CVIndependent

Sat09262020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Jimmy Boegle

Happy Friday, all. There’s a lot of news today, so let’s get right to it:

• The New York Times is reporting that President Trump will indeed nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. The announcement should come tomorrow. According to reporter Peter Baker: “The president met with Judge Barrett at the White House this week and came away impressed with a jurist that leading conservatives told him would be a female Antonin Scalia, referring to the justice who died in 2016 and for whom Judge Barrett clerked. As they often do, aides cautioned that Mr. Trump sometimes upends his own plans. But he is not known to have interviewed any other candidates for the post.”

• The Trump administration is fighting back against a federal court injunction that prohibits the feds from ending the Census tally a month early. According to NPR, “The preliminary injunction issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California requires the Census Bureau to keep trying to tally the country's residents through Oct. 31.

• Breonna Taylor’s family today expressed anger over the fact that none of the three Louisville police officers who killed her were charged for doing so. Key quote, from The Washington Post: “Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Taylor’s family, demanded the release of grand jury transcripts in the case, calling for (Kentucky Attorney General Daniel) Cameron to make plain what he did and did not present to them this week and leading the crowd in a chant echoing that plea.”

• Related: The Washington Post examines the tactics that police departments use to keep records from being released to the public. Sigh.

• Rio’s massive Carnival 2021 celebration has been indefinitely postponed, because, of, well, y’know. NPR explains.

Gov. Ron DeSantis pretty much opened the state of Florida sans restrictions today—and banned local governments from issuing further restrictions, for the most part. According to ABC News: “The governor’s announcement Friday allows restaurants across the state to immediately reopen at full capacity—and prevents cities and counties from ordering them to close or operate at less than half-capacity, unless they can justify a closure for economic or health reasons. ‘We’re not closing anything going forward,’ DeSantis said, while insisting that the state is prepared if infections increase again.

• State health officials are saying that California COVID-19 hospitalizations are expected to almost double in next month. Per the Los Angeles Times: “The proportion of Californians testing positive for the virus continues to remain low at 3 percent over the past two weeks, and the total number of COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals continues to decline, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services director. But he said that some other metrics are prompting concern that a feared uptick in the virus’ spread, which public health officials said was possible in the wake of the Labor Day holiday and more businesses reopening, may be materializing.”

Things could get scary in Portland tomorrow. Per Willamette Week: “Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday she's drawing on emergency authority to direct a coordinated response to tomorrow's planned rally by right-wing groups at Delta Park in North Portland. That event is likely to draw a strong counterprotest from the left—and conflict between the two groups could get violent. ‘We are aware that white supremacist groups from out of town, including the Proud Boys, are planning a rally,’ Brown said. ‘They are expecting a significant crowd—some people will be armed, with others ready to harass or intimidate Oregonians. Many are from out of state.’"

• In other news about scary things this weekend: A heat wave and dangerous fire conditions are arriving in parts of California. According to The Washington Post: “The National Weather Service has posted red flag warnings for ‘critical’ fire weather conditions for the East Bay and North Bay Hills near San Francisco from Saturday through Monday. Winds from the north will eventually come out of the east, blowing from land to sea, increasing temperatures and dropping humidity percentages into the teens and single digits.”

• Sort of related, alas, comes this headline from our partners at CalMatters: “California Exodus: An online industry seizes COVID-19 to sell the Red State Dream.” Key quote: “Unaffordable housing. High taxes. A Democratic stranglehold on state politics. The concerns driving transplants like Morris out of the country’s richest state during the COVID-19 era are not new. What is changing quickly is how disillusioned California residents are coming together by the tens of thousands on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere online, fueling a cottage industry of real estate agents, mortgage lenders and political advocates stoking social division to compete for a piece of the much-discussed California Exodus.”

• On the vaccine front: The U.S. portion of the AstroZeneca trial remains on hold following the death of a British trial participant. Per Reuters: “A document posted online by Oxford University last week stated the illness in a British participant that triggered the pause on Sept. 6 may not have been associated with the vaccine.” Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Alex Azar says the pause proves the FDA is taking vaccine safety seriously.

• Here’s some good news: Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has entered the large Stage 3 trial. According to The New York Times: “Johnson & Johnson is a couple of months behind the leaders, but its advanced vaccine trial will be by far the largest, enrolling 60,000 participants. The company said it could know by the end of this year if its vaccine works. And its vaccine has potentially consequential advantages over some competitors. It uses a technology that has a long safety record in vaccines for other diseases. Its vaccine could require just one shot instead of two … and it does not have to be kept frozen.”

NBC News looks at the leading coronavirus models—and the discomfiting fact that their often grim projections have come true so far. “Many have watched with a mixture of horror and frustration as their projections of the pandemic's evolution, and its potential death toll, have come to fruition. Now, a widely cited model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington suggests that the U.S. could total more than 378,000 coronavirus deaths by January.”

• Even though the college football season so far has been a mess of postponements, COVID-19 cases and increasing concerns about the disease’s long-term effects on athletes, all of the conferences at the highest level of college football now intend to play this fall, including the Pac-12.

• We’ve previously mentioned in this space the possibility that dogs could be used to sniff out coronavirus cases, and now comes this, from The Associated Press: “Finland has deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country’s main international airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that could become a cost-friendly and quick way to identify infected travelers.”

• A professor of psychology, writing for The Conversation, examines how this damned virus is changing the English language. Interestingly, the pandemic has only led to one new word, according to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary—COVID-19—which is actually an acronym. Instead: “Most of the coronavirus-related changes that the editors have noted have to do with older, more obscure words and phrases being catapulted into common usage, such as reproduction number and social distancing. They’ve also documented the creation of new word blends based on previously existing vocabulary.”

• I had to skip the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week due to a virtual journalism conference, but hosts Shann, John and Brad welcomed guests Dr. Laura Rush, Tim Vincent from Brothers of the Desert and Alexander Rodriguez from the On the Rocks Radio Show. Check it out.

• Finally, you have a reason to live until next week: the start of Fat Bear Week. This has nothing to do with the gents you’d find during a pre-COVID Friday evening at Hunters Palm Springs; instead, it’s an Alaska thing with which we’re fully on board.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. Wash your hands; wear a mask; support local businesses safely and responsibly—and if you’d like to include the Independent on the list of local businesses you’re financially supporting, find details here. The Daily Digest will return Monday.

Here are two passages from The New York Times’ summary story on the Breonna Taylor case.

A grand jury indicted a former Louisville police officer on Wednesday for wanton endangerment for his actions during the raid. No charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for causing Ms. Taylor’s death.

Brett Hankison, a detective at the time, fired into the sliding glass patio door and window of Ms. Taylor’s apartment, both of which were covered with blinds, in violation of a department policy that requires officers to have a line of sight.

He is the only one of the three officers who was dismissed from the force, with a termination letter stating that he showed “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

Second:

Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had been in bed, but got up when they heard a loud banging at the door. Mr. Walker said he and Ms. Taylor both called out, asking who was at the door. Mr. Walker later told the police he feared it was Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend trying to break in.

After the police broke the door off its hinges, Mr. Walker fired his gun once, striking Sergeant Mattingly in a thigh. The police responded by firing several shots, striking Ms. Taylor five times. One of the three officers on the scene, Detective Brett Hankison, who has since been fired, shot 10 rounds blindly into the apartment.

Mr. Walker told investigators that Ms. Taylor coughed and struggled to breathe for at least five minutes after she was shot, according to The Louisville Courier Journal. An ambulance on standby outside the apartment had been told to leave about an hour before the raid, counter to standard practice. As officers called an ambulance back to the scene and struggled to render aid to their colleague, Ms. Taylor was not given any medical attention.

Can someone explain to me how these two passages jibe? Can someone explain how a woman, who had been sleeping in her own bed, can be shot five times, and then ignored, in violation of standard police practice—with nobody held accountable? How is this justice?

More news from the day:

• If you want to follow more news on the aftermath of the Breonna Taylor announcements today, I recommend checking out the Louisville Courier Journal website. There’s a lot of good stuff therein.

• An update: The Riverside County Board of Supervisors yesterday voted 3-2 to delay by two weeks a decision on whether to push ahead with its own reopening plan—which would mean disregarding the orders from the state. Key quote, from the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “Supervisors also want more details on exactly what state funding would be at risk should the county defy Sacramento’s reopening guidelines. And they seek more clarity on when different types of businesses could reopen.

• Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order today banning new gasoline-powered cars in California within 15 years. Hooray for the environment—although there are justifiable concerns over the fact that electric cars are more expensive, among other possible issues. Our partners at CalMatters explain.

Disneyland is crabby that theme parks have not yet been allowed to reopen. In the theme park’s defense, the state has been taking its own sweet time (read: many months) in issuing any guidance whatsoever on theme parks. There’s also this key quote from the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “No COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported at Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Six Flags, Legoland and Cedar Fair parks in Florida, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia and Michigan, according to state health agencies and theme park officials.” (The key word there may be “reported.”)

• The Washington Post, via SFGate, looks at a new study showing how the coronavirus has mutated since the pandemic began. Key takeaway: It may be changing to become more contagious.

Dr. Deborah Birx is unhappy with how things are going as the coordinator of the White House coronavirus tax force, according to CNN.

The headline on this piece from The Atlantic is scary … and the words that follow are even scarier: “The Election That Could Break America: If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?”

• Good news: The self-response rate for the Census, both statewide and locally, is picking up. Bad news: A whole lot of people still haven’t responded, and the Census deadline is the end of the month. If you have not yet responded, please head to https://my2020census.gov/ and do so.

How will we know when a vaccine is safe and ready to go? A professor of medicine from the University if Virginia, writing for The Conversation, explains.

• A new CDC study shows that more than 90 percent of Americans remain susceptible to COVID-19. Translation: We’re nowhere close to herd immunity, despite what the president and Rand Paul want to believe. Key quote, from CBS News: “(CDC Director Dr. Robert) Redfield said the CDC is currently conducting a ‘very large’ study in an effort to determine how the country has been affected by COVID-19. He said that some states are seeing infection rates of 15 percent to 20 percent—with one as high as 24 percent—while others are seeing a less than 1 percent infection rate.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz blocked a ceremonial U.S. Senate resolution honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Why? (Other than the fact that, you know, he’s Ted Cruz?) He objected to a mention of Ginsburg’s dying wish, as reported by family members, that the current president doesn’t select her successor.

• The swamp is alive and well in Washington, D.C., if this lede from NBC News is any indication: “The consulting firm where the wife of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is an executive has been awarded more than $6 million in contracts from the Department of Homeland Security since September 2018, according to records on the federal government website USA Spending.”

• Despite the recession and the pandemic, Palm Springs has been a darling of the airline industry over the last month. Simple Flying sums up the new airlines and flights that are coming to our li’l Coachella Valley.

• Since movie theaters finally opening here this weekend, here’s the Independent’s review of Tenet, including a now-out-of-date headline.

• Finally, Independent cocktail columnist Kevin Carlow is developing a bar program for a Palm Springs hotel, and in the process, he’s been trying to answer the question: Is there such a thing as a midcentury-modern, Palm Springs golden era cocktail? Here’s what he’s come up with so far.

Be safe out there, everyone. If you have the means, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will be back on Friday.

Covering elections in the Coachella Valley is not easy.

Why, you may ask, is it such a challenge? Because there are so many darned layers of government here. There are water boards and school districts and water districts and other districts and etc. … plus there are nine city councils—and all nine of them are having elections this year.

So … how does a smaller newspaper like the Independent cover all of this?

Regrettably, we can’t cover all of it—but we will cover as much as we can. Two of us here cover politics regularly: Myself and Kevin Fitzgerald, our staff writer. However, my plate is quite full with other things, which means most of the coverage falls on Kevin’s plate.

In 2020, we’ve decided to focus on the city council races, and we’re going to get to as many of them as we can with our Candidate Q&A series. Here’s how that works: We come up with a list of questions, tailored to each race, that we ask each of the candidates via phone interviews. Then we publish the candidates’ answers, in their entirety, with only very minor editing for style and clarity.

Simple, right? Well, yes, it is simple—until you get to the transcription part, when it gets quite daunting, because some of these candidates talk a lot.

As I write this, we’ve done Candidate Q&As with the contested council races in three of the valley’s nine cities. We did Rancho Mirage earlier this year, since Rancho Mirage runs its city election differently than all of the other cities (because, well, it is Rancho Mirage). In recent weeks, Kevin has interviewed the candidates in Palm Springs and Palm Desert.

Through Election Day, we’ll be doing more interviews with the candidates from the other cities, so watch for those. I am not sure we’ll be able to get to all nine cities by the time Election Day arrives—after all, we’re also covering other stories as well, because, as you may have noticed, a LOT is going on, including a raging pandemic—but we’re going to do our best.

I hope you find the Candidate Q&A interviews enjoyable and enlightening. As always, thanks for reading, and don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or feedback at the email address below. Oh, and be sure to pick up our October print edition, hitting more than 300 valley locations this week.

Gyms, movie theaters, churches, nail salons and indoor dining at restaurants may now open—with limits, of course—in Riverside County.

The state of California earlier today announced that the county has officially been moved into the red, “Substantial” tier of the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” because we’ve had two straight weeks with less than 7 daily cases per 100,000 people, and a positivity rate less of than 8 percent.

This move out of the purple, “Widespread” tier means some big decisions will need to be made regarding schools. According to the state, after Riverside County has been in the “Substantial” tier for two weeks, schools can fully reopen for in-person instruction—if local school officials decide that’s what they want to do.

The move puts the county fairly close, reopenings-wise, to where we were back in June … and we all remember how that went: Cases spiked, and local hospital ICUs came close to maxing out. Let’s hope lessons were learned, and things go better this time.

As they say … stay tuned.

Some other news from the day:

• As of this writing, a marathon meeting of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors—regarding a proposal to defy the state and use a county reopening plan instead—was still ongoing. There are a lot of fascinating nuggets in Jeff Horseman’s coverage at the Riverside Press-Enterprise, like: “Speakers, some sobbing, others seething, spoke of missing weddings and funerals or feeling like they’re living in a totalitarian state. Others lamented those struggling with depression, isolation, substance abuse and unemployment. Pastors demanded that their churches be considered essential and for in-person worship to resume.” If the county voted to go along with this plan from Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, it would cause a huge mess, for a number of reasons, including the fact that Hewitt’s plan is oddly MORE restrictive in some cases (now that Riverside County has moved up a tier). Oh, and the state could decide to withhold funding from the county due to the defiance.

San Diego County will stay in the “Substantial” tier for at least another two weeks. After venturing into more-restrictive “Widespread” territory last week, the county’s case rate per 100,000 people eked down below 7 this week.

SFGate offers a nice, if slightly Bay Area-focused, summary of all the county tier movement across the state today. Lots of good news, as well as this: “In his update on the fourth week of the state’s new reopening plan, (Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark) Ghaly also announced nail salons will be allowed to open statewide, even if their county is in the most restrictive purple tier.” 

• And now some perspective: If the Coachella Valley were a separate county, we would not be moving into a less-restrictive tier. According to this week’s District 4 report from the county—District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and mostly rural points eastward—our COVID-19 stats continue to head in the right direction. However, we still have a 10.3 percent weekly positivity rate. Also, the report offers a sobering reminder about how awful this disease is: Six more of our neighbors died over the last week as a result of this awful virus.

• On this day of reopening in Riverside County, the United States hit a milestone: A reported 200,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19. CNBC offers perspective.

• While Riverside County and other parts of California are experiencing a decrease in COVID-19 cases, such is not the case in much of the rest of the country—and the world. From The Washington Post: “Twenty-seven states and Puerto Rico have shown an increase in the seven-day average of new confirmed cases since the final week of August, according to The Post’s analysis of public health data. Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Utah set record highs Monday for seven-day averages. The global picture has reaffirmed that COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is not about to fade away. Countries that had been successful early in the pandemic in driving down viral transmission—such as France, Spain and Israel—are struggling with new waves of cases and instituting new shutdowns. Most people remain susceptible to infection, and the virus is highly opportunistic.”

• STAT created a compelling theoretical “road map” for how the battle against the coronavirus may go over the next year plus. “In this project, STAT describes 30 key moments, possible turning points that could steer the pandemic onto a different course or barometers for how the virus is reshaping our lives, from rituals like Halloween and the Super Bowl, to what school could look like, to just how long we might be incorporating precautions into our routines. This road map is informed by insights from more than three dozen experts, including Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates, people on the frontlines at schools and hospitals, as well as STAT reporters. It largely focuses on the U.S.”

• Well this is interesting: SARS-CoV-2 may be able to block pain. This has some terrible health implications—but it creates some fascinating research opportunities, and opens the door to possible medical advancements regarding pain management. A professor of pharmacology for the University of Arizona, writing for The Conversation, explains.

According to the Los Angeles Times: “UC admitted 64 well-connected or rich students over more qualified ones, audit finds.” Sigh.

• And here’s another sigh-inducing bit of journalism, compliments of The Washington Post: “A $1 billion fund Congress gave the Pentagon in March to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment has instead been mostly funneled to defense contractors and used to make things such as jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms.”

• College football remains a huge mess. On the heels of news that the Big 10 and Pac-12 conferences are taking steps to get back on the fields this fall comes this alarming news, from ESPN: “The Notre Dame-Wake Forest football game scheduled for Saturday has been postponed after the Irish announced 13 players are in isolation. In a statement Tuesday, Notre Dame said seven players tested positive for coronavirus out of 94 tests done Monday. Combined with testing results from last week, 13 players are in isolation, with 10 in quarantine. As a result, Notre Dame has paused all football-related activities. The two schools are working on a date to reschedule the game.”

Thanks for reading, and thank you to all the Supporters of the Independent out there; if you’d like to join them in helping us continue to produce quality local journalism without subscription fees or pay walls, find details here. Take care, and be safe, everybody.

Tomorrow’s going to be a fascinating day on the COVID-19 reopening front. Why? Well …

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is slated to vote tomorrow on a proposal that would give a big middle finger to the state, and enact a county plan allowing businesses to open faster, with fewer restrictions. The proposal comes from District 5 Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, a Libertarian. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “’The state’s lack of clear guidelines has left thousands of peoples (sic) uncertain about their abilities to pay bills and provide for their families,’ Hewitt, whose district includes the Pass, Moreno Valley, Perris and Menifee, wrote in a memo to colleagues. ‘ … We (will) feel the burden of these economic impacts for years to come, it is time for Riverside County to take responsibility for our own wellbeing.’”

We’ll also find out tomorrow if Riverside County continues to meet the requirements to move into the less-restrictive “Substantial” category. Per the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving forward.” The county has met the criteria for one week, according to the state’s weekly updates, issued every Tuesday. Since the last update, it appears cases have ticked up a bit in the county—but so has testing. So, yeah, stay tuned.

• In related news: Elemental recently published a nice primer on what we know about how COVID-19 is transmitted. Key quote: “Instead of obsessing over objects and surfaces, scientists now say the biggest infection risk comes from inhaling what someone else is exhaling, whether it’s a tiny aerosol or a larger droplet. And while a virus traveling through the air sounds terrifying, the good news is there is a safe, cheap, and effective way to stop the spread: wearing a mask.” It’s a fantastic, if long, read.

The state of California will not accept new unemployment claims for two weeks, because the current system is an overwhelmed fustercluck. The state plans on taking these two weeks to fix, update and streamline the system, Gov. Newsom announced today.

• Speaking of fusterclucks: Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the 2020 version of the CDC. So on Friday, the once-trusted government organization issued new guidance saying SARS-CoV-2 can spread through aerosols that can remain suspended in the air and travel farther than 6 feet. Today, the CDC took it back. Sigh.

• The Washington Post looks at the key role college newspapers have played in exposing a whole lot of news about COVID-19—and beyond. Key quote: “The contracting media industry has left few local outlets with dedicated higher-education reporters, leaving student journalists as ‘really the best watchdogs’ in this moment, said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. ‘They’re the ones who are going to get the invites to parties, and they’re the ones whose friends are going to be reporting symptoms, and they’re following all the right people on social media, so they know first when there’s an outbreak or when there are unsafe conditions.’”

• The New York Times examines at the mess surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine. In an effort to be more transparent, the company just released its trial blueprints. Why? “Experts have been particularly concerned about AstraZeneca’s vaccine trials, which began in April in Britain, because of the company’s refusal to provide details about serious neurological illnesses in two participants, both women, who received its experimental vaccine in Britain. Those cases spurred the company to halt its trials twice, the second time earlier this month. The studies have resumed in Britain, Brazil, India and South Africa, but are still on pause in the U.S. About 18,000 people worldwide have received AstraZeneca’s vaccine so far.” Eek.

• From the Independent: Much of what the Desert Recreation District normally does can’t be done right now, because … well, you know—so the organization has started operating distance-learning hubs, primarily in the eastern portion of the valley, for elementary schoolers. Key quote: “Students in kindergarten through the sixth-grade can participate, and they can be registered by the week, or for extended periods. At all locations, the program begins at 7:30 a.m. each weekday and runs until 5:30 p.m. No class will contain more than 10 students, with two adult educator supervisors.”

• Good news: The U.S. set a record for the largest number of COVID-19 tests given in a day. The bad news, per Reuters: We need to be doing at least six times that number of tests.

• As the politicking and maneuvering takes place over the fate of the U.S. Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Conversation breaks down the four steps that need to be taken before a new justice can be seated.

• Soooo many businesses have been devastated by the pandemic—including hotels. Both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times look at the “tsunami” of hotel closures that’s already under way.

• COVID-19 has led to numerous delays in the California State Bar exam—which is costing recent law-school graduates a lot of time and money. Key quote, from the San Francisco Chronicle: “The State Bar pushed the test normally scheduled in July back to September, then to October as it figured out the software and security issues around a new online format for the hours-long exam, which normally involves test takers crammed into conference rooms. … Results from the July bar exams normally come out in mid-November, at which time law students who do not pass can begin studying for the February exams, according to Daniel Schweitzer, a longtime bar exam tutor. With results from the delayed October test not slated to come out until mid-January, there will be almost no time for students who fail to begin studying for the February test unless it too gets delayed.

• Also from the Chronicle: An increasing number of people are ignoring wildfire evacuation orders. During the North Complex fire: “Firefighters rescued at least 100 people as the fire blew through communities including Berry Creek, Feather Falls and Brush Creek. Hundreds of homes burned, dozens of residents were injured and at least 15 people were killed. The disaster could have largely been avoided had residents listened to emergency workers when there was still time to get out, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff. The victims were among scores of people who have defied evacuation orders during the wildfires that have been raging across California, a distressing trend that officials say puts emergency workers at risk, hampers firefighting efforts and often ends in loss of life.”

• Dammit, now Sizzler is filing for bankruptcy. Eff you, 2020.

• Finally, a tip of the hat from those of us at the Independent to the people who worked for the press operation at The Desert Sun. Today was the press’ last day of operation—and the October print edition of the Independent was one of the last publications to roll off of it.

Before we started the print edition 7 1/2 years ago, I got print bids from presses around Southern California—and, by far, the best deal was offered by the Gannett-owned Desert Sun. While I hated—hated—to give my business to Gannett, a company that has not always been the best steward of the papers it has owned (that’s a gross understatement), we started (and continue to operate) the Independent on a very-shoestring budget, so I needed to go with the best deal.

Through 87 print editions, the press folks there did nothing but fantastic work on the Independent. They were professional; they were accommodating when I needed extra time due to various injuries (including my left elbow dislocation in 2018, and my right elbow dislocation seven months ago); and the print quality was consistently good.

From our November 2020 print edition on, the Independent will be printed—like The Desert Sun and some of the other commercial-print jobs that used to be done at the Gene Autry Trail building here—at the Gannett operation in Phoenix. They’ll have to work very hard in Arizona to match the quality and professionalism that was displayed by the operation here.

The Desert Sun did a nice feature over the weekend on the people who worked there. I recommend checking it out.

That’s enough for today. Please help us pay our print bill, and our writers, and for MailChimp, and etc. by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you’re able. Stay safe, and as always, thanks for reading.

Happy Friday, all. Let’s get straight to the news:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. NPR’s Nina Totenberg sums it up: “Architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in the 1970s, Ginsburg subsequently served 27 years on the nation’s highest court, becoming its most prominent member. Her death will inevitably set in motion what promises to be a nasty and tumultuous political battle over who will succeed her, and it thrusts the Supreme Court vacancy into the spotlight of the presidential campaign.” Thank you for working so hard for so long, Justice Ginsburg.

• Fires remain the big news in the west. The Los Angeles Times offers news on the nearby Snow fire, which was sparked by a burning car and has forced evacuations; and shares the awful news that a firefighter has died battling the El Dorado firethe one that was sparked by that gender-reveal party down the road near Yucaipa.

• On latest episode of How the CDC Turns: Now the official government guidelines again say that if you’ve been in contact with someone who has the coronavirus, you should get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms. CNN explains the craziness.

The president today announced he’s banning TikTok and WeChat from mobile-app stores as of Sunday. As a result, China is ticked off—as is the American Civil Liberties Union

• Yet more Census shenanigans: The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Census workers there were told their work was over—even though the entire city had not yet been surveyed. Key quote: “Several (workers) reported being offered counting jobs in Reno, Fort Bragg (Mendocino County) or the far reaches of the East Bay instead. But San Francisco, their supervisors told them, was fully counted even though statistics … showed that was far from the truth.” 

Also from the Chronicle comes this: “The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, managed by the University of California but federally funded, has suspended its employees’ diversity training program by order of the Trump administration, which recently called such programs ‘divisive, anti-American propaganda,’ The Chronicle has learned.” Sigh. 

The Public Policy Institute just released a new poll regarding Californians’ feelings on all sorts of things. Turns out Californians like Gavin Newsom and Joe Biden, but aren’t wild about the idea of bringing back affirmative action.

NBC News takes a look at the problems some people, who want to vote by mail, are having in other states. Key quote: “Mississippi and four other states—Indiana, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee—continue to limit vote-by-mail access and don't consider the pandemic to be a valid reason for absentee voting. Each state faces numerous legal challenges to the stymied access. With less than two months until Election Day, many voters remain confused about whether and how they can vote by mail. The uncertainty has the potential to affect voter access and, therefore, the outcomes of the elections themselves.”

• While we’ve been making good progress at stemming the figurative tide of COVID-19 around these parts, the number of new cases has doubled in much of Europe in recent weeks. And they’re soaring in Israel as well.

• Two professors, writing for The Conversation, make the case that “humanity can leverage the internet to collaborate and share innovations toward solving pressing societal problems” like COVID-19. How would this work? Well, for starters, they think we should make taxpayer-funded health efforts, like vaccines, open-source.

• A smidgen of good news: There’s yet more evidence that efforts around the world to slow the spread of the coronavirus are also tamping down the flu. MedPage Today has the update.

Can wearing eyeglasses decrease your chances of getting COVID-19? Data out of China indicates it’s a possibility.

• From the Independent: Andrew Smith worked at Lord Fletcher’s, the legendary Rancho Mirage joint, famous for its prime rib, that was one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite places to hang out. The owner announced last month he was closing the restaurant and putting it up for sale; here’s Andrew’s remembrance. Key quote: “The portrait of Frank Sinatra, framed and mounted behind his favorite table, always attracted the most attention. Michael Fletcher has hundreds of stories to tell, but the most notable is about the night that Sinatra and Alan Shepard jumped behind the bar to perform a duet of ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’”

• According to The Hill: “Aria DiMezzo, a self-described ‘transsexual Satanist anarchist,’ won the Republican primary for sheriff in Cheshire County, N.H., last week.” Wait, what?

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, where I discussed the reopening prospects for Riverside County, among other things. Check it out!

• The year 2020 has brought the world a lot of things, most of them terrible. However, it will also bring the world its first Lifetime Christmas movie with a gay storyline. I just don’t know what to think anymore.

• And finally, Gene Weingarten, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, writes about what happened after a neighbor asked him for a tomato. Trust me when I say you’ll want to read this—and read it until the end.

That’s enough for today. I am going to get together with some friends, socially distanced in a friend’s backyard, to toast the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Digest will be back on Monday; have a great weekend despite all the chaos, everyone.

Riverside County businesses may soon be allowed to further reopen—and San Diego County businesses may soon be forced to further close.

Those are some of the takeaways from yesterday’s weekly update of the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” statuses.

To recap: Every county in the state has been placed in one of four “county risk levels,” depending on the COVID-19 test-positivity rate, and the case rate per 100,000 residents. Riverside County is currently in the most-restrictive “Widespread” category, for counties that have a positivity rate higher than 8 percent, and more than 7 new daily cases per 100,000 people. The next less-restrictive category, “Substantial”—San Diego County’s current tier—requires a positivity rate between 5 and 8 percent, and between 4 and 7 new daily cases per 100,000.

As of this week’s update, Riverside County’s positivity rate is listed as 6.4 percent, with 6.7 daily cases per 100,000—which would put us in less-restrictive “Substantial” territory. However, per the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving forward.” So … that means Riverside County could possibly move into the less-restrictive “Substantial” category as of Sept. 29.

San Diego County’s numbers, however, are moving in the opposite direction: As of yesterday’s update, the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 was 8.1—higher than the “Substantial” threshold, even though the county’s positivity rate is a quite-good 4.5 percent. According to the state: “If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier. Public health officials are constantly monitoring data and can step in if necessary.”

Got all that? Good.

The difference in the tiers is quite substantial. That’s why in San Diego County—which, again, remains in the less-restrictive “Substantial” category for now—personal-care services (waxing, nails, etc.) can currently operate indoors. Churches can be open for indoor service at 25 percent capacity. Gyms can open indoors at 10 percent capacity. Movie theaters can open indoors at 25 percent capacity.

None of that can happen in Riverside County yet.

Meanwhile, county leaders in both places aren’t happy with the state’s criteria. San Diego County officials say their spike in numbers has to do with San Diego State University, and asked the state to not count the college’s numbers in their county metrics. The state said no to that request.

Here, local business leaders are clamoring for Riverside County to open faster, no matter what the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” metrics say. The state is very likely to say no to this request, too.

Stay tuned, folks.

Today’s news links:

• The big local news today: The arena that had been planned for downtown Palm Springs will now instead be built near Cook Street and Interstate 10. The Agua Caliente tribe is no longer involved; instead, the Oak View Group will partner with The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation. From the news release: “The Seattle Kraken’s AHL Franchise, led by David Bonderman and OVG, will play in the new arena once construction is complete. Groundbreaking and construction are scheduled for 2021. The arena is expected to open in the last quarter of 2022.”

• It’s been a fascinating and completely insane couple of days for followers of college football. The Big 10 Conference today announced it would begin playing football this fall after all—as soon as Oct. 23. Then the Pac-12 Conference—the only remaining power conference not to announce plans to play in the fall—announced plans to play in the fall. All of this happened the day after LSU’s coach told the media that most of his team had contracted COVID-19 … amid increasing questions about the virus’ long-term effects on athletes. Repeat after me: Nothing makes sense anymore.

• In the aftermath of this week’s terrible shootings of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, the actions of the department are raising a whole lot of concerns.

• Good lord, this is awful: A whistleblower has come forward with claims that detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody have been subjected to questionable hysterectomies. Key quote, from NPR: “The complaint says that several immigrant women expressed concerns to Project South about a high rate of hysterectomies and that (whistleblower Dawn) Wooten and other nurses at the facility questioned the number of women undergoing the procedure as well as their ability to fully understand and consent to it. According to the complaint, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five women at the facility who received hysterectomies between October and December 2019 and said they “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” ICE officials have denied wrongdoing.

A group of gym owners is suing the state over COVID-19-mandated closures. According to The Associated Press: “The suit accuses state and Los Angeles County officials of requiring gyms to close without providing evidence that they contribute to virus outbreaks and at a time when staying healthy is critical to California’s residents. The prolonged closure is depriving millions of people the ability to exercise as temperatures soar and smoky air from wildfires blankets much of the state, said Francesca Schuler, a founding partner of the (California Fitness Alliance).

• According to Yelp, 60 percent of pandemic-related business closures are now permanent closures. CNBC explains.

• Some people who have been jobless since the first stay-at-home order are about to exhaust their 26 weeks of state unemployment. What’s next for them? The San Francisco Chronicle explains.

Don’t expect a widespread SARS-CoV-2 vaccine until the middle of next year. So said the CDC director today.

• The Los Angeles Times recently decided to test the speed of first-class USPS mail delivery. The verdict? It’s definitely slower these days.

Both climate change and forest management are responsible for the hellfire blanketing the West these days. A professor of history from the University of Oregon, writing for The Conversation, says: “Management policies have created tinderboxes in Western forests, and climate change has made it much more likely that those tinderboxes will erupt into destructive fires. A third factor is that development has expanded into once-wild areas, putting more people and property in harm’s way.”

• From the Independent: When Palm Springs Pride announced tentative plans for a car caravan as part of an otherwise primarily online celebration in November, some people freaked out—unjustifiably, perhaps. I recently spoke to Pride president and CEO Ron deHarte about what Palm Springs Pride 2020 will look like. Key quote from deHarte, regarding that caravan: “We’re not creating assembly points. … This is being made for TV. The idea is to really show people who are at home, not participating; they can tune into YouTube or the livestream on Facebook. There are not going to be things for people to see—but if somebody was to go sit alongside the road, there are going to be at least 10 miles of roadway where anyone who is conscious of what’s going on in society today can social distance themselves. … But we just don’t see (people gathering) happening. It hasn’t happened in the 17 cities that we’ve been modeling from.”

• Take rising interest rates off your list of things to worry about. Per CNBC: “Projections from individual members (of the Federal Reserve) also indicated that rates could stay anchored near zero through 2023. All but four members indicated they see zero rates through then. This was the first time the committee forecast its outlook for 2023.”

• NBC News looks at the influence YouTube is having on the presidential election this year. Key quote: “YouTube, founded in 2005, has often been overshadowed by the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a place where political campaigning happens online, but this year is shaping up differently, and the fall promises to test YouTube’s capacity to serve as a political referee.”

• Finally … I know I could use a drink, and wine actually sounds quite lovely right now. Here are some fall wine suggestions from Independent wine columnist and resident sommelier Katie Finn.

Happy Wednesday, all! Thanks to everyone from reading. Please help the Independent continue producing quality local journalism—and making it free to everyone, without paywalls or fees—by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return on Friday.

On the weekend of Nov. 6-8, there will be no festival in downtown Palm Springs. There will be no parade. However, Greater Palm Springs Pride will go on—mostly online, like almost everything else has since COVID-19 reared its unbelievably ugly head in March.

However, there will be a few events with an in-person aspect … sort of. The Front Runners’ 5k run, a fundraiser for the LGBT Center of the Desert, will take place—but instead of everyone running together, the participants will pick their own time and route. Pride-themed movies will be screened at the Palm Springs Cultural Center—outside, on the newish drive-in screen, with attendees in their cars or socially distanced.

And then there’s the possible car caravan—which, when it was first announced, caused Palm Springs Pride president and CEO Ron deHarte no small amount of grief after certain locals, perhaps not understanding the concept, freaked out on social media.

We recently spoke to deHarte about the plans for 2020 Greater Palm Springs Pride.

Tell me a little bit about the re-imagined Pride this year.

So many cities have gone virtual for their pride events. What we’re trying to do is a combination of online activities that people can participate in from the comfort of their home, and true activities where you can be active, like the Front Runners’ 5k run, which is always very popular. But this year, instead of waking up on Saturday morning and joining 500 other people, you go and you do your 5k run or walk at your leisure, on your own. You’re still able to raise money; we can raise money for the Center. That’s one way where people are still able to get out of their house, and be a part of something bigger, but not have to sit and watch something that’s a livestream online.

The drive-in movie nights are another way where people can be safe and social distance, but come together and watch a couple of Pride-themed movies on Friday and Saturday night.

Then we have some more of the traditional things that people would see, but via livestream. The (Interfaith Pride Kabbalat) Shabbat will be livestreamed on Friday night. Our flag-raising ceremony—we traditionally have done a big media event as we unfurl the flag from the Stergios (building) tower (at Desert Regional Medical Center). Well, this year, we’re going to do a livestream so people can watch the flag unfurlings, not only at the Stergios tower, but downtown and at City Hall.

Let’s discuss the caravan, since that’s the thing everyone seems riled up about.

We have put forward an idea for the caravan. It’s not set in stone. We’ve watched what’s been done in 17 other cities; actually, Salt Lake City is organizing a really large one (on Oct. 11), so we’ll watch that very closely.

(The idea) is the old political protest—the caravan where people drive through the city and raise awareness and honk their horns and be visible, be heard and capture media attention. That’s the idea behind the car caravan: We could give people from the same household the opportunity to come out for a couple of hours; make a poster with their political statement on it, or a message of love; and they could maybe decorate their car a bit, and come and drive on our open roads. It would be a free event for people to participate in. We would do it during a scheduled time period and follow a scheduled route, giving people who don’t have a car or aren’t able to participate the ability to see what’s happening by staying home and watching a livestream. The idea is not in place for spectators. It’s on open roads. There’s no parade, no marching bands, no dancing queens—none of that. … It’s a solo experience, but at the end of the day, any caravan we organize in Palm Springs is going to get a lot of media attention—and that’s part of what this political protest caravan is all about. It’s raising awareness and getting attention.

What steps are you taking to make sure this doesn’t attract crowds?

First, I want to remind everyone that nothing is set in stone. This is still an idea that’s being worked on, and it’s not finalized that it’s going to happen. We will take it day by day, because if our COVID-positive numbers don’t get better, and the situation changes for us, we’re going to evaluate everything we’re doing. If there’s a slight chance that people are not going to be safe, then we will not go forward with whatever plan we’ve got in place.

We’ve been talking to the city, a special-event planning team, about the safety measures that need to be in place—like the possibility of not promoting the route. There are positives and negatives to that, but that’s definitely something that we’re looking at—to not promote it publicly, and only make it known when the participants arrive in the morning to get in their lineup. People have to register ahead of time, so they know that they’re not allowed to have party trucks, party buses or party limos. They’re agreeing that they are coming from the same households. They are agreeing that they will be wearing masks. They will agree that they’re not to come to the check-in, get out of their car and start to party. They’ll have an assigned parking space; they will go to their assigned parking space, and when it’s time to roll out at the step-off moment, cars will exit the parking-lot area in sequence.

On the route, there are no closed streets, with regular traffic signs and regular traffic signals; regular laws have to be followed along the route. We’ve asked for permission to end the route in front of City Hall. People will come in one entrance; they will hand off their poster or signs that they made. … That statement sign will be given to a team of three or four folks that are making a design that will be visible on the lawn of City Hall, all day Saturday and all day Sunday. This art installation (would be) a collected community statement. But once they hand off their poster, no one gets out of their cars. Again, there’s no speaking; there’s no entertainment. They just keep driving through and exit the other side of the parking lot at City Hall.

We’re not creating assembly points. … This is being made for TV. The idea is to really show people who are at home, not participating; they can tune into YouTube or the livestream on Facebook. There are not going to be things for people to see—but if somebody was to go sit alongside the road, there are going to be at least 10 miles of roadway where anyone who is conscious of what’s going on in society today can social distance themselves. … We’ve even proposed that we have additional police support that day to help discourage folks from gathering. But we just don’t see (people gathering) happening. It hasn’t happened in the 17 cities that we’ve been modeling from. It didn’t happen in Chula Vista, which is I think the closest model for us to follow.

Some people are concerned that because Palm Springs Pride is putting together a weekend slate of events, that will encourage people to come to Palm Springs and party—because, well, this is Palm Springs.

Well, there’s plenty that is happening in town today, where there are activities taking place. … I think other than the caravan, everything that we’re talking about is already happening right now in Palm Springs. We’re not proposing something that’s any different than what’s happening today in Palm Springs—and people are already coming to Palm Springs. Next weekend, they’re going to be here. The following weekend, they’re going to be here. We’re not promoting to Los Angeles, or San Diego, or Long Beach to come and celebrate Pride in Palm Springs, because we don’t have anything for them to come and physically celebrate. There are no parties. There are no pool events. Even our proposed tea dance is virtual—so you can go and dance in your home. … We just don’t see people driving here to participate in these virtual experiences.

For more information, visit apps.pspride.org.

Before we jump into the news links, I have two bits of Independent-related information I’d like to share:

1.If you see Kevin Fitzgerald out and about, I strongly encourage you to buy him a drink. (Not that he’ll be out and about, and not that you could buy him a drink unless he also got a meal, because, well, COVID-19. Bleh. But you get what I am saying.)

Why do we all owe Kevin a debt of gratitude? Because he has been, and will be, spending a lot of time interviewing local candidates for public office, and then transcribing those interviews, for our renowned Candidate Q&A series. And, well, let’s just say that some of these candidates are verbose.

The first three sets of interviews—with the candidates for the Palm Desert City Council’s two districts, and the contested Palm Springs City Council district—are now posted at CVIndependent.com. (That’s more than 16,000 words of interviews, by the way. So, yeah, make the imaginary drink for Kevin a double.)

Between now and Election Day, we’ll be talking to as many of the other candidates for the contested local city council races as we can. I’ll be honest: We may not get to all eight of the valley’s City Council contests taking place this November, but we’re going to do the best we can.

Maybe make that drink a triple?

2. If you have not yet voted in the first round of the Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, you only have a few hours left (presuming you’re reading this Monday evening)—because voting ends tonight! Click here for details.

After voting ends, we’ll count all the ballots, and then announce all of the finalists on Sept. 28—at which time the final round of balloting will start.

Thanks to all of you who’ve voted already!

Today’s links:

• The president today came to California to talk about the wildfires. As The New York Times put it: “At a briefing in California, Trump and Gov. Gavin Newsom disagree, as politely as possible, on climate change.” CNN was more, uh, blunt: “Trump baselessly questions climate science during California wildfire briefing.” Key takeaway: The leader of the free world said the fires aren’t the fault of climate change, but of poor forest management by the states. Even though the feds own and control most of the forest land.

• Meanwhile, at least two dozen people have died as a result of California’s wildfires, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were ambushed and shot in the head Saturday night—and amazingly, both are expected to survive. Thank goodness. The Los Angeles Times looks at the aftermath.

• Following the shooting, L.A. sheriff’s deputies shoved, arrested and then detained journalist Josie Huang, of NPR station KPCC, and charged her with obstructing justice. Per The Washington Post: “Police claimed Huang, who also reports for LAist, didn’t have credentials and ignored demands to leave the area. But those claims are contradicted by video Huang shared on Sunday showing her quickly backing away from police when ordered to do so and repeatedly identifying herself as a journalist. Huang said she also had a press badge around her neck.”

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria laid out a likely Election Day scenario for which we all must prepare: According to polling showing who’s likely to vote in person versus by mail, it’s quite likely Donald Trump will be ahead in many states as Election Night draws to a close—but that Biden will pull ahead as mail-in ballots are counted in subsequent days. The result of all of this could be a big, constitutional-crisis mess.

• Good news: The AstraZeneca vaccine trial has resumed. It had been paused for several days after a participant suffered a serious spinal ailment. As CNBC explains: “Illnesses often occur by chance in large trials but are investigated out of an abundance of caution.”

Here’s this week’s District 4 report of COVID-19 stats from the county. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but all the bad numbers continue to decline, which is good, but the weekly positivity rate (12.6 percent) remains too high.

• Yet more good news: The county has opened its business-assistance grants to yet another group of small businesses. During the first two rounds of grants, businesses that received PPP funding were ineligible—but during this third round, businesses that received $75,000 or less in PPP funds may apply. Get the details here.

• Could face masks possibly be helping with COVID-19 immunity? It’s possible, but it has not been proven. From The Telegraph: “The commentary, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, advances the unproven but promising theory that universal face mask wearing might be helping to reduce the severity of the virus and ensuring that a greater proportion of new infections are asymptomatic. If this hypothesis is borne out, the academics argue, then universal mask-wearing could become a form of variolation (inoculation) that would generate immunity and ‘thereby slow the spread of the virus in the United States and elsewhere’ as the world awaits a vaccine.”

• One of the biggest claims from people who try to minimize the health havoc from COVID-19 is that it isn’t killing young people. However, it is giving some of them heart issues. According to MedPage Today: “Of 26 competitive athletes at Ohio State University scanned with cardiac MRI (CMR) after asymptomatic or mild cases of COVID-19, four (15 percent) had findings suggestive of myocarditis. Two of these had pericardial effusion; two had shortness of breath, while the others had no symptoms of myocarditis.”

• Given what happened just down the road in Yucaipa, you completely understand why I felt the need to share with you this story, from The Conversation, with the headlineWhy gender reveals have spiraled out of control.”

There may be life on Venus. We know this, because scientists have detected phosphine molecules in the otherwise-nasty atmosphere. CBS News explains.

• Because of, well, 2020, it turns out a lot more of us our grinding our teeth. The Washington Post explains why, as if you didn’t know why already.

• Also from The Washington Post comes this comprehensive COVID-19 etiquette guide. It is surprisingly helpful, even answering the question: “How can I get off one of these never-ending (Zoom) calls?”

• And finally, because, well, again 2020, killer whales are all of a sudden “ramming and harassing sailboats traveling along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts,” and nobody knows why. According to Insider: “In one instance, a crew member on a 46-foot delivery boat described being surrounded by nine orcas off Cape Trafalgar in Spain. The crew member, Victoria Morris, said the whales, which can weigh up to 6 tons, rammed the boat continually for one hour, causing it to spin 180 degrees and the engine to shut down.” Yikes!

That’s enough for the day. If you like what the Independent does, please consider sending us a few bucks to support us. The Daily Digest will return on Wednesday. Thanks, as always, for reading.

There’s a lot of news on this Sept. 11, so let’s get right to it:

• The West Coast is on fire. The New York Times has started a live-updates page regarding the horrific blazes, the deadliest of which is near Portland, Ore., where dozens of people are either dead or missing, and half a million people face possible evacuation orders. Key quote: “‘We are preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the numbers of structures that have been lost,’ said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.”

• Our friends at Willamette Week, the Pulitzer-winning alternative newsweekly in Portland, are also doing fantastic coverage of the fires up there. Check it out.

• In Northern California, at least 10 are dead, with 16 reported missing, due to the North Complex fire in Butte County. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The collective scale of the infernos that have scarred the state over the last month is staggering: at least 20 fatalities, tens of thousands of structures destroyed and more than 3.1 million acres burned—the most recorded in a single year.”

• Of course, no tragedy these days can take place without conspiracy theories and misinformation popping up. The New York Times, via SFGate, looked at the insane and baseless claims, making their way around social media, that some of the West Coast wildfires were started by Antifa. Key quote: “Several law enforcement agencies in Oregon said they had been flooded with inquiries about rumors that activists were responsible. On Thursday, several journalists reporting on fires near the city of Molalla, Oregon, said they had been confronted by a group of armed people who were worried about unverified reports of arsonists in the area.”

• All the fires have created poor air quality throughout much of the west—and in Los Angeles, the smoky air prompted the county to shut down COVID-19 testing sites. Yikes.

• Related to the fires, here’s a speck of good news: Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed a bill that will make it easier for former inmates who served as volunteer firefighters to become badly needed professional firefighters. “For decades, thousands of inmate firefighters have battled wildfires across the state, working alongside professional firefighters in the scorching heat and smoke,” reports NBC News. “Yet the men and women prisoners who throw themselves in danger to help save lives and property often find it impossible to put their firefighting skills to use after their release, even in a state desperate for such labor.

• Related to COVID-19 testing: Riverside County is asking people, whether they’re symptomatic or not, to go get tested for COVID-19. In recent weeks, the number of county residents getting tested has fallen—to the point that it’s messing up the county’s hopes of moving into the next reopening tier. According to a news release: “Riverside County reached the positivity rate that will allow it to move to the red tier (7.8 percent), but the case rate remains higher than the state’s requirement. This week, the state began adjusting the case rate higher for counties that are not meeting the state’s daily average testing volume, which brought Riverside County’s case rate from 7.4 to 8.6. While Riverside County has the volume to test 4,000 people a day, only half that number have been getting tested at county and state testing sites in recent weeks.”

The Associated Press, via SFGate, reports that the testing backlog that was a huge problem in the state a month ago is gone, as the state increases testing capacity and fewer people get tested. “California's typical turnaround time for coronavirus tests has dropped to less than two days, state health officials said Thursday, a mark that allows for effective isolation and quarantine of those who are infected to limit the spread. Test results now are available from laboratories within 1.3 days on average, down from the five- to seven business days that officials commonly reported last month.”

• Regular readers know the Daily Digest rule about studies—they usually need to be taken with a massive grain of figurative salt. Well, such is the case with a new CDC study, which led to this alarming CNN headline: “Adults with Covid-19 about 'twice as likely' to say they have dined at a restaurant, CDC study suggests.” However, the study, of 314 people who were tested in July at 11 facilities around the country, has a massive flaw or two: “The study comes with some limitations, including … the question assessing dining at a restaurant did not distinguish between indoor versus outdoor dining.” That seems like a big distinction, no?!

• Well here’s something weird: Some researchers think the coronavirus may have been spreading in Los Angeles in December—before China even announced the outbreak in Wuhan. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The researchers didn’t conduct any diagnostic tests, so they can’t say with certainty when doctors first encountered anyone infected with the virus that came to be known as SARS-CoV-2. But if the coronavirus had indeed been spreading under the radar since around Christmas, the pattern of patient visits to UCLA facilities would have looked a lot like what actually happened, they wrote in a study published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.”

• Related: A group of engineering professors, writing for The Conversation, take a look at the 6-foot coronavirus rule—and the limitations it has. They say to think about COVID-19 the way you’d think of cigarette smoke at a bar: “There is no safe distance in a poorly ventilated room, unfortunately. Good ventilation and filtration strategies that bring in fresh air are critical to reduce aerosol concentration levels, just as opening windows can clear out a smoke-filled room.”

• The New York Daily News reported today—on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks—this: “The Trump administration has secretly siphoned nearly $4 million away from a program that tracks and treats FDNY firefighters and medics suffering from 9/11 related illnesses.” Key quote: “Here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers, at a time when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to COVID-19, and we’re not getting the money we need to be able to treat these heroes,” said (Dr. David) Prezant, the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer. “And for years, they wouldn’t even tell us—we never ever received a letter telling us this.

• It’s come to this: The Washington Post has started tracking the number of teachers who have died of COVID-19 this fall across the country. So far, the tally is six.

• Health Net and Carol’s Kitchen are offering a free flu-shot clinic, open to all Riverside County residents, on Monday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the James A. Venable Community Center, at 50390 Carmen Ave., up in Cabazon. If interested, get there early, as the supply of shots is limited.

The city of Palm Springs really wants you to participate in the 2020 Census! From the city: “On Wednesday, Sept. 16 the five members of the City Council will kick off a friendly competition to see whose district can get the highest Census response rate by hosting drive-by caravans throughout their respective districts to urge residents to respond. The caravans will kick off at 5:30 p.m. from the parking lot of the Palm Springs Public Library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, with several representatives from city departments, business, nonprofit and neighborhood organizations on hand.” Get details on that and more here. (Full disclosure: The city has paid for Census-outreach advertising at CVIndependent.com and in the Daily Digest; however, this item is not related to that purchase.)

The much-ballyhooed Virgin Hotel will not be built in Palm Springs after all. Per KESQ: “(Developer) Grit and Virgin also agreed to use the hotel site to instead build a 62-unit condominium complex instead of a hotel.” Hmm.

• I took this week off from the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, but Shann, John, Brad and Dr. Laura were all there, as were The Standard’s Nino Eilets, event-producer Daniel Vaillancourt, and the fabulous Debra Ann Mumm, the founder of the Create Center for the Arts!

• And finally, after all of that, you may need a drink. Our beer writer, Brett Newton, thinks perhaps you should consider mead for that drink … even though mead isn’t a beer. Check out what he has to say.

Have a great weekend, everyone. If you haven’t yet voted in the first round of the Independent’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, please do so by clicking here—voting closes on Monday! And you appreciate this Daily Digest and the other local journalism produced by the Independent, please consider financially helping out by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Be safe; the Daily Digest will return on Monday.

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