Find an updated count of COVID-19 cases in California and by county on our tracker here.
Americans' life expectancy has dropped to 76 years, second time in a row since pandemic
Looking to travel as some countries ease pandemic restrictions? Order your passports soon.
COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to spread of a dangerous fungus, researchers say
New COVID-19 origins point to raccoon dogs in China market
Second round of Sacramento’s universal basic income program funded in part through COVID-19 relief budget
COVID-19 By The Numbers
Tuesday, March 28
11:02 a.m.: Americans' life expectancy has dropped to 76 years, second time in a row since pandemic
Just before the holiday season last year, federal health officials confirmed that life expectancy in America had dropped for a nearly unprecedented second year in a row — down to 76 years.
While other countries worldwide saw life expectancy rebound during the second year of the pandemic after the arrival of vaccines, the U.S. did not, according to a new report from NPR.
Then last week, more bad news: Maternal mortality in the U.S. reached a high in 2021. Also, a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association found rising mortality rates among U.S. children and adolescents.
Across a lifespan and across various demographic groups, Americans die at younger ages than their counterparts in other wealthy nations.
There's some health policies that the author of the report from the Journal of the American Medical Association recommends — universal and better-coordinated health care, strong health and safety protections, broad access to education, and more investments to help kids get off to a healthy start.
Monday, March 27
11:36 a.m.: Looking to travel as some countries ease pandemic restrictions? Order your passports soon.
If you’re planning a summer getaway outside of the country, make sure you get your paperwork in order sooner rather than later.
As reported by NPR, passports are in “unprecedented demand,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Bliken said. In 2022, the State Department issued a record 22 million passports and 2023 is “on track to break” that record, Bliken said.
The standard processing time for a passport is 10-13 weeks, and an expedited request takes about seven to nine weeks.
Keep in mind this doesn’t include mailing time, which can take up to two weeks each way.
Blinken said the State Department has hired more staff, authorized over time, and opened a satellite office to process passport applications more quickly.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel ramped up as pandemic restrictions eased, with 52% of Americans planning to travel in the next six months. Travel spending and flight demand are higher than 2019’s pre-pandemic levels.
Demand used to be cyclical, with the yearly season starting in March and ending in late summer, but now it’s consistently high.
Friday, March 24
11:42 a.m.: COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to spread of a dangerous fungus, researchers say
U.S. cases of a dangerous fungus tripled over just three years, and more than half of states have now reported it, according to the Associated Press.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote about the infections. They said the COVID-19 pandemic is likely part of the reason for the spread.
Hospital workers were strained by coronavirus patients, and that likely shifted their focus away from disinfecting some other kinds of germs.
The fungus currently spreading is called Candida auris, and it’s a form of yeast that’s not usually harmful to healthy people but can be a deadly risk of fragile hospital and nursing home patients.
Some of the strains are even “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotic drugs.
Thursday, March 23
11:45 a.m.: New COVID-19 origins point to raccoon dogs in China market
Genetic material collected at a Chinese market near where the first human cases of COVID-19 were identified show raccoon dog DNA co-mingled with the virus, adding evidence to the theory that the virus originated from animals, not from a lab, international experts say.
How the coronavirus emerged remains unclear. Many scientists believe it most likely jumped from animals to people, as many other viruses have in the past, at a wildlife market in Wuhan, as reported by the Associated Press.
But Wuhan is home to several labs involved in collecting and studying coronavirus, fueling theories scientists say are plausible that the virus may have leaked from one.
The samples were collected from surfaces at the Huanan seafood market in early 2020 in Wuhan, where the first human cases of COVID-19 were found in late 2019.
The new findings do not settle the question, and they have not been formally reviewed by other experts or published in a peer-reviewed journal.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticized China for not sharing the genetic information earlier, telling a press briefing that “this data could have and should have been shared three years ago.”
Wednesday, March 22
12:12 p.m.: Second round of Sacramento’s universal basic income program funded in part through COVID-19 relief budget
There may be some financial relief available to Sacramentans soon: City residents can now apply to receive unconditional $500 monthly payments.
Residents have until April 14 to apply. The United Way California Capital Region will start paying 80 eligible households in July.
The payments will last one year and are designed to help families deal with financial stress. Eligibility requirements are listed on the United Way website.
Funding for the second round comes from the city of Sacreamnto’s COVID-19 relief budget, specifically the federal American Rescue Plan Act. In June, the City Council approved $750,000 to continue the United Way program, which was initially funded by a private donation, not public funding.
The program's first round started in July 2021 and is set to end this summer.
United Way funded the first round of the program with part of the $10 million philanthropist MacKenzie Scott gave the organization in December 2020. One hundred Sacramento County households have been receiving $300 per month.
Tuesday, March 21
11:55 a.m.: Medicaid enrollees may start getting removed from program as pandemic-era rules expire
For the past three years, tens of millions of Americans on Medicaid haven’t had to worry about keeping their coverage — that’s because early in the pandemic, Congress passed a law that prevented states from dropping people from their Medicaid rolls.
The idea was to prevent people from losing their coverage during the pandemic. It was one of the big reasons behind the historically high rates of Medicaid enrollment and the all-time low rate of uninsured people last year.
Except now, that’s changing in some states, according to NPR. Those protections expire on March 31, which means that as of April 1, states can once again begin removing people from their Medicaid rolls.
Most states are conducting outreach campaigns to encourage Medicaid recipients to update their address information. But many people won't realize they've lost Medicaid coverage until they actually need it.
Re-enrolling is riddled with obstacles for enrollees — starting with the fact that they may not even receive the notification that they need to do it. There are also difficulties in obtaining the kinds of documentation required to prove their eligibility. Language can also be a barrier to those who don’t read or speak English.
As frustrating as it can be, experts say they want to make sure everyone on Medicaid knows they will have to re-enroll in the coming months.
Monday, March 20
12:33 p.m.: California college students may soon lose pandemic-related food aid
Students, add this to the to-do list between now and finals week: Apply for federal food assistance before the fast-approaching end of a rule that allows more folks to qualify.
Starting June 10, students whose families could not contribute a dollar to their education or who are approved for federal or state work-study programs will no longer be automatically eligible for CalFresh.
Instead, students will have to go through a stricter set of rules limiting how many low-income college students can receive food aid.
Everyone — advocates, researchers, college social service coordinators and county officials — says the time is now for students to apply. Seeking the aid before the rules tighten again could buy a previously ineligible student as much as a year of time on food assistance, they say. A qualifying student could get up to $281 a month to pay for groceries.
The rush to get the word out underscores advocates’ long-held frustration with the federal government, which they say blocks many students from vital food aid, and dates back to the 1970s when lawmakers assumed college students came from well-off families.
However, today, far more students from low-income families attend college. Some may need food assistance but don’t get it.
Before COVID-19, approximately 127,000 California college students received CalFresh, even though anywhere from 416,471 to 689,233 students were likely eligible. In that same year, 1 in 3 students reported experiencing food insecurity in any given month.
The low participation rate has made college students a group of particular focus for policymakers and anti-hunger advocates in California, which already struggles to deliver food aid. Only about 70% of eligible Californians receive aid, compared to 82% in the rest of the nation.
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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