Monday, May 3, 2021

Ornament Call: Thousands of Handmade Decorations Needed for Local Trees Heading to D.C.

Posted By on Mon, May 3, 2021 at 11:24 AM

six_river_xmas_trees.png
A tree from the Six Rivers National Forest will serve as this year's U.S. Capitol Christmas tree and it's going to need a lot of ornaments  — some 4,000 large ones, in fact.

So, the call is on for California residents to help with the effort for the main tree, which will sit on the West Lawn, as well as 130 others being sent to light up the offices of Washington, D.C., officials, which will need an additional 11,000 ornaments along with tree skirts.

“The Six Rivers has the great responsibility of identifying and providing the Peoples Tree for the upcoming holiday season,” Ted McArthur, forest supervisor, said in a news release. “What better way to showcase the uniqueness and beauty of our great state than by decorating it with ornaments and tree skirts handmade by Californians.”

The theme for the decorations is "Six Rivers, Many Peoples, One Tree”  and those interested are encouraged "to help showcase the diverse peoples and ecology of California and its North Coast" and to use recycled, recyclable or naturals materials.

For details and how to participate, read the full release below:
EUREKA, Calif., May 3, 2021 — How do you decorate one 60- to 80-foot-tall Christmas tree plus 130 smaller companion trees? With lots and lots of ornaments and tree skirts! As part of the 51-year USDA Forest Service tradition, the Six Rivers National Forest is providing the 2021 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, which will grace the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the holiday season.

“The Six Rivers has the great responsibility of identifying and providing the Peoples Tree for the upcoming holiday season,” said Ted McArthur, forest supervisor. “What better way to showcase the uniqueness and beauty of our great state than by decorating it with ornaments and tree skirts handmade by Californians.”

The West Lawn tree will require nearly 4,000 large ornaments. Separately, the forest and nearby communities will provide an additional 130 smaller companion trees to light up offices of the California congressional delegation, as well as leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the Interior, and the USDA Forest Service throughout Washington, D.C., for the 2021 holiday season.

These trees require approximately 11,000 smaller ornaments and 130 tree skirts.

With a newly selected theme of “Six Rivers, Many Peoples, One Tree,” all California residents are invited to help showcase the diverse peoples and ecology of California and its North Coast, as well as their creativity, by making ornaments and tree skirts for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and the smaller companion trees.

In addition to capturing California’s diversity, we encourage the use of recycled, recyclable, and natural materials as part of Woodsy Owl’s 50th birthday celebration highlighting its “Give a Hoot – Don’t Pollute” catchphrase. Ornament and tree skirt examples are available to view as a reference at www.uscapitolchristmastree.com.

Following are requirements for ornaments and tree skirts: Ornaments – U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree: 9 to 12 inches, colorful, reflective, and weatherproof to withstand the elements (wind, rain, and snow). 4,000 needed. Ornaments – 130 smaller companion trees: 4 to 6 inches, lightweight and colorful; however, durability is not a concern as they will be indoors. 11,000 needed.

Tree skirts: 5 feet in diameter. It may be possible for tree skirts to be returned; however, no guarantees can be made. 130 needed. U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree ornaments and tree skirts may not include logos, political, or religious affiliation or symbols, drug or alcohol references, be divisive or offensive. Ornaments cannot be returned.

Ornaments and tree skirts are due by September 1, 2021, and may be mailed to: U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, 1330 Bayshore Way, Eureka, CA 95501; or taken to drop-off sites listed at www.uscapitolchristmastree.com. For additional information about ornaments or tree skirts for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and how your group or community can get involved, contact Maritza Guzman at maritza.guzman@usda.gov or (707) 672-3184. ###
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Sunday, May 2, 2021

Countdown to the Redwood Sky Walk's Opening (with Slideshow)

Posted By on Sun, May 2, 2021 at 10:39 AM

A platform on the Redwood Sky Walk. - EDDY ALEXANDER ON BEHALF OF THE CITY OF EUREKA
  • Eddy Alexander on behalf of the city of Eureka
  • A platform on the Redwood Sky Walk.
The two-week countdown is on until the much-anticipated opening of the Redwood Sky Walk at the Sequoia Park Zoo.

Starting May 14, zoo visitors can access the 100-foot-high suspended pathways through the trees, which is the longest in the western United States, according to the zoo, at just under a fourth of a mile to the end and back.

“The Redwood Sky Walk is a tremendous new asset that will bring many benefits to our community,” city of Eureka Mayor Susan Seaman said in a news release. “Both locals and visitors alike will, undoubtedly, enjoy seeing our special park from this new perspective, and the Redwood Sky Walk’s new interpretive signage and programming will help more people than ever before to understand the delicate intricacies and dependencies of our local ecosystem.”
A grand opening event is planned for June 4.

With the May 14 launch comes a change in zoo admission prices, with differing amounts for Humboldt County residents and out-of-town visitors.

For adults (age 13 and older) the cost will be $14.95 and $24.95, children ages 3 to 12 at $10.95 and $11.95 and those age 2 and under are free. The admission cost includes access to the sky walk.

The zoo — which is not only the oldest operating in California and one of the nation’s smallest but one of the few that is still publicly owned — will be offering what the release describes as “special access programs” to “ensure the Sequoia Park Zoo will remain highly accessible to the entire community.”

“We are very excited to add this world-class attraction to our community,” Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery said. “The early feedback has been amazing and I’m especially thankful for the efforts and contributions of the project’s donors, city staff and contractors, the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation, and the many zoo volunteers who all worked so hard and made this project possible.”
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Friday, April 30, 2021

Public Health Confirms 19 New COVID-19 Cases, Making 137 This week

Posted By on Fri, Apr 30, 2021 at 3:29 PM

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 19 new COVID-19 cases today — making 137 for the week, the highest tally since the first week in February — while also reporting one new hospitalization.

Today's cases were reported after laboratories processed 313 samples with a test-positivity rate of 6 percent, bringing the county's cumulative case count to 3,852.

Public Health also reported today that it will receive 6,360 doses of vaccine next week — 3,894 of Pfizer, 2,116 of Moderna and 350 of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson. Of those, Public Health plans to administer more than 4,900 doses at second-dose mass vaccination clinics next week. That leaves about 1,100 for first doses, in addition to the 350 Johnson & Johnson doses.

Yesterday, the county reported that nearly a third of eligible residents are now fully vaccinated.

Tuesday, Public Health reported that the federal government had confirmed a positive local case of the UK variant of COVID-19, which has proven to be more contagious than other varieties. Humboldt County Health Officer Ian Hoffman said at a press conference yesterday that officials suspect the variant played a role in the super-spreader event that has led to the recent surge in local cases, which Public Health announced today has also led to 17 hospitalizations over the past week.

The 130 new cases confirmed last week were up from 71 the prior week, which itself was a doubling of the week before. And as case counts have risen in recent weeks, so has the county's test-positivity rate.

Public Health urges all residents who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are experiencing symptoms to get tested, with a wide variety of no-cost options.

Next week, the county will hold vaccination clinics in Arcata and Fortuna, with Arcata's clinics held at the Arcata Community Center on Friday, Saturday and  Sunday, with walk-ins welcome from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Appointments are encouraged to reduce wait times.) Fortuna's clinic, meanwhile, will be held Saturday at Fortuna High School from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Those wanting a vaccine can also register online through www.myturn.ca.gov.

The state of California, meanwhile, updated its COVID-19 risk tiers Tuesday, keeping Humboldt County in the "moderate" or orange tier it entered earlier this month, which allowed businesses such as restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to increase indoor operations while allowing others — including bowling alleys and family fun centers — to open.

The state data showed that Humboldt County has a test positive rate of 3.1 percent (compared to 2.3 percent last week) and a daily case rate of 5.9 per 100,000 compared to the prior week's 4.7. California overall, meanwhile, reports a 1.5 percent test-positivity rate and 4.7 cases per 100,000.

On April 1, the state cleared outdoor sports events and live performances to reopen with fans and spectators, so long as facial coverings are worn at all times, venues follow tier-based capacity restrictions and provide reserved, assigned seating. (Read more here.)

Residents are also urged to continue to follow COVID safety guidelines as vaccinations roll out, which could take months.

To date, Humboldt County has confirmed 3,852 cases, with 161 hospitalizations and 38 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths.

The county dashboard lists 3,631 people as having "recovered" from the virus locally, though that just means they are no longer contagious and does not account for long-term health impacts, which local healthcare workers have told the Journal can be substantial, even in previously healthy patients.


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Journal to Run Free Online Obituaries

Posted By on Fri, Apr 30, 2021 at 11:34 AM

LEÓN VILLAGÓMEZ
  • León Villagómez
The North Coast Journal is now running free online obituaries, allowing people to share news of a loved one's passing with the community and celebrate their life.

Readers can submit obituaries honoring the life of a North Coast resident — also called death notices — with or without photos — to obituaries@northcoastjournal.com at least three days before they'd like to see them posted to our website. Please include your name and contact information. Submissions will be lightly edited for spelling and grammar. (For some tips on how to write a compelling remembrance, click here.)

The Journal will also continue to run paid obituaries in our weekly newspaper as an option for those who would like to see them print. For more information on print obituaries, contact Mark Boyd at mark@northcoastjournal.com or (707) 442-1400, extension 314.
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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Cases Continue to Mount from Church's COVID-19 Outbreak

Posted By on Thu, Apr 29, 2021 at 5:32 PM

New COVID-19 cases connected to an outbreak at a Eureka church earlier this month are continuing to show up and health officials are looking at the possibility that a more contagious variant may be playing a role.

The outbreak traced back to the Eureka the Pentecostal Church congregation is driving a surge in local infections and hospitalizations at the same time other areas in the state are watching daily cases and test-positivity rates decline.

The situation, county Health Office Ian Hoffman said during a Wednesday news conference, “really emphasizes we definitely are not out of the woods yet with COVID.”

To date, he said, more than 40 COVID-19 cases are linked directly to the church and dozens of others have been secondarily infected by people who attended services and then interacted with them, whether at work or a social event or because they are related.

At least 10 people connected to the outbreak have been hospitalized and another 10 have been treated at emergency rooms.

“We have also identified that the UK variant is in our county, which is something we have suspected, for a while, but now have confirmation of that and we are highly suspicious that this event that we’re seeing currently is related to a likely variant of concern spreading in our community given the high hospitalization rates, more severe illness and how rapidly this is spreading,” Hoffman said, noting later that the single UK variant case identified to date is not related to the church spike.

When asked, he also said that Public Health is working with the California Department of Public Health investigators to look into whether the outbreak could be linked to other gatherings held in the state.

While Hoffman did not specify what those might be, Lost Coast Outpost reported earlier that some members of the congregation appear to have attended a youth convention that occurred April 9 and 10 in Stockton, which had a 1,200 person attendance limit and an apparent lax enforcement of COVID-19 protocols listed on an event website.

“We do know the local spread does appear to be associate with church services throughout the first weeks of April here locally,” Hoffman said.

The cases began spiking in mid-April, when 71 cases were reported, a rate more than double the previous week, followed by even worse numbers last week, when 130 new cases were confirmed. So far this week, the number stands at 118 as well as 17 new hospitalizations, including six since yesterday's county COVID-19 report.

In order to curtail the spread of offshoot cases, Hoffman said people need to continue to follow COVID-19 safety protocols: to use masks, to socially distance and to follow guidelines regarding gatherings while those who have been exposed need to follow the guidance given to them regarding quarantining.

“If people can follow rules and regulations set forth, I think it can be contained,” Hoffman said.

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Public Health Reports 19 New COVID-19 Cases, 12 Hospitalizations

Posted By on Thu, Apr 29, 2021 at 4:34 PM

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 19 new COVID-19 cases today — making 118 so far this week, while also reporting a dozen new hospitalizations, six of which occurred since yesterday's report and six more from over the past week.

Today's cases were reported after laboratories processed 231 samples with a test-positivity rate of 8.2 percent, bringing the county's cumulative case total to 3,833.

The county also reported today that nearly a third of eligible residents are now fully vaccinated.

Tuesday, Public Health reported that the federal government had confirmed a positive local case of the UK variant of COVID-19, which has proven to be more contagious than other varieties. Humboldt County Health Officer Ian Hoffman said at a press conference yesterday that officials suspect the variant played a role in the super-spreader event that has led to the recent surge in local cases, which Public Health announced today has also led to 17 hospitalizations over the past week.

The 130 new cases confirmed last week were up from 71 the prior week, which itself was a doubling of the week before. And as case counts have risen in recent weeks, so has the county's test-positivity rate.

Public Health urges all residents who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are experiencing symptoms to get tested, with a wide variety of no-cost options.

Meanwhile, the county reported Friday that due to a low recent vaccine uptake rate in Humboldt County, the county would receive 4,140 doses of vaccine this week — far less than the 7,440 doses received this week and less than half the 11,000 doses received the week before. The county has repeatedly urged residents to schedule vaccination appointments, saying "many" spaces remain open for clinics this weekend. The low local uptake rate led the county to recently give San Francisco 1,0oo doses of the Pfizer vaccine that were at risk of going unused locally, and Public Health reported that it declined 1,000 additional doses for this week, as well, the first time it has declined an allocation of vaccine doses from the state.

This week, the county will hold vaccination clinics in Arcata and Fortuna, with Arcata's clinics held at the Arcata Community Center on Wednesday through Sunday, with walk-ins welcome from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Appointments are encouraged to reduce wait times.) Fortuna's clinic, meanwhile, will be held Saturday.

Those wanting a vaccine can also register online through www.myturn.ca.gov.

Public Health also reported today that it will resume administering the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine after the Centers for Disease Control cleared it resume doing so last week.

The state of California, meanwhile, updated its COVID-19 risk tiers Tuesday, keeping Humboldt County in the "moderate" or orange tier it entered earlier this month, which allowed businesses such as restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to increase indoor operations while allowing others — including bowling alleys and family fun centers — to open.

The state data showed that Humboldt County has a test positive rate of 3.1 percent (compared to 2.3 percent last week) and a daily case rate of 5.9 per 100,000 compared to the prior week's 4.7. California overall, meanwhile, reports a 1.5 percent test-positivity rate and 4.7 cases per 100,000.

On April 1, the state cleared outdoor sports events and live performances to reopen with fans and spectators, so long as facial coverings are worn at all times, venues follow tier-based capacity restrictions and provide reserved, assigned seating. (Read more here.)

Residents are also urged to continue to follow COVID safety guidelines as vaccinations roll out, which could take months.

To date, Humboldt County has confirmed 3,833 cases, with 160 hospitalizations and 38 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths.

The county dashboard lists 3,606 people as having "recovered" from the virus locally, though that just means they are no longer contagious and does not account for long-term health impacts, which local healthcare workers have told the Journal can be substantial, even in previously healthy patients.


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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Culturally Significant Mvs-yee-se′-ne Site Vandalized

Posted By on Wed, Apr 28, 2021 at 6:25 PM

Prescribed burning at Mvs-yee-se’-ne on the Gasquet Ranger District. - U.S. FOREST SERVICE
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Prescribed burning at Mvs-yee-se’-ne on the Gasquet Ranger District.
The Six Rivers National Forest is increasing patrols at the culturally significant Mvs-yee-se′-ne— known locally as Pappas Flat —after recent vandalism at the site, including off-roading, racist graffiti and the chopping down of Oregon white oaks in the area, according to a news release.

It is, unfortunately, not the first time such incidents have taken place.

“The Gasquet Ranger District recognizes the cultural significance of Mvs-yee-se’-ne and is committed to ensuring its integrity for current and future generations. Protecting and maintaining this site is one of the highest priorities for the district. We look forward to working with the tribes, Smith River Collaborative, and the community in developing short and long-term strategies to safeguard this unique public resource,” Jeff Marszal, district ranger forthe Gasquet Ranger District/Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA), said in the release.

The site, which is located near Gasquet in Del Norte County, includes a 15-acre Oregon white oak forest that was established before 1809 and has been maintained by the Tolowa for centuries.

According to the release, the area was “enumerated on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1993 as one of the first cultural landscapes to be officially associated with events that have made a significant contribution to understanding the broad patterns of American history.”

The Tolowa Dee-Ni′ Nation and Elk Valley Rancheria along with Six Rivers “have committed their time and resources towards restoring the property,” the release notes, including regular controlled burns “to promote acorn production and reduce hazardous fuels.”

Additional restoration efforts aimed at decreasing invasive species at the site are also underway, which the release states could be hampered by illegal off roading that often brings in exotics, such as weeds, into protected areas.

Read the full release below:
EUREKA, Calif., April 27, 2021 — The Six Rivers National Forest, Tolowa Dee-Ni′ Nation, and Elk Valley Rancheria are aware of recent vandalism, timber theft, and unauthorized vehicular use at the culturally significant Mvs-yee-se′-ne—known locally as Pappas Flat—on the forest’s Gasquet RD/Smith River National Recreation Area. During regular patrolling, forest personnel observed racist graffiti, illegally felled Oregon white oaks, barrier removal, and off-road tire tracks within the oak woodland and Jeffrey pine grassland.

Unfortunately, this is not the first incidence of improper recreational use at this location. In response, the forest is increasing active law enforcement patrols of the area, has posted signage, and will reinforce removed barriers.

Additional protections may be required if incidents of misuse continue to occur. Only roads specified for mixed-use or off-highway vehicle (OHV) travel on the current Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) are permitted for off-road use—the road into Mvs-yee-se′-ne and all areas on the flat are not designated for this type of activity. MVUM maps, which advise the public where they can recreate responsibly, are available at district offices and online.

“The Gasquet Ranger District recognizes the cultural significance of Mvs-yee-se’-ne and is committed to ensuring its integrity for current and future generations. Protecting and maintaining this site is one of the highest priorities for the district. We look forward to working with the tribes, Smith River Collaborative, and the community in developing short and long-term strategies to safeguard this unique public resource,” said Jeff Marszal, GasquetRD/Smith River NRA district ranger, who reiterated the importance of this location.

Mvs-yee-se′-ne was enumerated on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1993 as one of the first cultural landscapes to be officially associated with events that have made a significant contribution to understanding the broad patterns of American history. One of its defining features is a 15-acre Oregon white oak woodland that was established prior to 1809 and has been maintained by the Tolowa for centuries for acorn-gathering and other traditional practices. Its listed status affords Mvs-yee-se′-ne additional legal protections. As partners, the forest and both tribes have committed their time and resources towards restoring the property.

The parcel is burned on a regular basis to promote acorn production and reduce hazardous fuels, and recent grant proposals have been submitted to initiate additional restoration measures aimed at decreasing invasive weed occurrences at Mvs-yee-se′-ne in the near future.

Unauthorized vehicular use acts as a vector for spreading weeds into protected areas and undermines the effectiveness of current restoration initiatives.

As a reminder, a personal-use firewood permit does not permit the felling of live timber—only dead and down trees may be cut and removed in portions less than 5 feet long, as well all species of standing dead trees 18 inches or less in diameter. Visit, https://go.usa.gov/xHQKT for more information about firewood-cutting on the Six Rivers National Forest.
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Public Health Confirms 15 New Cases, 1 New Hospitalization

Posted By on Wed, Apr 28, 2021 at 4:21 PM

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 15 new COVID-19 cases today, making 99 so far this week, as well as a new hospitalization.

Today's cases were reported after laboratories processed 213 samples with a test-positivity rate of 7 percent, bringing the county's cumulative case total to 3,814.

Yesterday, Public Health reported that the federal government had confirmed a positive local case of the UK variant of COVID-19, which has proven to be more contagious than other varieties.

The 130 new cases confirmed last week were up from 71 the prior week, which itself was a doubling of the week before. And as case counts have risen in recent weeks, so has the county's test-positivity rate.

Public Health urges all residents who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are experiencing symptoms to get tested, with a wide variety of no-cost options.

Meanwhile, the county reported Friday that due to a low recent vaccine uptake rate in Humboldt County, the county would receive 4,140 doses of vaccine this week — far less than the 7,440 doses received this week and less than half the 11,000 doses received the week before. The county has repeatedly urged residents to schedule vaccination appointments, saying "many" spaces remain open for clinics this weekend. The low local uptake rate led the county to recently give San Francisco 1,0oo doses of the Pfizer vaccine that were at risk of going unused locally, and Public Health reported that it declined 1,000 additional doses for this week, as well, the first time it has declined an allocation of vaccine doses from the state.

This week, the county will hold vaccination clinics in Arcata and Fortuna, with Arcata's clinics held at the Arcata Community Center on Wednesday through Sunday, with walk-ins welcome from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Appointments are encouraged to reduce wait times.) Fortuna's clinic, meanwhile, will be held Saturday.

Those wanting a vaccine can also register online through www.myturn.ca.gov.

Public Health also reported today that it will resume administering the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine after the Centers for Disease Control cleared it resume doing so last week.

The state of California, meanwhile, updated its COVID-19 risk tiers yesterday, keeping Humboldt County in the "moderate" or orange tier it entered earlier this month, which allowed businesses such as restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to increase indoor operations while allowing others — including bowling alleys and family fun centers — to open.

The state data showed that Humboldt County has a test positive rate of 3.1 percent (compared to 2.3 percent last week) and a daily case rate of 5.9 per 100,000 compared to the prior week's 4.7. California overall, meanwhile, reports a 1.5 percent test-positivity rate and 4.7 cases per 100,000.

On April 1, the state cleared outdoor sports events and live performances to reopen with fans and spectators, so long as facial coverings are worn at all times, venues follow tier-based capacity restrictions and provide reserved, assigned seating. (Read more here.)

Residents are also urged to continue to follow COVID safety guidelines as vaccinations roll out, which could take months.

To date, Humboldt County has confirmed 3,814 cases, with 148 hospitalizations and 38 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths.

The county dashboard lists 3,589 people as having "recovered" from the virus locally, though that just means they are no longer contagious and does not account for long-term health impacts, which local healthcare workers have told the Journal can be substantial, even in previously healthy patients.


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Why Millions of California Students Lack Broadband Access

Posted By on Wed, Apr 28, 2021 at 1:36 PM

About twice a week, the $9.99 per month internet connection falters. It’s often as Mario Ramírez finally wrangles his kids into their seats — the fourth-grader studies in the bedroom he shares with his 12 year-old sister, who studied in her parents bedroom —  in time for virtual class.  The screens freeze — sometimes during online tests. At times the little one bursts into frustrated tears as they wait for their connection to resume, precious class time slipping away. 

Though he hides it from his kids, Ramírez’ frustration spikes too, along with fear: What if this is the year that his kids lose interest in their education? In Ramírez’ view, it’s their ticket to a life unburdened by the monthly rent panic that Ramírez has often faced since immigrating from Mexico nearly 30 years ago.

“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Will my kids be unable to get ahead?’” Ramirez said in Spanish.

Depending on a student’s access to reliable internet, the last year of virtual school has ranged from enriching to impossibly discouraging. 

Which kids have access follows a stark pattern: Across urban and rural areas alike, public schools with more students in poverty were far more likely to serve households that lacked a basic broadband connection at home in the months before school went online, according to an unprecedented CalMatters analysis. For the vast majority, the barrier to access was not a lack of internet infrastructure — indicating that the more common obstacle was affordability. But for the state’s small population of rural students, those two obstacles unite, leaving three in ten households without a reliable connection.

Though schools have scrambled to deliver laptops, tablets and hotspots to students, and promoted low-income internet plans offered by telecoms companies like AT&T and Comcast, one in five California households with K–12 students told the Census Bureau in late March they don’t always have the internet access needed for virtual school. Interviews with over 30 students, teachers, researchers, advocates and education leaders revealed that hotspots and discount broadband are often unreliable, leading to a year of education disrupted by screen freezes, distorted audio, and getting booted out of Zoom classes.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought California’s digital divide out of the shadows and to the forefront of public policy. Families sued school systems and the state for failing to provide poor, Black and Latino students equal access to high quality education online. Education leaders argued that logging on at home will be part of a 21st century K-12 education. Lawmakers are now calling internet access a basic civil right.

“We need to envision being able to provide affordable, reliable internet for all like we provide water and electricity,” said Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat from Torrance, during a recent webinar about closing the broadband divide.

With billions of dollars in federal relief money flowing into California — and the potential for billions more from President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan — state policymakers have readied at least 20 proposals aiming to close California’s digital divide once and for all. At stake is the chance to narrow long-standing achievement gaps that got even worse during the pandemic between internet haves and have-nots.

Deep disparity before pandemic

The Ramírez family had neither broadband nor computers until schools shut down last spring. Their charter school loaned them two laptops, but they never received a hotspot, so Ramírez signed up for their current $9.99 Internet Essentials plan with Comcast for low-income households. 

“If we had to pay the regular price, we wouldn’t get it because it’s too expensive,” said Ramírez, who receives Social Security because of a kidney illness for which he must do dialysis five times a week. His wife cleans houses, though fewer clients call since the pandemic.

But the $9.99 plan still cuts out too frequently, Ramírez said. The kids’ grades are slipping, especially his son, also named Mario. Before the pandemic, little Mario was a buoyant kid whose afternoons and weekends brimmed with soccer, swimming, karate, and track and field. Now Ramírez struggles to unglue his son from video games or his cell phone, sometimes baiting him with ice cream just to get him out of the house. Ramírez’ son has put on weight, which his mom attributes to anxiety.

“I feel more bored. I feel like there’s no world left and it’s only me and my sister because there’s no one here," the fourth-grader said.

Little Mario’s teacher has suggested he may need to repeat fourth grade.

Mario Ramírez Garcia, 10, and his father Mario Ramírez sit for a portrait in the Oakland home on April 21, 2021. Ramírez worries that the frustrations his children have experienced this year may lead them to lose interest in their education. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Monserrat Ramirez Garcia, 12, and her brother, Mario, 10, have a pillow fight in the bedroom they share during their lunch period on April 23, 2021. Both siblings miss going to school in-person and have found it difficult to focus when the internet connection is unstable several times a week. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Monserrat Ramírez Garcia, 12, and her brother, Mario, 10, have a pillow fight in the bedroom they share during their lunch period on April 23, 2021. Both siblings miss going to school in-person and have found it difficult to focus when the internet connection is unstable several times a week. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

The Ramírez’ experience is common. Combining data from agencies that oversee telecommunications companies and schools, CalMatters built a public database of broadband adoption and availability estimates in the neighborhoods of most California public K-12 schools. Reporters found that California public schools with the most students in poverty serve neighborhoods in which three in 10 households lacked a broadband connection that could handle the most basic online activities in December 2019.

Meanwhile, in the attendance boundaries of schools with the most affluent students, 88% of households had a connection.

The 20% of schools with the greatest proportion of students getting free and reduced price lunches were compared to the 20% of schools with the least. 

“This is just going to have a ripple effect for generations,” said Jamey Olney, a Modesto middle school teacher who teaches English to students who are mostly recent immigrants, live in deep poverty, and lacked a home internet connection before the pandemic.

Affordability is a main barrier to access, agreed Carolyn McIntyre, president of the California Cable & Telecommunications Association.

"Based on information available from the Public Utilities Commission alone, we have about 2.1 million households that could connect to broadband, and they don't,” she said. Other factors she cited: a lack of digital literacy and language barriers.

"I don't think that the providers have received enough recognition for their voluntary efforts" to provide discounted programs, McIntyre said. But she added, "clearly, as long as we have unserved families, that could be connected to the internet more needs to be done."

“This is just going to have a ripple effect for generations."

Jamey Olney, Modesto middle school teacher

Representatives from Comcast Corp., one of the largest internet service providers in the state, contended that a lack of digital literacy, lack of interest,  tech skills and devices, as well as language barriers, were more common obstacles than affordability.

Sena Fitzmaurice, a senior vice president at Comcast, said the Ramírez’ connectivity problems could be due to the devices they are using to connect, where their router is placed or problems like rusted wiring outside the home. She said the speed shouldn’t be a problem, citing a study by a research lab funded by the global cable industry as proof. The study said that at a speed of 50 Mbps download, 5 Mbps upload — the theoretical speed of the Internet Essentials plan the Ramírez family uses — 10 laptops should be able to do video conferencing simultaneously with no problem. 

After being contacted by CalMatters, Comcast offered to reach out and send a repair person to the Ramírez family free of charge. 

Affordability at root of divide

Barriers to home broadband access generally boil down to two main factors. Has an internet company connected the household to its complex above- and below-ground network of high-speed fiber, copper wires, cables, towers and antenna? If so, is the household able to afford the plan?

Efforts to solve California's digital divide have often focused on the former: funding broadband infrastructure in remote parts of the state. If only we could get telecommunications companies to build out the last miles of high-speed fiber to California’s remote communities, we could close the gap, the thinking went.

“Before the pandemic… there's been more attention to deployment issues,” said Hernan Galperin, a University of Southern California professor who researches internet policy and digital inequality. “But much less attention to the affordability gap.”

Yet CalMatters’ analysis, backed up by a 2019 study from the California agency that regulates internet service providers, paints a more complicated picture. Cost stood out as a more common barrier for most California students, in rural and urban areas alike. In other words, even if high-speed broadband were available to every California household, many families wouldn’t feel they could afford it.

A 2021 survey by the California Emerging Technology Fund and Galperin confirmed the pattern: 68% of households that didn’t have an internet connection cited cost as a principal reason, while 34% said it wasn’t available where they lived. Language barriers and limited digital skills also contributed. Nearly a quarter of households that spoke Spanish at home lacked an internet connection.

The average monthly cost for a residential broadband connection plus router in Los Angeles is $59.83, according to research by the New America think tank. That’s not including the average one-time installation and activation fees of $104.75. Nor the fact that most plans offered for under $50 per month increase after the first year or two.

The researchers found that low-income plans, usually priced at $10 per month, tend to be so slow that they cost significantly more for each bit of data than do high-speed plans. Households without Wi-Fi usually don’t know about them. And many COVID-19 broadband promotions only lasted a few months or expire after the pandemic.

There’s no standard definition of what constitutes affordable broadband, unlike housing, which is considered affordable if it costs less than 30% of your income. A December report from the California Broadband Council, a 12 member committee formed in 2010 under then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote broadband deployment in underserved areas, cited research finding that low-income consumers tend to be able to afford $10 to $15 per month plans. New York state just capped the cost of broadband at $15 for low-income people. 

There’s also no statewide program to help families pay for their internet, unlike electricity. That could change. Two California lawmakers have proposed a fund to help low-income families cover the cost of high-speed broadband. To pay for it, the state would charge internet service providers 23 cents per month per broadband connection.

“The most urgent and widespread problem is lack of competition in the provision of high-speed broadband.”

Hernan Galperin, usc professor and digital inequality researcher

In the same vein, the Federal Communications Commission will soon offer $50 per month vouchers to low-income families, including any with kids who qualify for subsidized lunch. But the program will end when it runs out of funds and depends on internet service providers to sign on.

Multiple advocates, though, said these subsidies reward telecom companies for their high rates.

“For the pandemic to just be a windfall for those that provide digital devices and internet connectivity — there's something that feels very immoral about that,” said Angelica Jongco, an attorney with Public Advocates, a nonprofit civil rights law firm. 

Telecommunications companies can charge unaffordable rates because they face little competition, said Galperin,who found that just over half of Californians had more than one high-speed Wi-fi option, in a January policy brief.

“The most urgent and widespread problem is lack of competition in the provision of high-speed broadband,” Galperin and coauthors wrote.

That’s especially true in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, according to a report from the progressive Greenlining Institute last summer. The study found that telecommunications companies compete to provide the fastest connections in high-income neighborhoods, while bypassing neighborhoods with a large percentage of poor and Black residents, which the researchers called “digital redlining.”

In response to the criticism that government subsidies reward companies for charging high prices resulting from little competition, McIntyre, representing the cable industry, contended that such programs don't cause internet service providers to stop offering discount programs — and that the telecommunications market already is competitive.

An urban and a rural issue

The pandemic revealed that California’s K-12 digital divide is as much an urban issue as a rural issue.

“COVID really showed how wide the crack can be due to poverty,” said Tim Taylor, executive director of the Small School Districts Association of California. “It got the leaders together to say this is an issue that is not just rural, but it is about poverty and connectivity.”

CalMatters’ analysis backs that up. Most students who go to the schools with the lowest neighborhood broadband access live in urban and suburban areas, especially Los Angeles, where UC Los Angeles researchers estimated that 29% of Hispanic students and 27% of Black students didn’t always have internet last fall, compared to 20% for white students. 

But rural school neighborhoods — especially where poverty and a lack of infrastructure layer on top of each other — have much lower broadband adoption rates overall. 

CalMatters identified nearly 400 school attendance boundaries spread across California’s far North, Sierras, Central Valley, Inland Empire and borderlands in which at least half of households lacked a basic broadband plan. Of those households without, about one in three had no broadband options to choose from.

Evelyn Flores stands for a portrait in front of her home in Los Angeles on April 22, 2021. Evelyn plans to go to Cal State Los Angeles after graduating high school to study for a career in the medical field. Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters
Evelyn Flores is photographed in front of her home in Los Angeles on April 22, 2021. Evelyn was unable to connect to certain websites, including some college application pages, while using the hotspot provided by her school district Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters

Take Evelyn Flores and Katya Velasco, two ambitious graduating high school seniors who faced similar challenges to connecting to their classes in very different places.

Flores attends Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School, nestled between the Los Angeles River and Highway 101. Here, just 59% of households have broadband. 

Velasco attends Desert Mirage High, an aptly named school in the Coachella Valley, where broadband infrastructure is available to about 76% of households and just 32% had a home connection.

In one sense, Flores was one of the lucky ones. Her family already had a $14.99 per month home internet connection with Spectrum for low-income families. But it wasn’t fast enough for Flores and her three sisters to do virtual school and work at the same time — especially when Flores’ parents quarantined for three weeks in the family’s one bedroom after both contracted COVID-19.

Flores and two of her sisters slept, studied and worked in the living room, competing for connectivity. In virtual classes, classmates told her that her voice warped like a robot when she spoke. She got in the habit of turning her video off to free up bandwidth. Upgrading to a faster internet plan was out of the picture: Her dad lost his supermarket job after his bout with the virus.

Velasco’s family can’t afford a broadband plan, she said. So for the first month of virtual learning last spring, she relied on the overburdened internet connection of her neighbors. She used her phone hotspot to take her AP exams, hoping she wouldn’t run out of data during the hours-long tests.

Then both of the families received multiple Verizon hotspots from their school districts.

Katya Velasco relies on a wifi hotspot provided by Coachella Valley Unified to do her schoolswork but the high schooler says her neighborhood does not get as strong of a connection as others. Photo courtesy of Katya Velasco
Katya Velasco relies on a wifi hotspot provided by Coachella Valley Unified to do her schoolswork but the high schooler says her neighborhood does not get as strong of a connection as others. Photo courtesy of Katya Velasco

The hotspots from LAUSD worked intermittently and only during school hours. The batteries drained quickly. They also wouldn’t let Flores connect to certain sites, like some college application websites.

Velasco and her classmates noticed that, in some areas, the Coachella Valley Unified hotspots seemed to grab a weaker connection from nearby cell towers. Velasco’s neighborhood was one of them. Oppressive heat and wind often drive local power shutoffs, compounding her connection issues.

Both students described painful class periods trying to keep up with their subjects. On days when Velasco gets kicked out of class repeatedly, she texts her friends to keep her updated, but their summaries are never as good as listening to the teacher.

Despite the challenges, both girls kept their grades up, applied to colleges and got in. Flores is leaning towards CSU Los Angeles, so that she can live at home while saving up for her own place. Velasco will head to UC Irvine, where she wants to study computer science. 

But many of Velasco’s peers couldn’t muster the drive to get through a year of fragmented education, she said. She watched some friends “just completely give up.”

Not fast enough

Tenth-grader Kiki Hall lives in a Southeast Fresno home where she often vies for bandwidth with as many as eight other people — four other K-12 students, her mom, her dad and two grandparents.

Kiki Hall does her school work in the kitchen. The 10th grader says she was once kicked out of class 17 times over an 80 minute period due to poor internet connection. Photo courtesy of Samantha Hall
Kiki Hall does her school work in the kitchen of her Fresno home on April 23, 2021. The 10th grader says she was once kicked out of class 17 times over an 80 minute period due to poor internet connection. Photo courtesy of Samantha Hall

“Sometimes I just want to throw the computer across the room because it doesn’t work,” said Hall, who attends Roosevelt High School, which serves neighborhoods in which three in 10 households lacked broadband before the pandemic. Over 90% of students qualify for subsidized lunch.

The family’s $43 per month AT&T broadband connection frequently buckles, kicking everyone out of remote classes at the same time. Once, Hall was disconnected from English class 17 times in 80 minutes. By the time the connection stabilized, her teacher was saying goodbye.

Broadband internet, as defined by the FCC, constitutes any connection exceeding 25 megabits per second, or Mbps, to download content online, and 3 Mbps for uploading.  California agencies generally use a threshold of 6 Mbps download speed and 1 Mbps upload speed — the standard used in CalMatters’ analysis.

“There is no one-size-fits all” speed for remote learning, said Greer Ahlquist, program director for EducationSuperHighway, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focused on bridging the K-12 digital divide. More people using a connection requires more bandwidth, as does streaming.

“Sometimes I just want to throw the computer across the room because it doesn’t work.”

Kiki Hall, fresno tenth-grader

The California School Board Association has urged a new FCC fund for K-12 connectivity to adopt a standard of 25 Mbps for download and 12 Mbps for upload for each student .

For Hall’s family that would mean download speeds of at least 125 Mbps. Their current plan is 100. Hall’s mom, Samantha Phillips, said she’s thinking about switching to a faster $100 Xfinity plan when their AT&T contract ends in September. “We're just going to have to eat the bill,” said Phillips who worked with disabled preschoolers before losing her job to the pandemic. 

“If it’s a necessity, it shouldn’t be an unreasonable amount to afford internet so your child can attend school,” Phillips said.

Remote school exhausts Hall, who wants to become a professional cosmetologist after college. She seesaws between lacking motivation to log onto another day of remote school riddled with Wi-Fi challenges, and reminding herself it’s important to do her best. Sometimes she’ll stay up until 2 a.m. to finish an assignment, only to wake up bleary-eyed the next morning for a class that she can’t log into.

“It’s so frustrating because I’m trying so hard to keep up with my grades enough as it is and these Wi-Fi issues do not help one bit,”  Hall said. Her grades in math, already her toughest subject, have dropped below C’s.

Gov. Gavin Newsom set a goal last summer of universal access to broadband with download speeds of at least 100 Mbps. 

According to CalMatters’ analysis, those speeds are nearly universally available for households that attend suburban and urban schools, though they may not be able to afford it. But in rural school neighborhoods, just 68% have access to broadband with download speeds exceeding 100 Mbps.

Many students work with far less, whether through hotspots, discount plans or old technology.

Stan Santos, a splicing technician with AT&T and a representative for the Communications Workers of America union, has tested hotspots issued by school districts in multiple small farmworker communities in Fresno County. Most don’t get above download speeds of 5 Mbps. 

Driving across the Central Valley’s vast expanses of farmland, sometimes he happens on a stand of trees and a cluster of concrete brick buildings and trailers that house the families who work in those fields. The concrete blocks cell signal so children will sit outside with hotspots to log onto classes.  

Telecommunications companies often don’t build out to these areas, Santos said. When they do, they provide copper-based Digital Subscriber Line connections, an older, slower broadband technology. On one splicing assignment, he visited a man living in a trailer in Coalinga, whose discount $10 per month DSL connection wasn’t fast enough for both him and his son to go online at the same time, Santos said. So AT&T offered him a faster option, for $40 per month. Still DSL, it didn’t top 6 Mbps download speed.

“...I can do nothing to help them.”

Even before the pandemic, students without internet at home consistently scored lower in science, math and reading — something education leaders called the homework gap. 

With the internet at their disposal, curious students are able to continue learning on their own, said Imperial County Superintendent of Schools Todd Finnell, while those without one “get behind in all areas of life.”

Even after the pandemic, students who can log on at home will have a big advantage. The pandemic has accelerated the integration of technology into K-12 education. In a recent national survey, 15% of school districts said they will continue virtual schooling after the pandemic. Another 10% planned to continue hybrid learning.

Remote learning may be especially important in disaster-prone California. Before the pandemic, fire and smoke often interrupted school days in San Mateo County, said County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee. 

Having online options makes schools resilient to future COVID-19 flare-ups, natural disasters, or even the next pandemic, so “you're not just sending kids home and canceling school for the day.”

Like a nurse in a war zone: "They're bleeding out, but I'm behind the fence and I can do nothing to help them."

Modesto Teacher Jamey Olney

It’s too early to quantify the ripple effects of distance learning on student learning, but early research shows alarming trends. 

A January study of test scores in 18 California school districts found significant learning loss in both English and math, with low-income and English learner students falling behind faster than others.

Olney, the Modesto English teacher, says that for her middle schoolers, distance learning has included little learning. 

She has students who never got a hotspot, or live in households with three families all sharing a single one. She teaches middle schoolers who live between multiple relative’s homes, often accessing classes from a cell phone in a car, and migrant students unable to log into classes from Mexico. She can only guess at what’s going on with the handful of students who log on for just 15 minutes each week with their cameras and mics turned off.

Sometimes she feels like a nurse trying to triage students in a warzone, she said. “They're bleeding out, but I'm behind the fence and I can do nothing to help them,” Olney said.

One thing is clear: Having a quiet workplace and a stable internet connection makes a big difference. In December, a cohort of around a dozen of her highest-needs students began physically coming to the school to log onto Zoom classes in the morning and get one-on-one homework assistance in the afternoons. 

Those who came to school improved their GPAs by at least 1.5 points within two months, on average. Among those who stayed home, most continued hovering around D’s and F’s.

But Olney warns that getting all kids internet access isn’t nearly enough. Not for her students who watch over five younger siblings and cousins also doing distance learning while their parents hold down multiple jobs, nor for the students who log in from unconditioned trailers in 110 degree heat — yet “they continue to show up,” Olney said.

“I think we have a lot to make up to these students.”

Mario Ramirez Garcia, 10, attends online class in the bedroom he shares with his sister on April 23, 2021. “It’s funner in real school,” said Mario of distance learning. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Mario Ramírez Garcia, 10, leans back while his teacher addresses the class during distance learning on April 23, 2021. Mario says distance learning was “kind of weird in the beginning” but after more than a year of attending class from home, “now it feels normal.” Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

CalMatters data reporter Jeremia Kimelman contributed to this story.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.

This article first appeared on CalMatters Network and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Public Health Confirms 16 New COVID-19 Cases, Reports Discovery of UK Variant in Humboldt

Posted By on Tue, Apr 27, 2021 at 4:39 PM

Humboldt County Public Health confirmed 16 new COVID-19 cases today, making 84 so far this week, while also reporting that the federal government has confirmed the first case of the B.1.1.7. variant, commonly referred to as the "UK variant," in Humboldt County.

Today's cases were confirmed after laboratories processed 176 samples with a test positivity rate of 9.1 percent, bringing the county's cumulative case total too 3,799.

The discovery of the UK variant locally is not surprising given how widespread it is in other parts of the state and country, but it is cause for concern because mutations on the virus' spike protein make it more contagious.

"Public Health officials say the presence of this variant locally is concerning given this increased transmissibility," a press release states. "Officials went on to say that vaccination paired with prevention measures like masking, handwashing and avoiding gatherings is the most effective way to limit spread of the B.1.1.17. or any other variant of COVID-19."

The 130 new cases confirmed last week were up from 71 the prior week, which itself was a doubling of the week before. And as case counts have risen in recent weeks, so has the county's test-positivity rate.

Public Health urges all residents who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are experiencing symptoms to get tested, with a wide variety of no-cost options.

Meanwhile, the county reported Friday that due to a low recent vaccine uptake rate in Humboldt County, the county would receive 4,140 doses of vaccine this week — far less than the 7,440 doses received this week and less than half the 11,000 doses received the week before. The county has repeatedly urged residents to schedule vaccination appointments, saying "many" spaces remain open for clinics this weekend. The low local uptake rate led the county to recently give San Francisco 1,0oo doses of the Pfizer vaccine that were at risk of going unused locally, and Public Health reported that it declined 1,000 additional doses for this week, as well, the first time it has declined an allocation of vaccine doses from the state.

This week, the county will hold vaccination clinics in Arcata and Fortuna, with Arcata's clinics held at the Arcata Community Center on Wednesday through Sunday, with walk-ins welcome from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Appointments are encouraged to reduce wait times.) Fortuna's clinic, meanwhile, will be held Saturday.

Those wanting a vaccine can also register online through www.myturn.ca.gov.

Public Health also reported today that it will resume administering the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine after the Centers for Disease Control cleared it resume doing so last week.

The state of California, meanwhile, updated its COVID-19 risk tiers today, keeping Humboldt County in the "moderate" or orange tier it entered earlier this month, which allowed businesses such as restaurants, gyms and movie theaters to increase indoor operations while allowing others — including bowling alleys and family fun centers — to open.

The state data showed that Humboldt County has a test positive rate of 3.1 percent (compared to 2.3 percent last week) and a daily case rate of 5.9 per 100,000 compared to the prior week's 4.7. California overall, meanwhile, reports a 1.5 percent test-positivity rate and 4.7 cases per 100,000.
On April 1, the state cleared outdoor sports events and live performances to reopen with fans and spectators, so long as facial coverings are worn at all times, venues follow tier-based capacity restrictions and provide reserved, assigned seating. (Read more here.)

Residents are also urged to continue to follow COVID safety guidelines as vaccinations roll out, which could take months.

To date, Humboldt County has confirmed 3,799 cases, with 147 hospitalizations and 38 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths.

The county dashboard lists 3,587 people as having "recovered" from the virus locally, though that just means they are no longer contagious and does not account for long-term health impacts, which local healthcare workers have told the Journal can be substantial, even in previously healthy patients.


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