Welcome to the 99th issue of the California Coronavirus Weekly Recap newsletter.  

​​​​​​In This Issue:

The Economy & Your Finances: National and state unemployment falling; CA EDD director steps down; EDD requiring proof of self-employment; CA mortgage relief fund is openSt. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard said yesterday that he could see the national unemployment rate dipping below 3 percent this year, which has not happened since the early 1950s. Over the past two months alone, unemployment has dropped 0.7 percentage points to 3.9 percent. Companies are scrambling for workers due to several factors that are limiting the number of people looking for work, including early retirements, depressed wages, rising costs of increasingly scarce childcare, and currently, the wave of the Omicron variant. Bullard did warn that the upcoming jobs report that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will release on Feb. 4 “will probably be not very good because of Omicron, but don’t be fooled. This is quite the strong economy here and a very strong labor market.” 

Initial unemployment claims in California sank from 62,274 to 54,196 for the week ending Jan. 22, a decrease of 8,078 or 12.9 percent from the prior week, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve. This is the first time in more than a month that initial claims have fallen. 

California’s Employment Development Dept. (EDD) Director Rita Saenz stepped down last Friday, after one year on the job. She will be replaced by Nancy Farias, who has been a deputy director at the department since 2020. Saenz previously led the California Dept. of Social Services in the early 2000s, and had previously been an executive at Xerox Corp., but she came out of retirement to lead the EDD in 2021 when it was overwhelmed with backlogged payments and fraudulent claims. She had only planned to stay a short time in order to implement reforms and then hand over the EDD leadership to someone else. 

The deadline for filing documentation to substantiate claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits is approaching on 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: U.S. News & World Report, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, FRED St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, Mercury News, EDD, CA Mortgage Relief 
The Market & Industry: Interest rates holding steady; fewer homes added to the MLS; Fed says it will raise interest rates several times this year 

After 5 consecutive weekly increases that saw the average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage climb by more than 50 basis points, interest rates held steady at 3.55 percent last week. That is almost 100 basis points higher than at the beginning of 2021. Looking forward, 10-year bond rates, persistent inflation, and recent policy announcements by the Federal Reserve suggest that this reprieve will likely be temporary and rates are expected to resume their upward trend in the coming weeks, which should fuel additional urgency amongst would-be homebuyers over the near term. 

Although it is likely too early to see the effect of declining case numbers on housing supply, given that the former trend is still in its infancy, it is noteworthy that the number of homes being added to the MLS each week remains relatively depressed. Last week, there were roughly 4,200 new listings added to the MLS. That compares to almost 5,000 new listings added during the final week of January 2021, which in turn was well below pre-pandemic levels. Despite this, new listings have exceeded closed sales in 3 of the last 4 weeks, which means that the number of active listings on the MLS at any given moment is finally starting to rise after falling almost consecutively since September 2021.

After their recent Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the Federal Reserve signaled that they will be taking a much more aggressive stance against inflation in the coming months. In addition to reducing the number of mortgage-backed securities on their balance sheet by the summer, there will likely be 3-4 increases in the target interest rate before the end of the year. This is expected to raise the cost of borrowing for Treasuries, which will in turn lead to higher mortgage rates for consumers.
Sources: Business Insider, C.A.R., U.S. Federal Reserve ​​​​​​

Around the State: New cases trending down; Omicron BA.2 more transmissible but not by the vaccinated; where to schedule a testing appointment 

New cases of COVID-19 finally seem to be trending downward across the nation and California, despite a rise in the new Omicron subvariant, BA.2. BA.2 seems to be more highly transmissible than the original Omicron variant (BA.1), but only by unvaccinated people, according to a initial results from a Danish study published Sunday. Vaccinated people and unvaccinated people can both catch BA.2, but because vaccinated people do not reproduce as many viral particles (virions), they are far less likely to transmit the disease to others. People who had received a booster were even less likely to transmit the virus. Currently the BA.2 subvariant does not seem to be more severe than the BA.1 variant. In some countries in Europe such as Denmark, the BA.2 variant has surpassed the BA.1 Omicron variant. Some experts predict that the BA.2 variant will extend the Omicron infection wave, without causing a whole new peak.

As of 4:34 p.m. yesterday, there had been 8,423,067 reported cases of COVID-19 in the state, for a daily average of 61,971. This is 44.7 percent lower than two weeks prior. Hospitalizations statewide are declining, at 13,367, which is 12.1 percent fewer than the last week. However, ICU usage has increased. Statewide, only 16.7 percent of ICU beds are available. California has administered 68,494,241 doses of the vaccine, and 77.3 percent of residents have received at least one dose. Over the last seven days, an average of 102,499 vaccine doses have been given per day. Among all Californians, 69.4 percent are fully vaccinated. 

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.

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: CNBC, Medrxiv.org, Today.com, Los Angeles Times, CA Dept. of Public Health, 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, Covidtests.gov
Health Check-Up: Moderna vaccine receives full FDA approval; Pfizer requests emergency use authorization for vaccine for children aged 6 mos to 5 yrs; where to schedule your booster 

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, called Spikevax, has received full approval for use in people aged 18 and older from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that the vaccine is no longer only approved by the emergency use authorization that was granted on Dec. 18, 2020, but instead has full approval. Since 2020, nearly 75 million people have completed their initial series with the Moderna vaccine, and about 38.5 million people have gotten the Moderna booster shot. The FDA’s acting commissioner said that “the public can be assured that Spikevax meets the FDA’s high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality.” The Moderna vaccines joins Pfizer’s vaccine, Comirnaty, as the second to receive full authorization. 

After urging by the U.S. FDA, Pfizer/BioNTech have requested emergency use authorization for their two-dose COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 6 months to 5 years. Until now, companies have not requested emergency use authorization because data about the effectiveness of the vaccine, which is only one-tenth the strength of an adult dose (3 micrograms, versus 30 micrograms for adults), were not deemed strong enough, yet. So far, the data has shown that the vaccines being produced are safe for children, but the companies have debated making the vaccines three doses instead of two, in order to instill immunity safely, over time. The FDA’s urgency for Pfizer to request authorization comes after the American Academy of Pediatrics reported 3.5 million pediatric cases of COVID-19 just in January of this year, for more than 11.4 million pediatric cases of COVID in the U.S. so far. Children made up 22.8 percent of the reported total cases for the week ending Jan. 27. In December, Pfizer extended its vaccine trial in young children after two child-sized doses of the vaccine did not produce the expected immunity in 2- to 5-year-olds, although it did so in babies up to age 2. The companies said that data on a third dose given at least 8 weeks after the second dose should be coming soon and will be submitted to the FDA. 

How long to keep reusing the same N95 mask? Now that the CDC has recommended that people stop using cloth masks and upgrade to N95 masks, it is harder to know how long one can keep using it. N95s give better filtration of airborne particles and thus protection against infection, but they are also costlier than cloth masks or cheaper disposable masks. Matt Carlson, safety officer for UCSF Health, recommends checking the mask regularly to see whether layers are visibly wet, soiled or dirty, or the outer edge no longer seals tightly around your face. “If the respirator is not compromised, you can safely reuse it,” he said. When in doubt, though, dispose of the old one and use a new one. Some experts say that the same mask can be used five to seven days if it is handled properly. However, if you wear it in a high-risk setting such as a health-care facility, discard it after one day.  

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, Pfizer, Los Angeles Times, CNN, San Francisco Chronicle, Health.com, MyTurn.gov, L.A. County Dept. of Public Health, SF.gov, San Diego County, Orange County, Sacramento County Dept. of Public Health