CVIndependent

Wed12022020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Is anyone else out there having problems watching TV shows and movies—because you’re constantly being reminded of things the pandemic has taken from us?

I’ve started often saying a new phrase (driving my hubby crazy in the process) while watching things from our comfy couch: Hey, remember when (insert word here) was a thing?

One recent night, we were watching Mean Girls. (I, somehow, had never seen it before.) The movie was cute and genuinely funny at times … but watching all these kids having their high school experiences (as messed up as some of them were) broke my heart, given that current students had their experiences ripped out from underneath them.

Remember when schools were a thing?

Another night, we watched the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper version of A Star Is Born, and I was in a mood from the point, early on in the film, when Cooper’s character unwittingly wandered into a bar with a drag show (and, of course, one “real” woman singing in the form of Ms. Gaga).

Remember when bars were a thing? Remember when concerts were a thing?

Sigh.

Yeah, I know that one day, all of these will probably be things again. However, it’s gonna be a while—and while I am continuing to count my blessings, I’m also telling myself that it’s OK to mourn the losses we’re all facing.

There’s one other thing I am telling myself, that I’ll also say here: We’re likely in the worst of it now, and better times—not back-to-normal times, but better times—will be here soon, if we keep doing the right things …

• Before we get to today’s links, some Independent housekeeping ….

Today was a busy day of picking things up from the printers! First, our May print edition is here! As always, it will be available for free at locations across the valley, including Albertsons, Whole Foods, AM/PMs and all sorts of other essential businesses. However, if you’d like us to mail you a copy, we’d be happy to do that; get details here.

Second: Coloring the Coachella Valley, our fantastic coloring book project, is here! Digital downloads have been sent; we’ll mail out the first batch of physical copies tomorrow. Buy ’em here—and support the Independent, the CREATE Center for the Arts and local artists while doing so.

Today’s links:

• Good news: Gov. Newsom today said “we are just a few weeks away, not months away, from making measurable and meaningful changes to our stay-at-home order”—although he was none too pleased with reports of crowded beaches over the weekend Meanwhile, Bay Area counties have extended their orders through the end of May, with promises of “limited easing” as we go.

• More good news: IF it works, and IF things go well—both of which are HUGE ifs—a vaccine could be available in limited doses by September. IF IF IF.

Please no panicking … but meat may be harder to come by, and more expensive, due to various closures and problems in the supply chain.

• Related: Our friends at High Country News come to the Coachella Valley to tell the story of farmworkers seeing their hours drastically cut—and fears that a lot of food may go to waste.

• Schools may reopen in the fall. If they do, they may be run quite differently, according to The Washington Post.

• Missing baseball? ESPN’s Jeff Passan says there’ll be baseball at some point in 2020; it’s just a matter of when, where and how.

The SBA loan process continues to be a steaming dumpster fire.

• Warning: This is a difficult story to read. Out of Manhattan, the headline: “Top E.R. Doctor Who Treated Virus Patients Dies by Suicide.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/27/nyregion/new-york-city-doctor-suicide-coronavirus.html?smid=fb-share

• Also a difficult read: The overall death rate is waaaaay up, even when cases attributed to COVID-19 are removed. This means that the coronavirus death toll is actually way higher than what’s being reported, for starters.

• Again, not fun: COVID-19 seems to be causing some younger victims to have deadly strokes. Yikes.

• Showing how little we know about this damned virus: The CDC has revised its list of COVID-19 symptoms.

On the footsteps of our interview with Dr. Rep. Raul Ruiz, The Wall Street Journal quotes him in a piece about the members of Congress who also just so happen to be doctors.

• OK … time for some levity! John Krasinski’s Some Good News is back with a potluck, of sorts.

• Elsewhere on YouTube, Randy Rainbow brings us “A Spoonful of Clorox.”

New to YouTube: The Palm Springs Library! Read more from NBC Palm Springs here.

• Already on YouTube, and planning a live-stream Swoon at the Moon event on April 30: Check out the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory page!

That’s all for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you must venture out. Be kind. Back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

So … I was a little cranky yesterday, as regular readers of this Daily Digest know.

Today, well, I am still cranky. I’d explain why, but part of it involves a boring story about a loan application that was rejected, apparently due to a glitch on the lender’s end, and when I called to figure out what happened, after a half-hour of gibberish, I was told I needed to call the Small Business Administration, even though the SBA has nothing to do with glitches on the lender’s end.

It was right then and there that I almost started day-drinking. Almost.

Anyway, in an effort to improve my mood, and perhaps yours, I am going to focus on some truly positive news that came out today. But before I do, I must present the usual caveats: Remember, science/study news these days is coming out quickly, often before it’s vetted, peer reviewed, etc. So, don’t get too excited about any of these things, OK?

First: Early study results regarding one of the drugs being investigated as a possible COVID-19 treatment are really, really encouraging. About the drug remdesivir, made by California company Gilead Sciences, CNN reports: “The patients taking part in a clinical trial of the drug have all had severe respiratory symptoms and fever, but were able to leave the hospital after less than a week of treatment, STAT quoted the doctor leading the trial as saying.”

Second: We’ve heard over and over that it’s going to take at least a year—at least being the key words—for a vaccine to be available. While that will likely be the case for most of us, according to various news sources, it’s possible, just maybe, that one or more could be available in about six months or so—perhaps even sooner—at least for high-risk groups.

Third: Preliminary antibody studies are coming out indicating that a lot more people may have been infected with COVID-19 than previously believed. Now, this is more of a mixed bag than strictly good news. If true, on one hand, it means a huge number of people who have the virus—and, therefore, can spread the virus to others—never know it, and that creates all sorts of challenges. On the other hand, it means this disease is less lethal, percentage-wise, than previously believed. And if—IF—people who’ve had COVID-19 are immune for some period of time (which is something we do not know yet), that means we’re closer to some sort of herd immunity.

Fourth: Testing is becoming ever-more available in Riverside County. According to the county: “Riverside County residents who do not have symptoms but want to be tested for coronavirus will now be able to after health officials modified the guidelines for testing.” 

Fifth: What we’re doing now is working. Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors posted today: “Thank you to everyone, you have helped us begin to flatten the curve. In Riverside County, the doubling rate for new infections has slowed from every 4.7 days two weeks ago to every seven days. In Palm Springs, the doubling rate for new infections is now approximately every three weeks. This is a major change from the a few weeks ago when we were designated as a ‘hot spot.’”

So … as we head into the weekend, there are a lot of reasons for optimism.

Today’s links:

• More good news: Our partners at CalMatters bring us this story about the fact that many of us are looking out for each other during this crisis—perhaps more than ever before.

• Gov. Gavin Newsom has put together a task force with some big names to help California recover from this recession we suddenly find ourselves in.

Work continues to fix the complete mess that is the SBA loan situation.

• The Hill reports that one soon-to-be-published study indicates that social distancing is actually much, much better for our economy than more deaths would be.

• Our friends at Coachella Valley Sexual Assault Services asked us to share this info: “CVSAS has collaborated with Palm Desert Riverside County Sheriff's Department to host a First Responders/Healthcare Providers Appreciation Procession. This event is to acknowledge the heroes working on the front-lines during this global pandemic. We will be meeting in the Albertson's parking lot located in Country Club Village at: 40101 Monterrey Ave. Rancho Mirage, CA 92270 at 7 p.m. sharp on Tuesday, April 21. … We are asking that you bring a blue light to shine from your car in honor of them as we follow law enforcement through Eisenhower. We are still following all rules and regulations regarding wearing face masks. … Please RSVP via email by Monday, April 20, at noon to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..”

• A cautionary tale: An NFL player who has tested positive for COVID-19 swears he did everything right … and still caught the virus.

• Only in Florida, where some public officials are inexplicably reopening beaches, could surfing be considered an “essential activity.”

• Yes, real estate transactions are still taking place during the shutdown … but the whole home-buying/selling process has gone through some changes. Jeff Hammerberg of GayRealEstate.com offers this primer.

• You know how talk shows that normally have live audiences seem uncomfortably weird without laughter? The Conversation explains why a laugh track is important.

• I have never been a huge Guy Fieri fan, but these upcoming “takeout” versions of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” sound pretty gosh-darned cool.

• The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert has launched “Discover at Home” activities on its social media … such as a gazpacho recipe for junior home cooks!

That’s all for today. Hey, our Coloring Book is officially on sale! We’ll start getting the books into hands, both physically and virtually next week; here are the details. If you can spare some cash, and value the independent local journalism this publication provides, for free to all, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Watch CVIndependent.com over the weekend for updates and more; the Daily Digest will return Monday. In the meantime, wash your hands; wear a mask when you absolutely must go out; and stay safe. We’re well on our way to the other side!

Published in Daily Digest

Today is Jackie Robinson Day, the anniversary of Robinson taking the field in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947—shattering the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

Robinson’s uniform number, 42, was retired throughout Major League Baseball back in 1997, with one exception: On April 15, every player wears the No. 42.

For all sorts of reasons, Jackie Robinson Day means a lot to me. Robinson is the main reason I became a baseball fan (and a Dodgers fan); at one point in elementary school, I was assigned to read a biography, and somehow, I wound up with Jackie Robinson. I was inspired—and Jackie Robinson has been a hero of mine ever since. In fact, a poster with Jackie’s photo, with the definition of the word “courage,” hangs just to the right of the unbelievably cluttered desk at my home office.

cour•age n. 1. The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty. 2. Valor.

Of course, Jackie Robinson Day can be celebrated only virtually today, because there is no baseball in this country on this April 15.

Please forgive me for feeling a bit sad right now. I am keeping things in proper mental perspective. Take, for example, what Jackie Robinson had to endure on a daily basis back in 1947, when he was literally risking his life to play baseball—and carrying the burden of knowing that if he failed, either on the field or off, he could potentially set back a whole movement. Me? I merely have to stay at home for a while, wear a mask when I have to go somewhere, and tighten the budget belt for a bit.

That’s what my mind says. But my heart aches due to the fact that there’s no baseball on Jackie Robinson Day, nor will there be anytime in the immediate future. (The same goes for a lot of things, of course.)

For now, I’ll suck it up, maybe cry a little, and remember that definition of courage: the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.

Here are today’s links:

• You know those antibody tests that are starting to appear? They’re not necessarily reliable right now. The nice way of putting it: “They’re a work in progress.”

• From the Independent: Anita Rufus points out that not only should you consider setting up an advance directive (living will) if you don’t have one; if you do have one, you may want to revisit it, given what we now know about COVID-19.

• Also from the Independent: Our Kevin Carlow encourages you to cut down on food waste by pickling or otherwise preserving vegetables before they go bad. And yes, you can even use the ends, stems and skins that you’d normally throw away.

• Speaking of vegetables, all of this uncertainty is leading people to start growing their own food.

• The state is taking better steps to get help to people who have not yet gotten their unemployment, plus independent contractors and undocumented immigrants, according to Gov. Newsom.

• The Washington Post reports on the strategy being developed by FEMA and the CDC to begin reopening the country. Take from it what you will.

• So … the president apparently insists on having his name on the physical stimulus checks being sent to people, even if it delays them being sent by a few days. Now, where did I put that bourbon?

Some government agencies are not being as open with information as they should be during this damned pandemic. This is a very bad thing.

• Now this, actually, would not be a bad thing, if 1) true and 2) it’s shown that most infected people have at least temporary immunity: One study suggests that there may be 10 times more COVID-19 cases in California than the number being reported. However, a lot of smart people don’t buy this conclusion.

• You know that thing going around on social media where people post their high school pics and say where and when they graduated, ostensibly to support current high school seniors who won’t get proper senior years and graduations? Uh, well, you probably shouldn’t do that.

• Rolling Stone looks in depth at the deep damage the pandemic is doing to the live-music world.

• Damn, the lockdown is even driving Martha Stewart to get hammered.

• The city of Palm Springs has set up a hotline for people to report violations of various COVID-19-related rules.

• OK, let’s get to some happier stuff, shall we? For starters, the Los Angeles Times offers up this list of 13 things you can do to stay sane during this highly annoying time.

• Jake Tapper has a Twitter-thread story that starts awful, but has a hopeful, happy ending.

• Finally, I find this oddly reassuring, even though they never, ever should have budged on “over” being an OK substitute for “more than”: The Associated Press Stylebook now has guidance on COVID-19.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Submit your virtual events to our online calendar. Please help us continue to do local, quality journalism, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means to do so. Wear a mask when you must go out in public—if not because it’s the right thing to do, then because someone may call the city of Palm Springs and report your irresponsible self. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Another work day has passed without me getting any work done.

Actually … that’s not accurate—in fact, other than a break for my physical therapy appointment, I’ve been toiling at my desk all darned day. So let me restate: Another work day has passed without me getting any newspapering done.

I have at least a half-dozen stories in the figurative hopper to edit and post. I have a couple of calls to make for a story I am working on myself. I need to start laying out the Coachella Valley Independent Coloring Book—which is going to be unbelievably cool, by the way—so we can put it on sale Friday. And I have some stuff on the sales-side I need to do, especially since the deadline for our May print edition is sneaking up next week. (Hey, wanna buy an ad? Drop me a line.)

But other than that pathetic parenthetical sales pitch to conclude that last paragraph, and this Daily Digest, no newspapering got done today. Instead, I participated in a conference all with other publishers on how they’re dealing with this mess. I tried, without success, to figure out how in the hell to finish applying for an SBA loan. And I spent a whole lot of time applying for more grants.

I speak for all other small-business owners trying to keep the lights on during this mess when I say: Bleh.

So … tomorrow, I have decided, I will ignore loan applications for a day. I will eschew all conference calls. And I will just edit and write and layout and sell and yay.

One other thing I’ll do: I’ll count my blessings. I know I am one of the lucky ones. I am healthy; I am safe; I have purpose; I have a fridge full of food. If you’re feeling annoyed, or down, or frustrated, I recommend you take stock, and think of the blessings you have.

Also, as we’ve said before in this space: We’re going to get through this. It’s going to take longer than any of us would like, and a complete return to a COVID-19-free existence is probably going to take much longer than any of us would like. But we’re in the midst of what should be the worst of it right now, and we’re at least surviving, right?

Hang in there, folks. And watch CVIndependent.com and this space for all sorts of excellent copy tomorrow.

Today’s links:

• The big news of the day: Gov. Newsom laid out his vague, no-timeline-yet “road to recovery” for the state. It’s vague, and it’s depressing, and a lot of things need to happen, but take some solace in the fact that we’re at least able to talk about steps toward reopening California. Right?

• The other big news of the day: The president says he’s going to halt U.S. funding of the World Health Organization. Yes, he’s doing this in the middle of a pandemic. No, nothing makes sense anymore.

Stimulus deposits are starting to show up in bank accounts. If yours hasn’t arrived yet, CNN explains when you can expect it, and how you can check on its status.

• Oh, and because things are terrible, the feds aren’t stopping banks and debt collectors from seizing those stimulus checks.

• This is sort of a worst-case scenario, so take this with a large grain of salt: This social distancing crap could last until 2022 if we don’t develop a vaccine. Or an effective treatment. Or etc.

The Los Angeles Times talked to a UCLA epidemiologist and infectious-disease expert about the prospects of reopening California. It’s an interesting piece, with this key takeaway: “Evolutionarily speaking, it’s to the virus’ benefit to mutate where it’s even more contagious but less deadly ‘because it doesn’t do the virus any good to kill its human host to be able to transmit.’” So, we should root for mutations, I guess?

• Example No. 138,936 of how truly little we know about this damned coronavirus: It appears that simply positioning some patients on their stomachs rather than their backs can make a big difference in recovery success.

• Example No. 138,937 of how truly little we know about this damned coronavirus: We don’t even know how far COVID-19 can travel in “aerosolized droplets.” Two thoughts: 1) Sigh. 2). Ew.

• Some local small-business news: Lulu California Bistro, one of the valley’s biggest restaurants, will be open for takeout business starting Thursday. And to raise funds to support employees, the Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City will be selling popcorn and other movie-theater treats on Friday and Saturday for pickup.

• The Conversation brings us this piece from an Oberlin professor of sociology pointing out that the pandemic may prove to be fatal to many communities’ gay bars.

• Speaking of depressing-if-unsurprising news for the LGBT community: San Francisco Pride has officially been cancelled.

Major League Baseball is participating in a study that will test up to 10,000 people for coronavirus antibodies—but this is just for science, and won’t help the game return any faster, according to ESPN.

• This has nothing to do with COVID-19 at all, but screw it: Here’s how to make shot glasses out of bacon and chocolate.

That’s all for now. Submit your online event info to our calendar here. Thank you to all of you who have become Supporters of the Independent recently; if you’d like to join them in helping us to continue doing what we do, find details here. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you absolutely must leave home. More tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

Yesterday in this space, we discussed the fact that you should take whatever you read regarding the science of COVID-19 with a grain of salt—because things are moving so fast right now.

“We will indeed get to answers eventually—because an unprecedented number of very smart people are working on this problem, and science is an amazing thing,” I wrote.

Well … the same thing goes for speculation about the timing of things.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all getting tired of the stay-at-home order. I think it’s also safe to say that we’re going to have to deal with the order for more than a few weeks longer. But beyond that … I don’t think anything is safe to say.

Why? We just don’t know a whole hell of a lot about this virus yet. We don’t know what treatments may emerge. We don’t know how widely available accurate testing—of antibodies and for the virus itself—will be in six weeks, six months, etc. We really know very little about COVID-19.

And you know what? This lack of knowledge really, really sucks. We all want this to be over, and the lack of an end date we can all look forward to is annoying as heck.

Several articles were making the rounds earlier today that focused in on a statement made during a New York Times audio roundtable by a bioethicist and professor named Zeke Emanuel. Emanuel said that large gatherings like concerts and sporting events would be the last “normal” things to return, and then  dropped this nugget: “Realistically, we’re talking fall 2021 at the earliest.”

Now THAT is depressing. And you know what? There’s a very good chance that we may not see the return of the largest events until the fall of 2021.

But … with all due respect to Mr. Emanuel, he doesn’t know enough to make a pronouncement using the terms “realistically” and “at the earliest.” Nobody does.

We all need to prepare ourselves, as best we can, for the worst. But we also need to avoid falling into depressive holes because of some thing some expert said—especially when, upon further examination, the thing that expert said is demonstrably unverifiable, unknowable.

There’s so much we don’t know. But we’re learning a little more each day, and literally the entire world is working on this problem. For now, we need to take solace in that.

Today’s links:

• The big news of the day: Gov. Newsom is going to work with the governors of Oregon and Washington on a plan to reopen the West Coast. He said we’d get some preliminary details tomorrow—but don’t expect hard dates.

• The city of Palm Springs says it’s now mandatory to wear masks at essential businesses. The county had already issued such a mandate, but this move makes it easier for code enforcement and law enforcement to force compliance.

• One of the most important questions in determining how we move forward, according to the World Health Organization, remains unanswered: It’s still unclear whether COVID-19 survivors are immune to the disease going forward.

• From our partners at CalMatters via the Independent: While the stay-at-home order has drastically decreased air pollution across the state—and world—scientists are concerned about an apparent link between long-term exposure to pollution and a higher coronavirus risk.

• The state insurance commissioner has ordered companies to issue premium discounts for at least a couple monthsbecause, for example, fewer cars on roads means fewer costly accidents.

• The first saliva-based test for COVID-19 has received a thumbs-up from the government.

• A whole lot of educators are concerned that the closure of schools is going to set students back.

• The Trump administration has asked for more time to complete the 2020 Census.

Is a furniture store an essential business? Mathis Bros. has decided the answer is “yes,” and has apparently reopened its stores.

• I’ve sang the praises of The Conversation in this space before, and I’m gonna do it again, because where else could you read an understandable academic analysis of why porn use is on the rise (pun intended) (sorry) during the pandemic?

• If you love art, take note: Many galleries are offering “online exhibitions,” including Palm Desert’s CODA Gallery, which is currently highlighting the raku ceramics of Karen Shapiro.

That’s all for now. Submit your online events to our calendar! Tomorrow is the final, final deadline for submissions to our coloring book project—and participating artists get a cut of the sales, which are slated to start later this week! Please, if you’re able, send us a few bucks to help is continue doing local, independent journalism. Oh, and wash your hands, and wear a mask when you absolutely must leave the house. Back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Blood tests for antibodies to the novel coronavirus will be “foundational, fundamental,” to sending Californians back to work, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday—but medical experts caution that there’s still a lot we don’t know about whether the tests are reliable enough to ensure people’s safety.

Testing people’s blood for antibodies may help determine who has already had the disease and recovered. But just because someone tests positive for antibodies doesn’t necessarily mean they are immune to the virus—or that they will remain that way over time.

Antibodies are immune proteins that attack viruses and other pathogens. Unlike the diagnostic tests that are backlogged across the country, antibody tests—sometimes called serologic tests—don’t sniff out the virus itself. Instead, they search the blood for these proteins, teasing out who has been infected, and who hasn’t.

“We really need the antibody test. The whole country is waiting for a good antibody test,” said Philip Norris, a professor of laboratory medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and vice president of research at Vitalant Research Institute. “It will change how we can address this epidemic so dramatically. We’re operating with blinders on now.”

Newsom said that figuring out whether people have antibodies to the virus “will allow us to process new protocols in order to get people back into the workforce, or least back into society in more traditional ways.”

Charity Dean, assistant director at the California Department of Public Health, congratulated Stanford University about its development of an antibody test on Saturday. “We’re very excited that this is a California home-grown test that is going to be rolled out in the next week for actual use on Californians,” Dean said.

Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Kim said that the university has developed two antibody tests—one for use in research, and the other for use in the lab. But she declined to discuss the timeframe or make any experts available for an interview.


Some People Already Are Being Tested

Antibody testing of some people already is occurring. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using the tests to survey hotspots for viral spread. A team at Vitalant is testing blood donors from across the country with multiple antibody screens.

Stanford has rolled out a community-wide antibody surveillance effort, The Mercury News reported. And the Food and Drug Administration recently granted emergency use authorization to one antibody test developed by a company called Cellex.

But even when a reliable test is developed, its production and use has to be scaled up to reach millions of people. 

There’s a balance to navigate, said David Pride, associate director of University of California, San Diego’s, clinical microbiology lab—between waiting until scientists fully understand immunity to the novel coronavirus, or allowing people to go out in public again.

“We can know the answers eventually,” he said. “But what are we going to do three months from now? What are we going to tell people—stay at home, or go out? So there’s the strict science, ‘We have to go with the data,’ and then there’s the, ‘What is practical to get life back to normal?’ And those two things are almost in direct opposition.”

Norris expects to see the test prioritized for healthcare workers—for whom every extra bit of protection helps.

“At the medical centers, everybody would love to get an antibody test so that we can apportion those on the front line, and give those jobs to folks who already have antibodies,” he said. “So in theory, I do think it’s a great idea.”


Does Immunity Last?

Relying on antibody tests to determine who can avoid the shelter-in-place order means answering a big question: Can you get the new coronavirus twice?

Right now, reports are mixed. But preliminary findings in monkeys suggest that once infected with the virus, reinfection was unlikely a month later. The evidence hasn’t yet been published in an academic journal, but a team of infectious disease experts called the results reassuring in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“I think it’s probably a good assumption that if you had (the virus), and you developed an antibody response, you’re unlikely to get it again in the short term,” Pride said.

Researchers around the world are racing to find out for certain—and whether protection persists long-term.

“It won’t be tomorrow,” Norris said. “But people are working hard to make it happen.”

The epidemic started only a few months ago, so there have been no long-term investigations into immunity, according to an article published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. There are also no biological markers yet to separate those who are still vulnerable from those who are immune, such as the levels of antibodies that are protective.

“We don’t know what the correlation is between the antibody levels that we measure and the protection that’s conferred by that antibody,” said Philip Felgner, director of the vaccine research and development center at the UC Irvine School of Medicine. “That’s the link that we don’t have yet.”

Early research suggests that most people infected start producing antibodies against the novel coronavirus between one and two weeks after showing symptoms. And preliminary studies hint that these antibodies can neutralize the virus. Μore research is needed to bear that out.

To test whether antibodies can block the virus from penetrating cells, Norris’ colleague at Vitalant created a safer stand-in for the virus by equipping the more benign vesicular stomatitis virus with a key coronavirus protein. Then he mixed his declawed virus with cells, and added serum from two patients who had recovered.

The antibodies blocked the virus from getting inside the cells, preventing a successful infection. That’s the rationale behind treating sick patients with plasma filled with antibodies from people who have recovered. However, clinical trials are needed to determine if it works. 

There’s another open question: How long does immunity last?Long-term follow-ups of people who survived the first SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003 suggest that their antibodies lasted for about two years, before disappearing in about a quarter of the study participants after three years

Studies of milder coronaviruses indicate that reinfection is possible, but that the symptoms tend to be less severe the second time around. 

In the 1990s, a team of scientists in the United Kingdom spritzed “nasal washings” containing a mild coronavirus up the noses of 15 volunteers. Ten became infected; eight came down with colds; and a year later, most of the infected volunteers had slightly higher levels f antibodies in their blood than the volunteers who weren’t infected. 

When the volunteers were re-exposed a year later, all five who hadn’t been infected the first time became infected, and one showed symptoms. Of the ones who had been infected the previous year, two-thirds became re-infected—but none developed symptoms. 

Again, it’s hard to draw conclusions from such a small study. But that, and the possibility that the virus itself might change over time, is why Felgner cautions against pinning hopes on the idea that antibodies mean imperviousness to the virus. Instead, he proposed a more measured view:

“They’re going to have to say this immune response that’s being measured here doesn’t necessarily protect me entirely from this infection. But it may reduce the severity if I do get another exposure,” he said.


The Worst-Case Scenario: False Security

It’s one thing to use an antibody test academically to investigate the virus—where it spreads and how people’s bodies fight it off. It’s another thing to rely on it to shape public policy and determine who should take on greater risks of exposure—which is what Newsom has hinted at. 

Newsom said last week that testing for antibodies “is all part of our strategy to get people … back into some semblance of normalcy.”

But it’s still too early for Felgner to be completely comfortable with that idea. Antibody responses vary from person to person. Some may not make enough or send the right kinds to the lungs to fight off the virus.

“That’s what gives everybody who works on the science a queasy feeling of insecurity—because there are so many obvious things that need to be checked, to get confidence in this,” Felgner said. “And we don’t have those answers yet.”

Still, those answers are coming. Felgner’s team is planning to survey healthcare workers over time for a constellation of antibodies. The goal is to compare these antibody fingerprints to symptoms to understand why some get severe disease, and others escape relatively symptoms-free. 

Inaccurate tests could put people at risk if the results indicate that someone has antibodies, when in fact, they don’t—a result known as a false positive. That could happen if a test detects antibodies against other coronaviruses, like the ones that cause colds, and misinterprets them as antibodies against the novel coronavirus.

“So suddenly you’re getting a lot of positives where you shouldn’t, and people falsely think they’re protected,” Norris said. “That would be the worst-case scenario.”

That’s why researchers around the state are carefully vetting which tests to use. Nam Tran, associate professor and senior director of clinical pathology at University of California, Davis, said his team is working with a Southern California company called Diazyme to develop an in-house antibody test.

“I’ve received over 100 emails from numerous manufacturers—some I’ve never even heard of before,” Tran said. “You don’t want to jump on it out of desperation and have a bad test. Can you imagine I tell a patient or an employee ‘Oh, you’re immune to COIVID-19,’ and it turns out they weren’t weren’t? We can’t do that.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

Some days are OK. Other days, not so much.

That seems to be the experience most of us are going through as we approach the three-week mark of California’s stay-at-home order. (Yeah, the statewide order hasn’t even been in place for three weeks yet; it came down Thursday, March 19.)

Yesterday was an OK day for me. I got up and did some work. I took a nap. I did a little more work. I made a delicious dinner—shrimp-and-scallop ceviche, and London broil—and then the hubby and I watched Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and various cooking/food videos on YouTube. My mood throughout the day was, while not exactly exuberant, OK.

Today, not so much.

My funk started off with what should have been fantastic news: My orthopedic doctor cleared me to resume playing softball. I dislocated my right elbow almost nine weeks ago, and while my arm is not yet 100 percent, it’s stable and healthy enough to play, albeit with some restrictions and cautions.

Logically, this is wonderful. It means all the physical therapy and the at-home exercises and hard work I’ve put into my right arm has paid off. But emotionally, it was a stark reminder that there’s no softball anymore—or, well, anything else outside of the house anymore—at least not for the foreseeable future.

Then the news about Boris Johnson hit me. Now, I am not a fan of Boris Johnson. In fact, I think he’s kind of a putz. But the fact that a prominent world leader—the prime minister of Great Britain!—is fighting for his life in an ICU because of COVID-19, for some reason, smacked me upside the head. Again, I don’t know why it did. It just did.

Then I read this. In yesterday’s Daily Digest, I referred to a story about a tiger in a New York zoo that apparently got this damn virus from a zoo employee. Well, yesterday, the American Veterinary Medical Association—while making it clear there’s very little evidence pets can be threatened by, transmit or get ill from SARS-CoV-2—said this: “Out of an abundance of caution and until more is known about this virus, if you are ill with COVID-19 you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just as you would restrict your contact with other people.”

Dammit. That was it for me. The funk was solidified. F--- this damn virus.

I debated just saying screw it and going to bed. But I didn’t. Instead, I listened to more silly ’80s music, and then I watched a couple of videos that, while making me weepy, managed to make me feel a little better.

As for the first video, you may have seen it already, given it’s already gotten nearly 4.2 million YouTube videos in less than 24 hours: the second episode of John Krasinski’s Some Good News. It’s worth the not-quite 17 minutes of your time it’ll take to watch it, I promise.

The second is more personal. Here’s a 90-second video from a TV news station in Reno, Nevada. It’s about a family that gets dressed up in unicorn costumes and wanders around nearby neighborhoods every night—just to bring good cheer. The matriarch of the family, Jaunice, has been a friend of mine since middle school; her husband, Matt, has been a friend since we were in high school. I may have been the best man at their wedding. Anyway, at the -54 second mark, they visit a woman in a little maroon-colored house. That woman is my mom, and that visit came at the tail end of a scary illness, involving a lot of coughing, that my mom picked up a couple of weeks ago. (What was that illness? Dunno. She was never tested. I just know it scared the hell out of my family.) I requested that the Unicorn Squad make her a visit a while back, and they obliged. That visit made my mom’s month.

I hope these videos make your day—or at least make it a little better, as they did for my day.

And now, today’s links:

• Our beer columnist points out that there’s never been a better time to make your own beer at home. If you’re interested in homebrewing, here’s how to start.

• Want to know why it’s good to wear a mask, and why it may or may not be good to wear gloves, when you go to a store? A UC Riverside epidemiologist explains it all.

• Seen ads or news about an at-home COVID-19 test? They’re not really a thing, at least not yet, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• The Desert AIDS Project continues to help lead the way in the local battle against the effects of COVID-19. The latest move: DAP has started a support group for people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

• In related news, our friends at Wabi Sabi Japan Living have started a virtual food drive on the Desert AIDS Project’s behalf.

• Some good news: Gov. Newsom says the state has enough ventilators for now, so he’s loaning some to states, including New York, that currently don’t have enough.

• While we humans stay inside, animals keep on keepin’ on—including the mountain goats at The Living Desert. Meet one of the baby mountain goats that was just born.

• Here are more specifics on Palm Springs’ eviction moratorium. And this literally came in just as we were about to hit send: The state Judicial Council has halted evictions statewide.

• The California Desert Arts Council and the La Quinta Arts Foundation have created a $50,000 fund to help artists. It’s called Keep Art Alive.

• Because so few people are driving these days, Allstate insurance is giving $600 million back to its auto-insurance customers.

• First, Dr. Drew Pinsky made the TV rounds, dismissing COVID-19 as a threat. Now he’s trying to use copyright laws to erase videos of him making these dangerous and irresponsible comments from the internet.

A lot of people won’t get stimulus checks because of their tax status. NBC News explains.

• Rep. Raul Ruiz gets some love from The New York Times, in this piece about doctors and medical experts in Congress—and how some of them, if not all of them, have been speaking out.

• More video cheer: Randy Rainbow is back with another delightful song parody. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Andy!

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. If you’re an artist, send us art for our coloring book by Friday. If you can spare a buck or two, help us continue to do quality local journalism that’s free to all. Be safe. Reach out to an old friend and see how they’re doing. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

I think I speak for all of us when I ask the question: How long is all of this going to going on?!

The only correct answer, of course, is that nobody knows. Nobody. We’ve never dealt with a worldwide crisis like this during the information age. We’ve never had so many smart, qualified people working on fixing a problem at the same time. And we’ve never before seen such rapid devastation—both in terms of health and the economy—strike the entire world, all at once.

Every day, there’s good news that offers hope—including hints that treating COVID-19 patients with plasma from people who have recovered may just help treat those who are still sick.

And every day, there’s news that’s alarming—such as today’s revelation that, good lord, tigers are getting it from humans now?!

Sigh.

Anyway … some news yesterday that has local implications regarding this question of “How damned long?” went a little under the radar. It all started with a call that President Trump had with representatives of most of the major sports leagues and operations in the country. Sources say Trump said he thought the NFL season should be able to start, with fans in stadiums, on time this year. What does on time mean? Pre-season games start in August, with the regular season starting Sept. 10.

Trump elaborated later yesterday during his daily briefing, according to ESPN: “I want fans back in the arenas. I think it’s ... whenever we’re ready. As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air.”

Putting aside Trump’s, um, credibility problem (to put it mildly), I think we can all agree that we really, really want all of that, too, if it’s safe. But … will it be?

Later yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom was asked about Trump’s hopes that society could handle 80,000 people packed into a stadium in August or September. The first words out of his mouth were rather direct: “I'm not anticipating that happening in this state.”

Newsom then sort-of backtracked, but not really, by clarifying that decisions “will be determined by the facts, will be determined by the health experts,” and that he was focusing immediate concerns. Newsom also said he wanted California to avoid the fate of some Asian countries, which seemed to “return to normal” a bit too soon.

As for that local angle … well, our friends at Gay Desert Guide have done a fantastic job of listing the dates that the valley’s biggest events (not just the gay-themed ones) are now scheduled/rescheduled for, and … well, here’s the thing: If we are in a place by the start of September where we can have larger crowds at things, this valley could have one hell of a fall, in terms of an economic boost. Starting with the ANA Inspiration golf tourney (Sept. 10-13), and moving through Dinah Shore Weekend, Coachella’s two weekends, the Modernism Week Fall Preview, Stagecoach, the White Party and Palm Springs Pride (Nov. 6-8), we could see two fall months the likes of which the Coachella Valley has never seen.

But if Gov. Newsom’s right about September, and likely October and November … you get the point.

Even if Newsom is right, that doesn’t mean we won’t be a lot closer to “normal” by then. After all, one of the last things we’ll be able to do is let 80,000 people into a stadium together. Of course, the same goes for letting 125,000 people into the Empire Polo Club together.

To repeat one more time: We really don’t have any idea how long this is going to go on. And that may be one of the most frustrating aspects of the pandemic.

Today’s news:

• Hey, artists: Take part in our coloring book project—and earn a few bucks while doing so. The deadline is this coming Friday afternoon; get the full details here.

• The big news: Riverside County now says you can’t have any gatherings at all. And you have to wear a face mask when you go out.

• Gov. Newsom says California is making progress on its COVID-19 backlog—and he took responsibility, unlike some other leaders, for missteps.

• Hooray: Palm Springs has enacted an evictions moratorium.

• Making lemonade out of really awful lemons: All of this working from home has given the creators of The Office an idea for a new show.

• When students from different backgrounds get to a college campus, socioeconomic differences can seemingly melt away, when everyone’s living in the same dorms and eating the same food. But inequity can get magnified when all of the classes go online.

• CBS News got some advice from Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and George Takei on how to handle all of this pandemic stuff.

• A TV news station in Cleveland has introduced a helpful new feature for those of us who may be losing track of the days of the week.

• The Los Angeles Times brings us this sad but important story about the increase in calls to suicide hotlines. Sigh.

• You know times are tough when a rare address from the Queen of England is making me weepy.

That’s enough for now. If you have the means, and appreciate the free-to-all journalism the Independent does, both in print and pixels, please consider helping us to continue to do it. Thanks for reading. Oh, and wash your hands, and make the best of this coming week.

Published in Daily Digest

I spent most of my day wildly oscillating between despair and inspiration.

The despair came from, y’know, the news: The increasing numbers of reported infections and deaths. And the fact that we’re only two weeks into what’s going to be a rather lengthy shelter in place order.

The inspiration came from … well, people doing amazing things.

Below, we have links to 16 stories—and three quarters of them are at least partially “good” news. Go look (after you finish reading this introduction, of course). I promise you: You will feel a little better after perusing these links.

I am also inspired by what’s going on in my little corner of the journalism world—where things, economically, literally could not be worse. We are all fighting to stay alive while covering the biggest story in a century. Yet some of the ideas that my fellow publishers—people who are clearly more creative than I—have come up with to serve their communities and bring in revenue are amazing.

This brings me to the fact that yesterday, I said I’d be sharing more info on the Independent’s future plans today. Well, we’re going to save that for the weekend now, partially because some of those plans have changed slightly due to the wisdom of my fellow newspaper people, but mostly because I wanted to get all this good news out to you.

On with the news:

• Breaking and important news: Gov. Gavin Newsom has finally heeded the call for an eviction moratorium in the state. But make sure you read the fine print.

• Duke University has come up with a way for medical professionals to safely decontaminate and re-use N95 masks—which, given there’s a shortage, could be a big frickin’ deal.

• Meantime, a group of amazing locals are sewing masks in case they’re needed. Get to know and support the C.V. Mask Project.

• Elon Musk can be a bit of a jerk sometimes, but he did a very amazing thing by delivering 1,000 ventilators to the state in Los Angeles.

• Buried within this piece from The Washington Post about the Alabama governor, well, being an idiot: Hints that the shelter in place order in California is working.

• OK, this is one of the stories down here that is decidedly NOT GOOD: Kaiser Permanente is no longer filling routine prescriptions for chloroquine.

• A lot of scientists are being told to stop working and stay at home, like the rest of us. Our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent, show how that will take a toll on everything from wildlife research to cancer treatments.

Are gun shops essential businesses? Gov. Newsom refuses to say for sure.

• Walmart says all this working from home has made Americans eschew pants.

• The Independent’s Beth Allen checks in with an update from the high desert, where Pappy and Harriet’s is offering takeout—but locals want people to stay away.

• News from the sports world, sorta: Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry did an online chat with Anthony Fauci, and it was amazing.

• More news from the sports world, sorta: A baseball-jersey company has shifted gears and started making masks and gowns.

• The recently passed stimulus package will make it easier to tap into retirement accounts.

• Buzzfeed listicles generally fill me with despair over the state of what passes for journalism these days, but this one, while still annoyingly presented, is helpful: It highlights children’s shows that Amazon is now streaming for free.

• Meanwhile, international treasure Patrick Stewart is reading sonnets to us all.

• Like indie film? Well, some art house theaters are now streaming what would be new releases of indie films, and keeping half of the proceeds. Since we don’t have one locally, we’re going to send you to some friends of mine from my Tucson days: The amazing Loft Cinema.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back over the weekend with the update on the Independent that I promised. Wash your hands. Get takeout from a local restaurant if you can afford it. Savor the food. Live in the now. Enjoy life. And you like what the Independent is doing, please send us a few bucks.

Published in Daily Digest

When the novel coronavirus hit California, Jamille Cabacungan, a registered nurse at UCSF Medical Center, rushed to sign up as a volunteer to treat infected patients.

She hesitated to answer, however, when asked about her preparation for that job.

The hospital is providing the necessary gear, she said, and more heightened training for some nurses. But not for all—and much of her training is coming from videos forwarded to her by the hospital, as opposed to hands-on learning-by-doing. Her colleagues are depending on her—“we don’t want to put our pregnant co-workers or those who live with elderly people at risk,” she added—but the preparation is less intense than she expected, considering the risk involved.

As California’s coronavirus strategy has moved from containment to mitigation, the health-care workers on the first line of response to the epidemic are also finding themselves on the front line of potential infection. From internal conversations to calls for action from their unions, nurses, first responders and hospital staffers have sounded the alarm, raising questions about the safety protocols and spotlighting flaws and lags in response, both in California and nationally.

“Nurses are eager to take care of patients and make sure that our communities are safe, but we need the right staffing, equipment, supplies, communication and training to do this safely,” Deborah Burger, president of the National Nurses United, which represents about 150,000 nurses around the country, said during a public health roundtable earlier this week. 

“Put simply, if we are not protected, our patients are at risk,” Burger said. 

The union has asked the state to notify nurses when patients sickened by the virus are sent to their health-care facilities. They are also petitioning the state to release a full account of the protective gear in stock statewide, including respirators, and information about where these respirators are stored, citing concerns over a shortage of respirators and other personal protective equipment.

The nurses say that some of the workplace safety guidelines for states recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not rigorous enough to sufficiently protect health care workers and their patients.

Earlier this month, the union released a nationwide survey of 6,500 nurses in which only 29 percent said their hospitals had a plan in place to isolate potential coronavirus patients, and only 44 percent said they had gotten information from their employers about how to recognize and handle the virus.

As sick people turn up in emergency rooms, community clinics and school nurses’ offices, the workers who initially treat them run a high risk of infection. After a Vacaville hospital reported the first U.S. instance of community transmission, and the patient was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, for example, healthcare workers’ unions reported 124 workers were placed under quarantine. (UC Davis Medical Center later said that number was inaccurate but did not provide an estimate.) Concerns have also been raised about health-care workers inadvertently spreading the virus.

Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, said her department is collaborating with all groups involved in response and checking regularly with hospitals and health care facilities to learn where their needs are.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that the collaboration has extended to health-care workers’ unions.

“We certainly can strengthen those lines of communication, but they are open lines of communication, very directly with the governor himself,” Newsom said.

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents nearly 150,000 workers across California, is also asking the state to help increase access to coronavirus testing for both workers and the general public. Spokesman Sean Wherley said the union also wants hospitals to make it easier to track workers sent home for possible exposure to the virus, and to provide clearer follow-up.

“They were sent home as a precaution, but not all of them were tested before they were sent home, so what about the risk posed to their families?” Wherley said.

In California and nationally, testing has been an ongoing issue. Though thousands of Californians are self-monitoring and self-quarantining, only 1,075 people have been tested in the state, with a backlog of about 200 tests, Newsom said Tuesday. Commercial labs are supposed to help relieve some of that load.

Workforce shortage is also a concern. “If each positive patient results in five to 10 workers being sent home, how many times can that happen before you have a staffing crisis?” Wherley said.

The California Hospital Association said healthcare staffing hasn’t become an issue at this point, “but it is certainly something everybody has to be cognizant of,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokesperson for the group.

“The discussion has moved from containment to accepting the fact that this virus is here, so there is certainly some concern about how it will affect staff and the ability to continue operating,” she said.

Newsom’s emergency declaration earlier this month on coronavirus allows health-care workers to come from out of state to fill any gaps should California experience a crisis in staffing. Still, state lawmakers—the majority of whom, like Newsom, were elected with the support of organized labor—have been sensitive to health-care workplace concerns.

“Making sure we protect health care workers is extremely critical, because we depend on these very same health-care workers to take care of the patients who may end up in the hospital,” said Sen. Richard Pan, chair of the Senate Health Committee. “If there are any resources (state public-health officials) need, the Legislature would want to make sure they have those resources.”

CalMatters.orgis a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues