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10 California counties see restrictions eased, risks remain

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ten California counties were cleared to ease coronavirus restrictions Tuesday, including some in the Central Valley that saw major case spikes over the summer, but the state’s top health official warned that upcoming Halloween celebrations pose a risk for renewed spread.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state health secretary, said no counties moved backwards in California’s color-coded, four-tiered system for reopening, but Riverside was on the verge of reverting to the most restrictive purple tier. The county of about 2.5 million residents has asked for a review of its data and will stay in the red tier until the state makes a decision on its status later this week.

“Moving back a tier is important,” Ghaly said. “We don’t want to do it without a significant degree of conversation and understanding.”

Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said the county hopes to persuade the state that it can maintain its current status while still slowing the spread of the virus. A slip back to the purple tier would adversely affect small businesses like restaurants and gyms, which could be forced to shut down indoor operations again, the county said in a statement.

Two San Francisco Bay Area counties, Alameda and Santa Clara, will advance to the less-restrictive orange tier, which allows for increased capacity at restaurants, movie theaters and houses of worship — all with modifications to require face coverings.


The lifting of some restrictions in counties that have shown improvement comes as California sees a continued drop in COVID-19 cases. The seven-day positivity rate was down to 2.7%, Ghaly said. The number of hospitalizations is about 2,225 — a significant drop from a peak of around 7,000 over the summer, he said.

Ghaly said overall trends are moving in the right direction, thanks in part to Californians’ increased willingness to wear masks and avoid large gatherings.

“The more that that becomes widespread around the community, we’re going to see these numbers stabilize and come down,” Ghaly said.

But he added “we’re not out of the woods, and we’re seeing a number of increases across the country, and across the world in terms of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

Officials are urging families to skip trick-or-treating this Halloween and instead have costume contests and pumpkin carvings online.

“The whole act of going door-to-door in groups ringing doorbells, digging into buckets of delicious candy, create a risk of spreading spreading COVID-19,” Ghaly said. But he stressed that it was a recommendation, not a rule, and trick-or-treaters will not see any enforcement.

California on Friday night also eased restrictions to allow up to three households to socialize outdoors, an expansion of rules aimed at people tempted to have even larger gatherings around Halloween, Thanksgiving and end-of-year holidays.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Fresno County stayed in the red tier and four other counties in the central part of the state — Kern, Colusa, Sutter and Stanislaus — advanced from purple to red. Those improvements were particularly gratifying after those counties experienced

Calif.’s positivity holds at all-time low as virus surges in some counties

California’s COVID-19 numbers are looking good, but experts warn that we shouldn’t let our guard down as some pockets of the state struggle with outbreaks.

California has reached an all-time high for COVID-19 testing, and the percentage of those tests coming back positive has reached its lowest point since the start of the pandemic.

Across the past two weeks, the state has tested an all-time high average of 122,000 tests a day, and the percentage of those tests coming back positive has held at 2.6% since Tuesday, the lowest point since the start of the pandemic and less than half the positivity rate of when the virus surged across the state in July.

What’s more, the death rate has steadily decreased in California since this summer, reaching a 14-day average of 142 in August and a low of 70 over the weekend.

UCSF’s Dr. George Rutherford said on KCBS this morning the numbers are good news, but warned, “This is not a time to take a victory lap.”


“There are hot spots around the state, including Sonoma County close to the Bay Area, and possibly some more activity in Marin and Solano,” Rutherford added of the local counties that are struggling to control the virus.

Sonoma is the only county in the Bay Area still in the most restrictive purple tier in the state’s reopening structure, meaning the virus is widespread and certain businesses are restricted from reopening.  As of Monday, the county’s adjusted case rate is 10.8 cases per 100,000 residents, and the positivity rate is 5%.

Rutherford also noted Shasta County has experienced the state’s worst outbreak in recent weeks with a positivity rate of 6.9% and 13 cases per 100,000 residents.

These numbers may be surprising in this pocket of Northern California known for vast open spaces and endless forests, but COVID-19 outbreaks across the country have shown that the virus can spiral out of control anywhere. The spike in Shasta County is being driven by spates of cases at an evangelical school and a nursing facility in Redding, the county’s largest city (pop. 91,000).

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Coronavirus On The Rise; Avoid These 2 NJ Counties

HOBOKEN, NJ — Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla said on Friday that coronavirus cases are on the rise in the mile-square city, and he cautioned residents to avoid indoor parties and travel to places with spikes.

Bhalla updated the city’s coronavirus case numbers Friday, saying the city had confirmed 28 new cases in the previous five days, a larger increase than in months.

“The Hoboken University Medical Center (HUMC) has reported additional hospitalizations, as well as patients on ventilators,” Bhalla said.

He said that the Hoboken Health Department has reported the following new COVID-19 cases in Hoboken:

Oct. 4: 5
Oct. 5: 7
Oct. 6: 4
Oct. 7: 4
Oct. 8: 7
Oct. 9: 1

That meant that as of Friday, 833 residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

Fatalities remain unchanged at 31 total, with no new resident deaths since May.

The age group with the highest rise in cases remains those residents in the 17-30 age group, he said.

(Also on Friday, a local charter school went all-remote after a student tested positive for the virus. Related story here).

Avoiding the shore counties, and indoor birthday parties

Bhalla said in his Friday update that there are surges in Monmouth and Ocean counties — popular shore destinations for North Jersey residents. He urged residents to avoid traveling there.

“The State of New Jersey has reported significant recent increases in positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and patients in intensive care as well,” he wrote. “On Thursday, the State saw the largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases (1,301) since May. The statewide positivity rate from Oct. 4 was 3.69 percent, while the statewide rate of transmission is currently 1.22. (anything above a rate of 1 means the virus is spreading). Gov. Murphy has reported a surge of cases in Ocean County and Monmouth County, and I urge residents to avoid traveling to cities in these two counties if at all possible.”

Bhalla also reminded people to avoid maskless indoor gatherings. He said he’s been concerned about house parties as well as birthday parties.

“As always, the best way to stay safe is to take the following precautions: wear a face mask when around others, social distance, avoid large gatherings, and wash your hands,” he wrote. “And, as mentioned in the previous update, please continue to assume that anyone you come into contact with could have the virus, especially now that cases are rising in New Jersey.”

He noted, “Additionally, we’re also hearing reports of house parties that have occurred over the past several weeks, with the police having to be called in one instance, as well as residents attending house parties in other locations. I am urgently asking all residents, of all ages — please avoid indoor parties, which could easily turn into superspreader events with cases that are difficult to trace, like ones we have seen on the news.”

Hoboken coronavirus testing, dining, reopening info

To read a Patch report last week about reopenings and

In a first, 2 counties move backward on state’s reopening plan; Ventura moves forward

Patrons ate in May at Ventura's BusyBee 50's Cafe. In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom closed all indoor dining at restaurants, but on Tuesday, Ventura County advanced in the state's reopening blueprint, allowing a return to limited indoor seating. <span class="copyright">(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)</span>
Patrons ate in May at Ventura’s BusyBee 50’s Cafe. In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom closed all indoor dining at restaurants, but on Tuesday, Ventura County advanced in the state’s reopening blueprint, allowing a return to limited indoor seating. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Although a handful of counties advanced in the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan Tuesday, two moved backward — the first time since California launched its tiered system that parts of the state have regressed.

Following an increase in cases, Tehama County moved back to Tier 1, the most restrictive, and Shasta County moved back to Tier 2. The setbacks will affect business sectors that had been given the green light to reopen or expand capacity in those areas.

Shasta County, which averaged 173.7 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days, and Tehama County, with 124.3 cases per 100,000 residents during the same period, are among the five counties in the state where the most new cases are concentrated, according to The Times’ tracker.

Among the counties that moved forward was Ventura, the fourth in Southern California to advance on the state’s blueprint for reopening. It joined Merced and Yuba counties in advancing from Tier 1, also known as the purple tier, with widespread risk of the virus, to Tier 2, or the red tier, with substantial risk of the virus.

Inyo County moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3, also known as the orange tier, with moderate risk of the virus. Humboldt, Plumas, Siskiyou and Trinity counties moved from Tier 3 to Tier 4, also known as the yellow tier, with minimal risk of the virus.

Ventura County officials were prepared for the move following a decrease in positivity rate and case count. The progressive step will allow the county to expand operations and capacity at business sectors, including restaurants and shopping centers, and to partially reopen other businesses, including movie theaters, for the first time.

If the county remains in the tier for two consecutive weeks, it will be allowed to open all schools. That is true for any county that moves to Tier 2.

Ventura County is currently reporting 5.5 infections per 100,000 residents and a seven-day average positivity rate of 3.0%.

Those metrics have also dipped statewide. The seven-day average for daily infections is 3,005, and the current 14-day positivity rate is 2.7%.

“Our cases have decreased from our peak over the summer, but they have been plateauing,” acting state health officer Dr. Erica Pan said Tuesday. The state’s goal is to continue to see a steady decrease in infections in order to ensure that the projected transmission rate does not rise.

Additionally, the state’s health equity metric went into effect Tuesday.

In order to ensure that communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19 — including Black and Latino residents, Pacific Islanders and low-income residents — get ample attention as each county progresses, the state will examine the positivity rate of a county’s lowest quartile and compare it to the countywide

Rabies vaccine falling from the sky in 17 Alabama counties

Workers are using helicopters and trucks to distribute thousands of oral vaccines across a 17-county region of Alabama to help stop the spread of rabies.

The state health department says packets containing a vaccine meant to be found by raccoons will be distributed along roadsides in populated areas including metropolitan Birmingham. Trucks will be used for that work.

Vaccine packets will be dropped out of helicopters or low-flying airplanes over forests and other rural areas.

The packs consist of a plastic satchel that contains the rabies vaccine. The shell is coated with fishmeal or dog meal, and raccoons come into contact with the vaccine when they tear open the pack with their teeth.

The health department says the contents of the packet doesn’t pose a risk of rabies to other animals or human.

“Vaccination is very, very effective, with only rare cases of rabies occurring in vaccinated animals,” Dr. Dee W. Jones, the state veterinarian, said in a statement.

The work started Oct. 1. The program includes Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Chilton, Coosa, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Jefferson, Marshall, Morgan, Shelby, St. Clair, Talladega and Tuscaloosa counties.

The state says more than 7,000 animal bites and potential rabies exposures are investigated annually.

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All AZ counties now OKed for partial reopenings

PHOENIX — Arizona is reporting 705 additional COVID-19 cases and 24 more deaths as health officials say all 15 counties have cleared state benchmarks for partial reopening of certain businesses.

The overall statewide total of confirmed cases is now 219,212 cases, and the death toll 5,674.

Arizona’s Department of Health Services says the classification of largely rural, southeastern Graham County improved to “moderate transmission stage.” That made it the final county to meet criteria for reopening businesses such as indoor gyms, bars serving food and movie theaters.

One county, tiny Greenlee in southeastern Arizona, is at “minimal” status, the highest step below normal conditions.


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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Push to bring coronavirus vaccines to the poor faces trouble

— In Appalachia, people watch COVID-19, race issues from afar

— NFL postpones Steelers-Titans game after more positive tests

— The White House is backing a $400 per week pandemic jobless benefit and possible COVID-19 relief bill with a price tag above $1.5 trillion.

— France’s health minister is threatening to close bars and ban family gatherings, if the rise in virus cases doesn’t improve.

— Americans seeking unemployment benefits declined last week to a still-high 837,000, suggesting the economy is struggling to sustain a tentative recovery from the summer.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

HELENA, Mont. — Nearly half Montana’s confirmed COVID-19 cases came in September as the state continues to report record numbers of infections.

The state reported 429 cases Thursday, the highest daily total by a margin of 81.

The state saw just over 6,000 cases in September, or 44% of the 13,500 since mid-March.

The true numbers are thought to be much higher because not everyone has been tested, and studies show people can have COVID-19 without having symptoms.

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BOISE, Idaho — Idaho will remain in the fourth and final stage of Gov. Brad Little’s economic-reopening plan for at least another two weeks as coronavirus infections and deaths rise.

The Republican governor says Thursday Idaho will receive 530,000 rapid antigen tests that will be prioritized for schools. Little also announced Thursday the formation of an Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee in anticipation of a vaccine that would be distributed by the federal government.

Stage 4 of Idaho’s plan 4 allows most businesses to open.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials say hospitals bought only about a third of the doses of remdesivir that they were offered over the last few months to treat COVID-19, as the government stops overseeing the drug’s distribution.

Between July and September, 500,000 treatment courses were made available to state and local health departments but only about 161,000 were purchased.

Dr. John Redd of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that “we see this as a very good sign” that supply now outstrips demand and it’s OK for hospitals to start buying the drug, also known as Veklury, directly from maker