Coronavirus news from the Bay Area: Sept. 20-21
The Chronicle began covering the coronavirus crisis before the first cases were reported in the Bay Area and a pandemic was declared in 2020. We reorganized the newsroom to dedicate nearly every resource to stories focusing on the health and economic disasters. Every day we have published live updates to reflect the most critical local, national and global updates on COVID-19, and this news is free of charge in an effort to keep our community safe and informed.
Read the previous updates from Sept. 18-19
Read the full timeline:
Updates from Monday, Sept. 21:
4:25 p.m. CDC removes new guidance on aerosol transmission of coronavirus, alarming Bay Area experts: In its latest stumble, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday removed a guideline, posted just days earlier, that had confirmed the coronavirus can spread through the air and is contagious beyond 6 feet. Read the whole story here.
3:18 p.m. San Diego campus outbreak imperils county reopening: An outbreak at San Diego State University, with some 800 students testing positive for the coronavirus, is large enough to put San Diego County over a state threshold for cases that mandates many businesses close or restrict indoor operations. That makes it one of the most impactful college outbreaks in the U.S., as the county was unable to exclude the campus numbers from its overall case tally.
3:08 p.m. SF reopens more sectors: Museums, aquariums and zoos in San Francisco now can resume indoor operations with approved coronavirus safety plans and limited capacity, under reopening changes that took effect Monday. The city is also allowing in-person learning at elementary schools on a rolling basis, but only with authorization from the local health department. S.F. Unified schools continue with distance learning. Read the latest.
3 p.m. Without tourists, Cuba sinks into food shortage: Cuba was able to quickly control the coronavirus even as the pandemic threw wealthier nations into crisis. But its economy, already hurting from crippling U.S. sanctions and mismanagement, sank as nations curtailed travel and locked down borders. Tourism plummeted and the island plunged into one of the worst food shortages in nearly 25 years.
2:47 p.m. Early pub closures, fines on tap for Britain: British pubs will have to close early and people who fail to obey quarantine rules will face stiff fines under new lockdown restrictions to curb surging coronavirus infections, the Associated Press is reporting. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was set to announce the new measures Tuesday. Top medical experts said Britain’s number of daily new infections — which stood Monday at 4,300 — could rise as high as 50,000 a day in October if immediate action is not taken.
2:33 p.m. Federal debt seen breaking all records: The federal debt will soar to levels unseen in the nation’s history over the next 30 years, consuming an unsustainable proportion of the nation’s income, the director of the Congressional Budget Office said Monday. The independent agency released its forecast in the wake of the pandemic, forecasting a debt rising to 98 percent of GDP by the end of this year and reaching 195 percent of GDP by 2050, Politico reports. Such levels would demolish the previous record of 106 percent just after World War II.
2:25 p.m. Santa Clara County expands test appointment system: Santa Clara County announced more lead time to schedule coronavirus tests through “an improved online portal.” Appointments can now be made at the rotating city-based sites a week in advance, and five days in advance at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, at www.sccfreetest.org. People with insurance also can get free tests at Kaiser and other large systems if they are front line workers, have COVID-19 symptoms, or have had close contact with an infected person.
2:15 p.m. Stock markets extend September sell-off: The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid about 511 points, 1.9%, to close at 27,147, while the S&P 500 lost 38 points, 1.2% lower, near 3,281. The Nasdaq Composite index edged down 14 points, or 0.1%, to close near 10,779.
1:59 p.m. Public affairs official to leave after attacks on Fauci: A public-affairs specialist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will retire after revelations that he used a pseudonym online to savage the government pandemic response — including the work of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads that agency, an NIAID spokeswoman told the Washington Post on Monday. William Crews told NIAID officials he will retire after the Daily Beast revealed he is also the managing editor of the conservative web site RedState.com, where, under the pseudonym “streiff,” he has ridiculed the government’s activity against the coronavirus outbreak.
1:35 p.m. Pandemic response harmed by supply shortage, report says: Supply and equipment shortages are hurting pandemic response in the United States, a Government Accountability Office report said Monday. The government watchdog agency found shortages in protective and testing equipment due to global demand and the limited U.S. production of those items despite “numerous, significant efforts” by the federal government. “Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results,” the report states.
1:15 p.m. Trump could legally authorize vaccine: President Trump, who repeatedly insists a COVID-19 vaccine will come before the Nov. 3 election, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, the Food and Drug Administration and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective, Kaiser Health News reports. Prominent health leaders voice fear that Trump will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.
1:08 p.m. Contra Costa County cases rise: Contra Costa County reported another 98 coronavirus cases, bringing its cumulative total so far to 16,056 cases as of Monday.
12:59 p.m. Newsom promises faster jobless checks after two-week break: Gov. Gavin Newsom promised Monday that his “two-week reset” of the unemployment claims system will not delay jobless checks for new applicants. While the state will not process new claims in the next two weeks as it deals with its massive backlog, Newsom said the changes implemented during that time would allow people to get paid even sooner. “We’re trying to make sure we don’t add anyone to the backlog,” Sharon Hilliard, director of the employment department, told reporters. “Those people in the next two weeks will actually really benefit from this implementation.”
12:51 p.m. Unemployment changes will include new anti-fraud efforts: California will implement an automatic ID verification system to cut down on unemployment fraud, and senior staff over the next two weeks will attack the most complex and oldest claims in the massive backlog, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. His “strike team” on Employment Development Department problems released recommendations Saturday night, and a report saying California’s system was so overwhelmed that the department would pause new claims for two weeks to catch up. “The work we have to do is self-evident,” Newsom said at a news conference. “The reset started this weekend. I didn’t want to wait another day to start this reset period.”
12:40 p.m. Grouchy Oscar says wear a mask: Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday said the state is partnering with the Skoll Foundation and Sesame Street to get out a coronavirus health message from the grumpy character Oscar: “Wear a mask out in public around other people.” The short public service announcement has Oscar growling that “It isn’t difficult — even a 3-year-old can do it. … And I won’t have to see your happy, smiling face.” Newsom said the PSA will run nationwide.
12:29 p.m. Coronavirus testing improves in California: Coronavirus testing has picked up again in California after wildfires and smoke temporarily forced many sites to close, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. For the past three days, the state has tested between 150,000 and 180,000 people — among its highest levels of testing ever. Backlogs have declined, with nearly 70% of test results coming back within a 24-hour period, Newsom added, and the state is on track to open a new laboratory in the coming months that will expand testing capacity, including reaching out to underserved communities. The state will continue pushing for more testing to achieve “more clarity and more assurance in our capacity to move more swiftly” to reopen the economy and schools, he told reporters.
12:20 p.m. Newsom cites progress on tests, hospitalizations: Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that California is seeing “real progress” in its data tracking the state’s effforts against the coronavirus. The rate of positive test results across the state averaged 2.8% over the past seven days while hospitalization numbers dropped, he told a briefing, and the number of new coronavirus cases was down modestly, while daily tests administered climbed again.
11:54 a.m. Cruise lines say they will test everyone: Major cruise lines say they will test all passengers and crew for COVID-19 prior to boarding as they resume sailing in the Americas. The Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group that represents 95% of global ocean-going cruise capacity, said Monday that its members will also require passengers and crew to wear masks onboard when physical distancing can’t be maintained.
11:49 a.m. Gates on warpath about slow test results: One of the world’s wealthiest and most influential donors on health issues, Bill Gates, says it is “outrageous” that coronavirus test results for most people are not returned within 24 hours. “We need to own up to the fact that we didn’t do a good job,” Gates said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Nobody wants to admit that it’s still outrageous.”
11:45 a.m. Nearly 11,000 exposed in flight: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated 1,600 cases of people who flew while at risk of spreading the coronavirus, identifying nearly 11,000 people who potentially were exposed to the virus on flights. Some subsequently fell ill, but CDC says with incomplete contact tracing information, it has not been able to confirm a case of transmission on a plane, the Washington Post reports.
11:35 a.m. Pandemic situation worsens in Europe: The coronavirus crisis is deteriorating across Europe, with Britain drawing up new restrictions, Spain clamping down again in Madrid and the Czech Republic replacing its health minister with an epidemiologist because of a surge of infections. The growing push for tough new measures to beat back the Europe scourge that was seemingly under control in the spring contributed to a sharp drop on Wall Street in the morning.
11:24 a.m. How to de-stress without the usual outlets: Countless stresses are assaulting the mental health of Bay Area residents — the pandemic and wildfires creating even more distress for those already struggling, and at the same time limiting our usual coping mechanisms, such as going out with friends or getting exercise outside. Read The Chronicle’s story on how to cope and where to find help.
11:15 a.m. Nursing home new cases continue slide: Skilled nursing facilities in California reported a seven-day average of 64 new coronavirus cases on Sept. 19, state health data shows, down from a seven-day average peak of 463 cases on April 29. After dropping from there, the numbers spiked in July to a seven-day average of 343 on July 24, but have declined since then. Nursing homes have seen some of the nation’s worst outbreaks.
11 a.m. Trump presses his claim about vaccine within weeks: President Trump predicted Monday that a coronavirus vaccine would become available “maybe by the end of October,” again contradicting the assessments of his own administration’s top public health officials who put it closer to the end of the year, and then initially available just to specific populations. “I’m getting it very soon, within a matter of weeks,” Trump said in a Fox TV interview,
10:19 a.m. SF and San Mateo County report more cases: San Francisco confirmed another 62 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total since the start of the pandemic to 10,807 cases. San Mateo County reported an increase of 76 new cases, for a total of 9,598 so far.
10:10 a.m. CDC abruptly reverses guidance on airborne spread: In an unusual turnabout, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday removed its website information — posted just days earlier — that stated the coronavirus commonly spreads through respiratory droplets that could become airborne “such as those in aerosols” and contagious beyond 6 feet. The website now reverts just to mentioning “close contact” and contagion within 6 feet. “A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error … CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission,” CDC’s website now says. “Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted.” There was no indication about whether political pressure had prompted the change.
9:54 a.m. WHO says 156 countries signed on to vaccine effort: With the notable exception of the United States, 156 countries agreed to expand global access to COVID-19 vaccines by funding a purchasing pool organized by the World Health Organization and other nonprofit groups, leaders of the effort announced Monday.
9:33 a.m. Black doctors create expert panel to review drugs: A group of Black physicians is creating their own expert task force to independently vet regulators’ decisions about COVID-19 drugs and vaccines and government pandemic recommendations as public trust in the government wanes, the Stat news site reports. The effort is organized by the National Medical Association — founded in 1895 as an answer to racist professional societies excluding Black doctors.
9:24 a.m. Santa Rosa free tests for essential workers: Essential workers can receive free coronavirus tests at the Public Health Laboratory on Chanate Road in Santa Rosa this week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 1:30-4 p.m. Appointments can be made by calling 707-565-4667.
9:16 a.m. Record household wealth in US, but mainly for affluent: Americans’ household wealth rebounded last quarter to a record high as the stock market recovered from a pandemic-induced plunge in March. Yet the gains flowed mainly to the most affluent households even as tens of millions of people endured job losses and shrunken incomes. The rebound, like the pandemic iself, with the economy recovering only about half its lost jobs, highlights a widening economic inequality.
9:04 a.m. Time to revisit voting plans: As a pandemic precaution, the Nov. 3 election will be the first time every registered voter in the state receives a ballot in the mail. But mail-in voting won’t be new to a lot of Californians who already have cast ballots by mail. The Chronicle answers your questions about how it will work.
8:55 a.m. Public can pay respects to Ginsburg outside: Despite the pandemic, arrangements are being made for public viewing of the body of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which will lie in repose at the Supreme Court this week. The casket will be on public view Wednesday and Thursday under the portico at the top of the steps in front of the building.
8:49 a.m. New Zealand lifts nearly all restrictions: All remaining coronavirus restrictions are being removed across much of New Zealand except in the largest city, Auckland, which will continue to have some restrictions for at least another 16 days, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday. The nation of 5 million re-imposed some restrictions last month after an Auckland outbreak which now appears to be under control.
8:12 a.m. N-95 shortage persists: A shortage of lifesaving N95 respirator persists many months into the coronavirus pandemic, The Washington Post reports, leaving health-care workers exposed, patients at risk and public health experts flummoxed over a seemingly simple question: Why is the world’s richest country still struggling to meet the demand for an item that once cost around $1 a piece?
8:08 a.m. Worst hit countries near economic catastrophe: Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Venezuela and 10 other countries are experiencing catastrophic hunger, homelessness and a crisis in education amplified as a result of lost work, income and increased debt. Pandemic-driven financial crises have exacerbated the challenges they were already facing, a report from the Norwegian Refugee Council says.
7:57: Britain in dire slide: Britain’s top medical advisers on Monday laid groundwork for new restrictions against the coronavirus with predictions of exponential growth in illness and death. New cases are doubling in number every seven days, after a slow rise in the summer, and without action to slow the spread the country could see as many as 49,000 cases a day by mid-October, Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance said in a televised briefing.
7:50 a.m. CDC now goes beyond 6-foot spread: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in updated guidance says the coronavirus can commonly spread “through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols,” that linger in the air much longer than the larger drops from coughing or sneezing and float further than 6 feet. The CDC website still emphasizes spread between people sneezing, coughing or speaking within 6 feet of each other.
7:37 a.m. Scorn for science, pre-election alternate reality: The New York Times describes the emphatic alternate reality — from resistance to face masks and scorn for coronavirus science to predicting an imminent vaccine arrival and downplaying the pandemic death count — pushed by President Trump and many of his backers. The mix of denial and defiance is at the center of Mr. Trump’s re-election effort as early voting begins in some states.
7:26 a.m. State jobless office hits pause on new claims: California’s Employment Development Department announced it won’t take new applications for unemployment benefits until Oct. 5 while it “resets” itself to “help prevent backlog growth.” The announcement this weekend came from a strike team appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to “modernize information technology” at the EDD, where the crush of pandemic claims has left a huge backlog and “no more than 1 in 1,000 people” is able to get through to the call center. Read the story here.
7:15 a.m. Would-be lawyers stymied by delay: The coronavirus and historic wildfires have delayed results of the October state bar exams until mid-January, leaving almost no time for students who fail to begin studying for the February test, and pushing back when people can start their careers. The California State Bar said it is working on a provisional program allowing law graduates to work without passing the bar in these extraordinary circumstances, but there’s no firm timeline for that. Read the story here.
7:03 a.m. Historic Emmy awards in shadow of pandemic: The first virtual Emmy Awards show made history on Sunday, as did the show that swept the comedy awards, “Schitt’s Creek,” while a number of celebrities, accepting and giving awards virtually, noted the weirdness of pandemic times.
6:57 a.m. US death toll nears milestone: The COVID-19 death toll in the United States crept toward 200,000 Monday as the pernicious coronavirus continued to afflict families, steal lives and upend economies around the world. Lives lost to the virus nationwide numbered 199,525 as of Monday morning. President Trump has told Americans we are rounding the corner in fighting the pandemic.
6:33 a.m. Stock sell-off swells: The Dow and Nasdaq indexes both dropped sharply as the markets opened. A new coronavirus lockdown in the U.K. and uncertainty over the U.S. Supreme Court weighed heavily on shares. The Nasdaq, down 1.6% Monday and more than 10% from an early September peak, entered correction territory.
Updates from Sunday, Sept. 20:
7:55 p.m. Bay Area hospitalizations fall to lowest level since late June: The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the nine-county Bay Area fell to 413 on Saturday, the lowest number since June 29. The number of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit in the Bay Area fell to 140, the lowest figure since June 28.
7:36 p.m. California hospitalizations continue to drop: The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in California dropped to 2,607 on Saturday, down from 2,663 on Friday. That’s the lowest figure since April 4. The number of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit fell to 807, the lowest figure since March 31.
4:59 p.m. Alameda, Santa Clara counties report new numbers: Alameda County added 64 new cases for a total of 20558, and no new deaths. Santa Clara County reported an increase of 170 cases to give the county 20410 total cases, with no new deaths.
4:22 p.m. Oregon’s positivity rate rises amid wildfires: Oregon, hard-hit by wildfires and smoke that forced some people to evacuate and others to huddle indoors, has seen its rate of positive coronavirus tests rise to 5.6% — the highest figure since July, the Washington Post reported, citing statistics from the federal government.
4:05 p.m. Bay Area hospitals see first cases of influenza: The trajectory of the flu season is unclear, but experts say that if the coronavirus surges and flu does as well, it could overwhelm hospitals. Chronicle health reporter Erin Allday has the story.
2:56 p.m. California stops taking new unemployment applications for two weeks as EDD retools: California’s beleaguered Employment Development Department has stopped taking new applications for unemployment benefits for two weeks while it “resets” itself, following a sharp report from a strike team appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Chronicle columnist Kathleen Pender has the story.
2:46 p.m. Large Catholic demonstration in S.F. demands reopening: Frustrated that San Francisco is limiting indoor churchgoing to one worshiper at a time, more than 1,000 people from Catholic parishes around the city participated in a protest march on Sunday. Click here for a report from The Chronicle’s Rusty Simmons.
12:44 p.m. Contra Costa surpasses 200 deaths from COVID-19: Contra Costa County reported an increase of 123 new coronavirus cases, upping its total to 15,958. Two more deaths put the East Bay county’s toll at 201. Across the Bay Area, more than 1,400 have died from COVID-19.
11:52 a.m. Pro basketball playoff game postponed: The WNBA will not play Sunday’s scheduled playoff game between the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx in Bradenton, Fla., after several Seattle players received inconclusive coronavirus test results. The players are being retested and are self-isolating, the league said.
10:44 a.m. State Bar exam, delayed amid pandemic, becomes contentious: Pandemic-related delays are keeping future lawyers from their work. Some people believe California should allow law graduates to work without passing the bar, given the extraordinary circumstances, as some states have done. The nature of the online exam has also raised concerns. Chase DiFeliciantonio reports the story here.
10:28 a.m. Without S.F. tourists, burglars switch to homes in pandemic: The coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of people out of work, but one occupation is busy — burglary. As of Friday, there were 4,983 reported burglaries in San Francisco this year — about 21 a day. That represents a 42% increase over the same period in 2019. Columnist Phil Matier reports more here.
9:52 a.m. Two more die from COVID-19 in S.F.: San Francisco reported two additional deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the city’s toll to 99. There were 49 new cases reported for a total of 10,745. Statewide, the death toll has risen to almost 15,000.