Apple employees push back on post-COVID return-to-office orders

Five out of nine Bay Area counties Monday advanced into the “low” COVID-19 community level for the first time since the summer BA.5 surge. The highly transmissible BA.5 strain of the omicron coronavirus variant made up about 89% of the known coronavirus cases in the US last week. In one California county, just 4% of pre-teens are vaccinated against COVID.

Apple employees push back on return-to-office orders

Nearly 1,000 Apple employees have signed a petition rejecting the company’s requirement that its corporate employees return to the office at least three days a week by Sept. 5. An internal organization called Apple Together is demanding “more flexible arrangements” for work in its public petition . “For the past 2+ years, Apple’s formerly office-based employees have performed exceptional work, flexibly, both outside and inside traditional office environments,” the group said. “This uniform mandate from senior leadership does not consider the unique demands of each job role nor the diversity of individuals.” Apple is one of the last big tech companies to mandate employees return for three days, following Google, Facebook parent Meta and others. As of Tuesday afternoon, 835 of its employees had signed the petition demanding the company keep a remote work option available.

COVID caused 71% of teens to delay driver’s education, survey finds

Anxiety and depression related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have caused a majority of teens to hold off on getting driver’s licenses, according to a recent survey by Aceable, a Texas-based company that offers online driver’s education courses. Based on data gathered from nearly 700 families with teens at home, the organization found that 71% of parents report that their teen’s driver’s education was delayed due to the pandemic, with the most common reasons being the cancellation of in-person courses, individual instructors falling ill, and lower motivation among teens to pursue a license. The same survey found only 19% of teens who have not completed driver’s ed have jobs.

Bay Area COVID trends keep improving

The seven-day average for new coronavirus infections in the Bay Area continues its downward trajectory, reaching a low of 20 new infections per 100,000 residents on Tuesday. That is about one-third of the rate the region was tallying in late June at the peak of the summer COVID-19 surge. The statewide average dropped to 24 daily cases per 100,000 residents, while California’s test positive rate fell to 10%, down from 16.1% in July. Confirmed COVID-19 deaths have plateaued at a seven-day average of 47 per day across the state. There are 3,505 hospitalized with the virus in California, including 656 in the Bay Area region.

Moderna applies for BA.4/BA.5 booster authorization

Pharmaceutical company Moderna announced on Tuesday that it completed its submission to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for its BA.4/BA.5 omicron-targeted bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine. “We have worked closely with the FDA to ensure that Americans will have access to Moderna’s updated, bivalent booster, which, if authorized, may offer higher, broader, and more durable protection against COVID-19 compared to the currently authorized booster,” said Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, in a statement. “Moderna’s mRNA platform has enabled us to develop, study, and deploy bivalent booster vaccine candidates that demonstrate superior protection against all tested COVID variants, in record time. Our commitment to using cutting-edge science to protect the world against the ongoing COVID threat continues.” Pfizer and partner BioNTech announced their application for emergency use authorization for its boosters on Monday. If authorized, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could sign off on the new shots as early as next week.

Regular exercise may cut COVID risks, study finds

Regular physical activity could lower the likelihood of adverse COVID-19 outcomes, according to a study published Monday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. In the peer-reviewed analysis of data from 16 global studies that included more than 1.8 million adults, the researchers found that those who engaged in regular physical activity had a lower risk of infection, hospitalization, severe COVID-19 illness, and COVID-19 -related death compared with their inactive peers. The individuals who participated in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity benefited most, the study found — with an 11% lower risk of infection and 44% lower risk of severe disease. The authors cautioned more research is required but that “these findings may help guide physicians and healthcare policymakers in making recommendations and developing guidelines with respect to the degree of physical activity that can help reduce the risk of infectivity, hospitalization, severity and mortality of COVID- 19 at both the individual and the population level, especially in high-risk patients.”

CDC vaccine advisors schedule new meetings for next week

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, independent vaccine advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control, has scheduled a two-day meeting for Sept. 1-2. The group will most likely review the reformulated BA.4 and BA.5 booster doses the Biden administration hopes to roll out to Americans in the fall.

Life expectancy in US drops by nearly 2 years

From 2019 to 2020, overall life expectancy at birth declined for all states and Washington, DC by 1.8 years, according to a new National Vital Statistics Report. The declines ranged from 0.2 to 3 years, with California reporting a decrease of 1.8 to 2 years and New York experiencing the biggest dip with 3 years. The National Center for Health Statistics and its Division of Vital Statistics report said the decline was mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increases in unintentional injuries, mainly drug overdose deaths.

Fauci on COVID conspiracy theories: “A distortion of reality”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who on Monday announced his plan to retire at the end of the year, expressed his frustration with the steady flow of misinformation that has grown around the coronavirus pandemic. “What we’re dealing with now is just a distortion of reality, conspiracy theories which don’t make any sense at all pushing back on sound public health measures, making it look like trying to save lives is encroaching on people’s freedom,” Fauci said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

He added that the politicization of COVID-19 has hindered the nation’s response. “A world where untruths have almost become normalized, how we can see something in front of our very eyes and deny it’s happening?” Fauci said. “I mean, that’s the environment we’re living in. You could look at Jan. 6 on TV, and you have some people who actually don’t believe it happened. How could that possibly be? And it’s now spilling over in denial about public health principles.”

Bay Area lawsuit alleges Kaiser charged members for COVID tests

A San Rafael law firm has filed a class-action lawsuit against Kaiser Permanente, saying California’s largest health insurance provider charged its members for coronavirus tests despite the federal public health emergency that prohibits passing the cost of the tests onto individuals. The firm Seeger Devine is representing Kaiser member Faye Getubig, who requested a coronavirus test at its Oakland facility in June but received a multiplex test that is also used to detect influenza. The suit, filed in Alameda Superior Court, claims she was sent a bill for $536, with a request that she cover $310 of the total fee.

“Kaiser’s business practice of illegally charging consumers exorbitant prices for COVID tests hurts not only the consumers who have to pay these illegal charges, it also hurts the general public,” the lawsuit states. It demands that Kaiser Permanente stop charging for the tests and that it reimburses other members who have been charged. In a written statement to the Sacramento Bee, Kaiser officials said they are reviewing the allegations. “If she has identified an error regarding her bill, we will certainly correct it,” the company said. “Over the last 2.5 years of the pandemic we have supported our members and patients in obtaining a total of more than 20 million COVID-19 tests.”

Pfizer says COVID shot is 73% effective in children under 5

Pfizer and BioNTech released updated data Tuesday showing that three doses of their COVID-19 vaccine was 73.2% effective among children aged 6 months to 4 years old. The latest research comes two months after the vaccines were initially given emergency use authorization for use in the youngest age group, backing up previous data. The study was conducted between March and June, while the BA.2 omicron variant was prevalent. The companies are working on an updated formula that targets newer sublineages of the virus.

“While these results confirm that three … doses of our COVID-19 vaccine provide young children with a high level of protection at a time when the omicron BA.2 strain was highly prevalent with a favorable safety profile, we are also developing an omicron BA.4/BA.5-adapted bivalent vaccine in this age group to address these sublineages,” said Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, in a statement.

Nearly 300 Google employees infected in Los Angeles outbreak

Google’s Los Angeles-area campuses are experiencing one of the largest COVID-19 workplace outbreaks in the state, with nearly 300 employees currently infected with the virus, according to the LA County Public Health dashboard. The tech company’s Playa Vista complex added 135 new cases over the weekend, Deadline reports, adding to the 145 infections reported at its Venice office on Friday. The combined 280 infections constitute the largest current tally for any employer in the county, the report says. By comparison, 274 TSA employees at Los Angeles International Airport are infected, and 234 American Airlines workers have COVID-19. Google has 2,000 employees in Los Angeles, based on a report last year from Los Angeles Business Journal. That means 14% of its workforce is currently impacted by the virus.

Five Bay Area counties move into “low” community tier

Five out of nine Bay Area counties Monday advanced into the “low” COVID-19 community level tier based on hospitalization rates, for the first time since the summer BA.5 surge, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, San Mateo and Alameda counties were in the agency’s lowest tier. Napa, Solano, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties moved out of “high” and into “medium,” determined by the rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions and inpatient beds used by those patients, based on the current level of new cases. However, according to the CDC’s coronavirus transmission map, all counties in the region remain in the “high” virus transmission category, based on the rates of new cases and positive tests — a category that comprises 92% of the US population.

BA.5 tightens grip on US

The highly transmissible BA.5 strain of the omicron coronavirus variant made up about 89% of the sequenced coronavirus cases in the United States last week, according to data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The newest sublineage of the variant, BA.4.6, made up 6.3% of cases nationally, and BA.4 regressed slightly to appear in 4.3% of sequenced cases. All other variants of the virus have effectively faded away. The US is averaging about 88,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day, down from about 129,000 a month ago.

Children’s COVID-19 cases remain critically high as school resumes

There were 79,525 confirmed child COVID-19 cases in the US last week, according to data published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. Cases among children under 18 in the US have stabilized over the past two weeks following the summer surge but remain stubbornly high after dropping around 25,000 a week in April. With the academic year starting, many schools have dropped virus mitigation measures in alignment with updated guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which no longer requires masking, testing or quarantining for asymptomatic students and staff.