Bay Briefing: Why Bay Area health experts fear January

Good morning, Bay Area. It’s Monday, Jan. 4, and California may raise the bar for new police hires. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

‘It feels like we’re in the abyss’

January will be a grim month, health experts said.

On the bright side: Two promising vaccines are now available to deliver relief from the relentless pandemic. On the other hand, the pace of vaccination nationally has been slower than expected, and the potentially rapid spread of a mutant strain could produce another wave of infections beyond the holiday surge.

“It feels like we’re in the abyss right now, sinking toward the bottom,” said Dr. John Swartzberg of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “We’re not going to sort of get some balance in our lives again until probably sometime in February.”

As the nation’s pandemic death toll surpassed 350,000 on Sunday, intensive care capacity throughout most of California remained hugely stressed. In Bay Area hospitals, available capacity rose Sunday to a still-precarious 8.4%, from 5.1% a day earlier.

Read more from Tatiana Sanchez.

• Ambulances wait for hours outside Santa Clara County emergency rooms as hospital crisis worsens.

Inflatable Christmas costume could be to blame in an outbreak that infected 44 staffers at Kaiser ER in San Jose, including one who died.

• Grim toll: More than 300,000 Californians died in 2020, at least 30,000 more than average, largely because of COVID-19.

• Portrait of a virus: How the perfect pathogen swept the globe and shut down our world.

What’s behind S.F.’s drug overdose crisis?

 Bay Briefing: Why Bay Area health experts fear January

More than 630 people died of overdoses in San Francisco from January to the end of November, a new record and a staggering increase from 441 in all of 2019. In response to the wave of death, the San Francisco Police Department doubled down on arresting drug dealers in the Tenderloin, particularly those selling fentanyl.

But the added focus has done nothing to stem the wave of death in the neighborhood. It’s a reality that has divided experts on how to address the city’s relentless drug epidemic, which killed more than three times the number of people than COVID-19 in San Francisco in 2020.

Read more from Trisha Thadani.

• Interactive: These maps reveal where drug overdoses occurred in S.F. in 2020.

New standards for new cops in California?

 Bay Briefing: Why Bay Area health experts fear January

Should California require its police officers to have more education or life experience before allowing them to join the law enforcement ranks? As a new legislative session approaches, that question has been thrust to the forefront of a debate about what changes state lawmakers should adopt after a summer of protest over police brutality.

Even major law enforcement groups have endorsed the idea of raising the standards for police certification, citing research indicating that more highly educated officers use less force. But competing proposals will test just how far the state is willing to go, especially as concerns mount that the effort could undermine another major goal — diversifying police forces.

Read more from Alexei Koseff.

More in Politics:

• Nancy Pelosi wins narrow re-election as House speaker. Also: Pelosi’s S.F. home vandalized.

• Gavin Newsom recall campaign draws big donors. Here are the top funders.

• Trump’s new citizenship test is more difficult, tilts in a conservative direction.

• Here are 21 new laws for Californians in 2021.

More housing pledged for giant UCSF expansion

 Bay Briefing: Why Bay Area health experts fear January

UCSF has reached an agreement with the city to boost the housing, transit and jobs programs that are part of its huge Parnassus campus expansion plan — a key step ahead of an approval vote this month.

UCSF will build 1,263 new housing units for students, faculty and staff, which would more than double the school’s entire housing stock in the city. The university wants to build 2 million square feet across new buildings, including a new hospital.

Read more from Roland Li about the plan — one of the largest real estate proposals on the city’s west side in decades, which has drawn opposition from neighbors.

• UC regents become S.F. Art Institute’s landlord after paying off its debt.

D.A. Boudin leans on grand juries

Criminal grand juries have been convened in San Francisco Superior Court only a handful of times in recent years, with prosecutors instead choosing to file charges directly. District Attorney Chesa Boudin has recently begun embracing faster-paced grand jury proceedings in an effort to clear a backlog of cases that’s only grown longer since the pandemic began.

But as Megan Cassidy reports, Boudin’s policy shift is raising concerns among defense attorneys, who, along with their clients, are shut out of grand jury proceedings.

• S.F. parolee accused of killing 2 pedestrians in a hit-and-run stole the car from a date he met on an app, police say.

Around the Bay

 Bay Briefing: Why Bay Area health experts fear January

Where to see “superstar mammals”: With classic lookouts closed, here are the best Bay Area spots to catch migrating gray whales.

Federal complaint filed: No one disputes that San Joaquin County deputies punched detainee. The question is: Was it legal?

New collaboration: Bay Area transit can be a complex, costly “nightmare.” The pandemic might help fix that.

Incident drew outrage: Vacaville police dog punched by cop has been “removed” from his care.

Big change for big reds: Fast-growing California wine conglomerate acquires Gen Z-oriented Rabble Wines.

In the courts: Trump can bar immigrants who can’t afford health insurance, federal judges say. Also: Trump administration can limit food stamp money to poorest Californians, court rules.

From Justin Phillips: Busted Breonna Taylor bust shows future hope is fragile for Bay Area’s Black community.

From Kathleen Pender: Gift cards could become worthless if the issuer goes bankrupt.

Career high: Stephen Curry scores 62 points as the Warriors get even with the Trail Blazers.

It’s over: 49ers can come home after 26-23 season-ending loss to Seahawks.

‘A mark of transition’

 Bay Briefing: Why Bay Area health experts fear January

The sign at Cliff House came down on the last day of 2020, marking the permanent end of the San Francisco restaurant and a bitter, if fitting farewell to 2020 — a year full of heart-wrenching closures of beloved institutions.

Dan and Mary Hountalas, who have run the restaurants at the waterfront property since 1973, on Wednesday declined the latest offer of a lease extension from their landlord, the National Park Service. Because they trademarked the name Cliff House, the sign had to come down.

In 15 minutes, workers had unbolted and removed all 10 letters while a crowd of several hundred booed heartily from the sidewalk. “It sucks,” said onlooker Jim Kessler. “What’s going to come here next? Who knows. Today is a mark of transition. The question is, what’s on the other side? For the Cliff House and for us.”

Read more from Janelle Bitker and Steve Rubenstein.

• Brazen break-ins: S.F. restaurant owners say rise in property crime is making dire situation worse.

Bay Briefing is written by Taylor Kate Brown, Anna Buchmann and Kellie Hwang and sent to readers’ email inboxes on weekday mornings. Sign up for the newsletter here, and contact the writers at taylor.brown@sfchronicle.com, anna.buchmann@sfchronicle.com, and kellie.hwang@sfchronicle.com.

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