Welcome to the 96th issue of the California Coronavirus Weekly Recap newsletter.  

​​​​​​In This Issue:

The Economy & Your Finances: CA and national unemployment rise; mortgage relief grant program website opens; EDD requiring proof of self-employmentCalifornia workers filed 50,900 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the week that ended on Jan. 1, which was an increase of about 2,100 from the prior week, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Across the nation, workers filed 207,000 new unemployment claims last week, an increase of 7,000 from the week before. Nationally, the jobless rate dropped from 4.2 percent in November to 3.9 percent in December. Economists warn that job growth may slow in January and February due to Omicron cases that are forcing millions of newly infected workers to stay home and quarantine. However, wages rose sharply in December, with average hourly pay jumping 4.7 percent compared the year prior.  

The online portal for the California Mortgage Relief Grant Program has launched. The $1 billion program was designed to cover overdue mortgage payments for an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 California homeowners who faced pandemic-related financial hardship after Jan. 21 2020, and could not pay their mortgages. Those eligible for assistance include California residents at or below 100 percent of their county’s Area Median Income, who own a single-family residence, condominium or permanently affixed manufactured home and meet one of the following qualifications: are receiving public assistance; are severely housing burdened; or have no alternative mortgage workout options through their mortgage servicer. The program will fully cover up to $80,000 per household for those approved.

Although Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits have ended, the Employment Development Department (EDD) is 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. 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: Times Herald, Star Tribune, CA Mortgage Relief, EDD 
The Market & Industry: Rising inflation and interest rates slow economy; CA housing sentiment rises; mortgage delinquencies fall

The U.S. economy is kicking off the new year with a slow start, with COVID cases surging and supply constraints remaining an issue. High inflation may also be putting pressure on the Fed to raise rates sooner than previously thought and the additional cost of borrowing could put more affordability burden on potential homebuyers who want to purchase in 2022.

California Housing Sentiment improved in December. Housing consumers felt more positive about buying and selling as the seasonal slowdown kicked in in December. The share of consumers surveyed who thought it was a good time to buy a home in California rose from 18 percent in November to 22 percent in December, while the percentage who thought it was a good time to sell a home inched up to 74 percent in December from 72 percent in the prior month.

Interest rates increased to the highest level in two years. With inflation rising at the fastest pace since 1982, mortgage rates had been gradually rising since August, but the narrative seemed to have changed drastically in recent weeks. The average 30-year fixed rate mortgage jumped to the highest level since May 2020 during the first week of 2022, and the daily average continued to rise sharply in the last few days.

Mortgage delinquency rates have finally fallen to the pre-pandemic level of 3.8 percent as of October 2021, thanks primarily to labor market improvements and home equity increases. According to a recent loan performance report by CoreLogic, 82 percent of the jobs lost nationally in March and April 2020 were recovered by October 2021. In October, the rate of mortgages transitioning from current on payment to 30 days past due dropped to 0.7 percent, and the serious delinquency rate (90 days or more past due, including loans in forbearance) fell to 2.2 percent.
Sources: CNBC, C.A.R., CNN, HousingWire

Around the State: Omicron surge accelerates; CA extends indoor masking mandate; Sonoma County bans large gatherings; state says COVID-positive health care workers with no symptoms can return to work; LAUSD has 65,000 positive cases; 800 LAPD out sick; where to schedule a testing appointment 

As of 4:32 a.m. today, there had been 6,399,947 reported cases of COVID-19 in the state, for a daily average of 94,097, compared to 50,308 new cases daily last week. This is 346.2 percent higher than two weeks prior. Hospitalizations statewide are rising steeply, at 11,815, an increase of 59.6 percent. ICU usage has also increased. Statewide, 21.4 percent of ICU beds are available. California has administered 65,441,826 doses of the vaccine, and 75.8 percent of residents have received at least one dose. Over the last seven days, an average of 167,020 vaccine doses have been given per day. Among all Californians, 68.1 percent are fully vaccinated.

California’s statewide indoor masking mandate has now been extended through Feb. 15, and it might be extended further. The California Dept. of Public Health orders that masks must be worn in all indoor public locations, regardless of vaccination status. In workplaces, including brokerages, employers remain subject to Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard, but the indoor masking order and any extensions still apply.

Sonoma County has banned large gatherings of more than 50 people indoors or 100 people outdoors, beginning today at 12:01am. The County also recommends (but does not require) that residents shelter in place at home and avoid contact with people outside their households for the next 30 days. These measures are undertaken to help slow the Omicron-fueled surge in coronavirus transmission. Similarly, Los Angeles County has asked residents to postpone non-essential gatherings and to avoid activities with people who are unmasked and in close contact with others. The recommendation is voluntary, and it does not affect large outdoor events like the upcoming Super Bowl that will be in Los Angeles on Feb. 13. Such events may proceed with all attendees aged 5 and older either being fully vaccinated or showing a recent, negative COVID test, and everyone must wear masks at all times except when actively eating or drinking.

A recent policy change from the California Dept. of Public Health (CDPH) will allow nurses and other medical staff to remain on the job even with a positive COVID-19 test as long as they have no symptoms. Any health care professionals who are asymptomatic and test positive for COVID-19 must wear N95 masks. All health care workers in California must be vaccinated. CDPH recommends that, if possible, health care workers who test positive be assigned to work with patients who are also positive. This new announcement is a reaction to tremendous hospital staffing shortages and crushing caseloads caused by the Omicron variant.

Although hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) students returned to campus on Tuesday after winter break, more than 62,000 students and staff did not, due to a record-breaking surge in coronavirus cases. LAUSD had required all students and staff to submit COVID-19 tests before returning to school on Tuesday, and received more than 457,000 tests, of which 65,630 were positive. The district reported that 16.6 percent of students’ tests came back positive, as were 14.9 percent of staff tests. More than 760 schools reported more than 10 cases, and more than 140 schools had more than 100 cases, and six high schools reported more than 300 cases. Anyone with a positive test was required to stay home and quarantine for a period of time. LAUSD boasts the largest weekly coronavirus testing program in the nation, testing more than 500,000 students and staff every week. About 90 percent of students 12 and older have been vaccinated.   

The Omicron surge has gutted the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Dept. (LAPD), with more than 800 personnel currently at home sick or quarantining. Police Chief Michael Moore announced on Tuesday that there were 562 new cases among department personnel in the past week alone. However, Moore also reassured the public that the department of 12,200 still has plenty of personnel to fulfill its minimum patrol requirements.

To find a COVID-19 testing site near you and learn more about testing, go to the California state health dept.’s website on testing. To find a testing site near you, click here to search by address, city, county or ZIP code, or go to your local testing site such as your county health department. For information about county testing programs, search for “[your] county COVID testing.” Some COVID-19 testing information sites: San Diego County, Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Bernadino County, Riverside County, Santa Clara County, Alameda County, Sacramento County, Contra Costa County, Fresno County, San Francisco County. While instant tests are useful for gauging risk immediately before gathering with others, they are currently in high demand and often hard to find. The free PCR tests offered by the state are more accurate and reliable than instant tests and usually return results in 1-2 days.

The L.A. County Health Dept. is providing free at-home COVID-19 tests for people who are symptomatic, or who have been in close contact with someone tested positive, but supplies are limited. These are not rapid tests – you will need to activate the kit online when you get it, collect the sample and send it back the same day to Fulgent Genetics for processing. Results will be ready in one to two days. Orange County also offers at-home testing.”

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Calif. Dept. of Public Health, San Francisco Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report, ABC News, Achieve, L.A. County Dept. of Public Health, San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, Orange County Health Care Agency, San Bernadino County Dept. of Public Health, Riverside University Health System, County of Santa Clara Public Health Dept., Alameda County Health Care Services Agency Public Health Dept., Sacramento County Dept. of Health Services, Contra Costa Health Services, Fresno County Dept. of Public Health, San Francisco Dept. of Public Health
Health Check-Up: COVID hospitalizations at record high; Omicron spreads before tests detect it; where to schedule your booster appointment 

Across the nation, COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached a record high, surpassing the previous record from January 2021, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Currently 145,982 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, which is twice as many as two weeks ago. Nearly 24,000 ICU beds are occupied with COVID-19 patients. The number of children hospitalized with the coronavirus, at nearly 5,000, has also nearly doubled previous records. Hospitalization rates are 17 times higher for people who are unvaccinated than for those who are fully vaccinated.

Although over the holidays, many health experts urged people to use hard-to-find rapid tests just before and soon after gatherings, some experts now think that Omicron might be so infectious that it spreads before symptoms appear and before rapid tests or even PCR tests show positive results. While that was potentially true for prior COVID-19 variants, Omicron shows highly accelerated infectivity. Epidemiologist and former professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Dr. Michael Mina recently wrote that for people who show signs of illness, the virus may grow in the throat before the nose and symptoms seem to start much earlier after exposure than with earlier variants — as little as just one to two days after exposure, with contagiousness starting just two days after exposure. Surprisingly, Mina suggests that symptoms may start earlier for someone who has been vaccinated or who has had prior exposure to the virus, because their immune system has been trained to recognize the virus. However, their illness is likely to be less severe.

There are several things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from the COVID-19 virus, say experts. The first is to get vaccinated and boosted. Although boosters may or may not protect one from catching the Omicron strain of the virus, all available vaccinations and boosters do still protect against severe illness. Next, if you have any symptoms such as headache, scratchy throat, fever, or exhaustion, stay home. Third, wear surgical-grade masks (N95, KN95, or KF94) at all times – cotton masks aren’t good enough protection. Finally, gather outdoors instead of indoors if at all possible and avoid gatherings with unmasked and unvaccinated people. 

To get vaccinated or boosted, visit California’s vaccination website, myturn.ca.gov, which is offering appointments for people aged 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:  Mercury News, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Fortune, UCSF Dept. of Medicine, California State Dept. of Public Health, New York Times,  MyTurn.gov, L.A. County Dept. of Public Health, SF.gov, San Diego County, Orange County, Sacramento County Dept. of Public Health