CVIndependent

Fri11272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Riverside County will remain in the red, “Substantial” COVID-19 tier for at least one more week—even though the county’s numbers are getting worse.

Why? The county asked the state for another week to make improvements—and the state, via an “adjudication process,” gave the county the requested break.

“The aim with the adjudication process is to make the case to the state that we can maintain our current status and still control COVID-19 in our communities,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, via a news release. “Whether or not we stay red or return to purple, we have to get people tested to find cases, and continue to use facial coverings, social distance and avoid gatherings. If we return to purple, we want to get back to red as quickly as we can. If we stay red, we want to progress. We can’t do either of those things without individuals, businesses and institutions working together to reduce spread.”

In order to be in the red tier, a county is supposed to have a positivity rate below 8 percent, and less than 7 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. As of today’s weekly reporting, the county has a 5.9 percent positivity rate—but 8.1 new daily cases per 100,000, a number the state adjusted up to 9.2, because the county is lagging behind the rest of the state in testing.

The county did meet the criterion for the new health equity metric, coming in below 8 percent (at 7.7 percent, to be exact). This metric tracks the positivity rate in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

So … what does this all mean? If we don’t get that case rate per 100,000 residents down, the state could put Riverside County back into the purple, “Widespread” tier, as soon as next week. That would mean movie theaters, gyms, restaurants and places of worship would have to close down indoor operations—yet again.

Stay tuned.

Other news from the day:

Another vaccine’s Stage 3 trial has been halted due to a serious illness. The Associated Press reports via SF Gate: “(Johnson and Johnson) said in a statement Monday evening that illnesses, accidents and other so-called adverse events ‘are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies’ but that its physicians and a safety monitoring panel would try to determine what might have caused the illness.” Johnson and Johnson’s potential vaccine, unlike many other candidates, only requires one dose.

A similar halt over a safety concern has occurred in the clinical trials for Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody treatment. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board recommended pausing enrollment in the U.S. government-sponsored trial, a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. The company didn’t provide information about what caused the panel to recommend the stoppage.” This treatment is similar to the antibody therapy from Regeneron that President Trump received and has hailed incorrectly as a “cure.”

• In other COVID-treatment news, the one company that could know for sure whether it has a working vaccine by the end of the month is taking steps to make sure people trust the vaccine, should everything work out. Per Politico: “The company behind President Donald Trump’s last hope for a vaccine by Election Day has quietly begun courting influential health experts, including some of its toughest critics, to head off charges that it's moving too fast in the face of intense political pressure.

A Nevadan is the unlucky man who has become the first person in North America confirmed to have gotten COVID-19 twice, from two slightly different versions of SARS-CoV-2. The Los Angeles Times explains why these rare re-infections show why we need a vaccine, and can’t just depend on herd immunity.

Having said that, we’ll present this headline from The Washington Post sans comment: “Proposal to hasten herd immunity to the coronavirus grabs White House attention but appalls top scientists.”

• By now, you’ve probably heard of the unauthorized drop boxes that have been appearing around the state—often with labeling saying they’re “official.” The state Republican party is responsible; the state attorney general has demanded the Republicans cease and desist; the state party is refusing to do so. Our partners at CalMatters look at the legal questions involved with this shady move by the GOP.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Trump administration can stop Census field operations early. According to The Associated Press, via SFGate: “The Supreme Court justices’ ruling came as the nation’s largest statistical association, and even the bureau’s own census takers and partners, have been raising questions about the quality of the data being gathered — numbers that are used to determine how much federal funding is allotted to states and localities, and how many congressional seats each states gets.” Interestingly, only one of the eight justices, Sonia Sotomayor, dissented. 

• The state has officially said that Californians should not go trick-or-treating this year. According to the Los Angeles Times: “Health officials voiced concerns that it’s not possible to practice social distancing while trick-or-treating and that Día de los Muertos and Halloween celebrations would lead to people interacting with those from outside their households. State officials are strongly discouraging trick-or-treating and suggested that some Halloween activities, such as costume contests and pumpkin carving, move online. They recommended that families go on a walk while dressed up but forgo going door-to-door for candy.” Damn you, 2020!

• Climate change and poor forest management have fueled (literally) California’s awful wildfires in recent years. So … what can be done to fix the forest-management portion? According to two engineering professors, writing for The Conversation, forests can be restored—but it’ll take many years and billions of dollars.

• Republicans have been crying out about the possibility that a President Biden could choose to “pack” the U.S. Supreme Court by adding justices. Well, it turns out the Republican Party has been more than happy to “pack” lower courts. According to The Washington Post: “Marin Levy, a law professor at Duke University, says there’s important context missing from the discussion: the recent partisan attempts to pack state supreme courts. In a study published earlier this year, well before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Levy documented court-packing attempts in at least 11 states in recent years. Most of those efforts were initiated by Republicans, including the two that succeeded. Moreover, compared with earlier decades, court-packing attempts are now more common and more explicitly partisan.”

President Trump’s campaign used an out-of-context quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci—and Fauci is not pleased. According to CBS News: “Fauci also said he thinks that the approach could backfire and be detrimental to President Trump's re-election chances. ‘By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me,’ he said. ‘Since campaign ads are about getting votes, their harassment of me might have the opposite effect of turning some voters off.’” Yikes.

• Hmm. The New York Times is reporting that the Trump administration is accelerating subsidies to farmers as Election Day approaches: “Farmers are not the only constituency benefiting from the president’s largess: He has promised $200 prescription drug cards to millions of seniors, approved $13 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, which could help his prospects in Florida, and he directed his Agriculture Department to include letters signed by him in millions of food aid boxes that are being distributed to the poor.

Also from The New York Times: A whole lot of large companies are telling their employees to plan on working from home until next summer. At least.

That’s enough news for the day. A scheduling note: The Daily Digest will be off tomorrow, but will return later in the week. Be safe, everyone—and please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you’re able.

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

Diego San Luis Ortega was a toddler when his parents brought him to California from Veracruz, Mexico. Now 22 and a “Dreamer” who is protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, he is a political activist and a community college student in Visalia who hopes to become a history teacher.

He is also gung-ho about standing up to be counted in the 2020 census, despite the concerns of many family and friends that participation could put their ability to remain in the United States in jeopardy.

“At the end of the day,” Ortega said, “if it’s to better my community, I’ll do it. If I get hurt, I get hurt.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates an “actual enumeration” of each state’s population every 10 years. The U.S. Census Bureau, part of the U.S. Commerce Department, conducts the decennial count, which aims to determine how many people reside in the United States and where they live.

The answers determine, among other things, how many congressional seats each state will have for the coming decade, and where hundreds of billions of federal dollars will be spent on medical and nutritional programs, the national school-lunch program, housing vouchers, Head Start, highway construction and myriad other programs. The information also is used to redraw congressional and state legislative district boundaries.

A significant element of the 2020 census remains unresolved, awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision: Will the Trump administration be allowed to add a question about citizenship?

The administration has argued that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, added the question to collect detailed data to enforce the Voting Rights Act. District court judges concluded that enforcement of the voting law was a pretext. Many legal analysts have concluded that the question was politically motivated, designed to limit the political power of immigrant communities—areas that typically prefer to vote for Democrats.

At issue is how the citizenship question came to be added and whether Ross ignored administrative review processes. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in part that the courts should not meddle in the Commerce Department’s decisions regarding the census. President Trump broke with the Justice Department’s official line last week, writing on Twitter that “the American people deserve to know who is in this country.”

But grassroots activists and social science researchers contend that if the question is added, immigrants and their families—whether documented or unauthorized—would be less likely to respond or might respond inaccurately because of fears that the information would be used for immigration enforcement.

California and other states with high immigrant populations stand to lose big. Migrants, particularly Latinos and Asian Americans, have grown to fear the federal government after years of hearing anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Trump and like-minded Republicans.

“We think Californians will be less likely to fully answer the form if this question is included,” said Sarah Bohn, director of research and a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco. “If there’s a bad count overall, and immigrant communities are undercounted, it would be entirely possible for us to lose a seat in Congress.”

In lawsuits brought by dozens of states, cities and groups, three federal judges at U.S. district courts in California, New York and Maryland have issued rulings blocking the administration’s plan to add the question, which asks: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” The last time such a question appeared on the form was 1950. Since then, citizenship data have been gathered through surveys of a small sample of households.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in U.S. Department of Commerce vs. New York, a case challenging the citizenship question as “arbitrary and capricious.”

Based on the justices’ questions, it appears that the court’s conservative majority is prepared to back the administration’s plan, even though the Census Bureau’s own statisticians project that as many as 6.5 million people could go uncounted if the question is allowed.

The high court is expected to decide by late June, just as census forms are to be printed.

Esperanza Guevara, 29, a graduate of Stanford University, has experienced the census challenges firsthand. She recently became the census campaign manager for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, or CHIRLA, in Los Angeles, part of a coalition that launched a get-out-the-count campaign on Monday.

Guevara’s parents immigrated to California more than 30 years ago and eventually became naturalized citizens, but they have never participated in a census. “It took me getting this job and having a conversation with my mom for her to learn about this for the first time,” Guevara said.

California has already earmarked $100.3 million for census outreach, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed that an additional $54 million be allocated. On a per-person basis, California is investing more than any other state to get out the count, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office in Sacramento.

Many factors conspire to make California the nation’s hardest-to-count state. They include the high immigrant population, many residents’ limited English proficiency, the high number of renters and multiple-family households with children 5 and younger, homeless people, couch surfers and those with limited access to technology. For the first time, this census is expected to be conducted, for the most part, electronically.

The high stakes and California’s notoriously hard-to-count citizenry have propelled dozens of grassroots, municipal and statewide organizations to brainstorm strategies.

The California Complete Count Committee is an advisory panel of 26 members appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators. Similar organizations exist in counties, cities and regions including the Central Valley and the Inland Empire.

Using funds from the state or philanthropic organizations, groups are plotting multiple outreach efforts. In rural areas of California, the Communities for a New California Education Fund—a civil-rights organization with offices in Sacramento, Fresno, Merced and here in the Coachella Valley—plans to send teams door to door and to run phone banks. Language will be an issue for volunteers and staff members. The San Joaquin Valley, where many of the efforts will be concentrated, has migrants who speak Spanish, Hmong, Punjabi and indigenous languages of Central America.

All of these programs are intended to spread the word that “by filling out the form, you are representing your community,” said Diana Crofts-Pelayo, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento-based California Complete Count-Census 2020, which is coordinating the census outreach strategy. “Waiting for 10 years from now isn’t an option.”

The state complete count organization is partnering with county offices of education, tribal governments and regional community-based organizations to encourage people to participate.

Other groups will pass out census information to families who visit social-service agencies, hold town halls and sponsor mobile centers where people will be able to complete the census online.

Cindy Quezada, director of research and special projects with the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, has held meetings in community centers, day care centers and people’s apartments. “If you speak to people and help them understand (the importance of participating), they get it,” she said. “The inclusion of the citizenship question will be a big deterrent.”

In the Los Angeles region, the Census Bureau plans to gather data from homeless-service providers and provide explicit instructions in mailed materials about including young children. Digital advertising will be enlisted to get the attention of renters.

Lisa Hershey serves on the California Complete Count Committee. “We have so many boots on the ground right now … (because) we want to identify where people might live,” said Hershey, executive director of Housing California, a Sacramento nonprofit group that seeks to find housing for all Californians. In some areas, she said, properties might house several families, living in garages, tents or trailers—knowledge that must be gained from on-site visits.

Edward Kissam, a longtime researcher on immigrant issues and a trustee of the WKF Charitable Giving Fund, which supports immigrant integration initiatives, said the addition of the citizenship question would put pressure on the Census Bureau to hire enumerators who could interact “culturally and linguistically” with reluctant households.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science and public policy at UC Riverside who is directing the complete count committee for San Bernardino and Riverside counties, expressed dismay that the high court appeared to be leaning toward approving the citizenship query.

“The Supreme Court appears to be weighing in on the constitutionality of the policy, not the wisdom,” said Ramakrishnan, who is also founding director of the university’s Center for Social Innovation.

If the high court allows the question, the next move would be up to Congress, he added.

“The House could play hardball with the administration and say: ‘We will not give another dime for the 2020 census until you take that question away,’” he said.

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

Published in Politics