Find an updated count of COVID-19 cases in California and by county on our tracker here.
WHO calls on China to release and share data pointing to raccoon dogs as COVID-19 vectors
2021 saw the highest rates of maternal death in the US. Experts say that may be connected to COVID-19
LA County-based residential care facility charged in connection to COVID deaths
China to reopen its borders to tourists on Wednesday
Is COVID-19 winning? Experts discuss what they’ve learned.
COVID-19 By The Numbers
Friday, March 17
1:50 p.m.: WHO calls on China to release and share data pointing to raccoon dogs as COVID-19 vectors
The World Health Organization is calling on officials in China to release data that may show a link between animals and the virus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic.
As reported by NPR, the data was from environmental samples collected at a Wuhan seafood and meat market in the early days of the pandemic. International scientists spotted the material online and made copies of it before it was taken down.
The information appears to show that genetic material from raccoon dogs and the virus that causes COVID were found in the same swabs, implying that the animals may have been an initial host.
Since the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic began three years ago, its origin has been a topic of much scientific — and political — debate. Two main theories exist:
- The virus spilled over from an animal into people, most likely in a market in Wuhan, China
- Or, the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and spread due to some type of laboratory accident.
But there is, in fact, a substantial body of evidence, first published in 2022 and covered by NPR at the time, pointing to the raccoon dogs as a likely starting point for the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Thursday, March 16
11:18 a.m.: 2021 saw the highest rates of maternal death in the US. Experts say that may be connected to COVID-19
In 2021, the U.S. had one of the worst rates of maternal mortality in the country’s history, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to NPR, the report found that 1,205 people died of maternal causes in the U.S. in 2021. That represents a 40% increase from the previous year.
These are deaths that take place during pregnancy or within 42 days following delivery, according to the World Health Organisation.
The U.S. rate for 2021 was 32.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, which is more than ten times the estimated rates of some other high-income countries, including Australia, Austria, Israel, Japan and Spain, which all hovered between 2 and 3 deaths per 100,000 in 2020.
Then CDC’s latest compilation of data from state committees that review these deaths found that 84% of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. were preventable.
The increase in maternal mortality in 2021 was “seen broadly across different age groups and race and Hispanic-origin groups,” said Donna Hoyert, author of the report and a health scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC.
She connects the increase in maternal deaths to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had some forewarning with the increase between 2019 and 2020 that it looked like maternal mortality rates were increasing during this pandemic period,” she said. “With the overall COVID deaths that occurred in 2021, there was a shift toward younger people, so those would be in the age groups where people would be more likely to be pregnant or recently pregnant.”
She said provisional data suggests the deaths peaked in 2021 and started to go down last year. “So hopefully, that’s the apex,” Hoyert said.
Wednesday, March 15
11:52 a.m.: LA County-based residential care facility charged in connection to COVID deaths
A Southern California residential care home company and three of its managers have been charged in connection with 14 COVID-related deaths at one of its facilities three years ago, according to the Associated Press.
The criminal complaint alleges Silverado Senior Living Management failed to follow appropriate safety procedures when admitting a new resident to its Beverly Place facility in Los Angeles in March 2020.
The new resident arrived from New York City, “which was a COVID-19 epicenter at the time,” and was not adequately screened upon arrival or placed in isolation after later testing positive for the virus, LA County District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement.
Prosecutors say the outbreak was preventable — instead, it led to the deaths of 14 people and sickened 45 employees and 60 residents.
Silverado issued a statement denying the charges, saying they’re baseless and “egregiously contradict the facts.”
Tuesday, March 14
11:16 a.m.: China to reopen its borders to tourists on Wednesday
China will reopen its border to tourists and resume issuing all visas starting Wednesday as it tries to revive tourism and its economy following a three-year halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, as reported by the Associated Press.
China is one of the last major countries to reopen its borders to tourists. In February, China declared a “decisive victory” over COVID-19.
The move announced Tuesday would “further facilitate the exchange of Chinese and foreign personnel,” according to the notice.
China had stuck to a harsh “zero-COVID” strategy involving sudden lockdowns and daily COVID-19 testing to try to stop the virus before abandoning most aspects of the policy in December amid growing opposition.
Monday, March 13
11:59 a.m.: Is COVID-19 winning? Experts discuss what they’ve learned.
It’s been just over three years since the World Health Organization first called COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
The anniversary has health experts taking stock of successes and failures. As reported by the Associated Press, the virus has killed nearly 7 million worldwide and appears here to stay.
Researchers know that COVID-19 spreads quickly from person to person, riding respiratory droplets in the air, killing some victims, but leaving some to bounce back without much harm.
There’s also now a “wall of immunity” built up from previously-infected people and vaccinated individuals, allowing most people to resume their everyday lives.
However, information sources are drying up, making it harder to keep tabs on the pandemic. Johns Hopkins University recently shut down its trusted tracker, which started soon after the virus emerged in China and spread worldwide.
COVID-19 is still killing 900 to 1,000 people a day worldwide, according to World Health Organization data. In the U.S., daily hospitalizations and deaths are currently lower than at our worst peaks, but infections have not yet dropped down to the low levels reached during the summer of 2021 before the delta variant wave.
The WHO said it’s not yet ready to say the COVID-19 emergency has ended.The virus could still mutate and become more transmissible, or able to sidestep the immune system. Some health experts say we’re not ready for that. Trust has eroded in public health agencies, furthering an exodus of public health workers. Resistance to stay-at-home orders and vaccine mandates may be the pandemic’s legacy.
Friday, March 10
11:47 a.m.: Moderna hikes COVID-19 vaccine price
The U.S. government paid around $10 billion in the early years of the pandemic to develop and purchase Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine as a part of Operation Warp Speed.
So far, any American who wants the shot has paid nothing out-of-pocket for it — the federal government has footed the bill.
However, according to NPR, once it’s time to switch to the next version of the vaccine (which will be tailored to whatever dominant strain is in circulation later this year), individual patients will have to pay for the shot if their health insurance doesn’t cover it.
That proposed price? Roughly $130 per dose.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, for one, said he was outraged.
“How is the CE of this company thanking the taxpayers of this country who are responsible for making him and his colleagues incredibly rich?” Sanders asked rhetorically on the Senate floor. “He is thanking them by proposing to quadruple the price.”
Moderna has said it would provide the vaccine to uninsured or underinsured patients at no cost, with the patient assistance program set to begin in May.
Patient assistance programs have long been part of the drug industry playbook. They allow companies to maintain high prices while diffusing some of the criticism.
The hitch is that patients have to jump through hoops to get these free or discounted pharmaceutical products.
NPR asked CVS and Walgreens whether they had plans to help patients navigate the Moderna patient assistance program — since a lot of people get vaccinated at pharmacies. CVS said it didn’t have anything to share right now. Walgreens did not respond.
Thursday, March 9
11:13 a.m.: Gov. Gavin Newsom tests positive for COVID-19
California Governor Gavin Newsom tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday after showing mild symptoms.
His office reports he will isolate himself for at least five days but will continue to work from home.
This isn’t the first time Newsom has tested positive for COVID-19. In May 2022, the governor first tested positive and received the antiviral drug, Paxlovid.
At a virtual press conference today, he confirmed that he’s still planning on doing the upcoming State of the State tour.
Wednesday, March 8
11:51 a.m.: With COVID-19 eviction protections ending, Yolo County sees a jump in people applying for housing assistance
COVID-19 eviction protections ended several months ago and Yolo County says it’s seeing a big jump in people seeking to help people stay in their homes.
The Director of Health and Human Services Nolan Sullivan said that previously, applicants had about $3,000 to $4,000 in back rent, but now they’re “seeing $15,000, $17,000, $20,000” requests.
“We’re seeing massive amounts of back rent that’s a lot harder to cover. It is certainly kind of a looming crisis,” he said.
Sullivan said that many people asking for help are often in tough positions.
“We’re seeing folks that are very vulnerable, older folks with lots of medical issues. We’re just starting to see anecdotal these issues really start to rise to the top of our pile of priority lists,” he said.
County staff will come back to the board with recommendations on how to address the issue. One possible solution would be to use funding from the American Rescue Plan to help people pay their rent.
“If you let the evictions go through, you’d probably have a death on the street or something horrendous,” Sullivan said. “It’s folks with congenital heart failure or elderly folks with state three cancer … really, really terrible situations that we’re seeing anecdotally come through the doors.”
Tuesday, March 7
11:35 a.m.: CDPH announces changes to masking, other COVID-19 guidelines
The California Department of Public Health recently announced updates to several state public health orders related to vaccination, masking, isolation and quarantine.
CDPH stressed that getting vaccinated and wearing masks are still the best ways to protect yourself. Here are some of the incoming changes to existing COVID-19 guidance:
- Masking in high-risk and health care settings: Starting April 3, masks will no longer be required in indoor high-risk and health care settings.
- Vaccine requirements for health care workers: Starting April 3, the state will no longer quire vaccination for health care workers, including those in adult care, direct care, correctional facilities and detention centers.
- Reduced isolation time after positive COVID-19 test: Starting March 13, a COVID-19-positive person may end isolation after five days if they are feeling well, have improving symptoms and are fever-free for 24 hours.
In recent weeks, California has begun to wind down some underutilized emergency COVID-19 support across California. This includes state-funded testing and test-to-treat sites, vaccine staff, outbreak response teams, mobile vaccine units and pop-up vaccination events.
Oregon and Washington have recently made similar announcements related to masking.
Monday, March 6
12:24 p.m.: Pandemic food assistance in California is ending March 26
Since the pandemic started, people receiving CalFresh benefits in California have gotten the maximum benefit for their household size, meaning that those already receiving that highest amount became eligible or at least another $95 a month.
However, those extra payments end this month. The last installment will be deposited in household EBT accounts on March 26.
CalFresh benefits are one of the many things changing as the country inches toward the expiry of the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration, which expires May 11. With hundreds of thousands of people impacted, food banks and mutual aid groups in the Sacramento area re preparing for increased need.
We’ve put together a guide to answer questions you may have about the pandemic food assistance ending.
Friday, March 3
11:28 a.m.: COVID-19 conspiracy theories soar after lab leak origins report
Online speculation about the origins of COVID-19 is soaring after a new report from the Energy Department concluding the coronavirus that caused the disease leaked from a China lab.
According to the Associated Press, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Fox News the virus’ origins are “most likely a potential lab incident.”
The report has not been made public, and officials in Washington stressed that a variety of U.S. agencies are not in agreement on the origin.
Many scientists believe the likeliest explanation is that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 jumped from animals to humans, possibly at Wuhan’s Huanan market, a scenario backed up by multiple studies and reports.
While the World Health Organization says this is the most likely reason, the possibility of a lab leak must be instigated further before it can be ruled out.
Thursday, March 2
1:29 p.m.: Here’s what the scientific community says about the origin of COVID-19
Since the coronavirus pandemic, originally named SARS-CoV-2, began three years ago, its origin has been a topic of much scientific and political debate.
Two main theories exist: the virus spilled over from an animal into people, most likely in a market in Wuhan, China, or the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and spread due to some laboratory accident, NPR reports.
The Wall Street Journal added to that debate this week when they reported that the U.S. Department of Energy shifted its stance on the origin of COVID. It now concludes with “low confidence” that the pandemic arose from a laboratory leak.
The agency based its conclusion on classified evidence that isn’t available to the public.
And at this point, the U.S. intelligence community still has no consensus about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. Four of the eight intelligence agencies lean toward a natural origin for the virus — meaning hopped from animal to person — with “low confidence,” while two of them, the DOE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, support a lab origin with “moderate confidence.”
However, at the end of the day, the origin of the pandemic is also a scientific question.
Virologists who study pandemic origins are much less divided than the U.S. intelligence community. They say there is “very convincing” data and “overwhelming evidence” pointing to an animal origin, most likely from a market in Wuhan.
Wednesday, March 1
11:24 a.m.: Some pandemic food assistance programs come to an end
Millions of Americans will have less to spend on groceries as emergency food assistance that Congress enacted early in the pandemic has ended, according to NPR.
On average, individuals will get back $90 less this month in benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Some households will see a cut of $250 a month or more, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research institute.
About 40 million people in the U.S. use SNAP, so the cut in benefits coinciding with food prices rising might feel like a shock to many.
At the start of the pandemic, nearly 9.5 million older adults ages 50 and up were considered “food insecure,” meaning they sometimes struggled to afford all the food they needed. In addition, an estimated 9 million children live in food-insecure homes, according to nonprofit group No Kid Hungry. Overall, about 10% of U.S. households experienced food insecurity at some point in 2021.
Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here.
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