Google brings back in-office perks, including massages and gyms

The number of new coronavirus cases in the Bay Area has fallen by nearly 80% since the beginning of the month,yet all but three counties in the region still have high or substantial transmission rates, as does most of California. New research on the waning immunity of COVID boosters is prompting many people to wonder whether they should seek a second booster shot. A Bay Area internist accused of giving COVID-19 vaccines to people not yet eligible for them during the height of the pandemic was cleared of the charge by state officials.

Google brings back in-office perks, including massages and gyms: Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. said on Wednesday that it plans to restore office perks, such as massage services and fitness centers, as it lures workers back into its Mountain View headquarters and other spaces in the region. “Based on current conditions in the Bay Area, we’re pleased that our employees who choose to come in now have the ability to access more onsite spaces and services to work and connect with colleagues,” the company said in a statement to Reuters. Google said that working in its offices remains voluntary and those who choose to do so must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Queen Elizabeth II postpones more engagements: As the 95-year-old British monarch continues to experience cold-like symptoms from COVID-19, Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II has been forced to postpone two scheduled virtual audiences on Thursday. The queen, who is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and has received a booster shot, tested positive on Sunday. It was the second time this week that she had canceled virtual sessions. The country’s longest-reigning monarch is scheduled to host a March 2 reception at Windsor with hundreds of diplomats, according to the Associated Press.

The fight in California over school mask mandates is heating up with districts and families defying the rules: In a state that has largely backed its public health leaders in the long and wearisome battle against COVID-19, one topic has proved more polarizing among Californians than almost any other: masking kids in schools. Read the full story here.

CDC to unveil new metrics for assessing virus risk: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will change the way it assesses “community levels of disease” for COVID-19 as early as Friday, according to a source inside the agency who spoke with CNN. The updated metrics will help many counties nationwide to move closer to lifting safety measures aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus, such as mask mandates. By the current standards, 97% of the counties in the U.S. are at substantial or high levels of virus transmission — tiers for which the agency recommends masking indoors. The agency will move away from looking at case rates and positive test rates in determining virus risk, according to the source, and also incorporate hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths in each region.

L.A. County drops mask mandate for businesses that verify vaccination: Businesses and venues in Los Angeles County that verify vaccination status will be allowed to make masking indoors optional for fully vaccinated customers and workers beginning Friday, according to a modified order issued by the health department. “With lower rates of hospital admissions and COVID hospitalizations, it is appropriate in settings verifying vaccination or negative test status, that we transition to strongly recommending masking instead of requiring masking,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, in a statement.

Vaccine demand in U.S. falters following omicron surge: The average number of Americans getting their first shot of a vaccine against COVID-19 has fallen to about 90,000 a day, according to federal data — the lowest number since December 2020, when shots were available on a limited basis. Nearly 25% of the eligible U.S. population has not yet received even one dose of vaccine, and more than 35% are not fully vaccinated. The trend doesn’t appear likely to reverse anytime soon as government leaders have abandoned incentive programs and some vaccine mandates. Demand for shots has bottomed out, especially in conservative regions and among communities of color where distrust of the government runs deep, according to a report by the Associated Press. In California, about 74% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, with only 56.3% having received a booster dose, which health officials say is critical in protecting against omicron, especially as the state winds down other COVID-19 mitigation measures.

CDC recommends waiting 8 weeks between initial vaccine doses: Some people getting Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines should consider waiting up to eight weeks between the first and second doses, instead of the three or four weeks previously recommended, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in guidance it quietly updated on Tuesday. Officials said they were reacting to research showing that the longer interval can provide more enduring protection against the coronavirus, the Associated Press reports. Research suggests that 12- to 64-year-olds — especially males ages 12 to 39 — can benefit from the longer spacing, the CDC said. The original, shorter interval is still recommended for people with weakened immune systems; people 65 and older; and anyone who needs fast protection due to risk of severe disease.

Up to 12,800 Americans may die of COVID-19 by mid-March: The number of newly reported COVID-19 deaths will likely decrease over the next 4 weeks according to federal forecasts, with 5,400 to 12,800 new deaths likely reported in the week ending March 19. The national ensemble used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that a total of 963,000 to 983,000 COVID-19 deaths will have been reported by that date. California is forecast to see between 500 to 1,500 additional COVID deaths over the same period, bringing the state tally of lives lost closer to 90,000.