57% of Small Business Owners Believe Remote Work Will Continue After Stay-at-Home Orders Lifted

57% of Small Business Owners Believe Remote Work Will Continue ...

Source: Small Business Trends, by Sandeep Rathore

Are you thinking about allowing your employees to work from home post the COVID-19 pandemic? If yes, then you are among more than half of small business owners who are planning to do the same.

According to the latest survey from Intermedia, 57% of SMB owners said they are likely to continue increased remote working options for employees in the long term. What’s more, SMB owners have observed that employee availability has increased by 19% by shifting to remote work.

Remote Work After Pandemic

Needless to say, remote working policies benefit small businesses in many ways, but not all small businesses have tried remote working policies before the coronavirus pandemic.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most small businesses had to voluntarily or mandatorily allow their employees to work from home. As a result, more small business owners have realized the advantages of remote working and planned to implement it post the pandemic.

Key Findings of the Survey

Early findings of the survey indicate that small businesses are getting benefits from remote working. And more than half (57%) of SMBs plan to adopt remote working options for employees in the long term.

Being a small business owner yourself, you should also offer your employees an option to work remotely if it is feasible. Doing so can make your employees happier.

SMB owners have found that, after shifting to remote working, employee availability has gone up by 19% and life satisfaction by 7%, the survey states. What’s more, SMB owners have also witnessed falling in overhead costs.

According to the survey, business owners said that workers’ attitudes have improved, and employees are happier while working remotely.

However, most small businesses (94%) said that in-person meetings played an important role in growing business in the last two years.

The survey also indicates that SMBs are turning to technology for face-to-face interactions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Only 57% of SMBs relied on video conferencing pre-pandemic time, while 84% of business owners are using video conferencing now to offer face-to-face interactions in COVID-19 world, the survey points out.

Intermedia said in its prepared statement, “embracing remote work has been a love-hate relationship for many SMB owners. With new technology allowing workers to work from wherever and whenever more than ever before, employers have had to balance this reality against having the peace of mind that frequently comes from being in the same physical space as your employees.

“COVID-19 has certainly made us reexamine the entire concept of work, illustrating that many jobs can be done remotely without sacrificing productively. More business owners realize that employee availability and job satisfaction can remain high, if not increase, within a remote working environment…even after the pandemic passes,” the company’s statement concluded.

How to Make Your Remote Team Feel Connected

My friend, remote working is not just a temporary fix. Owing to multiple benefits remote working offers, more and more small business owners are going to implement remote working policies.

However, remote employees can sometimes feel lonely and left out, which can affect their productivity. So you should go extra miles to make your remote team feel connected to boost productivity.

Following are some tips that can help:

  • * Start using state-of-art communication tools
  • * Hold weekly video meetings
  • * Implement fun activities virtually
  • * Plan half-yearly or annually company retreat
  • * Organize online video games for remote players
  • * Encourage video calls as much as possible

Remote working doesn’t have to be isolating. Give your remote workers tools and resources to connect. This will eventually increase the productivity of your remote team.

About the Survey

The survey included 250 business owners or senior decision-makers from organizations having between 5 to 250 employees. The survey was conducted online.

The organizations included in the survey had at least 50% of their staff on-site before Covid-19. But now these organizations have reduced office-based working due to the coronavirus pandemic. You can click here to know more about the survey.

First Deadlines For Laid-Off Workers To Get Health Insurance

1st deadlines for laid-off workers to get health insuranceSource: Associated Press, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

Many laid-off workers who lost health insurance in the coronavirus shutdown soon face the first deadlines to qualify for fallback coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Taxpayer-subsidized health insurance is available for a modest cost — sometimes even free — across the country, but industry officials and independent researchers say few people seem to know how to find it. For those who lost their health insurance as layoffs mounted in late March, a 60-day “special enrollment” period for individual coverage under the ACA closes at the end of May in most states.

Altheia Franklin, who lives near Houston, lost her medical plan after being laid off from a job at an upscale retirement community, as a counselor to seniors making the move. Stay-at-home orders and higher virus risks for older people have put such life transitions on hold in the pandemic.

Franklin said she received plenty of government information about coronavirus safety and economic stimulus payments, but “the insurance piece just has not been mentioned.”

She scrambled and finally found an ACA — or “Obamacare” — plan she could still afford on a reduced income. “We are in the middle of a pandemic, and God forbid if I get sick and I don’t have it,” she said of her health insurance.

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that nearly 27 million workers and family members had lost job-based health coverage as of the start of this month, a number now likely higher with unemployment claims rising.

In a counter-intuitive finding, Kaiser’s study also estimated that nearly 8 in 10 of the newly uninsured would likely qualify for some sort of coverage under former President Barack Obama’s health law, either a private plan like Franklin found, or Medicaid.

“The ACA is there as a safety net for the first time in an economic downturn,” said Kaiser foundation expert Larry Levitt. But “many people losing their jobs have never had to think of relying on the ACA for coverage, so there is no reason they should be aware of their options.”

There are several options, not easy to sort through. Some have application deadlines; others do not. And the Trump administration, which still plans to ask the Supreme Court later this summer to declare “Obamacare” unconstitutional, is doing little to promote the health law’s coverage. Here’s a quick look:

SUBSIDIZED PRIVATE INSURANCE

Like Altheia Franklin, people who lose workplace insurance generally have 60 days from when their coverage ended to apply for an ACA plan. They can go to the federal HealthCare.gov or their state’s health insurance website. Most states that run their own health insurance marketplaces have provided an extended sign-up period for people who lost coverage in the pandemic. The federal marketplace, serving most of the country, has not.

MEDICAID FOR ADULTS

Nearly three-fourths of the states have expanded Medicaid to low-income adults under the Obama health law. In those states, low-income adults can qualify for free or very low cost coverage. There is no sign-up deadline. The Kaiser foundation estimates that nearly 13 million people who lost job-based insurance are eligible for Medicaid. But that option is not available in most Southern states, as well as some in the Midwest and Plains, because they have not expanded Medicaid.

CHILDREN’S HEALTH INSURANCE

Laid-off workers should be able to get their children covered even if the adults in the family cannot help. The federal-state Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid cover kids in families with incomes well above the poverty level. “Medicaid is open year round if you are a parent with kids who need coverage,” said Joan Alker, director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. Children’s coverage predates the ACA.

COBRA

People can continue their employer coverage under a federal law known as COBRA, but they have to pay 102% of the premium — too much for most who are out of work. If there’s another coronavirus bill from Congress, it might include subsidies for COBRA coverage.

Government statistics on people losing —and finding— health insurance coverage in the coronavirus contraction won’t be available for months.

The head of a California company that helps people find ACA coverage says most of the new sign-ups they’re seeing are people who qualify for Medicaid, and there’s been only a modest uptick for subsidized private plans.

“We are all wondering where the heck is everybody,” said George Kalogeropoulos, CEO of Health Sherpa.

“People first are trying to apply for unemployment, and many of them getting stuck there,” he added. “Health care is the secondary thing, and if they get stuck in unemployment, people may never do the health care thing.”

Alker, the Georgetown University expert, said insurance protection has been neglected in the pandemic.

“Having health insurance has never been more important,” she said. “We need a national commitment to make these newly uninsured people aware of their options.”

McConnell: Next Coronavirus Bill ‘Not Too Far Off’

McConnell: Next coronavirus bill 'not too far off' | TheHill

Source: The Hill, by Jordain Carney

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled Thursday that the Senate GOP’s decision to pause before starting work on another coronavirus relief bill could be nearing an end.

“I think there’s a high likelihood that we’ll do another rescue package. … We’re not quite ready to intelligently lay down the next step, but it’s not too far off,” McConnell said during an interview with Fox News.

“We need to work smart here, help the people who are desperately in need, try to save as many jobs as possible and begin to open up the states, which are decisions by the governors,” McConnell added.

McConnell’s remarks come amid growing calls from within his caucus for the Senate to pass another coronavirus bill, which would be the fifth piece of legislation passed by Congress to address the fallout from the pandemic, by the end of the June.

McConnell said during the Fox News interview that the next bill will not resemble a roughly $3 trillion bill that passed the House along party lines last week, and vowed that the White House and Senate Republicans will be on the same page.

“There will be no space between the White House and Senate Republicans on the next bill,” McConnell said.

Senators left Washington, D.C., on Thursday until June 1, meaning another bill is at least weeks off, with some senators suggesting that the deadline for passing the next bill is the start of the August recess.

McConnell told House Republicans on Wednesday, and reiterated during Thursday’s interview, that the next bill would not continue an additional $600 per week in unemployment insurance.

“It’s making it difficult to get people back to work. We do need to continue unemployment insurance … but to pay people more not to work, than to work, doesn’t encourage resuming your job,” he said.

The House bill would extend the extra unemployment benefits through the end of the year. The House-passed bill also includes new funding for state and local governments — an idea that sharply divides Republicans.

McConnell didn’t rule out passing new aid for state and local governments as part of the next package, but signaled that it was too soon to make a decision.

“We’ve already sent $150 billion down to states already. … We may later do more,” McConnell said. “So we need to let that fully kick in, look at the impact of the states beginning to open up and then we can make an intelligent decision about the size and the appropriate package to put together for the next rescue package.”

California Beaches Back In Business: People ‘Don’t Want To Be Trapped At Home’

Newsom pushes California coronavirus beach closures - Los Angeles ...

Source: Los Angeles Times, by Alex Wigglesworth & Andrew Turner

Memorial Day weekend brought crowds to beaches, trails and parks, but officials said that for the most part there were no major problems and that most people appeared to be following social distancing rules.

Health officials have said this holiday weekend will be a big test of whether California can ease stay-at-home restrictions while continuing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Overall, officials said there were no major problems are beaches, though some places like the Venice Boardwalk saw dense crowds with some not wearing masks.

Officials closed Eaton Canyon Natural Areas & Trails for the rest of the Memorial Day weekend amid concerns that crowded conditions could pose health risks. The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation said the area was shuttered “due to overwhelming crowds that were not following the COVID-19 public health requirements.”

State officials have now cleared 47 counties to resume in-restaurant dining and in-store shopping. Among the latest were Orange and Riverside, two of California’s largest population centers.

Newport Beach Lifeguard Battalion Chief Brian O’Rourke described the numbers at the city’s beaches on Saturday as moderate and in keeping with expectations for Memorial Day weekend.

O’Rourke added that active use was encouraged, which includes reinforcement with signage. With beachgoers heading for the water, lifeguards’ attention was required there — O’Rourke said there were about 50 ocean rescues on Friday.

Laguna Beach Marine Safety Capt. Kai Bond, interviewed Saturday, said there were “some summer-like crowds” and that the public was generally following the rules.

Beachgoers found sand and surf in Huntington Beach, although the pier remained gated off, but they still had plenty to do.

Zack’s, on the west side of the pier, was offering nearly all of its services except surfing lessons.

Joseph Ali, 32, of Huntington Beach, a manager at Zack’s, said Saturday that “procedure and safety” remained top priority for the business and that surfing lessons were “too hands-on” to provide while the coronavirus pandemic continued to be a concern.

Zack’s, which also serves food and provides bike rentals, was operating in those capacities, two weeks removed from its own reopening. Ali, watching over a grill full of hot dogs, said customers were grateful it was open again.

“They want to enjoy the beach,” Ali said. “They want to feel like they’re normal again. They don’t want to be trapped at home again. … It’s good for business, it’s good for the community, it brings revenue to the city. We’re here feeding the people, renting bikes; everything’s going great so far.”

Main Street enjoyed improved foot traffic in the second stage of reopening, allowing some businesses to open their doors with alterations to continue to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Ali is pleased that more establishments have been able to open.

“We are happy that everyone is open,” he said. “Main Street, the beach, the lifeguards, the police, the enforcement, we are all working together to, No. 1, keep our beaches safe [and], No. 2, have convenience for the beachgoers.”

Jason Schriner of Riverside enjoyed a bite to eat on Saturday with his wife, Stacy, and young daughter on a low wall near the beachside bike path in Huntington Beach. He said he was concerned about restaurants that still couldn’t offer dine-in service.

“How many people are actually going to go and pay retail prices and not enjoy sitting down and having a meal?” he said. “That’s the big problem. You go out to eat to sit, not to go out, pick the food up and go somewhere else.”

In San Diego County, couples and families stayed active and moving for the most part on the sands of Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach, with a few stopping here and there to wade in the water. Surfers caught waves and children played catch as police officers zoomed around on all-terrain vehicles to make sure nobody stayed in one place for too long, per county public health orders.

Jonathan Leday and his wife, Ciera, with their toddlers Cailee and Caliyah in tow, drove to Pacific Beach from El Cajon to get some fresh air and put their feet in the sand.

“We hadn’t left the house in so long,” Jonathan Leday said as the family walked along the shore. “We’ve been quarantined indoors for a while now, and we figured we’d be fine with the beaches open. In this big of an area we would have a lot of space to be on our own — and we brought our masks.”

Not allowed to stretch out in the sand, Cameron Kazmar, a 17-year-old surfer and temporarily furloughed pizza busboy from North Park, lounged in the back of his SUV in a parking lot near the pier in Pacific Beach. He scrolled through his cellphone, waiting for the wind to die down so he could catch some more waves.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to work here pretty soon. I don’t want to sit on the unemployment cushion,” Kazmar said. “We all need to get out and socialize with the crowd again. But for now, I want to keep the surfing going and enjoy the time here.”

San Diego police Sgt. Matt Novak said for the most part people were complying and moving along.

More officers than normal were on duty Saturday, patrolling the area from La Jolla Shores to South Mission Beach, as well as the bays. Ninety percent of their efforts were focused on educating the public on safety requirements, he said.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles County, lifeguards said beachgoers were largely following the rules over the Memorial Day weekend. Some beaches were more crowded than others. Hermosa Beach Police Sgt. Jonathan Sibbald told KTLA that officers had to advise some beachgoers against drinking on Saturday and ask them to maintain spatial awareness. Overall, he said, people behaved fine.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Will Have a Long-Term Impact on Healthcare. Here are 4 Changes to Expect

How Bad Will The COVID-19 Coronavirus Epidemic Get In The U.S. ...

Source: FierceHealthcare, by Heather Landi

Even after the immediate emergency of the current COVID-19 pandemic passes, the healthcare industry won’t return to business as usual, experts say.

Healthcare is in a state of flux and there will be financial tough times in the near term for many health systems, according to Justin Gernot, vice president at healthcare advisory firm Healthbox.

“It’s an emphasis on the haves and have-nots of healthcare providers,” said Gernot speaking during a recent virtual media event sponsored by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) on the impact of the pandemic on the future of healthcare.

“The organizations that had a tight digital strategy, that were good at telehealth, had money in the bank, by and large, those healthcare systems, unless they are in hard-hit areas, those systems will do well and emerge with an eye toward acquisitions and advancing the position of strength they have,” he said.

The smaller, rural, less financially healthy systems will come out of this crisis “in a bad way,” he noted.

Some things haven’t changed, such as the financial pressures facing hospitals.

“Other things have changed or been reprioritized. There are a lot of cracks in the system that have been exposed, from supply chain for PPE (personal protective equipment) to how underserved populations are more exposed and much more at-risk to COVID than others,” Gernot said.

While facing these changes, hospitals also must prepare for a potential second COVID-19 wave in conjunction with a surge of sick patients who put off getting care during the first part of the year, according to Neil Patel, president of Healthbox.

Health payers are modeling for a spike in utilization and spending later in 2020, Patel said.

“The second surge may worse than the first, even though we’ll be better prepared for it, as we could have flu season and people putting off care through the spring and summertime,” he said.

Healthbox, which was acquired by HIMSS in 2018, also runs healthcare-focused accelerator programs and focuses on helping health systems advance digital health initiatives.

From supply chain to technology innovations, here are four ways healthcare will change in the long term as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Patel and Gernot.

1. New strategies for elective surgeries

Patients who have put off elective surgeries and procedures will need to be reassured that it’s safe to enter hospitals and other healthcare facilities, they said.

Health systems are struggling with developing the right approach to engage patients and make them feel safe, Patel said.

“Hanging a shingle and saying, ’We’re open’ is not going to be effective for those patients who feel that they can wait to have their procedures,” he said.

“We see some health systems doing branding initiatives to be transparent about what they are doing to make things safe. Health systems are also recognizing that patients may not want to get surgery in a hospital and some organizations are providing patients the option to have their surgery in ambulatory surgery centers,” he said.

He added, “We know that hospitals are already hurting from the margins they typically see in those cases, so they are sending cases to a joint venture ambulatory surgery center where they are doing 50/50 on the profit sharing.”

2. Developing local supply chain sources

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed critical flaws in hospital supply chains for vital equipment like PPE. Many health systems struggled with shortages and often competed with each other for necessary supplies, according to media reports and a recent Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General report (PDF).

“With supply chain, for many health systems, it was analog; they have no real analytics on where supplies are coming from,” Patel said. This is exacerbated by hospital consolidation that has led to group purchasing which, during a pandemic, results in the risk of a “significant, single point of failure” on supplies, he noted.

In some regions, competing health systems are now looking to collaborate on obtaining equipment and supplies.

“Several Chicago hospitals are talking about creating a consortium and building some domestic manufacturing of PPE here locally to reduce their reliance on importing,” Patel said.

He added, “Going forward, supplies will need to have a primary or secondary sourcing that is local.”

3. Digital health options will accelerate

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on digital health tools like telehealth and remote monitoring as healthcare providers had to quickly pivot to technology to take care of patients, Patel said.

“We’ve seen health systems doing a decade’s worth of work in the span of a few months,” he said.

Digital health has gone from a “nice to have” to a must have. Innovations in the area of at-home diagnostic equipment will enhance the ability of providers to do remote virtual care.

The pandemic also has accelerated the consumerization of healthcare as patients realize they have more virtual and digital options for healthcare services.

“Patients are loving it. They are wondering, ‘Why did I ever have to go in to see my doctor?’” Patel said.

Health systems that had already invested in telehealth infrastructure before COVID-19 will be in a better place moving forward.

Other health systems that had to build up their virtual care capabilities from zero will now need to go back to address operational gaps, Patel said.

“The organizations that didn’t already invest in it had to pick a vendor quickly and are now delivering a suboptimal patient experience in these telehealth platforms. They never had a chance to train physicians in virtual encounters, and the technology platforms are not smoothed out,” he said.

4. Expect innovations with drones and robotics

The biggest impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on how consumers work and live with social distancing measures and working from home. With that in mind, there will be advancements in drones and robotics in the consumer world to reduce the number of people who interact with other people, Gernot said.

“We’ll see things like robots going in and cleaning floors and facilities on a daily basis so that you don’t have to expose people to disinfection routines,” he said.

These innovations will make their way into healthcare, Gernot said.

“We often see the technologies that become widely adopted in the consumer world then make their way to healthcare,” he said. “It’s going to be outside of healthcare where the most interesting things are happening.”

Moderna Coronavirus Vaccine Trial Shows Promising Early Results

Coronavirus Vaccine Trial by Moderna Shows Promising Early Results ...

Source: The New York Times, by Denise Grady

The first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people appears to be safe and able to stimulate an immune response against the infection, the manufacturer, Moderna, announced on Monday, offering a glint of hope to a world desperate for ways to stop the pandemic.

The preliminary findings, in the first eight people who each received two doses of the experimental vaccine, must now be repeated in far larger tests in hundreds and then thousands of people, to find out if the vaccine can work in the real world. Moderna’s technology, involving genetic material from the virus called mRNA, is relatively new and has yet to produce any approved vaccine.

The promising early news sent Moderna’s stock soaring by more than 25 percent on Monday afternoon and helped drive Wall Street to its best day in six weeks. Stocks were also lifted by statements from the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, that the central bank would continue to support the economy and markets.

Trading on Monday had all of the characteristics of a rally focused on prospects for a return to normal: The S&P 500 rose more than 3 percent; stock benchmarks in Europe were 4 percent to 6 percent higher; and oil prices also jumped. Among the best performers in the S&P 500 were travel-related companies, like United Airlines, Expedia Group and Marriott International.

With the weather warming and state after state starting to lift lockdown restrictions, Americans are eager to regain their freedom to shop, go to the beach and enjoy bars and restaurants. Still, more than 1,000 people died most days last week in the United States.

Vaccines are now seen as the best and perhaps only hope of stopping or even slowing a disease that has sickened nearly five million people worldwide, killed 315,000 and locked down entire countries, paralyzing their economies.

Dozens of companies and universities are rushing to create coronavirus vaccines, and human trials have already started for several manufacturers, including Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, the Chinese company CanSino and the University of Oxford, which is working with AstraZeneca.

Experts agree that it is essential to develop multiple vaccines, because the urgent global need for billions of doses will far outstrip the production capacity of any one manufacturer. But there is widespread concern among scientists that haste could compromise safety, resulting in a vaccine that does not work or even harms patients.

The potential strength of Moderna’s mRNA approach to vaccine making is that it uses a genetic framework that can be quickly adapted for each new viral threat. The company has said that it is proceeding on an accelerated timetable, with a second phase of tests involving 600 people to begin soon, and a third phase to begin in July involving thousands of healthy people. The Food and Drug Administration gave Moderna the go-ahead this month for the second phase.

If those trials go well, some doses of a vaccine could become available for widespread use by the end of this year or early 2021, Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said in an interview. “We’re doing our best to make it as many millions as possible.”

President Trump said last week that a vaccine would be available before the end of this year. His prediction was supported by Moncef Slaoui, the newly appointed leader of Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s effort to speed vaccine development. At a briefing last week, Mr. Slaoui, a former member of Moderna’s board of directors who resigned when he took up his new government post, said he had seen preliminary research data that convinced him that a vaccine could be created by the end of the year. He did not identify the data.

Also on Monday, Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed that Mr. Slaoui would divest his Moderna stock options, valued at about $10 million, on Tuesday morning. Ms. Oakley added that Mr. Slaoui would donate to cancer research the increased value his shares had accrued from last Thursday until Tuesday’s sale. The share price closed at $80 on Monday, up from $64.56 last Thursday, adding $2.4 million to the value of his options.

At a round table with restaurant executives at the White House on Monday, Mr. Trump said, “This was a very big day, cure wise and vaccine wise,” and noted that the markets were lifted by drug news.

Moderna produced the vaccine in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the institute that is headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci and has been leading the clinical trials. Part of the National Institutes of Health, the agency is involved in research on other experimental coronavirus vaccines. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have each received roughly half a billion dollars from the U.S. government, to speed development of a vaccine.

The people vaccinated in Moderna’s Phase 1 study described on Monday were healthy volunteers ages 18 to 55. Their immune systems made antibodies that were then tested in infected cells in the lab, and were able to stop the virus from replicating — the key requirement for an effective vaccine. The levels of those so-called neutralizing antibodies matched or exceeded the levels found in patients who had recovered after contracting the virus in the community.

Dr. Mark J. Mulligan, director of the N.Y.U. Langone Vaccine Center, called the Moderna findings “very encouraging.” He added, “It’s a small number of participants, but it appears to be a really good start.” Dr. Mulligan was not involved in the early testing but expected to participate in a later phase of the Moderna vaccine research.

Moderna’s early stage of testing, Phase 1, is continuing, Two more age groups — 55 to 70 and 71 and over — are now being enrolled to test the vaccine. The company did not mention plans to include children in its studies and did not respond to an inquiry about it in time for publication. But Dr. Mulligan said that tests in children were often delayed until a vaccine was shown to be safe in young adults.

The actual data from the preliminary tests has not been published or shared publicly, but has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, which does not comment on trials still in progress. The company said it hoped to make data publicly available this summer.

Two shots, four weeks apart, are likely to be needed, meaning that however many doses are produced, only half that number of people can be vaccinated.

Moderna said that additional tests in mice that were vaccinated and then infected found that the vaccine could prevent the virus from replicating in their lungs, and that the animals had levels of neutralizing antibodies comparable to those in the people who had received the vaccine.

Three doses of the vaccine were tested: low, medium and high. These initial results are based on tests of the low and medium doses. The only adverse effects at those doses were redness and soreness in one patient’s arm where the shot was given.

But at the highest dose, three patients had fever, muscle pains and headaches, Dr. Zaks said, adding that the symptoms went away after a day.

But the high dose is being eliminated from future studies, not so much because of the side effects, but because the lower doses appear to work so well that the high dose is not needed.

“The lower the dose, the more vaccine we’ll be able to make,” Dr. Zaks said.

He added, “Demand is going to far outstrip supply so I think there is an ethical obligation to go with the lowest dose you can so you can make as much vaccine as possible.”

The company, based in Cambridge, Mass., has a vaccine-making facility nearby in Norwood, and recently announced a 10-year collaboration with the Swiss contract drugmaker Lonza to manufacture up to one billion doses a year for worldwide distribution, if the vaccine proves successful. Dr. Zaks said Moderna was also working with other vaccine makers in the United States to scale up production.

Moderna uses genetic material — messenger RNA — to make vaccines, and the company has nine others in various stages of development, including several for viruses that cause respiratory illnesses. But no vaccine made with this technology has yet reached the market.

Work on the new coronavirus started in January, as soon as Chinese scientists posted its genetic sequence on the internet. Researchers at Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases identified part of the sequence that codes for a spikelike protein on the surface of the virus that attaches to human cells, helping the virus to invade them.

The idea behind Moderna’s vaccine is to inject the mRNA for part of the spike protein and have it slip into the cells of a healthy person, which then follow its instruction and crank out the viral protein. That protein should act as a red flag for the immune system, stimulating it to produce antibodies that will prevent infection by blocking the action of the spike if the person is exposed to the virus.

“The new technologies for genetic immunization are rapid and produce a product that is highly potent at producing immune responses,” Dr. Mulligan said. “Today’s RNA results confirm that there is great potential.”

Pro Sports Could Return in California by June, Gov. Gavin Newsom says

Coronavirus: Sports could return in California by June, Newsom says

Source: The Orange County Register, by Evan Webeck

Rejoice, sports fans, their return to California may not be far off. Well, maybe.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is eyeing the first week of June to begin to allow live pro sporting events, as well as “a number of other sectors” of the economy, “if we hold these trend lines.” But upon being asked for more details, Newsom clarified that discussions were ongoing and didn’t seem to think he had said anything revelatory about the June timeline.

Whenever they are allowed resume — let’s take Newsom’s word of the first week of June — they will come with “deep stipulations” and “very prescriptive conditions,” Newsom said, starting with no spectators.

“In terms of protecting not only the players but more broadly their support staff,” Newsom said. “And again, we’re not talking about fans in this respect.”

California could continue to implement a local approach to sports, as it has done in other reopening other sectors. Newsom said the state was working with county health directors, state officials and representatives from all major sports leagues, as well as consulting with California’s pact of western-state governors.

“We’re just talking about the opportunity … to begin the process of organizing around what that may or may not look like,” Newsom said.

MLB teams have now missed nearly two months of the regular season. The league, team owners and the players association have been in negotiations about resuming play, according to media reports, with a potential Opening Day slated around July 4.

Newsom Moves to Slash School, Health Spending — But asks Feds for a Rescue

Newsom ties budget cuts to federal aid | CalMatters

Source: CalMatters, by Laurel Rosenhall, Jackie Botts

How does a liberal, blue-state governor take on the unappealing task of slashing the budget? By shifting a lot of the pressure to the federal government.

In revising California’s budget down to $203 billion today, Gov. Gavin Newsom charted a plan to fill a huge deficit by tying many cuts to additional federal aid. If the feds come through with $1 trillion for state and local governments that Newsom and other Democratic governors have requested, California would not reduce funding to schools, colleges, parks, child care, health care and other programs.

“The President of the United States, with a stroke of the pen, could provide support for Nancy Pelosi’s new Heroes Act and these cuts could be eliminated,” Newsom said, as he presented his proposal to close a $54 billion deficit brought on by record job losses during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a strategic, if risky, course as Newsom heads into a sprint of budget negotiations with state lawmakers over the next four weeks.

On the one hand: Newsom’s proposed cuts will likely unleash an outpouring of advocacy from sympathetic constituencies including teachers, firefighters and police that could influence decisions in the nation’s capital. Newsom enjoys longstanding ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow San Francisco Democrat whose father-in-law was business partners with Newsom’s grandfather. And despite feuds with Donald Trump that defined much of Newsom’s first year in office, he has developed a working relationship with the president. They have been publicly praising each other since the pandemic began.

On the other: GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell has already rejected Pelosi’s latest aid package and previously said he wouldn’t support any “blue state bailouts.” Federal aid at the level Newsom would like — not to mention passage before cuts to the state budget would take effect on July 1 — is hardly a sure thing.

“We do need to have a Plan B,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat who chairs the Assembly budget committee.

“I don’t think we should only rely on the federal government… If the federal money doesn’t come through, we should think about other options before we go to cuts.”

Several of the cuts Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed would take place on July 1 unless the federal government provides significant aid to the states. Among them:

Schools and colleges

The formula for funding schools would drop 10%. Funding for the UC and Cal State systems would also be cut 10%

Medi-Cal

Optional Medi-Cal benefits such as community-based adult services and full dental care would be eliminated

In-home services

The number of hours seniors and disabled people receive through the In-Home Supportive Services program would be cut 7%

State workers

State government employees would see their salaries cut 10% or their unions would negotiate equivalent reductions

Parks

$30 million cut to state parks starting 2021-22

Ting’s counterpart in the state Senate sounded more optimistic that Congress would come through and that Newsom’s proposed cuts would not come to pass.

“The programs that he’s attached to the trigger hopefully will create a wonderful advocacy opportunity for beneficiaries of those programs to reach out to our congressional representatives to make sure that the state gets the resources they need so we don’t have to cut those areas,” said state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat.

Indeed, within hours of Newsom’s announcement, the California Teachers Association began asking Californians to call their members of Congress and urge passage of Pelosi’s aid package.

Lawmakers will now sift through Newsom’s proposal before they must pass a budget on June 15. GOP Sen. Jim Nielsen of Tehama quickly rejected Newsom’s approach, saying “relying on federal bailouts is not a budget solution.”

But Republicans make up just a quarter of the Legislature, not a large enough bloc to be influential in budget negotiations.

Most Democrats in the Legislature today were elected since the last recession and now face their first bleak budget. Up until the coronavirus outbreak, California had enjoyed the longest economic recovery since the Great Recession. After raising taxes in 2012, the state managed its finances prudently in good years, paying off a $35 billion “wall of debt” from internal borrowing schemes and building up significant reserves — all of which helped improve the state’s credit rating.

Still, public employee pensions have since reported record losses. That has local officials fearful of service cuts, layoffs and even bankruptcy because state and local governments are obligated to contribute more — even when they have less. CalPERS, for example, shed $69 billion as the global financial market recoiled from the pandemic.

And former Gov. Jerry Brown, a doomsayer who paddled right of many legislative Democrats in seeking fiscal restraint throughout his second tenure, warned in his final state budget that the good times wouldn’t last forever.

“What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline and recession,” Brown said in 2018. “So good luck, baby!”

The Newsom administration projects 24.5% unemployment, a 21% decline in new housing permits and a nearly 9% drop in California personal income for the fiscal year starting July 1. It’s a stark turnaround from January, when the governor laid out an ambitious agenda featuring a $5.6 billion surplus.

Newsom acknowledged all of that has disappeared “in a blink of an eye” as he walked back many of his January proposals. The governor dropped a plan to extend Medi-Cal health coverage to low-income undocumented seniors over 65 — a move that could cause friction with legislative Democrats hoping to support a community more vulnerable to the virus.

“Immigrants are the backbone of our state and have been serving as essential workers throughout this crisis,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, said in a statement. “We are disappointed, but not surprised by the Governor’s actions to go backward on health for all.”

The crisis, however, may present opportunities for Newsom. He had proposed closing one prison in the next five years. Now he wants to close two prisons, one in 2021 and another in 2022. That will likely put him in conflict with the prison guards union that has traditionally wielded clout at the Capitol, but if Newsom is successful he would burnish his progressive bona fides in any future political campaign.

Broadly, the governor called for bridging the deficit by canceling non-essential spending, tapping reserves and borrowing. Among his proposals:

  • * Canceling $6.1 billion in program expansions and spending increases, including  stopping a $2.4 billion extra payment to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
  • * Drawing down $16.2 billion from the state’s main rainy day fund over three years, and tapping a safety net reserve to offset increased costs in health and human services programs over the next two years.
  • * Moving $4.1 billion between accounts to help balance the budget, on paper at least.
  • * Temporarily suspending and capping tax credits used by businesses and wealthy taxpayers. Specifically, suspend net operating losses and limit to $5 million the amount a taxpayer can claim in credits in any given tax year. The move would generate $4.4 billion in 2020-21 to increase funding for schools and community colleges and maintain other core services.

California could look to its taxpayers in other ways as well, though it’s unclear whether voters will be in a mood to help. Labor and education groups are pushing a November ballot measure to overhaul Proposition 13, California’s landmark property tax cap, to help prevent steeper cuts to local governments and public schools. The Schools and Communities First campaign estimates the initiative could bring in $12 billion a year by raising commercial property taxes.

Newsom has not endorsed the proposal, which business interests vehemently oppose, but said he hasn’t ruled out asking voters for some kind of tax increase.

“We are considering other approaches, including other revenue strategies,” he said.  “We will  pursue conversations with the Legislature, with leaders all up and down the state and we hope we can help guide some consensus about what is most appropriate to put forward to the voters.”

In the meantime, about 26% of Newsom’s budget solutions rely on cuts he said would be eliminated if enough federal aid comes through.

“We are doing our best to help support people in need, but we now need the federal government to support not only the state of California, but other states across this country,” Newsom said. “If they do, if they meet this moment, we will be able to significantly reduce the stress and anxiety many are feeling.”

In other words: Washington, the ball’s in your court.

Newsom Eases California Reopening Rules, Allowing More Counties to Restart Their Economies

Newsom eases reopening rules with new coronavirus benchmarks - Los ...

Source: Los Angeles Times, by John Myers, Taryn Luna, Phil Willon

Acknowledging that more California communities are in a position to slowly reopen businesses, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday loosened rules linking coronavirus infection rates to allowed activities — a change that could release most parts of the state from the tightest restrictions of his stay-at-home order.

“We recognize the conditions across the state are unique and distinctive depending where you are,” Newsom said. “The bottom line is people can go at their own pace and we are empowering our local health directors and county officials that understand their local communities and conditions better than any of us.”

The decision by Newsom comes less than two weeks after his administration first began transferring more decision-making power to local public health officials and was prompted, he said, by additional data suggesting steady rates of hospitalizations and COVID-19 patients treated in intensive care units as well as increased testing and more protective gear for healthcare workers.

“Remember, the whole purpose of the stay-at-home order was to prepare and to respond in the worst-case scenario,” Newsom said. “Our capacity to meet surge has been, I think, advanced.”

The rules will allow restaurant dining rooms and shopping malls to open again in counties that meet the new criteria. The governor also hinted that even bigger changes envisioned in later stages of reopening are just around the corner, such as the opening of hair salons and even spectator-free sporting events as soon as the first week in June.

The changes, announced during a visit by Newsom to a restaurant in Napa, mean that 53 of California’s 58 counties can now move further into the second of four stages toward reopening if they so choose, he said. The governor didn’t name the five counties that wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the flexibility, though he cited concerns with skilled nursing facilities in Tulare County and a meatpacking facility in Kings County.

Nor is the announcement expected to bring immediate changes in Los Angeles County, which continues to outpace other parts of the state in confirmed cases and deaths. Local officials say the infection rate in the county is falling, but that they remain concerned about the potential spread of the disease.

Other counties, though, did report improvements. Officials in Santa Clara County said Monday they would take the first steps into the state’s second stage of loosened restrictions, while San Francisco’s director of public health, Dr. Grant Colfax, said Monday he was “cautiously optimistic” that the city will be able to reopen more in the next two to four weeks.

San Francisco barber shops, hair salons and nail parlors, though, will not be reopened for at least another month, he said.

“So far the game is going relatively well,” Colfax said, “but we are only in the second inning of a long game.”

Most notable in Monday’s announcement by Newsom is that counties will no longer be kept from loosening the shutdown rules if there have been COVID-19 deaths in the previous two weeks. The original standard was criticized by many of California’s urban counties, whose leaders argued that even a single fatal case would block them from moving deeper into the second stage of reopening rules crafted by the Newsom administration.

The new standard removes the death rate requirement and replaces it with a more generous threshold based on rates of newly confirmed cases. Counties will be able to move toward a more expansive reopening if they can show fewer than 25 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days — a standard that was originally 1 new case per 10,000 residents.

Counties could, instead, show that fewer than 8% of residents tested for the virus over a seven-day period were positive.

Counties also must show that the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients have stabilized, meaning they can’t increase by more than 5% over a seven-day period or that a county can’t have more than 20 hospitalizations on any single day over a 14-day period.

The announcement could help ease the tensions that have arisen over Newsom’s stay-at-home order, now in its ninth week, after several defiant counties reopened this month without prior approval. Modoc County allowed all businesses to reopen May 1, while Yuba and Sutter counties cleared gyms, nail and hair salons, shopping malls and other retailers to resume operations days later.

The Newsom administration sent warning letters to the three counties on May 7, stating that the local governments could become ineligible for disaster funding if they continued to defy the governor’s order and urging them to instead work with the state.

While Newsom promised Monday that changes are coming soon for those hoping to visit businesses like hair salons or see some return of sporting events, it was unclear whether he was hinting that much of California could be nearing the third stage in his reopening rules — as those activities have previously been described as being only after the second stage loosenings have all taken place.

Amid the pushback from counties, Newsom also adopted a framework to allow some areas to move ahead of his administration’s pace. If local governments want to open more businesses, the plan allows counties to submit an application declaring that the presence of the virus is limited or nonexistent in their jurisdictions and they’ve met certain requirements to prepare for a future surge in infections.

Giving credence to the arguments that the requirements were unrealistic, a Times analysis at the time found that the vast majority of counties in California failed to meet the first two criteria — no deaths and no more than 1 case per 10,000 residents in the prior two weeks. As of Monday, Newsom said 24 counties have declared that they met the state’s criteria to move further ahead in Stage 2.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who is president of state’s association of counties, said Newsom’s decision affirms the work of local officials in being “swift to act, flatten the curve and protect the public’s health.”

1 in 3 Primary Care Doctors Fears Having to Close Practice Over Coronavirus

Keeping the Coronavirus from Infecting Health-Care Workers | The ...Source: San Francisco Chronicle, by Mallory Moench

More than a third of primary care doctors in California surveyed this month by an Oakland foundation worried they will be forced to close their practice or clinic because of financial impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey of 350 physicians across the state, released Friday, found that 37%, about 130, said they were “very” or “somewhat” worried that they will have to permanently close their doors. Doctors at practices with fewer than five physicians were especially concerned. More than half of those doctors, 63, said they fear they will have to shut their clinic for good.

“These numbers show that clinics of all sizes — and smaller practices in particular — face unprecedented challenges,” said Kristof Stremikis, director of market analysis at the California Health Care Foundation, which conducted the survey from May 8 to May 13 with research firm Truth on Call. “Significant numbers of California’s primary care doctors are concerned that their practices will not survive the pandemic.”

The idea behind the survey was to better understand the financial hit of the outbreak amid the statewide shelter-in-place order that all but emptied doctors’ offices beginning in mid-March, the survey noted.

Although the survey was emailed to about 25,000 primary care doctors across California, the foundation received just 350 responses — but from a mix of large, medium and small practices, as well as about a third serving mainly low-income patients.

The wide-ranging survey asked doctors about their concerns, layoffs in their offices, whether they had enough personal protective equipment for workers, and if they could test all employees and patients for the coronavirus.

As with most sectors of the economy, troubles began for the medical industry when shelter-in-place orders blanketed California on March 19. The state’s health care providers watched as revenue from non-emergency surgeries and the loss of patient visits plummeted, even as costs to combat the outbreak rose.

Results from the anonymous survey indicate that independent doctors are feeling the kind of financial pressure — although on a smaller scale — as larger hospitals, which have slashed staffing costs and taken other drastic measures to try and make up for millions of dollars in losses.

Dr. Lisa Capaldini, a general medicine physician in San Francisco, was not among the doctors surveyed. But she told The Chronicle she has felt financial stresses similar to those described in the survey.

Capaldini said she couldn’t pay her $7,100 monthly rent in May. And since March, she said, her patients and income dropped by more than half.

She operates a small, solo practice and has one staff member. Like 50 of the small practitioners surveyed, Capaldini said she wasn’t worried about closing right now — but she fears the future.

“The longer this goes on and there’s no relief, you just can’t do the math,” said Capaldini.

While Capaldini has been able to keep paying herself and her employee, many primary care practices face a range of other difficulties, the recent survey revealed.

Among the survey’s findings from 350 doctors across the state:

• Have adequate access to personal protective equipment in their office: 243 (69%).

• Furloughed or laid off staff since the statewide shelter-in-place: 131 (37%).

• Considered temporarily closing their clinics in the last month: 114 (33%).

• Reduced staff pay since shelter-in-place: 62 (18%).

• Lack enough COVID-19 tests to meet the needs of employees and patients: 61 (17%).

As the California Health Care Foundation released its survey Friday, Sutter Health, a vast nonprofit health care provider in California, reported it had lost $1 billion in the year’s first quarter.

On Friday, leading health care providers spoke to reporters about financial stress in the industry:

“Some (health care providers) are having to resort to choices no one wants to make — layoffs, furloughs, asking staff to take paid time off,” said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, on the call.

The federal government has approved more than $100 billion in stimulus grants for hospitals, with $3 billion sent last month to tens of thousands of California health care providers. Those who served the most elderly patients on Medicare last year received the largest chunk.

Federal funds offset 40% of coronavirus-related losses for the UC Health system, Executive Vice President Dr. Carrie Byington said on the call. In March and April, the health system lost $769 million — $632 million due to canceled or delayed procedures and $137 million spent to prepare for COVID-19 — she said. The system received $287.8 million in stimulus money.

“These extraordinary costs will continue in the near term,” Byington said. “Although hospitals are facing a return to essential care, it’s not practical or prudent to expect that our finances will return to pre-pandemic levels this year and next year.”

Last Updated 06/03/2020

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