Medical / Health

Friday, October 15, 2021

Hospitals Brace for Strikes as California Workers Protest Staff Shortages

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2021 at 3:43 PM

Hospital staffers and union organizers waved signs and banners in protest over staffing shortages at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville on Oct. 14, 2021. - PHOTO BY FRED GREAVES FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters
  • Hospital staffers and union organizers waved signs and banners in protest over staffing shortages at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville on Oct. 14, 2021.

As weary health care workers across California enter the 19th month of the pandemic, thousands are walking off the job and onto the picket line, demanding more staffing.

The strikes and rallies threaten to cripple hospital operations that have been inundated by the COVID-19 Delta surge as well as patients seeking long-delayed care.

More than two dozen hospitals across the state — including some Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health facilities and USC Keck Medicine — have experienced strikes by engineers, janitorial staff, respiratory therapists, nurses, midwives, physical therapists and technicians over the past four months.

This week, nearly a third of all California hospitals reported “critical staffing shortages” to the federal government, with more predicting shortages in the coming week. Hospitals are unable to meet the state’s required staff-to-patient ratios for nurses or schedule adequate numbers of other critical personnel.

In the Central Valley, the region hit hardest by the Delta surge, National Guard medics have been deployed since September to assist area hospitals.

The reason for the shortages? Record patient volumes at the same time that many workers have been driven away from the bedside by burnout, early retirement and the seemingly unending stress of the pandemic.

Flourish logoA Flourish chart

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West estimates that about 10 percent of its members — close to 10,000 people — have retired, left the profession, or taken extended leaves of absence during the pandemic.

“What’s really important is that 10 percent doesn’t turn into 15 percent, does not turn into 20 percent. There’s not enough temporary staff out there to fix what’s going on,” said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW.

The shortages are an untenable scenario, unions say — one that has persisted for many years brought to a boiling point by the pandemic.

Since the pandemic began, union grievances with hospitals are increasingly about inadequate staffing, although bargaining over pay remains a key issue.

Money matters when it comes to holding onto workers, they say, especially because temporary staff brought on for pandemic response often make more than regular employees. In some instances, traveling nurses have been paid $10,000 per week at California hospitals with severe staffing needs.

“You’re paying exorbitant amounts for travelers while the existing workforce makes exactly the same amount (as before the pandemic),” Regan said.

Striking to “stop the bleeding”

Early in the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced efforts to expand the health care workforce through a volunteer health corps. Although tens of thousands signed up, most people didn’t have the necessary medical skills, and only 14 volunteers worked out.

The California Department of Public Health also signed a $500 million contract to help hospitals pay for emergency health care workers like traveling nurses. That contract expired in June.

Unions say those efforts are a Band-aid on a larger problem. Instead, they say policymakers should get hospitals to try harder to retain their current employees.

“Right now, hospitals, the health industry, the state of California, you need to do a lot more so that it doesn’t get worse,” Regan said. “We’re doing very little as a state to support this workforce that has been under a really unique set of pressures.”

In an early attempt to stop the churn, SEIU-UHW sponsored a bill that would have provided hazard pay retention bonuses to health workers. Opposed by the hospital association. the bill died after a third reading in the Assembly and did not make it to the Senate.

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat from Torrance who introduced the bill, said the hospitals’ claims that they couldn’t afford hazard pay were unfounded since they received billions in federal pandemic funds, some “specifically earmarked for hazard pay and bonuses for frontline workers.”

“The state made a decision that they were not going to provide financial incentives to recognize and retain healthcare workers, and we think that’s shortsighted,” Regan said.

Over the summer, hundreds of nurses at hospitals, including USC’s Keck Medicine, San Francisco’s Chinese Hospital and Riverside Community Hospital, staged strikes over inadequate staffing and safety concerns.

Now more than 700 hospital engineers employed by Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California have been striking for four weeks, demanding higher wages.

In Antioch, more than 350 workers at Sutter Delta ended a week-long strike over inadequate staffing Friday but have yet to reach a contract agreement with their employer.

In the Victor Valley and Roseville, hundreds of workers staged recent rallies and vigils to highlight what they’re calling a “worker crisis.” Advocates say their upcoming schedules are packed with pickets planned in solidarity with other unions.

“We’re doing very little as a state to support this workforce that has been under a really unique set of pressures.”

Dave Regan, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West

And perhaps the strongest flexing of union muscle has come in Southern California, where members of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, or UNAC/UHCP, voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike against Kaiser Permanente if negotiations remain at a standstill. Should a strike materialize in the coming weeks, more than 24,000 members would walk out of the health care giant’s medical centers and clinics in more than a dozen cities.

Although the dollars and cents of bargaining vary from union to union, the common thread is clear: They want employers to “stop the bleeding” of health care workers fleeing the profession and invest more in recruiting and retaining staff.

The union found 72 percent of its members — which includes nurses, occupational and physical therapists, midwives and other medical staff — were struggling with anxiety and burnout, and between 42 to 45 percent reported depression and insomnia. About 74 percent said staffing was a primary concern.

How hospitals are responding to shortages

Hospitals say it is not as easy as hiring more employees. With so many people leaving the workforce, there aren’t enough candidates to fill the gap. Even support staff like janitors, cafeteria workers, clerks and assistants are in short supply.

“There is no question there is a shortage of health care workforce. We have far fewer people in the workforce today than we did when the pandemic started,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, spokesperson for the California Hospital Association.

Many hospitals have offered employees shift bonuses, child care subsidies and temporary housing to keep them from spreading the virus to family members while keeping them at patients’ bedside. But it hasn’t been enough.

“I don’t know that it’s anybody’s first choice, but we are in a situation where we have to rely on the travelers (traveling nurses),” Emerson-Shea said. “Hospitals would much rather have their permanent staff, but in this situation, with as long as it has been and the workforce dynamics so complex, we need both.”

“We have far fewer people in the workforce today than we did when the pandemic started.”

Jan Emerson-Shea, California Hospital Association

The state hospital association has asked state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly to assist hospitals with workforce concerns in part by reinstating funding for traveling workers and making it easier for hospitals to get exemptions from the state’s strict nurse-to-patient ratios. In a written response, Ghaly said the state would continue helping designated surge hospitals pay for extra staff and was working to expedite nursing ratio waivers for heavily impacted regions.

“There’s no resolution yet, but the conversations are occurring, which is important because we are not through the pandemic,” Emerson-Shea said.

Like many industries, hospitals rely on historic averages to predict the need for employees. The average number of patients in a given time period determines how many employees will be scheduled each day. The problem, workers say, is that using the average means frequently they are working with minimal staff.

“There needs to be a massive paradigm shift of how hospitals treat clinicians, and that’s less just-in-time staffing and less just-in-time supplies,” said Gerard Brogan, director of nursing practice at the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United.

Sibilia Espinoza, a registered nurse, stands in the ICU of Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center wearing full protective equipment. Her union, UNAC/UHCP, voted overwhelmingly to strike in part because of staffing conditions during the pandemic.

Peter Sidhu, a former intensive care nurse at the Kaiser Woodland Hills Medical Center, said the union has filed staffing grievances each year for the past seven years. During the pandemic, the strain has gotten worse. Woodland Hills Medical Center is one of the facilities that may be affected by a strike.

“Between the first surge and second surge, we had several months where there was zero planning. There were no new grad programs, there was no new hiring,” Sidhu said.

“So going into that second surge, which was really bad here in California, we knew we were in trouble,” Sidhu said. With adequate staffing prior to the pandemic and efforts to increase staff levels in between surges, workers would not have burned out so rapidly, he contends.

Bargaining over salaries and benefits between Kaiser and Alliance of Health Care Unions, which includes the Southern California group UNAC/UHCP, stalled at the end of September after five months. The strike authorization is the first of its kind for UNAC/UHCP in the past 26 years, and members say long-standing staffing issues and burnout contributed to employee dissatisfaction.

“The vote to authorize a strike by union members is disappointing, especially because our members and communities are continuing to face the challenges of the ongoing pandemic,” Arlene Peasnall, Kaiser’s senior vice president of human resources, said in a statement. “In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.”

‘Burnout can only be getting worse’

In a recent study by the UC San Francisco Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care, the number of nurses aged 55 to 64 planning on quitting or retiring in the next two years jumped nearly 14 percent between 2018 and 2020, setting up the field for a five-year shortage.

Joanne Spetz, the center’s associate director of research and lead study author, said new graduates before the pandemic sometimes struggled to find employment while employers frequently complained about not being able to find enough experienced nurses to hire. But the overall number of nurses in the workforce was enough then.

Now, with nurses reducing their hours or quitting, the state is in a more tenuous position. About 7% fewer nurses reported working full-time in 2020 compared to 2018, and sharp declines in employment were seen among nurses 55 years and older, according to the study.

“We’re looking at having a shortage in the short term,” she said. “The wild card is, with the pandemic lasting this long, burnout can only be getting worse. What if we have a bunch of 30 to 35 year-old nurses who say ‘screw this,’ then we’re losing a lot of years of working life from these nurses.”

“One day you walk in and your unit is full, and two days later you walk in and a large portion of those patients have passed away.”

Peter Sidhu, former intensive care nurse

Sidhu is one of those experienced nurses who found himself reeling from the dual forces of COVID-19’s brutal emotional toll and short staffing.

He had volunteered to work with the first COVID-19 patient that arrived at his ICU in March 2020. That first patient quickly turned into dozens each day, with many dying.

“One day you walk in and your unit is full, and two days later you walk in and a large portion of those patients have passed away. You’re double-stacking body bags,” Sidhu said.

He struggled with anxiety, anger and insomnia before his shifts, knowing there would be more patients than nurses could care for, and that they would have no time for breaks. He said he was told that under the state’s temporary emergency waiver of nurse-to-patient ratios he would have to take on more patients.

A year into the pandemic, Sidhu called it quits and now works as the union’s treasurer. Of the eight members in his original ICU nursing team, only two remain working, he said.

“I’m 42, and I was planning on working at the bedside until I turn 60,” Sidhu said. “And then after COVID, I said ‘I am done.’ I was super-done.”

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 14, 2021

County Marks 9,000th COVID-19 Case

Posted By on Thu, Oct 14, 2021 at 4:25 PM

PUBLIC HEALTH
  • public health

Public Health confirmed 20 new COVID-19 cases today, pushing Humboldt County past a total of 9,000 cases, while also confirming a new hospitalization.

The new cases come after laboratories processed 168 samples with a test-positivity rate of 11.9 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September. Through the first 13 days of October, it stands at 13.9 percent.

A state database shows 19 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with four under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Two More HumCo Residents Die of COVID-19

Posted By on Wed, Oct 13, 2021 at 3:00 PM

Humboldt County Public Health Microbiologist Annayal Yikum prepares patient samples for the COVID-19 testing process. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Humboldt County Public Health Microbiologist Annayal Yikum prepares patient samples for the COVID-19 testing process.

Two more Humboldt County residents have died of COVID-19, Public Health reported today, while confirming 48 new cases of the virus.

The county has now recorded 10 COVID-19 deaths to date in October, after 23 in September and 22 in August. The local death toll now stands at 108.

The new cases come after laboratories processed 290 samples with a test-positivity rate of 16.6 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September. Through the first 13 days of October, it stands at 14 percent.

A state database shows 19 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with six under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Much Do Wildfires Really Cost California’s Economy?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 13, 2021 at 9:31 AM

Cook Martha Garcia preps food in the kitchen at Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation. - SALGU WISSMATH FOR CALMATTERS
  • Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters
  • Cook Martha Garcia preps food in the kitchen at Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation.
Not a single structure burned down in the city of South Lake Tahoe. And yet, the threat of the fast approaching Caldor Fire cost surrounding El Dorado County tens of millions of dollars, if not more.

In South Lake Tahoe, Domi ​​Chavarria, co-owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, felt the devastation of the Caldor Fire even before the city was evacuated in August. Smoke had blanketed the city, and the tourists had mostly left. When the evacuation orders came down, Verde was stocked with food, almost all of which went bad during the more than two weeks the restaurant ultimately remained closed. Produce wilted; proteins went bad; prepared sauces couldn’t be used.

“All that stuff, none of that’s made to last weeks — it’s all made the last days,” says Chavarria. He estimates the lost inventory was worth between $10,000 and $13,000. None of it was covered by his insurance.

Losses like Chavarria’s add up — to at least $50.3 million in lost economic activity for El Dorado County, according to an initial estimate shared with CalMatters.

Food inventory from the Verde Mexican Rotisserie restaurant had to be discarded after a 2 week evacuation order due to the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation. Photo courtesy of Domi Chavarria.
Food inventory from the Verde Mexican Rotisserie restaurant had to be discarded after a two-week evacuation order due to the Caldor Fire in South Lake Tahoe. Photo courtesy of Domi Chavarria.

Knowing the true cost of wildfires could spur more ambitious action from both government and the private sector, experts say. For instance, tracking the costs systematically over several years could help policymakers figure out which fire prevention and mitigation strategies are most cost effective.

But right now, California has an incomplete understanding of how much wildfires cost the state each year.

The costs of business disruption, the cost of damage to uninsured homes, the cost of ecosystem damage, and the cost of secondary health impacts — such as those caused by wildfire smoke — aren’t being tracked.

Right now, we don’t have a comprehensive picture of the economic harm wildfires cause each year, according to Teresa Feo, senior science officer at the California Council on Science and Technology and lead author of a 2020 report from the council on the cost of wildfires in California.

“There isn’t a statewide systematic tracking effort to figure out these costs,” says Feo. She said it took only about a month of digging into the question to realize: ”Oh no, you can’t come up with a number, this is actually impossible with the existing data.”

The state does not track or estimate the cost of wildfires in a way that accounts for public health costs or ecological damage on a regular basis, confirmed Heather Williams, communications director for California Natural Resources Agency. “Those would always be a moving target since health impacts can occur years later. But with more research being funded, this may be more feasible to help the state better understand the economic and ecological impacts so we can continue to make science-based informed policy decisions,” Williams wrote in an email.

The different costs of wildfires

The initial analysis of the Caldor Fire’s economic impact was prepared by Tom Harris, an economist at the University of Nevada, Reno, for the Tahoe Prosperity Center, an economic development organization for the Lake Tahoe Basin. It estimates the combined losses of El Dorado and Nevada’s Douglas County at $93 million. And, says Harris, that preliminary estimate is low: It doesn’t include the losses in sectors like rental homes or recreation businesses. Nor does it include the lost economic activity caused by residents evacuating, and it doesn’t take into account the healthcare costs associated with wildfire smoke exposure.

Some costs are more immediate — the cost of Chavarria’s rotted food, for instance, and the fact that the fire took place over Labor Day weekend.

Domi Chavarria poses for a portrait at his restaurant Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation. Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters
Domi Chavarria poses for a portrait at his restaurant Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters

“That’s not a slow weekend in Tahoe,” says Chavarria. Tourism is about 63 percent of the Tahoe basin’s economy, according to a 2018 report from Tahoe Prosperity Center.

Between the slowdown in business due to smoke and the evacuation, Verde lost several weeks of revenue. Chavarria says that a month of sales for the restaurant is more than $100,000. Verde’s employees also went without paychecks for the two weeks the restaurant was shut down.

Nicole Smith, co-founder and taproom manager of South Lake Brewing Company, said her business fared better than many, partially because none of the beer went bad. But between the loss of sales in the company’s own taproom and the beer it sells to other local businesses, the brewery lost somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 of revenue during the evacuation, estimates Smith.

In addition to lost business, some figures are easier to pin down, like the amount Cal Fire spends on fire suppression.

But the state, for example, does not systematically track deaths and health conditions linked to wildfire smoke exposure. The costs associated with smoke may be the largest costs we’re missing, says Feo. One study produced by public health department researchers and academics tracked the use of Medi-Cal services during San Diego’s 2007 fall fire season. It found that during the peak fire period, emergency room visits for respiratory conditions increased by 34 percent and visits for asthma increased by 113 percent. Especially concerning was a 136 percent increase in ER visits for children four and younger for asthma. That finding, the authors wrote, “is cause for particular concern because of the potential for long-term harm to children’s lung development.”

A systematic effort to track wildfire smoke effects would be especially profound, says Feo, because it reaches so far beyond the location of the fire. In 2018, for example, smoke from the Camp Fire clogged San Francisco, a city more than a 100 miles away. If you can put figures on the impact of smoke across the whole state, “who’s impacted by the fire suddenly changes very dramatically, and therefore who benefits from the prevention and mitigation changes,” she said.

Different approaches to wildfire data

The current approach to assessing the aftermath of wildfires is a hodgepodge of research looking into different aspects that is not led by any one agency.

A smattering of data collection efforts includes:

  • The California Air Resources Board is funding a study of the health impact of wildfire smoke statewide for 2017, 2018 and 2020, which will be ready in three or four years;
  • The board is also funding a study of lost work days due to wildfire smoke, which will be ready in a couple of years;
  • Cal Fire is also increasing funding for research into forest health;
  • The Department of Insurance tabulates the damage to insured homes for some major wildfires, but does not track damage from all wildfires each year;
  • And a variety of academic studies.

Academic research on the cost of wildfires tends to come out several years later, and different studies focus on different fires using different methodologies. That makes it difficult to compare the findings, or track the costs over time.

These studies are also conducted based on the interests of the particular researcher, says Louise Comfort, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a faculty affiliate at UC Berkeley’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society Policy Lab. “That doesn’t give us a comprehensive view,” Comfort says. She credits an UC-system wide effort to study the impacts of wildfires as a step in the right direction, but says the results are still not coming in in a standardized way.

The state may be in the best position to lead the effort on tracking the economic impact of wildfires. “The only thing that would give us a comprehensive view is if the state really said, ‘We want this kind of information,” says Comfort. But the state agencies shouldn’t go it alone, she says, they should engage experts in the university system.

Cook Isaura Martinez preps food in the kitchen at Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Domi Chavarria, the owner of Verde Mexican Rotisserie, lost about $10K worth of inventory when they shut down for two weeks due to the Caldor Fire evacuation. Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters
Cook Isaura Martinez preps food in the kitchen at Verde Mexican Rotisserie in South Lake Tahoe on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Salgu Wissmath for CalMatters

Without statewide, systematically published numbers, it’s more difficult to compare how different regions are suffering from wildfires, or to assess the cost effectiveness of different wildfire prevention strategies. And it may be more challenging to justify spending on expensive, but nonetheless cost-effective, mitigation or prevention programs.

That’s a question that comes up when talking about spending taxpayer dollars, Feo said.

While wildfire costs aren’t tracked, there are some academic studies that attempt to estimate those costs and produce mind boggling figures. In 2020, for example, a team of researchers studied the nationwide impact of California’s 2018 wildfire season, and estimated that its economic damage totaled $148.5 billion.

The study, published in Nature Sustainability, captured direct capital costs, such as buildings burning down; health costs, including those related to air pollution exposure; and indirect losses such as the economic disruption of lost hours working, as well as disruption to regional and national supply chains.

The costs identified in that study exceed that of any disaster in the U.S. between the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, other than Hurricane Katrina, says Adam Rose, a research professor at University of Southern California and an expert in energy and environmental economics.

Rose said that a standardized methodology for assessing the total cost of wildfires should be established and applied on a regular basis — and it needs to be one that can be implemented relatively rapidly, as opposed to several years after a fire. That would allow a whole field of researchers to help track these costs, and would make their findings comparable. In addition to helping make the political case for government-led fire-prevention efforts, those numbers might spur private sector action on fire prevention efforts.

But not all experts said that measuring the costs associated with each wildfire season is important. William Siembieda, a professor emeritus at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and senior member of a Cal Poly team that prepared several of the state’s annual hazard mitigation plans, says he doesn’t know how policymakers would make use of those numbers.

What would be useful, Siembieda says, is for cities to model the economic impact of different levels of fire damage. What would be the cost if 5 percent of the city burned? What if 10 percent or 20 percent burned?

With those estimates, local officials could decide whether they’re prepared to eat that loss, insure against the risk, or pursue other strategies.

What’s next for victims?

For a couple weeks now, South Lake Tahoe residents and business owners have been reopening their restaurants, shops, and adventure outfits, taking stock of what happened. When Lisa Schafer, co-owner of Wildwood Makers Market, returned to the city and drove to her shop for the first time, she felt waves of different emotions. There was the fear she’d been holding on to — that her hometown, her house, and her business would all burn to a crisp. There was the gratitude she felt for the fact that they had all been spared.

“I cried the whole drive,” she said.

Her shop, which sells jewelry, wall decor, embroidery kits and other gifts, smelled smoky for her first few days back. It wasn’t a pleasant campfire smell; “it smelled like beef jerky.”

Business didn’t return to normal immediately; tourists didn’t rush back to the area. All told, Shafer lost about 60 percent of sales in September. Her insurance won’t cover that loss of business.

It’s clear, she says, that these fires are not going away. She said she wishes there were some sort of automatic aid for businesses and individuals impacted by the fire.

Ultimately, Wildwood Makers Market will bounce back from loss of business, Schafer said. But if something happens in the winter that disrupts the holiday shopping season, that could be “catastrophic,” she says. “One more hit would not be good for us.”

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Supes Decline Employee Vaccine Mandate, Push Forward With Testing Policy

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2021 at 4:19 PM

Humboldt County Courthouse - FILE
  • file
  • Humboldt County Courthouse
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this afternoon to move forward with a policy requiring all county employees who are unvaccinated for COVID-19 to undergo weekly testing for the virus.

After hours of discussion and public comment, the board stopped short of passing a vaccine mandate for county employees and instead directed staff to come back with a policy to implement a testing regiment for those county employees who don’t have proof of vaccination.

County staff presented four policy options for the board Tuesday: remaining status quo, following state and federal mandates; requiring weekly testing for unvaccinated staff; requiring vaccinations with religious and medical exemptions; and requiring that all new hires be vaccinated.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , ,

Public Health Confirms 5 New COVID-19 Cases, One New Hospitalization

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2021 at 4:00 PM

PUBLIC HEALTH
  • public health
Humboldt County Public Health confirmed five new COVID-19 cases today and one new hospitalization.

The new cases come after laboratories processed 285 samples with a test-positivity rate of 1.8 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September.

A state database shows 23 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with five under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

770 New Laws Coming to California

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2021 at 2:27 PM

You’d be forgiven for not knowing Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the largest expansion of California’s college financial aid system in a generation — he did so during the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants’ first playoff game Friday night.

Hours later, it was all over: Newsom signed his final bills on Saturday, a day ahead of the Oct. 10 deadline to act on the 836 proposals state lawmakers sent to his desk. Of those, he signed 770 (92 percent) and vetoed 66 (7.9 percent), according to Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli.

Here’s a look at the significant new laws coming to the Golden State — as well as ideas Newsom prevented from becoming law.

Signed into law:

Vetoed:

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, October 11, 2021

Public Health Confirms Three Hospitalizations and 99 New Cases

Posted By on Mon, Oct 11, 2021 at 4:08 PM

Humboldt County Public Health reported 99 new COVID-19 cases with three new hospitalizations, including one person in their 60s and two people in their 70s.

The new cases come after laboratories processed 581 samples with a test-positivity rate of 13.01 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September, far outpacing state (2.5 percent) and national (6.3 percent) rates.

A state database shows 21 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with four under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients.

Public Health offered new data Friday on so-called breakthrough cases of fully vaccinated individuals, noting that one of the five deaths and two of the 14 hospitalizations recorded over the previous week were in fully vaccinated people.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, October 8, 2021

Public Health Reports Four More COVID-19 Deaths

Posted By on Fri, Oct 8, 2021 at 4:56 PM

PUBLIC HEALTH
  • public health

Humboldt County Public Health reported four more COVID-19 deaths today, making eight this week, as well as 35 new cases of the virus and two new hospitalizations.

The deaths were of two residents in their 60s, one in their 70s and one over the age of 80, bringing the county's cumulative pandemic death toll to 106. Public Health reported today that of the eight deaths reported over the past week, five were of people who had been fully vaccinated. The average age of post-vaccinated fatalities is 79, the county reported, while it is 65 for unvaccinated individuals.

The new cases — which come on the heels of 243 confirmed last week and make 236 this week — come after laboratories processed 238 samples with a test-positivity rate of 14.7 percent. After recording a test-positivity rate of 10.1 percent in July — the highest for any month since the pandemic began — the rate in Humboldt County jumped to 15.9 percent in August and 15.2 percent in September, far outpacing state (2.5 percent) and national (6.3 percent) rates. Through the first seven days of October, Humboldt's test-positivity rate sits at 14.5 percent.

A state database shows 19 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 locally, with four under intensive care. The local hospital census peaked Sept. 3 with 42 COVID-19 patients.

Public Health offered new data Friday on so-called breakthrough cases of fully vaccinated individuals, noting that one of the five deaths and two of the 14 hospitalizations recorded over the previous week were in fully vaccinated people.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Loophole Remains in Student COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate

Posted By on Fri, Oct 8, 2021 at 10:13 AM

Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden expects the vast majority of his students and staff to abide by the COVID-19 vaccine mandate issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 1.

But he also expects around 10 of his employees to quit out of personal or political opposition to it.

“It’s a really small number, but the individuals who are upset about it are vocal,” said McFadden, whose district in Nevada County is about 65 miles northwest of Sacramento. “The silent, vast majority of educators are saying, OK, we’ll get vaccinated.”

As a small minority of teachers and parents across the state protest vaccine mandates, one legislator is considering ways to strengthen the new immunization requirement by eliminating a controversial public-health loophole state lawmakers had previously removed for the 10 other required vaccines for California’s students.

“The purpose of these laws is not to make anyone vaccinate their children, it’s to keep schools safe,” said state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, a Democrat and pediatrician who chairs the Senate Health Committee. “You don’t want schools having to close, and people having to be sent home and quarantined.”

The vaccine mandate announced last week will take effect as soon as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approves the vaccine for the different age groups. The Newsom administration expects the first vaccine deadline for grades 7-12 to be July 1, 2022.

The mandate, however, allows for personal belief exemptions. This means students and staff could opt-out of the COVID-19 vaccine for religious or ideological reasons.

The process for a personal belief exemptions for vaccinations vary across the country for students and employees, according to Dorit Reiss, a law professor at UC Hastings.

“Some just ask to check a box on a form,” she said. “Others have a different process like submitting a letter.

Pan has a long history with strengthening vaccine rules for students. In 2012, he authored a law that required parents seeking a personal belief exemption to consult with a medical expert about the benefits and risks of vaccinations.

In 2015, he co-authored a law which eliminated the personal belief exemption for childhood immunizations altogether.

Pan then successfully tightened regulations on medical exemptions in 2019 with a bill that required the California Department of Public Health to audit all medical exemptions at schools with immunization rates of less than 95%, and doctors who submit more than five medical exemptions every calendar year. Anti-vaccine protesters zealously opposed the bill.

Friday’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate revived the issue of the personal belief exemption because the 2015 law requires any immunization requirements issued by the state health department without a vote from the Legislature to include the provision.

“At the time, we were more concerned about routine vaccinations. We were thinking, why have a fight that doesn’t really matter?” Pan said. “The laws that we wrote for school mandates were not written with pandemics in mind. That’s why that provision is in there.”

Pan says he’ll consider authoring legislation that would eliminate the exemption if COVID-19 cases spike across the state or if districts report a high number of students and staff who abuse this provision to avoid the vaccine.

A possible bill, Pan said, would add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of already required immunizations for both public and private school students. Then it would be treated like the other 10 vaccine requirements that don’t allow for a personal belief exemption under SB 277.

“The problem with the personal belief exemption is that if there are too many people who use it, we’ll have schools that are unsafe,” he said. “We need to be sure kids can stay in school and learn and not have to be sent home for two weeks.”

The California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement in support of the mandate.

“The eradication of smallpox and polio, as well as prevention of meningitis, measles and whooping cough show that vaccines work,” said chapter Chair Yasuko Fukuda. “New vaccines are developed and evaluated by a long-standing rigorous process to ensure effectiveness and safety.”

Catherine Martin, executive director of the California Immunization Coalition, a public-health advocacy group, said she understands the concerns of the parents who are hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine, but she agrees that the personal belief exemption should be eliminated.

“The number one reason to eliminate the personal belief exemption is to be consistent,” Martin said. “This vaccine is no riskier than any other vaccine.”

COVID-19 vaccines do not currently have FDA approval for kids, but are expected to by the time the mandate goes into effect.

Martin said her organization will spend the next months supporting pediatricians and school administrators as they explain the benefits and risks of the COVID-19 vaccine to students and their families.

“Parents are suffering because they really are scared,” she said. “Doctors are really going to need to up their game in terms of taking time and answering their questions.”

However, Martin has less sympathy for teachers and school staff who refuse to get vaccinated for political reasons.

“If they’re not believing in the science or if it’s a political belief, perhaps they need to find other work,” she said. “Perhaps this is going to weed out folks who don’t believe in the science.”

The California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd released a statement last week supporting the vaccine mandate for students and said the vast majority of teachers have already been fully vaccinated.

“While recognizing the need for medical and religious exemptions, we believe vaccinations are key for both student and educator safety, keeping our schools open for in-person instruction and for combating this pandemic,” Boyd said.

CTA spokesperson Lisa Gardiner declined to comment on whether the union would support the elimination of the personal belief exemption if legislators were to propose a bill.

McFadden expects most of his employees, even those opposing the mandate, will eventually get their vaccines so they can keep their jobs. He said when the governor issued a previous mandate requiring teachers to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing, many teachers complained, but most came around.

“They said, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ but then they realized they have to pay the rent,” he said. “I might have five or 10 that don’t get vaccinated, and they’ll leave.”

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Recent Comments

Care2 Take Action?

socialize

Facebook | Twitter

© 2021 North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation