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California is easing mask-wearing recommendations
DOJ charges 48 people in COVID-19 pandemic funds scheme
Florida man pleads guilty to $7.2 million COVID-19 relief fraud
FDA concedes delays in response to baby formula shortages
‘Our world is in peril’: UN leaders push for solutions
11:12 a.m.: California is easing mask-wearing recommendations
California’s Department of Public Health released updated guidance for the use of face masks, dropping the recommendation for universal mask wearing in indoor public spaces.
Moving forward, the CDPH will follow the CDC’s Community Level Tracker in making mask-wearing recommendations. The state plans to only strongly recommend mask wearing in crowded indoor settings for all residents when the community level is high.
It’ll also allow certain congregate settings — including correctional facilities, homeless and emergency shelters and cooling centers — to be mask optional.
This new guidance only applies when COVID-19 levels are low. As of Friday, Sacramento county is in a low community spread level. You can check your county with the CDC Community Level Tracker.
Masking changes will take effect this Friday, Sept. 23, and don’t apply to health care and long-term care settings.
“This shift in masking is consistent with California’s SMARTER Plan and gives Californians the information they should consider when deciding when to wear a mask, including the rate of spread in the community and personal risk,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Tomás Aragón in a statement.
Here’s the CDPH’s masking recommendations, according to a deparment press release:
Californians at higher risk for severe illness, including people who are unvaccinated, immunocompromised, have certain disabilities or underlying health conditions should take extra COVID-19 precautions.
11:16 a.m.: DOJ charges 48 people in COVID-19 pandemic funds scheme
The Department of Justice has charged 48 people in what prosecutors have called a scheme to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to fraud the U.S. government of $250 million.
According to the Associated Press, prosecutors say the defendants obtained government funds under the guise of providing food to underprivileged children.
But just a tiny fraction of the money went toward feeding kids, and the rest was instead laundered through shell companies and spent on property, luxury cars and travel.
Prosecutors say it is the largest fraud case to date that deals with the misuse of government funds during the pandemic.
10:49 a.m.: Florida man pleads guilty to $7.2 million COVID-19 relief fraud
A Florida man who fled the U.S. and was eventually arrested in Croatia has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $7.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds.
As reported by the Associated Press, court records show that 46-year-old Don Cisternino pleaded guilty Tuesday in Orlando federal court to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and illegal money transaction.
He faces up to 32 years in federal prison at a scheduled hearing for Jan 5. According to the plea agreement, Cisternino submitted a fraudulent loan application for a Paycheck Protection Program loan in May 2020.
He claimed his company had 441 employees and monthly payroll expenses in 2019 of more than $2.8 million. The company actually had no employees other than Cisternino.
12:28 p.m.: FDA concedes delays in response to baby formula shortages
U.S. health regulators say their response to the ongoing infant formula shortage was slowed by delays in processing a whistleblower complaint and test samples from the nation’s largest formula factory.
According to the Associated Press, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday published its first formal report detailing the factors that led to the shortage, which forced the U.S. government to import formula from overseas.
The report highlights several key problems at the regulatory agency. Those include unclear procedures for vetting whistleblower complaints about company violations.
The FDA also noted that it had to reschedule its initial inspection of the Abbott plant due to cases of COVID-19 among company staff.
That delay came on top of earlier missed inspections because the agency pulled its inspectors from the field during the pandemic.
11:42 a.m.: ‘Our world is in peril’: UN leaders push for solutions
The world’s problems are seizing the spotlight as the U.N General Assembly’s yearly meeting of world leaders opens.
As reported by the Associated Press, the conference began on Tuesday with dire assessments of a planet beset by escalating crises and conflicts that an aging international order seems increasingly ill-equipped to tackle.
U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the world is “gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction.”
After two years when many leaders weighed in by video because of the coronavirus pandemic, now presidents, premiers, monarchs, and foreign ministers have gathered almost entirely in person for diplomacy’s premier global event.
Speakers worried about a changing climate, spiking fuel prices, food shortages, economic inequality, migration, disinformation, discrimination, hate speech, public health and more.
12:01 p.m.: Federal authorities say they’ve uncovered largest COVID-19 fraud scheme yet
Federal authorities have charged 47 people in what they’re calling the largest fraud scheme yet to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by stealing and defrauding the government of $250 million.
Documents made public Tuesday charge the defendants with counts including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery, as reported by the Associated Press.
Prosecutors say the defendants created companies that claimed to be offering food to thousands of low-income children across Minnesota, then sought reimbursement through a federal program.
However, prosecutors say few meals were actually served, and the defendants used the money to buy luxury cars, property and jewelry.
“This $250 million is the floor,” Andy Luger, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, said at a news conference. “Our investigation continues.”
This year, the U.S. Justice Department has made prosecuting pandemic-0related fraud a priority and has stepped up enforcement actions.
11:30 a.m.: ‘Out of control’ STD situation prompts call for changes
Sharply rising cases of some sexually transmitted diseases are prompting U.S. health officials to call for new prevention and treatment efforts.
According to the Associated Press, infection rates for some STDs, including gonorrhea and syphilis, have been rising for years.
Last year, the rate of syphilis cases reached its highest since 1991, and the total number of cases hit its highest since 1948. HIV cases are also on the rise, up 16% last year.
And an international outbreak of monkeypox, which is being spread mainly between men who have sex with other men, has further highlighted the nation’s worsening problem with disease mainly spread through sex.
Monkeypox’s arrival added a sizeable burden to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organization sent state and local health departments a letter saying that their HIV and STD resources could be used to fight the monkeypox outbreak. But some experts say the government needs to provide more funding for STD work, not divert it.
4:05 p.m.: New booster could provide better immunity against future variants, UC Davis doctor says
In an interview with CapRadio on Monday, UC Davis Dr. Dean Blumberg said the hospital system is seeing a decrease in both numbers and severity of COVID-19 cases.
He said COVID-19 infection rate in the region is in “a much better place” than it has been since the pandemic began, in part due to the amount of people who have been vaccinated.
“The vast majority of people have been vaccinated, or they’ve been infected, or a combination of the two,” Blumberg said. “So we do have some widespread immunity throughout the population. Now most infections that are occurring will not be that severe because of the previous immunity.”
Blumberg said that new booster shots may also provide better public immunity ahead of future variants.
“You know, one of the really interesting things about these boosters is that the immune response — not only will [the vaccines] be fine tuned to protect against the original strain and against current variants, but the broader immune response that’s achieved with these vaccines likely is going to provide better protection against future variants,” he said. “So I think that’s a real advance that we’re going to see with the immune response to these vaccines.”
Blumberg also said that the health system is seeing fewer cases of monkeypox.
“People can die from [monkeypox] and there are other consequences, too, such as brain inflammation or scarring or other problems that may occur,” he said. “So it’s still something to be concerned about. However, since late August, the cases have been decreasing.”
11:35 a.m.: No suspension for teacher who refused to censor student vaccination report
Los Angeles school officials have rescinded their suspension of a high school journalism advisor who refused to censor a student’s news article naming an unvaccinated campus librarian, according to the Associated Press.
The teacher, Adriana Chavira, was facing a three-day suspension without pay because of the report about employees who declined to follow the district’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Chavira, a former journalist, stood behind her students’ reporting and refused to bow to pressure to change the story. She cited a California law that protects student journalists from censorship.
The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Chavira appealed the suspension and won, with a district official rescinding the suspension Friday at an after-school meeting.
12:36 p.m.: WHO says COVID-19 deaths at lowest reported number since the outbreak
The head of the World Health Organization says the number of coronavirus deaths last week was the lowest reported number in the pandemic since March 2020, marking what could be a turning point in the years-long global outbreak.
As reported by the Associated Press, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world had never been in a better position to stop COVID-19.
In its weekly report on the pandemic, the U.N. health agency said deaths fell by 22% in the past week, at just over 11,000 reported worldwide. Still, the WHO warned that relaxed testing and surveillance means that many cases are going unnoticed.
12:32 p.m.: House OKs bill to safeguard US Census
The House has passed legislation on a party-line vote that aims to make it harder for future presidents to interfere in the once-a-decade headcount that determines political power and federal funding.
According to the Associated Press, the bill is a Democratic-led response to the Trump administration’s failed efforts to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the bill.
The 2020 census was one of the most challenging in recent memory because of the attempts at political interference, the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters.
10:22 a.m.: More people have shifted their lives to work from home due to the pandemic
During the first two years of the pandemic, the number of people working from home tripled, home values grew and the percentage of people who spend more than a third of their income on rent went up.
That’s according to recent survey results, which provide the most detailed data on life changes in the U.S. under COVID-19.
As reported by the Associated Press, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey 1-year estimates show that the share of unmarried couples living together rose, fewer people moved, Americans became more wired, preschool enrollment dropped and the people who identify as multiracial jumped.
9:47 a.m.: A report finds TikTok riddled with misinformation about COVID-19 and more
A U.S. firm that monitors false online claims reports that searches for information about prominent news topics on TikTok are likely to turn up results riddled with misinformation, according to the Associated Press.
The NewsGuard firm says its researchers ran searches on news topics, including COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the 2020 U.S. election, and found that nearly 1 in 5 of the videos recommended by TikTok contained misinformation.
Searches about “mRNA vaccine,” for instance, yielded five videos — out of the first 10 — that contained misinformation, including baseless claims that COVID-19 vaccines cause “permanent damage in children’s critical organs.”
Researchers also found that TikTok’s own search tool seems designed to steer users to false claims in some cases.
When researchers typed the words “COVID vaccine” into the search tool, for instance, the tool suggested keyword searches including “COVID vaccine exposed” and “COVID vaccine injury.”
The company released a statement in response to NewsGuard’s report, noting that its community guidelines prohibit harmful misinformation.
3:00 p.m.: Sacramento County to host behavioral health career fairs
Sacramento County officials will host career fairs on Thursday and Friday to hire more behavioral health professionals. The county has experienced a severe shortage of behavioral health workers as demand for their services has increased during the pandemic.
The county is looking for qualified candidates to serve as mental health counselors, psychiatric nurses and therapists, among other positions, officials announced in a news release. County managers are expected to interview and hire people on the spot.
The career fairs on both Thursday and Friday will be held at 9310 Tech Center Drive in Sacramento. Thursday’s fair will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday’s fair will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
11:15 a.m.: California to end weekly COVID-19 testing of state workers
To better align state COVID-19 guidance with the most current federal recommendations, the California Department of Public Health is ending COVID-19 policies that require weekly testing for unvaccinated persons in high-risk workplaces and schools.
In a press release, they detailed that workers at health care facilities, schools and other congregate settings will no longer be required to get those weekly tests done.
The changes take effect on Sept. 17.
However, the state’s vaccination and booster requirements for employees in health care, correctional health and adult residential settings remain in effect. In addition, changes to the vaccine-or-test policy regarding state workers will be announced separately by CalHR.
State public health leaders still urge all individuals to say up-to-date on the COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves from severe illness and slow the spread of the virus.
Omicron subvariants are still emerging, meaning an updated booster shot is an essential tool against severe illness, hospitalization, long COVID and death.
California expects to receive more than 1 million doses of the updated booster and will have ample supply to meet demand.
The state has also distributed another round of 10 million at-home tests to K-12 schools. It continues to support additional testing resources for schools, including school and community testing sites, some of which offer COVID-19 treatments.
10:20 a.m.: Wealthy countries have once again left African nations to deal with another outbreak with less resources
The monkeypox outbreak is subsiding in Europe and parts of North America, as reported by the Associated Press.
Many scientists are now calling for resources to be redirected to stopping epidemics in Africa, where the once-rare disease has been established for decades.
The U.N. health agency designated monkeypox as a global emergency in July and appealed to the world to support African countries so that the catastrophic vaccine inequity that plagued the COVID-19 outbreak wouldn’t be repeated.
However, little has changed on the continent months later.
No rich countries have shared vaccines or treatments with Africa. Some experts fear interest in funding critical questions like the search for monkeypox’s animal reservoir may soon evaporate.
11:45 a.m.: Court rehears fight over vaccine mandate for federal workers
The question of whether the Biden administration can require federal employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has been argued in an appeals court in New Orleans for a second time.
As reported by the Associated Press, earlier this year, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Biden requirement.
But the full appeals court decided to rehear the case. The administration argued Tuesday that the president has the same authority as the CEO of a private corporation to require that employees be vaccinated.
Opponents say the policy is an unconstitutional encroachment on federal workers’ lives and that Biden lacks the authority to impose it.
11:01 a.m.: First US death due to monkeypox confirmed in Los Angeles
A hospitalized Los Angeles County resident with a compromised immune system has died from monkeypox.
According to the Associated Press, it’s believed to be the first U.S. fatality from the disease.
LA County health officials announced the cause of death on Monday and said it was confirmed via autopsy. No other information on the patient was released.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks monkeypox cases and has not confirmed any U.S. deaths.
LA County officials said they worked with the CDC on their case. A CDC spokesperson confirmed the cooperation but did not immediately respond when asked if this was the first U.S. death.
Monkeypox is spread through close skin-to-skin contact and prolonged exposure to respiratory droplets. It is not a sexually transmitted disease.
11:39 a.m.: Americans give failing marks to US health care system, according to poll
A majority of adults in the U.S. say health care is not handled well in the county, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The poll reveals public satisfaction with the U.S. health care system is remarkably low, with fewer than half of Americans saying it’s handled well in general.
Only 12% say it’s handled extremely or very well. Americans have similar views about health care for older adults.
Overall, the public gives even lower marks for the handling of prescription drug costs, the quality of care at nursing homes and mental health care.
A majority of Americans, roughly two-thirds, were happy to see the government step in to provide free COVID-19 testing, vaccines and treatment. Roughly 2 in 10 were neutral about the government’s response.
The government’s funding for free COVID-19 tests dried up at the beginning of the month. And while the White House said the latest batch of recommended COVID-19 boosters will be free to anyone who wants one, it doesn’t have money on hand to buy any future rounds of booster shots for every American.
11:27 a.m.: Teacher shortages are here, and pandemic money is hoping to fill in the gaps
Everywhere, it seems, the return to school has been shadowed by worries of a teacher shortage.
According to the Associated Press, the U.S. education secretary, has called for investment to keep teachers from quitting. A teachers union leader has described it as a five-alarm crisis.
In reality, there is little evidence to suggest that educators are leaving in droves.
Certainly, many schools have struggled to find enough educators, but the challenges are related more to hiring, especially for non-teaching staff positions.
Schools flush with federal pandemic relief money are creating new positions and struggling to fill them at a time of low unemployment and stiff competition.
11:04 a.m.: You have questions about COVID-19 testing? We have answers.
It’s the new school year for just about everyone attending school in the U.S.
Maybe you’re one of the millions of Americans who have started mingling with peers in the doors and suddenly find yourself sniffling and wondering if you have COVID-19.
Or maybe you’re just getting back from summer vacation, and the back of your throat at a worrisome itch.
You consider taking an at-home rapid test but have many questions, such as — how many times should you test for a definitive result? How infectious are you if the positive line is faint?
NPR posed these questions to some experts: Dr. Abraar Karan, infectious disease researcher at Stanford; Meriem Bekliz, virologist at the University of Geneva; and Dr. Preeti Malani, professor of medicine at the University of Michigan.
Here’s what they said.
10:30 a.m.: Jehovah’s Witnesses resume in-person evangelizing after stopping for two years due to the pandemic
Jehovah’s Witnesses have resumed knocking on doors again after a 30-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Associated Press, from coast to coast, members of the Christian denomination fanned out in cities and towns last week to share literature and converse about God for the first time since March 2020.
Members have continued evangelizing during the pandemic through letters and phone calls, but they missed in-person interactions. Some say it’s a more effective way of getting their message out.
In the words of one Witness, door-knocking evangelizing “feels Christ-like.”
12:57 p.m.: Tech CEO convicted of fraud over misleading COVID-19 and allergy testing kits
A Silicon Valley executive who prosecutors said lied to investors about inventing technology that tested for allergies and COVID-19 using only a few drops of blood was found guilty of health care fraud.
According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Department of Justice said that a federal jury convicted Mark Schena of Los Altos of defrauding the government after his company billed Medicare $77 million for fraudulent coronavirus and allergy tests.
Prosecutors say the 59-year-old touted that his Sunnyvale-based company, Arrayit Corporation, had the only laboratory in the world that offered “revolutionary microarray technology” that allowed it to test for allergies and coronavirus with the same finger-stick test kit.
11:57 a.m.: India and China clear nasal spray COVID-19 ‘vaccine’
India and China have cleared two needle-free options for COVID-19 vaccinations, as reported by the Associated Press.
India says people who haven’t yet been vaccinated can try a squirt in the nose to fight the virus where it enters the body.
It’s not clear how well it works because Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech hasn’t released study results. In China, Can Sino Biologics says an inhaled version of its COVID-19 shot has been cleared as a booster and cites preliminary study results that the puff revved up immune defenses.
While COVID-19 shots still offer protection against severe illness and death, scientists are exploring new strategies to better fight infection.
11:02 a.m.: Here’s what to know about the latest booster shots. Read more here.
New COVID-19 boosters targeting today’s most common omicron strains should be arriving within days, as reported by the Associated Press.
The new shots offer Americans a chance to get the most up-to-date protection at yet another critical period in the pandemic — but health officials recommend waiting at least three months after their last booster or a COVID-19 infection before getting the new booster to ensure the best results.
They’re a combination or “bivalent” shots that contain half of the original vaccine that’s been used since December 2020 and half protection against today’s dominant omicron versions, BA.4 and BA.5.
It’s the first update to COVID-19 vaccines ever cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.
10:34 a.m.: United Airlines’ revenues higher than same quarter pre-pandemic
United Airlines is raising its estimate of third-quarter revenue because of strong demand for tickets over the summer vacation season.
According to the Associated Press, the airline giant said that revenue will be 12% higher than in the same quarter of 2019 before the pandemic. That’s one percentage point better than previously forecast.
Meanwhile, United says it will suspend its limited service at New York’s JFK Airport unless it can get more takeoff and landing rights there.
11:23 a.m.: Biden administration hopes you get a COVID-19 shot with your yearly flu shot
The Biden administration hopes to make getting a COVID-19 booster as routine as going in for the yearly flu shot — that’s at the heart of its campaign to sell the newly authorized shot to an American public that’s widely rejected COVID-19 boosters since they first became available last fall.
Shots of the newest boosters could start within days, and Pfizer and Moderna specifically designed them to respond to the omicron strain.
The federal government has purchased 170 million doses and is emphasizing that anyone who wants a COVID-19 booster will get one for free.
10:56 a.m.: Virtual pandemic education has some parents asking to hold their children back a grade
As some children struggled to keep up with school in the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, many states saw significant increases in the number of students held back to repeat grades.
Twenty-two of the 26 states that provided data for the recent academic years, as well as Washington D.C., saw an increase in the number of students were held back, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Experts have cautioned about risks to students’ social lives and academic futures, but many parents have asked for do-overs to help their children recover.
Research in the education world has been critical of making students repeat grades. The risk is students who’ve been retained in a previous grease have a two-fold increased risk of dropping out, according to a University of Minnesota professor.
Generally, parents can ask for children to be held back, but the final decision is up to principals, who make decisions based on factors including academic progress.
California and New Jersey have passed laws that make it easier for parents to demand their children repeat a grade — but the option was only available last year.
2:20 p.m. Reading, math scores fell sharply during pandemic, data show
A new national study finds math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-old students fell sharply during the pandemic, underscoring the impact of two years of learning disruptions.
According to the Associated Press, reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math scores had their first decrease in the history of the testing regimen done by the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the federal government. A federal official said students are performing “at a level last seen two decades ago.”
In math, the average score for 9-year-old students fell 7 percentage points between 2020 and 2022. The average reading score fell 5 points.
1:37 p.m.: Biden seeks $47B for Ukraine, COVID-19, monkeypox, disasters
President Joe Biden is asking Congress to provide more than $47 billion in emergency dollars that would go toward the war in Ukraine, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing monkeypox outbreak and help for recent natural disasters in Kentucky and other states.
The request comes as lawmakers are preparing to return to Washington and fund the government. It includes $13.7 billion related to Ukraine, including money for equipment, intelligence support and direct budgetary support, the Associated Press reports.
White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said that more than three-fourths of the $40 billion approved earlier this year for Ukraine has already been disbursed or committed.
10:45 a.m.: California extends COVID-19 supplemental sick leave until end of the year
California lawmakers on Wednesday approved an extension to the state’s COVID-19 supplemental sick leave until the end of the year.
Originally, the leave was set to expire on Sept. 30.
Workers can use the sick leave if they are infected with COVID-19 to care for a sick family member or to receive a vaccination/booster.
The bill would also allocate an additional $70 million — on top of the $250 million approved earlier this year — to aid small businesses in paying for the supplemental leave.
10:27 a.m.: US regulators authorize updated COVID-19 boosters
U.S. regulators have authorized updated COVID-19 boosters, the first to directly target today’s most common omicron strain.
According to the Associated Press, the move by the Food and Drug Administration tweaks the recipe of shots made by Pfizer and rival Moderna that already have saved millions of lives.
The hope is that the modified boosters will blunt yet another winter surge. Until now, COVID-19 vaccines given in the U.S. have targeted the original coronavirus strain.
The new boosters are half the original recipe and half protection against the newest, super-contagious omicron versions.
Find older coronavirus updates on our previous blog page here.
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