CVIndependent

Wed12022020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

It’s now the law: Californians must wear face coverings while they’re in public.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the mandate—something this newspaper called on the governor to do two days ago—earlier today, as confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

More people are hospitalized in Riverside County—which rescinded a mask order on May 9—and the Coachella Valley with COVID-19 than ever before. The number of hospitalizations in Riverside County rose by almost 11 percent in one day, to 285, as of yesterday. In the Coachella Valley, also as of yesterday, the three hospitals reported 108 COVID-19 patients, up from a previous all-time high of 103 the day before.

The statewide order replaces a patchwork mess of local orders—some cities and counties required masks, while others didn’t, leading to a lot of confusion. It also takes the pressure off of beleaguered county health officials—at least seven of which have quit their jobs in recent weeks, in part because of angry reactions from the public.

The importance of the order is bolstered by an increasing amount of science indicating that the use of masks can make a huge difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

While some people’s minds won’t be changed by the new state law, others’ minds will be changed. Our partners at CalMatters, reporting on the news of the day, talked to a Sacramento woman, Wendy Valdez, who was not wearing a mask while she shopped at a grocery store. “Her reasoning: It wasn’t required at the time,” CalMatters reported. “But if it were, she said, she’d wear it. ‘I just got my hair done and they required it, so I wore one,’ she said.”

This face-covering order is a big deal. It’ll decrease the amount of time overwhelmed local business owners need to spend acting as the “mask police”—and it’ll save lives. To repeat what we said two days ago: California’s reopening process has a much better chance of succeeding now.

Thank you, Gov. Newsom.

Just a few more items from the day:

• I was on the I Love Gay Palm Springs Podcast today—you can hear me rant about the need for a statewide mask order before Newsom’s announcement—along with hosts John Taylor and Shann Carr, and guests Bryan Gallo, of NBC Palm Springs; Will Dean, of the Desert Healthcare District; LaShawn McGhee, co-founder of Revry TV; and actress Allie McCarthy, who stars in a Palm Springs International ShortFest film.

Airlines are beginning to crack down on the need for face coverings during flights. This has led, alas, to some drama.

• Speaking of face masks: While scientists virtually all agree that they’re effective, they’re arguing about how effective they are. Buzzfeed News looks at a letter more than 40 scientists sent to a journal, asking them to retract a paper written by Nobel Prize-winning chemist regarding their effectiveness.

Facebook today removed advertisements placed by the Trump campaign that, according to The New York Times, “prominently featured a symbol used by Nazis to classify political prisoners during World War II, saying the imagery violated company policy.” Wow.

We’ll be back tomorrow with an expanded Daily Digest. In the meantime, wash your hands; fight injustice; and wear a mask, because it’s the law. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means, and you value the quality local journalism that we do. Thank you.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s time for Gov. Gavin Newsom and, if possible, the California Legislature to make the usage of face masks mandatory.

It’s time. We see what’s happening in other states—most notably our neighbors to the east—where hospitalizations continue to skyrocket. We also keep seeing science come out showing how stunningly effective the use of simple face masks can be in slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

What else are we seeing? We’re seeing concerning local upticks in hospitalizations. We’re seeing local business owners—trying so hard to do the right thing—upset after influxes of customers, many of whom are from out of town, wandering in without wearing masks, in violation of local mask mandates.

We’re seeing local health officials fleeing from their jobs due to public and political pushback—including death threats. And we don’t even have the words to describe the hostile insanity going on in Orange County.

The verdict is in: Masks work. Masks could potentially help society keep going without total calamity until we get a vaccine or otherwise get a handle on things. Masks can help retail, offices and restaurants keep their doors open. But due to horrific leadership from the top, misguided business lobbying and public intimidation, local mandates are being revoked or just not followed—if there are local mandates at all.

Since nothing’s ever going to happen at the federal level, that leaves the state.

In the seven-plus year history of the Independent, we’ve never written an endorsement or editorialized directly on policy. That is, until now: Gov. Newsom, it’s time to save lives and give California’s reopening process its best chance of success by enacting a statewide mask order.

Today’s links:

• Some of the most encouraging medical news since the pandemic began came out today: A commonly used steroid, called dexamethasone, has been shown by scientists at the University of Oxford to save the lives of many COVID-19 patients who require oxygen. According to The New York Times, “In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.” Now, this doesn’t solve the pandemic, and the study has yet to be peer reviewed, meaning we need to take the news with that massive grain of salt we keep talking about. Nonetheless, this could be a very big deal in terms of saving thousands of lives.

• Speaking of taking things with a grain of salt: The county released its weekly district reports today. Looking at the District 4 report—in other words, the Coachella Valley—the COVID-19 numbers look so-so. We’re holding steady, more or less, with one big exception: The positivity rate is up to a disturbing 16 percent. However … the numbers don’t add up. If you divide the number of positives (345) by the number of tests (4,840), you get the positivity rate—and while the report explains that there’s a lag because tests results can take 3-5 days to come in, the difference between 345 divided by 4,840, or 7.1 percent, and 16 percent is so massive that it doesn’t seem possible for all these numbers to be correct; it’s also entirely possible I am misunderstanding something. I have a message in to the county to get an explanation; I will report back when I get an answer.

• The Palm Springs Police Department today announced that an officer has tested positive for COVID-19. The city says that officers who were in contact with that officer have been quarantined—and all seem fine—and that any known members of the public who came in contact with the officer have been notified. Get the info here.

• If you’re eating, or will be eating soon, or are generally averse to things that are disgusting, skip to the next item. Otherwise, check out this story from The New York Times; as someone noted on Twitter, this headline gets more disturbing with each word: “Flushing the Toilet May Fling Coronavirus Aerosols All Over: A new study shows how turbulence from a toilet bowl can create a large plume that is potentially infectious to a bathroom’s next visitor.”

• The San Francisco Chronicle talked to the owner of a Napa restaurant who opened his doors—only to close them again, and go back to doing just takeout, a week later.

• As noted in this space, numerous large media organizations have faced reckonings regarding diversity ever since the Black Lives Matter protests began—including the Los Angeles Times, NPR reports.

• From the Independent: We’re talking to three local protest organizers about their motivations; for the second piece in our series, we chatted with Erin Teran, one of the organizers of the #NoMoreHashtags rally in Indio last week. Key quote: “Going to a protest or a rally is so very important, because we have to be able to assemble and have a voice—but young people have to understand that you need to have a voice at City Council meetings and Board of Supervisors meetings, too.”

• Federal law enforcement agencies have pledged to investigate the hanging deaths of two Black men in Southern California in recent weeks. Local authorities have said there are no signs of foul play—but family members of the two men aren’t buying it.

• Some members of Congress who received federal stimulus grants and/or loans are now opposing legislation to shine a light on where all that taxpayer money went. See a problem?

• A GOP congressman who refused to wear a mask on the House floor has now come down with COVID-19, as has his wife and son. Ugh.

That’s enough for today. Thanks to all of you who have become Supporters of the Independent; if you would like to join these people in supporting quality local journalism, made free to all with no paywalls, you can do so here. We’ll be back tomorrow.

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Toward the start of the stay-at-home order, I remember telling a friend (on a Zoom chat, of course) how much I looked forward to that wonderful day when the lockdown was over, and we could meet for happy-hour and hug again.

Ah, how naïve I was. If only it could be that simple.

We could meet for that happy hour again on Friday, as bars will be reopening that day. However, the scene would not be like it was in my mind’s eye. When I imagined that wonderful day, I didn’t imagine face masks and socially distanced tables—nor did I imagine the agonizing, scary dilemma going out to a bar would present.

And that hug? It’s definitely too soon for that.

Nothing seems simple in this pandemic-tinged, half-assed world in which we now live. On one hand, I keep seeing justifiably optimistic announcements on social media about gyms and cocktail lounges and movie theaters and even Disneyland reopening soon.

On the other … I keep looking at the local COVID-19 stats, and sighing at the across-the-board increases—which, predictably, people are freaking out about on social media. According to the state, our local hospitals have 85 coronavirus patients as of yesterday—the highest number I have seen a while.

But there’s a dilemma within this dilemma: The experts have said all along that when we reopened, cases would begin to rise. As Gov. Newsom said yesterday: “As we phase in, in a responsible way, a reopening of the economy, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases.

He’s right. They did say that. The goal is to make COVID-19 a manageable problem as life resumes. But it’s still a problem—a potentially deadly one—and nobody’s sure if we’ll be able to keep it “manageable” or not.

Today’s links:

• It’s official: Coachella and Stagecoach are cancelled for 2020. Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, officially pulled the plug this afternoon. “I am concerned as indications grow that COVID 19 could worsen in the fall,” said Kaiser in a news release. “In addition, events like Coachella and Stagecoach would fall under Governor Newsom’s Stage 4, which he has previously stated would require treatments or a vaccine to enter. Given the projected circumstances and potential, I would not be comfortable moving forward.”

• If you’re one of the people who is sniveling about masks, or denying that they work … it’s time for you to stop the sniveling and the denying.

Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege and the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association are in the midst of a war of words. Here’s the brief, oversimplified version what happened: On Monday, Holstege wrote an open letter to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in support of Supervisor V. Manuel Perez’s proposed resolutions to condemn the killing of George Floyd (which barely passed), and request the Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies (which failed when Perez couldn’t get a second). In it, Holstege wrote, among other things: “Like most communities throughout Riverside County, in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, we have a long history of racial segregation and exclusion, racial violence, racist city policies and policing, and injustice and disparities in our community that exist today.” This did not sit well with the officers’ union, which today accused Holstege of not bringing up any problems with the department until now, as well as “vilify(ing) our officers and department.” Holstege has since responded with claims that the union is mischaracterizing what she said. All three statements are recommended reading.

• Related-ish: San Francisco’s public-transportation agency recently announced it would no longer transport police officers to protests. The San Francisco Police Officers Association’s response? Hey Muni, lose our number.

• From ProPublica comes this piece: “The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years. I Know Because I’m One of Them.” Wendi Thomas’ story is a must-read.

• The Black Lives Matters protests are resulting in a lot of long-overdue changes. One shockingly meaningful one was announced today: NASCAR will no longer allow confederate flags at its racetracks.

And Walmart has announced it will stop keeping its “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cases.

And the Riverside County Sheriff announced today it would no longer use the use the carotid restraint technique.

• The government is understandably rushing the approvals processes to make potentially helpful COVID-10 treatments available. However, as The Conversation points out this is a potentially dangerous thing to do.

Also being rushed: A whole lot of state contracts for various things needed to battle the pandemic. Our partners at CalMatters break down how this created—and forgive the language, but this is the only word I can think of that sums things up properly—a complete and total clusterfuck.

• Provincetown, Mass., is normally a packed LGBT haven during the summer. However, this year, businesses there are just starting to reopen—and they’re trying to figure out the correct balance between income and safety.

Your blood type may help determine how you’ll fare if you get COVID-19. If you have Type 0, you may be less at risk—and if you have Type A, you may be more at risk.

Wired magazine talked to three vaccine researchers for a 15-minute YouTube video. Hear the voices and see the faces of the scientists behind the fight to end SARS-CoV-2.

A study of seamen on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt—where there was a much-publicized COVID-19 outbreak—offers hope that people who recover from the disease may have immunity.

If it seems like groceries are more expensive, that’s because they are—about 8.2 percent more expensive.

What fascinating times these are. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Black Lives Matter. Please help the Independent continue what we’re doing, without paywalls, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will likely be back tomorrow—Friday at the latest.

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Two quick notes before we launch into the day’s news (and, boy, there’s a lot of it):

• A plea to journalists and public officials who keep citing the number of reported COVID-19 cases, sans context: Please stop it.

Without knowing other data points—such as the number of total tests, with which we can determine the positivity rate—knowing the number of cases (aka positive COVID-19 tests) doesn’t tell us much.

Locally, given the much larger number of testing sites now—run by the county, the state, CVS, local health organizations, etc—we should expect the number of cases to rise somewhat. More testing means finding more cases (including asymptomatic ones).

When looking at data reports, look for the positivity rate and the number of hospitalizations; that information is much more useful. (By the way, both are on the rise, locally and in Riverside County, and THAT tells us something—specifically, that the pandemic is nowhere near over, and we all need to take precautions.)

Thank you. End of mini-rant. 

• A mental-health shout-out to all of you out there who also deal with depression and/or anxiety: If this has been a tough couple of weeks for you, please know that you’re not alone.

This is, simply put, a bonkers time. The reopening process, the continuing pandemic, the civil unrest … it’s a lot.

Please, hang in there. Do what you can—and nothing more. Realize it’s OK to feel anxious and sad. Remember to live in the now, and take care of yourself.

OK? OK!

Now, for the news:

• We’ll lead with the COVID-19 news today, most notably that summer camps, bars, gyms, hotels, museums, zoos and more in approved counties could reopen as soon as next Friday. The state guidance for all of these sectors is being posted toward the bottom of the page here, if you want to check it out. As for what didn’t make the cut yet: Nail salons, tattoo parlors, movie theaters, live theater, nightclubs and more.

• Key question: Will Riverside County be one of the counties to move further into the reopening process next week? Right now, we’re one of the approved counties, but we’re right on the cusp of the positivity rate criteria from the state, and hospitalizations are on the rise, too. Next week’s gonna be interesting.

The city of Palm Springs is cracking down on the mask requirement: As of today, all businesses must “post signage at entrances advising of the face covering and social distancing requirements.” Get the details here.

• More promising vaccine news: Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca could have vaccines available as soon as September or October—with up to 2 billion doses available by early 2021. There’s only one problem: While signs are encouraging, nobody knows for sure if it’ll work; manufacturing and testing will take place simultaneously.

• Take this one with that figurative grain of salt we keep talking about, and in this case, the grain should be the size of a house: A 10-person study showed that famotidine—aka Pepcid—helped people with COVID-19 recover. This comes on the heels of other encouraging science. So, here’s a tentative “Yay!” with crossed fingers.

• CNBC’s Jim Cramer—yeah, the guy with the buttons and whistles who shouts a lot—says that the pandemic has led to “one of the greatest wealth transfers in history,” thanks to the fact that the bulk of government aid has gone to big business, not us little folk. Grrrrr.

• Oh, great. In addition to COVID-19, fires, earthquakes and the heat, now the Coachella Valley gets to deal with West Nile virus, too.

Lowe’s has announced it’s ponying up $25 million in grants to help minority-owned businesses reopen.

• If you’ve gone to a protest, or plan on going to a protest, not only should you wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer and social distance as much as possible; after a few days, you should also go and get tested for COVID-19.

• If you can get past the occasionally incoherent verbiage, you can read here that Supervisor V. Manuel Perez will introduce a resolution next week to ask Sheriff Chad Bianco to review his agencies policies and report what he finds. Uh … OK, sure. We’ll see what’s in the actual resolution on Tuesday, but this sounds pretty weak, at least at first glance.

• Meanwhile, the Legislature is going to consider clarifying when and how rubber bullets can be used. According to the Los Angeles Times, “although the legislation has not yet been drafted, comments by lawmakers indicated their goal is to curb the use of rubber bullets for crowd control against peaceful protesters and those breaking city-imposed curfews.” It seems strange we need to legislate that projectiles shouldn’t be used against PEACEFUL PROTESTERS, but here we are.

However, the state may very well do more than that. Gov. Newsom called today for more action, including restrictions on crowd-control techniques and “carotid holds.”

• From the Independent: Our partners at CalMatters talked to four different protesters across the state about why they’re speaking out. What they had to say—and what they’ve experienced—is quite revealing.

• If you’re going to the protest in Palm Springs tomorrow—starting at 9 a.m. at Ruth Hardy Park—wear a mask; wear sunscreen; bring water; and be safe, please.

• Finally: I heard from some people that they had problems with the link to the Palm Springs ShortFest info we had in yesterday’s Daily Digest. As far as I can figure, the link was correct, but the extra stuff that the email system puts in for tracking purposes didn’t jibe with the Film Fest’s website. As a work-around, Google “Palm Springs ShortFest” and click on the first link. My apologies for the snafu.

That’s all for today. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Fight injustice. If you like what we do, and can afford to help us continue producing quality local journalism that’s free to all, consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back on Monday, if not before—and watch CVIndependent.com over the weekend.

Published in Daily Digest

Viewers of the local news on NBC Palm Springs may have recently caught a short segment on all of the wonderful things Amazon is doing during the pandemic.

“Millions of Americans staying at home are relying on Amazon,” the piece begins, before going on to talk about how “the company is keeping its employees safe and healthy,” and giving its oh-so-safe employees more than $800 million in increased wages and overtime pay.

Unfortunately, this segment is slanted at best—and dangerously misleading at worst.

Oh, and this segment wasn’t news. It was produced by Amazon, and sent to TV news stations around the country via a PR wire service.

Most TV-news reporters ignored it; a few actually called out Amazon for sending out this piece of packaged crap in the first place.

But at least 11 TV stations, according to Courier Newsroom, took the piece and ran with it … including NBC Palm Springs.

And now the truth that NBC Palm Springs “report” was lacking: Amazon is having its annual shareholder meeting tomorrow—and some of those shareholders want to know more about what Amazon actually is doing to protect its employees, because so far, it hasn’t been enough. According to CNBC:

Tensions have been growing between Amazon and warehouse workers nationwide, as the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths at its facilities have climbed. Warehouse workers have called for the company to put in place greater safety protections, including providing paid sick leave and closing down facilities where there are positive cases for additional cleaning.

Amazon has repeatedly declined to disclose how many warehouse employees have died from the coronavirus, but has confirmed eight deaths as they were reported by various media outlets. The company also hasn’t provided a total number of workers who have fallen ill from the virus, though one estimate from Jana Jumpp, an Amazon worker in Indiana, pegs the total number of cases at 900 employees nationwide.

I reached out to Bob McCauley, NBC Palm Springs’ senior vice president, as well as Gino LaMont, listed on the NBC Palm Springs website as the news department contact, to ask them how this happened. As of this writing, I have not yet gotten a response.

So much stuff that’s presented as “news” or “journalism” these days is, well, NOT. Numerous local publications run press releases from various organizations without disclosing that’s what they are, and some even sell stories to groups and businesses without disclosing to readers that they’re actually paid ads. None of that, of course, is right … but that’s how they do it.

But this is unconscionable. At least eight Amazon workers have died.

NBC Palm Springs, you really need to serve your viewers better, and you have some explaining to do.

Today’s links:

• The big news today: Gov. Newsom surprised the heck out of a lot of people when he announced that barbers and hair salons could reopen in counties—including Riverside County—that have moved into the second part of Phase 2. However, other businesses listed in Stage 3—including nail salons—remain closed. 

• Palm Springs business owners, take note: The city will be holding a webinar at 9 a.m., Thursday. May 28, titled “Restaurant, Retail, Hair Salon & Barbershop Re-Opening Guidance for Business Owners.” Get all the information here.

• Other Palm Springs news: The library is opening for curbside pickup. Learn more at the Facebook page.

• Hey, Apple Store fans: The El Paseo location is reopening this weektomorrow, to be specific.

• When full-on Stage 3 comes—which is anticipated to happen sometime in June, but who in the hell knows at this point—that will include theme parks, so says the state.

• Speaking of who in the hell knows … The Washington Post today broke down how truly little we still know about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

All sorts of people and businesses are suing Gov. Newsom over the shutdown orders. The latest: Patioworld is suing the state, because … uh, outdoor furniture showrooms are essential? Anyway, if you’re so inclined, bookmark this helpful lawsuit tracker, from our partners at CalMatters.

Another stimulus bill is coming at some point in the future, probably, maybe? After waffling, Mitch McConnell now says it’s likely.

• For the first time ever, Twitter has fact-checked something Trump tweeted. The president, of course, reacted to this news in a restrained and reasonable manner. (*Snort*)

• Sad but not surprising: The number of Americans dealing with anxiety or depression has skyrocketed since the pandemic hit.

• Local company Ernie Ball makes strings for guitars and all sorts of other musical equipment—and when COVID-19 arrived, the company started making masks, too. Now, Ernie Ball is making those masks available for free to everyone in the Coachella Valley.

• A whole lot of people who purchased travel insurance have been horrified to learn that pandemics are a common travel-insurance exclusion. The Los Angeles Times looks at the issue—and explains which companies are doing right by their customers, and which ones are not.

That’s all for today. If you’re a fan of our print version, the June edition is hitting streets this week—or if you want it mailed to you for a nominal fee, we can have that arranged. If you value good, honest, doesn’t-run-lying-crap-from-Amazon journalism, and you can afford it, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. We’ll be back tomorrow.

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For my friend Matt, it was the permanent closure of Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes—a restaurant where he had his first job—that made him fully realize the world we knew in early March was gone forever.

“I actually cried a few times yesterday, and it’s not just over big-chunk chicken-noodle soup and focaccia bread,” Matt wrote on Twitter. “It’s the realization that our lives will not ever ‘go back to normal.’ Our world is rapidly changing, and change is inevitable. I just didn’t expect it to be this fast.”

So many places, institutions and businesses are going to be wiped out by the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn—which may very well qualify as a depression by the time all is said and done. We are going to see a lot of closed-for-good announcements in the coming weeks and months—like the one we got today, from Cathedral City’s Desert Ice Castle. Many of the places, institutions and businesses that do survive may be changed drastically, too.

However … not all of these changes will be bad.

For example, the Seattle Times is reporting that 20 miles of streets in that city—initially closed to make it easier for people to be socially distant—will now forever be closed to traffic, changing them into permanent places for people to walk and bike safely.

Closer to home, I have been hearing that Palm Springs and other cities are looking into the possibility of closing down some streets and parking lots so they can be used by bars and restaurants. If the science continues to show that the virus doesn’t nearly spread as well outdoors, then this would be a perfect way for businesses to reopen in a safer and more-delightful way.

It’s up to all of us to speak out, advocate and do whatever we can to make sure our “new normals”—both during the fight against COVID-19 and afterward—are the best possible “normals” we can have.

So … let’s get to work!

Today’s news:

I was the guest on today’s edition of the Los Angeles Times’ Coronavirus in California podcast. I talked with my friend Gustavo Arellano a couple weeks ago about the state of local media today—and how completely jarring it was for April in the Coachella Valley to be so darned quiet.

• As of this writing, the county meeting regarding Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s health orders was still going. Will the county Board of Supervisors side with the good doctor or the impatient business community? Watch this link, from the Riverside Press-Enterprise, to find out.

• Gov. Newsom announced today that all California voters will be asked to vote by mail in November—although some polling places will remain open for those who insist on voting in person.

• How long will it be until we can get haircuts again? Mid-June, perhaps? This is what Gov. Newsom had to say about that today: “Phase 3 (which includes the opening of hair salons and barbers) is not a year away. It’s not six months away. It’s not even three months away; it may not even be more than a month away. We just want to make sure that we have a protocol in place to secure customer safety, employee safety and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.”

• OK, OK, maybe mid-July for that haircut? A Los Angeles Times analysis reveals that per Gov. Newsom’s stated criteria, almost all California counties are nowhere near being able to properly move to Phase 3.

• Eisenhower Medical Center has started releasing Coachella Valley-specific hospitalization numbers. The takeaway—we’ve flattened the curve here—but it remains flat, and we’re not on the downside yet.

Yet another person within the White House’s inner circle has the virusKatie Miller, who is Mike Pence’s press secretary, and Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller’s wife.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: Counties and cities in California are facing massive, unprecedented budget deficits. Expect horrible cuts and yet more layoffs to come.

• Good news: After a public outcry and a whole lot of negative media attention, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey decided to let the COVID-19 modelers at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University keep doing their work after all.

• The country is heading for a rental crisis, according to this sobering article from Politico.

• From the “We Are Not Making This Up” files: We have verified this TMZ report that 2020 U.S. quarters feature … a bat. Yes, really.

• As predicted, the federal government’s distribution method for promising COVID-19 drug remdesivir has become a fustercluck, or something like that.

• If your iPhone has been acting stupid lately, we have some good news: Apple Store locations are starting to reopen. Aaaand the bad news: The ones in California remain closed indefinitely.

• Even though we’re not sure how this would work in 108-degree weather, we implore the good folks at the Palm Springs Cultural Center and D’Place Entertainment to look into the fact that the coronavirus has made drive-in movie theaters a thing again.

That’s all for today! Please buy our Coloring Book, because it’s 1) awesome, and 2) sales benefit the Independent AND the Create Center for the Arts’ efforts to make PPE items AND local artists. Also, please consider supporting independent local journalism if you can spare a buck or three. Barring anything huge, the Daily Digest will take the weekend off, and we’ll be back Monday.

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to play the exciting game that is most definitely NOT sweeping the nation: Six Degrees of Separation: Whackadoo Conspiracy Theory Edition!

However, Kevin Bacon was not available, so we will be seeing how many degrees of separation you—YES YOU!!!—are from the newest conspiracy star in all the pandemic-stricken land!

We’ll start off with Judy Mikovits, Ph.D. She’s the star of that new documentary you’ve likely seen some of your friends posting on social media, even though they really should know better. In an effort to be fair and open-minded, I actually tracked it down and watched it today. My Impression: The documentary is 1) well-crafted and slick, 2) undeniably interesting and 3) completely packed with easily refutable and deeply-harmful-if-believed nonsense! I’ll never get that almost-half-hour of my life back! Is it time for a cocktail yet?

First degree of separation: Judy Mikovits, before she became a celebrity on the anti-vaccination circuit, worked at the Whittemore Peterson Institute, a nonprofit based in Reno, Nev., that does research into myalgic encephalomyelitis (aka chronic fatigue syndrome) and other neuroimmune diseases. I won’t go into all the details of Mikovits’ work there, other than to say that 1) one of the studies she published while there wound up being so shoddy that the digest which published it had to later retract it, and 2) she was arrested and accused of stealing materials from the lab after she was fired by the institute. What fun! Anyhow, one the founders of the Whittemore Peterson Institute is Harvey Whittemore, a Reno attorney who was once one of the most powerful lobbyists in the state of Nevada. (Then he was convicted of three felonies and sent to prison for a couple of years for violating campaign-contribution laws. Oops!)

Second degree of separation: Harvey Whittemore has five kids, one of whom is DJ Whittemore, a perfectly nice guy who is a collegiate baseball coach. He graduated from Earl Wooster High School in 1993.

Third degree of separation: Jimmy Boegle, the editor and publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent, and the humble scribe of this Daily Digest, is also a member of the Earl Wooster High School class of 1993. What a small and sometimes horrifying world!

Fourth degree of separation: YOU are reading this Daily Digest, written by Jimmy Boegle.

Congratulations! You are a mere four degrees of separation from Judy Mikovits! I am so very sorry about that!

Today’s links:

• The big state news of the day: Gov. Newsom offered more information on which businesses can begin to reopen as early tomorrow. He was actually rather light on the specifics, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• The other big state news: As expected, the state is facing a massive budget deficit—far bigger than anything the state faced during the great recession. That means some deep cuts are coming.

• The big national news: The Trump administration has decided not to follow the reopening guidelines created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because, you know who needs science and knowledge and experts and stuff?

• The other big national news: The Justice Department is dropping the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. This line, from The New York Times, earns the Understatement of the Day Award: “The decision for the government to throw out a case after a defendant had already pleaded guilty was … highly unusual.

• I, per usual, took part in the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast today. Hear what the knowledgeable Dr. Laura Rush has to say about the coronavirus in the Coachella Valley.

One of the president’s personal valets has tested positive for the virus. The president says he has tested negative, however, and will continue to get tested daily.

More than 12,000 Catholic churches (out of 17,000) in the U.S. received federal Paycheck Protection Plan loans that were supposedly meant for small businesses. Wait, what?!

• Also from the “Wait, what?!” files: Frontier Airlines is making people pay extra to be socially distanced.

• The California Restaurant Association has sent to Gov. Newsom a proposed plan on how to reopen the state’s restaurants. Get more details, via The Associated Press, here.

A group of hair salons is getting ready to sue Gov. Newsom over the fact that they have not been allowed to reopen yet. (Search for hair salon after clicking the link.)

• Finally, some good news: While nothing is sure yet, there’s increasing evidence that almost all people who recover from COVID-19 indeed have antibodies—and that MIGHT mean they have at least temporary immunity.

• Oh, and there’s increasing evidence blood thinners may help some people who get critically sick from COVID-19.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 96: Some Southern California churches are starting to have in-person services, the law (and possible spread of the virus) be damned.

Coronavirus survivors will be disqualified from joining the military. Yes, really.

The DMV is opening 25 offices—including the one in Palm Desert—for in-person service tomorrow. However, you’ll need an appointment.

• Could lasers soon be used to test for COVID-19—and other diseases, too? The Conversation breaks down how that is a possibility.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Don’t spread easily disproven conspiracy theories. Buy our amazing Coloring Book. Chip in a few bucks, if you can afford to do so, to help us continue doing what we’re doing. Back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced that eligible seniors throughout California could immediately get three free restaurant meals per day delivered to their door.

Yet a week later, not a single meal has been delivered, and tens of thousands of Californians who have tried to sign up have been left disappointed, confused and maybe even hungry.

During his press conference last Friday, Newsom said counties and cities were ready—but in reality, most were caught off-guard: Most didn’t know that such a program was under consideration. Now they are scrambling to identify restaurants and eligible seniors before federal funding runs out on May 10.

It’s the latest example of how Newsom has announced an ambitious coronavirus response plan before details were hammered out—and in this case, even before the agencies recruited to carry it out were notified.

Under the governor’s plan, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse 75 percent of the cost of the meals, which would cost up to $66 per person for three meals per day. The state will cover another 18.75 percent. That leaves about six cents out of every dollar to be paid by cities and counties. 

Of California’s 5.7 million seniors, about 2.4 million might qualify for the program, according to UCLA’s California Health Interview Survey. If half of them enrolled, the total federal, state and local costs could reach more than $2 billion per month.

To be eligible for the free meals, seniors 65 and older have to meet certain income qualifications. People between 60 and 65 also qualify if they are at high risk or provide proof they were exposed.

Cities contacted by CalMatters, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, declined to say when they will be able to start the deliveries to seniors.


Cash-Strapped Cities and Counties

In cash-strapped cities and counties, officials said they are reluctant to sign up without knowing how soon they’ll be reimbursed, and whether funding will last past May 10.

Mariposa County Human Services Department Director Chevon Kothari learned about the program for the first time while watching Newsom’s press conference a week ago. Now her county, on track to burn through 70 percent of budget reserves by July with hotel and sales tax revenue from Yosemite Valley ground to a halt, is leaning against offering the meals to seniors. At least two other rural counties are in the same situation, Kothari said.

“This may be a really good thing for communities who can afford to front the costs and risk not getting that reimbursement, but for communities who don’t have the wiggle room to part with those funds, it could be too much risk,” said Kothari. She added that her agency is meeting the food needs of seniors in other ways.

If a city or county has, for instance, 10,000 seniors participating, the local government’s portion of the cost of the meals would exceed $1.2 million per month.

Los Angeles County has about 712,000 seniors who may be eligible for the free meals—so its portion could be $88 million per month. For the state and federal government, that cost could reach $1.3 billion per month.

Some representatives of cities and counties across the state, who learned about the program at the same time as their residents, expressed frustration that Newsom saddled local governments with immediately delivering on his big promises to hungry seniors, but provided little guidance.

But they were hesitant to publicly criticize the governor in light of their cries for help from the state to address looming budget deficits driven by the epidemic that have already led to employee furloughs.

One representative from a statewide association of local agencies called this Newsom’s “modus operandi” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are these great ideas about starting different initiatives, whether it be this program or others, and it seems like the governor always announced it before it probably should be talked about or before the details are worked out,” said the representative, who asked not to be identified, because the organization wanted to stay in the administration’s good graces.


‘Absolutely a Good Thing’

However, state and county leaders commended Newsom for paying attention to the need for food assistance among vulnerable seniors who fall through the cracks of other programs.

“It’s absolutely a good thing,” said Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association. “We expect to engage post haste with the administration about the specifics for launching.”

During his Facebook Live announcement, Newsom said “this program goes into effect immediately,” and he urged seniors to call 211 to sign up.

And they took him up on it. Operators at Interface Children and Family Services, which fields 211 calls from 40 counties that cover almost half of Californians, said more than 7,000 people called right after Newsom’s announcement—a spike from the weekly average of 10,000 calls.

“We were telling them we didn’t have further information,” said Kelly Brown, director of the call center. “That’s what we’re continuing to do now.”


A Win-Win-Win, Newsom Says

Here’s how the meal program is supposed to work:

Local governments pay restaurants up to $66 to cook and deliver three nutritious meals per day to eligible seniors. Those seniors must live alone or with another qualifying senior. They can’t already receive other federal-nutrition programs like food stamps or Meals on Wheels, and they must earn less than $74,940 for a household of one, or $101,460 for a household of two.

“Even if it’s hundreds of thousands that take advantage of this, just in weeks, you’ll see millions and millions of meals part of this program,” Newsom said.

Newsom touted it as a win-win-win, sending much-needed dollars to struggling restaurants, filling an urgent need to feed people scared to leave their homes, and generating tax revenue for cities.

Newsom said he expected that the sales tax that the cities will collect from the meals will “should more than offset the local costs.” 

Restaurants are eager to jump on board, said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association.

“As soon as the governor announced this creative new program, we received a flood of emails and phone calls from restaurateurs wanting to take part,” Condie said.

Several large cities expressed enthusiasm. San Francisco has already contracted with a food-truck network to cook 10,000 meals for people under medical quarantine and has begun to recruit more restaurants, said a spokeswoman. The Los Angeles County Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services said it is “ramping up quickly.”

Locally, the Riverside County on Aging has launched an interest form for both interested restaurants and seniors via its website.


Funding Questions Could Be Deal-Breaker

Newsom called the program “a real opportunity for rural California as well.”

But small and rural counties facing precipitous drops in revenue may find it difficult to muster even the 6 percent—let alone fronting 100 percent and waiting to be reimbursed, said Paul Smith, vice president of governmental affairs for Rural County Representatives of California.

After several recent disasters in Mariposa, Kothari said she’s learned that FEMA often takes 12 to 24 months to reimburse, if at all.

“If you don’t document (spending) just in the way they (FEMA) need it documented … you could risk not getting that back,” Kothari said. That’s not a risk many localities can take, she said, especially given the administrative burden for counties with small staff and vulnerable residents so spread out that they might live an hour away from the nearest restaurant.

Asked about the timeline for reimbursement and the local costs, Newsom acknowledged that the program could be “anxiety-inducing” for cities and counties. But, he said, as “a former mayor, it would have been music to my ears to hear a program costing about 6 cents” for every dollar.

Expedited reimbursement for half of the federal funding may be available upfront for localities that apply for it, said Governor’s Office of Emergency Services spokesman Brian Ferguson.

“If we can put food in the belly of even one vulnerable person, it’s something worth doing,” Ferguson said. 

Another red flag for some localities: the meal program funding will expire soon, unless FEMA grants an extension.

According to a state document for local officials, the funding runs out on May 10, “unless the public health need ends sooner or an extension is granted by FEMA. … While it is anticipated that, upon successful program execution, the State will request an extension, there is no guarantee it will be granted.”

Newsom did not respond to a CalMatters’ question at his Wednesday press conference about the May 10 deadline.

“By the time I get this set up and start to provide services and socialize it with my community … is the program going to come to an end?” Kothari asked.

Jackie Botts is a reporter with CalMatters. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

Published in Local Issues

It’s been yet another busy news day—in fact, there are links to more than 20 interesting stories below. But before we get into the news of the day, I wanted to share a link to my editor’s note (tweaked ever so slightly for online publication) from the Independent’s May print edition.

It covers all sorts of stuff I’ve already covered in this space (our coloring book, our Facebook grant, etc.), but if you want a recap of how things are going with your local independent newspaper, here’s a good place to start.

I’ll discuss the May print edition a little more tomorrow. But in the meantime … here are today’s links:

• The big news of the day: Preliminary study results now show that Gilead Sciences’ drug remdesivir can help a statistically significant number of people battling COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci said this is a big deal—because it shows drugs can indeed fight this thing.

• I found this piece 1) gross, 2) fascinating and 3) oddly reassuring: Wanna know how scientists are watching for signs of an uptick in coronavirus infections? By studying sewage.

• This is evil and awful: You know how some states are starting the reopening process—even though the vast majority of the experts say that’s a terrible, terrible idea? Well, one “benefit” for the states is it forces people to go back to work—and gets them off of unemployment. But what if you work at a business that’s reopening, and you feel that it’s unsafe to go back? Well, in Iowa, at least, you have no choice.

• This is now the worst economy, like, ever (or at least since the government has been keeping track). So says Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell.

• Here’s a long read that is, for the most part, a good read, from The Atlantic, covering what we do and do not know about SARS-CoV-2.

• Good for Costco: Starting Monday, store hours are going back to normal—and masks will be mandatory.

• Keep your fingers crossed again: If all goes well (and a LOT will have to go well, but …) another vaccine candidate could be ready for emergency use by the fall.

• The vice president continues to receive criticism for his maskless trip to the Mayo Clinic. And the clinic’s getting flak for letting him get away with it.

The Bay Area is loosening restrictions on some businesses and industries juuust a little bit.

• Did Donald Trump suggest this? (Kidding!) (At least we think we are!) The first graph from this BBC News piece: “Authorities in a Spanish coastal resort have apologised after spraying a beach with bleach in an attempt to protect children from coronavirus.”

• Contact tracing is often cited as being a key element in helping us reopen before we have a vaccine. NPR recently surveyed all 50 states regarding their current contact-tracing capacity. Spoiler alert: Unless you live in North Dakota, your state doesn’t have enough.

• Well, Elon Musk is being an ass again.

• Late last week, we mentioned that the governor had announced a plan for the state to help pay for restaurants to prepare food for seniors and high-risk people in need. Well, Riverside County has started the signup process for both interested restaurants and people who may want to get food deliveries.

• Oh, great. Rashes and other weird skin issues can be a symptom of this damned virus, too.

AMC Theaters has banned Universal Pictures from its screens—and Regal Cinemas is threatening to take similar action—after the studio moved Trolls World Tour to a digital-exclusive release.

• You know times are weird when The Wall Street Journal, of all publications, publishes a piece on how to negotiate with creditors to lower or delay payments on bills.

• As long as they don’t become artificially intelligent and take over, robots may be able help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by cleaning places with UV light.

• The Los Angeles Times brings us yet another piece on the devastating effects the shutdown is having on the work of scientists who aren’t directly involved with the battle against COVID-19.

• Miss the museum? Check out the Palm Springs Art Museum’s online exhibit of the photography of Stephen H. Willard (1894-1966).

• Pro tip: If you’re going to do a news report from your home, and you decide to eschew pants, make sure that viewers can’t see that.

That’s all for today. Wash your hands. Buy our amazing Coloring Book. And if you can spare a few bucks, please consider becoming a supporter of the Independent; it costs a lot of money to do quality journalism and make it available for free to all. Thanks again for reading. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

There was sooooo much interesting news today—from more on California’s reopening plans to the hubbub over Tupac Shakur’s unemployment (not joking!)—we shan’t delay in getting to the links:

• Today’s big news: Gov. Newsom today laid out more specifics on the reopening of California, in a four-stage process. Right now, we’re in Stage 1. (But you knew that already.) He also suggested that the state’s schools could open earlier than normal summer

• From the Independent: Kevin Allman talked to the owners of Dringk, Bongo Johnny’s and Eight4Nine, as well as the executive director of the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce, about the tough decisions restaurants have had to make during the pandemic.

• From the Independent: Matt King is a student at College of the Desert who comes from a family full of teachers—so he decided to talk to several of his teachers, current and past, about the challenges of being a teacher at a time when in-person classes cannot be.

• Two related stories: The Conversation brings us this piece, posted yesterday from a business-law expert, on one reason why meat plants may be closing—a concern over being prosecuted if they get blamed for spreading the virus. And then today comes the news that the president plans on ordering the plants to remain open—and possibly protecting them from liability—in an effort to keep the meat supply chain up and running.

A sad stats day: The U.S. crossed the 1 million line in terms of coronavirus cases—and the virus has now killed more Americans than the Vietnam War.

• Yet another piece of evidence showing that we’re living in the worst timeline: The feds are preparing to loan big business billions—with almost no strings whatsoever.

• NPR’s headline says it all: “Leaving Off Mask at Mayo Clinic, Pence Said He Wanted To Look Workers ‘in the Eye.’” Sigh.

• The Wall Street Journal yesterday posted this piece: “The Secret Group of Scientists and Billionaires Pushing a Manhattan Project for COVID-19.” While the story itself is interesting, I recommend skipping straight to the PDF report from the group

• For this one year only, films will not need to be released theatrically in order to be eligible for the Oscars.

• Best Buy today announced that it was allowing the Geek Squad to enter people’s homes again.

• Well, this is depressing: Some stores are running out of sympathy cards because of this damned virus.

The nation’s hotels, large and small, are getting ready to do things rather differently when travel again becomes a thing.

• As the great Dave Barry would say, we are not making this up: Scientists are examining the possibility that nicotine may keep COVID-19 at bay. Yes, really.

• I repeat, we are not making this up: If you’re having problems checking the status of your stimulus check on the IRS website, try typing things in all caps. Yes, really, again.

• Meanwhile, out of Kentucky comes this headline: “Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear apologizes to Tupac Shakur over coronavirus unemployment claim.” Yes, this headline is accurate, and no, we’re not smelling toast.

• Aaaand in the ever-weird and cutthroat world of British media, a newspaper has suspended a journalist after he allegedly snuck into a rival newspaper’s Zoom meeting.

• This is not directly related to the virus, but we need all the good news we can get, so here’s a just-released trailer for the Kimmy Schmidt special coming to Netflix in May.

That’s all for today. Buy our coloring book, dang it! Let us know if you want a copy of our May print edition sent to you. And if you can afford to support our journalism, please do so, because times are tough. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest