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No Further Delays on Launching MACRO!

City Administration must implement Civilian Crisis Responders Program and keep planned community advisory board 

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Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan

COMMENTARY 

At this week’s Public Safety Committee, councilmembers received an update on the status of launching Oakland’s emergency civilian responder program, Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO).

I, along with my Council colleagues, call on the City Administration for the speedy implementation of this important public safety service as an in-house program and to include meaningful community input and involvement, as was previously directed by the Council to include a community oversight board.

The implementation of this program is highly awaited and urgently needed, as the goal is to provide services to those experiencing non-violent crises. A Community Intervention Specialist, Emergency Medical Technician, and a Case Manager would respond to non-violent crisis calls, rather than a police officer.

This would simultaneously free police to respond to violent crimes.

In 2019, the idea of this program was presented as part of my budget proposal, with strong grassroots community backing and an informational memo brought by Councilmember Noel Gallo. 

That same year, I successfully allocated the funding for the feasibility study of creating this civilian mobile response program in my budget amendments.

The City Council then approved $1.85 million in the FY 2020-21 Mid-Cycle Budget Amendments (88174 CMS) to implement the proposed program. On Dec. 15, 2020, my resolution to pursue the option for in-house hiring process for MACRO was adopted (88433 CMS).

In 2020, the City Council, along with strong community support, pushed to fund the launching of the pilot. With the goal of improving coordination, response, and creating job opportunities for the communities in which MACRO will be launched, Council, along with community grass-roots organizations,  called on the program to be launched as an internal city program.

Earlier this year, Noel Gallo and President Pro Tem Sheng Thao advocated to have the program in-house within the Oakland Fire Department (OFD). Bas and Councilmember Dan Kalb introduced the resolution that was unanimously adopted by Council directing the establishment of MACRO within OFD and creating an Advisory Board, which would consist of crisis health service experts, individuals impacted by the criminal legal system, unsheltered individuals, domestic violence survivors, youth, and/or survivors of state violence, to serve as advisory partners to the Oakland Fire Department in further developing MACRO.  

The state has shown support of MACRO by responding to my advocacy letter, asking for funding; Senator Skinner included $10 million for the launch of MACRO in the state budget. 

Meanwhile, other cities have successfully launched similar programs including Olympia, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, N.M. 

Thanks to strong grassroots advocacy working together with Council members, we were able to pass the proposal to launch civilian responders for Oakland, and to win funding in both the city budget and state budget to support this vital public need.

We know that this type of program can save dollars and save lives.  We call on the administration to launch it timely and effectively, and include vital community input, to ensure success.

“It’s urgent that the Administration implement MACRO, Oakland’s mobile crisis response program in the Fire Department. Oaklanders agree that we need medical professionals and crisis responders to address mental health and other non-violent issues, allowing police to focus on violent crime,” said Bas.

Gallo said, “I am thankful for my colleagues on the council who supported launching MACRO in-house in the fire department. Working together we can provide effective civilian responders to provide community needs and handle low-level calls that do not require a police officer.”

Added Thao, “The City Council committed to its goals to reimagine public safety with the funding of the MACRO program, and I join my colleagues and the community in urging the City Administration to implement this important emergency response program. Oakland cannot wait for this common sense and holistic approach to public safety any longer.”

 

Watch the September 14  Public Safety Committee Zoom Meeting at: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87171430933

“The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

Bay Area

Oakland Healthcare Unions Denounce CDC and California’s New Guidelines

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

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Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.
Oakland Highland Hospital screening tent at the emergency entrance on July 5, 2021. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Two unions representing healthcare professionals have denounced recent moves by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and The California Department of Public Health that have eased, or in some cases temporarily eliminated, quarantining guidelines for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or been directly exposed to the virus.

“Part of why there’s this rise in transmission is that people aren’t quite well and they’re able to come out and mingle with the public,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez in an interview. Triunfo-Cortez has worked as a registered nurse for 42 years, and she’s the president of National Nurses United (NNU), a registered nurses’ union with over 175,000 members.

On December 22 of last year, as news that the CDC was considering shortening their COVID-19 quarantine duration guidelines from 10 days to five days was spreading, the NNU published an open letter to the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, that urged her to maintain the 10-day quarantine period.

“Weakening COVID-19 guidance now, in the face of what could be the most devastating COVID-19 surge yet,” the letter reads, “will only result in further transmission, illness and death.”

On December 23, the CDC changed their guidelines for healthcare workers. To address staffing shortages, the new guidelines stated that medical facilities could have both vaccinated and unvaccinated healthcare workers who test positive for the virus return to their jobs immediately without quarantining in certain crisis situations as long as they were either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

On December 27, the CDC changed their guidelines for the rest of the population, shortening the quarantining period from 10 to five days. The new guidelines stated that as long as a COVID-positive person has no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving and they don’t have a fever, they can end their quarantine on the sixth day.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of [COVID-19] transmission occurs early in the course of the illness,” reads a statement from the CDC about the reduced quarantine guideline, “generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and 2-3 days after.”

In their letter, the NNU pointed to the extremely contagious Omicron variant, and warned “Now is not the time to relax protections.” They mentioned pressure from businesses to maintain profits “without regard for science or the health of employees or the public” as the primary motivation for shortening the quarantine time. The letter included a link to a story about Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian asking the CDC to consider such a change.

Data from Alameda County, and California show that after the Omicron variant of COVID-19 began to become widespread in mid-December, local and statewide cases surged. By late December, average daily case rates were higher than they ever had been before.

Hospitalizations also rose sharply. Then cases and hospitalizations continued to rise through early January and have continued to rise. At the time of publication, information on recent COVID-19 deaths is unclear as the county and the state are updating that data.

“It’s stressful because some of our co-workers might be coming into work sick,” said Sonya Allen-Smith in an interview on January 7 about working under the new guidelines. She’s been an X-ray technologist at a Kaiser Permanente facility in Oakland for 13 years and is a member of the SEIU UHW union for healthcare workers.

“We think about if we’re going to take it home to our families,” she said. “My husband’s immune system is compromised. If I bring it home to him, he definitely will not make it.”

The Oakland Post obtained a flow chart Kaiser e-mailed to their employees on January 7 that guided them through the quarantine process the company required them to enter into if they tested positive for COVID-19.

It showed Kaiser employees had to quarantine for five days and could return on the sixth day if they tested negative for the virus with an antigen test. Allen-Smith said she felt the quarantine period was too short.

“We’re not giving people enough time to heal or recover,” Allen-Smith said. “Weakening the guidelines is not going to stop the staff shortage. It may increase it because people will spread it.”

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that they’re “implementing CDC and CDHP guidance and isolation with considerations to vaccination status and staffing levels.” It also stated that “all employees coming back or continuing to work, wear the appropriate PPE and follow all infection prevention measures.”

On January 8, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) decided to temporarily adopt the guidance for healthcare workers the CDC had released on December 23 to address staffing shortages at healthcare facilities.

“From January 8, 2022 until February 1, 2022, healthcare professionals who test positive for [COVID-19] and are asymptomatic,” reads their statement announcing the new guidelines, ”may return to work immediately without isolation and without testing.”

The statement also said such returning employees would have to wear N95 masks while working and that these new guidelines could again change as information becomes available.

Both the NNU and the SEIU-UHW unions immediately denounced CDHP’s decision.

“For healthcare workers on the frontline it is very disappointing to see the State of California bypass common sense safety measures,” said Gabe Montoya, an emergency room technician, in a statement SEIU-UHW released. “No patient wants to be cared for by someone who has COVID-19 or was just exposed to it.”

While federal and California state guidelines now allow healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work without quarantining as long as they are asymptomatic until at least February 1, it’s unclear what this will mean for several Oakland healthcare facilities.

When asked for a statement about their Bay Area healthcare facilities, Sutter Health’s media team wrote an email stating: “Consistent with CDC contingency tiered guidelines released in late December, and in response to critical staffing conditions, we have revised our process for how employees who work at patient care sites return after they have been sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. It’s important to note that symptomatic employees are not returning to work until their symptoms improve.”

When asked directly if asymptomatic COVID positive employees were currently returning to work, Sutter Health’s media team did not respond.

When asked about their current COVID-19 quarantine policies, Alameda Health System’s media and communications manager Eleanor Ajala wrote “Alameda Health System is reviewing guidance” and that they planned to attend a meeting with the state to discuss the issue.

On January 11, Allen-Smith said she hadn’t heard of any change to Kaiser Permanente’s quarantine policy, but that she knows three co-workers sick with COVID-19 who had just returned after five-day quarantines.

In an e-mail, Kaiser Permanente’s media team wrote that to address staffing shortages they were “employing traveling nurses, adjusting elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures as needed, and offering our industry-leading telehealth capabilities in addition to in-person care.”

The media team did not directly answer when asked if Kaiser was allowing asymptomatic COVID positive employees to return to the job at Bay Area healthcare facilities.

Allen-Smith is unhappy about the guidelines changing and is unsure if Kaiser’s policy will further change in the near future due to CDHP’s recent announcement.

“A lot of us are confused and sad and just don’t feel safe in the workplace,” she said.

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Activism

Friendship Christian Center Provides Tests, Vaccines to Thousands

FCCC has served thousands with lines forming an hour-and-a-half before opening to get tested and vaccinated with one of the three vaccines, boosters, and vaccines for children. Agee said it has been going at this pace for over a month, with the new Omicron variant surging.

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A lone forms outside the Friendship Christian Center on a recent, rainy cold day in Oakland. Photo courtesy of FCCC.
A lone forms outside the Friendship Christian Center on a recent, rainy cold day in Oakland. Photo courtesy of FCCC.

Friendship Christian Center Church (FCCC), pastored by Dr. Gerald Agee, is located at 1904 Adeline St. and is one of the dozens of Black churches across the state of California, who, in conjunction with the California Health Agencies and California Black Media, has stood on the front line, with the Black Press for over a year providing COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to minority communities.

FCCC has served thousands with lines forming an hour-and-a-half before opening to get tested and vaccinated with one of the three vaccines, boosters, and vaccines for children. Agee said it has been going at this pace for over a month, with the new Omicron variant surging.

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Commentary

Gov. Newsom Proposes $2.7 Billion for COVID Response; Activates National Guard

“From Day One, California has taken swift and direct action to battle COVID-19 with policies that have saved tens of thousands of lives, but there’s more work to be done,” Governor Newsom said. “Our proposed COVID-19 Emergency Response Package will support our testing capacity, accelerate vaccination and booster efforts, support frontline workers and health care systems and battle misinformation, with a focus on the hardest-hit communities,” the governor added.

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California state Capitol. File photo.
California state Capitol. File photo.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

On January 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he is proposing a $2.7 billion investment to boost the state’s COVID-19 response efforts.

The request is included in the state budget Gov. Newsom is sending to the State Legislature this week. He is asking lawmakers to take action on it immediately.

The emergency response package includes money for more testing, more vaccinations, including boosters, and support for health care professionals.

“From Day One, California has taken swift and direct action to battle COVID-19 with policies that have saved tens of thousands of lives, but there’s more work to be done,” Newsom said.

“Our proposed COVID-19 Emergency Response Package will support our testing capacity, accelerate vaccination and booster efforts, support frontline workers and health care systems and battle misinformation, with a focus on the hardest-hit communities,” the governor added.

Michelle Gibbons, executive director of the County Health Executives Association of California, said the new influx of cash comes at a “pivotal time” when the state and country are confronting a new surge in Omicron variant cases.

Currently, California has a positivity rate of 21.7%, according to the California Department of Public Health. Omicron variant infections account for 80% of those cases. And over the last seven days, there has been an average of 124.5 cases per 100,000 people.

“We commend the governor for taking these decisive actions to help protect the health and well-being of local communities through the expansion of vaccines, testing, and booster shots and efforts to combat misinformation that has caused unnecessary deaths and illness,” Gibbons said. “These actions will ultimately help save lives, which remains a top priority for local public health.

Last weekend, Gov. Newsom also deployed 200 California National Guardsman at testing sites to assist with the state’s response.

“California is deploying the National Guard to testing sites to help expand capacity. If you’re feeling sick, don’t hesitate to get tested,” Newsom tweeted.

On Jan. 3, the FDA approved booster eligibility for children ages 12 to 15.

Newsom expressed support for this expansion on Twitter.

“Great news — more protection for more people. Boosters are our best defense against Omicron. If you’re eligible, get yours today,” Newsom tweeted.

As people experience COVID-19 home test kit shortages across California, the state has announced plans to remedy the situation.

“California is expanding access to testing for students by providing 1–2 rapid tests for each K–12 public school student to keep our schools safe and open,” tweeted Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, surgeon general of California.

Harris emphasized that, “Testing is a critical part of California’s pandemic response and a key reason our cumulative COVID-19 death rate is the lowest of the large states.”

Newsom’s office said the tests are already on their way.

“More tests are en route for California’s students! These at-home test kits arrived last night at our warehouse and will immediately be sent to counties for distribution through county offices of education,” Newsom’s office tweeted.

The California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA) responded to this claim with anticipation.

“Great news! Our county offices are ready to have the torch passed so we can get these important test kits out to our students,” the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA) tweeted. “We pledged to help keep schools open and having these kits distributed quickly is another way our county office teams are stepping up to make this happen.”

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