What to Watch Out for This Week in the Pandemic

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Good morning.

The good news? Coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations have been on a steady and steep decline in California, suggesting that some combination of inoculations and emergency restrictions implemented over the holidays have helped the state through the worst of its most terrifying surge.

[Track coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths across California.]

But as Californians adjust to reopened life and grapple with an enormous vaccination campaign that readers have described as confusing and inconsistent — in spite of efforts to make it otherwise — there are a lot of unanswered questions about how we’re going to move forward.

This week may provide some clarity about where we’re headed. Here’s what to watch:

Changes to the vaccine rollout

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a partnership with the federal government aimed at speeding up the effort to vaccinate millions of Californians.

Standing before the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum on Wednesday, the governor said that the Biden administration would send additional supplies and staff to help set up the stadium as a mass vaccination site that would open on Feb. 16 and would be able to distribute about 6,000 doses per day. A second mass vaccination site is set to open under the same partnership at Cal State Los Angeles.

But while those will certainly be helpful, two other state partnerships have the potential to more thoroughly transform California’s vaccine rollout.

Those would be the broad agreements with Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente, two of the state’s largest health care insurers.

[Read more about the challenges in the state’s vaccine rollout.]

Essentially, the companies have agreed to help streamline the distribution of vaccines across the state, with a particular focus on reaching vulnerable communities, and they have agreed to do so without taking a profit, Mr. Newsom said on Wednesday. Beyond that, though, state officials have provided little detail about how those partnerships will work.

So how much could it help to hand over the reins of vaccine distribution to Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente?

Dr. David Lubarsky, the chief executive of U.C. Davis Health, told me that because both have existing relationships with most of the state’s health systems, he thinks that “this is a turn in the right direction.”

[Track how the vaccine rollout is going across the country.]

The key, he said, will be figuring out how to allocate more doses to health care providers who can quickly identify patients who should be prioritized for vaccines based on things like their age, chronic conditions and whether they live in a particularly hard-hit community.

Then, those trusted doctors or clinicians will be in a better position to convince reluctant or concerned patients that they should get vaccinated.

“Right now we’re talking about vaccine supply, but come the middle of February, we’re going to be talking about vaccine acceptance,” Dr. Lubarsky said. “We have to get vaccines into the hands of providers, because that’s who patients want to hear from.”

[Read more about how far-right and anti-vaccination activists have been emboldened in California.]

Schools reopening

On Sunday, San Francisco’s public school district and unions representing employees announced a tentative deal to allow students to return to classrooms.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the deal requires a return to in-person instruction only after the city is moved into the second most restrictive (or red) reopening tier, and if vaccines are made available to on-site workers. The move was hailed as desperately needed progress.

“This is a major step forward toward a goal that we share with so many parents: safe reopening of school buildings for students and staff,” the unions said in a statement.

[If you missed it, catch up on the debate over reopening California schools.]

But, as The Chronicle reported, the deal also immediately drew criticism from some experts, who said the process should move more quickly, pointing to federal guidance suggesting schools can reopen safely with precautions.

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And the agreement comes after months of tension between city leaders and the school board, whom Mayor London Breed and others slammed for focusing more attention on a controversial effort to rename schools than to reopen them.

Last week, the city took the extraordinary step of suing the district in hopes of forcing the issue.

Throughout the state, similarly fraught debates over how to safely reopen schools without putting educators at risk are playing out.

In Los Angeles, the superintendent of schools and the head of the teachers’ union expressed shared outrage over a city councilman’s plan to sue the district in a similar effort, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Politics are adding an extra layer of complication: San Diego’s former mayor, Kevin Faulconer, has made reopening schools a centerpiece of his pre-emptive campaign for governor.

Challenges to restrictions

Was a decision on restricted indoor worship services an ill-advised “foray into armchair epidemiology?” Or was it the correction of an unconstitutional restriction on religion, when secular businesses, such as shopping malls, factories and warehouses, are allowed to be open indoors?

In any case, the Friday ruling by a splintered Supreme Court was one of the biggest legal victories for challengers of California’s stringent Covid-19 rules.

The court partly backed California’s ban on indoor worship, lifting the full prohibition but allowing capacity restrictions. The move, my colleague Adam Liptak reported, followed a similar one in a case from New York, further solidifying a new direction for the court.

[Read the full story about the ruling.]

The governor’s office on Saturday issued some revised guidelines in response to the ruling and promised more detailed guidelines, according to The Associated Press.

The Coronavirus Outbreak ›

Let Us Help You Better Understand the Coronavirus

    • Are coronavirus case counts rising in your region? Our maps will help you determine how your state, county or country is fairing.
    • Vaccines are rolling out and will reach many of us by spring. We’ve answered some common questions about the vaccines.
    • Now that we are all getting used to living in a pandemic, you may have new questions about how to go about your routine safely, how your children will be impacted, how to travel and more. We’re answering those questions as well.
    • So far, the coronavirus outbreak has sickened more than 95 million people globally. More than 2 million people have died. A timeline of the events that led to these numbers may help you understand how we got here.

    Still, Mr. Newsom last week said the threat of legal fights hadn’t shaped his administration’s pandemic policies.

    “If I was concerned about lawsuits, I would’ve collapsed a year ago,” he said during a Wednesday news conference.

    Monday morning quarterbacks

    Football fans know what old quarterbacks look like. It is not like Tom Brady, 43-year-old cyborg, Bay Area native, who on Sunday led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory. [The New York Times]

    Aaron Rodgers, graduate of U.C. Berkeley and beloved son of Chico, was named the league’s Most Valuable Player for the third time in his career. In his acceptance speech, he also casually thanked his “fiancée,” which, naturally, set off lots of speculation. [CBS]

    If you missed it, read about everything that happened at the Super Bowl. [The New York Times]

    And Finally …

    When the Los Angeles-raised poet Amanda Gorman recited “The Hill We Climb,” during the presidential inauguration last month, it was obvious immediately that we’d be seeing more of her. (About a week later, IMG Models, a big-time talent agency, announced it would represent her.)

    On Sunday, she performed another poem, “Chorus of the Captains,” in a pretaped segment before the Super Bowl. The piece honored the three honorary captains, chosen to take part in the coin toss for their frontline service during the pandemic.

    The trio included Trimaine Davis, a Los Angeles teacher who helped his students get laptops for remote schooling.

    “They’ve taken the lead,” she said in the poem. “Exceeding all expectations and limitations.”

    Ms. Gorman, 22, was the first poet to perform at the Super Bowl, one of the biggest stages for an artist.

    California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

    Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

    California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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