California to require COVID-19 booster shots for healthcare workers

(Reuters) – California will require healthcare workers and workers in “high-risk congregate settings” to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster by Feb. 1, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday, as part of the state’s response to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The mandate follows a Sept. 30 mandate for the state’s healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated. Workers have been able to request an exemption for religious or medical reasons.

State employees who still have not received a booster must undergo testing for COVID-19 twice each week until Feb. 1, Newsom said in a statement.

Newsom, who disclosed the new mandate in a statement, was due to elaborate on the new requirement at a press conference later on Wednesday.

While California, the country’s most populous state, exceeds the national average for full vaccinations with 65.5%, it slightly lags the national average in booster shots at just under 30%, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The governor also announced that all public school students, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, will receive a rapid COVID-19 test as they head back to school from winter break.

The state also will expand operating hours for state-operated testing centers that have reached capacity, Newsom added.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Peter Szekely in New York)

Analysis: Texas abortion law opens door to copycat curbs on guns, other rights

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to leave in place a Texas law banning most abortions has opened the door for states to seek to restrict other rights including guns by copying the measure’s novel enforcement mechanism, though it remains to be seen how many will actually do it.

The Republican-backed Texas law takes enforcement away from state officials, instead empowering private citizens to sue anyone who performs or assists a woman in obtaining an abortion after embryo cardiac activity is detected – at about six weeks of pregnancy – with awards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits. The Supreme Court issued its ruling on Friday.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said the next day that he directed his staff to work with legislators and the state’s attorney general on a bill that would similarly enable private citizens to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells assault weapons or self-assembled “ghost guns,” also with at least $10,000 in damages.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, another Democrat, said in an appearance on Tuesday on ABC’s program “The View” that she would support a similar effort in her state.

“We need to follow his lead,” James said, referring to Newsom.

President Joe Biden has urged the U.S. Congress to pass national gun restrictions, but Democratic-backed legislation over the years has been stymied by Republican opposition.

Legislators in five other Republican-led states have introduced abortion bills modeled on the Texas law, similarly structured to avoid judicial review, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group favoring abortion rights. None have yet been enacted.

The Texas law, known formally as S.B. 8, was designed to be difficult for courts to block because it removed state officials from enforcement, making it is hard for challengers to figure out who to sue and obtain a ruling that would halt it statewide. The Supreme Court largely accepted that construct while allowing abortion providers to proceed with a legal challenge aimed at some medical licensing officials.


Critics have said that ruling would allow states to enact laws that circumvent other recognized rights such as LGBT and religious rights as well as guns.

“The court is not pushing back on the use of S.B. 8-style laws to infringe constitutionally protected rights. I do think this is a bit of an invitation to other states,” said David Noll, a professor at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey.

States seeking to roll back abortion rights may in the near future not need to resort to novel mechanisms like the Texas law to avoid running afoul of Supreme Court precedent on abortion. The conservative justices who hold a 6-3 majority on the court indicated during oral arguments on Dec. 1 in a case from Mississippi that they are willing to undercut or even overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

In Illinois, one Democratic legislator has proposed targeting gun dealers with a measure similar to the one California is discussing. National gun control activists sound noncommittal.

Stacey Radnor, a spokesperson for the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement that Newsom’s proposal is “an interesting approach that we’re going to examine further as we get more details.”

Groups favoring gun rights have called Newsom’s announcement a stunt, pointing out that California already has a law banning military-style assault weapons.

“If they really wanted to be the full-blown aggressive so-and-sos that Texas has been, they would ban handguns,” said Erik Jaffe, a lawyer who filed a brief at the Supreme Court on behalf of the Firearms Policy Coalition gun rights group that has been critical of the Texas law, said of California.

Jaffe said Newsom, who in September survived a recall election, “might not survive the political fallout” of such a measure.

James White, a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives who supports the state’s abortion law, questioned in a letter to the state’s attorney general whether private individuals are bound by the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide. But White said in an interview he does not anticipate a state law similar to the abortion law targeting the rights of same-sex couples.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that who people decide to get married to is left to their discretion. I don’t know how you would get into civil litigation,” White said.

Advocacy groups for LGBT people said they have not heard of any such proposals.

“I have not, and I hope I never do,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, adding that any such measures could run into other legal problems because they would be unlawfully discriminatory.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

Planes, fire crews tackling wildfire near Reagan ranch in California

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) -California firefighters took advantage of a break in strong winds on Wednesday to get aircraft aloft and dump retardant on a fast-moving wildfire that was within a half mile of former President Ronald Reagan’s ranch, officials said.

A crew of roughly 1,500 firefighters have so far successfully steered the Alisal fire away from the Reagan ranch, where the former U.S. leader hosted the likes of Queen Elizabeth and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, said Andrew Madsen, a spokesman for Los Padres National Forest, where the blaze is centered.

“There are forecasts of high winds tonight, and we’re trying to get as much as we can done before then,” Madsen said.

The crews are also working to keep the fire away from a shuttered Exxon Mobil facility in Las Flores canyon, he added. The company said in an emailed statement that it was closely monitoring the fire and there were no injuries at the facilities or damages to the facilities, which have been shut since 2015.

The fire, which broke out on Monday about 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Santa Barbara in a sparsely populated corner of southern California, has grown to 15,500 acres (6,272 hectares) and remains just 5% contained, Madsen said.

Firefighters had hoped to take advantage of the lack of high winds to increase the containment line, Madsen said, but by evening they had not made any ground on the percentage.

The Alisal fire quickly grew on Tuesday amid strong winds, shutting down a section of a major highway and commuter train lines. California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday the state had secured federal funds to reimburse 75% of local and state costs related to fighting the blaze.

California is on pace to suffer more burnt acreage this year than last, the worst fire season on record when 4.2 million acres went up in flames – an area the size of Hawaii.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Additional reporting by Sabrina Valle in Houston; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)

California to require COVID-19 vaccines for schoolchildren, governor says

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) -California will become the first U.S. state to mandate statewide COVID-19 vaccinations for schoolchildren as early as January, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday.

But first the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must fully approve inoculations for their age groups, he said.

The Democrat made the announcement at a news briefing as the United States remains a few hundred deaths shy of 700,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Several large school districts in California, the most populous U.S. state, already mandate COVID-19 vaccines for some students.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s largest, requires them for children over the age of 12, for whom the FDA has authorized their emergency use.

Public schools in San Diego will require vaccines for students over the age of 16 in December, and in Hoboken, New Jersey, students must be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing for the virus.

Newsom’s new policy would add COVID-19 to the list of ailments against which children must be vaccinated to attend public or private schools.

Public health officials say the state’s strict COVID-19 public health orders helped to slow the transmission of the virus in recent weeks.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Anurag Maan; Editing by Howard Goller)

California becomes first state to order teachers to get COVID vaccine or test

By Lisa Shumaker and Peter Szekely

(Reuters) -California on Wednesday became the first U.S. state to require that its teachers and other school staff be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19, a move Governor Gavin Newsom called “a responsible step” to ensure the safety of children.

The move comes as Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s statewide ban on mask mandates hit its second legal setback after a judge in Dallas County temporarily blocked it from being enforced amid a nationwide rise in coronavirus cases.

Abbott and fellow Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida have faced defiance over their statewide orders that prevent local officials from deciding whether to require that masks be worn.

Masks have become a divisive issue, often splitting the country along political lines, despite near universal agreement among health experts that they can limit the spread of the virus.

In Tennessee, over a hundred anti-mask protesters heckled masked people, including doctors and nurses, on Tuesday in Williamson County where the school board voted earlier to require masks for elementary students.

A video with nearly 1 million views on Twitter shows the crowd surrounding a masked man as he walked to his car. Protesters yelled: “We will find you” and “We know who you are. No more masks.”

The vaccination requirement in California schools follows similar orders that applied to state employees and healthcare workers.

“We think this is a sustainable way to keeping our schools open, and to address the No. 1 anxiety that parents like myself have for young children,” Newsom said at a briefing where he was flanked by state teachers’ union officials who support the move.

Spurred by the Delta variant, the country’s coronavirus cases have spiked to their highest levels in more than six months, according to a Reuters tally. New U.S. cases have increased more than five-fold over the past month with the seven-day average hitting 118,000 on Tuesday.

In response, some California school districts have already implemented requirements that mirror those now put into effect on the state level.

The White House said last week that almost 90% of U.S. educators and school staff are vaccinated.

The U.S. government and several states, along with some hospitals, universities and a growing number of private employers, have said they require employees to get inoculated.

New York City last week become the first major U.S. city to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination at restaurants, gyms and other businesses, starting next month.

In Texas, the temporary order in Dallas issued late on Tuesday by Judge Tonya Parker allows officials in the state’s second-most populous county to require masks indoors, despite Abbott’s July order against such mandates. A hearing on Aug. 24 will determine whether to extend the temporary order.

The top elected official in Dallas County, Judge Clay Jenkins, who sought the court order issued late Tuesday, said preventative steps such as mask-wearing are needed to combat a spike in new cases of COVID-19.

“Models predict ongoing dramatic increases in cases and hospitalizations over the coming weeks that will exceed the peak earlier this year unless behavior change takes place,” he said Tuesday on Twitter.

Earlier on Tuesday, another Texas court granted an order at least until Monday that enables officials in San Antonio and Bexar Counties to require that masks be worn in public schools.


Oregon and Washington state are also grappling with surges in cases and hospitalizations as the outbreak spreads beyond the epicenter in the U.S. South.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown on Wednesday announced all state executive branch employees must be vaccinated, and she also reimposed a statewide indoor mask mandate.

The latest coronavirus wave is still the worst in Southern states, based on new cases and hospitalizations per capita in recent weeks.

Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana are all reporting record COVID-19 hospitalizations in recent days.

Florida’s Broward County school board on Tuesday flouted an order by DeSantis that outlaws mask requirements in the state, prompting the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to say it was considering supporting the school districts financially if DeSantis retaliates against them by withholding funds from officials’ salaries.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Frank McGurty and Rosalba O’Brien)

Explainer: California reopens, mostly, on Tuesday

By Jane Lanhee Lee

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – California is opening up from COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, but tech companies and other offices are not changing as fast as Disneyland, gyms and stores.

Here is what is changing for California offices, and what is not.


Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to reopen the state on June 15, a decision ending physical distancing, mask requirements and capacity limits for restaurants, stores and other businesses that cater to consumers.

The state health department is requiring the continued wearing of masks in a few places, such as public transit and healthcare settings. Indoor concerts and events with more than 5,000 attendees will be required to confirm proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 results.


Workplace rules are dictated by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, which has debated keeping restrictions in place longer than the governor. Under the newest proposal, which will be voted on June 17, fully vaccinated office workers will not need to wear a mask in normal circumstances. However, businesses would have to confirm a person has been vaccinated before taking off a mask in an office, and some businesses have been reluctant to ask.


Tech companies in Silicon Valley, which were among the first to go fully remote during the pandemic, are treading carefully. Many are waiting until after the Labor Day holiday, on Sept. 7, or even until 2022, to reopen offices fully.

While some like Twitter Inc have given employees the option to never return to the office, others like Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc are allowing some employees to go remote permanently while setting minimum requirements for in-office work by many employees.

Apple is requiring workers return to the office on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from early September.

Many companies are also giving on-site employees the option to work remotely for several weeks a year.

Collaboration-app firm Slack Technology Inc’s latest survey released on Tuesday showed 93% of about 10,000 workers surveyed said they want flexibility in when they work.

Slack executive Brian Elliott said many employees want a set time during the day to collaborate but the ability to work other hours on their own terms. The survey also showed 21% were likely to jump to a new company in the next year and over half are looking, making flexibility a more important component for attracting or retaining employees.


Businesses such as restaurants can require vaccine verification or negative COVID-19 tests. Newsom said on Monday the state later this week would be announcing more about a digital version of the vaccine card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

San Francisco’s first major conference in reopened California will be Dreamforce, an annual event by sales software company Salesforce.Com Inc, which drew over 171,000 registered attendees in 2019.

The conference this year, which will be both virtual and in person, is scheduled for Sept. 21-23, in cities including San Francisco, New York, Paris and London. Salesforce said those attending in person will be required to be fully vaccinated, in line with state regulations.

(Reporting by Jane Lanhee Lee; Additional reporting by Stephen Nellis and Paresh Dave; Editing by Leslie Adler and Bill Berkrot)

Mobile air traffic control tower aids in California wildfire fight

By Nathan Frandino

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Amid a worsening drought emergency and fires already blazing across California, Titus “Stretch” Gall is gearing up for another long wildfire season.

The 72-year-old former air traffic controller is the president of Tower Tech Inc, a mobile air traffic control tower company that helps agencies like the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) and the National Forest Service control the airspace over wildfires.

“They need to come and go as quickly and efficiently as they can,” Gall said, referring to aircraft used to dump flame retardant or water on wildfires.

Five years before retiring, Gall began designing what would become a nearly 14-foot-tall air traffic control tower on a trailer pulled by a truck.

The tower cab is equipped with everything an air traffic controller would require: weather-monitoring sensors, iPads to show air traffic, satellite dishes for the internet, phones and antennae for radios.

The cab is also fitted with special glass and shades so Gall and his colleagues can see clearly out across the tarmac at airfields. Amenities to keep the controllers comfortable can be found in the trailer, such as a refrigerator, toilet and shower.

Gall says his company is the first mobile air traffic control company certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a process he said took more than five years.

As of May, California authorities had documented over 1,000 more wildfires across the state this year than had erupted by the same time last year, Governor Gavin Newsom said last month.

In 2020, the state marked its heaviest wildfire season on record in terms of total acreage burned. More than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) and over 10,000 homes and other structures were laid to waste and at least 33 lives lost.

Gall has seen conditions worsen since moving to California in the early 1980’s.

“The fire season is becoming much longer. The temperatures are getting a little bit warmer,” he said. “So we’re steadily busier and busier.”

Despite the gravity of the mission, Gall enjoys his job.

“Man, it makes me feel great,” he said, describing the thanks he receives from tanker pilots. “You can imagine that that makes you feel good because this is not a game.”

(Reporting by Nathan Frandino; Editing by Karishma Singh)

Biden restores $929 million for California high-speed rail withheld by Trump

By Derek Francis, David Shepardson and Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) -The Biden administration late on Thursday restored a $929 million grant for California’s high-speed rail that then-President Donald Trump revoked in 2019.

Trump had pulled funding for a high-speed train project in the state hobbled by extensive delays and rising costs that he dubbed a “disaster.” Trump repeatedly clashed as president with California on a number of policy fronts, prompting the state to file more than 100 lawsuits against the Republican Trump administration.

Democratic President Joe Biden strongly supports high-speed rail and has vowed to ensure the United States “has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world.”

Biden wants to dramatically increase funding for passenger rail networks, and in April touted high-speed trains that could eventually travel almost as fast as airplanes.

Federal Railroad Administration Deputy Administrator Amit Bose said Friday the agreement follows “intensive negotiations between the parties and reflects the federal government’s ongoing partnership in the development of high-speed rail.”

California’s lawsuit claimed the Transportation Department lacked legal authority to withhold the $929 million the administration of former President Barack Obama allocated a decade ago but had remained untapped.

“The Biden Administration’s restoration of nearly $1 billion for California’s high-speed rail is great news for our state and our nation,” U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement.

The parties agreed to restore the grant within three days, according to the settlement agreement.

The funding restoration occurs as the Biden administration tries to hammer out an infrastructure spending deal with lawmakers.

California’s system, which is billed by the state as the first U.S. high-speed rail project, is estimated to cost from $69 billion to $99.8 billion and aims to be completed in the 2030s.

Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom said the funding restoration will “move the state one step closer to getting trains running in California as soon as possible.”

California voters approved the initial $10 billion bond for the project in 2008, and $3.5 billion in federal money was allocated two years later. California previously received $2.5 billion.

Trump had threatened — but ultimately did not see the return of the $2.5 billion.

California State Treasurer Fiona Ma noted in a letter Monday that the Obama administration had allocated $10.5 billion for high-speed rail projects in 2009 and 2010 and that there are still no operational U.S. high-speed rail lines.

“To be clear, a repeat effort that spends billions without getting any new lines operational after another decade will be the death of high-speed rail in America,” Ma wrote to congressional leaders.

“There is simply no way the public will continue to support such an agenda without seeing tangible results.”

(Reporting by Derek Francis and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Mark Potter, Christopher Cushing and Jonathan Oatis)

New York lifts mask requirements for the vaccinated, California waits

By Jonathan Allen and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York state this week will drop face mask requirements in most public spaces for people vaccinated against COVID-19, conforming with the latest U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom said his state would keep its mask order in place for another month, despite the CDC’s new recommendations.

Cuomo and Newsom, both Democrats, have drawn criticism for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Newsom faces a Republican-led recall election.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, also a Democrat, said he would lift mask restrictions outdoors but keep in place a mandate to wear them indoors. Murphy said schools would be required to provide full-time, in-person classroom instruction again in the fall.

On Saturday, the CDC said students in schools across the United States wear masks for the 2020-2021 academic year because not all will be inoculated.

New York will still order public transportation riders to wear face coverings and mandate them in schools and some other communal settings, Cuomo said, adding: “Unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask.”

Cuomo said New York health officials decided to lift the mask order after reviewing the CDC’s new guidance. Some 52 percent of New York adults have been fully inoculated and 61.8 percent had received at least one shot as of Monday.

Cuomo, speaking to reporters at Radio City Music Hall, said it would be up to each business or venue how they should determine vaccination status

“I’m sure when people are coming into Radio City Music Hall, they are going to ask, ‘I’m sitting next to someone. I don’t know who they are. Are you sure they were vaccinated?'” he said. “That’s why it’s on the operator’s best interest to say ‘Yes! They had a card and they were checked when they walked in the door.'”

The three-term governor said he expected that some New Yorkers might keep wearing masks as a precaution after this week’s rule change.

Cuomo, 63, has resisted calls to resign in the face of probes by the state attorney general and legislature over accusations of sexual harassment, his office’s reporting of nursing home deaths and his use of staff members and resources in the writing of a book on his handling of the pandemic.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Barbara Goldberg in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

California governor seeks end to oil drilling in state by 2045

(Reuters) -California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday directed state agencies to end new fracking permits by 2024 and to analyze how to phase out oil and gas extraction two decades later.

The move comes as Newsom has been under pressure from environmental activists and progressive politicians who say the state’s permitting of new drilling is at odds with its goals to move away from fossil fuels and combat climate change.

“I’ve made it clear I don’t see a role for fracking in that future and, similarly, believe that California needs to move beyond oil,” Newsom said in a statement.

The move was criticized by the oil and gas industry, which said the action would hurt drilling-dependent jobs and communities, as well as green groups who said the state needed to move far more quickly.

The Western States Petroleum Association, in a statement, pledged “to fight this harmful and unlawful mandate.”

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said the commitment was “historic and globally significant” but added that “we don’t have time for studies or delays.”

Newsom directed the California state oil and gas regulator, the Geologic Energy Management Division, to initiate a process that will halt the issuance of hydraulic fracturing permits by 2024. Fracking accounts for a small amount of oil extraction in California.

In addition, the governor said the California Air Resources Board, which writes the state’s climate change policies, will evaluate how to phase out oil and gas extraction by 2045.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento and Valerie Volcovici in Washington, Editing by Franklin Paul and Cynthia Osterman)