Push for post-pandemic normalcy gives the economy a boost

Push for normalcy gives the economy a boost: Employers in the United States added 678,000 jobs in February, the largest monthly total since July, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As government leaders push for a return to normalcy, scaling back restrictions and lifting vaccination requirements, the number of unemployed people edged down to 6.3 million, dropping to 3.8%, from 4% in January. The rate is now at its lowest level since before the COVID-19 pandemic jolted the U.S. economy and caused a nationwide shutdown of businesses. By comparison, in February 2020, the unemployment rate was 3.5% and the number of unemployed was 5.7 million. “All signs are that the pandemic is easing its hold on jobs and the economy,” Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation and a former Labor Department official, told the Associated Press. “Very strong numbers in very uncertain times.”

Los Angeles County ends indoor mask mandate: Public health officials in Los Angeles County lifted a universal indoor mask mandate on Friday, a day after the region was advanced into the “low” COVID-19 risk tier by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California’s most populous county was one of the few in the state to maintain stricter masking rules after the state lifted mask requirements for vaccinated people in most indoor public spaces on Feb. 16. The masking requirement will remain in place for high-risk settings, such as health care facilities and aboard public transit. Even though the county will align with the state and lift the mask mandate for schools on March 12, the Los Angeles Unified School District is expected to require face coverings school buildings until the end of the academic year.

Bay Area rents are approaching pre-COVID levels: As of February, San Mateo rents have shot up nearly 17% from the same time a year ago, to a median $2,370 for a one-bedroom apartment and $3,220 for a two-bedroom, according to new data from Apartment List. It was the biggest local annual leap in Bay Area rents, which analysts say are poised to keep climbing this spring and summer as white-collar workers are urged back to offices at least part-time. Read the full story here. 

What will it take for S.F. public schools to drop the mask mandate? Officials won’t say: San Francisco private schools and many Bay Area districts expect to abandon mask mandates later this month, but the city’s public school district has decided against the change and declined to provide details or dates for when their 49,000 students will be able to drop face coverings. Read the full story here.

CDC releases updated county COVID ratings as Bay Area improves: Less than a week after rolling out revised masking recommendations and a new system for assessing community COVID risk, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released updated figures showing continued progress against the virus in the Bay Area. Of the nine counties bordering the bay, six are in the lowest risk tier, including San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma. Santa Clara County, which was judged in the medium, or “moderate” tier last week, has now also joined the others in the safest category, but Alameda has slipped back from low to moderate. Napa and Solano, which were the only Bay Area counties at the highest risk level last week, are now rated in the middle as well. Outside the Bay Area, Santa Cruz County remains at medium, while Monterey Country improved two positions from high risk to low risk.

Berkeley, Alameda County will lift school mask mandate: Health officials from Alameda County and the City of Berkeley said Thursday they would align with guidance from the California Department of Public Health and remove the indoor mask mandate for K-12 schools and child care settings on March 12. Individual school districts will decide whether to follow suit. They acknowledged that the decision may cause worry for some families, especially in communities hardest hit by the pandemic. “Our work advancing and protecting the health of the most impacted residents and supporting safe in-person education will not stop, and we will continue to partner with community representatives to push for better access to accurate COVID-19 information, vaccinations, testing, treatment and high-quality masks that offer more protection to those who want or need it,” Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County Health Officer, said in a statement. He added that coronavirus cases are declining following the winter omicron surge, but that “new surges that threaten public health and the lives of vulnerable residents may call for quick and assertive action and a new requirement to mask.”

Marin County to lift school mask mandate: Public health officials from Marin County said on Thursday that they will join the state in lifting the indoor mask mandate at K-12 schools and early child care settings on March 12. But the county’s health department will continue to strongly recommend that masks are worn in those settings. “Most importantly, parents and guardians should keep sick students home,” said Dr. Lisa Santora, the County’s Deputy Public Health Officer. “They should test for COVID, follow isolation guidance if they test positive, or if they test negative, stay home until symptoms are resolving.” About 71% of children in Marin County between the ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, but there are still wide racial and ethnic disparities: only 52% of Latino and 24% of Black and African American children have received at least one dose. It’s now up to the county’s schools to set their own rules about masks.

S.F. to remove indoor mask requirement for city buildings: Indoor masking will no longer be required in San Francisco city buildings and facilities, including City Hall, beginning on March 18. That includes libraries, recreation centers and offices. The mandate will remain in place for public hearing rooms while in session. The San Francisco Department of Public Health said it is following state guidance in strongly recommending but not requiring unvaccinated individuals to wear masks in most indoor public settings. Masks are still required in health care settings, congregate settings such as correctional facilities and homeless shelters, and long-term care facilities. Federal and state law continues to require masks to be worn on transit vehicles and at transit facilities through March 18, unless extended.

More than 90% of U.S. population can go mask free, CDC says: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday updated its COVID-19 community levels map, placing about 93% of the U.S. population in locations where COVID-19 risk levels are low enough that people do not need to wear masks indoors. The agency eased its metrics on Friday, allowing people who live in counties designated as having low to medium COVID-levels to remove their face coverings inside public spaces. The initial tally put 72% of the U.S. population in the lower transmission tiers.

Vaccine demand plummets in the U.S.: The number of Americans who received their first COVID-19 vaccine continues to fall sharply, with only 5,531 people in the United States getting their shots on Wednesday, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The average number of daily shots being administered across the country is now at about 41,000 — a steep fall from an average of 400,000 daily shots given in December and the lowest point since the U.S. vaccination campaign began. The California Department of Public Health told the Associated Press it has disposed of around 1.4 million expired and unused vaccine doses to date. A study published Thursday by the CDC finds vaccination coverage is still lagging in most rural areas: only 58.5% of those eligible have had even a first dose of the primary vaccination series, compared to 75.4% in urban counties. The disparities have increased more than twofold since April 2021. Demand is likely to continue falling as many state and local leaders look to revive their economies by abandoning vaccination mandates and public programs meant to boost uptake.

S.F. mayor pushes for a return to in-person work: Mayor London Breed is doubling down on her commitment to bring employees back into offices in San Francisco. In a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders, Breed on Thursday announced a “Welcome Back to SF” program, aimed at promoting the economic recovery of the Financial District, East Cut, Union Square, Yerba Buena, Civic Center, and Mission Bay neighborhoods after two years of remote work. “We are excited to welcome people back to downtown to work, to dine, and to experience the arts and culture that make this city special,” Breed said. “This March is the start of a new beginning for this city, and I want to thank all the businesses and workers who are committed to supporting our city and our small businesses.” At the urging of the mayor’s office, some companies that have agreed to require employees to return to in-person work beginning March 7 include Bank of America, Blackrock, Gap, the Golden State Warriors, Google, JP Morgan Chase, Mastercard, Meta, Microsoft, Orrick, Salesforce, Uber, United Airlines, Visa, and Wells Fargo.