Friday, March 27, 2020

Incomplete Test Data Blurs Full Picture of COVID-19 Outbreak

In a pandemic, what we don't know CAN hurt us.

by Jennifer Wadsworth
Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 3:13 PM

It started with a bellyache and a painful tightening of her chest.

Seemingly overnight, the symptoms transposed into a dull, pulsing throb at her temples, a raw throat, sore muscles and crushing fatigue.

Jocelyn Cruz hoped to at least rule out COVID-19, the zoonotic respiratory disease that found its way to civilization at an exotic meat market in China before exploding to pandemic proportions by the time she asked for a test last week.

But when the 52-year-old San Jose artist told her doctor the cues of what ailed her, he said she wouldn’t qualify for a diagnosis.

Aside from being pre-diabetic, Cruz has no severe underlying health conditions, doesn’t work on the frontlines of the outbreak and showed none of the most life-threatening symptoms caused by COVID-19, such as labored breathing. Her physician reportedly said he couldn’t justify using scarce testing supplies on someone likely to recover with time and rest in the comfort of home.

One of Cruz’s friends around the same age with some overlapping symptoms described a similar experience. “My chest was on fire,” says Matt Cann, a 53-year-old pharma executive. “You could almost feel the inflammation from the inside, like the ‘Battle of Evermore’ was waging in my chest. And the cough was weird. Imagine coughing after your lungs have been dipped in baby powder.”

When he asked for an assessment through a private healthcare provider, his doctor basically told him tests are reserved for the bed-ridden and breathless.

Marlee Smith, a 25-year-old public policy analyst with an otherwise clean bill of health, reported similar hallmarks of the disease a couple weeks prior. “I had a sore throat,” she recalls, “I was super tired, and I thought, like, ‘OK, there’s enough in common with this coronavirus, so I should probably get this checked out.’”

On March 9, she finally called a doctor at Stanford Express Care Clinic, where a nurse urged her via teleconference to get tested. Four days later, she pulled up to Stanford Health Care’s drive-through Palo Alto clinic in her gray late-model Jeep. A nurse in head-to-toe protective gear stuck a giant swab—one in each nostril—and bagged up the samples to send to a university lab. Nearly a week later, she opened an email with the results: whatever plagued her, it wasn’t the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

An untold number of people in Santa Clara County sought medical help after experiencing signs that pointed to possible coronavirus transmission, only to be told that their circumstances didn’t warrant tests. One San Jose resident went to a Valley Med clinic with a sore throat and cough, and the examining doctor advised him to go home and drink tea with honey. “You should stay away from here,” he said, a cryptic reference to the infection’s presence, which staff at the county hospital were told not to discuss.

Others live with people who tested positive for the lung-throttling virus but never got diagnosed themselves. Caught off-guard without adequate plans to respond, the measures—or lack thereof— created a viral superhighway to transport COVID-19. And as it spread, a scarcity of tests, a fractured system of public labs and sequestered private counterparts with no legal obligation to fully disclose data left health officials struggling to map the scope of the outbreak.

As epidemiologists and public health officials try to make sense of result patterns to slow the spread of the coronavirus, they’re stumbling over show-stopping disparities in reported data. Some states and counties hide negative tests while others disclose them. Some monitor public labs but overlook results from companies and universities.

In California, specimens collected at doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals and drive-throughs are sent to private labs with no obligation to notify local health departments that they’re running tests at all, let alone disclose the quality controls or timelines in place.

With no overarching strategy to define the outbreak’s scope, public health officials have had to fly blind in the face of a pandemic that threatens to hobble the nation’s hospital system and kill millions. “It would be much more effective from an epidemiological perspective to have an idea of what testing capacity looks like, to know more about the transmission,” Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith, a licensed physician, acknowledged in a recent phone interview. “But at this point, at a local level, we’re in a much more reactive mode than planning mode.”

That’s why, on Tuesday—after prodding from San Jose Inside about the lack of comprehensive data—seven Bay Area counties issued a public health order requiring all laboratories to disclose all positive, negative and inconclusive results to local authorities within an hour of receiving them. Though the regional stay-home order has slowed the spread of the virus compared to places that eschewed such drastic measures, as MSNBC host Rachel Maddow pointed out on her show the other day, local officials say the more they know, the more effective they can be.

And there’s still too much they don’t know.

“The scientific evidence shows that at this stage of the emergency, it is essential to slow virus transmission as much as possible to protect the most vulnerable and to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed,” the directive states. “Accurate and precise diagnostic testing is an essential tool for combatting the spread of COVID-19.”

Yet the availability of accurate and precise data about testing varies wildly from state to state, according to a crowdsourcing effort called the COVID Tracking Project, and that can blur the full picture of what’s actually happening. As South Bay leaders prepared to step up data collection, a White House task force mirrored the move on a national scale.

On Sunday, the U.S Surgeon General’s Office tweeted: “Not all labs are reporting yet (or promptly), but the ones that do, report that 90 percent of tests (which are usually people exposed or w/symptoms) are #COVID19 negative. That means even among the highest risk people, most don’t have #coronavirus…”

In announcing what appears to be the first edict of its kind in the nation, Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody emphasized how private entities can literally save lives by keeping local governments in the loop.“Commercial and academic laboratories are important partners in providing testing to our community,” she said. “Receiving this critical information from those labs will help local health departments respond to COVID-19 during this unprecedented time.”

Because in a pandemic, what we don’t know can hurt us.

Public officials want more transparency from private labs. - (PHOTO VIA QUEST DIAGNOSTICS)
  • (Photo via Quest Diagnostics)
  • Public officials want more transparency from private labs.

Test Run

Dr. Cody wields sweeping emergency powers that make it a crime to play pickup basketball in a pandemic-related lockdown. But until now, she could do no more than beseech private labs for exhaustive data, which Quest Diagnostics and Stanford Health Care finally provided over the weekend (and which the county has yet to provide to us). As the tally of confirmed cases reached 300,000 among South Korea’s population of 52 million, the United States reported 44,183 positives and a death toll of 544 on Tuesday as Santa Clara County’s ticked up to 400 and 16, respectively.

But until Monday, nine days after San Jose Inside began asking about negative test data, Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department kept those results secret. When it finally unveiled the numbers that evening, they came as a shock.

Just 647 of the county’s 2 million people had been tested. That few out of so many.

Smith says the county’s actual infected population is probably closer to 10,000, an estimate he shared publicly for the first time on Tuesday, rather than the official count of 302 announced two days earlier. With each coronavirus carrier statistically likely to pass it on to at least a few other people, he cautions, the outbreak is no doubt proliferating at a rate beyond what official test results suggest.

“If we had all of the negatives for the entire region, and we were doing testing basically on an as-requested basis so that anybody could get tested, whether they were sick or not,” Smith says, “then we could have some epidemiological data on how much the virus has entered the community.” Since a shortfall of tests makes that all but impossible, he says the next best option is to get the negatives from folks with symptoms or known exposure.

“We’re really trying to guess less,” says Cindy Chavez, president of Santa Clara County’s five-member Board of Supervisors.

The virus has already touched every single hospital in the South Bay, according to the county. And it’s already prompted the CDC to add 250 overflow beds in the Santa Clara Convention Center to brace for the influx of critically sick patients to the local healthcare system. With no way of measuring the extent of the infections, the county must act like it’s already fully encompassed.

“Initially, the focus was on trying to identify and mitigate the disease,” Smith says, “then we switched rapidly to community distancing and now the real issue is trying to prevent the health system from getting overwhelmed.”

Vince Tran balked at the revelation about the county’s low testing numbers. When his 67-year-old mother, Thu Tran, became one of the first few dozen South Bay residents to test positive for COVID-19 after a recent trip to Seattle and Kirkland, Washington, he says the county’s perfunctory contact tracing surprised him. As did Kaiser Permanente’s decision to refuse to test his dad, who fortunately has felt no ill effects yet.

“It’s clear now that the testing systems in place are a complete mess, and are the main reason why there’s so little information to make decisions with,” Tran says. The county’s admission about how little it knows, he adds, shows “the glaring disorganization between testing facilities and between public and private entities.”

With studies emerging about the role of asymptomatic people driving the exponential spread of the virus and reports about increasingly younger and healthier demographics succumbing to lung failure endemic to COVID-19, Tran says it’s more vital than ever for public officials to urge caution.

“That’s all another piece of the puzzle that we only get with more test data,” says Tran, who’s quarantined in his San Jose home with his wife and two young kids. “We can’t really know the magnitude of the problem if we don’t have more testing data. And it sounds like, based on what the county is saying, that they’ve basically had their hands tied this whole time. But still, they should have told us that sooner.”

San Jose Councilman-elect Matt Mahan, who repeatedly sounded the alarm about the shortage of robust test data this past week, applauded the county’s move toward transparency. “It’s a positive step,” he says, “but we shouldn’t be in this position. I’m concerned that we seem to be totally dependent on private testing companies and have not seen enough urgency—at all levels of government—around getting testing to scale.”

By expanding reporting requirements to include negative results, the new Bay Area-wide disclosure mandate will give the public a clearer picture about whether the growing case numbers indicate ramped-up diagnostic assays or the spread of the outbreak.

Doctor’s Orders

The evening before Dr. Cody unveiled her disclosure mandate, Betty Duong—who leads the county’s communications team after PR chief María Leticia Gómez tested positive for the coronavirus—sent a letter thanking San Jose Inside for questioning the paucity of data. “We are doing our best,” she wrote in a 2,000-word missive at Smith’s behest, “but realize the demand for detailed information on everything that is happening is understandably insatiable.”

Of course, the opacity comes from the top down. As has been thoroughly documented by investigative journalists in national news reports, President Donald Trump’s now-famously-botched response to the coronavirus as early as January put the whole nation behind the curve in preparing for the inevitable. The absence of testing, Duong wrote, has “hampered our ability to monitor the epidemic, to focus mitigation measures and to inform individual people of their infection status.”

Unfortunately, according to Duong, the county and state have “very little control over this situation” because most of the authority and resources needed for testing come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.

The CDC didn’t authorize the county to test until Feb. 26, already well over a month into the global outbreak, and the initial test kit didn’t even work. Though the CDC provided the reagents needed for accurate readings that same week, testing resources have yet to scale to what the county needs, public health officials say.

“The role of the local public health laboratory is limited: it serves as a specialty reference laboratory offering testing for emerging infections such as COVID-19 while other laboratory sectors (commercial and academic) come on-line to test for those new diseases,” Duong explained in her letter. “For example, at the beginning of the West Nile Virus epidemic, only public health laboratories were able to test for West Nile Virus, but West Nile Virus testing was very soon offered widely in the commercial sector. In the United States, unlike in some other countries, high-volume testing is done exclusively by commercial private sector labs.”

Santa Clara County’s public health lab can run up to 100 tests a day, officials say, and can only use resources provided by the CDC. With a critical shortfall, the county says it has to triage the highest-need patients.

“The lab is not structured, physically and otherwise, to scale to commercial-volume testing,” Duong says. “As a result, the current focus of the public health laboratory testing is to ensure that hospitalized patients get tested, as well as people who live or work in high-risk settings such as long-term care facilities, healthcare professionals and first responders, while we continue waiting for large-scale testing capacity to come on line through the commercial labs.”

The whole nation missed its chance to contain the virus, which puts the county—like its peers—on the defense. And the whole nation grapples with a shortage of swabs, vials and other tools needed to collect and test specimens.

“Because of limited testing capacity, the public health laboratory has focused its very limited testing capacity on testing patients with more severe illness and in high-risk, critical roles like healthcare workers and first responders,” according to Duong. “Because of this, and because we are not testing people without any symptoms, the number of cases that we detect through testing are only a small portion of the total number of people infected in the county. In addition, because we are primarily testing hospitalized patients, the cases we detect are more likely than the total number of infected persons to be seriously ill and are more likely to be hospitalized.”

That’s why Thu Tran’s husband—Vince Tran’s father—was never screened, even though he lives with a COVID-19-sickened wife. “He stays healthy,” Thu Tran says in a phone call from her Gilroy home, where she’s still bedridden and tethered to an oxygen tank.

But she says the dizzying nausea, gut-twisting pain and gasping breathlessness she experienced make her worry about passing it on to anyone else.

“Especially the people who have a health problem already,” Thu Tran cautions. “Because it’s a very, very strong virus. It multiples quickly and sticks to the air sacs in your lungs. You know? It’s a tough virus to fight.”

For the Tran family, uncertainty about endangering others adds another layer of anxiety over concerns about the economy and prolonged physical isolation.

In the face of so many unknowns, Mahan says, the public needs frank, detailed communication from the experts. “Going forward, I’d hope to see frequent reports from the [county] detailing our testing goals, daily metrics, plans for scaling, barriers they’re working to break down, requests for public and private sector help, and so forth,” he says. “Transparency will only increase focus, speed, and results.

After all, understanding the present outbreak will prepare us for its inevitable return.

“We need to have a full scope of data to deal with this crisis,” Cruz says. “We need that Silicon Valley thinking, to go big, go bold and then scale it out because that’s what we do. This won’t be the last pandemic, so we should learn as much as we can from it.”

Banks Agree to Coronavirus Mortgage Relief in California Amid Push for Temporary Eviction Ban

Four major banks agree to delay virus-related foreclosures.

by Laurel Rosenhall, CalMatters
Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 2:44 PM

With a million Californians filing for unemployment over the last two weeks, several major banks have agreed to delay foreclosures and offer mortgage relief to homeowners impacted by the coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.

It was the latest sign that the pandemic is hammering the economy—leaving many people without jobs or with slashed incomes—and came as lawmakers in Washington agreed to a stimulus package that would increase unemployment payments by $600 a week. In California, where unemployment benefits are up to $450 a week, the federal stimulus could allow some workers to receive more than $1,000 a week in unemployment.

But with California’s astronomical housing costs, the increased unemployment checks could still leave many homeowners unable to make their mortgage payments. “I’m very pleased that Wells Fargo, US Bank, Citi (and) JP Morgan Chase have all agreed to 90-day waiver of payments for those that have been impacted by COVID-19,” Newsom said.

Bank Of America agreed to waive payments for 30 days, Newsom said, adding that he hopes it “will reconsider and join those other banks that are willing to do the right thing by at least extending that commitment to their customers for 90 days.”

The agreement does not eliminate debt for California homeowners. Instead, it gives them a 90-day grace period in which to make each month’s payment. Homeowners who want to use the grace period should contact their lender to make arrangements. It’s available not only to people who have gotten sick from the coronavirus, but also to people who lost jobs or had hours cut because of efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

The mortgage relief doesn’t do enough to keep a roof over Californians as some Democrats would like. Calling attention to the plight of renters in the state, more than three dozen lawmakers sent Newsom a letter Wednesday calling on him to ban evictions statewide until the state of emergency caused by the pandemic ends.

“Around the state, there is enormous apprehension by countless renters about the upcoming April rent due date,” said the letter signed by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who chairs the housing committee, and 37 other legislators from around the state. “At this time of crisis, we respectfully ask you to take action immediately to provide relief to millions of California renters and to ensure that sheltering-in-place policies can flatten the curve and reduce casualties due to the coronavirus.”

Last week, Newsom issued an order that allows cities and counties to stop landlords from evicting tenants who miss their rent, but it’s been widely criticized as too weak because it defers to local governments. Though some cities—including L.A., S.F., Oakland, and Sacramento—have passed local rules temporarily prohibiting evictions, large swaths of the state have not. On Wednesday, the governor said he was exploring whether a statewide ban on evictions is possible.

“We have a team reviewing the legal parameters related to that issue,” Newsom said. “The issues are much more complicated than they may appear.”

The Trump administration last week announced a moratorium on evictions of single-family homeowners with federally backed mortgages, but it does not apply to the vast majority of renters in the U.S. is a nonpartisan media venture explaining Calif. policies and politics.

Friday's Briefing: Oakland approves moratorium on evictions due to COVID-19; BART may suspend Sunday train service

Shelter in place is leading to dramatic improvements in Bay Area air quality

by Steven Tavares
Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Oakland Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas authored the city's moratorium on evictions due to COVID-19. Councilmember Dan Kalb co-authored the ordinance. - ERIKA PINO
  • Erika Pino
  • Oakland Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas authored the city's moratorium on evictions due to COVID-19. Councilmember Dan Kalb co-authored the ordinance.

News you don't want to miss for Mar. 27-29:

1. Oakland approved one of the strongest urgency moratoriums on evictions due to the coronavirus in the state during a special Oakland City Council meeting on Friday afternoon. The moratorium includes prohibitions against residential and commercial evictions, rent increases, and late fees for tenants who have been financially affected by the coronavirus.

2. BART, amid a 92 percent drop in ridership, is considering the suspension of Sunday train service, the San Francisco Examiner reports. BART is facing the possibility of a $442 million operation budget shortfall.

3. Miraculous improvements in air quality followed China's decision to shut down its factories two months ago. The same thing is occurring in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is recording "unprecedented" reductions in particulate in the air. $$

4. Here's another sliver of good news arising from the shelter in place order: "Overlooked animals are being adopted," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. $$

5. Hayward may move to delay implementation of its recently approved minimum wage acceleration, set to increase to $15 an hour for businesses with more than 25 employees on July 1, the East Bay Citizen reports.

6. The sports calendar is devoid of events in the Bay Area, except in one place, Golden Gate Fields in Albany. While bets on thoroughbreds continue across the state despite the shelter in place order, race tracks are facing criticism for putting employees at risk, the Associated Press reports.

$$ = Stories you may have to pay to read.

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Evidence Suggests That Sheltering-In-Place is Working

Early data from Santa Clara County and Miami shows a direct correlation between closures and decline of flu-like illnesses.

by Jennifer Wadsworth
Thu, Mar 26, 2020 at 1:23 PM

Elbow bumps are the new high five. - (PHOTO VIA SHUTTERSTOCK)
  • (Photo via Shutterstock)
  • Elbow bumps are the new high five.

Scroll from the bottom up to read in chronological order. And click here to catch up on the rest of our coronavirus coverage.

Don’t be fooled by the empty shelves. There’s plenty of food to go around.

Ron Fong, head of the California Grocers Association, is trying to hammer that point home through a new initiative called Enough for All.

“The bare shelves you are occasionally seeing do not indicate lack of supply,” he says.“It is a temporary result of consumers overbuying given the understandable worry right now. The supply and distribution systems are prepared to accommodate this behavior for a day or two during holidays, but not for extended periods of time.”

The men and women who’ve become frontline workers by staffing our grocery stores and distribution centers are working day and night to catch up, Fong says. And hiring sprees are bringing more people aboard to keep pace with demand.

“Everyone can help stop this unnatural cycle of demand by simply buying only what you need for a week and curbing the tendency to over-buy,” he advises. “Getting shopping patterns back to normal will reduce stress on the distribution system and can go a long way toward creating some normalcy in our grocery stores.”

With that in mind, Fong says, let’s “just buy smart and don’t overfill our carts.”

11am: Who’s got you covered?


Though San Jose has a lower rate of uninsured residents, a new study shows that an alarming number of the city’s million people have no healthcare coverage. According to credit-building company Self Financial, about 50,000 have no health insurance. “Efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 depend on the nation’s ability to provide testing and treatment for all Americans, even the 28.5 million who lack health insurance,” a summary of the study reads. Yet the coronavirus pandemic comes after a two-year decline in coverage in the U.S. After a seven-year increase in coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate began ticking up again in 2018 after the repeal of the individual mandate penalty. Click here to read the report and see how various cities and states stack up.

10:20am: Keep on keeping on.


“Don’t think for a second that we’re a day or two from lifting that order. We’re not.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom relayed the message in his latest COVID-19 briefing, where he made clear that California has no plans to grant President Trump’s wish of getting back to business as usual by Easter Sunday.

There’s just no way, the governor said. Not now, as the death toll careens upward, and hospitals already overrun with gasping coronavirus patients brace for the storm.

That’s because what we’re doing is working.

The social distancing, the staying home, the discipline required for millions of us to hunker down—it’s doing what it’s supposed to. It’s flattening the curve.

“We can’t let up on the good decision-making that we’ve seen,” Newsom said. Later in the address, he added: “We know it’s had an impact … so let’s not let up. Let us commit to this home isolation and physical distancing.”

Since containment’s no longer an option, mitigation’s the name of the game now. And though a lack of testing means we’re blind to the full scope of the problem, we’re not entirely in the dark. Data show that the Bay Area’s sweeping shutdown has prevented infections and saved lives. Just look at the graph above to see how this region has fared compared to one that notoriously lagged on enforcing distancing mandates.

“We don’t live under assumptions,” Newsom told us the other day. “We live under real data trend lines—and real application.”

Last night, Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith called me to follow up on an email I’d sent earlier in the week about the local public health lab’s testing capacity. When I asked him what message he’d like to get out there more than anything, he reiterated the governor’s mantras about social distancing.

The single most impactful thing people can do right now is keep this up, Smith said, promising that the effect of collective lockdown will become more apparent in the coming weeks. “Social distancing is working,” he said. “It will work. But we really don’t have time with this crisis to be fooling around.”

I told him to keep me in the loop if there’s any data to share or stories to tell that illustrate that point because I believe that the more we inform people about what’s going on, the more they’re invested in doing their part.

Showing people how the stay-home mandate is working might encourage them to stay the course. And being transparent about the county’s limitations—like the dearth of testing resources—might spur people to rise to the occasion.

All the stories we’ve seen about the critical shortage of ventilators have inspired creative minds to figure out ways to hack the machines and companies such as Tesla to re-open its factory to manufacture them. By being open and honest about rationing masks and other protective gear, hospitals have prompted a public outpouring of donations.

As journalists, we aim to hold people in power accountable. Of course. But a lot of our job is more simple than that. We’re just trying to tell people what the heck’s going on.

Sometimes that requires scathing takedowns. Most of the time, it’s just sharing the latest updates, like new case counts or how many masks our hospitals need. It also involves reporting the good news, highlighting solutions and telling personal stories.

I say all this because I want our readers to think of all the different stories we could cover (with our limited resources) and send us tips that point us in the right direction. I want to hear from you. So, text me at 408.515.7611 or email as inspiration strikes. Nurses, doctors, frontline workers: I can promise confidentiality.

And if you value our journalism, consider helping us through these trying times by making a donation or buying a subscription at

Thursday's Briefing: Surge in coronavirus cases may soon hit California; Dismal U.S. jobless claims report

Two Grand Princess passengers have died from COVID-19

by Steven Tavares
Thu, Mar 26, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Hayward's free testing site report 54 positive results out of 207 tested during the first day of the clinic on Monday. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayward's free testing site report 54 positive results out of 207 tested during the first day of the clinic on Monday.

News you don't want to miss for Mar. 26:

1. The California Secretary of Health and Human Services said cases of the coronavirus across the state are increasing quicker than expected, suggesting a major surge is on the horizon, SFGate reports.

2. A record 3.3 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, CNN reports. The excruciatingly bad jobs report was expected to reach close to 4 million. California, alone, recently reported 1 million claims.

3. The number of tests for the coronavirus in California doubled on Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. On Thursday, Hayward reported that its testing clinic, available to all, returned 54 positive results for the virus out of 207 tested.

4. Two men in their 60s, who were passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked earlier this month at the Port of Oakland, passed away from the coronavirus, the East Bay Times reports.

5. California's estimated 150,000 unsheltered residents are struggling to find temporarily housing and access to health care a week after the state pledged $150 million to place them in hotels, the Associated Press reports. Two hotels near the Oakland Coliseum are slated to add more than 300 rooms for the homeless.

6. Sadly, today would have been Opening Day at the Coliseum, if not for the postponement of the baseball season. But Strat-O-Matic, the timeless dice and probability board game, is producing simulations of each day's games. Good news! The A's topped the Twins, 5-3, on the backs of a five-run second inning.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Wednesday's Briefing: Oakland names interim police chief; $2 trillion stimulus bill includes $1,200 checks

Alameda County to keep schools closed through May 4

by Steven Tavares
Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Manheimer replaces Anne Kirkpatrick, the Oakland chief of police who was terminated last month. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Manheimer replaces Anne Kirkpatrick, the Oakland chief of police who was terminated last month.

News you don't want to miss for Mar. 25:

1. Oakland named former San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer as its interim police chief, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Manheimer takes over for Anne Kirkpatrick, who was fired by the Oakland Police Commission and mayor last month. $$

2. Congress agreed to a massive $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package on Tuesday night. Axios reports the deal includes a one-time $1,200 stimulus check to all Americans, except those earning more than $99,000 a year. It also includes $367 billion for small businesses; extends unemployment programs, while adding gig-workers; and allocates $100 billion to hospitals.

3. The federal stimulus bill also includes $1.3 billion for Bay Area transportation agencies, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The outlay is more than double what the region receives annually from the federal government. $$

4. Alameda County, and six other Bay Area counties, extended school closures to May 4, SFGate reports.

5. California's decision six years ago to lard its reserves in the event of an economic downturn is looking like sound fiscal policy. But the $21 billion surplus fund is likely to be wiped out because of the response to the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reports. $$

6. Here's the likely effect that follows the curious quest by so many to buy every last roll of toilet paper. Some sanitation districts in the Bay Area are telling residents not to use t-shirts or cloth as an alternative because its clogging the system, SFGate reports.

$$ = Stories you may have to pay to read.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Tuesday's Briefing: Kaiser Permanente's $900 million project in Oakland is off; schools may stay close through May

Two Oakland police officers have coronavirus

by Steven Tavares
Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 4:00 AM

A rendering of the now cancelled Kaiser Permanente headquarters in Oakland. - KAISER PERMANENTE
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • A rendering of the now cancelled Kaiser Permanente headquarters in Oakland.

News you don't want to miss for Mar. 24:

1. Kaiser Permanente is pulling the plug on its $900 million project for a new downtown headquarters in Oakland, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The move is not related to the coronavirus outbreak, but a major blow to the city. It was Oakland's largest commercial project. $$

2. Rep. Ro Khanna is leading a group of nearly two dozen officials calling for President Trump to immediately enact a two-week nationwide shelter in place order, The Hill reports. Fifteen states have already done so. The letter sent by Khanna comes amid news reports that Trump is, instead, eyeing a rollback on restrictions in order to restart the economy.

3. A second Alameda County resident has died from the coronavirus, the East Bay Times reports. The county's first death occurred on Monday. No additional information on either death as been reported. Two Oakland police officers have tested positive for the coronavirus.

4. The airline industry, like many businesses, are suffering as result of the pandemic. The East Bay Times reports 150 flight cancellations have occurred at the Oakland International Airport.

5. Some Bay Area school districts may follow Los Angeles' lead in keeping schools closed through May 4 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. $$

6. U.C. Berkeley is moving toward a pass-fail grading system for the spring semester as the academic institution converts to online courses due to the pandemic, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. $$

$$ = Stories you may have to pay to read.

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Monday, March 23, 2020

East Bay Express joins five-newspaper Bay Area alt-weekly group

by Express Staff
Mon, Mar 23, 2020 at 3:13 PM

The East Bay Express has joined colleagues in the region’s alternative weekly press to form a five-newspaper group that will circulate throughout seven counties in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Anchored by the Metro Silicon Valley weekly, the group also includes Santa Cruz’s Good Times, the North Bay Bohemian and the Pacific Sun, the nation’s longest publishing alt weekly.

“The East Bay Express has for four decades been a bastion of great writing, distinguished investigative journalism and important cultural coverage,” Metro founder and CEO Dan Pulcrano said. “It fits perfectly with our strengths and mission to serve local communities in the greater Bay Area.”

Metro Silicon Valley has for three years in a row won the state’s top awards amongst weeklies for both Investigative Reporting and Arts & Entertainment Coverage. “We believe this combination offers readers the benefits that come with greater depth of editorial resources while providing local businesses unprecedented access to markets in local publications with strong reader loyalty,” Pulcrano said.

In recent years, free-circulation publications such as Metro Silicon Valley and the Express have fared better than paid circulation daily newspapers that were more heavily dependent on classified advertising and other shrinking categories. However, the coronavirus outbreak has hit free weeklies hard, as public health officials have ordered the cancellation of mass events and the closure of nightclubs, dining establishments and retailers in non-essential industries.

“These are obviously extraordinary times for independent publishers,” outgoing East Bay Express editor and publisher Stephen Buel said. “That Metro remains enthusiastic about our industry even amidst the unprecedented chaos of this moment in time shows the depth of Dan’s commitment to local businesses and independent journalism. The Express could not be in better hands.”

The East Bay Express began publishing in October 1978, inspired by the success of the Chicago Reader and San Diego Reader. Co-founder John Raeside, who established a solid reputation with long-form journalism and a stable of freewheeling critics, sold the publication in 2001 to the national chain New Times Media. Buel joined the paper that year.

In 2006, New Times merged with Village Voice Media and the following year, Buel and a group of investors purchased the Express, returning it to local ownership. In 2017, Buel’s Telegraph Media, which also published Oakland and Alameda magazines, bought out the remaining investors.

During Alameda County’s shelter-in-place order, the Express continues to publish on its regular schedule, with content primarily focused on the coronavirus outbreak, including news about the health crisis and coverage of food and entertainment options available during the shelter-in-place order. Buel continues as a contractor and editor during the transition.

Over the past six years, Metro has expanded its portfolio of properties to include 17 regularly published titles, which also include traditional home-delivered broadsheets — among them the Gilroy Dispatch, Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Watsonville Pajaronian, all of which date back to the 1800s, as well as four newspapers in the Salinas Valley. The company also publishes specialty publications such as the wine country lifestyle magazine Bohème, the Cannabis Chronicle, the Dilated Pupil student guide and several visitors’ guides.

The newspapers are distributed in the California counties of Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey. In addition to the printed editions, the company operates a large portfolio of digital media products, including electronic editions, websites and email newsletters, and offers web development, mobile SEO and digital marketing services.

The new group will be known simply as ”Weeklys” and a new portal is under construction at

Monday's Briefing: First COVID-19 death reported in Alameda County; PG&E pleads guilty to Camp Fire complaint

AC Transit bus fares are now free

by Steven Tavares
Mon, Mar 23, 2020 at 4:00 AM

The aftermath of the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • The aftermath of the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif.

News you don't want to miss for Mar. 23:

1. Alameda County's first reported death due to the coronavirus occurred last weekend, KRON reports. It is not known where the individual lived, but they were described as a senior resident who had an underlining health issue. As on Monday, 112 confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the county.

2. With low ridership numbers already plaguing the system, AC Transit announced free fares starting today, KPIX reports. The transit agency is also recommending riders enter from the rear of the bus to ensure social distancing.

3. Last Thursday, the East Bay Regional Park District board decided to keep its park open for the foreseeable future, the East Bay Citizen reports. But high attendance over the past week at its park could mean a reversal of the policy, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

4. Social distancing and the skeleton crews at local city planning departments will likely further grind construction in the Bay Area to a halt, the East Bay Times reports. Developers are already finding it difficult for getting work on existing projects approved by local city inspectors.

5. PG&E plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for its involvement in the wildfires that leveled Paradise, Calif. in 2018, the Los Angeles Times reports. The utility will pay $3.5 million. $$

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Friday, March 13, 2020

Friday's Briefing: Oakland, Berkeley, San Leandro school districts shut down classes amid coronavirus; Bay Area layoffs imminent

Richmond is being sued for coal ban

by Steven Tavares
Fri, Mar 13, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Classrooms will be empty in the East Bay as concerns over the spread of the coronavirus increase. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Classrooms will be empty in the East Bay as concerns over the spread of the coronavirus increase.

News you don't want to miss for Mar. 13-15:

1. The Oakland and Berkeley Unified School Districts announces its classrooms will close in effort to limit spread of the coronavirus, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. San Leandro Unified also announced closures on Friday, and Alameda Unified School District officials met in an emergency session on Friday. $$

2. BART is losing up to $5 million a week in revenue because low ridership due to the coronavirus and is seeking guidance from California's U.S. senators for federal help, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. $$

3. In a sign the White House is realizing the severity of the pandemic, President Trump declared a national emergency on Friday in order to more swiftly deal with the coronavirus, NBC News reports. The move by the federal government opens up much-needed resources for local and state governments.

4. The Bay Area's economy was red-hot just weeks ago. Now with residents severely cutting expenses due to uncertainty over the coronavirus, some workers appear on the verge of wide-scale layoffs, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "Truckers, cashiers, stagehands, airline workers, party suppliers and countless others are bearing the terrible economic cost of the coronavirus pandemic. And there’s no end in sight." $$

5. It's probably not news to you, but East Bay commuters are finding their drives to and from work to be much less stressful, the East Bay Times reports. Rush hour drive times have been shortened, and with a worldwide glut of oil, gas prices are also dropping. $$

6. Many sections of your grocery store is bare. Those who can't afford to stock up on food for the long haul, may find difficulty accessing local food pantries. It's not because there's no food, but concerns over the coronavirus is driving away volunteers who help out at food banks, Calmatters reports.

7. Richmond is facing a slew of lawsuits after its elected official approved a ban on coal shipments through the city last month, the East Bay Times reports.

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