CVIndependent

Fri10302020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

For decades, California teens who committed the most-serious crimes—robbery, assault, murder—were sent to state juvenile prisons to serve their sentences.

Now that is about to change.

A controversial new law that takes effect next year will dismantle the state’s current juvenile justice system and transfer responsibility for convicted youth back to counties.

Orchestrated this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom in a swift move, the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice will no longer accept newly convicted young people after July 2021—leaving counties with less than a year to plan for where to house the state’s most-serious young offenders.

Opponents say they were stunned by the speed of the decision, and how little input was solicited from counties, probation officials, youth advocates and others affected by the dramatic overhaul.

“We were caught off guard when the administration put this policy into the works,” said Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California. “This is the first time I’ve seen something so big get through like it did, so quickly.”

Even some advocates of the plan agree it was passed quickly, is not fleshed out, and could result in more youth being sent to adult prisons because counties are not prepared.

But the plan—while not perfect—will keep youth close to home where they might benefit from family and community support, proponents contend.

“If you are taken from SoCal and moved to Stockton, that impacts your ability to maintain those relationships, and it is a big deal for young people who are still going through phases of development,” said Chet Hewitt, president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation. “Oversight of the local programs is going to be important now. There should be no difference whether you are in San Francisco or Fresno county.”

A spokesperson for the Division of Juvenile Justice declined to be interviewed.


A turbulent past

By the time Newsom signed this into law on Sept. 30, the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice was already in upheaval. Last year, Newsom decided to move the division from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the Health and Human Services Agency.

Then along came the pandemic—and the state budget was thrown into free fall. With dwindling revenues, Newsom included the system’s closure in his May budget revision, which focused on budget cuts and eliminated or significantly trimmed nearly all the expansive ideas he had proposed in January.

For now, the Division of Juvenile Justice will stay under Corrections until it completely shuts down.

It’s still unclear how much the state will actually save by closing the division, because it has promised to reimburse counties for keeping the youth in custody, and to support their housing and rehabilitation needs.

The overhaul, however quickly it came, has been batted around for years as critics pushed for reform. Formerly known as the California Youth Authority, the division has a long history of controversy. In the 1990s, the agency was in the hot seat for reports of excessive punishment, abuse and violence. Lawsuits against the state brought change in how youth were treated.

At its peak in 1996, the system housed 10,000 inmates and operated 11 facilities, from Los Angeles to Stockton to Ione in Amador County.

In the years since, the division has been shrinking because youth crime decreased, and the state began limiting the use of state facilities to only those who had committed the most-serious crimes.

Today, the division houses 750 youths at three facilities—two in Stockton and one in Ventura County. The fire camp for young offenders in Pine Grove will remain open.

The new plan will not change life for those currently serving their time. They will stay in state lockup until their sentences are over, or they transfer out at 25. Only when the last youth is out of custody will the division actually close entirely.

Youth who would have been sent to state custody after July 2021 will ideally be housed in their home county and provided with support and rehabilitative services, according to the new law. In cases where counties cannot do this, the law allows them to contract with nearby counties, although no details have been worked out.


A big hand-off to counties

Under the new law, counties must create their own plans for how to deal with this population. The state is retaining some oversight with creation of an Office of Youth and Community Restoration and an ombudsman position to oversee the grants that will go to counties.

Some youth advocates say they are concerned about the differences that will emerge as 58 different counties, varying in size and resources, create their own approaches.

“There will have to be some centralization of counties—because some youth will need some services that are not available in every county,” said Mike Males, senior research fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco.

Some larger counties may be able to absorb the young offenders more readily with programs already in place. For example, Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile-justice system in the country. By contrast, Alpine County, population 1,100, does not have a juvenile hall—or an adult jail, for that matter. Instead, it contracts with nearby El Dorado County for both services.

“I’ve been here for three years, and thankfully, we haven’t had a serious youth offender,” said Tami DiSalvo, chief probation officer for Alpine County. “My first call would probably be to El Dorado.”

Some counties are also skeptical about the vagueness of the state’s funding formula. Money will not be granted in a flat amount per youth, but will instead be based on various factors, such as how much the country has relied on state facilities previously for youth incarceration.

The final plan has serious shortcomings that “do not set counties and youth up for success,” said Darby Kernan, deputy executive director of legislative affairs for the California State Association of Counties, in a statement.

The association, along with Urban Counties of California, Rural Counties Representatives of California and the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, have opposed the plan.

In a letter to the Legislature, the groups said the new system is “unworkable” and that the state “is attempting to reduce costs and transfer liability.”

Democratic Assemblyman Jim Cooper of Elk Grove, a former sheriff’s deputy, also opposes the plan, saying the state is dismantling a system that has created valuable programs—especially for young sex offenders.

“It took them a long time to get there and develop it,” he said. “Counties don’t have it, and I don’t think they can replicate it the way (the Division of Juvenile Justice) has done it.”


Former inmates, differing views

California youth advocates Frankie Guzman and Chet Hewitt have been there. Guzman spent years in California’s juvenile-justice system in the 1990s for armed robbery. Hewitt served time decades ago as a teenager in New York’s Rikers Island for gang activity. 

But they see this issue differently. 

Guzman was arrested at 15 and spent six years in and out of state facilities. When he was intermittently free, he attended community college, which he says helped him find a better path.

He acknowledges the division has a terrible track record with violence, abuse and neglect, but he said that has improved since his time there. Guzman worries that without a state juvenile prison system, young people who commit the most serious crimes will get sent to adult prisons if counties aren’t prepared to help them.

“There is nothing in the plan to mitigate transfer to the adult system,” said Guzman, now an attorney and director of the California Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law.

Guzman said the state has dramatically decreased the number of youth being tried as adults, but now worries that trend could be reversed if there is no alternative between county juvenile hall and adult prison. In 2008, 1,201 youth were tried as adults, compared with only 66 in 2019, according to the W. Haywood Burns Institute, which analyzed California Department of Justice data.

Hewitt was 16 when he was convicted, spending seven months behind bars. He graduated from high school in Rikers Island.

“There was not a single redemptive or rehabilitative component in any of it,” he said. “All you could do is come out more harmed than you went in.”

His community, he said, is where he found redemption.

“They didn’t view me for what I did; they viewed me for what I could be,” he said. The state system “was not producing the kind of outcome we hope for kids.”

Hewitt went on to become president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation. He supports the system’s return to local counties, so youth can be near family and community, he said.


But will it save money?

But even Hewitt said he sees the potential pitfalls of having each county devise its own plan. Meanwhile, the funding is murky.

According to the bill and the legislative analysis, the state estimates it will spend nearly $39.9 million in the first year and, by 2024-25, the state will funnel $208 million annually to counties. In addition, a one-time $9.6 million general fund distribution will be used to create the new office and help counties develop local plans.

The Division of Juvenile Justice is currently operating on a $220 million budget, which includes health care and education, according to the state.

This is what worries counties: They don’t know how much money they will receive per youth.

Males, the research fellow who supports the change, said counties fear losing what has been a good deal and now have to assume responsibility for these offenders.

The jury is out on whether counties can do better, Males said.

“This is an experiment,” he said. “Some will, and some won’t.”

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.

Published in Local Issues

Regular readers of the Daily Digest know that we often link to stories about scientific studies in this space. And regular readers also know that we always suggest that these stories be taken with a huge, honking figurative grain of salt—because science is often an inexact process, especially these days, given the mad rush to learn about a virus that we didn’t even know existed this time last year.

So … keep that all in mind as you read this piece regarding a brand-new study regarding the risks of getting COVID-19 on an airline flight.

According to ABC News: “United Airlines says the risk of COVID-19 exposure onboard its aircraft is ‘virtually non-existent’ after a new study finds that when masks are worn there is only a 0.003% chance particles from a passenger can enter the passenger's breathing space who is sitting beside them. The study, conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines, was published Thursday.”

The study seems pretty encouraging—but the fact the study was done in part by an airline is what we call a gigantic conflict of interest. So … make that figurative grain of salt we keep talking about even larger in this case.

That said, the findings sort of make sense, given what we know about the effectiveness of masks, and how air circulation is handled on planes.

For what it’s worth, I flew earlier this week for the first time since the pandemic arrived. I am in the middle of a quick trip to San Francisco with the hubby to take care of some things with the apartment he has up here for work, since he’s going to be working from home for the time being—and much of the tech world is even making work-from-home a permanent thing.

As for the flying experience, it felt quite safe; everyone was wearing masks, and there were plenty of open spaces between most seats. The airports themselves were a little eerie—most of the stores and restaurants at both PSP and SFO were closed—but that’s to be expected.

It’s a strange, different world now compared to what it was like eight months ago. Who knows what it’ll be like in another eight months?

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And now, the news:

• It’s usually a mere formality for a state’s disaster-declaration request to be approved by FEMA—but this is 2020, and the president is Donald Trump, so nothing is a “mere formality” anymore. Still, it was shocking when his administration at first denied Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request earlier this week regarding the recent, deadly wildfires—before changing course today after a conversation between Newsom and Trump. The approval is a big deal, because, as the Los Angeles Times explains: “The state and its local governments count on FEMA every year to help recover up to 75 percent of their staffing costs for sending firefighters into other jurisdictions—including onto federal land—to help fight wildfires for weeks at a time.

• Here’s the latest Riverside County District 4 report. District 4 is basically the Coachella Valley and the rural points eastward—and, frankly, I found the report’s weekly positively rate shocking (in a good way). District 4 has had a weekly positivity rate in the double-digits for almost the entirety of the past few months, yet on this report, it’s down to 5.9 percent. If this is accurate, this is fantastic progress. However, the report contains sobering reminders that SARS-CoV-2 remains a terrible adversary: Five of our friends and neighbors lost their lives as a result of the virus during the week ending Oct. 11.

• The New York Times did an examination of the scramble the Trump administration is making to enact (or revoke) various policies and regulations. The lede: “Facing the prospect that President Trump could lose his re-election bid, his cabinet is scrambling to enact regulatory changes affecting millions of Americans in a blitz so rushed it may leave some changes vulnerable to court challenges.” Oh, and here’s a quote that should get one’s attention: “Some cases, like a new rule to allow railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, have led to warnings of public safety threats.” Yikes!

ABC News agreed to do a “town hall” with Joe Biden last night … and then NBC, rather dubiously, agreed to do one with Trump at the same time. Well, the ratings are in—and more people watched Joe Biden, even though Trump’s town hall was also simulcast on NBC’s cable-news networks.

• Sen. Dianne Feinstein said some rather nice things about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and Sen. Lindsey Graham during the Senate hearings this week. This didn’t sit well at ALL with some Democrats.

• The Conversation has been knocking it out of the park this week with all sorts of interesting pieces looking at the science behind the news. In one piece, a history professor looks at how past pandemics have ended—and what lessons can be found about how this one will end. Spoiler alert: The virus that causes COVID-19 is here to stay, even though its effects will lessen over time. Key quote: “Hopefully COVID-19 will not persist for millennia. But until there’s a successful vaccine, and likely even after, no one is safe. Politics here are crucial: When vaccination programs are weakened, infections can come roaring back. Just look at measles and polio, which resurge as soon as vaccination efforts falter.

• In another piece, a medicine professor reveals that dementia-related deaths were up a shocking 20 percent over the summer—and nobody is sure why. She explains four possible factors in this sad increase.

• In yet another, a physiology professor makes the case that pneumonia vaccines may help save lives until the much-anticipated coronavirus vaccines arrive.

• Here are a couple of bits of disconcerting science news on the COVID-19 front, although—say it along with me—we should take all of these studies with that figurative grain of salt. One: According to MedPage Today, “Additional evidence continued to suggest blood type may not only play a role in COVID-19 susceptibility, but also severity of infection, according to two retrospective studies.”

• Two: A large study shows that remdesivir does not prevent COVID-19 deaths. However, this study and its conclusions have come under fire from critics—including, surprise surprise, the maker of the drug.

Pfizer may become the first company to apply for an emergency-use authorization for a helpful coronavirus vaccine—but that’s not going to happen until late November at the earliest, the company says.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to all four of the candidates running for two City Council seats in Cathedral City. Find out what District 1 candidates Rita Lamb and Alan Carvalho had to say here, and what District 2 candidates JR Corrales and Nancy Ross had to say here.

• One of the questions we asked the aforementioned Cathedral City candidates involves a recently enacted ban on most short-term vacation rentals in the city. Well, a similar ban appears to be coming to Rancho Mirage as well, as The Desert Sun reports.

• Twitter went down for a good chunk of the day yesterday, and a satire website posted a story joking that Twitter had shut down the site to avoid negative news being spread about Joe Biden. Well … Trump tweeted out that satire piece, apparently believing it to be real news. Sigh.

• And finally, the mayor of Anchorage resigned earlier this week after admitting that he exchanged inappropriate messages with a local TV anchor. However, as The New York Times explains, the story is waaaaay more bonkers than that sentence implies. Here’s a taste: “Mr. Berkowitz’s resignation followed an unsubstantiated claim posted to social media on Friday by the news anchor, Maria Athens, promising viewers an ‘exclusive’ story set to air on upcoming newscasts. Mr. Berkowitz responded by calling the allegations ‘slanderous’ and false, and Ms. Athens shot back by posting what she said was an image of the mayor’s bare backside, with a laughing emoji.” And things get even crazier from there. Trust me: This is worth a read.

That’s enough news from the week. Wash your hands; wear a mask; be kind; be safe. As always, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will be back next week.

Published in Daily Digest

There is SO MUCH NEWS—and we’re not even including anything about the vice-presidential debate or the president’s recent Tweetstorm.

So let’s get right to it:

• As sort-of portended in this space last week, Riverside County’s COVID-19 numbers are heading in a bad direction—and as a result, the county could slide back into the most-restrictive “widespread” (purple) tier as soon as next Tuesday. While the state calculates our positivity rate as 5 percent, which is good enough to keep us in the red, “substantial” tier, our adjusted cases-per-100,000 number is now 7.6—more than the 7.0 limit. The county also did not meet the just-introduced equity metric, which “ensure(s) that the test positivity rates in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods … do not significantly lag behind its overall county test positivity rate.” What does this all mean? It means that if our numbers don’t improve, businesses including gyms, movie theaters and indoor dining will have to close again.

• A glimmer of hope: Today’s county Daily Epidemiology Summary indicates that, as shown in the yellow box on the last page, the county’s positivity rate seems to be heading back downward.

The county Board of Supervisors yesterday decided NOT to set up a more-lenient business-opening timetable, thereby avoiding a potentially costly showdown with the state. Instead, the supes voted 4-1, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, to “seek clarity on whether group meetings, like the kind held in hotels and conference centers, that primarily involve county residents can take place with limits on attendance. Supervisors also want to know whether wedding receptions can be held with attendance caps.

• After weeks of gradual improvement, the Coachella Valley’s numbers are also heading in the wrong direction, according to the weekly Riverside County District 4 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) The weekly local positivity rate went up to 12.6 percent, and hospitalizations saw a modest uptick. Worst of all, two more of our neighbors passed away from COVID-19.

Well this is horrifying. According to The New York Times: “The FDA proposed stricter guidelines for emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine, but the White House chief of staff objected to provisions that would push approval past Election Day.”

• Meanwhile, a man named William Foege, who headed the CDC under both GOP and Dem presidents, wants current CDC Director Robert Redfield to fall on his figurative sword: “A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health titan who led the eradication of smallpox asked the embattled, current CDC leader to expose the failed U.S. response to the coronavirus, calling on him to orchestrate his own firing to protest White House interference,” according to USA Today.

• A tweet from the governor’s office over the weekend has led to some unflattering national attention. As explained by CBS News: “The California governor’s office put out a tweet on Saturday advising that restaurant-goers keep their masks on while dining. ‘Going out to eat with members of your household this weekend?’ the tweet reads. ‘Don’t forget to keep your mask on in between bites. Do your part to keep those around you healthy.’” I am all for mask-wearing … but in between bites?

It appears Coachella will be delayed yet again: “Multiple music-industry insiders now tell Rolling Stone that the 21st edition of the popular music festival will be pushed a third time, to October 2021.”

ICE raids in “sanctuary” cities across California have led to 128 arrests in recent weeks—a move decried by administration critics as a political stunt. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “The nation’s top immigration officials disclosed the results of Operation Rise during an unusual press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., slamming sanctuary jurisdictions and doubling down on the need to secure the country’s borders.

• Gov. Newsom had a busy day today. Most importantly, he announced that “an intern in (his) administration and another state employee who interacted with members of the governor’s staff have both tested positive for COVID-19, though neither came in contact with Newsom or his top advisors,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Newsom revealed that Disney Chairman Bob Iger had stepped down from his economic-recovery task force—in part because Newsom refuses to offer a pathway for the state’s theme parks to reopen. According to Deadline: “When asked about Iger’s departure, Newsom said: ‘It didn’t come to me as a surprise at all. There’s disagreements in terms of opening a major theme park. We’re going to let science and data make that determination.’

The governor also announced he had signed yet another executive order, this time in an effort to preserve at least 30 percent of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030. According to the San Jose Mercury News: “Newsom signed an executive order directing the state’s Natural Resources Agency to draw up a plan by Feb. 1, 2022, to achieve the goal in a way that also protects the state’s economy and agriculture industry, while expanding and restoring biodiversity.

• Our partners at CalMatters are reporting that in an effort to cut down on fraud, state officials are freezing unemployment accounts—but they’re often freezing the accounts of innocent people: “In what appears to be the latest problem at the besieged state Employment Development Department, unemployed Californians say their accounts are being erroneously frozen, leaving them unable to access a financial lifeline amid the pandemic. Reports surfaced last week and continued over the weekend with beneficiaries reporting their Bank of America accounts—where benefits are deposited and spent—frozen, closed or drained of money.

• An engineering professor, writing for The Conversation, says that a contagious person’s location in a room will help determine who else in that room is exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Read up on the emerging science here.

Wait, the coronavirus can cause diabetes now? Wired reports that scientists are looking into that very real possibility.

• The Washington Post looks at how restaurants are reinventing themselves to survive the pandemic. Restaurant critic Tom Sietsema writes: “At least in Washington, at least this season, more restaurants seem to be opening than closing, and unlike in the spring, when I penned a tear-streaked mash note to the industry I feel grateful to cover, fall feels ripe for a pulse check, even a dining guide to reflect on the smart ways the market has responded to the blow of a global crisis.

Facebook announced today it will stop running all political ads for about a week, after Election Day. It will also do this, per CNBC: “Additionally, Facebook on Wednesday announced that it will ‘remove calls for people to engage in poll watching when those calls use militarized language or suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control, or display power over election officials or voters.’” Baby steps …

• Gustavo Arellano, now a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tells the story of Ivette Zamora Cruz, a Rancho Mirage resident who publishes a Spanish-language magazine, La Revista. When the Black Lives Matter protests took place in June, she decided she needed to take action—by dedicating the latest issue of her magazine to Black voices. Arellano writes: “She began to cold-call Black businesses with offers of free ads, and asked Black writers and photographers via Instagram to submit their work. The issue published in August with profiles of Black artists and activists, and a historical timeline of police violence against Black people in the United States.” It’s a fantastic story.

• Here’s another local story from the Los Angeles Times, and this one is rather disconcerting: “Joining the growing—and increasingly controversial—list of American art museums that have sold or are preparing to sell major paintings from their permanent collections, the Palm Springs Art Museum is finalizing discussions to bring Helen Frankenthaler’s monumental 1979 canvas ‘Carousel’ to market, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plan.” Also: Art critic Christopher Knight points out that this isn’t the first time Museum Director Louis Grachos has been involved with a controversial museum-art sale.

• And finally, Fat Bear Week has a winner. Get to know the portly pre-hibernation fella nicknamed 747.

That’s enough for today. Please help support this Daily Digest and the other work the Independent does by becoming a Supporter of the Independent; we really could use your support. Be safe—and thanks for reading!

Published in Daily Digest

It’s not easy to get work done during a pandemic. Even for the fortunate who kept their pre-pandemic jobs, productivity has taken it on the chin in 2020.

The same goes for those in the lawmaking business.

In March, just days after the governor instructed all Californians to shelter in their homes, legislators left Sacramento to do exactly that—and they stayed away for two months. A second viral wave, plus more than a half-dozen infections among lawmakers and their staff, prompted another extended recess.

The crunched calendar and the state’s gutted budget put a serious damper on legislators’ bill-passing ambitions. The California Senate Office of Research reports the Legislature passed fewer than 428 bills to the governor this fall. Of those, he vetoed 56.

That makes 2020 the least-quantitatively productive year in the Capitol since at least 1967.

This was supposed to be a big year for new laws. California’s Legislature operates on two-year cycles. Any bills that don’t cross the finish line the first year often get another look in year two—prompting a final crush of legislation.

Not this year. The slim legislative pickings in 2020 mark a 63 percent decline from the 21st century average of bills passed in a session’s second year.

While 2020 represents a low point for bill-passing, it marks a record high for gubernatorial decrees.

Since the beginning of the year, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed 59 executive orders. That’s how many his predecessor, Jerry Brown, issued between 2011 and 2018.

The obvious reason for the unprecedented blitz of edicts: the coronavirus, which raised major policy challenges across the state. With the legislative process so hamstrung, Newsom rushed to fill the vacuum. Fifty-three of the orders this year have been COVID-related.

Republican legislators—and occasionally Democrats—have pushed back on Newsom’s seizing of the reins of state. His administration has also been sued nearly 40 times for his COVID-related decrees.

But by and large, the strategy has polled well.

In February, 53 percent of likely voters in California approved of the governor’s job performance while 33 percent disapproved, according to the Public Policy Institute of California’s survey.

When the institute polled the state again in May, Newsom’s approval rate had shot up to 65 percent. Disapproval sank to 26 percent.

It’s hard to say how much of that spike was driven by the governor’s handling of the coronavirus crisis—though both the May survey and a follow-up poll in September did give him particularly high marks in that area.

It’s also consistent with both a national and international trend of citizens rallying around their leaders in this time of crisis. (President Donald Trump is the exception.)

That warm glow seems to have rubbed off a bit on the Legislature, though less so. With some state lawmakers facing tight races this November, that certainly can’t hurt.

They may need all the help they can get. This year, candidates for both the Assembly and Senate have raised less than the total haul from this point before the 2016 election.

Today, social distancing protocols don’t allow for the cocktail galas, house parties and backyard barbeques that down-ballot candidates depend on to raise money. The recession also means fewer people are capable of giving—and there are more worthy causes that could use those donations.

But there are other reasons that legislative candidates might be struggling to rake in cash this year. A hugely competitive presidential race and high-profile propositions could be drawing away available cash. And the unusually large gap between California’s March primary and the November general election created a natural lull—just as the pandemic was hitting California.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.

Published in Politics

One day, those of us who survive this crazy time will look back on this year—and particularly this week—and shake our heads at the sheer unbelievability.

The Trump tax thing. That debate. The sudden—and somehow surprising, even though it should have been rather predictable—flood of positive coronavirus tests among prominent people, headlined by the president himself, who is currently being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

This has all happened since Sunday. And who in the hell knows what’s coming next.

So, on with the gusher of news:

• Today has seen a nonstop stream of updates regarding who has tested positive for COVID-19, and who hasn’t. Here’s The New York Times’ live updates page. It’s worth a follow—and you’ll want to hit refresh frequently.

• A professor of immunology, writing for The Conversation, breaks down why President Trump, who is 74, is more at risk of the coronavirus than people who are younger. Key quote: “As you age, the reduced ‘attention span’ of your innate and adaptive immune responses make it harder for the body to respond to viral infection, giving the virus the upper hand. Viruses can take advantage of your immune system’s slow start and quickly overwhelm you, resulting in serious disease and death.”

• A local news bombshell dropped yesterday: Palm Springs City Manager David Ready will be retiring at the end of the year, after two decades as the city’s chief executive. While Ready’s tenure as city manager was far from perfect—the whole Wessman/Pougnet thing happened under his watch—and his high salary made him a target for detractors, it’s undeniable that the city has grown and thrived, despite three painful recessions, since he took the top city job in 2000. Interestingly, both Indio and Palm Desert are also looking for new city managers right now.

• I have to tip my hat to Riverside County, which has done a fantastic job of issuing relevant and helpful statistical updates regarding the pandemic (even though it’s weird, if understandable, that the county takes weekends off, because the virus doesn’t). Anyway, every weekday, the county releases an updated Data Summary. Here’s today’s, and I want to draw your attention to the little yellow box in the upper right corner of the last page: The county’s positivity rate, after fairly steady declines since mid-July, is heading upward again—fairly rapidly. Is this just a little blip, like we had in mid-August and earlier this month? Or is it something else? Stay tuned.

• Some news that flew under the radar today, because of, well, you know: The grand jury recording in the Breonna Taylor case was released. NPR looks at what the 15 hours of recordings reveal.

• Gov. Gavin Newsom is on my personal shit list right now. Why? Per the Los Angeles Times: “Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have further protected journalists covering demonstrations from physical or verbal obstruction by a law enforcement officer.” The Times explains his justification for the veto, which sort of makes sense, but not really.

• Barring a change of plans, cruise ships will be able to set sail starting next month—even though the CDC wanted to keep them docked until mid-February. The White House vetoed that plan, lest Floridians and its voters get upset.

Wisconsin has become the latest COVID-19 epicenter in the United States. Hospitals are strained, and health officers are panicked. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Before Sept. 17, the state had never recorded a day with more than 2,000 new cases. Over the last seven days, however, it has reported an average of nearly 2,500 new coronavirus cases each day. Those aren't just the highest numbers of the pandemic; they're three times higher than a month ago.

Things are also rough in Puerto Rico—and not just because of COVID-19. According to NBC News: “The increasing demand for grocery boxes … coincides with a looming funding cliff that stands to eliminate or reduce food assistance to 1.5 million Puerto Ricans, including over 300,000 children, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute.” Yikes.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott yesterday restricted the number of places where ballots can be dropped off by hand to one per county. Per NBC News: “Harris County, which includes much of the sprawling city of Houston, has a population of more than 4.7 million people, according to the Census Bureau. The county is home to 25 percent of the state's Black residents and 18 percent of its Hispanic population. Before Abbott's proclamation, the county had created 11 ballot drop-off locations.” Abbott cited security concerns, but really, how can this be viewed as anything but voter suppression?

Amazon said yesterday that nearly 20,000 employees—or 1.44 percent of the company’s workforce—have contracted COVID-19, as of Sept. 19. According to CNBC: “The information comes months after labor groups, politicians and regulators repeatedly pressed Amazon to disclose how many of its workers were infected by COVID-19. Early on in the pandemic, warehouse workers raised concerns that Amazon wasn’t doing enough to protect them from getting sick and called for facilities with confirmed cases to be shut down. Lacking data from Amazon, warehouse workers compiled a crowdsourced database of infections based on notifications of new cases at facilities across the U.S.”

The Paycheck Protection Program continues to be a mess. According to The Washington Post: “The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration have not yet forgiven any of the 5.2 million emergency coronavirus loans issued to small businesses and need to do more to combat fraud, government watchdogs told Congress on Thursday. Small businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program funds, as well as their banks, have been frustrated by the difficulty in applying for loans to be forgiven, despite rules saying that if the funds are spent mostly on payroll they will not need to be paid back.”

• A speck of good news: The supply of remdesivir—one of the most effective drugs in treating COVID-19—has caught up with demand, to the point where the drug-maker, Gilead Sciences has taken over distribution of the drug from the federal government.

The Washington Post has declared the current recession to be the “most unequal in modern history.” In web-graphic form, the newspaper explains how minorities and lower-income Americans have been hurt the most.

Speaking of inequality, check out this lede, from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Federal funding that put money in the pockets of local farmers and organic produce in the mouths of food-insecure families has come to an end. The United States Department of Agriculture launched the Farmers to Families Program during the pandemic to get free food to low-income families while supporting small farms scrambling for more business. But the department recently stopped issuing funds to local community organizations in favor of multinational food distributors like Sysco.” Sigh.

• I was again a guest on this week’s I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, with hosts Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr. We discuss all things COVID—including sports! Take a listen, even though it was recorded yesterday, which seems like seven years ago, news-wise.

• Finally, if you’re in the mood to read about the inappropriate behavior that reportedly led to Kimberly Guilfoyle’s departure from Fox News, have at it, via SF Gate. Why should you care about Kimberly Guilfoyle? You probably shouldn’t, even if she is Gavin Newsom’s ex, is dating Donald Trump Jr., is the Trump campaign's finance chair, and became well known for her crazy speech at the Republican National Convention. But, boy, the things she allegedly made her poor former assistant—who, according to the New Yorker, was paid $4 million by Fox News to settle a sexual-harassment claim against Guilfoyle—do make for some salacious reading, if you’re into that sort of thing.

That’s all for now. Consider helping us continue producing quality local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Please, please, please try to unplug and safely enjoy life this weekend. As always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

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.

Published in Daily Digest

Hey, everyone. Let’s start off on a happy note from our friends at Eisenhower Health, posted earlier today on Facebook, and slightly edited to remove hashtags and whatnot: 

As of today, there are 12 COVID 19 patients in our hospital. The same number we had at the start of Memorial Day 2020.

At that time, California moved to an accelerated stage 2 opening—lifting mask requirements and allowing indoor dining, etc.

Within just three weeks, the number of our COVID-19 hospitalizations more than tripled. … Less than two months later, we reached a peak of nearly 90 COVID-19 patients hospitalized and a nearly full ICU.

So, please, for your health and the health of your loved ones … be safe this Labor Day Weekend.

Folks, we’re really making progress with this terrible disease—to repeat, there are 12 people hospitalized at EMC, where there were nearly 90 not long ago. That’s encouraging!

However, as the Eisenhower post mentions, those numbers spiked, in part, because people let their guard down on Memorial Day Weekend. People letting their guard down on Fourth of July made the spike even worse (spikier?).

So … this weekend, let’s not let our guard down.

Please, enjoy yourselves. But wear a mask. Wash your hands a lot. Keep gatherings outside (yes, I know it’s gonna be hot AF, but the coronavirus doesn’t care) and socially distanced and small.

OK? OK! Thank you.

And now, the news:

• The big news story of the week—and something that has the potential to become one of the biggest news stories of the year, depending on how things play out—was published yesterday by The Atlantic. The piece, by Jeffrey Goldberg, and based on interviews with numerous undisclosed sources, revealed that President Trump has repeatedly said horrible things about members of the U.S. military, calling them “suckers” and “losers.” The lead anecdote involves him cancelling a planned visit to honor American war dead at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 because the cemetery was “filled with losers.” And that’s just the beginning.

• While Trump and many allies have issued full-throated denials, numerous news sources have confirmed parts of The Atlantic piece, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, and even, sort of, Fox News.

• Related-ish: USA Today broke the news today that Stars and Stripes, the military’s independent newspaper since the Civil War, was being shut down by Trump’s Department of Defense by end of the month. After a more-than-justified outcry, Trump tweeted this afternoon that the newspaper would continue to be funded. We’ve said it before, and we will say it again: Nothing makes sense anymore.

One of the big local-news items of the last couple days: Southwest Airlines has announced it intends to begin flying in and out of Palm Springs later this year.

• Dammit, September’s supposed to bring cooler temperatures! But that’s not happening yet—and in fact, Gov. Newsom has declared a state of emergency regarding the extreme heat California faces over the weekend. Everyone is being asked to conserve energy, and rolling blackouts are possible.

• MedPage Today looks at the ongoing discussions over which groups will get first access to a COVID-19 vaccine if/when it’s ready. Key quote: “In addition to race/ethnicity, experts advocated for priority vaccine access for a larger population of older people, other healthcare workers beyond the medical setting, such as pharmacists and dentists, and public service workers.

• Related: A group of scientists, writing for The Conversation, say they disagree with a lot of other experts in that they believe younger people should move toward the front of the vaccination line, only after essential workers. Why? Because they’re “superspreaders.”

• Also related: The co-chief of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine effort said yesterday that it was “possible but very unlikely” a vaccine would be ready to go before the election. Earlier this week, the CDC had told health officials nationwide to be ready to distribute a vaccine as early as Nov. 1, i.e. just before Election Day—raising concerns that such a move could be politically motivated. Key quote, from Moncef Slaoui: “I think it’s extremely unlikely but not impossible, and therefore it’s the right thing to do to be prepared, in case.

• As noted in this space, the CDC is banning some evictions through the end of the year, on public-health grounds. A professor from the University of Memphis explains via The Conversation what this will mean for tenants and landlords.

• This is horrifying: More than 410,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19 by the end of the year, if a new forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is correct. That’s more than double the current tally—and the numbers could be even worse if too many restrictions are eased. CNBC explains.

• Related: A Los Angeles Times investigation found that a lot more people are dying at home than normal—and COVID-19 is to blame, even if those deaths aren’t often attributed to the coronavirus.

• Our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent, explain how much extra money and effort California’s school districts are needing to spend to get ready for the return of students to in-person learning. Key quote, from San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten: “When the funding’s not there, we will have to stop (reopening). When you reopen and you can’t put the appropriate nursing and counseling and distancing in place, and physical changes that need to happen, you slow it down, or you don’t do it as safely.”

• Prisons are a deadly place when it comes to the coronavirus. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “The death rate nationwide from COVID-19 is higher inside prison walls than outside and more than twice as high in California prisons, according to a study released Wednesday. The study by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit with bipartisan leadership, comes while inmate advocates are calling for more releases from overcrowded prisons, where cleaning supplies and protective equipment are sometimes limited, and social distancing is nearly impossible.”

Here’s a CNBC headline: “As small U.S. farms face crisis, Trump’s trade aid flowed to corporations.” Sigh … 

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, joining hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr to discuss the news of the week—including, alas, Nancy Pelosi’s infamous salon visit. Check it out.

Have an amazing Labor Day Weekend, all! Please vote in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, if you haven’t already—and if you have voted, THANK YOU! Also, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, because it costs a lot to do this Daily Digest and the other journalism the Independent produces, and makes available free to all. Because the news never stops, the Daily Digest will be back on Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

If being on social media weren’t an important part of my job, I’d be taking a break from Facebook right now.

Why? Frankly … I could use a break from all of the hysterics.

Let me make one thing clear: Now is a time when hysterics are understandable. Many of us are hurting. We’re broke. Or we’re tired. Or we’re watching our dreams die. Or we’re freaked the heck out. However … seeing this all play out, in contradictory fashion, within consecutive Facebook posts, is exhausting.

First post: A friend of mine owns a nail salon. He’s freaking out because his business, his dream, is dying. He thinks he should be allowed to reopen, because he took all the appropriate safety measures when his salon was allowed to reopen, and all went well. Nobody got sick. He made things safe, he says. He’s hurting. His employees are hurting. He’s in hysterics.

Next post: A local acquaintance is beside herself with anger and frustration because of all the people she sees roaming around downtown Palm Springs without masks. She calls not only for a shutdown of the hotels and vacation rentals; she also calls for a shutdown of all non-essential businesses, period. She’s tired of people she knows getting sick. She’s afraid. She’s in hysterics.

The gut-wrenching thing about these posts is that they’re completely contradictory … and they’re both entirely valid. I could give a half-dozen similar examples of this dichotomy each day from Facebook—but I probably don’t need to, because you’ve seen them yourselves.

Ugh, this goddamned pandemic.

Today’s news links:

• The Los Angeles Times looks at the myriad reasons that COVID-19 patients are now dying at a lower rate. One encouraging reason: Doctors and hospitals have learned a lot about treating the disease over the last five-plus months.

The director of the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Sonia Angell, stepped down yesterday. Interestingly, nobody is saying why she resigned—although it happened after the state’s embarrassing COVID-19 reporting-system problems were revealed last week.

• Related: Gov. Newsom said today California’s COVID-19 case numbers are indeed trending in the right direction, after the state worked over the weekend to resolve that aforementioned data mess.

• I debated whether or not I should even share this, given 1) the still-being-resolved state data mess, and 2) the fact I have yet to get a proper explanation from the county on how the weekly positivity rate is calculated … but anyway, here’s this week’s county District 4 report. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) The good news: Hospitalizations are way down. The awful news: Another 14 of our neighbors have died from COVID-19. Also, that weekly positivity rate is as high as I can ever remember it being, even though Eisenhower Health says its positivity rate has been moving downward. So, I am a bit confused.

• From our partners at CalMatters: How are unemployed Californians getting by after the expiration of benefits from the federal government?Without an expired federal $600 weekly boost, unemployed Californians are living on the brink by making candy and emptying out their 401(k)s.

• How is it possible to make indoor spaces safer from the spread of SARS-CoV-2? A professor of mechanical engineering, writing for The Conversation, says the keys are ventilation with outside air, and air filtration.

• MedPage Today covered a talk given Friday by the president of the American Medical Association—and among other key takeaways, Dr. Susan Bailey bemoaned the dismissal of science in many of the policy decisions surrounding the coronavirus. Key quote: “Politics should have no place in a public health crisis, but I think we all understand that, sadly, that’s not the world we're living in today,” she said. “As physicians, we have to stand up for science and make sure it's at the center of our policy decisions.”

In opinion piece for The New York Times, a medical expert and an economic expert—the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, respectivelycalled for a six-week nationwide lockdown, to both save lives and cause as little ongoing harm as possible to the economy. Key quote: “The United States recorded its lowest seven-day average since March 31 on May 28, when it was 21,000 cases, or 6.4 new cases per 100,000 people per day. This rate was seven to 10 times higher than the rates in countries that successfully contained their new infections. While many countries are now experiencing modest flare-ups of the virus, their case loads are in the hundreds or low thousands of infections per day, not tens of thousands, and small enough that public health officials can largely control the spread.”

A columnist for the Los Angeles Times offers a warning: “Payroll tax cut” means the same thing as “cutting funding to Social Security.” Well, if he gets a second term, Trump has said he wants to “terminate” the payroll tax … which, therefore, means terminating Social Security.

This lead from the Riverside Press-Enterprise made me despair for the future of humanity: “More than a dozen Southern California parents, from the Inland Empire to the Los Angeles County coast, have joined forces in a lawsuit against several California officials—arguing that barring in-person classes this fall will hurt students, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

Adding to this despair comes this headline from the Los Angeles Times: “Coronavirus surging among children, teenagers in California.”

More despair, with a side of alarm, is created by this headline, from CNBC: “TSA: July air travel down 75 percent from 2019, but gun confiscation rates triple.” Key quote: “Eighty percent of the guns were loaded, TSA said.” What?!

• The federal residential eviction moratorium expired in July and has not yet been extended. That means evictions in some parts of the country are under way. NBC News looks at the mess with evictions taking place in South Carolina. Horrifying key quote: “In South Carolina alone, 52 percent of renter households can't pay their rent and are at risk of eviction, according to an analysis of census data by the consulting firm Stout Risius Ross. About 185,000 evictions could be filed in the state over the next four months.”

• This is sort of ironic: Amazon is talking to a large, national mall company about turning some shuttered J.C. Penney and Sears locations into fulfillment centers. It’s sort of like the start of the WALL-E story coming to life, no?

If you are a student within or employee of the University of California system, and you don’t have an approved medical exemption, you’re going to need to get a flu shot by Nov. 1.

• There’s currently a moratorium on executions in the state of California. However, as the San Francisco Chronicle is pointing out, the coronavirus is serving as an executioner by killing death-row inmates at San Quentin.

• Related, and much less morally vexing: The virus is also killing people who work at prisons. And case counts are spiking at youth prisons.

• The college football season is in jeopardy. According to ESPN, the five largest college football conferences are seriously considering cancelling college sports this fall, because of a serious medical condition linked to COVID-19. Key quote: “Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, has been found in at least five Big Ten Conference athletes and among several other athletes in other conferences, according to two sources with knowledge of athletes’ medical care. Two Football Bowl Subdivision conferences have already postponed or cancelled fall sports.

• Meanwhile, Disney World is cutting back its hours because of disappointing attendance figures. Maybe there’s hope for humanity after all

• The New York Times reports that the Trump administration is getting ready to roll back yet more environmental protectionsthis time, controls on the release of methane.

• Oh, look, some happy local news! From the Independent: The Palm Springs Public Arts Commission just finished funding the painting of another 10 downtown benches by local artists—and has a call out to artists to do another 16 benches. We talked to a couple of locals involved with the project.

That’s enough for the day. Hey, you: This Daily Digest and all of our journalism, in both print and pixels, costs money to produce—yet we make it free to everyone, without paywalls or fees. If you can spare it (and ONLY if you can spare it), and you appreciate what we do, please consider throwing us a few bucks by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. OK? Thank you, and be safe.

Published in Daily Digest

The state of California’s response to the pandemic, as of late, has been a big mess.

First: The state’s COVID-19 data reporting is all messed up. According to the Los Angeles Times, the state is dealing with a backlog of up to 300,000 test results—and is in the process of developing a whole new tracking system, because the current one is not up to the admittedly massive task:

“(Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Health and Human Services secretary) said the state would work through the backlog of records, which include COVID-19 tests and other health results, over the next 24 to 48 hours. He said state missteps compounded a problem that began with a server outage and promised a full investigation.

“The data failure set off alarm bells this week as total deaths surpassed 10,000 in California, a state that leads the nation in COVID-19 cases despite the undercount and has struggled to mitigate the virus. The delayed results could significantly increase the confirmed spread of COVID-19 from a total of 540,000 cases in the state as of early Friday.”

Sigh. Meanwhile, county health officials—already upset about the state’s arbitrary and odd reopening criteria—are being left in the figurative lurch without accurate data from the state.

Second: The state was tardy in issuing guidance to the state’s colleges and universities on how to handle student housing, in-person instruction and other important matters. Again, according to the Los Angeles Times: “Many campuses, including USC and Claremont McKenna, say the lack of clear and timely state guidance has caused them to spend enormous energy and money preparing for varying reopening scenarios—without knowing what will be allowed amid a surge of COVID-19 infections.

For the record, the state finally released that guidance today. Check it out here—if you’re bored, crazy or into dense 34-page lists of rules.

In the state’s defense, this pandemic and its effects are so huge, all-encompassing and unforeseen that mistakes and delays are not only understandable; they’re inevitable. But still … state officials need to do better than this.

Also worth noting: Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a news conference on Monday, when he touted the news of statewide COVID-19 case decreases—news that we now know may not have been accurate, because of the data mess, which people began learning about on Tuesday.

Newsom hasn’t given a news conference since. Not good, governor.

Help the Independent continue to produce quality local journalism, made available free to all without subscriptions or paywalls, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent; click here for details.

More news links :

Here are some stats we can trust … we think: The COVID-19 stats at Eisenhower Medical Center are trending in the right direction.

The extra federal unemployment boost has ended. PPP loans are running out. And our federal government can’t agree on what to do about it. Sigh.

• Per usual, I was a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr. Hear me rant more about the state data fustercluck, as well as the crappiness of most talk radio!

• As more and more vaccine candidates get closer to what we all hope are successful finish lines, we’ve been bombarded with news about them—often spun by the profit-driven manufacturers themselves. Well, MedPage Today just published a nice, concise look at these vaccines, how they’re different, and what we do and do not know.

• The Washington Post today posted an excellent interactive piece examining what it will take for the United States to reach herd immunity, be it by letting the virus run its course, or via a successful vaccine. The piece also looks at where we are now regarding antibodies and possible immunity. Spoiler alert: If you’re someone who thinks we should adopt the Sweden 1.0 approach and just let the virus run amok … that’ll likely mean a million or more dead Americans.

• So after the vaccines (hopefully) arrive … then what? HuffPost asked some experts to predict what life in the U.S. will be like in the years that follow a successful vaccine. Hint: Don’t expect a return to a February-style “normal.”

• According to Desert Healthcare District CEO Conrado Barzaga, the district is focused on “strengthening our healthcare infrastructure, improving our community’s health, and providing protection to vulnerable populations while still fighting a pandemic.” If you are involved with an entity that can help do any of that, take note: The DHCD will be holding a webinar at 3 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10, via Zoom to introduce five new strategic funding areas, and to demonstrate how to apply for grants or mini-grants. You need to RSVP; get details here.

A partisan elected official is responsible for writing the wording of each ballot proposition … and, well, that partisanship often affects what is written. This leads to numerous lawsuits—but judges almost never step in to change what Attorney Xavier Becerra’s office has come up with. Our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent, look at this mess—and possible solutions.

More airlines are getting very serious about mask use. Hooray.

Two stories about this week’s devastating explosion in Beirut worth reading: A Los Angeles Times reporter writes about his experience surviving the explosion; he notes that he probably should be dead, but a motorcycle helmet saved his life. Meanwhile, for you science nerds out there: A blast-injury specialist examines the physics of the blast, and compares it to what we know about the only other comparable non-nuclear explosion on record, which happened in 1917 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

• Also from Wired: The magazine recently sat down for an interview with Bill Gates, who does not have nice things to say about the federal response to the pandemic. Beyond that, he has a lot of other revealing things to say. Key quote: “Now whenever we get this done, we will have lost many years in malaria and polio and HIV and the indebtedness of countries of all sizes and instability. It’ll take you years beyond that before you’d even get back to where you were at the start of 2020.

According to The Conversation, it’s becoming more and more apparent that wearable fitness devices may be able to let you know if you’re suffering from possible early coronavirus symptoms.

• Federal employees, including some who work at prisons, are suing the federal government. Why? They think they deserve hazard pay, according to NPR.

• Related: State prison employees are also taking legal action: Their union has filed a grievance claiming the state’s misdeeds have led to uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s prison system.

• CNBC talked to experts regarding legitimate medical reasons people could possibly have to not wear a face mask while around other people. The conclusion? Unless you have a specific facial deformity or a “sensory processing disorder,” you should be masking up.

• Much has been written about Donald Trump’s … uh, baffling moves to ban TikTok. Well, as MarketWatch points out, his executive orders went well beyond TikTok—and could hamper everything from Tesla to streaming sports to the world’s most popular videogames.

Oregon voters will decide in November whether to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all drugs.

• Barring a change of plans, the Mission Inn Festival of Lights in Riverside will indeed happen this year—albeit without the crowd-gathering events and parties.

The Apple Fire continues to burn, with some residents of Pioneertown and Morongo Valley being told to prepare to evacuate.

• And now for something completely different: Regular readers of the Independent have enjoyed Keith Knight’s comics, (Th)ink and The Chronicles, for years. Well, a new show based on his life is coming to Hulu on Sept. 9. Check out the trailer for Woke here—and congrats, Keef!

Have a safe and happy-as-possible weekend, everyone. Be safe. The Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Wednesday, everyone. Let’s get right into it:

• Remember how on Monday, we said that Gov. Gavin Newsom was expressing tentative optimism about a statewide decrease in COVID-19 cases? Well … it turns out there may or may not be a decrease at all—because the state reporting system is currently being hampered by technical issues. According to our partners at CalMatters: “California’s daily count of COVID-19 cases appears to be falling, but that may be due to underreporting caused by technical issues, state health officials said (Tuesday). ‘We’ve discovered some discrepancies,’ said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary in a press call. Data, he said, is ‘getting stuck’ in the electronic system that feeds information from test labs to both the state and local public health departments. This means counties and the state are not getting a full picture of who and how many are testing positive. That lack of information hampers the counties’ ability to investigate cases and initiate contact tracing, Ghaly said.” Whoops! 

• And here are details on an even-more heinous state whoops, also according to our partners at CalMatters: “As the coronavirus continues to sicken Californians, the state mistakenly terminated or reduced health-insurance benefits for thousands of low-income people. An error involving the state’s Medi-Cal program and its automated system for renewals triggered the drops in coverage—despite the governor’s executive order earlier this year that was supposed to ensure that people maintain access to safety net programs during the pandemic.” Yeesh.

• Meanwhile, the United Parcel Service is prepping for that happy day a vaccine is available: Bloomberg reports that UPS is building two “giant freezer farms” that can each hold up to 48,000 vaccine vials.

• More vaccine news: Johnson and Johnson will deliver 100 million vaccine does to the U.S. for a cool $1 billion when they’re ready—and give the U.S. the option to buy another 200 million doses, the drug-maker announced today. Presuming, you know, the vaccine actually works.

• Because the federal testing plan … uh, really isn’t a thing, seven states have joined forces to buy more than 3 million coronavirus antigen tests. These tests could be a game-changer; according to Bloomberg, “the tests, which search for proteins on the surface of the virus, can deliver results in 15 to 20 minutes.

• Public Citizen, “a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power,” yesterday issued a scathing report accusing Gilead Sciences and the federal government of “sitting on a potentially promising coronavirus treatment (GS-441524) for months that may offer significant advantages over the closely related antiviral drug remdesivir, possibly to maximize profits.” Read what Public Citizen has to say here.

• CNN today released a series of before and after satellite images of the pure devastation created by the massive explosion in Beirut yesterday. Simply put: They’re horrifying.

• It appears neither major-party presidential candidate will appear at their conventions to accept their nominations this year. The Biden campaign said today that the former vice president will not be going to Milwaukee, while the Trump administration is making plans for the president to deliver his nomination-acceptance speech from the White House, which may not exactly be legal.

• From the Independent: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which allows some undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status—were illegal. Nonetheless, feds are pretty much terminating the program anyway. Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to two local activists about the toll the DACA shutdown is taking on local undocumented families.

• Also from the Independent: President Trump recently suggested that we delay the election because of the supposed threat of mail-in voting fraud. Could he really do such a thing? Probably not … but Jeffrey C. Billman examines other scenarios Republicans seem to be preparing to use to create a constitutional crisis the likes of which the country has not seen since 1976.

• Past and present U.S. surgeons general said earlier this week that concerns over vaccines in the Black community could be a big problem, according to MedPage Today. That same publication also examined a related problem: Scientists aren’t doing enough to make sure people of color are being included in various clinical trials.

• The U.S. military has found the amphibious assault vehicle that sank off the coast of San Clemente Island last week, killing eight Marines and one sailor. CNN has the details on these people who died in service to our country.

• If you have not yet watched the bonkers interview President Trump did with Axios on HBO yet … boy, it’s worth your time—and here’s a link to the whole thing.

The PPP loans are starting to run out … and that means that more layoffs are coming.

• Our partners at High Country News took a pants-wetting look at the ways in which religious zealots in the West are using the pandemic as an opportunity to gain converts. Key quote: “When asked how he would respond to observers who say he’s exploiting people’s fear to further his anti-LGBTQ+, anti-women, anti-abortion agenda, (Idaho preacher Doug) Wilson responded frankly. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I am.’

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted yesterday to declare racism as a public health crisis. Better late than never!

The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership crunched the numbers on the decrease in passenger accounts at the Palm Springs International Airport. Key quote: “The lockdown, which started in mid-March, had an immediate effect, with passenger traffic for the month quickly dropping 50 percent. April and May traffic were down an unfathomable 97 percent and 90 percent. Projecting a conservative 50 percent drop in passengers for the rest of the year would result in a 2.8 million decrease in passengers for the entire year, resulting in passenger traffic for the year being only one-third of 2019.”

Flu-shot makers are producing record amounts of this year’s flu vaccine, anticipating that more people than ever will be getting the shots, because of … well, you know. 

• If you’re planning on sneaking into New York City without quarantining for two weeks, beware: They may have checkpoints waiting for you.

• We recently pointed out social-media sleuthing indicating that the Riviera may soon become a Margaritaville resort. Well, Jimmy Buffett fans can rejoice, because the conversion was officially announced today.

If you have Disney+ and are willing to fork out an extra $29.99, you will be able to watch the much-anticipated Mulan from your couch Sept. 4.

• Finally, because life is random and weird, yet history keeps repeating: Both Who’s the Boss? and Ren and Stimpy are being rebooted. Happy, happy, joy, joy!

Be safe, everyone. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. If you value honest, independent local journalism, and have the means to do so, we ask you to help us continue to do what we do by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Thanks for reading! The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

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