In California: San Francisco nears herd immunity; beware vaccine lottery scams

I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, coming to you from a cabin in beautiful woods of Idyllwild. Here are some of today’s headlines from the Golden State.

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Beware California COVID vaccine lottery scammers

Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Sen. Richard Pan, left, and UC Davis Assistant Nurse Manager Claudio Alvarado, center, hold a mock check as the state drew the first 15 winners to be awarded $50,000 for getting vaccinated against COVID-19 on Friday in Sacramento. (Photo: Paul Kitagaki Jr., Sacramento Bee via AP)

Officials in the Golden State are warning people about scams related to California’s $116.5 million COVID-19 vaccine incentive lottery.

Last week, the first 15 winners were announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Each will be receiving $50,000. To protect the privacy of the individuals, only their counties of residence were disclosed to the public. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) was expected to notify each winner.

By Monday, however, members of the public had reported receiving messages from scammers claiming to be state officials. Some reportedly were asked to provide bank information while others were told they needed to pay a fee in order to verify their eligibility.

Authorities say these requests are bogus. “The California Department of Public Health is asking Californians to be aware of and to quickly report any indications of possible fraudulent or other questionable activities by individuals attempting to take advantage of the state’s recently announced COVID-19 vaccination incentive programs,” the agency said via news release.

KTLA 5 reports that people receiving scam messages related to the vaccine incentive program should email [email protected] or call the “Vax for the Win” incentives hotline at (833) 993-3873.

Fifteen more $50,000 winners will be announced Friday. And the final drawing on June 15 will will land 10 lucky winners $1.5 million apiece.

California regulators reconsider mask standard for workers

FILE – In this May 20, 2021, file photo, a worker wears a mask while setting up a fruit display amid the COVID-19 pandemic at The Farmers' Market in Los Angeles. Business and agricultural groups are renewing their criticism of new rules adopted by California Gov. Gavin Newsom's workplace regulators. But there is little chance they can quickly change them unless Newsom steps in, which he seemed disinclined to do Friday, June 4. Critics say the rules conflict with the state's broader lifting of masking and other pandemic precautions in less than two weeks. They mean workers will have to wear masks unless every employee in the room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) (Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP)

Californians who are vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to go without face masks in most situations starting next week, state officials confirmed Wednesday. The L.A. Times reported that the change will go into effect Tuesday — the state’s long-awaited “full reopening” date — and finally bring the Golden State into alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

But workplace rules were still a bit in limbo Wednesday evening. California’s workplace regulators were set to once again reconsider controversial masking rules designed to protect employees against the coronavirus.

The Associated Press reported that a “special meeting’’ of the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board was hastily scheduled for Wednesday evening after State Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón sent a letter to the panel reiterating the state’s plans to follow federal guidance.

Aragón said the state will do away with virtually all social distancing requirements and drop the mask requirement for people who are vaccinated while “requiring face coverings for all unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses.”

That policy conflicts with the board’s vote last week to allow workers to go maskless only if every employee in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, a dozen business groups, including the California Retailers Association and organizations representing manufacturers, farmers, tourism interests and other industries, sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him to immediately issue an emergency order rescinding the board’s regulations, called Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), and putting state workplaces in compliance with federal guidelines.

Without such action, the groups said the state’s economy won’t fully reopen next week as Newsom has said.

San Francisco might be the first major U.S. city to reach herd immunity

As of Wednesday, June 9, 2021, 69% of San Francisco residents were said be fully vaccinated. (Photo: pexels.com)

San Francisco is reportedly close to reaching a COVID-19 benchmark of 70% of eligible residents fully vaccinated. Does that mean it will become the first city in the U.S. to reach herd immunity?

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that while the definition of herd immunity varies, most agree that in order for a virus to stop spreading, at least 70% of the population needs to be immune. And as of Wednesday, 69% of San Francisco residents were said to be fully vaccinated with 79% of people 12 and older having received at least one dose.

What exactly does that mean? It means that coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths would be considered to be at insignificant levels. And if an unvaccinated person showed up infected, it likely wouldn’t cause an uncontrollable outbreak.

Is herd immunity in San Francisco possible? Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert with UCSF, believes it is.

“I do believe we are on track to be the first city to achieve herd immunity,” she said. “This happened in Israel, which has now fully reopened after an 81% first vaccination rate and is still not seeing increased cases despite free mingling of vaccinated and unvaccinated. Our high rates of immunity mean we are not susceptible to new infections even with travel here.”

Elsewhere in San Francisco, the owner of Ritual Coffee, a popular café, has fired her own husband for using a racial slur at work.

Eileen Rinaldi said her husband John “Chicken John” Rinaldi, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of the city against Gavin Newsom in 2007, will no longer be involved in the company in any capacity.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Chicken John admitted to using the slur during an argument with a Black man over a parking spot, but says he merely repeated the offensive word after the man used it first. Read the full article here.

Sex offender who won release after waiting 17 years for trial is rearrested

Handcuffs, gavel (Photo: Getty Images)

A registered sex offender who was freed after a judge said his right to a speedy trial was violated by a 17-year delay — yes, you read that correctly — has been charged with sexually abusing two children in California’s Central Valley.

In 1994, Jorge Vasquez was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading no contest to molesting four boys ages 6 to 8, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing court records.

In 2000, Los Angeles County prosecutors sought to have him indefinitely committed to a state hospital as a sexually violent predator. But Vasquez never received a trial date, as five different public defenders assigned over a period of 17 years each requested a trial delay.

In 2018, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Bianco granted a motion to dismiss the case against Vasquez, ruling his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated, according to the Times.

Less than six months after his release from Coalinga State Hospital, Vasquez abused another child, said Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward. According to a criminal complaint made public Tuesday, Vasquez has been charged with eight counts of child molestation for allegedly fondling two boys between June 2018 and this week.

He was arrested Sunday by police in the San Joaquin Valley city of Porterville and could face up to life in prison if convicted.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: Associated Press, KTLA 5, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow with the latest headlines.

As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and people who give back in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at [email protected]

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