New COVID-19 cases plummet in California, Blue Shield steps in to help with vaccines – USA TODAY

I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, bringing you the latest headlines on this mid-month Monday.

In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.

New COVID-19 cases plummet in California

A person is wearing safety gloves while inserting a swab into a test tube.

California reported fewer coronavirus cases in the week ending Sunday, adding 67,859 new cases. That’s down 27.6% from the previous week’s toll of 93,718 new cases.

According to a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, California ranked No. 25 among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis. In the latest week, the United States added 632,914 reported cases of coronavirus, a decrease of 22.9% from the week before.

In the Golden State, cases fell in 47 counties, with the steepest declines in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties. The worst weekly outbreaks on a per-person basis were in Kern, Colusa and Inyo counties.

In California, 2,902 people were reported dead of COVID-19 in the week ending Sunday. In the previous week, 3,227 people were reported dead.

A total of 3,485,841 people in California have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and 47,057 people have died from the disease. In the United States 27,640,282 people have tested positive and 485,336 people have died.

California’s new $15M contract with Blue Shield

A nurse checks a prepared Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine dose prior to being administer at a Riverside County vaccine clinic in Indio, Calif., on February 10, 2021.

The Sacramento Bee reports that Californians could pay Blue Shield up to $15 million to increase and accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations under a contract the Newsom administration released Monday afternoon.

Monday marks the first day of work for the insurance company in its position as California’s official “third party administrator” for vaccine distribution.

While the contract allows Blue Shield to bill the state up to $15 million in third-party costs and non-staff costs, staff time will be provided for free.

The contract also sets the following vaccination goals:

  • 95% of urban residents should not have to travel more than half an hour to reach a distribution site. Residents in rural areas should travel no more than one hour.
  • Vaccines should be made available to people who can’t leave their homes in all 58 counties.
  • 95% of vaccine doses should be administered within a week of receiving them.
  • California should be able to distribute 3 million vaccines per week by March 1, and 4 million per week by April 30, if supplies allow.

Low attendance in kindergarten creates problem for first -graders

Landau Elementary School kindergarten teacher Marci Danielson gives live instruction during Palm Springs Unified School Districts' first day of distance learning in Cathedral City, Calif., on Wednesday, August 5, 2020.

Because the coronavirus pandemic kept kids out of school for most of 2020, there are thousands of California students who are “ready” for first grade even though they didn’t attend kindergarten. Officials believe that this will put even more stress on an already stressed education system.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that while California is one of 32 states that doesn’t require a kid to attend kindergarten in order to qualify for first grade, experts have become more vocal about the problems of missing this typical entrée into school learning. They say children who skip kindergarten arrive in first grade behind their peers in key areas such as reading.

According to Gennie Gorback, president-elect of the California Kindergarten Association, kids who have never been in an organized education setting need kindergarten in order to learn how to “do school”: “Things like how to sit crisscross applesauce, raise hands to get called on or to form a line. You don’t naturally know that, it takes time,” she said.

“This early learning window is so important for learning critical skills,” said Jenny Hontz, a parent and spokeswoman for Speak Up, a Los Angeles parent advocate group. “It could take years for the kids to catch up, and some kids may be permanently harmed by this.”

Meanwhile, State Sen. Susan Rubio, D- Baldwin Park in Los Angeles County is behind a bill currently in Sacramento that, if passed, will make kindergarten mandatory in California.

California to do away with youth prisons


It’s been 80 years since the Golden State created youth prisons to keep teenagers from being incarcerated with adults. But now the state says they’re planning to shut down the long-troubled, isolated youth facilities in favor of local rehabilitation centers.

The Los Angeles Times reports that planned dismantling of the Division of Juvenile Justice comes after years of scandal and mistreatment of young offenders. In July, the three extant facilities — two in Stockton and one in Ventura — will stop taking new prisoners, with rare exceptions, and in July 2023 they are expected to close.

This will shift the responsibility of juvenile justice from state authorities to local ones. And while some counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have announced intentions to lock up fewer young people convicted of crimes, officials haven’t yet decided what to do with teenagers convicted of murder and other serious felonies.

Meanwhile, the state has pledged more than $200 million per year to help local governments pay for the housing and caring for those who previously would have ended up in DJJ’s prisons.

Claudia Conway auditions for ‘American Idol’

Claudia Conway on "American Idol."

ABC’s singing competition returned Sunday night with a premiere that saw Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie back in the (socially distanced) judges’ seats. But they weren’t the only familiar faces.

Claudia Conway, the 16-year-old daughter of former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and attorney George Conway, walked into the “Idol” audition room hoping to score a prized golden ticket to Hollywood

Conway currently has more than 1.7 million followers on TikTok and has made national headlines for posting videos on the site critical of former President Donald Trump.

Conway’s first song got off to a bad start, but after a pep talk from Perry, the young hopeful showed improvement in her second song.

When it came time to vote, Bryan was a no but Perry and Richie were both yesses, which means unless there are alternative facts we aren’t aware of, Conway earned herself a spot in the next round.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee, 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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