CVIndependent

Fri11272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

SAN FRANCISCO—The walk from the apartment to the doctor’s office and back was so depressing that my husband was ready to pack up and make the 480-mile drive back to Palm Springs that night—even though we’d been in San Francisco for less than 24 hours.

“Most of the things good things about San Francisco are gone,” he said. “And all the bad things, like the homelessness, are far worse.”

Because his work requires a semi-regular presence in the San Francisco-based office when pandemics aren’t raging, my husband has a small—we’re talking 200 square feet, no kitchen, no heating or a/c, no frills at ALL—studio apartment South of Market. We had not set foot in the apartment since Jan. 22, the day after he shattered his kneecap on a rain-soaked sidewalk outside of a grocery store. He came back to Palm Springs to have surgery and recover. Had COVID-19 not showed up, he’d have been back here long before now.

A friend had been picking up his mail every couple of weeks, and did a quick clean on the refrigerator when it became apparent that Garrett’s absence would be lengthier than planned. But still, it was time for us to drive up, check things out, pick up some things, and prepare the apartment for whatever comes next. We drove up Wednesday, arriving around 10 p.m. The next day, we set out—masks on, social distancing maintained—to see what the area looked like, before Garrett’s doctor’s appointment.

What does it look like? While the neighborhoods more on the outskirts seem to be faring slightly better, the word that comes to mind regarding SoMa, Union Square the Financial District is “sad.”

Almost all of the nearby businesses, understandably, are closed. Many of them are closed for good. We went to lunch at Rocco’s, one of our neighborhood favorites. The normally bustling, iconic restaurant had been reduced to two sidewalk tables, plus takeout, open four days a week.

Garrett’s doctor’s office is near Union Square—equidistant, roughly, between the apartment and his currently shuttered office in the Financial District. So many places he knew of, had shopped at and had dined at, along that walk were no more.

The dearth of culture and commerce hit our psyches hard.

We’ve adjusted to the state of things in the Coachella Valley—I won’t say we’ve gotten used to it, because it’s still wrenching to see the pandemic’s toll on life at home. But seeing it here, another place we know and love, took us back to that horror—that pit-in-your-stomach realization that what is happening is unbelievably bad—we all felt back in March and April. Yeah, we knew San Francisco would be devastated, like everywhere else. But there’s a difference between knowing and experiencing.

We didn’t return to Palm Springs that night, but we did decide to cut our visit short. We want to be home in Palm Springs again.

Today’s news links:

• This just in from the Census folks: “An army of census takers will begin fanning out throughout Coachella Valley in Riverside County to make sure that the thousands of area residents who have not yet responded to the 2020 U.S. Census are counted. Just under two-thirds of all California households have responded online, by phone or by mail, but the response rates are significantly lower in many parts of Southern California. On the county level, response rates are only 62.3 percent in Riverside County compared to a 65 percent self-response rate across the state. Because the deadline to respond is Sept. 30, Census Bureau officials are urging households to respond before the census taker comes to your door. You can respond now by completing and mailing back the paper questionnaire you received, by responding online at 2020census.gov, or by phone at (844) 330-2020 for English, and (844) 468-2020 for Spanish. Households can respond in one of 13 languages and find assistance in many more.”

• Our nationwide testing and medical situation is such a steaming mess that it’s delaying potential COVID-19 treatments. Key depressing quote, from The New York Times: Researchers at a dozen clinical trial sites said that testing delays, staffing shortages, space constraints and reluctant patients were complicating their efforts to test monoclonal antibodies, man-made drugs that mimic the molecular soldiers made by the human immune system. As a result, once-ambitious deadlines are slipping. The drug maker Regeneron, which previously said it could have emergency doses of its antibody cocktail ready by the end of summer, has shifted to talking about how “initial data” could be available by the end of September. And Eli Lilly’s chief scientific officer said in June that its antibody treatment might be ready in September, but in an interview this week, he said he now hopes for something before the end of the year.”

• Also in the “national steaming mess” category: that’s what the Trump administration is trying to turn the U.S. Post Office into. Example No. 1. According to CNBC, the USPS has been “warning states that it cannot guarantee all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted in the presidential race.” Example No. 2: The post office is removing sorting machines and either removing or moving all sorts of mailboxes

• Let’s keep the “national steaming mess” theme going! Here’s a lede from The Wall Street Journal: “Public release of hospital data about the coronavirus pandemic has slowed to a crawl, one month after the federal government ordered states to report it directly to the Department of Health and Human Services and bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Sigh.

The CDC recently updated guidelines to say that people who have recovered coronavirus will likely have immunity for three months. However, as CNN points out, this might not be true for everyone. It’s also true that most recoverees might have immunity for much longer. But nobody knows for sure. Got all that?

You know who’s not struggling during this pandemic? Health insurers! In fact, they’re raking in massive, record profits.

• A new study out of USC shows that in many COVID-19 patients, the symptoms show up in a specific ordera discovery that could help lead to earlier detection of the disease

• MedPage Today reports that concerns over myocarditis—a potentially serious heart condition that is related to COVID-19—was one of the driving factors in some conferences delaying or cancelling the college football season. Key quote: “At a Thursday telebriefing hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) chief medical officer said he was aware of 12 recent myocarditis cases affecting NCAA athletes.

• OK, let’s switch to better news for a bit: You can probably stop worrying about getting the coronavirus from food or food packaging, according to the World Health Organization.

• Two related stories: First, The Conversation explains how rapid COVID-19 tests—with results given in minutes—could help us solve this damn thing, even if the tests aren’t as accurate. Second, Reuters offers details on a saliva test being developed at an Israeli hospital that would do just that.

• The pandemic’s consequences have affected the way people cope with other diseases. A professor at North Carolina State University, writing for The Conversation, details how it’s affected her battle with bulimia.

The Atlantic did a fascinating story examining the various Wikipedia edits that were made, or were attempted, on Kamala Harris’ page regarding her race. Ugh.

• I was NOT a guest on this week’s episode of the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr. But Nino Eilets, Dr. Laura Rush and writer/director Del Shores were. Check it out.

• The U.S. 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California’s ban on high-capacity gun magazines is unconstitutional. Wait, isn’t the 9th Circuit supposed to be relentlessly leftist?

• Finally, CNN looks at yet another casualty of the pandemic (and the cheapness of some of the country’s biggest newspaper companies): The newsroom is going the way of the dodo.

That’s the news of the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Enjoy life. And please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means and like what we do. Have a great weekend; the Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Let’s jump right into today’s news, because there sure is a lot of it:

Our partners at CalMatters look at Sen. Kamala Harris—soon to be the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, as you may have heard—and her distinctively Californian roots. Key quote: “Born and bused to school in Berkeley, tested by San Francisco’s cut-throat municipal politics and propelled onto the national stage as the state’s top law enforcement officer and then its first female senator of color, Harris’ approach to politics and policymaking were honed here.”

• MedPage Today explains the hopes doctors have for something called a vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) called RLF-100 as a coronavirus treatment. The VIP was first developed 50 years ago—and this could be its shining moment.

• More encouraging news, this time out of USCF: Scientists there are touting the results of a study of a nasal spray that apparently blocks SARS-CoV-2. Once manufactured, it could be sold in stores—and offer serious protection from the virus.

Is it possible previous immunizations are protecting some people from COVID-19? While that figurative jury remains out, it’s indeed possible, according to researchers interviewed by CNN.

We’ll just leave this MedPage Today study headline and subheadline right here: ‘Widespread COVID-19 Outbreak at Georgia Camp Raises Concerns About Reopening Schools; 76% SARS-CoV-2 positivity rate suggests kids are ‘efficient transmitters.’

• According to the Los Angeles Times, proper state stockpiles of masks and other personal protective equipment could have saved at least 15,800 essential workers from getting COVID-19and could have saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment claims, per a study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

An epidemiologist, writing for The Conversation, got sick with COVID-19 back in March, and is still dealing with symptoms more than four months later. She discusses the research being done on people like her—who call themselves “long-haulers.”

COVID-19 case rates have been steadily declining in the U.S. for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, so has the volume of testing—meaning we don’t know for sure whether progress is actually being made. Sigh.

The Washington Post reports on a Duke University study on the effectiveness of masks. Key takeaways: The more layers, the better—and neck gaiters may actually make matters worse.

Russia became the first country to register a COVID-19 vaccine—even though scientists are skeptical, because the vaccine has not gone through all the proper clinical trials and tests. CNBC explains the Russians’ justification for the early registry: They were working on the vaccine long before this particular coronavirus came along.

• Sort-of related: The feds have announced yet another deal for 100 million vaccine doses, from yet another manufacturer, for yet more billions of dollars.

• Horrifically, the outbreak at San Quentin State Prison has become a real-time test of the achievability of herd immunityand, as the Los Angeles Times points out, so far, the results are not good.

• During normal economic downturns, people tend to spend less on their pets. However, the exact opposite has happened this year: Veterinarians’ business is booming, according to The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/10/upshot/pets-health-boom-coronavirus.html

• Even though there is a residential eviction moratorium in the state, people are still being evicted from their homes—including many here in Riverside County. From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: “More than 1,600 California households … have been evicted since Newsom declared a statewide state of emergency on March 4, according to data CalMatters obtained via public record requests from more than 40 California sheriffs’ departments. Nearly a third of those evictions took place after Newsom’s March 19 shelter-in-place order, and more than 400 since Newsom issued a self-described March 27 “eviction moratorium.” 

• Medical experts are justifiably worried about the potential double-whammy of influenza and COVID-19 during the upcoming flu season. However, SFGate points out that the flu season has been mercifully light in the Southern Hemisphere, thanks to mask usage and more people getting flu shots.

What are the odds of contracting COVID-19 on an airplane flight? According to a preliminary study by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they’re pretty darned low.

• The New York Times reports that “bars and restaurants have become a focal point for clusters of COVID infections.” Fortunately, the story is mostly talking about indoor dining—not outdoor, as is allowed here. Key quote: “’As of recently, we still hadn’t traced a major U.S. outbreak of any sort to an outdoor exposure,’ Lindsey Leininger, a health policy researcher and a clinical professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, said.

The Wall Street Journal examines the supply-chain shortages that continue to keep supermarket shelves emptier than normal.

• Meanwhile, in Florida, a sheriff has prohibited his deputies and visitors to his department from wearing masks. Correct, he will not ALLOW people to wear masks. It would be irresponsible for me to engage in speculation regarding what inadequacies Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods’ may be overcompensating for here to make such an overwrought move.

After losing a critical court case over whether its drivers should be classified as employees or independent contractors, Uber’s CEO said today that the company may need to temporarily suspend operations in California.

• The New York Times examines the current state-by-state status of voting by mail. The good news: people in 42 states, representing 76 percent of voters, can vote by mail without an excuse. The bad … well, there’s that other 24 percent.

• Every summer, the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce holds its Taste of Summer Rancho Mirage fundraiser. It works like this: You buy a wristband for $10 from a charity that gets to keep that $10; that wristband gets you deals at participating Rancho Mirage restaurants. This year’s fundraiser was delayed a bit because of, well, you know, but the revamped “Take Out” Taste of Summer starts Aug. 17. Get the details here.

At more than 20 links, that’s enough news for the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. If you’re able, please consider throwing a few bucks our way to the Independent can keep doing what we do, and making it free to everyone. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

To properly explain how our cat, Buster, is hanging out at Dodger Stadium at a time when we are unable to do so, we need to start the story in June 2006.

We were living in Tucson, Ariz., and it had been about a year since my cat, Beavis, had died. After serious negotiations with my then-boyfriend (and now-husband), Garrett, we decided it was time to bring another feline into our lives. One weekend, we headed to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona to meet some of the cats and kittens up for adoption. I was looking at a cute little grey furball when Garrett pointed to a cage containing two orange-and-white male kittens, about six weeks old. One of the kittens, then named Yoda—presumably because of the tufts of white hair sprouting out his ears—was nervously sitting in the back of his cage. The other, then named Kiku, was hanging on the wire door, mewling his extreme displeasure at anyone and everyone who passed by.

“If we get two cats, they won’t be alone when we’re not home,” Garrett said.

So we went over to meet them. Yoda remained nervous. When picked up Kiku to give him a look, he reached out and clawed my upper lip.

“Handsome, you’re going to be paying for that for the rest of your life,” I said.

After they received the requisite neutering and vaccinations, we took Yoda and Kiku home. Yoda became Maeby, and Kiku became Buster. (I was a big Arrested Development fan at the time.) As beloved pets do, Maeby and Buster became family.

Maeby, the fluffier one, transformed from a skittish, nervous kitten into, no exaggeration, the sweetest creature I have encountered on this planet. He exuded joy—whenever someone picked him up, he’d reflexively begin kneading with happiness—and loved being social whenever friends would come over. He enjoyed playing fetch, but we had to be careful when taking him outside, because he could escape from any harness placed upon him.

Buster, the shorter-haired one, turned into the alpha of the pack—at least in his own mind. While he and Maeby adored each other, he’d chew off Maeby’s whiskers when we weren’t looking. He could be just as loving and as social as Maeby, but he was also perfectly happy to hang out by himself, whereas Maeby wanted attention whenever possible. Buster had one obsession—bugs. Whenever one was spotted inside the house, it would demand his rapt attention.

In early 2013, we had decided to move to Palm Springs; this meant uprooting Buster and Maeby from the only home they had known. While they HATED the car trip here—they always hated car trips, associating them with vet visits—they settled into their new home in Palm Springs nicely. However, several months after the move, Maeby got very ill—he had an impacted hairball in his colon. He was also given another diagnosis: He was in the early stages of kidney disease.

After emergency surgery and a short hospital stay, Maeby came home and fully recovered—although we were told to shave his gorgeous fur to cut down on the chances of a recurrence. While he didn’t care much for the clipper jobs, they didn’t ruin his happy, ever-loving nature. He remained his sweet self until suffering an apparent stroke. In 2015, at the age of 9, our Maeby passed away.

Maeby’s death transformed Buster. While his base personality remained the same, and he still had occasional moments of solitude, he became an attention freak: When he was in the mood, he insisted on attention. If there was a lap open, he was on it, and if there wasn’t a lap open, he would wait, not-so-patiently, until there was. The picture posted here was taken one night as he waited for me to finish dinner so he could have access to my lap—and, more importantly, get belly rubs

Shortly after Maeby’s passing, Buster, too, was diagnosed with early-stage kidney disease. But as of his regular checkup last March—right as the world was shutting down—his kidney levels were OK, and his overall health was good.

Buster was quite happy with the lockdown, because it meant that both of his dads were working from home and rarely went anywhere—meaning he got more attention, belly rubs and snuggles.

Early in the summer, we noticed that Buster was getting skinnier. His food bowl didn’t empty as quickly as before, and as the days passed, it started barely emptying at all. While Buster was as loving—and insistent on belly rubs—as ever, he had moments of lethargy. The final straw came when we noticed he wasn’t cleaning his fur as well as he always had: It was time to subject our 14-year-old Buster to the cross-town car trip to the vet. (Our cats went to Banfield Pet Hospital; shortly after Buster’s March visit, they closed down the nearby Palm Springs location, meaning we had to drive him to Palm Desert.)

We dropped him off on the morning of Friday, July 24; several hours later, the vet called with the news: His kidney levels were off the charts. Buster was very sick. He had only a few days left, and he could start having seizures at any time.

We had a brief discussion, and decided that it was time to let Buster go. We told the vet we’d return to say goodbye.


One of the most awful things about this damned pandemic is that it’s robbed us of our coping devices—the things we use to deal with the travails life brings us. Going to the gym, happy hour with friends, a summer vacation … nope, not possible right now.

The timing of Buster’s death coincided with the blessed return of one of my coping devices: baseball. I am a huge Los Angeles Dodgers fan. In normal times, I watch at least half of the team’s games on TV, and I try to get to Dodger Stadium once or twice a year to take in a game.

While Major League Baseball is back (at least as of this writing … you never know what COVID-19 has in store for the future), it’s different. Some of the rules have been changed; players are asked to keep their distance from each other in the dugout; and, most notably, there are no fans in the stands.

Well, actually, there are fans … sort of.

The Dodgers, as well as other teams, are allowing people to purchase fan cutouts, which are then placed in seats at the stadium. (Fun fact: A cutout of the eponymous corpse from Weekend at Bernie’s currently sits behind home plate at Kansas City Royals games.) In the Dodgers’ case, all of the proceeds, except for the $11.25 value of the cutout, go to the nonprofit Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

The Dodgers aren’t just allowing human cutouts at the stadium; they’re allowing pets, too. So … because we can’t go to Dodger games in person this year, and because the bulk of the $149 fee goes to a good cause, we decided to send Buster, in cutout form, to Dodger Stadium on our behalf.

On Saturday, Aug. 8, as we watched the Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants on TV, we spotted Buster in the stands. The sight led to biggest smile I’ve had on my face since March.

Published in Pets

Jamie Burson didn’t want her 11-year-old son to discover how frightened she really was about the novel coronavirus. But it’s hard to mask anxiety when you’re living and sleeping together in the same car.

After Burson was evicted from her two-bedroom apartment in Vacaville during the second week of April, she heeded Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to shelter in place by cooping up in a two-door sedan near her Walmart job. With school campuses shuttered, her son propped his school-issued laptop on top of the glove box and attended class in the same passenger seat in which he slept.

It helped that he could occasionally spend a night at a relative’s or friend’s house, although Burson hesitated to ask to sleep there herself, partly out of fear of the virus.

“I was scared because of how many people were dying on a daily basis,” said Burson, who was evicted for a late February rent payment. “Made me feel like mankind was going to go extinct. I’ve never lived to see any type of disease take people out the way this one has.”

More than 1,600 California households like Burson’s have been evicted since Newsom declared a statewide state of emergency on March 4, according to data CalMatters obtained via public record requests from more than 40 California sheriffs’ departments. Nearly a third of those evictions took place after Newsom’s March 19 shelter-in-place order, and more than 400 since Newsom issued a self-described March 27 “eviction moratorium.”

The 1,600 evictions are likely a significant undercount of how many renters have been forced to leave their homes since the pandemic struck, as both court-sanctioned and informal evictions often do not show up on the sheriffs’ lockout lists obtained by CalMatters. Additionally, sheriffs’ departments in 14 counties did not respond to data requests; more than 14 million Californians live in those counties, including Los Angeles County, with 10 million residents.

Newsom’s moratorium—which tenant groups criticized as belated and inadequate—focused on delaying eviction cases related to financial hardship from the pandemic until May 31. An April 6 emergency rule passed by the Judicial Council, the governing body for the state court system, went further, halting nearly all eviction-court proceedings in California.

But neither Newsom’s executive orders nor the Judicial Council rule addressed a major subset of eviction cases: tenants like Burson, who’d already lost in court, often for missed rent payments in February or March, and were simply waiting on sheriffs’ deputies to lock them out. Federal eviction moratoria also did not stop these evictions.

As state lawmakers scramble to find a solution for a looming “eviction wave” when courts reopen as early as this month, tenant groups and public-health experts warn that the loophole in state protections continues to endanger renters who may become homeless or move into unsafe and overcrowded housing.

Just last week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department resumed serving its backlog of nearly 1,000 scheduled eviction lockouts, even as the county remains on a state watchlist for surging coronavirus cases. When performing eviction lockouts in the past few months, San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies encountered two separate households where tenants claimed they were quarantining because of COVID-19, according to a sheriff’s spokesperson. Those households were allowed to complete their quarantine before being evicted.

“(These evictions) could have been prevented, and it really is distressing to hear that this many people have been evicted when we have these shelter-in-place orders,” said Madeline Howard, senior staff attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which has lobbied for tighter eviction protections during the pandemic.


Unclear Authority

Burson now stays in a one-bedroom motel room in Fairfield, paid for by a temporary Solano County homelessness program. She’s unsure where she’ll live once the program ends this week.

She was evicted because of a late February rent payment, lost the eviction lawsuit by default when she says she misunderstood how to respond within the legally required five-day window, and was given until early April to vacate the property. She left before she thought law enforcement was scheduled to lock her out.

While she understands that it was technically within her landlord’s right to kick her out, she wonders why the eviction wasn’t postponed.

“Why wasn’t everything set aside, period?” said Burson, who had been living in the Vacaville apartment more than a year.

ROEM Development Corporation, owner of the apartment complex from which Burson was evicted, and FPI Management, the building’s property management company, did not respond to requests for comment.

Upon being informed by CalMatters that Burson was no longer occupying the apartment, Todd Rothbard, the landlord attorney who represented ROEM in the eviction lawsuit, said his firm would consider no longer contesting a legal motion Burson had filed to remove the eviction from her record. Evictions stay on tenant records for seven years, and can make it very difficult for renters to find another place to live.

Although Rothbard sympathizes with some tenants, he pushed back on the notion that Burson should not have been evicted in the first place.

“Life can be hard,” Rothbard said. “To the extent people need help, it’s nice to see when society is able to provide help. But it is somewhat unfair to say to a landlord who is in business, ‘Hey, it’s now your obligation to support this person.’ Because it’s not.”

Rothbard also said Newsom and the Judicial Council have already overstepped their constitutional powers with the eviction protections they’ve mandated. Instructing sheriffs to not perform eviction lockouts would likely be challenged in court.

Some constitutional-law experts say it’s at best unclear what is and isn’t within Newsom’s power when it comes to “enforcing writs” in eviction cases—legalese for court orders to sheriffs’ departments to perform lockouts. Separation of powers between the court system and the executive branch complicate his authority.

“While a governor possesses broad authority under the Emergency Services Act to respond to the pandemic, directing county sheriffs to disobey or slow-walk lawful court orders is beyond a governor’s emergency powers,” said Stephen Duvernay, a senior research fellow at UC Berkeley’s California Constitution Center.

But pro-tenant attorneys disagree, arguing Newsom has remarkable powers during public emergencies—powers they urged the governor to deploy in early March as the first reports of hospitalizations and deaths mounted.

Navneet Grewal, litigation counsel for Disability Rights California, said there was nothing legally restraining Newsom from ordering sheriffs to stop performing evictions for cases that pre-dated the pandemic. Newsom had included such a provision in one of his executive orders, although it only applied to cases where tenants could demonstrate financial hardship because of the virus.

“I think part of the unique thing here really is that there is no precedent of the situation that we’re in,” Grewal said. “There’s clearly a lot of broad powers to deal with emergencies; we just haven’t had an emergency like this in our lifetime.”

The Newsom administration declined multiple requests for comment.

Tenant groups also approached Attorney General Xavier Becerra to intervene.

“The reports of ongoing evictions in communities across the state and in the midst of the public health crisis are profoundly troubling,” Becerra’s press office said in an emailed statement. “Our office does not have the authority to direct sheriffs to refuse to comply with lawful orders issued by courts hearing eviction cases.”

But pro-tenant lawyers say Becerra is constitutionally empowered to oversee how local law enforcement executes court orders.

“I think the attorney general seems to have some priorities that are focused on dealing with the Trump administration, which are obviously very important,” Howard said. “But some of these very important issues are not getting addressed.”


Sheriff Choices

On the morning of March 19, Sgt. Lydia Montoya anxiously awaited an announcement from the governor. She had heard news reports that a shelter-in-place order was coming.

The civil unit she oversees at the Kings County Sheriff’s Department had performed three evictions already that day, which they believed they were legally obligated to carry out. But Montoya and other officers in the department harbored concerns about the potential health risks—to the community and the deputies themselves—of pushing renters onto the street.

When Newsom issued the shelter-in-place order that afternoon, Montoya believed she had the legal justification she needed to stop evicting people. Conferring with a county attorney and the publicly elected sheriff, the department decided to stop performing eviction lockouts except in emergency cases that threatened public health and safety. Six evictions on their calendar have been indefinitely postponed. If the shelter-in-place order had come a day earlier, so would the three performed the morning of the 19th. 

“The (shelter-in-place) order implies that it is a public safety issue to have people out and about,” said Montoya, who also supplied her deputies with handmade masks before her department acquired personal protective equipment. “And certainly evicting people, them out and about looking for rentals or whatnot, or making them homeless, is not in line with his shelter-in-place order.”

But not every California sheriff’s department shared Kings County’s interpretation of the governor’s executive order. Without clear guidance from the state, individual sheriffs’ departments were left to choose whether to continue with evictions already on their lockout calendars.

Many did just that. According to data obtained by CalMatters, three counties in the Inland Empire and Central Valley led the pack: San Bernardino, with 135 evictions since shelter-in-place; Riverside, with 93; and Kern County, with 68.

“It was a combination of considerations looking at both sides, obviously with the stay-at-home orders as well as the other side of the actual landlords and the people that own the property and their ability to make rent, pay bills and things like that,” said Adam Plugge, a commander at the Kern County Sheriff’s Office that oversees its eviction unit.

After Kern County sheriff’s deputies paused lockouts in late March, Plugge said his department fielded phone calls and emails from frustrated landlords and attorneys, including those referred his way from local elected officials. The lockouts resumed in April.

Plugge said that an explicit directive from the state would have avoided considerable confusion.

“It would have made decisions a lot easier to decide whether or not something could be done, and I think it would have been clearer for the public as well going forward in any shape, fashion or form,” Plugge said.


Evicting Without Masks

On July 1, deputies from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department showed up at 7886 Myrtle Avenue in Eureka to tell Ernie Bull and Mary Wildman the two had to leave.

Bull, 59, had lost a dispute with his stepbrother about who should inherit the property he had been living at with his late father and stepmother. Bull said he missed a key court date because he accidentally dialed into the wrong Zoom number for a remote court hearing. Humboldt County Superior Court had stopped in-person hearings because of coronavirus.

A group of Wildman’s friends were there to help them with the move. While some of their friends wore masks, Bull and Wildman didn’t—and neither did the sheriff’s deputies who came to evict them.

“If we can socially distance six feet away, then we’re not going to wear a mask,” said Lt. Mike Fridley, who oversees the department’s eviction unit.

While he couldn’t speak to the specifics of Bull and Wildman’s eviction, Fridley said that his deputies carry masks with them and can put them on at their own discretion. Wearing masks makes it difficult for the deputies to use their radios, he said.

Like most sheriffs’ departments, Humboldt County deputies typically perform multiple lockouts on the same day at different addresses. On the day they evicted Bull and Wildman, three other addresses were scheduled for lockouts, according to sheriff’s department documents.

Asked if he believed there was a health risk in performing multiple evictions on the same day, Fridley said: “I wouldn’t see any more risk than five people going to the cashier’s line in Costco.”

Dr. Margot Kushel, director at the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, said she knows of no documented case of sheriffs’ deputies spreading coronavirus through eviction lockouts. But she does fear a “nightmare scenario.”

“If you had a situation where there was a group of deputies going into different people’s households in a highly charged atmosphere, where people might be upset and might be yelling, I think you could potentially have risks for both the deputies going in and for the households being evicted,” Kushel said.

Other sheriffs’ departments interviewed for this story say they require deputies to wear protective gear while performing lockouts.

Neither Bull nor Wildman—who has kidney problems—have shown symptoms of the coronavirus since the eviction. Wildman has been staying at a friend’s place, while Bull has slept outside.

“I want to stay away from people. I’m scared,” said Bull. “I gotta admit, I’m scared.”


Landlord costs

Of course, keeping tenants in a unit for multiple months while they can’t pay rent has a cost. For Karen Clark, that cost is $10,000—and the fear of falling behind on her mortgage.

Clark, who owns and lives in a triplex in walking distance from the University of Southern California, rents one of her units to a single father and his twin teenage daughters. She was charging $2,400 for the unit—a deal she said was well below market value for the three-bed, three-bath home near downtown Los Angeles.

“I just really liked them, and I wanted to help them,” said Clark, who preferred the stability of renting to families instead of students.

Her tenant began to fall behind in his rent payments last fall when his catering business began to decline, according to Clark. Then COVID-19 hit this spring—evaporating most of what remained of her tenant’s income and, along with it, the rent.

Clark said she had seriously considered evicting the tenant in March, but never filed the necessary paperwork with a court. Now those courts are closed to new eviction cases, and Clark said she has been digging into her savings to pay for utilities and other costs. She has explored forbearance options on her mortgage, but was scared of the prospect of a lump-sum payment due at the end of the forbearance period.

“I don’t know what to do,” said Clark, who has kept her job working at City National Bank during the pandemic. “I’ve got to get my cash back. I went through some of my savings; now I’m robbing other bills. It’s just not gonna give forever.”

Clark helps financially support her son and grandchild in Oregon, and rents her other unit to her daughter and son-in-law. When courts resume eviction proceedings, she plans on filing.


Stopgap Measures

While sheriffs’ departments across the state continue evictions for cases that pre-date the pandemic, Newsom and state lawmakers are scrambling to head off what experts say is a looming “eviction wave” of tenants who have lost their income because of COVID-19. A UC Berkeley analysis found that as of June, nearly 1 million heads of households who rent in California lost their job because of COVID-19.

Two proposals to compensate landlords and prevent more evictions are making their way through the Legislature, but both face daunting questions about how they’ll actually work.

California State Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who chairs the state Judicial Council, said the state court system could resume eviction proceedings as early as Aug. 14. If tenants contest them, proceedings can take weeks. Because supplemental federal unemployment benefits of $600 per week expired last month, tenants’ groups fear swelling ranks of renters unable to afford a roof over their heads.

Unless the state intervenes or a new round of federal support is extended, 24-year old Gabriella Aldana is one of those at-risk renters, and could be evicted for the second time since the virus hit California.

Just before 10 a.m. on March 26, three Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies banged on Aldana’s front door. None of the deputies wore a mask, she said, and they told her she had to leave the premises with her two children, ages 6 and 3. The family was permitted to take only what they could carry.

Aldana, then two months pregnant, and her two children piled what they could into her 2013 Honda Accord and drove off into a pandemic at a time when public health officials didn’t know much about the virus.

She left her job at Walmart, she said, over fears of infecting her daughters or complicating her own pregnancy. The night of her eviction, she stayed in a hotel, then moved in for a few days with her parents. She eventually found a studio apartment for the April for $1,170. After that, they moved into a two-bedroom duplex in downtown Riverside. The new place is beyond their current means, but also the only place that would accept Aldana, who said she has bad credit. She has survived on unemployment benefits and, especially, the $600 weekly federal unemployment boost.

If the federal unemployment boost isn’t renewed by late August, Aldana and her children will likely once more be evicted. Even if she gets one of the jobs she’s interviewed for recently, her monthly take-home pay after taxes would be about $1,600. Her rent is $1,595.

“I have some savings to cover some of (rent) next month; I might look for a roommate if the job doesn’t come through and the (federal unemployment benefits) goes away,” Aldana said. “I have to start looking for all of that because now it’s just me.”

Ben Christopher contributed to this article. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

Published in Local Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh, this goddamned pandemic.

Today’s news links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More news links :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's fresh and fruity weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen ponders the desires of Senate Republicans; The K Chronicles enjoys a quarantine dream about a frozen-foods empire; This Modern World looks at election reassurances from the Trump administration; Red Meat visits a mobile dermatologist; and Apoca Clips features Li'l Trumpy's musings on likability.

Published in Comics

If your anxiety and/or depression levels were high this weekend, you were not alone.

More than a handful of people have told me were out of sorts this weekend—something that I, too, experienced. I suspect the extreme heat and at-times apocalyptic-looking skies due to the fires had something to do with it.

Despite the bleakness … at least as far as the coronavirus goes, there are signs that we’re making progress at flattening that pesky, pain-in-the-ass curve once more.

Consider:

Eisenhower Medical Center posted on Friday: “We are seeing a sustained 14-day decline in our percent positivity rate, and a corresponding decline in hospitalizations.” Indeed, hospitalizations at all of the valley’s hospitals have been steadily decreasing.

• Other parts of Southern California are seeing improvements, too. Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County public health director said today: “We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re getting back on track to slowing the spread of COVID-19. I want to emphasize the word ‘cautiously.’” 

The same goes for the state as a whole. “California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at his Monday press briefing more tests are being done, but the percentage of people testing positive is going down. The 14-day positivity rate is 7 percent compared to 7.5 percent a week ago,” according to SFGate.

We’re nowhere near the end of this thing … but it seems we’re heading in a better direction than we were a couple of weeks ago.

More news links:

Here’s the latest District 4 from the county. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley, as well as points eastward.) Hospitalizations are down, as mentioned above, but the positivity rate remains too darned high. Worst of all: 20 of our neighbors died in the last week.

• There is an increasing amount of discussion about what will happen if a vaccine is ready to go. However, this positive comes with a big, honking negative: Nobody’s quite sure how a vaccine-distribution effort’s going to take place. The Washington Post today cited a number of people, from scientists to governors, who are concerned the federal government may not be up to the task. Key quote: “‘This is a slow-motion train wreck,’ said one state official who has been involved in planning efforts and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. The official pointed in particular to the administration’s botched rollout of remdesivir, an antiviral medication that is one of the only approved treatments for covid-19 patients. ‘There’s certainly a lot of concern, and not being able to plan creates a significant amount of confusion,’ the official said.”

• Related: The New York Times reported that more and more doctors are worried that the Trump administration may rush a vaccine—to make it available before Election Day—before it’s been proven to be safe and effective.

• And here’s another dose of cold, hard reality: The World Health Organization today reminded everyone that a great vaccine is no sure thing. Key quote, from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials, and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection. However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment—and there might never be.”

• In other parts of the country, schools are beginning to reopen—and things aren’t necessarily going well. The Associated Press headline: “Parents struggle as schools reopen amid coronavirus surge.

Four former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration today co-wrote a piece for The Washington Post saying that the use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, according to the headline, “might be the treatment we need.” They wrote: “We need a concerted effort to collect blood plasma, along with clinical trials to determine when its benefits outweigh the risks so we can treat the right people at the right time. With that evidence in hand, we need to maintain a highly synchronized distribution system to get the plasma to the right health-care facilities in a timely and equitable way.”

• Sigh. The Center for Public Integrity reports that many businesses have been illegally denying paid sick leave to COVID-19-stricken workers: “Hundreds of U.S. businesses have been cited for illegally denying paid leave to workers during the pandemic, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. As of June 12, nearly 700 companies had violated the law’s paid-leave provisions and owed back wages to hundreds of employees, according to Labor Department records. Violators include six McDonald’s franchises and the franchise owners of a Comfort Suites, Courtyard by Marriott and Red Roof Inn.”

Eli Lilly announced today it’s starting a late-stage trial—among people who live in or work at nursing homes—on an experimental COVID-19 antibody treatment to see if it can prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

It’s time to check your hand sanitizers: The FDA now has a list of more than 100 types that need to be avoided—either because they’re dangerous, or they don’t include enough alcohol to be effective.

NBC News published a sobering story today about how systemic racism remains pervasive in the housing market.

The San Francisco Chronicle looked at the mess that is California’s unemployment system—officially known as the Employment Development Department—and what lawmakers are talking about doing to fix it. “More than a million jobless Californians are in limbo, desperately seeking unemployment benefits. That includes 889,000 who may be eligible for benefits with additional information, and 239,000 whose cases are pending resolution, according to a letter EDD Director Sharon Hilliard sent to her boss, Labor Secretary Julie Su, (last) Wednesday.” The Chronicle also included a list of 12 tips that may help people get the benefits they need.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise looked at how the county’s small-business grant awarding process was going; the application period for the $10,000 grants remains open through Aug. 31. Businesses must have 50 or fewer employees; they must have been harmed by the pandemic financially; and they can’t have received Paycheck Protection Act funding. (Full disclosure: We learned over the weekend that the Independent was awarded one of these grants.)

• The Apple Fire, which continues to threaten homes and is only 5 percent contained, was started by the exhaust of a malfunctioning diesel-fueled vehicle, CAL FIRE announced today.

• Depressingly related: Two Purdue University environmental engineers, writing for The Conversation, offer tips on what communities can do to protect themselves from drinking-water systems that become polluted in the aftermath of a wildfire—as happened following the terrible Northern California fires in 2017 and 2018.

• Is it safe to play college football this fall? A number of Pac-12 players issued a letter via The Players Tribune over the weekend, demanding more COVID-19 safety regulations. That’s not all; the players also said athletic programs should protect other sports programs by “reduc(ing) excessive pay” of coaches and administrators, and demanded that the league take steps to end racial injustice in college sports. If these steps aren’t taken, players may opt out of playing.

• Members of the local LGBTQ community, take note: Our friends at Gay Desert Guide are hosting a ton of virtual events during these dog days of summer, including comedy shows, scavenger hunts and speed-dating events. The first one is tomorrow at 7 p.m., when Shann Carr hosts Big Gay Trivia! A small fee ($10 or so) applies for most events; get all the details here.

That’s plenty for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. If you appreciate honest local journalism, and have a few bucks to spare, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Stay safe, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

Earlier this week, we asked you, our amazing readers, to answer a short, six-question survey about this Daily Digest—and more than 200 of you took the time to do so. We thank all of you who did.

Here are some takeaways:

• The majority of you (53.8 percent) said you preferred getting the Daily Digest three days per week—while 36.3 percent said you’d ideally like to receive it five times per week. However, some of the comments led us to believe that a lot of you who said you preferred three days per week did so because we talked about the time constraints we were under. So, moving forward, we’ll continue to do the Digest at least three days per week.

• More than 61.3 percent of you said you’d like the Daily Digest to include all news, not just COVID-19-related news. Therefore, in the coming weeks, we’ll broaden the range of news links included.

• The vast majority of you said exceedingly nice things about the digest’s tone and construction. We thank you all for that; we don’t plan on changing much there.

• The biggest complaint about the Daily Digest was the fact that some links are to publications with metered pay walls—meaning you can only read so many articles for free until you’re forced to subscribe. Unfortunately … there’s nothing we can do about this. We’ll do our best to link to as many free news sources as possible—but since some of the country’s best news sources have paywalls (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, etc.), they’re unavoidable. We know we’re largely preaching to the choir here, but it’s worth repeating: Good writing and reporting costs money to produce. That means the aforementioned news sources have every right to ask people to pay for it.

• This leads us to the Independent’s Supporters of the Independent program. First: Thanks again to all of you who have, will and/or continue to support us. It’s appreciated, and it’s helping us keep the figurative lights on. Second: To those of you who said you want to support us, but don’t know how, click on this sentence to go to our Supporters page. We use PayPal, so it’s easy to do. Third: To those of you who expressed guilt about being unable to support us financially: Please do not feel guilty. Times are tough—as tough as they’ve been since the Great Depression. We understand, and that’s why we make our publication, both online and print, free to everyone. When the time comes that you have a few bucks to truly spare, then please consider supporting us—but don’t sweat it until that happy time comes.

• Some of you said you didn’t know much about the Independent and/or the primary writer of this here Daily Digest. Well, here’s a quick primer I, Jimmy Boegle, wrote back in May. If you’re unfamiliar with our print version, here’s our entire archive—all 85 editions going back to our first one in April 2013. And, of course, all of our content going back to our first postings in October 2012 can be found at CVIndependent.com.

Thank you yet again to all of you who responded. If you have questions or concerns I didn’t address here, send me an email, and I’ll be happy to answer. And finally, to all of you. Thanks for reading. That’s why we do what we do.

Enough yammering about ourselves. Here’s the news of the day:

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week. I joined hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr to talk to Dr. Laura Rush and Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors. Other guests joined the podcast as well; check it out!

• We previously mentioned that the city of Palm Springs had said that bars (serving food) and restaurants in the city (currently operating only outdoors) have to close at 11 p.m. for the time being. Well, after receiving some complaints, the city has extended that closure time to midnight.

RIP, Herman Cain. The former GOP presidential candidate and COVID-19/mask-wearing skeptic, who attended President Donald Trump’s infamous rally in Tulsa, died yesterday at the age of 74 due to the virus.

• It’s official: The national economy during the second quarter suffered from an unprecedented collapse due to the coronavirus and the resulting shutdowns.

• Wisconsin yesterday became the latest state to require that people wear face masks in public. However, Republicans in the state Legislature there seem determined to strike down Gov. Tony Evers’ order. Sigh.

Vanity Fair published something of a bombshell yesterday, saying that a team led by Jared Kushner had developed a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan—but it was shelved, in part, because the coronavirus then was primarily hitting Democratic-led states.

• Please pay attention to this, folks, as it’s really important: U.S. Postal Service backlogs continue to amount, as the Trump administration attacks and starves the agency in multiple waysand this could cause huge problems with mail ballots during the election.

• Pay attention to this, too: The U.S. Census Bureau is being pressured by the Trump administration to wrap up the oh-so-important once-a-decade count earlysomething that has Democrats rather alarmed.

A sad milestone: For the first confirmed time, a Californian under the age of 18 has died from the coronavirus.

• Listen to the president! Yes, really, in this instance: On the heels of reports that the FDA is getting ready to allow a more-widespread use of convalescent blood plasma to treat COVID-19 patients, President Trump yesterday encouraged people who had recovered from COVID-19 to donate.

Got goggles? Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended wearing them in addition to a face covering, if possible, to offer more protection from this nasty virus.

• The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the first wave of lawsuits being filed against employers who allegedly did not do all they could to protect their employees from SARS-CoV-2.

An NPR investigation found that a multi-million dollar contract the Trump administration awarded to a company to collect COVID-19 data from hospitals—something the CDC had already been doing capably—raises a whole lot of alarming questions.

• The $600 in extra unemployment benefits from the federal government is expiring, in large part due to claims that it’s acted as a disincentive for people to go back to work. However, a new Yale study indicates that those claims are not based in reality.

• The government has 44 million N95 masks stockpiled, with another half-billion on order. However, those masks aren’t getting to the professionals who need them in a prompt manner. Key quote: “It’s like we’re in the middle of a hurricane here. They should not be stockpiling PPE,” said Bob Gibson, vice president of the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest such union in Florida. “It should be given to the frontline health workers. They have been in this fight for five months now, and they are exhausted.”

The U.S. Mint kindly requests that you spend the coins you have, because there aren’t enough of them in circulation right now.

• Remember that huge Twitter hack several weeks back that essentially shut down all verified accounts? Well, feds say they’ve arrested the mastermind … 17-year-old Graham Ivan Clark.

• If you’re a baseball fan like me … savor this weekend’s games, as things could get shut down as soon as Monday, according to the MLB commissioner.

Hong Kong is postponing legislative elections for a year due to the coronavirus—something that has pro-democracy folks quite alarmed. That couldn’t happen here. Right?

• Experts writing for The Conversation say that some 800,000 low-income households may have recently had their electricity disconnected. Blame the COVID-19-related shutdown—and lawmakers who aren’t doing enough to intervene.

• Also from The Conversation: Older, under-maintained schools in poorer areas were dangerous to begin with—and they’ll be even more dangerous if students are forced to return to them as the pandemic rages.

• We’ve talked in this space a LOT about the various vaccines being tested—but it’s likely that those vaccines, even if proven to be generally effective, won’t work on everyone. Well, MIT is using machine learning to design a vaccine that would cover a lot more people.

• Sweden has not done a whole lot to shut down its economy—and a lot of people have died there from COVID-19 as a result. Still … the curve is being flatted there. How and why? Will it last? MedPage Today looks into it.

An Arenas Road bar is poised to reopen (for outdoor dining) on Aug. 9, thanks to a brand-new kitchen. See what Chill Bar has planned.

• Finally, from the Independent: Get outside when temps are only in the 90s and check out what the skies have to offer in August—including the Perseids meteor shower

Folks, we’ve survived another month. Who knows what August will bring? Stay tuned to find out. Have a great weekend; the Daily Digest will be back Monday.

Published in Daily Digest