CBS San Francisco Staff Report

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — With the surge in new coronavirus cases beginning to ease and demand for vaccination growing, the information you need to know is coming fast and furious. Here’s a roundup of the COVID stories we’ve published over the 24 hours.

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South Bay COVID Cases Fall as Fears of New Virus Strains Rise
SAN JOSE — Despite a steady decline in COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara county as well as the rollout of the vaccine, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Thursday the pandemic could get worse as new mutant variants threaten any progress that has been made. “We’re much more concerned about the South African strain,” Fauci said. Two adults in South Carolina came down with the nation’s first known cases of the South African strain and the CDC has projected the UK variant will become dominant in the United States by March. “We think it’s somewhere between 30% and 70% more transmissible or at least it spreads faster,” said the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance. “We don’t yet know why.” On Thursday, Santa Clara county reported 828 new coronavirus cases. For reference, the county reported 1,736 cases on Jan. 9 and 1,551 on Jan. 10. Read More

Couples Getting Engaged During the Pandemic Design and Buy Rings Remotely
SAN FRANCISCO — Shopping for the perfect engagement ring doesn’t necessarily involve going from store to store these days. More people, particularly millennials, are buying remotely, direct through Instagram. The Clear Cut, a direct-to-consumer engagement ring and fine jewelry company, says more couples are spending time together in quarantine, and, as a result, many are taking the next step. Kristen Cepriano’s fiancé purchased a custom engagement ring without ever seeing it in person. “With a big purchase like that obviously it’s always nerve-wracking to have to do it remotely but they did a good job in answering all my questions,” said Christian Lapinig, a Clear Cut customer. “And then, when I finally received it, it looked way better in person.” Lapinig first found the company through Instagram. The San Mateo County couple got engaged this past August on Treasure Island. Read More

Riders Give BART Thumbs-Up for Service During 2020 Pandemic
OAKLAND — Roughly three-quarters of BART riders were satisfied with the transit agency’s service in 2020, an increase of almost 30 percent over 2018, according to the results of a survey the agency released on Thursday. BART received responses from some 3,000 riders for its biennial customer satisfaction survey, which found that 72 percent of riders were very or somewhat satisfied with BART compared to 56 percent during the 2018 survey. Nine percent of riders were dissatisfied with BART in 2020, compared to 21 percent in 2018. The 2020 version of the survey, fielded over a span of three weeks in October, reached 2,325 fewer riders than the 2018 version, due in part to an 88 percent decrease in ridership and a result, in large part, to the coronavirus pandemic. Read More

Santa Clara Co. Health Officials Critical Of Blue Shield Running California Vaccine Distribution
SAN JOSE — As California seeks to improve COVID-19 vaccine distribution by bringing on health care provider Blue Shield, some Bay Area health officials say it’s a bad move. Blue Shield of California’s new task is to create a faster and more equitable network to get shots into the arms of tens of millions of residents. But questions are being raised about the sudden shift. “This is totally new and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” said Santa Clara County Executive Officer Dr. Jeff Smith. The California Department of Health says local county health departments, pharmacies, community health centers, among others are expected to be a part of the new network. The goal is to address the distribution bottleneck, partly resulting from data and system issues. Read More

Bay Area Restaurants Prep For Weekend Outdoor Dining Crowds Despite Cold, Wet Weather
SAN FRANCISCO — Despite cold and damp conditions, Bay Area restaurants anticipate a rush of diners this weekend seeking to enjoy outdoor dining for the first time since the COVID-19 stay-at-home order was lifted. “It’s going to be busy,” said Nick Liang, who owns Uncle Yu’s in Livermore. Liang told KPIX 5 he is ready to welcome the rush. “We’ve got all the heaters lit up, so that we have a warm kind of environment,” he said. Meanwhile in San Francisco, which resumed outdoor dining on Thursday, it’s the calm before the weekend dining storm. “It totally changes the street life especially in the early evening when these are open,” said one San Francisco diner. The weather this week has posed a bit of a challenge for restaurants preparing for the reopening of outdoor dining. “According to the fire marshal we can’t have heaters underneath the tents,” said Andres Moreno, who owns Azul restaurant in Livermore. So that’s why we started to take them took them off hoping for it to be a little bit more sunny than rain. But right now, it’s kind of backfiring on us.” Read More

Mayor London Breed Lays Out Recovery Plans, Pledges To Reopen Schools In State Of The City Address
SAN FRANCISCO — After a year riddled with difficulties in the face of COVID-19, San Francisco Mayor London Breed laid out plans for the city’s road to recovery during her 2021 State of the City address on Thursday. Breed delivered her address just after Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this week lifted a month-long stay-at-home order, allowing for several low-risk activities, including outdoor dining and indoor nail and hair salons, to resume in the city starting on Thursday. “San Francisco’s response to COVID-19 has been hailed as a national model. We have the lowest death rate of any major city in the U.S. and though every life lost is a tragedy, we have saved thousands of lives and now we can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Breed said, speaking from the city’s COVID Command Center at the Moscone Center. Read More

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Deaths Remain High But Rate of New Infections Falling
SACRAMENTO — Though new cases of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to drop in the state, California reported its second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths on Thursday: 737 new deaths. The state’s record is 764 deaths in one day, reported Jan. 22, according to the state Department of Public Health. California’s death toll since the start of the pandemic rose to nearly 39,000, while total cases topped 3.1 million. Hospitalizations and newly confirmed cases have been falling, however, and health officials are growing more optimistic that the worst of the latest surge is over. The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 has slipped below 16,250 statewide, a drop of more than 20% in two weeks. Read More

Oakland International Airport Unveils COVID-19 Test Vending Machines
OAKLAND — Oakland International has became the first airport in the United States to begin selling COVID test kits in vending machines, officials announced this week. Travelers will have access to the at-home Saliva RT-PCT tests at contactless kiosks located in both terminals at the airport. Once a traveler buys the test, they will need to return a saliva sample via FedEx and get results on a mobile phone app. The COVID test kits were designed by digital health company Wellness 4 Humanity and costs from $130 to $150. Most customers can seek imbursement for the kit from their insurance companies. “As one of the first airports to offer on-site rapid COVID testing, we are now providing even more testing options for travelers,” said Bryant L. Francis, Port of Oakland Aviation Director. “We still urge travelers to make sure they are current on any quarantines and regulations at their destinations.” Read More

California Lawmakers Agree To Help Cover Some Unpaid Rent
SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers on Thursday agreed to use $2.6 billion in federal stimulus money to pay off up to 80% of some tenants’ unpaid rent — but only if landlords agree to forgive the rest of their debt. The legislation, which Gov. Gavin Newsom helped negotiate and is expected to sign into law, is the state’s first major attempt to clear unpaid rents that have piled up during the pandemic as millions of people lost their jobs because of government-ordered business closures. “The pandemic has created a mountain of unpaid rental debt, which has caused instability and financial hardships for both tenants and landlords,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes, the majority floor leader. The legislation provides “urgent assistance to renters and for the first time to struggling mom and pop landlords across California.” But the move is risky because of two big unknowns: Is $2.6 billion enough to cover all of the unpaid rent in the state, and how many landlords will take the deal? Read More

Alameda County Aligns With State Guidelines On Reopening Classrooms
OAKLAND — Health officials in Alameda County announced that they are aligning with the state’s guidance on reopening classrooms to in-person learning, as the winter surge in COVID-19 cases begins to recede. Officials said while the county is in the Purple Tier, classes in grades TK through 6 would be allowed to open once the adjusted case rate is below 25 per 100,000 for five consecutive days. As of January 26, the case rate was at 28.9. Alameda, like much of the state, re-entered Purple Tier restrictions after the state lifted its stay-at-home order on Monday. Classes in grades 7 through 12 are not allowed to reopen until the county is in the Red Tier for five consecutive days. Before reopening, schools must complete and publicly post their COVID-19 safety plans (CSP) and must receive approval from the Public Health Department. Public school districts must also submit their plans to the Alameda County Office of Education. Read More

Other Trending Bay Area COVID-19 Stories

Newsom Signs Executive Order To ‘Bolster Vaccination Efforts’ After Criticism
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed an executive order aimed at bolstering California’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts amid criticism the state has received about the vaccine rollout. The announcement about the executive order came a day after the state made a number of changes to the COVID-19 vaccine delivery system giving California more control in order to “expedite vaccine administration.” The executive order would assist in efforts to vaccinate as many Californians as possible as quickly as possible by maximizing the number of health care professionals and providers administering vaccines. “The order confirms that existing law – which protects certain health care professionals and providers from legal liability when they render services at the request of state or local officials during a state of emergency – protects those health care professionals and providers when they participate in the state’s vaccine administration program,” the announcement of the order said. Read More

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California’s Shift To Age-Based Distribution Sparks New Round Of Criticism – ‘A Political Calculus’
SAN FRANCISCO — Facing criticism for a slow vaccine rollout, California’s plans to shift COVID-19 vaccine distribution to an age-based system is drawing a new set of critics. Like millions of Californians, 32-year-old Adam Byers suddenly found himself wondering when he’ll get his doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week when the state vaccine tier distribution system changed. Byers suffers from a neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle weakness, even in his lungs. He should have been vaccinated in Tier 1C “The lung weakness in particular makes me a high risk person for severe COVID in the event I would get infected. I am on extreme lockdown, for non-medical reasons, I have left the house once in the last 11 months,” Byers told KPIX 5. The updated vaccine schedule prioritizing seniors and then descending by age puts Byers and others in the disability community months away from their COVID-19 doses. Read More