METROPOLIS L.A.

All California adults soon to eligible for COVID vaccinations

Begins with residents 50 and over who will be able to sign up for vaccine starting April 1

By NICK CAHILL, Contributing Writer

SACRAMENTO (CN) — Betting on a flood of supply from the federal government, California officials on March 25 announced all residents over the age of 16 will be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine beginning April 15.

The state’s latest expansion will start with residents over the age of 50 who will be able to sign up for the shot starting April 1. State officials said the decision was based on new estimates predicting California’s vaccine supply will greatly increase in the coming weeks.

Gov. Gavin Newsom credited the Biden administration for the significant development in the state’s push to secure and vaccinate nearly 40 million residents. 

“With vaccine supply increasing and by expanding eligibility to more Californians, the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter,” said Newsom. “This is possible thanks to the leadership of the Biden-Harris administration and the countless public health officials across the state who have stepped up to get shots into arms.”

According to Newsom, California is slated to receive 2.5 million doses weekly in the beginning of April, and a bump to 3 million by the end of the month. 

The state is currently averaging around 1.8 million doses per week, a number Newsom has said for weeks is far from sufficient as the state has the capability to administer 3 million per week. In total, the state expects to receive around 11 million doses in April as the Johnson & Johnson version becomes more readily available.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly cast the expansion as a significant development but reiterated it could still take months for everyone to get their shots if supplies run short again.

“We are even closer to putting this pandemic behind us with today’s announcement and with vaccine supplies expected to increase dramatically in the months ahead,” said Ghaly. “[But], we are not there yet. It will take time to vaccinate all eligible Californians. During this time, we must not let our guard down.”

In making all adults eligible for the vaccine next month, California will beat President Biden’s goal of universal eligibility by May 1. Several other states are already offering the vaccine to everyone over 16, including Arizona and West Virginia, while dozens have announced universal eligibility dates for later this month or early April.

Along with the “stair-stepped” expansion predicted to climax on what is traditionally been known as Tax Day or April 15, the state is giving providers immediate wiggle room in handing out shots.

Newsom said providers could decide to give it to someone accompanying a family member an appointment for the shot, even if they aren’t currently eligible under the state’s framework.

“No questions asked,” Newsom told reporters.

Newsom was however exaggerating the change as according to the new framework, providers are given the leeway only for those living in areas that have seen large amounts of Covid-19 cases and deaths.  

 

Thursday’s announcement comes as welcomed news in a state that struggled mightily in the early stages of its vaccine rollout.

Millions of doses languished on hospital and pharmacy shelves last December and January as California quickly fell behind the vaccination pace set by other major states. The rampant dysfunction and lack of state guidance caused counties to forge their own path in administering the life-saving vaccine at a time when the state was averaging nearly 500 Covid-19 deaths per day. 

For weeks Newsom defended the state’s failing plan, but ultimately the Democratic governor was forced to scrap it after data showed vaccines were not being distributed quickly or fairly.

In response to complaints of minority and low-income residents being unable to find the vaccine, Newsom ordered 40% of all doses be reserved for the state’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. The state also recruited Blue Shield of California to take over the distribution process.

The state has turned things around, according to federal data, as California has administered 76% of its supply so far, up from less than 30 percent in mid-January.

Newsom, who has yet to receive the vaccine, highlighted the improvements during a press conference, noting California has now administered more doses (15.5 million) than any other state and all other nations except for five. He boasted the numbers will continue to rise later on in the spring when the state will have the capability to administer 4 million doses in a single week. 

“Just a few weeks there will be no rules, no limitations as it relates to the ability to get a vaccine,” Newsom claimed.

 

Courthouse News Service.

In a year of Zoom memorials, art exhibit makes space for grief

By ANNA ALMENDRALA, Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Tami Roncskevitz has attended two Zoom memorials for her daughter, Sarah, a 32-year-old emergency room social worker who died of covid on May 30. But she longs to gather Sarah’s friends and family together in one place so they can embrace and mourn together.

 “It just isn’t the same,” said Roncskevitz. “You feel like your grieving is not complete.”

With more than 520,000 in the nation lost to the coronavirus, the United States has millions of people like Roncskevitz whose grief is compounded because families — which, in her case, includes Sarah’s fiancé and two young children — have been unable to publicly celebrate the lost lives with in-person memorials.

Honolulu artist Taiji Terasaki is stepping into that breach with a project to commemorate fallen health care workers.

Terasaki first projects an image of the deceased onto a screen of mist droplets. He then photographs several dynamic, ephemeral portraits of the mist projections, and then prints these photos onto a long scroll. The effect is a mashup of traditional kakejiku, or Japanese hanging scrolls, and a gigantic filmstrip.

Each scroll is then placed in an inscribed wooden box and can be unfurled for display.

The effect is bittersweet, said 59-year-old Roncskevitz, who lives in Benicia, California, and saw the images online.

“I can see her smiling face, but I can also see it evaporating in that picture,” she said. “For me, I feel like it’s representative of Sarah’s body dissipating, and her spirit moving forward.”

So far, Terasaki has created 15 mist portraits for health care workers, who include radiologists, janitors and nurses. The scrolls can be unfurled up to 20 feet and are currently installed in the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles, which is closed due to covid restrictions.

But the exhibit, called “Transcendients: Memorial to Healthcare Workers,” will make its world debut virtually on March 13, along with other artwork Terasaki has made to commemorate pandemic heroes. “Transcendient” is Terasaki’s neologism from “transcendent” and “transient”; it’s a concept he has used in past exhibits on immigration, the U.S. migrant border crisis and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Terasaki passed his lockdown time cutting photographs and weaving them back together to create pixelated, screen-like images of people who had helped others during the pandemic. He posted these works on Instagram every day for 100 days.

As deaths mounted, he decided to create memorials and came across “Lost on the Frontline,” a collaborative reporting project between KHN and The Guardian. The series features short profiles of health care workers who have died of covid, as well as investigative stories about the lack of personal protective equipment many workers endured as they showed up for work during the pandemic.

“Who’s sacrificing the most? It’s these health care workers who are out there risking their lives,” said Terasaki.

Terasaki reached out to KHN to see if he could add to the collaboration with the memorial scrolls, and then set out to contact the families featured in Lost on the Frontline.

Expanding the project to incorporate art is going to widen the project’s reach, said Christina Jewett, KHN’s lead investigative reporter for Lost on the Frontline. To date, the team has identified more than 3,500 health care worker deaths caused by covid and is the most comprehensive database to date, as states have different requirements about recording and reporting these deaths.

Helena Cawley contributed a portrait of her father to Terasaki’s project to keep his memory alive. She recalled receiving the news that her father had unexpectedly died of covid. Cawley let out a primal scream and dropped to the floor, sobbing.

This was March 30, back when covid tests were scarce, hospitals were scrambling to obtain ventilators and masks, and the U.S. had just passed 3,000 deaths from the disease.

Cawley’s father, 74-year-old hospital radiologist David Wolin, was the first person Cawley knew who tested positive for the virus. A month later, Wolin’s wife, Susan, Cawley’s stepmother, also succumbed to the disease.

Because New York City was under stay-at-home orders, no visitors came to comfort Cawley’s grieving family; no one could relieve them from the pressures of child care or chores as a friend might have done before the pandemic. Cawley recalled that about one hour after learning her father had died, she was back in the kitchen, blinking back tears as she prepared lunch for her two young children.

Cawley leaned on her husband for support as she went through the logistics of grief throughout 2020, which included clearing out her father and stepmother’s apartment and lake house. She now wears a ring her father received as a gift, and sometimes visits his grave or sits on a park bench that the Brooklyn Hospital Center named in his memory. And she’s grateful for opportunities to keep his name and image circulating, especially since her family has yet to organize an in-person memorial.

“It’s so great to have people remember him and think of him and want to honor him,” said 41-year-old Cawley. “I love having his name out there and letting people know who he was.”

Terasaki, 62, has explored death, grieving and rituals in past work. The 2017 performance art exhibit “Feeding the Immortals” invited the public to bring food that reminded them of a deceased loved one, and to speak about the person and place the food on an altar.

The work was a reaction to the 2016 death of his father, Paul Terasaki, a pioneering organ-transplant scientist who had been detained as a child with his family in an internment camp in Arizona during World War II.

After his father died, Terasaki struggled to connect with the Christian funeral services organized to remember him and decided to create his own ritual. Even before the pandemic, Terasaki felt that American culture weakly commemorated its dead. Now that the pandemic has put a chill on community death rituals, the lack is even more glaring.

Terasaki is sending a 7-foot scroll to each family participating in the art project, in the hope they might unfurl and display it once a year on the death anniversary. Terasaki also hopes to create small community memorials throughout the U.S.

“What’s really missing in our culture is the ritual and ceremony — to really get quiet and reflect and just experience the silence,” he said. “We need to find a space of reverence for the lost.”

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.