CVIndependent

Sat12052020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Whatever you decide to do for the holiday, please do it as safely as possible.

The pandemic is getting scary out there—and I really don’t want to be writing three weeks from now about how holiday lapses made it even worse.

OK? OK!

Let’s get right into the news, because there’s a lot of it.

If you read only one story from this Daily Digest, please make it this piece, by Independent music and arts scribe Matt King. The headline: “Hi. My Name Is Matt. I'm 19—and COVID Is Kicking My Ass.” A lot of journalists have written personal “I got COVID and it was terrible” pieces—but those journalists haven’t been healthy 19-year-olds. Key quote: “Many people have misconceptions about this virus—including one that people my age aren’t at risk. I am here to tell you that’s wrong. I did everything right, and yet I haven’t been out of bed for more than 15 minutes at a time in more than a week.” Thanks to Matt for putting himself out there like this—and please keep getting better, my friend.

• Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report for the week ending Nov. 22. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and rural areas eastward.) The numbers are all trending in the wrong direction, save hospitalizations, which held steady (but have started spiking since the report period ended on Nov. 22). The local positivity rate is up to 8.6 percent—and five of our neighbors died from COVID 19 last week.

• I don’t link to a ton of Wall Street Journal pieces, because the newspaper has a pretty rigid paywall, but I am making an exception for this one: “Western nations face a big challenge in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic: Ten months into the health crisis, they still know little about where people are catching the virus.” Key quote: “The problem is becoming more acute as new cases are breaking records in the U.S. and Europe and pressure grows on authorities to impose targeted restrictions on places that are spreading the virus, rather than broad confinement measures that are wreaking havoc on the economy. In Germany, authorities say they don’t know where 75% of people who currently test positive for the coronavirus got it. In Austria, the figure stands at 77%.” Sigh.

• As coronavirus hospitalizations rise around the country, so, too, is the demand for nurses. Kaiser Health News reports that some traveling nurses can earn up to $10,000 per week due to the scarcity: “Early in the pandemic, hospitals were competing for ventilators, COVID tests and personal protective equipment. Now, sites across the country are competing for nurses. The fall surge in COVID cases has turned hospital staffing into a sort of national bidding war, with hospitals willing to pay exorbitant wages to secure the nurses they need. That threatens to shift the supply of nurses toward more affluent areas, leaving rural and urban public hospitals short-staffed as the pandemic worsens, and some hospitals unable to care for critically ill patients.”

• You know that good news that came out on Monday about the results of the AstraZeneca vaccine trial? Well, it’s been tainted by some serious problems about the trial and the data from it. The New York Times explains: “Since unveiling the preliminary results, AstraZeneca has acknowledged a key mistake in the vaccine dosage received by some study participants, adding to questions about whether the vaccine’s apparently spectacular efficacy will hold up under additional testing. Scientists and industry experts said the error and a series of other irregularities and omissions in the way AstraZeneca initially disclosed the data have eroded their confidence in the reliability of the results. Officials in the United States have noted that the results were not clear. The head of the flagship federal vaccine initiative suggested that the vaccine’s most promising results may not have reflected data from older people.”

Los Angeles County—which, as of tomorrow, will not allow outdoor dining for three weeks—is expected to soon issue yet more restrictions on citizens and businesses alike. However, the Los Angeles Times is reporting they won’t be as tight as things were back in April. “’Nonessential businesses will be very much open; gyms will be open outdoors; zoos will be open; hair salons; mini-golf and go-karts will be open with reduced capacity,’ supervisor Janice Hahn said. The proposed directives are all designed to keep people in their homes as much as possible, reduce capacity at sites where people from different households interact with each other, and curtail some nonessential activities.”

Our partners at CalMatters look at California’s vaccine-distribution plans: “Manufacturers and the federal government will likely distribute doses based on state conditions and population size, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary. ‘So California should get a significant and even the highest amount of vaccination based on those distribution plans,’ he said Tuesday.

• When the vaccines finally do arrive, it’s important to understand that the side effects of getting the does will NOT be fun. Per CNBC: “Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association said both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines require two doses at varying intervals. As a practicing physician, she said she worries whether her patients will come back for a second dose because of the potentially unpleasant side effects they may experience after the first shot. ‘We really need to make patients aware that this is not going to be a walk in the park,’ Fryhofer said. ‘They are going to know they had a vaccine. They are probably not going to feel wonderful. But they’ve got to come back for that second dose.”

If you have a Roomba or a Ring security camera that was on the fritz today, The Washington Post explains why: “Amazon’s widely used cloud computing service suffered a major outage in its eastern U.S. operations Wednesday, hampering everything from web-connected security-camera services to software applications that businesses use to design products. … Amazon Web Services is the world’s largest provider of cloud-computing services, which let customers rent data storage and processing capabilities over the web instead of running their own datacenters.”

• A whole lot of stories have been coming out recently about the fact that California’s unemployment system is a raging dumpster fire. First, Politico explains: “Sophisticated crime rings involving inmates in California's jails and prisons may have stolen upwards of $1 billion in pandemic unemployment aid, four district attorneys and a federal prosecutor announced Tuesday.”

• All of this happened despite the fact that Bank of America—which has an exclusive contract with the state to issue prepaid debit cards with the much-needed funds on them—has been randomly freezing the accounts of innocent recipients due to fraud concerns, among other idiocies. Our partners at CalMatters report: “A bipartisan group of California lawmakers on Wednesday asked Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan for answers about unemployment payment problems that have upended the lives of thousands of jobless Californians who rely on the bank’s prepaid debit cards. … ‘Constituents report they are unable to get through to your call centers, or when they do, the issue is not resolved,’ states the letter, which was signed by more than three dozen state senators and assemblymembers. ‘It is simply unacceptable that Californians entitled to benefits are suddenly not able to obtain them due to a Bank of America determination that is impossible to appeal.’ Among the questions the lawmakers want Moynihan to answer: Bank of America’s criteria for freezing accounts and seizing jobless benefits, who’s on the hook for paying back fraudulent charges, and how their constituents can resolve outstanding debit card claims.”

• Oh, and if your unemployment claim is denied, you do have options, as the San Francisco Chronicle explains: “If your claim for unemployment benefits was rejected by California’s Employment Development Department, or you received much less than you think you’re entitled to, you’re not alone. Between January and September, 177,248 Californians contested the agency’s decision, and more than half won rulings in their favor. You have the right to appeal a rejection, but it can be a tortuous process.” Read the Chronicle’s suggestions on how to handle that tortuous process.

Things are gonna be a little nuts between now and Jan. 20, and this is just the start: President Trump today pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, despite the fact that Flynn twice pleaded guilty to telling lies to the FBI.

And then there’s this move, explained by The Hill: “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signaled that he will move $455 billion in COVID-19 relief from the Federal Reserve back into the Treasury’s General Fund, a move that would make it harder for his successor to access the emergency funding. … Bharat Ramamurti, a former adviser to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who now serves as a member of the congressional committee appointed to oversee the funds, called Mnuchin's move ‘illegal.’ ‘This is Treasury’s latest ham-handed effort to undermine the Biden Administration,’ he said on Twitter.”

• Before we go, an FYI about two fun fundraisers being done by two great local nonprofits: First, Palm Canyon Theatre is having a one-day only streaming event tomorrow on Thanksgiving. From the news release: “Popcorn Falls star(s) Anthony Nannini and Nicholas Sloan. The sleepy town of Popcorn Falls is forced into bankruptcy when a neighboring town threatens to turn it into a sewage treatment plant. The hope of saving the town lies in the dreams of opening a live theatre there. Writer James Hindman spins a world of farce, love and desperation, with musical interludes by Jeffrey Lodin, which proves that art can save the world.” It costs $15 to stream the play—again, tomorrow only! Details here.

On Monday, Nov. 30, the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert will be holding its annual Wreath Auction. What’s normally a fun in-person affair will be an online/virtual event this year, of course. Some wreaths are already up for auction online, while others will be auctioned off live starting at 5:15 p.m. Monday. Register, bid and get more details here.

Finally … while this is probably just the work of some weird artist(s), we can’t be sure, because it’s 2020, and an alien invasion or something would be SO typical for this year. CNN explains: “What started as routine wildlife assistance took an extraterrestrial turn for Utah’s Department of Public Safety after officers stumbled upon a mysterious monolith in the middle of rural Utah. Officers from the Utah Department of Public Safety's Aero Bureau were flying by helicopter last Wednesday, helping the Division of Wildlife Resources count bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, when they spotted something that seemed right out of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’” The damn thing is 10 to 12 feet tall!

As always, thanks for reading. If you have a few dollars to spare, please consider supporting independent local journalism by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Barring any major news, the Daily Digest will be off until Monday. Have a safe yet fantastic Thanksgiving, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

This morning, shortly after I woke up, I stared at the ceiling for a few moments before sighing and silently saying to myself: Dear lord, what could THIS week possibly have in store for all of us?!

Trump’s COVID-19 case! The county’s tier status! A possible vote by the Board of Supervisors to sort of ignore the state’s tiers! The vice-presidential debate!

Strap yourself in for what could be a weird ride.

Today’s news:

Here’s the New York Times’ update page on the COVID-19 spread throughout the government. President Donald Trump left Walter Reed Medical Center late this afternoon to return to the White House, and didn’t necessarily look all that good while doing so—hours after he tweeted, in part: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” Meanwhile, 210,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.

• Medical experts are saying that the details released regarding President Trump’s treatment for COVID-19 don’t make sense. According to The Washington Post: “Robert Wachter, chairman of the University of California at San Francisco’s department of medicine, said any patient of his with Trump’s symptoms and treatment who wanted to be discharged from the hospital three days after their admission would need to sign out against doctors’ orders because it would be so ill-advised. “For someone sick enough to have required remdesivir and dexamethasone, I can’t think of a situation in which a patient would be okay to leave on day three, even with the White House’s medical capacity,” Wachter said.”

• So … how much information should be released about a sick or fading politician? The New York Times points out that this is a question that goes well beyond Trump’s battle with COVID-19. Key quote: “This concentration of power in the hands of the old is an American phenomenon, Derek Thompson recently wrote in The Atlantic, noting that our leaders are getting older as European leaders get younger. ‘If government of the elderly, by the elderly, and for the elderly will not perish from the Earth, the rest of us might suffer instead,’ he lamented.”

I am just going to leave this headline from The Conversation right here, and then slowly walk away: “Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis: What lies ahead could include a constitutional crisis over succession.”

The vice-presidential debate is still slated to take place on Wednesday—but Mike Pence and Kamala Harris will be seated farther apart than originally planned, with a Plexiglas barrier between them.

• Sort of related: The CDC today affirmed something it announced last month, and then took back, even though it’s now affirmed by scientists around the world: The coronavirus “can sometimes spread through airborne particles that can ‘linger in the air for minutes to hours’ and among people who are more than 6 feet apart.”

• That now-infamous Rose Garden ceremony officially announcing the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court—which appears to have been a super-spreader event—has a Riverside County victim: Pastor Greg Laurie, of Riverside megachurch Harvest Christian Fellowship, attended the ceremony—and he announced today he has tested positive for COVID-19.

• Despite all of these cases, the White House is NOT doing contact-tracing from that event, according to The New York Times. Sigh.

• This is hilarious and fantastic: Gay men have hijacked the #ProudBoys hashtag away from the white-supremacist group by using it along with pictures of themselves and other gay men. CNN explains.

Regal Cinemas—which operates theaters in Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Indio—has announced it will close all of its theaters around the country for a while. “Regal is shutting down theaters again less than two months after it started to reopen U.S. locations in late August. The decision was announced after the James Bond franchise's No Time to Die was shelved until 2021, further pushing back a release that had already been delayed.” This comes just a couple of weeks after theaters were allowed to reopen in Riverside County.

• Dang it, even Iceland is having a coronavirus spike: “The government ordered bars, gyms and some other businesses to close and is limiting most group gatherings to a maximum of 20 people, down from prior restrictions that capped events at 200.

Some good news on the coronavirus treatment front, from the San Francisco Chronicle: “(A new) drug, which could eventually work on coronavirus much the way Tamiflu reduces flu symptoms, is being rolled out in a clinical trial at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, one of many U.S. sites that are enrolling volunteers for the study. The medicine, made by the drug company Eli Lilly, is a type of drug called a monoclonal antibody that in preliminary studies appears to help people in early or mild stages of the disease.”

• Some other good news: Most Riverside County Library System locations reopened today. Get details here.

Gov. Newsom today nominated Martin J. Jenkins to the California Supreme Court. According to SFGate: “Jenkins would be the first openly gay man and third African American man to serve on the state's highest court, potentially replacing one of the court's more conservative members with a former federal civil rights attorney who prosecuted cross burnings and police misconduct cases under President Ronald Reagan.”

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald checked in with the folks at the Coachella Valley Boxing Club, the Coachella-based gym, led by Lee Espinoza, that has produced multiple world champions. It’s just reopening after its doors were shut by the pandemic. Kevin also talked to Espinoza star pupil Citlalli Ortiz about her Olympic hopes. Key quote: “While the gym was closed, the aspiring champs of today were relegated to training outdoors in the summer heat of neighboring Bagdouma Park, or in the garages and backyards of their family homes. While Espinoza wasn’t involved in this day-to-day training, he made sure the equipment from his gym was available to anyone who needed it.

• Our partners at CalMatters examine something wildfires often leave behind: Tainted drinking water. Key quote: “When wildfires spread across California, they leave a cascade of water problems in their wake: Some communities have their drinking water poisoned by toxic substances. Others wrestle with ash and debris washed into reservoirs and lakes. And many living in remote stretches of the state struggle with accessing enough water to fight fires.

Please vote in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, if you haven’t done so already. If you can afford to do so, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, to help us continue producing quality local journalism and making it available free to all. As always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Wednesday, everyone.

If you’re one of the 130 readers who has taken the time to complete our short, six-question survey: Thank you! If you have not taken the survey yet, and you have 90 seconds to spare, please click here.

We’ll close the survey tomorrow (Thursday) night, and I’ll share some takeaways from the survey in Friday’s Daily Digest.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Here are today’s links:

Here’s the most recent District 4 COVID-19 report from Riverside County. District 4 consists primarily of the Coachella Valley, as well as points eastward to the Arizona state border. The good news: Local cases and hospitalizations seem to be edging slowly downward. The bad: The weekly positivity rate remains alarmingly high. Peruse yourself you’d like.

• Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, who has resisted wearing a mask at the Capitol, has tested positive for the coronavirus. I shan’t comment further, because I have no words.

• Meanwhile, California has endured its deadliest day for COVID-19. Again.

• The state linked to this article yesterday: XPrize is offering $5 million to anyone who can “come up with inexpensive, fast, and easy COVID-19 testing that enables effective, data-driven tracing.” Let’s all hope they have to fork out that money—and fast.

The Conversation looks at the impending eviction crisis—and a legal system that, for centuries, has favored landlords over tenants.

• Related: The economies in California and a lot of other states will take huge hits if the new GOP stimulus package gets passed without major changes.

• Also related: California is considering providing the extra $600 in unemployment if the federal government doesn’t extend the benefit … but will need to borrow money to do so.

• NBC News looks at the tactics protesters are using to stand up to federal law enforcement in Portland. Get out the leaf blowers!

• Related: The New York Times reports that those federal agents have agreed to leave Portlandas long as the federal courthouse is secured.

• An NPR analysis shows that the coronavirus is becoming a huge problem in a lot of the nation’s small cities, as more and more hospitals become overwhelmed.

• The fact that we’re talking about what may happen when a vaccine arrives is a good thing, but nonetheless, take note: Now is the time for people to learn about a vaccine’s possible side effectsnot to cause alarm, but to learn.

AMC theaters and Universal Pictures have kissed and made up. AMC had said it’d never again show Universal films after the studio released Trolls World Tour online because of the pandemic. As part of the reconciliation, AMC has agreed that Universal can release films online after just 17 days in theaters; before, that number was at least 75 days.

• Sigh … meanwhile, in Minnesota, a rodeo took place over the weekend. The organizer said there’d be “no spectators,” but invited people to show up to protest “government overreach.” Thousands of people—many of them not wearing masks—did.

• From the Independent: We’ve posted an interesting commentary piece from local PR guru David Perry, in which he asks people to stop calling for a complete shutdown—because those of us who are less privileged can’t “shut down.”

The stock value for Eastman Kodak—a company that has struggled in recent years, because film really isn’t a thing anymore—has gone bonkers, after the feds gave Kodak a Defense Production Act loan of $765 million to start making drug ingredients.

• From the “What in the Ever-Loving $&%# Is Going On?!” files: Random people in at least 28 states have received seeds in the mail, apparently from China … and nobody knows why. If you get them, contact the state, and DON’T PLANT THEM; investigators are trying to figure out whether these seeds are harmful. Man, 2020 just won’t quit.

• Whoever had “Madonna Posts Discredited Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory” on their 2020 Bingo card … step up and claim your prize!

Finally, a bit of … possible local news: Is the Riviera Palm Springs about to become the latest Margaritaville? Hmm.

That’s the day’s news. Wash your hands! Wear a mask. Be kind. If you’re able to send us a few bucks to help fund this Daily Digest and the other things the Independent does, please click here. The digest will be back Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

Is it possible—just possible—that the coronavirus has peaked, at least for now, in the Coachella Valley?

Maybe. Maybe not. But maybe.

The county’s just-released District 4 report—District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and points eastward to the state line—shows that hospitalizations, case numbers and the weekly positivity rate are all inching downward.

This is very good news … but don’t break out the party hats just yet.

First: The weekly positivity rate is still 12.8 percent, which, while lower than last week’s rate, is still too high. The state’s overall rate is below 8 percent, and in order for things to reopen open, the county would need to get its rate below 8 percent.

Second: We lost 24 of our neighbors to COVID-19 last week. That’s simply awful.

We need to keep up the fight, folks. We need to wear masks and wash our hands and avoid crowds. If a contact tracer contacts you, for crying out loud, work with them. (More on that below.) If you think you might be sick, STAY HOME. Please.

Today’s news:

• The state shut down “indoor operations” of salons and barber shops last week—a distinction which confused the heck out of some shop owners, because outdoor operations are largely prohibited anyway. Well, Gov. Newsom today clarified things, and explained that under new rules, salons and barbershops can indeed operate outside if they follow certain rules. Now, if it just weren’t 109 degrees outside …

More good news on the vaccine front was announced today, this time coming from the joint effort by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca: Early testing showed the vaccine “increased levels of both protective neutralizing antibodies and immune T-cells that target the virus” in human test subjects, according to Bloomberg News via SFGate. Keep your fingers crossed …

However, Bloomberg News also threw a little cold water on vaccine hopes, in a piece pointing out that the leading vaccine candidates—the aforementioned Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and the Moderna Inc. vaccine—may wind up requiring two doses. This, of course, makes it harder to make sure as many people are vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Yet more encouraging-but-take-it-with-a-massive-grain-of-salt news, courtesy of The New York Times: “A British drug company said Monday that an inhaled form of a commonly used medicine could slash the odds of COVID-19 patients becoming severely ill, a sliver of good news in the race to find treatments that was met by scientists with equal measures of caution and cheer. The drug, based on interferon beta, a protein naturally produced by the body to orchestrate its response to viruses, has become the focus of intensifying efforts in Britain, China and the United States to treat Covid-19 patients.”

Delta Air Lines is keeping middle seats open, while most of its competitors are not. Is it because Delta Air Lines “cares” more? No, it’s because it’s good business, posits this ZDNet article. Key quote: “Why this sudden decency? Because, (CEO Ed) Bastian explained, those empty middle seats are the ‘No. 1 reason’ travelers are booking with Delta.”

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino announced today that all concerts in its Special Events Center slated for 2020 are being postponed.

• Modernism Week today said that its Fall Preview series of in-person events, scheduled for Oct. 15-18, will not take place. Instead, according to a news release: “The Modernism Week team is developing unique virtual programs to be offered online during Fall Preview. Tickets for these virtual events are planned to be released by October 1.” Watch the Modernism Week website for details.

Also announced today, by the California Interscholastic Federation: The start of high school sports in the state will be delayed until at least December or January.

• From the Independent: How will the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the economic downturn effect the local results on Election Day? We crunched the numbers in terms of recent voter-registrations—and it appears the Democratic Party is on the upswing. Kevin Fitzgerald also talked to local party leaders and some others regarding what they’re seeing on the ground.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise published a piece on the problems contact tracers are having in Riverside County—and specifically in Riverside County, where, for some reason, more than half of the people being contacted aren’t cooperating. Key quote: “San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties also have teams of tracers in the field but haven’t had as many problems.” Sigh.

This New York Times interview with freelance journalist Robert Evans is a couple of days old, but it’s worth a read if you want to better understand what in the heck is going on in Portland, Ore. After more than 50 nights of mostly peaceful protests in a small part of the city, the federal government has swooped in with a mysterious force—a force that Portland officials and state of Oregon don’t want there. 

• After seven months of existing with SARS-CoV-2, scientists are still trying to determine the true fatality rate of the virus. Two experts, writing for The Conversation, explain the process—and offer their best estimates based on the data so far.

Also from The Conversation: A University of Oregon journalism professor writes about the devastation the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn have wrought on the country’s newsrooms. Key quote: “COVID-19 has ripped through the industry. In the United States alone, over 36,000 journalists have lost their jobs, been furloughed or had their pay cut.”

As previously reported in the Independent, live music events have been against state rules since the shutdown began—although some restaurants have gone ahead with them anyway. Well, Riverside County is beginning to crack down.

Last night’s episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, now available on YouTube, broke down why conspiracy theories always pop up around major events (like, say, a certain society-crippling pandemic).

• Because of a testing-supplies shortage, the federal government is encouraging pool testing—where samples from multiple people are combined. If the combined test comes back negative, that’s great; if it comes back positive, then the individual samples get tested to figure out who had the positive results. However, Politico makes the case that this strategy simply won’t work. Key quote: “But the U.S. outbreak is now so out of control that health experts and testing labs say it won’t work here. In areas where the virus is widespread, many pools would test positive—requiring additional tests of each person in those pools.”

CNET helpfully (and depressingly) reminds us that flu season is approaching—and “consulted Dr. Nate Favini, medical lead at Forward to help shed some light on what you need to know about both viruses and what to do if you get sick.” Bleh. Is it time for a cocktail yet?

That’s a lot—I think, you’ll agree, it’s enough for today. Please, if you can, consider throwing a few bucks our way by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep doing what we do—quality local journalism. Stay safe, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Fourth of July weekend, y’all.

Those of us here at Independent World Headquarters are planning on basically staying at home this weekend. We’ll support some of our fave restaurants by getting takeout and cocktails; have a Zoom happy hour or two with friends; and catch up on some much-needed rest.

If you do decide to venture out this weekend, I recommend taking the advice of this Los Angeles Times article: Assume everyone you’re around has the virus. Positivity and hospitalization rates are on the upswing, after all.

I’d like to take this chance to thank all of you who have supported the Independent’s work over these last several trying months. I can’t tell you how much all of the emails, social-media messages and phone calls have meant to us. I’d also like to thank the dozens of you who have opened your wallets to support us financially by becoming Supporters of the Independent—and I ask those of you who haven’t done so already to join them. Find details on how to do that here.

Stay safe. Wear a mask. And keep making the Coachella Valley the amazing place that is.

Here’s the news:

• Some interesting drug news out of Spain: Some HIV-positive patients on anti-viral medications seem to be less at risk for COVID-19 than the general population. Could drugs that helped slow the AIDS pandemic help slow the coronavirus pandemic?

The late-stage trial for one of the more promising vaccine candidates has been delayed by several weeks.

• Recent unemployment numbers have not been as dire as many had forecasted. However, the economy’s still going to take a while to recover, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. (Spoiler alert: The coronavirus surge isn’t helping.) The Washington Post explains.

• One other thing that may keep the economy down: While a lot of workers have kept their jobs (at least for now), they’ve had to accept sometimes-drastic pay cuts.

NBC News looks at the latest research into whether people infected with COVID-19 will have immunity—and there’s “some encouraging early evidence of possible protection against reinfection.” 

• Things have gotten rather dire in Arizona—you know, our neighbors to the east. The state this week became the first in the nation to enact crisis standards of care—which, to oversimplify things, means overwhelmed doctors there may begin determining which patients get treated, and which ones don’t, based on limited resources.

• Chicago is the latest to place to demand that people from California and other states experiencing a coronavirus surge quarantine for two weeks

• Oh, and Mexico has closed the Arizona border based on the spike in that state

• While more people than ever before are getting sick with COVID-19 in the United States, so far, the death rate has remained relatively low. The New York Times explains why that is—and why that may not remain the case for long.

• Hooray! It’s now easier to make SARS-Co-V-2 testing appointments at Riverside County-run sites; you can now make appointments online

The New York Times examines why fireworks are driving so many people crazy here in California.

• Good news: The state has extended unemployment benefits. Bad news: Some eligible people who filed months ago have yet to receive a dime.

California is doing about 85,000 coronavirus tests per day. However, Harvard says the state needs to do several times that to keep the virus in check

Amazon is facing yet more criticism for not taking proper care of its people; this time, workers with Amazon’s air service are making the complaints about unsafe environments

• In some places, contract tracers are using subpoenas to get people infected with COVID-19 to spill the beans on who they’ve been with, and where they’ve been

• The Conversation takes a deep dive into the history of Mexico City, where many water ways were destroyed to prevent illnesses—but that history has paved the way (pun not intended) for COVID-19 to run amok there.

Have great weekend. We’ll be back on Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Before we get to the links, I’d like to briefly discuss face coverings.

The COVID-19 projections by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE) have been among the most lauded from the start of this whole mess—and the people behind the projections recently added a new metric: universal mask use.

And, boy, are the results stunning.

Here in California, as of today’s reports, 5,632 people have died from COVID-19. According to the IMHE models, that number—if we keep on our current track—will double, reach 11,631, by Oct. 1.

However, if California could get “95 percent mask usage in public in every location, reaching levels seen in Singapore,” the projections show 8,745 deaths by Oct. 1.

That’s a difference of 2,886 people.

Nationwide, the model is projecting 179,106 deaths by Oct. 1. With 95 percent mask usage, the number drops to 146,047—a difference of more than 33,000 people.

While I have a feeling I’m preaching to the choir here … if any of you out there are not yet onboard with wearing masks in public, please reconsider. Please. If these numbers are anywhere near correct, many thousands of lives will be saved if we all just wear face coverings in public. If not, well, you were slightly inconvenienced.

Wear a mask, people. Please. 

Today’s links:

• Gov. Gavin Newsom said today that if county governments don’t comply with things like the face-covering mandate, the state could withhold state and federal funding that comes through the state budget. Orange County (and, to a lesser extent, our own Riverside County) should take note. 

Nevada and North Carolina are the latest states to mandate that people wear face coverings in public. To repeat: Lives. Saved.

• As COVID-19 cases rise nationally, the federal government plans on ending support of coronavirus testing sites in five states at the end of the month. Sigh.

NPR reports that contract tracing is leading to some interesting conclusions—like, for example, in Washington state, protests haven’t led to a rise in cases—but parties and other private celebrations have.

• Related: News Channel 3 took a look at local contact-tracing efforts. The county currently has 250 contact tracers on the job, and more are coming.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are requiring that people traveling there from hotspot states self-quarantine for 14 days. As of now, the list of states from which people must quarantine does NOT include California; it does include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Texas according to CNBC

• While testing capacity seems decent in the Coachella Valley, such is not the case in Los Angeles, where people are getting quite frustrated at how hard it is to make testing appointments, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Also according to the Times: I don’t necessarily agree with the paper’s characterization of Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties as “suburban,” but the paper’s assertion that we have contributed to the statewide uptick in hospitalizations is unfortunately quite accurate.

• After you read this story in The New York Times, about the steps other countries are taking to keep COVID-19 at bay, you may shake your head and wonder what could be happening in the United States under competent federal leadership. Just sayin’.

• Affirmative action has been banned in California since 1996. In November, voters will get to choose whether to remove that ban, following steps taken today by the Legislature.

The Democratic National Convention will be dramatically scaled down come August, the party announced today: While there will still be some in-person events in Milwaukee, delegates and others will be asked to stay home.

• Finally, if the rising number of COVID-19 cases is worrying you, an epidemiologist from the University of Arizona, writing for The Conversation, suggests five things you can do right now. I, for one, need to work on No. 4.

That’s enough for today. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Fight injustice. If you can afford it, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, because all this quality news we’re providing, for free to all, costs money to produce. We’ll return tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

While this Daily Digest is (for now, at least) dedicated to news about COVID-19 and the resulting societal and economic mess, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what’s going on in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, murders like that of George Floyd, at the hands of police officers, are nothing new—and until recently, police-involved deaths weren’t even properly tracked. This is something my friend and fellow journalist D. Brian Burghart discovered when he was the editor of the Reno News & Review newspaper. So he did something about it: He started tracking them—and, with grant funding, donations and a team of volunteers, created a national database of deaths, going all the way back to 2000, called Fatal Encounters.

The Independent covered Fatal Encounters back in 2016, when Burghart and his team completed California’s data set. When I talked to Brian for the story in 2016, I asked him why he thought the government hadn’t been keeping track of police deaths. An excerpt from the story:

“It’s usually just incompetence, to be honest,” he said. “Many people that I’ve talked to over the years want to find a conspiracy, but I really believe that it’s mostly government incompetence.”

California’s government has done better than most at gathering data. The state Office of the Attorney General’s “Open Justice” website offers data on deaths in custody and arrest-related deaths between 2005 and 2014. Over that period, the state database includes about 1,200 arrest-related deaths.

Over that same time period, Burghart said, Fatal Encounters has counted twice the number of deaths.

“The government tracks everything that it thinks matters. That suggests to me that the government does not believe that these deaths matter,” he said. “If a low-tech guy like me could do this, then the FBI—with millions of dollars to apply to it and super high-tech knowledge—could do it in an hour.”

Thankfully, due to Fatal Encounters, we now have a good database—which is being used by analysts and scientists to find trends and craft policy. (We actually have more than one database, including one by The Washington Post—which took Brian’s idea without credit, created an inferior-if-prettier database, and won a Pulitzer Prize for it … but that’s an annoying story for another time, preferably when bars are open again.)

Unfortunately, racism and bad cultures in some police departments remain big problems. One would presume that since most of the country has been sheltering in place for a good chunk of 2020, police-involved killings would be down this year. Right? No … they’re actually up.

Meanwhile, Brian and his team continue to update Fatal Encounters—making the data available to all. Brian tells me that as of today, the database includes 28,200 death records … with 265 known asphyxiation/restraint deaths—including the horrifying killing of George Floyd.

Today’s news links:

• This week’s edition of the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast/videocast is up! I joined Dr. Laura Rush, fabulous Stoli rep Patrik Gallineaux and hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr to talk about reopening, the virus and other pertinent things.

• Keeping with the themes of 1) all studies like this need to be taken with that gigantic grain of salt, and 2) we really know so darned little about this damned virus: A new study reveals that during a COVID-19 outbreak on a cruise ship, 80 percent of the people who had the virus were asymptomatic. Yes, 80-percent.

• The state other states should emulate regarding the response to the pandemic is … South Carolina?! Yep, at least in some ways; as The Conversation points out, South Carolina is doing a fantastic job with contact tracing.

• Wear your mask; keep social distancing; wash your hands; and realize that some California counties are actually slowing or backtracking on the reopening process because of new spikes in cases.

• Meanwhile, the Bay Area has been extra-cautious and slow regarding reopening—but today, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced plans to get the process (still slowly) moving.

• The state has called for SARS-CoV-2 testing to take place at all California nursing homes.

The maker of remdesivir gave the medicine to the federal government to distribute. Well, so far, that hasn’t gone so well, according to The Washington Post.

• Also from The Washington Post: Could Fitbits, Apple Watches and other wearable devices alert a person that they’re showing signs of COVID-19 infection? It’s a good possibility.

• Here’s an update on the complete mess that is the Pennsylvania Legislature, where at least one GOP lawmaker tested positive for the virus—and decided that was information his Democratic colleagues didn’t need to know.

• Another update: A week or so ago, we reported that the Trump administration was planning on ending the deployment of National Guard members helping in pandemic-response efforts around the country—on the day before benefits kicked in. Fortunately, the administration has changed course and announced the deployments would be extended.

Trump, as promised, signed an executive order aimed at curtailing efforts by Twitter and other social-media sources to censor him. NPR explains what this does and doesn’t mean.

• Local political types are encouraging people—even asymptomatic people—to get tested for the virus. If this is something that interests you, here’s the county’s map of state and county testing sites. The tests won’t cost you anything out of pocket—but be sure you make an appointment.

• And finally: With tongue firmly in cheek, here’s a letter from the university of your choice regarding its plans for the next semester.

That’s today’s news. Be kind. Wash your hands. Buy our splendid Coloring Book—I am mailing the next batch of orders tomorrow, so now’s the time!—and please consider supporting honest, ethical local journalism, made available for free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

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