now recommends Pfizer boosters after 5 months, not 6
– 10:14 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022

People who were initially immunized with two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should receive a booster shot after five months, rather than six, according to a new recommendation from the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The move comes after the Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized the change in the Pfizer booster interval, saying that a third shot after five months may "provide better protection sooner for individuals against the highly transmissible omicron variant."

In a statement, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said urged eligible Americans to receive a booster as soon as possible. – Associated Press

Officials are determined to keep schools open, despite omicron
– 5:05 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, Updated January 3, 2022 at 7:05 PM ET

As the pandemic slides into a fifth school semester, there is less appetite than ever among U.S. leaders for schools to go remote, even though cases – and with them, pediatric hospitalizations – are rising. According to Burbio, an organization that tracks individual school and district websites, the vast majority of U.S. schools are staying open for in-person learning this week.

Still, Burbio reports that at least 3,229 schools around the country announced they were cancelling in-person learning as of Monday evening. Some announced closures for one week. That includes Atlanta and Fulton County in Georgia and Ann Arbor, Mich. Others are closing for two weeks, including schools in Newark, Paterson and Elizabeth, N.J.; Mount Vernon, N.Y.; Pontiac, Mich.; and Prince George County in Maryland. — Anya Kamenetz, NPR

The FDA authorizes a Pfizer booster shot for children ages 12 to 15
– 9:41 a.m. Monday, Jan. 3, 2022

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of a Pfizer-BioNTech booster in adolescents 12 to 15 years old.

The agency on Monday also shortened the time between the completion of primary vaccination of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and a booster dose to five months from six.

Finally, the FDA allowed for a third dose of vaccine in immunocompromised children 5 to 11 years of age.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, must still weigh in with a recommendation on the FDA's announcement before the changes can take effect.

"Throughout the pandemic, as the virus that causes COVID-19 has continuously evolved, the need for the FDA to quickly adapt has meant using the best available science to make informed decisions with the health and safety of the American public in mind," acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., said in a statement. — Scott Hensley and Joe Hernandez, NPR

CDC could add a negative test to its new isolation guidelines, Fauci says
– 9:37 a.m. Monday, Jan. 3, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering altering its recommendations for people with COVID-19 after it got pushback on its new guidelines, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

President Biden's chief medical adviser said there was "some concern" that the CDC told people to isolate for five days but did not recommend that they get a negative test before leaving isolation.

"That is something that is now under consideration," Fauci said Sunday during an interview on ABC's This Week.

On Monday the CDC cut the number of days it recommends COVID-positive people remain in isolation from 10 days to five if they are no longer showing symptoms. People are urged to wear masks for another five days after that to avoid infecting others.

The CDC said transmission generally occurs one or two days before symptoms begin and two to three days after. Health officials were also concerned that the high number of people testing positive with the virus and being forced to isolate — particularly essential workers — could cause major disruptions to the economy. — Joe Hernandez, NPR