Welcome to the 100th issue of the California Coronavirus Weekly Recap newsletter.
In This Issue:
- The Economy & Your Finances: Economy adds more jobs than expected; CA unemployment rises, national unemployment falls; EDD requiring proof of self-employment; CA mortgage relief fund is open
- The Market & Industry: Mortgage rates steady for now; consumers less likely to buy, more likely to sell now; rate surge spurs flurry of refinancing
- Around the State: New cases dropping by half each week; CA lifts indoor mask requirement for the vaccinated; L.A. County keeps masking requirement for now; FDA to consider vaccines for the youngest on Feb. 15; how to order a free COVID-19 test
- Health Check-Up: Croup more common for children with Omicron; half of study’s infected participants become ill, half don’t; where to schedule your booster
The Economy & Your Finances: Economy adds more jobs than expected; CA unemployment rises, national unemployment falls; EDD requiring proof of self-employment; CA mortgage relief fund is openThe U.S. economy added 467,000 jobs in January despite surging Omicron cases which seemed to have sidelined millions of workers. The gain in nonfarm payroll was well ahead of the consensus of 150,000 estimated by Wall Street. Job growth in November and December was also revised upward by 709,000 from their previously reported figures combined. For the year 2021, employers added 6.67 million jobs, which was the highest single-year gain in U.S. history. Strong gains in employment, along with a sharp increase in wage growth at 5.7%, could pave the way for the U.S. central bank to raise rates sooner than later.
California workers filed slightly more initial unemployment claims for the week ending Jan. 29, up to 55,300 from 54,200 for the week prior. Nationwide, workers filed 238,000 initial claims that week, a decrease of 23,000 from the week prior. California accounted for 23 percent of all new claims in the U.S.
The deadline for filing documentation to substantiate claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits is tomorrow: Feb. 10. Although PUA benefits have ended and were only granted for weeks through Sept. 4, 2021, and although the last day to apply for a claim for weeks prior to Sept. 4 was Oct. 6, the Employment Development Department (EDD) is in some cases requesting PUA recipients 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. C.A.R. is providing a sample letter/email and affidavit template to accompany the rest of your documentation of self-employment (note that you must be logged into car.org in order to download the document). The documents are also available on C.A.R.’s page of legal forms related to COVID-19. 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. You may be able to request more time if you have good cause, but if you don’t provide the required documentation, you may be required to repay any benefits determined to be an overpayment.
The online portal for the California Mortgage Relief Grant Program is live. The program will fully cover up to $80,000 per household for those approved, paid directly to the loan servicer. Those eligible for assistance include California homeowners who faced pandemic-related financial hardship after Jan. 21, 2020, and could not pay their mortgages, if those residents are also at or below 100 percent of their county’s Area Median Income; 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.
Sources: Mercury News, EDD, C.A.R. Market Minute, CA Mortgage Relief
The Market & Industry: Mortgage rates steady for now; consumers less likely to buy, more likely to sell now: rate surge spurs flurry of refinancing
For the third consecutive week, mortgage rates remained flat with the average 30-year fixed rate reported weekly by Freddie Mac staying at 3.55 percent. Daily rates, which had been relatively stable for a couple weeks, started rising rapidly however after the big monthly jobs report. With the jobs numbers coming in much higher than the average forecast, the market responded accordingly with bond yields surging to their highest levels in more than two years. According to Mortgage News Daily, the average lender is now quoting conventional 30-year fixed rates in the neighborhood of 3.75-3.875 percent.
Consumers are feeling less positive about buying in the housing market at the start of the year, as prices remain elevated and mortgage rates continue their upward trajectory. C.A.R.’s monthly survey showed home buying sentiment in California dipped to 19 percent after reaching an eight-month high of 22 percent in December. It was the eighth time in the past nine months that less than 20 percent of respondents said now is a good time to buy a home. With housing supply not expected to rise meaningfully and home prices projected to increase further in 2022, heated market competition and low housing affordability continue to be the utmost concerns for many buyers. Nearly three quarters of all respondents, on the other hand, said now is a good time to sell.
The surge in rates since the beginning of 2022 motivated more homeowners to refinance, resulting in an increase in mortgage applications by 12 percent from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association survey for the week ending January 28. The index for purchase applications, meanwhile, increased 4 percent from the week before but dipped 6.7 percent from a year ago. Housing demand may have slowed down from a year ago because of higher rates, but the increase in purchase applications implies that there is still plenty of buying interest in the market. The average loan size for purchase applications reached a new high at $441,100, as low inventory continues to push up home prices by double-digit growth rate at the national level.
Sources: Mortgage News Daily, C.A.R., C.A.R. Market Minute
Around the State: New cases dropping by half each week; CA lifts indoor mask requirement for vaccinated; L.A. County keeps masking requirement for now; FDA to consider vaccines for the youngest on Feb. 15; how to order a free COVID-19 test
As new cases of COVID-19 drop in every state including California and as daily cases keep dropping by half each week, the state will lift its indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people starting Feb. 16, but schoolchildren will still be required to wear masks. Everyone, vaccinated or not, will still be required to wear masks in higher-risk places such as public transit, nursing homes, hospitals, and congregate living facilities. State officials announced that indoor “mega events” with more than 1,000 people will have to require proof of vaccination or negative tests, and those who are unvaccinated will be required to wear masks. For outdoor events with more than 10,000 people, there is no vaccination requirement but masks or negative tests are recommended. The state is also lifting a requirement that people produce a negative coronavirus test before visiting hospitals and nursing homes, effective now.
Despite lifting the state requirement, some counties or cities will extend their masking requirements, such as Los Angeles and possibly the Bay Area. L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced on Tuesday that indoor masking will remain mandatory probably for several more weeks — possibly until the end of April — until two conditions trigger lifting the indoor mask mandate. The first condition would be if the county falls below 730 new cases a day, then two weeks later the indoor mask mandate might be lifted. Currently, LA county is averaging 9,500 new cases a day, but case rates seem to be dropping in half about every week. If this pace continues, the goal of 730 cases a day could be reached in mid-March. The second condition would be if eight weeks elapse after children aged 6 months to 4 years become eligible for the vaccine.
An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering the vaccine for children aged 6 months through 4 years old on Feb. 15, and an advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is meeting the following week. So, it is possible that the vaccines could become available by the end of February. That would mean that L.A. could lift its mask order by the end of April.
As of 10:28 a.m. yesterday, there had been 8,702,816 reported cases of COVID-19 in the state, for a daily average of 30,601. This is 70.5 percent lower than two weeks prior. Hospitalizations statewide are declining, at 10,412, which is 22.1 percent fewer than the last week. Statewide, only 16.8 percent of ICU beds are available. California has administered 69,081,491 doses of the vaccine, and 77.6 percent of residents have received at least one dose. Over the last seven days, an average of 80,969 vaccine doses have been given per day. Among all Californians, 69.8 percent are fully vaccinated.
To order free at-home COVID-19 tests, you can order from either of two websites, covidtests.gov or the U.S. Post Office site, or call the hotline sponsored by the federal government: 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7498, for the hearing impaired). The phone line operates from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pacific time (8 a.m. to midnight Eastern time). Orders have begun shipping, should take approximately 7-12 days to ship, and both the tests and the shipping are free. Generally, rapid antigen tests can be stored prior to use between a few months and a year. Check the expiration date on the box and do not use tests after they have expired because they will not work. Also, check the storage instructions on the box, as some need to be stored in the refrigerator while others can be stored at room temperature.
Sources: KESQ, L.A. Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, U.S. FDA, Covidtests.gov
Health Check-Up: Croup more common for children with Omicron; half of study’s infected participants become ill, half don’t; where to schedule your booster
Pediatricians around the U.S. are reporting an increase in the number of children with croup, possibly caused by the Omicron variant. Croup is often brought on by respiratory viruses that cause inflammation of the voicebox, windpipe and bronchial tubes. Children with croup have a loud, distinctive cough that sounds like a barking seal, and regular breathing can produce a high-pitched whistle known as stridor. In January, Dr. Ashley Keilman, a specialist in pediatric emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and other doctors started noticing an uptick in pediatric patients with croup as more were testing positive for COVID. In some cases, the symptoms cleared up after about five days, but for some children, the symptoms don’t go away with just rest and treatment at home. Dr. Claudia Hoyen, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland who is not involved with the study, said that croup season in her area typically hits in the fall, so when more kids started showing up with croup in December, during the Omicron wave, she suspected that something was different with this variant. “We know that your nasal tissues are much more receptive to Omicron, and the lung is not,” Hoyen said. “We’ve not seen croup with other surges.” Fortunately, most kids with croup have not needed to be admitted to the hospital, and if they needed treatment, doctors gave them a corticosteroid that reduced inflammation in the respiratory tract. Dr. Keilman’s study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
A recent study in the United Kingdom, reported in the prestigious science journal Nature, gave 34 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 36 very low doses of COVID-19 Delta virus – roughly as much virus as might be in one single droplet of nasal fluid – and observed the volunteers in order to study who got sick and why. Researchers anticipated that the small dose might not be enough to infect the majority of patients, but more than half of the volunteers developed COVID-19, and the rest did not. The virus replicated incredibly rapidly in those who became infected: on average, people developed the first symptoms and tested positive on PCR tests less than two days after exposure. This is far shorter than the five-day incubation period documented in the real world by global health authorities. Symptoms including sore throat, sneezing and runny nose typically persisted for 9 to 12 days. Fever was less common, and no one developed the persistent cough that had been used as a hallmark of the disease. Around 70 percent of infected participants lost their sense of smell or taste. Five participants did not regain their sense of smell or taste for 6 months, and one for more than 9 months. Some people did not develop symptoms at all but had as much virus in their upper respiratory systems as people who were ill, and their infections lasted as long. Some participants had very low levels of the virus for a short time, but their immune systems were able to fight it off. Researchers now are working to understand why some people were able to fight off the infection. One possibility is that some people who had previously been infected with coronaviruses that cause the common cold might have gained the ability to fight off COVID-19. Another possibility is that some people’s innate immune systems might not require encounters with a particular pathogen. Study participants were paid £4,565 (U.S. $ 6,200) for their participation, and they were kept in quarantine in a high-isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
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: Nature, Research Square, L.A. County Dept. of Public Health, SF.gov, San Diego County, Orange County, Sacramento County Dept. of Public Health