Welcome to the 92nd issue of the California Coronavirus Weekly Recap newsletter.  

​​​​​​In This Issue:

The Economy & Your Finances: U.S. unemployment falls, CA rising; EDD requiring proof of self-employmentU.S. initial claims for unemployment tumbled again last week, to 184,000, the lowest level since Sept. 1969. This was 43,000 fewer initial claims than the prior week, although the numbers are more difficult to confirm and adjust over the holidays. Data last week showed 11 million job openings at the end of October, while the jobless rate fell to 4.2 percent in November. The tight labor market might be limiting the number of layoffs that would typically occur this time of year.
However, California’s unemployment rate has increased and makes up 20 percent of the nation’s claims (for approximately 36,800 initial claims), despite having 11.7 percent of the national labor force. California’s overall unemployment rate was usually slightly higher than the national rate even before the pandemic, but experts cite lack of childcare, uncertainty about schools, and the fact that many employers have kept delaying return-to-office plans due to concerns about new variants. That has reduced the demand for restaurants and other services and retail.

Although Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits have ended, the Employment Development Department (EDD) is now requesting PUA recipients to provide documentation to prove that they were self-employed during the calendar year before and up to the start of their PUA claim. Remember, you may have to submit proof of self-employment even though PUA benefits have ended. You can upload the required documentation through the “Upload Employment Document” section on your UI Online homepage. Acceptable documents include state or federal tax identification numbers, business licenses, tax returns, business receipts or invoices, signed affidavits verifying self-employment status, contract agreements and bank statements from a business account showing self-employment. Providing more than one document may help support review of your proof of self-employment. Your deadline to submit the required documents will be on your UI Online homepage. You may be able to request more time if you have good cause, but if you don’t provide the required documentation by your due date, you may be required to repay any benefits determined to be an overpayment. 

​Sources: Reuters, CBS, EDD 
The Market & Industry: Non-white homebuyers more than half of all sales for the first time; mortgage rates rise

For the first time since statistics began being kept in 1995, non-white homebuyers made up more than half of all sales. In 2021, Asian purchasers made up 19 percent of home sales, Latino purchasers made up 18 percent, Black purchasers were 4 percent, and white purchasers were 45 percent. The low costs of borrowing in recent years, along with employers adopting more flexible remote-working policies, offer an opportunity to many non-white homebuyers to achieve their homeownership goals. Despite this improvement, there is still much that needs to be done to close the racial homeownership gap. 

Mortgage rates rose this week. The 30-year fixed rate rose to 3.25 percent an increase of 8 basis points from a week prior. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 2.52 percent. The 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage is at 3.24 percent. As a response to the rise in mortgage rates, mortgage refinance applications dropped 6 percent from the week before, which was 41 percent lower than the same week one week prior. Applications for mortgages to purchase a home increased just 1 percent last week, which was 9 percent lower than the same week one year ago.
Sources: Market Minute, CNET, CNBC

Around the State: California reissues indoor mask mandate; Omicron rising; LAUSD delays student vaccination mandate; California cases rising

California reissued a statewide mandate requiring masks in indoor public settings. The mandate applies from Wednesday, Dec. 15 until at least Saturday, Jan. 15, when the California Dept. of Public Health will make further recommendations as needed. Overall COVID-19 cases have spiked 47 percent since Thanksgiving, from 9.6 cases per 100,000 people per day to 14 cases per 100,000 per day. The reasoning for reimposing the mandate included the recent rise of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 that seems to be more easily spreadable than other variants, even among people who are fully vaccinated, and in some cases, have received the booster. 

The Omicron variant that is projected to become the dominant strain in Europe by mid-January has shown up in more places around California, including Los Angeles, San Bernadino and Ventura counties. L.A. county confirmed 15 Omicron cases, including eight new cases on Tuesday, none of which were hospitalized. While seven out of the eight showed symptoms, five of the eight were fully vaccinated, and none had received the booster shot. Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday that he expects Omicron to become the dominant strain in the United States, and that boosters and masking are the best protection.

Los Angeles Unified School District voted to delay the enforcement of its student COVID-19 vaccination requirement from Jan. 10, 2022 until the fall. About 87 percent of students 12 and older have shown proof of vaccination or received an exemption or extension, but that still left 28,000 students who would have been barred from in-person learning and enrolled in independent study. The online independent study program that LAUSD uses, City of Angels, was already overwhelmed in the fall of 2021 with 16,000 students. Shifting a vast number of students to the program in January would have meant transferring teachers from in-person classrooms to the City of Angels program, which would have disrupted programs and learning for vaccinated students remaining on campus. 

As of 2:53 a.m. today, there were 5,157,563 reported cases of COVID-19 in the state, for a daily average of 5,806. This is a steep increase of 30.4 percent from two weeks prior. Hospitalizations statewide are rising, at 3,583, an increase of 9.3 percent. Statewide, 22.4 percent of ICU beds are available. California has administered 60,486,577 doses of the vaccine, and 73.4 percent of residents have received at least one dose. Over the last 7 days, an average of  186,373 vaccination doses were given per day. Among all Californians, 66.1 percent are fully vaccinated.

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Mercury News, NY Daily News
Health Check-Up: Omicron evades two-dose vaccines, but boosters succeed; where to schedule your booster appointment 

A study out of Harvard, MIT and the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts showed that people who had received only two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna and J&J) did not seem to be able to neutralize the Omicron variant in their blood, while a study in South Africa showed that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine provided only 33 percent protection against Omicron, compared to 60 to 80 percent against the Delta and other variants. Neither study examined immunity for people who had received a booster shot. So far, the Omicron variant has been detected in 65 countries, and it seems poised to overtake Delta as the leading variant in Europe by the middle of next month. The good news is that two-dose vaccination does still seem to protect against severe illness, and that the risk of hospitalization seems to be 29 percent lower for people infected with the Omicron variant. Also, booster shots seem to greatly improve protection against even Omicron, according to two recent studies out of Israel and Australia.

California’s vaccination website, myturn.ca.gov, is offering appointments for anyone age 5 and up. Vaccinations are also available at walk-in clinics, doctors’ offices and pharmacies. Some counties have their own vaccine scheduling or information websites, such as L.A. County’s scheduling site, San Francisco’s scheduling site, San Diego County’s information site, Orange County’s information site, and Sacramento County’s information site.

Sources: Medrxiv.org,  MyTurn.gov, Mercury News, Discovery News, Biorxiv.org, L.A. County Dept. of Public Health, SF.gov, San Diego County, Orange County, Sacramento County Dept. of Public Health