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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Reinstated - A Year Later & Now a Lawsuit

A year ago, we posted what appeared to be a resolution of a case involving the suspension and then reinstatement of a long-time continuing lecturer.* The case involved issues of academic freedom, grading in the context of the early stages of the coronavirus shift to online education, charges of racism, and considerable internet attention.

Although the individual was reinstated, a lawsuit has now been filed on his behalf which is already receiving internet attention on platforms such as Twitter. Examples:

https://reason.com/volokh/2021/09/29/ucla-lecturer-gordon-klein-suing-ucla-over-controversy-related-to-e-mail-rejecting-student-request-for-exam-leniency-for-black-students/ [UCLA Law Prof. Eugene Volokh's blog]

https://twitter.com/bariweiss/status/1443646528002920459

https://bariweiss.substack.com/f/c4a8f715-54fd-4496-a661-909808caf480.pdf [download]

Since the lawsuit was just filed (Sept. 27), no response to it from UC/UCLA has yet appeared. An account in the Daily Bruin has just appeared:

https://dailybruin.com/2021/09/30/ucla-accounting-lecturer-files-lawsuit-against-dean-and-uc-board-of-regents.

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*http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2020/09/reinstated.html.

Please Respond

From CalMatters: “At Keck Medicine of USC, 92% of employees are fully vaccinated and only five people have not been vaccinated or sought a religious or medical exemption, according to Felipe Osorno, executive administrator of operations. 

UCLA Health did not respond to inquiries about meeting the mandate.”

Full story at https://calmatters.org/health/coronavirus/2021/09/california-vaccine-hospital-workers-mandate/

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Stretched Out Recovery

The UCLA Anderson Forecast conference was held this morning in hybrid format, Zoom and limited in-person. In essence, as compared to the June outlook, the Forecast now suggests a stretched out recovery with the third quarter of 2021 (the current quarter that is now finishing) slowed by a combination of the delta variant of the coronavirus and supply-side constraints leading to shortages. The economy gets back to its old trendline sometime in 2023 under this scenario. From the official news release:

...In June, UCLA Anderson economists noted that the COVID-19 pandemic continued to cast a shadow over the California forecast. Three months later, that shadow persists. But as progress toward a vaccinated population and the state economic reopening continue, a clearer, though still uncertain, picture emerges. The availability of multiple vaccines, along with a drop in new cases from the latest peak, suggests a reduced impact of the pandemic on the state’s economy.

The California analysis, written by UCLA Anderson Forecast director Jerry Nickelsburg (based on the forecast he co-authored with UCLA Anderson Forecast economist Leila Bengali), includes the assumption that future COVID-19 variants will create less serious economic impact. However, the memory of the delta variant will continue to spook consumers, creating a slower return to earlier consumption behavior than previously forecast.

One striking aspect of the recession and recovery, according to Nickelsburg, is how it has disproportionately hit lower-income Californians, exacerbating inequality in the state. Income inequality, particularly given the state’s high housing costs, is a concern for a variety of social and economic reasons. The California report delves into whether this rising inequality might affect future economic growth but finds no evidence that it will.

Although California began a significant recovery later than some other states because of its stricter public health interventions, Nickelsburg and Bengali’s forecast expects the California recovery and expansion, once again, to outpace those of the U.S. as a whole. They point to two factors. First, the delta variant notwithstanding, the state’s better public health outcomes should result in a more rapid return to normalcy. Second, the transition to new ways of work and social interaction will disproportionately benefit California through its technology sectors. The leisure and hospitality sector will be the last to recover because of the depth of its decline, the comparatively slow return of demand for restaurant and bar services, and the subsectors dependent upon international tourism.

The recovery will be considerably faster in higher-income technical services and faster in residential construction as California’s shortage of housing relative to demand drives new development. While Nickelsburg expects these differentials in rates of recovery to exacerbate California’s inequality, which is the worst in the nation, he does not see it as a drag on economic growth — yet.

The unemployment rate for the third quarter of 2021 is expected to be 7.2%, with the annual rates for 2021, 2022 and 2023 anticipated to be 7.6%, 5.6% and 4.4%, respectively. Total employment growth rates for 2021, 2022 and 2023 are expected to be 3.5%, 3.9% and 2.7%, respectively.

In spite of the recession, the continued demand for a limited housing stock coupled with low interest rates leads to a forecast of a relatively rapid return of home building. The economists expect 123,000 net new units to be built in the state in 2021 and continued growth to 139,000 net new units for 2023. Nonetheless, Nickelsburg writes, that level of home building means the private sector will not be able to build its way out of the state’s housing affordability problem over the next three years...

Full release at https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/ucla-anderson-forecast-solid-growth-us-economy-delta-variant.

You can see the Forecast event at the link below:


Or direct to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3v-XzWhWrk.

There Could Be a Spillover

There has been a legal drift toward viewing student-athletes as more than just students who happen to play sports, given the large amounts of money that are connected with such college sports as football and basketball. 

The General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) - which covers labor relations in the private sector - has issued a memo viewing student-athletes as employees of their institutions. UC, of course, is a public institution and thus not covered by the NLRB. It is covered by the state's PERB - Public Employment Relations Board - which is not bound to follow NLRB precedent. However, much of California public sector labor law is modeled on the federal National Labor Relations Act as amended. PERB might well be "influenced" by this shift in private-sector policy.

Below is the text of the NLRB news release:

NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo Issues Memo on Employee Status of Players at Academic Institutions

September 29, 2021

Today, National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memorandum to all Field offices providing updated guidance regarding her position that certain Players at Academic Institutions (sometimes referred to as student athletes), are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, and, as such, are afforded all statutory protections.

The memo further advises that, where appropriate, she will allege that misclassifying such employees as mere “student-athletes” and leading them to believe that they are not entitled to the Act’s protection has a chilling effect on Section 7 activity and is an independent violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the Act.

“Players at Academic Institutions perform services for institutions in return for compensation and subject to their control.  Thus, the broad language of Section 2(3) of the Act, the policies underlying the NLRA, Board law, and the common law fully support the conclusion that certain Players at Academic Institutions are statutory employees, who have the right to act collectively to improve their terms and conditions of employment,” said General Counsel Abruzzo. “My intent in issuing this memo is to help educate the public, especially Players at Academic Institutions, colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA, about the legal position that I will be taking regarding employee status and misclassification in appropriate cases.”   

Recent developments bolster General Counsel Abruzzo’s  position, including: the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent unanimous decision in NCAA v. Alston, that recognized that college sports is a profit-making enterprise, rejected the NCAA’s antitrust defense based in the notion of amateurism in college athletics, and expanded permissible types of education-related compensation that had been limited by the NCAA, such as payments for tutoring or scholarships for graduate or vocational schools; and the Players’ recent collective actions about racial justice issues and demands for fair treatment, as well as for safety protocols to play during the pandemic, which all directly concern their terms and conditions of employment. 

This new memo also reinstates a related one, GC 17-01, which had been rescinded in December 2017.

News release at https://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/news-story/nlrb-general-counsel-jennifer-abruzzo-issues-memo-on-employee-status-of. A link to the memo can be found in the news release.

Watch the Regents Meeting of Sept. 28, 2021

The Regents began their three-day meeting yesterday afternoon via Zoom with a full-board public comments session. Topics covered in that session included lecturers' status and union issues, Berkeley's Peoples Park project, nurse staffing, and work-from-home for UC staff.

Public comments were followed by a meeting of the Investments Committee. As noted in a prior post, very positive returns were reported for the year ending June 30, 2021, so that the pension on a market basis was reported as 94% funded.* However, the third quarter of 2021 did not produce great returns and various uncertainties were cited, notably about the current inflation and how the Federal Reserve will respond. Berkeley Professor Christina Romer, acting as a consultant to the Committee, indicated that the Fed still attributed the recent inflationary burst as a temporary response to the pandemic but she was less certain that was entirely the case. 

The National Labs committee reviewed the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL). UC has had a managerial role in what were at one time referred to as the nuclear labs (also including Los Alamos and Lawrence Berkeley) with a history going back to the Manhattan Project. The new director of LLNL reported on Lab activity including work on fusion and recent experiments trying to create fusion energy as a viable energy source.

As always, we preserve the recording of Regents meetings indefinitely since the Regents "archive" their recordings for only one year. You can watch the Sept. 28th session at https://archive.org/details/regents-board-investments-national-labs-9-28-21.

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*http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/09/only-good-news-tomorrow.html.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

There's Still a Missing Link for Boosters

UCLA Health is now advising patients via email that booster shots are available for previous Pfizer recipients and certain Moderna recipients.* Note, however, that eligibility requires patients to be age 65+, immune-compromised or with certain underlying conditions, or in certain occupations.

Note that the bulk of UC faculty and staff are below age 65 and not immune-compromised, etc. The occupations listed on UCLA Health's announcement - taken directly from the CDC website - are:

Health care workers, First responders (firefighters, police, congregate care staff), Education staff (teachers, support staff, daycare workers)Food and agriculture workers, Manufacturing workers. Corrections workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, Public transit workers, Grocery store workers.

Of course, that many UCLA employees fall into the health care category. We also have campus police who would be eligible. Presumably, staff at the various restaurants on campus are food workers. So that leaves "education staff" including faculty. Are higher education staff included as education staff this time around? When the vaccines were initially rolled out, it was eventually determined that education included higher ed, not just K-12. Is that the case now? That is the missing link in the booster program.

As a practical matter, the various area drugstore chains are giving boosters based on applicant attestation, although you might be asked to show your vaccination card. So, if you attest that you are education staff, you would probably get a booster. One suspects the drugstores are being paid for each vaccination and, thus, are accommodating. Still, a definitive statement from UCLA/UCLA health that education staff are eligible would be helpful and would eliminate the missing link.

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*Details: https://apps.uclahealth.org/e/es?s=1108064982&e=89435&elqTrackId=af5a6f047aa64eb69c1633ddd78d6e68&elq=43948a4ddb74477fb3806a6eb095b4ef&elqaid=290&elqat=1.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Only Good News Tomorrow

When the Regents meetings kick off tomorrow, there will be just Good News from the Investments Committee. Excerpt:

UC Pension Estimated to Be 94 Percent Funded on Market Value Basis. 

The UC pension stood at $91 billion as of June 30, 2021, up $20.8 billion from the prior year and representing an increase of $38.9 billion since 2014 (a 75 percent increase). The one-year net return was 30.5 percent (2.0 percent over the benchmark). The three-year return was 12 percent, the five-year return was 11.6 percent and the seven-year return was 8.5 percent. The ten-year return was 8.9 percent, the 20-year return was 6.9 percent, and the 25-year rate, 8.1 percent, and the 29-year rate is nine percent. Over these time frames, all returns were at or above the policy benchmarks.

Private equities in the pension returned 54.7 percent and public equities returned 41.8 percent for the year. The pension liabilities as of June 30, 2021 stood at approximately $97 billion (estimated), making the pension funded at an estimated 94 percent on a market value basis and 83 percent on an actuarial basis. The current pension discount rate is 6.75 percent. Since 2014, UC Investments has added $2.1 billion in value to the pension beyond the benchmark and saved $1.4 billion in fees.

UC Investments has been investing the pension for 62 years and today it has 250,976 members, 54 percent of them active.

Full investment report at https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/regmeet/sept21/i1.pdf.

EVC Departure

From an email received this morning:

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Emily A. Carter has informed me of her decision to step down and return to Princeton University, where she will become the inaugural senior strategic advisor for sustainability science at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. There, she will provide leadership in the science and technology of sustainability, carbon management and geoengineering. In addition to her administrative post there, she will also return to the faculty and serve as the Gerhard R. Andlinger ‘52 Professor in Energy and the Environment as well as professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

Emily expressed to me an urgency to refocus her expertise and attention on the pressing issue of climate change mitigation. I respect her decision. Her last official day at UCLA will be December 9...

Full release at https://view.bp.e.ucla.edu/?qs=b612834bd89d31cb896855a8019535a3bceeaa269da7c838c3fc4df4615da4fabe5edf5489f9a5c721a733c3a8b95b9fbc4dd18497f2ab3b2e761891e081848436cb43639681037d83ae4e53738b35ca4d87dfb9d1b8f6d7

Pandemic Policy

The Bruin summarizes a meeting with Chancellor Block and AVC Beck. Below is the coronavirus excerpt. Apparently, no one thought to raise the question about the wisdom of UCLA sponsoring block parties of the type about which we have previous blogged.

...COVID-19

With regard to possible future COVID-19 outbreaks on campus, UCLA created the COVID-19 Pivot Decision Making Matrix. The university will rely on the matrix to determine if or when a change to remote learning will be needed, Beck said. The decision-making criteria outlined in the matrix are based on Los Angeles County and UCLA-specific public health conditions, as well as recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Beck said UCLA does not expect to return to entirely remote learning this year based on data from the UCLA School of Law and David Geffen School of Medicine, which are on semester schedules.
  • UCLA is promoting proper mask wearing, frequent testing and vaccinations in the greater Westwood community, said Beck. Osako added that UCLA will have educational booths in the Westwood Farmers Market to emphasize the importance of these measures.
  • Osaka said the UC Vaccination Policy is one of the best measures UCLA can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its surrounding community.

COVID-19 protocols funding

The university’s COVID-19 protocols have large upfront and continuing costs, such as testing, providing isolation quarters and contact tracing.

  • Beck said the funding for UCLA’s COVID-19 testing comes from a federal grant the university received, noting that the testing is probably the most expensive part of UCLA’s COVID-19 protocols.
  • The university housing designated as isolation quarters for those who test positive for COVID-19 will result in a reduced income stream for UCLA, but the campus housing program is expected to make up the lost revenue over time, Beck said.
  • In the 2020-2021 academic year, UCLA lost almost $300 million in revenue from the housing program due to restrictions on the amount of students that could be living on the Hill. UCLA Housing is financially self-sufficient and has not relied on the campus to fill those losses, Beck said.

COVID-19 Protocols Enforcement

With regard to the enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols such as wearing masks indoors, Beck said UCLA will leave engaging with noncompliant students up to faculty members’ discretion and has recommended that faculty members engage with students in a very limited manner.

  • Faculty members can request that students wear masks properly or leave the classroom if they fail to comply, Beck said. However, he added that UCLA recommends that faculty members turn noncompliant students’ names over to Student Conduct for investigation and discipline.
  • UCPD will not respond to issues regarding students’ improper mask wearing, Beck said.
  • Beck also said faculty who do not comply with COVID-19 safety protocols will be disciplined by the Academic Personnel Office disciplinary process, and staff will be disciplined by their respective human resources’ disciplinary process.
  • Block and Beck both said that they anticipate the majority of students will comply with COVID-19 regulations.

Online learning

With regard to a petition signed by the Disabled Students Union and other students that calls on UCLA to eliminate in-person learning and teaching requirements, Gorden said disabled students, immunocompromised students or students who contract COVID-19 should go to the Center for Accessible Education and request appropriate academic accommodations.

  • Students with qualified disabilities will retain all their accommodations, both Gorden and Beck said.
  • Students needing financial support should contact the Economic Crisis Response Team, Gorden said.
  • Beck said it is not technologically feasible for UCLA to broadcast every course on campus.
  • UCLA is not actively planning on using virtual learning methods to increase the number of applicants who can be accepted into the university, Block said when responding to a question from the Editorial Board about the possibility of UCLA expanding its enrollment.
  • Block added that the Academic Senate will be making decisions about students’ accommodations going forward since fall quarter will be held predominantly in person and is similar to the university’s traditional learning environment...

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Maybe We Can Learn from UC-San Diego

During the past year, UC-San Diego looked for ways to continue in-person learning as much as possible despite the coronavirus pandemic. Among the methods utilized there was to use large outdoor tents for classes. At the time, UCLA was said to be unable to do the same due to LA County restrictions. But now, LA County restrictions shouldn't be a barrier since they have been relaxed. Instead of promoting irresponsible block parties, UCLA might borrow from San Diego.* By the way, the photo above from UC-San Diego, which appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, was taken during the current quarter, i.e., the course you see is now underway.**

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*http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/09/somebody-thought-this-was-great-idea.htmlhttp://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/09/boosters-lets-hope-for-smoother-rollout_24.html. By the way, whoever does PR for UCLA has released a Facebook video in effect bragging about the recent block party. The video manages to reduce the crowding scenes shown in Daily Bruin photos to a few glimpses:

https://www.facebook.com/UCLA/videos/620505285779510.

**https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/education/story/2021-09-23/first-day-uc-san-diego.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Wrong Way

We were slow this week in looking at new weekly California claims for unemployment benefits. But, as you can see above, the claims went up in the week ended Sept. 18. That result is not a sign of a strong California economy. This coming week, the UCLA Anderson Forecast will be giving its prognosis. We will see.

As always, the new claims data are at https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf.

Is Medicare (and ultimately UC) Disadvantaged by Medicare Advantage? - Part 2

We noted in a prior posting that there are concerns about the Medicare Advantage program at the national level - and concerning UC at a more micro level.* Medicare Advantage plans are basically a privatized version of Medicare. Although proponents of "Medicare for All" seem to think that Medicare is a single-payer government-run insurance entity, the reality is more complicated. Medicare-eligible recipients can choose Medicare Advantage plans run by private insurance companies which then are paid by the federal government to deliver health insurance. 

Those recipients who choose Medicare Advantage plans are supposed to receive Medicare-equivalent benefits, often with some "perks" thrown in, e.g., gym membership, to attract clients. Over 40% of the Medicare-eligible population in fact receive private Medicare Advantage and the proportion is growing. UC began offering a Medicare Advantage plan to its retirees a few years ago. The plan is the cheapest option. Apart from directly saving UC money, it also effectively raises the out-of-pocket cost of other traditional Medicare wrap-around (supplemental) plans for those retirees who chose the traditional option.

The question of why the Medicare Advantage plans are so cheap, and why private insurers compete to recruit Medicare-eligible participants through advertising, etc., has been raised. One might think that insuring an elderly population would be costly and unattractive. But  apparently, one would be wrong to think so. The federal government provides insurers who compete in the Medicare Advantage market with risk-adjusted premiums. If premiums are high enough, even high-risk participants can be attractive. There if been suspicions that in fact the federal government has been over-paying (and/or that insurers have been exaggerating risk to obtain attractive premiums).

From Healthcare Dive:

OIG flags potential $5B overpaid to Medicare Advantage plans

Sept. 22, 2021, Samantha Liss

Dive Brief:

A federal watchdog is again raising concerns about risk-adjusted payments in the Medicare Advantage program and whether insurers are gaming the system to make more money. 

The sicker a Medicare Advantage beneficiary, the more money an insurer will receive to take care of that member. The report highlights how some beneficiaries may appear sicker as a result of insurers conducting certain assessments, outside of a physician's office, to add a diagnosis to accrue the higher risk-adjusted payment.

In an analysis, the HHS Office of Inspector General found that 20 of the 162 MA organizations were responsible for 54% of the risk-adjusted payments from these assessments, chart reviews and health risk assessments, resulting in $5 billion in possible inappropriate payments.  

Dive Insight:

The federal government frequently alleges cases of overpayment to MA plans, which now cover about 42% of people in Medicare. It April, it said Humana had overcharged the program by nearly $200 million for submitting documentation claiming patients were sicker than they were. A month later, it alleged Anthem received $3.4 million extra because it wrongly classified patients as high-risk. Then in August, Aetna disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that HHS OIG was targeting their MA plans amid recent whistleblower lawsuits. The findings also come amid outside research showing that MA members cost the government $321 more per person than those enrolled in the traditional Medicare program.

HHS OIG is calling for greater oversight amid the findings from its latest analysis of risk-adjusted payments in MA. The report urges CMS to conduct greater oversight of the 20 insurers, which were not named in the report, to determine the appropriateness of those payments. It also calls for periodic monitoring of insurers and whether they received a disproportionate amount of risk-adjusted payments. As part of its report, HHS OIG analyzed whether certain insurers were using chart reviews and health risk assessments to generate higher payments at a greater rate than their peers. The watchdog found that most insurers had a proportional amount of risk-adjusted payments based on their size. However, that was not true for all them. About 12%, or 20 insurers, had payments that were disproportionally higher than their size.

Those 20 insurers generated more than half of the $9.2 billion in risk-adjusted payments in 2017 but were responsible for less than a third of MA members. The payments were generated by chart reviews and health risk assessments "that were the sole source of diagnoses in the encounter data," according to the report. But one unnamed company stood out even more, OIG said. The company had 40% of risk-adjusted payments from the assessments but enrolled only 22% of MA members.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates UnitedHealthcare controlled 25% of MA enrollment in 2017, followed by Humana (17%) and BCBS plans (16%).

Source: https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/medicare-advantage-organizations-drove-more-than-half-of-risk-/607001/.

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The concern for UC is that if the federal government begins cracking down - lowering its payments to insurers - Medicare Advantage insurers will have to jack up their premiums to customers including UC. In the meantime, however, the cheapness of the Medicare Advantage option may drive recipients out of the traditional plans and into the Medicare Advantage plans, ending choice for participants and, in the end, leading to higher costs for participants.

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*http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/08/is-medicare-and-ultimately-uc.html.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Summary Chart

EdSource has an article about squeezing down out-of-state enrollments at UC at the behest of the legislature. The chart above summarizes UC's funding of "core" functions:

https://calmatters.org/education/higher-education/2021/09/uc-out-of-state-tuition/

Boosters: Let's Hope for a Smoother Rollout This Time - Part 2 (and no more dumb block parties, please)

According to the NY Times, the official policy on Pfizer booster shots will expand to those over 65 and various occupational groups including "teachers." In the rollout last winter, educational workers were determined to include higher education. What is meant by "teachers" needs to be determined by UC/UCLA quickly since there are plans for the program to begin officially as early as next week. Last winter, it took more time than it should have to find out the status of workers in higher education. Let's speed it up this time. 

Below is an excerpt from the NY Times:

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday overruled a recommendation by an agency advisory panel that had refused to endorse booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine for frontline workers. It was a highly unusual move for the director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, but aligned C.D.C. policy with the Food and Drug Administration’s endorsements over her own agency’s advisers. The C.D.C.’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Thursday recommended the boosters for a wide range of Americans, including tens of millions of older adults and younger people at high risk for the disease. But they excluded health care workers, teachers and others whose jobs put them at risk. That put their recommendations at odds with the F.D.A.’s authorization of booster shots for all adults with a high occupational risk.

Dr. Walensky’s decision was a boost for President Biden’s campaign to give a broad segment of Americans access to boosters. The White House had come under criticism for getting ahead of the regulatory process. The White House could begin promoting and rolling out a plan for booster shots as soon as Friday. That would be in keeping with the administration’s previously announced plan to offer the additional doses this week...

Full story at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/24/world/covid-boosters-vaccine-cdc-director.html.

Note: The official CDC statement is vague:

  • people aged 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting may receive a booster shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series, based on their individual benefits and risks.

Full release at https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0924-booster-recommendations-.html.

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Two days ago, we posted about an irresponsible block party reported to be hosted by UCLA and the Westwood Village Improvement Association (WVIA).* The latter is a business improvement district (BID) that provides additional services to Westwood such as sanitation, etc. It might be noted that while the Association is largely made up of local businesses and real estate interests, UCLA plays an important role in the organization as you can see below:

Westwood Village Improvement Association Board of Directors

A 13-member Board of Directors, consisting of property owners, merchants, and a UCLA representative administer the management of the Westwood Business Improvement District.

Board Chair, Kevin Crummy, Douglas Emmett Management, LLC

Board Vice-Chair, Renee Fortier, UCLA Transportation

Board Treasurer, Peter Clinco, Skylight Gardens

Secretary, Matt Lavin, TOPA Management

Dean Abell, Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers

Jessica Dabney, North American Realty

John Heidt, Heidt Torres Co.

Damien Hirsch, W. Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills

Patrick Nally, Tishman Speyer

Dana Slatkin, Violet Bistro, Shop & Cooking School

Josh Trifunovic, Gayley Family, LLC/Rocco’s Tavern

Bill Tucker, Tucker Investment Group

Jeremy Wolf, Wolf Commercial

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Thursday, September 23, 2021

A Hard Nut to Crack (has been cracked)

Blog readers who have followed our coverage of Regents meetings will know that the issue of displacement of tenants in an older Berkeley building on Walnut Street to build a new student dorm has been an area of controversy.* It appears now that the controversy has ended. From Berkeleyside:

The remaining tenants at 1921 Walnut St. have agreed to move out, setting the stage for UC Berkeley to tear down a 112-year-old rent-controlled building so a new $300 million, 772-bed, 14-story dorm for transfer students can go up. The decision to leave was a hard one, according to a few of the residents, who said they ultimately felt they

had no choice as an array of factors were aligned against them. Ever since Cal purchased the building in July 2020, the tenants have fought its destruction and their eviction. They have held rallies, marched through downtown, made videos, set up a website outlining the situation, and garnered support from the Berkeley City Council, the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) and others. UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley even said in July, as part of their newest agreement, that they would explore moving the building, but that effort never really got far...

Full story at https://www.berkeleyside.org/2021/09/22/walnut-street-rent-controlled-building-uc-berkeley-anchor-house.

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*Example:

http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/05/watch-regents-meetings-of-may-12-2021.html.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Somebody Thought This Was a Great Idea

The Daily Bruin has an article about a block party held in Westwood last Sunday.* Yes, it took place outdoors and the students are masked in two of the three photos. Not so much in the photo in the upper right, however, which appears to be taken in an enclosed space. And the masks came off, of course, for eating and drinking in the local establishments which participated. According to the article, the party was "co-hosted by UCLA and the Westwood Village Improvement Association."

Another quote:

"Nikhil Chakravarty, a epidemiology graduate student, said that despite the size of the crowds, he was not concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in Westwood. The huge crowds can be unnerving, he said. Still, he has confidence in UCLA’s reputation as a public health institution and the vaccination requirements to attend classes."

Let's hope UCLA's reputation frightened away any stray viruses.

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Question: If this event were a research project to see what might happen, would UCLA's protocols on human subject research allow it to occur?

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*https://dailybruin.com/2021/09/21/uclas-annual-block-party-returns-to-westwood-village.

Boosters: Let's Hope for a Smoother Rollout This Time

UCLA Health sent out an email this morning concerning what appears to be an imminent approval for booster shots and (somewhat less imminent) shots for kids under 12: 

FDA may weigh in on COVID-19 vaccine booster doses this week

Last week, a scientific advisory committee to the FDA recommended against approving a Pfizer-BioNTech booster for the general public. However, they unanimously voted to approve a third (booster) dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for:

-Anyone 65 and older

-People 16 and older who are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19

A CDC advisory committee is scheduled to review the recommendation later this week and provide more detailed guidance, specifically defining who is at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19 or at high occupational risk of exposure.

Additional meetings are expected so that the FDA and CDC can weigh in on whether people who received the two-dose Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine also need a booster. UCLA Health is preparing for booster dose administration now. We’ll share more information when it’s available.

What about the COVID-19 vaccine for kids?

On Monday, Pfizer announced that a clinical trial demonstrated its COVID-19 vaccine is safe, well tolerated and showed robust neutralizing antibody responses in children ages 5 to 11. The two doses for this younger demographic, delivered 21 days apart, is one-third the amount of the current doses for adolescents and adults. Pfizer noted it will apply for emergency use authorization from the FDA by the end of the month. If everything goes smoothly, 5- to 11-year-olds might become eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccine by Halloween. Clinical trial results for children under 5 are not yet available.

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Let's hope for a smooth rollout of the boosters by UCLA Health. As faithful blog readers will recall, the rollout last winter for vaccinations was not so smooth:

https://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/02/ucla-needs-new-vaccine-rollout-for_10.html; https://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/02/ucla-needs-new-vaccine-rollout-for.html; https://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/01/ucla-needs-new-vaccine-rollout-for_26.html; https://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/01/ucla-needs-new-vaccine-rollout-for_25.html; https://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/01/ucla-needs-new-vaccine-rollout-for.html.

Money for Coronavirus Testing

UCLA receives $13 million contract to expand COVID-19 testing

SwabSeq kits are already available in vending machines for free self-testing by campus community

Elaine Schmidt | September 20, 2021

A new $13.3 million contract from the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative, or RADx, will enable the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA to expand its capacity to process COVID-19 tests.

UCLA’s diagnostic laboratory will be able to process up to 150,000 COVID-19 tests per day using SwabSeq, a sequencing technology developed at UCLA. The technology pools thousands of saliva samples and returns individual test results in less than 24 hours.

“UCLA developed SwabSeq and brought the technology to market in only six months — a process that normally takes years,” said Eleazar Eskin, chair of computational medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine and the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering.

UCLA researchers pioneered the technology in April 2020 in collaboration with Octant, a startup company founded at UCLA, and the SwabSeq laboratory opened for business on campus in October 2020. SwabSeq is quicker and less expensive than the widely used polymerase chain reaction method, which requires a secondary process that limits the number of daily tests a lab can perform.

“UCLA Health relies on the SwabSeq platform to regularly test its health care workforce,” said Johnese Spisso, president of UCLA Health and CEO of UCLA Hospital System. “With the additional capacity afforded by this new contract, we hope to accommodate the testing needs of other health care workers in the state.”

From lab to vending machine

SwabSeq tests are already in use by UCLA faculty, staff and students returning to campus for the 2021–22 academic year. UCLA is encouraging members of the campus community to test themselves for COVID-19 weekly using free kits, which are available from a dozen vending machines located throughout the campus.

After depositing their completed SwabSeq tests in collection bins next to the vending machines, users are notified by email or text when their results are available from a secure website.

The SwabSeq lab is also analyzing COVID-19 saliva tests for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which administers one of the largest testing programs in the country. The lab also provides COVID-19 testing for Pepperdine University, Cal Poly Pomona and UC Santa Barbara, and has performed tests for Caltech and UC Irvine in the past.

How it works

SwabSeq attaches a piece of DNA that acts like a molecular “bar code” to each person’s saliva sample, allowing scientists to combine large batches of samples together in a sequencing machine and rapidly identify those that have the virus.

The testing method, which was one of the first DNA-sequencing methods to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, can also be applied to nasal COVID-19 testing samples.

“Due to the advances in sequencing technology over the past two decades, today’s genomic sequencers are able to process tens of thousands of samples at the same time,” Eskin said. “This compares very favorably to other approaches that process hundreds of samples simultaneously.“

Poised to address future pandemics

A July 2021 study by the UCLA team, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, reported that UCLA’s SwabSeq lab performed more than 80,000 tests in less than two months, and that the testing proved highly accurate. To date, the laboratory has tested more than 250,000 specimens.

“Our results demonstrate the potential for SwabSeq to be used for COVID-19 and emerging viruses on an unprecedented scale,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Valerie Arboleda, an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine. “Its flexible protocol can rapidly scale up testing and provide a solution to the need for population-wide testing to stem future pandemics.”

The contract was funded in part by the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative with funds from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health. Other funding is being provided by the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Source: https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/grant-expand-rapid-covid-19-testing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Academic Senate Survey on Impact of Switch to Remote Instruction

UC has posted a survey of faculty concerning the switch to remote instruction. Description:

In spring 2021, the UC Systemwide Academic Senate launched the Remote Instruction Survey. This dashboard includes responses from faculty and instructors about their experiences with remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic and thoughts about returning to in-person instruction.

The survey summary may have been posted for awhile but yours truly became aware of it only recently when a news article appeared indicating - based on the survey - that cheating had gone up at UC-San Diego:

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/education/story/2021-09-20/online-classes-cheating-ucsd 

In any case, you can click on the survey yourself at:

https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/faculty-instructor-remote-instruction-survey

It's a bit tricky to use. For example, to get to the cheating question, you first select "student learning" and then find the appropriate question on the drop-down menu as below:


When you make the selection, you will see the image on the top of this blog post which indicates that about half of the faculty said they believed that there was more cheating. (Note that some courses do not have the kinds of exams for which more cheating would be enabled by remote instruction.)

More on the CalPERS/Long-Term Care Settlement


We have been blogging on and off about the settlement reached in the case against CalPERS and its long-term care insurance policies.* UC employees - as state workers - were able to buy long-term care policies but the rates charged were jacked up after the initial purchase. Now UC has provided some guidance for affected employees. See below:

Know your options in the class action settlement involving CalPERS Long-Term Care Plan

Sept. 16, 2021: Updated with additional resources from UC emeriti and retiree associations

If you participated in the Long-Term Care Benefit Plan with California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) you may have received information in the mail about a class action settlement (officially referred to as Holly Wedding, et al. V. California Public Employees' Retirement System, et al., Case No. BC517444; or “Settlement”).

Unlike other benefit plans offered by the University, the Long-Term Care Plan is sponsored and managed independently by CalPERS, not by UC. As such, UC is not a party to this Settlement.

There is an important deadline on Sept. 22, 2021, for submitting an “Individual Award Acknowledgement and Election Form,” should you choose one of the options (option 2) described in the statement. If you do not submit this form by Sept. 22, your eventual options will be limited.

The final deadline to choose is Dec. 13, 2021. You may wish to consult your legal or financial advisor(s) concerning your options under the Settlement. UC is not able to provide legal advice regarding your rights under the Settlement.

Resources from UC emeriti and retiree associations.


To serve their members, UC emeriti and retiree associations have developed resources to help you better understand your options:

Please note: The resources referenced above may contain advice, opinions and statements of the information provider/content provider. UC does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other information provided by any information provider/content provider. Reliance upon any such opinion, advice, statement or other information shall also be at each user’s own risk.

Questions?

The Settlement Administrator has established a website that contains complete information about the proposed settlement, instructions for filing claims, comprehensive FAQs, etc.  They also have a dedicated email address and phone number to answers questions or concerns qualifying participants may have.  If you have questions or need help please contact the Settlement Administrator directly.

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Monday, September 20, 2021

You Won't See It

You may have seen the Netflix series "The Chair" recently about a fictional English Department chair at a fictional university. It got a lot of attention and parodies various contemporary academic foibles.

Various websites are reporting that after the success of "The Chair," Netflix has commissioned a new series called "The Adjunct." But before you get too excited, the report appears to be based on a satirical article/blog.* Some of the re-postings, however, seem to take it seriously.

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*https://academeblog.org/2021/09/17/netflix-announces-new-series-the-adjunct-as-follow-up-to-the-chair/ 

Upcoming Regents Meeting Next Week: Sept. 28-30, 2021

The Regents are having a three-day Zoom meeting next week. The agenda is below. Some interesting items are marked below. Of course, those items in closed session will not be accessible.

Agenda: September 28-30, 2021

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Tuesday, September 28

2:00 pm Board (open session - public comment session) 

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2:30 pm Investments Committee (open session) 

Action: Approval of the Minutes of the Meeting of May 11, 2021

I1 Discussion: Review of Fiscal Year 2020–21 Performance of UC Pension, Endowment, Retirement Savings Program, Blue and Gold Pool and Working Capital

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4:00 pm National Laboratories Committee (open session) 

Action: Approval of the Minutes of the Meeting of July 20, 2021

N1 Discussion: State of the Laboratory: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Wednesday, September 29

8:30 am Board (open session - includes public comment session) 

Remarks of the Chair of the Board

Remarks of the President of the University

Remarks of the Chair of the Academic Senate

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Concurrent Meetings

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9:30 am Academic and Student Affairs Committee (open session) 

Action: Approval of the Minutes of the Meeting of July 21, 2021

A1 Discussion: Update on Student Basic Needs at the University of California

A2 Discussion: State Budget Allocations of Interest to the Academic and Student Affairs Committee

A3 Discussion: Accountability Sub-Report on Diversity: Systemwide Summary of UC Students, Faculty and Staff Representation and Outcomes

A4 Discussion: Financial Aid Outreach, Communication, and Processing

A5 Discussion: The ASSIST Program: An Intersegmental Partnership Facilitating Transfer

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9:30 am Finance and Capital Strategies Committee (closed session) 

Action: Approval of the Minutes of the Meeting of July 21, 2021

F1(X) Action: Approval of Business Terms for Option to Ground Lease and Ground Lease for People’s Park Permanent Supportive Housing, Berkeley Campus

Upon end of closed

Finance and Capital Strategies Committee (open session) 

Action: Approval of the Minutes of the Meeting of July 21, 2021

F2 Action: Consent Agenda:

A. Preliminary Plans Funding, Neuropsychiatric Replacement Hospital, UCLA Health, Los Angeles Campus

B. Preliminary Plans Funding, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Master Facilities Plan Phase 2 Including New Hospital Pavilion, San Francisco Campus

F3 Action: Budget, Scope, and External Financing, Student Housing and Open Space Components; and Design, All Components, Following Action: Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, Housing Project #2, Berkeley Campus

F4 Action: 2021 Long Range Development Plan Following Action: Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, Santa Cruz Campus

F5 Action: Budget, External Financing, and Design Following Action: Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, Hillcrest Outpatient Pavilion and Parking Structure, San Diego Campus

F6 Action: Amendment to University of California 2020-21 Budget for State Capital Improvements and Approval of University of California 2022-23 Budget for State Capital Improvements

F7 Discussion: University of California Debt Portfolio Overview

F8 Discussion: Preliminary Discussion: of the University’s 2022-23 Operating Budget

F9 Discussion: Update on the University’s Seismic Safety Program

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1:00 pm Special Committee on Nominations (closed session) 

S1X Action: Appointment of Two Regents to Standing Committees

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Concurrent Meetings

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1:30 pm Public Engagement and Development Committee (open session) 

Action: Approval of the Minutes of the Meeting of July 21, 2021

P1 Discussion: Conversation with State Senator Robert Hertzberg

P2 Discussion: UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Engaging Communities to Build Wildfire Resiliency

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1:30 pm Compliance and Audit Committee (closed session) 

C1(X) Discussion Update on the Pension Administration Project

Note: This mysterious and always closed item has been appearing regularly on the agenda. 

Various legal cases involving UC including two anti-vax cases: One from the Teamsters and one from Aaron Kheriaty, a professor of psychiatry at the UC-Irvine School of Medicine.

--

3:30 pm Governance Committee (closed session) 

Action: Approval of the Minutes of the Meetings of June 23, 2021 and July 20, 2021

G1(X) Discussion: Incentive Compensation Using Non-State Funds for Fiscal Year 2020-21 for Chief Investment Officer and Vice President – Investments and Discussion: of Performance of Certain Employees in the Office of the Chief Investment Officer

G2(X) Discussion: Appointment and Compensation for Vice Chancellor – Research, Berkeley Campus

G3(X) Discussion: Update on Article 5 – Contracting Out and Regents Policy 5402 Compliance

G4(X) Discussion: Collective Bargaining Matters

Upon end of closed

Governance Committee (open session) 

Action: Approval of the Minutes of the Meetings of June 23, 2021 and July 20, 2021

G1 Action: Approval of Incentive Compensation Using Non-State Funds for Fiscal Year 2020-21 for Chief Investment Officer and Vice President – Investments, as Discussed in Closed Session

G2 Action: Approval of Appointment and Compensation for Vice Chancellor – Research, Berkeley Campus, as Discussed in Closed Session

G5 Action: Amendment of Regents Policy 1302: Public Access to Meetings and Public Comment

G6 Discussion: Dates for Regents Meetings for 2023

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Thursday, September 30

8:30 am Board (open session - includes public comment session) 

Public Comment Period (20 minutes)

Approval of the Minutes of the Meetings of June 23, 2021, July 20, 21, and 22, 2021

Remarks from Student Associations

B1 Discussion: Fall Campus Opening Plans

B2 Discussion: A Roadmap for Higher Education After the Pandemic: Report of the Recovery with Equity Task Force

B3 Discussion: Creating a Comprehensive Plan on UC Capacity

B4 Discussion: Update of COVID-19 Impact on the University of California: UC Health Issues

B5 Action: Proposed Sanction for Violation of Regents Policy 2201 by a Regent

Note: This policy states in part that "members of the Board of Regents should not seek to influence inappropriately the outcome of admissions decisions beyond sending letters of recommendation, where appropriate, through the regular admissions process and officers." This item appears to refer to Regent Blum. See: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-09-24/uc-regent-richard-blum-wrote-inappropriate-letter-for-student 

Reports from open committee sessions

Upon end of open

Board (closed session) 

Action: Approval of the Minutes of the Meetings of June 23 and 29, 2021 and July 22, 2021

Reports from closed committee sessions

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Source: https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/meetings/agendas/sept21.html.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

What's In-Person? What's Online?

The Daily Bruin has a piece about students trying to find in-person courses in the latest issue:

Bruins are expressing feelings of uncertainty for fall quarter as UCLA moves into a hybrid learning model of instruction.

Chancellor Gene Block announced in June that UCLA plans to return to mostly in-person instruction in the fall, with around 80% of classes in person. UCLA later announced that large lectures would be primarily online with discussion sections in person.

Although students will be moving back onto the Hill in full capacity, many will be attending some or most of their classes online. Some classes are planning for instruction seemingly with little guidance from UCLA’s proposed guidelines...

Full story at https://dailybruin.com/2021/09/17/uclas-hybrid-learning-model-leaves-many-bruins-with-concerns-about-fall-classes.

The article goes on with interviews of various students trying to put together their course schedules. 

Out of curiosity, yours truly poked around on the registrar's webpage for courses, particularly those likely to be taken by lower division students. There is indeed a mix of online and in-person classes and the online ones are themselves a mix of types ({pre}recorded vs. real time, etc.) It isn't necessarily only the large-enrollment courses that are online. Some courses, such as introductory language courses, that I would have thought would be best taught in-person, are in fact online. Even some fiat lux courses - which are supposed to be smaller seminars - are online.

There is no indication about hygiene rules within the in-person classes in the course listing, e.g., social distancing with regard to seating.

You can poke around for yourself at the course listings for fall at:

https://sa.ucla.edu/ro/public/soc.

Note that UCLA follows LA County rules so it is possible that, if case incidence starts rising, some in-person instruction might revert to online. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Campus Coronavirus Symptom Smartphone App - Part 2

The Sculpture Garden yesterday.

We recently posted about the new smartphone app which provides a procedure for obtaining a "pass" to come on campus and enter buildings.* Yours truly tried it yesterday. The first thing to note is that it will only work - now that we are passed the Sept. 9 deadline for mandated vaccinations - if UCLA has a record of your vaccination(s). In fact, applying for a day pass seems to be the only way to ascertain that UCLA does in fact have your proof of vaccination and has accepted it as valid. So, even if you don't plan to come to campus but want to be sure your proof was accepted, you can apply for a pass and see if the app will provide you with one. 

In any event, the app worked for yours truly. The north campus still was relatively deserted, although there were lots of students up on the hill where the dorms are and parents dropping them off there.

When yours truly entered the building containing his office, there was no one to look at his pass. Whether there will be someone to verify permissions when classes begin is an interesting question. Indeed, exactly how UCLA is going to police the mandate is unclear. Not let unvaccinated students register for courses? Cut off pay for unvaccinated staff and faculty?

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*http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/09/campus-coronavirus-symptom-smartphone.html.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Still Not Going Anywhere

As blog readers will know, we have been tracking new claims for unemployment insurance benefits in California as an indicator of the direction of the labor market and state economy. The latest claims data through the week ending Sept. 11 are still floating around 60,000 (wiggling up and down) when normal would be something like 40,000. 

As always, the latest new claims data are at https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf.

1 > 2 (in rankings)

When it comes to rankings, there is different math.

From the Daily CalUC Berkeley was ranked the second-best public university in the country by the U.S. News & World Report on Monday, defending its title for two consecutive years. UC campuses excelled as a whole in U.S. News & World Report’s Top Public Schools: National Universities list for 2022, with all nine campuses ranking in the top 50. UC Berkeley ranked second behind UCLA and has held that title each year since 2020. ...In 2019, UC Berkeley initially ranked second on the list, but then became “unranked” after misreporting alumni donation rates since 2014, according to an updated ranking released by U.S. News & World Report. In 2018, it tied for first place with UCLA...

Full story at https://www.dailycal.org/2021/09/14/uc-berkeley-ranks-no-2-in-us-news-top-public-universities-list/.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Booster Confusion

UC (and UCLA) now require faculty, staff, and students to be fully vaccinated. However, the White House report that booster shots may be needed potentially adds to the complexity of what that requirement might mean. Yours truly has reports that individuals with compromised immune systems are already receiving notices from UCLA Health to get a third shot. But from the NY Times comes a report that the three-shot recommendation may or may not occur beyond those with compromised immune systems:

U.S. Booster Policy Is in Flux as Studies Add to Dissent

A week before President Biden’s plan is to roll out, scientists are at odds about whether extra coronavirus shots are needed and for whom.

By Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland, Sept. 15, 2021

WASHINGTON — Almost a month ago, President Biden announced a plan to make coronavirus booster shots available to most adults in the United States eight months after they received their second dose. But a week before the plan is to roll out, its contours are up in the air amid a chorus of dissent inside and outside the government. The White House has already been forced to delay offering boosters to recipients of the Moderna vaccine, and for now it is planning third shots only for those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Depending on what two public health agencies decide in the coming days, the administration may have to change course again, perhaps restricting extra shots to older Americans and others who are particularly vulnerable to serious illness.

A series of dueling reviews this week illustrated the fierce argument among scientists about whether boosters are needed, and if so, for whom. A study released on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine appears to bolster the case made by the White House and its senior health advisers, stating that those who received a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine in Israel were far less likely to develop severe Covid than those who received two injections. But a review by regulators at the Food and Drug Administration, also made public on Wednesday, looked at broader evidence on third doses of the Pfizer vaccine and raised caveats. And in The Lancet this week, an article written by two of the Food and Drug Administration’s top vaccine scientists, among others, argued that there was no credible evidence that the vaccines’ potency against severe disease declined substantially over time. The two scientists had announced that they would leave the agency this fall, but their public opposition to the administration’s plan caught the F.D.A.’s top leaders by surprise and forced the White House on the defensive.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, stressed on Wednesday that the administration’s most senior health officials — including Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — had signed a statement announcing Mr. Biden’s booster plan. “Nothing has changed as it relates to the eight top doctors who put out that statement, almost a month ago,” Ms. Psaki said. What comes next partly depends on crucial meetings of expert advisory committees to both the F.D.A., which is responsible for authorizing vaccines, and the C.D.C., which typically has the final word on vaccination policies.

The F.D.A. committee will meet on Friday to discuss and vote on Pfizer-BioNTech’s application to offer third shots to people 16 and older. The C.D.C. panel is expected to meet next week. Agency officials are not required to follow the recommendations of their outside expert panels, but they generally do so. Depending on the experts’ reaction to the data review that F.D.A. regulators posted on Wednesday, the agency could decide to scale back an authorization. Even if it approves the application as it currently stands, however, the C.D.C. might recommend boosters only for those 65 and older or others who are particularly at risk, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The plan to start offering extra shots next week was announced when the White House was under growing pressure to move on boosters. Because of the highly contagious Delta variant, hospitalizations and deaths were soaring, albeit largely among the unvaccinated. Breakthrough infections were becoming more common. France, Germany and Israel were moving faster than the United States to offer boosters. And several governors were publicly calling on Mr. Biden to follow suit.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/15/us/politics/booster-shots-fda.html.