CVIndependent

Sat11282020

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.

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Happy Monday, everyone!

Last week in this space, we linked to an article in which many experts were quoted as saying that curfews—like the one most of the state is under now—don’t help much when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

Well, uh, here’s an article from the Los Angeles Times that says the opposite:

It should be no surprise, as acting state public health officer Dr. Erica Pan outlined in her health order, that late-night activities are often related to social gatherings where there’s “reduced inhibition and and reduced likelihood” of wearing masks and staying distanced from friends and family.

“It’s because bad behavior goes up in the evening, at least as I recall from college,” Dr. George Rutherford, epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco, said at a campus town hall meeting last week.

So … curfews are helpful, unless they’re not. Got that? Good.

In other news: While small private gatherings can obviously lead to COVID-19 spread, they aren’t driving the spike we’re seeing around the country, according to this New York Times piece:

Household gatherings have “become a major vector of disease spread,” the Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, said in an interview with CNN in late October.

But many epidemiologists are far less certain, saying there is little evidence to suggest that household gatherings were the source of the majority of infections since the summer. Indeed, it has become much harder to pinpoint any source of any outbreak, now that the virus is so widespread and Americans may be exposed in so many ways.

“Somebody says something, and somebody else says it, and then it just becomes truth,” said Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard University. “I worry about this narrative that doesn’t yet seem to be data-based.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post today interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci. And what did he have to say?

Until a vaccine is widely available, he said, people must remain vigilant about following public-health guidelines such as maintaining social distance from others. Infections are increasingly spreading through small gatherings of five to 15 people, he said.

Sigh.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s crazy how little we know about this disease, eight-plus months into the height of the pandemic.

Today’s news:

• Finally: The formal transition process has begun. According to CNN: “The General Services Administration has informed President-elect Joe Biden that the Trump administration is ready to begin the formal transition process, according to a letter from Administrator Emily Murphy sent Monday afternoon and obtained by CNN. The letter is the first step the administration has taken to acknowledge President Donald Trump's defeat, more than two weeks after Biden was declared the winner in the election.” This news capped a busy day of transition news—including the announcement of several of Biden’s cabinet picks.

In Los Angeles County, officials are shutting down outdoor dining for at least three weeks—and say that a complete stay-at-home order could be put in place very soon if the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise. As a result, many restaurant owners are wondering if their businesses can survive.

• Another week, another vaccine-maker releases positive trial results. As The Washington Post explains: “AstraZeneca on Monday became the third pharmaceutical company to announce positive results from late-stage trials of a coronavirus vaccine, saying that its candidate, developed by Oxford University, is up to 90 percent effective. Scientists and politicians alike hailed the third straight week of buoyant scientific news as a sign that, even as coronavirus cases surge to devastating levels in many countries, an end to the pandemic is in sight.”

• The results of the Independent’s seventh annual Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll are here! Congrats to all the winners and finalists.

California’s first family is under quarantine after three of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s kids were in contact with a California Highway Patrol officer who tested positive for the virus. “Thankfully, the entire family tested negative today. However, consistent with local guidance, we will be quarantining for 14 days,” Newsom tweeted. NPR has the details

The monoclonal antibody cocktail President Trump credited for helping him overcome the coronavirus has received emergency-use authorization from the FDA. MedPage Today explains: “The FDA authorized use of Regeneron's REGN-COV2 intravenous monoclonal antibody cocktail … for treating mild to moderate COVID-19 in patients at high risk of progressing to severe disease, the agency said late Saturday. … ‘Authorizing these monoclonal antibody therapies may help outpatients avoid hospitalization and alleviate the burden on our health care system,’ FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, said in announcing the EUA.” 

• General Motors had been siding with President Trump in his effort to remove California’s ability to demand more fuel-efficient vehicles. Well, the automaker has changed its tune. Per The New York Times: “The decision by Mary Barra, the General Motors chief executive, to withdraw her company’s support for Trump administration efforts to strip California of its ability to set its own fuel efficiency standards was a striking reversal. It was also a signal that corporate America is moving on from President Trump. More specifically, it was a sign that Mr. Biden may find the auto industry amenable as he tries to reinstitute and rebuild Obama-era climate change regulations that Mr. Trump systematically dismantled, at times with the help of industry.”

• While SARS-CoV-2 is running amok in the U.S., people in China are living relatively normal lives. A scholar in public health, writing for The Conversation, says China is doing much better at handling the virus because the country learned lessons from a previous pandemic. Key quote: “My research suggests that the control of the virus in China is not the result of authoritarian policy, but of a national prioritization of health. China learned a tough lesson with SARS, the first coronavirus pandemic of the 21st century.”

Yes, please. Reuters reports: “New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she offered President-elect Joe Biden assistance with tackling the rampant outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States. During the first talks between the two since Biden was elected as the next U.S. president, Ardern said she offered access to New Zealand’s most senior health officials …  New Zealand has eliminated COVID-19 from the community twice, and currently has just 58 active cases of the virus, all in managed isolation facilities. In contrast, the United States over the weekend recorded its 12 millionth case.”

Our partners at CalMatters bring us this fascinating story about a dispute between two high-ranking Democratic state leaders: “The unpaid invoices piling up in Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office had climbed to more than $34.2 million. It was Nov. 2. Since early September, his staff had been wrangling with the staff of State Controller Betty Yee over whether Padilla’s office had the budgetary authority to pay for a $35 million contract it had awarded to public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker to run a statewide voter education campaign called Vote Safe California. The secretary of state’s office maintained that it did have budgetary authority. The controller’s office, which approves payments, maintained that it did not.

This San Francisco Chronicle article examines why more employers aren’t offering their employees coronavirus testing. Key quote: “The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance to employers to include coronavirus testing, and it advised that people working in close quarters be tested periodically. However, the federal government does not require employers to offer those tests. But the board overseeing the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, on Thursday approved emergency safety rules that are soon likely to require the state’s employers to provide coronavirus testing to all workers exposed to an outbreak on the job at no cost to the employees. Testing must be repeated a week later, followed by periodic testing. California would be the first state to mandate this, though the regulation doesn’t apply to routine testing of employees. That is up to individual businesses.”

• We may soon learn a little bit more about dinosaurs due to the “Dueling Dinosaurs.” National Geographic explains: “For more than a decade, paleontologists have speculated about a single fossil that preserves skeletons of two of the world’s most famous dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. Not only are the bones arranged as they once were in life, but the dinosaurs are practically intertwined. Each specimen is among the best of its kind ever found. Together, the pair—nicknamed the ‘Dueling Dinosaurs’—present a paleontological mystery: Did the beasts just happen to be entombed together by chance, perhaps as carcasses caught on the same river sandbar? Or had they been locked in mortal combat? Nobody has been able to study the fossil to find out. But that’s about to change.”

Finally, the producers of Jeopardy! have announced the new host … sort of. The Associated Press, via SFGate, reports: “’Jeopardy!’ record-holder Ken Jennings will be the first in a series of interim hosts replacing Alex Trebek when the show resumes production next Monday. Producers announced Monday that Jennings, who won 74 games in a row and claimed the show's ‘Greatest of All Time’ title in a competition last year, will host episodes that air in January. A long-term host for Trebek, who died of cancer on Nov. 8, will be named later.”

As always, thanks for reading the Daily Digest and the Coachella Valley Independent. Please click here to become a Supporter of the Independent if you want to help us be able to continue producing quality local journalism. Be safe, everyone.

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Happy Friday, all.

It’s been a busy day here at the Independent; we’ve been working hard on the December/Best of Coachella Valley print edition.

By the way, we’ll reveal all of those Best of Coachella Valley winners next Monday at 8 a.m. at CVIndependent.com—and in that aforementioned print edition, which will start hitting the streets on Monday.

And now, on with the news:

• On Wednesday in this space, we covered the fact that many experts don’t think curfews help much in the battle against COVID-19. Well … as of tomorrow (Saturday) night, the state will be under a month-long curfew anyway: From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., non-essential businesses and personal gatherings will be a no-no. CBS News has the details.

• Let’s hope the curfew and other measures work, because the direction in which California is headed is not good. Per the Los Angeles Times: “Statewide, 13,422 new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday—breaking the single-day record for the second time this week. The previous high-water mark—13,412—was set Monday, according to an independent county-by-county tally conducted by the Times. California has now recorded four consecutive days with at least 10,600 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, a stretch unlike any in the pandemic. Over the last week, the state has averaged 10,529 new cases per day, a 117 percent increase from two weeks ago.”

However, if you’re in a part of Riverside County where the policing is provided by the sheriff, well, you can consider the curfew to be merely advisory. According to KESQ: ”(Sheriff Chad) Bianco wrote that the Sheriff’s Department will not respond to reports that are just non-compliance of public health orders. ‘To ensure constitutional rights are not violated and to limit potential negative interactions and exposure to our deputies, we will not be responding to calls for service based solely on non-compliance with the new order or social distancing and mask guidelines,’ Bianco (said).” Sigh.

• We missed this article on Wednesday, so we’re presenting it now: The city of Riverside was debating taking serious action against businesses that violate COVID-19 restrictions—like gyms that remain open for indoor business—including fines and possibly shutting off water and/or electric service. How did that idea go over? Well, according to the Press-Enterprise: “For more than three hours, the council listened to gym operators, restaurant owners and small-business owners opposed to the plan. Some speakers dismissed the pandemic as a hoax or an exaggerated threat to society. Others said COVID-19 is a deadly disease and real, but emphasized that people’s physical health—and mental health—also hinges on being able to exercise.”

Pfizer was slated to officially apply to the FDA for an emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine today; Moderna is expected to do the same fairly soon. As a result, CNBC reports, the federal government is telling some employees that they could be receiving the vaccine within eight weeks: “Essential federal workers would be among the first group of Americans to get inoculated against the coronavirus after the nation’s health-care workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s vaccination program ‘interim playbook.’ The plan lists essential workers, along with the elderly and other highly vulnerable groups, in the first phase of its vaccine distribution plan, which hasn’t been finalized yet and could change.”

• A downside to the encouraging vaccine news: It’s causing some people currently in clinical trails to prematurely bail. According to NBC News: “(Dr. William) Hartman runs one of AstraZeneca's Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial sites, at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. But last week, a handful of trial volunteers either canceled or simply did not show up for their scheduled appointments. ‘People are asking if they can withdraw from the trial,’ Hartman said. Although he has been able to fill empty slots so far with people on the waiting list, he said he believes the reason for the slight setback may be the apparent success of two other vaccine candidates: those made by Pfizer and Moderna.” 

So … the vaccines are coming—but they were made in record time. Are they safe? A professor of medicine, writing for The Conversation, says … probably? Key quote: “Despite the vaccines’ relatively rapid development, the normal safety testing protocols are still in place.” 

• A downside to the race to create vaccines is that it’s creating problems for East Coast shore birds. Wait, what? How could that POSSIBLY make sense?! Audubon Magazine explains: “That’s because both the birds and the pharmaceutical companies depend on the same animal: the horseshoe crabs of the Delaware Bay. Horseshoe crab eggs are vital fuel during the Red Knots’ annual 9,000-mile migration from Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America, to the Canadian Arctic every spring. For the drugmakers, horseshoe crab blood is a vital component in vaccine production.” No, we are not making this up; read the article, which is rather fascinating, for a complete explanation. 

• Still planning to travel for Thanksgiving? Well, the CDC is advising that you change your plans. According to The Associated Press: “With the coronavirus surging out of control, the nation’s top public health agency pleaded with Americans on Thursday not to travel for Thanksgiving and not to spend the holiday with people from outside their household.”

• If you insist on having an indoor gathering for Thanksgiving—again, not advised—an expert on air quality, writing for The Conversation, offers some tips on how to do so in a way that’s a little safer. Key quote: “A safer home is one that constantly has lots of outside air replacing the stale air inside.”

• Back at the start of the pandemic, many workers at retail stores deemed essential (like supermarkets, etc.) were given a temporary wage boost. Now that the pandemic is worse than ever, will these workers again receive hazard pay? It seems unlikely, The New York Times reports

A World Health Organization panel yesterday recommended against doctors using remdesivir on COVID-19 patients—because there’s not enough evidence that it works. Key quote, via CNBC: “’After thoroughly reviewing this evidence, the WHO GDG expert panel, which includes experts from around the world including four patients who have had COVID-19, concluded that remdesivir has no meaningful effect on mortality or on other important outcomes for patients, such as the need for mechanical ventilation or time to clinical improvement,’ the group wrote in a press release.”

• Oops! The state has heretofore left a fairly major business sector without COVID-19 guidance: ski resorts. According to SFGate: “On Monday, the California Department of Public Health told SFGATE in an emailed statement that they are ‘constantly reviewing science, data and evidence and continually evaluating and updating guidance.’ The department will update its guidelines once information specific to ski resorts is available. In the meantime, the department stated that ’ski resorts are not permitted to operate.’ … And yet, ski resorts are already open and running, based on direction ski industry officials say they received from county health departments. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area opened last week.”

So it’s been a not-so-great day for the president. As this New York Times update page recaps: Georgia certified its election results, declaring Joe Biden to be the winner; Michigan legislators who were summoned to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with Trump said they have no plans to overturn the will of the voters; and Don Jr. has tested positive for the virus.

• And finally … good lord, the state unemployment system is a mess. The San Francisco Chronicle reports: “The California Employment Development Department has sent out at least 38 million pieces of mail containing unemployment applicants’ full Social Security numbers since the pandemic started, putting people at risk of identity fraud, California State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a harsh report issued Thursday.”

As always, thanks for reading. If you have the financial ability to do so, we kindly ask you to click here and consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can continue doing quality local journalism that’s made available for free to all. Have a good, safe weekend, everyone.

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I’ve been in a crabby mood.

The non-vaccine-related news has me down. I am bummed because I won’t be able to see my mom at Thanksgiving. I am in the middle of deadline hell on our December print edition.

Bleh.

However, I just read this article from The Washington Post—and it made me feel a little better. If you’re in need of a pick-me-up, you may want to read it, too.

You may or may not have heard that Dolly Parton gave $1 million to help fund the research into the Moderna vaccine. This story explains how that came to be—and how it was motivated, in part, by an unlikely friendship between Parton and Naji Abumrad, a physician and professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which developed when Parton sought medical help after a 2013 car accident.

Here’s a taste:

Their friendship may seem unlikely, bonding a Lebanese-born physician and a cultural tour de force who ended up building an amusement park graced with her own name. But after the car crash, the pair found out they were once both poor, mountain kids trying to get by, though they were raised more than 6,000 miles apart. Abumrad said Parton became someone he could confide in.

“Our homes were almost identical where we grew up,” Abumrad told The Post.

The physician’s son, Jad Abumrad, at first didn’t believe his father whenever he talked about his friend Dolly. Even when the physician’s phone rang and the name that came up was “Dolly Parton,” he remained skeptical of his stoic father’s claim of having the famous friend.

The piece helped me get out of my own selfish doldrums—with a beautiful reminder that there is indeed true, genuine good in this world.

Today’s news:

• Remember back in March and April, when everyone was talking about the need for a vaccine to get us out of this pandemic—but a vaccine was a question of “if,” not “when,” and the “when” part was months and months away? Well, it’s official: We have a good vaccine, and the “when” part for the first recipients could be just days away. As The New York Times explains: “The drug maker Pfizer said on Wednesday that its coronavirus vaccine was 95 percent effective and had no serious side effects—the first set of complete results from a late-stage vaccine trial as COVID-19 cases skyrocket around the globe. … Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its partner BioNTech, said the companies planned to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization ‘within days,’ raising hopes that a working vaccine could soon become a reality.”

• The first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could be administered by the end of the year, but some states are saying they’ll need financial help from the federal government—which is not exactly functioning very well right now—to get it properly tracked and distributed. ABC News explains.

• Some more good news: A new, non-peer-reviewed study hints that coronavirus immunity could last for years. According to The New York Times: “Eight months after infection, most people who have recovered still have enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness, the new data show. A slow rate of decline in the short term suggests, happily, that these cells may persist in the body for a very, very long time to come.” As with all studies like this, the conclusions should be taken with a gargantuan grain of figurative salt—but the news is encouraging nonetheless.

Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (A reminder: District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) As we noted in this space on Monday: The local trendlines are not good. For the week ending Nov. 15, cases are up; hospitalizations are steady-ish but not great; the positivity rate is up to 7.9 percent; and two of our neighbors lost their lives due to COVID-19. We’re in MUCH better shape than most of the rest of the country, however … but we all need to do our part to make sure it stays that way (with, of course, the rest of the country improving as well).

• The FDA has approved the first COVID-19 test that you can administer yourself at home. Here’s the news release.

• Sort-of related: After a successful roll-out in the city of Riverside, the county is expanding the use of self-administered COVID-19 tests—although the details (like whether the Coachella Valley will have a site or two where they’re used) have not been worked out. According to the Press-Enterprise: “Unlike other coronavirus tests, which rely on a health care worker deeply probing a subject’s nose or throat, Curative’s tests are done by subjects, who swab their mouth gently before putting the swab in a test tube and sealing a plastic bag. Test results are reported by email or text message within 48 hours.”

The Los Angeles Times reports: “Desperately seeking to find a seemingly responsible way to hold dinner parties, some people have started to get tests for the coronavirus as a way to clear themselves to attend dinner parties without needing to wear masks or keep their distance. That’s absolutely the wrong thing to do, according to Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health.”

Los Angeles County has issued, more or less, a curfew for most businesses—something Gov. Newsom has hinted could come to the entire state: Restaurants and nonessential retail in L.A. now have to close by 10 p.m. 

Speaking of curfews: This here Vox article says that a whole lot of experts think they’re worthless. Key quote from that piece: “‘It seems like it’s spreading all over, but I’ve seen no evidence it helps anything,’ Tara Smith, a public health professor at Kent State University, told me over email. ‘I’ve not seen a single public health person recommend this as an intervention. I’m mystified at their popularity.’”

• And speaking of Gov. Newsom: He remains in increasingly hot water for that dinner he attended at the French Laundry earlier this monthalong with, it turns out, some California Medical Association (!) officials, Politico notes. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times points out that there are questions about exactly how “outdoor” that dinner was—and that, in related news, some legislators have jetted off to Maui, with the bill possibly being picked up by special-interest groups. The art of leading by example is dead, I guess?

• Damn, things are even getting bad (well, relatively) in parts of Australia regarding COVID-19.

• While—make no mistake—COVID-19 remains a deadly disease, the mortality rate has decreased a bit over time. MedPage Today talks to experts about the various reasons why that’s happened.

• Not that you needed evidence of how deadly COVID-19 remains: The U.S. topped a quarter-million deaths from the disease todayand the number of dead continues to rise at an alarming rate.

• Mixed-blessing alert (but not really): The fact the virus is running rampant around the country is helping vaccine researchers learn how effective the vaccines are at a faster rate. Yay?

• SFGate talked to some Bay Area restaurant workers about the closure of indoor diningand found out that a lot of them are quite relieved.

• CNN reports that a lot of former and current Trump officials are starting to reach out to President-elect Joe Bidenat the risk of angering the current president.

• Finally, Wonder Woman 1984 will indeed be released on Christmas day—both in theaters and on HBO Max.

That’s more than enough news for the day. Please be safe, and thanks for reading. If you’d like to help make sure the Independent makes it through these crazy times, click here to learn how you can become a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

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You know that fall/winter COVID-19 spike the health experts have been warning us about? Well, it’s here—and I just don’t mean it’s here in the United States.

I mean it’s here in the Coachella Valley—and the steps we collectively take will determine how bad it gets.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced today that a whopping 40 of the state’s 58 counties are regressing by at least one tier—and that 41 counties, representing well more than 90 percent of the state’s population, are now in the purple, “widespread” tier. According to SFGate, that’s up from just nine three weeks ago.

“This is simply the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of this pandemic,” Newsom said, according to the Los Angeles Times. As a result, Newsom said, counties’ tier statuses will be updated on an ongoing basis—not just once a week on Tuesdays, as it had been before. Counties will also be demoted faster than they had before.

As for Riverside County … eek. Last week, the state reported the county as having a 6.7 percent positivity rate, and an adjusted 13.9 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. The numbers released by the state today: an 8.4 percent positivity rate, and an adjusted 22.4 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. That’s a terrifying increase in just one week.

Since we’ve already been the state’s most-restrictive tier, nothing much will change locally—at least for now. However, the state could hand down further restrictions if things keep getting worse.

Newsom did add one further restriction, as explained by our partners at CalMatters: “Californians also must wear a mask whenever outside their home, with a few exceptions, in a strengthening of the state’s existing mask mandate, Newsom said.”

Folks, it’s up to us to turn this scary tide. As the Los Angeles Times says: “As the case count swells, officials stress that it’s essential for residents to follow infection-prevention protocols such as wearing a mask in public, regularly washing their hands and staying home when they’re sick, as well as keeping a physical distance from, and avoiding gatherings with, those outside their households.”

More of today’s news:

• More cause for hope: Moderna announced today that early data shows its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is 94.5 percent effective. Again, this is early, unreviewed data—but the news is encouraging. According to CNBC: “Dr. Scott Gottlieb (said) on Monday that the devastating coronavirus pandemic could ‘effectively’ be ended next year, following promising developments around Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. … ‘Once we get these vaccines in sufficient qualities heading into 2021, the combination of the fact that a lot of the population will have already had COVID, combined with the fact that we’ll be vaccinating the public with a highly effective vaccine, we could effectively end this pandemic in 2021 with our technology,’ (said) Gottlieb, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner in the Trump administration.”

• Another cause for hope: monoclonal antibodies. A professor of clinical and laboratory science from Texas State University, writing for The Conversation, explains what this Trump-touted treatment is: “A monoclonal antibody treatment mimics the body’s natural immune response and targets foreign agents, like a virus, that infect or harm people. There are also monoclonal antibodies that pharmaceutical companies have designed that target cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies are one of most powerful types of medicine. In 2019 seven of the top 10 best-selling drugs were monoclonal antibodies.”

• Not all the vaccine news is good: Manufacturers and factories are preparing for a possible fight over who gets the doses first, and how many each country gets. According to NBC News: “The factory at the Serum Institute of India, a manufacturer of immunobiological drugs, appears ready to play a global role in the production of COVID-19 vaccines, once they are developed, because few manufacturers can match the scale of its facilities. As a leading supplier to the developing world, it is also in the forefront of efforts to combat ‘vaccine nationalism,’ where wealthy countries such as the United States pay to secure a massive number of doses to help their citizens first, while poor countries wait at the back of the line.”

• The nationwide surge has gotten so bad that Walmart is counting customers again. Key quote, from CNN: “We know from months of metering data in our stores that the vast majority of the time our stores didn’t reach our self-imposed 20 percent metering capacity,” said Kory Lundberg, a Walmart (WMT) spokesperson. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have resumed counting the number of people entering and leaving our stores.”

• The New York Times points out that some people have received some rather unpleasant and surprising bills for their COVID-19 tests—and offers some suggestions on how to avoid such a surprise. Key quote: “To avoid those extra charges, ask your provider what diseases they will screen for. It can be as simple as saying: ‘I understand I’m having a coronavirus test. Are there any other services you’ll bill me for?’ Having a better understanding of that up front can save you a headache later, and you can make an informed decision about what care is actually needed. If your providers can’t tell you what they’ll bill for, that may be a signal you want to seek care elsewhere.”

President-elect Joe Biden today called on Congress and President Trump to pass a new stimulus package—and urged the president to knock it off with the false claims that the election was rigged. According to The Washington Post: “Biden called on Congress to pass a large package approved by House Democrats earlier this year and said they cannot wait any longer to act. ‘Refusal of Democrats, Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a conscious decision. It’s a choice that we make. If we can decide not to cooperate, we could decide to cooperate.’”

• Related: Is there a correlation between stimulus efforts expiring, and COVID-19 cases spiking in the U.S.? Business Insider says there indeed is—although whether correlation means causation, in this case, remains a question.

• A scoop today from The Washington Post: Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said he’s being pressured by fellow Republicans—including Sen. Lindsey Graham—to toss legally cast votes. Key quote: “In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.” My god!

• Sen. Chuck Schumer said today that he believed that Joe Biden could wipe out a whole lot of student debt after he takes office—simply by signing an executive order. “I have a proposal with Elizabeth Warren that the first $50,000 of debt be vanquished,” said Schumer, according to CNBC. “And we believe that Joe Biden can do that with the pen as opposed to legislation.

• From the Independent: County supervisors recently OK’d a massive development in the eastern Coachella Valley called the Thermal Beach Club—where homes will be $1 million or more, and a non-resident club membership will cost $175,000 a year. Our Kevin Fitzgerald reports: “Not surprisingly, some current residents of the Thermal and Oasis communities are dismayed by that prospect. … But proponents of the project—including six of the seven members of the Thermal-Oasis Community Council, as well as all five members of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors—view the buildout, in a disadvantaged region of Coachella Valley, as an opportunity that could jumpstart improvement in the area.”

• Yikes. This lede from the Los Angeles Times is just awful (the content, not the writing): “The Boy Scouts of America will face at least 88,500 claims of sexual abuse in a landmark bankruptcy that could reshape the future of one of the nation’s oldest and largest youth organizations, lawyers in the case said Monday as the filing deadline loomed.”

• Since we’re all supposed to be pretty much staying home as much as possible, this is good news: “A consortium of museums is doing their part to bring the work of one of the world's most famous artists to the global masses. Van Gogh Worldwide is a new project by a group of Dutch museums which presents a digital collection of over 1,000 of the artist’s masterpieces. Building off the digitized collection begun several years ago by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, almost half of the post-Impressionist works of this prolific artist are now available to view—with scholarly commentary—from the safety of your own home.”

• Finally: Denizens of the internet, god bless them, have created a Lego version of Rudy Giuliani’s whacked-out Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference. It’s fantastic; be sure to click on the Flickr page.

That’s enough news for a Monday. Stay safe, everyone. If you’d like to help the Independent keep producing quality local journalism—and making it free to everyone, without subscription fees or annoying paywalls—please click here to become a Supporter of the Independent. Thanks for reading, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

Feeling anxious lately? Yeah, me, too.

The anxiety has been due, in part, to rising COVID-19 numbers across the country and the world—combined with the fact that waaaaaaay too many prominent Americans, people who should know better, are undermining our democracy by trying to delegitimize an election without cause or evidence.

Add in the usual work and life pressures … and hello, anxiety!

Anytime I leave the house, it seems like I witness things—usually involving either complacency or stupidity (take your pick)—that contribute to my anxiety.

The latest example: Last night, we decided to enjoy a socially distanced patio dinner at El Jefe at the Saguaro. We were seated on the patio not too far away from the pool, but the noise from nearby DJ music was overwhelming. I went to see what the source of the noise was—and I saw a group of what appeared to be several dozen people, line dancing in close proximity to each other, at the outdoor events space across the walkway. It was apparently a wedding group of some sort.

Not one of the people, at least that I could see, was wearing a face mask.

We decided to find somewhere else to eat.

According to this fun and terrifying new tool from the Georgia Institute of Technology … if, let’s say, there were only 25 people line-dancing there, and all of them were locals—pretty much the best-case scenarios—there’s a 20-35 percent chance that one of those people is COVID-19 positive.

Hello, anxiety!

And now, today’s news:

The governors of the three Pacific Coast states today requested that all residents stay put—and that visitors coming in from out of state quarantine for 14 days, given the COVID-19 spikes happening across the country. The request, however, is not a mandate; compliance is voluntary. Key quote, from a statement by Gov. Gavin Newsom, via CNBC: “California just surpassed a sobering threshold—one million COVID-19 cases—with no signs of the virus slowing down. Increased cases are adding pressure on our hospital systems and threatening the lives of seniors, essential workers and vulnerable Californians. Travel increases the risk of spreading COVID-19, and we must all collectively increase our efforts at this time to keep the virus at bay and save lives.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown put her state on lockdown, more or less, for two weeks. From our friends at Willamette Week: “The new restrictions, which go into effect Nov. 18, include limiting bars and restaurants to takeout only, in-home gatherings to six people from no more than two families, grocery and retail stores to 75 percent of capacity, and attendance at churches to no more than 25 people indoors or 50 outside.”

A similar lockdown is taking place in New Mexico, effective on Monday. From Newsweek: “Residents will be instructed to only leave home to take part in essential activities. Gatherings will be limited to no more than five people, with capacity at grocery stores and other essential businesses reduced to 25 percent. Plans for large celebrations on Thanksgiving, which falls within the two-week period, should be called off, the governor said.”

• Now, some sort-of good news: Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday that he’s confident the pandemic will come to an end in the foreseeable future thanks to vaccines—but we have a lot of work to do before we get there. Key quote from Fauci, via CNBC: “The cavalry is coming but don’t put your weapons down. You better keep fighting, because they are not here yet. Help is on the way, but it isn’t here yet.

• Meanwhile, Gov. Newsom is in a bit of hot water after a report that he violated some of his own rules at a recent gathering. According to SFGate: “California Gov. Gavin Newsom reportedly violated his state’s COVID-19 guidelines by going to a birthday party in Napa with more than three households in attendance. The Chronicle reported that Newsom and his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom attended longtime adviser Jason Kinney's 50th birthday party at French Laundry in Yountville (Napa County) on Nov. 6, and there were over 12 guests in attendance.”

• Speaking of governors: Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced this afternoon that he has tested positive for the coronavirus. He’s currently asymptomatic, he said.

The Washington Post today posted a stunning story with this headline: “More than 130 Secret Service officers are said to be infected with coronavirus or quarantining in wake of Trump’s campaign travel.” That equates to about 10 percent of the agency’s core security team the newspaper said.

If you want to go to a concert next year, you may need to prove you’ve either received a coronavirus vaccine, or recently tested negative for SARS-CoV-2. According to Billboard magazine, Ticketmaster has a plan: “After purchasing a ticket for a concert, fans would need to verify that they have already been vaccinated (which would provide approximately one year of COVID-19 protection) or test negative for coronavirus approximately 24 to 72 hours prior to the concert. The length of coverage a test would provide would be governed by regional health authorities.”

• Related: The Golden State Warriors, who play in San Francisco, have devised a plan to allow fans to attend home games—and the model, if successful, could spread to other teams and sports. The San Jose Mercury News explains: “The team submitted its plan to state and local officials a week ago to reopen the new arena at 50 percent capacity. The proposal called for every spectator to undergo a COVID-19 test. Attendees would be required to show proof of a negative test taken within 48 hours upon entering the arena. The proposed system could cost the Warriors about $30 million, a team spokesman said.”

• President Trump today spoke publicly for the first time since media outlets called the presidential race for President-elect Joe Biden last weekend—and he sort of threatened to withhold the vaccine, when it’s first ready, from people in New York. According to NBC News, the president said: “’As soon as April the vaccine will be available to the entire general population, with the exception of places like New York State, where for political reasons the governor decided to say—and I don't think it's good politically, I think it’s very bad from a health standpoint—but he wants to take his time on the vaccine,’ Trump said. He was referring to comments (Gov. Andrew) Cuomo made in September, where he said he planned to have a panel of experts review a vaccine because he was concerned that Trump was trying to rush one out ahead of the presidential election.” For what it’s worth, Gov. Newsom has announced similar verification plans for California.

• As for that vaccine: Pfizer’s vaccine is likely to be the first one made available—and it needs to be shipped and stored at cold temperatures. Like, really cold: 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, to be exact. This causes problems, as Time magazine explains: “Those cold storage requirements are raising serious questions about who could get the Pfizer vaccine if it’s approved, and when. The reality, experts say, is that the Pfizer vaccine probably won’t be available to everyone, at least not right away. Large medical centers and urban centers are the most likely to have the resources necessary for ultra-cold storage. People without access to these facilities, such as those living in rural areas, nursing homes and developing nations, may have to wait for other vaccines working their way through the development pipeline.”

• Man, people are just terrible sometimes. According to ZDNet: “Microsoft says it detected three state-sponsored hacking operations (also known as APTs) that have launched cyber-attacks on at least seven prominent companies involved in COVID-19 vaccines research and treatments. Microsoft traced the attacks back to one threat actor in Russia and two North Korean hacking groups.”

• I was a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs Podcast, where I joined Dr. Laura Rush and hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr to talk about the mess in which the country finds itself. But it has funny parts, too! Check it out.

Voters rejected Prop 15, which would have increased commercial property taxes to, in part, help fund California’s schools with billions of dollars. So … what does this mean for the future of California’s schools? Our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent, take a look.

• A communication professor from Colorado State University, writing for The Conversation, examined Tweets sent out by the president and the president-elect—and examined their very different views on masculinity. Key quote: “The 2020 campaign gave voters an opportunity to compare and contrast how the two campaigns modeled gender roles differently. These differences not only reveal important insights about each campaign; they also shape the roles of ‘president’ and ‘vice president,’ making it more or less likely that, in the future, those offices can be held by someone other than a heterosexual white man.” 

• Finally, let’s end by looking at a shattered glass ceiling: The Miami Marlins today named Kim Ng as the team’s general manager. Not only is she the first woman to be a general manager for an MLB team; she’s the first female general manager in any of the four major North American sports leagues.

I could go on and on, but we’re at 1,500 words already, and that’s enough, I think. Everyone: Thank you for reading. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you’re able, as we need help to continue producing quality local journalism, available for free to everyone. Have a safe, sane weekend, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s Nov. 11, Veterans Day. To all of you out there who served our country: Thank you.

Let’s get right into the news … and please accept my apologies for the fact that much of it is rather dour:

• Riverside County needs to get used to being in the state’s most-restrictive coronavirus tier—because we’re going to be in it for a good, long while, according to the weekly numbers released by the state yesterday. As the Riverside Press-Enterprise explains: “Riverside County’s seven-day average of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, adjusted for testing volume, rose to 13.9 from last week’s 11.5. This week’s rate is nearly double the threshold of seven new cases per day allowed in the red tier—the next lower and less-restrictive level.”

In the Coachella Valley specifically, we’re also heading in the wrong direction, according to the county’s latest District 4 report. (District 4 includes the valley and points eastward.) Case counts, hospitalizations and the weekly positivity rate are all going up. Worst of all, six of our neighbors died due to COVID-19 in the week ending Nov. 8. This is NOT GOOD, folks.

At the state level: No counties this week advanced into a better tier. On the flip side, as explained by SFGate: “Acting California Public Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan announced Tuesday that 11 counties are falling back to more restrictive tiers in the state's reopening plan, forcing a host of businesses to close and activities to stop. Sacramento, San Diego and Stanislaus are moving back to the most stringent purple tier marking widespread infection.”

On a national level, case counts continue to set horrifying new records. As The Washington Post explains: “In one week, new daily coronavirus cases in the United States went from 104,000 to more than 145,000 on Wednesday, the latest all-time high. Almost every metric is trending in the wrong direction as states add restrictions and health officials warn of a dangerous fall ahead.”

Things are getting so bad in North Dakota that this is happening, according to The Hill: “North Dakota is allowing health care workers with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic to keep working in coronavirus units to make up for a staff shortage. The extraordinary move, announced by Gov. Doug Burgum (R) on Monday, comes as hospitals hit their capacity amid a rise in coronavirus cases.”

• College football is a mess of cancellations and postponements. In the high-powered SEC, four of seven scheduled games this weekend has been postponed. Sports Illustrated explains that contact tracing is just as much to blame as players testing positive.

A top adviser for President-elect Joe Biden thinks we’d all benefit from another strict lockdown. As reported by CNBC: “Shutting down businesses and paying people for lost wages for four to six weeks could help keep the coronavirus pandemic in check and get the economy on track until a vaccine is approved and distributed, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, a coronavirus advisor to President-elect Joe Biden.”

• I think we can safely call President Trump’s election night gathering at the White House a super-spreader event. As The New York Times explains: “Three more White House staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, including at least one, the political director, Brian Jack, who attended an election night event at the White House, people familiar with the diagnoses said on Wednesday. … Three other people had previously tested positive after attending the election night event.”

• Finally, some decent news, but first, I challenge you to say “bamlanivimab” three times fast! Or, uh, maybe just once correctly? Or don’t. Anyway, what is bamlanivimab? It’s Eli Lilly and Co.’s new monoclonal antibody therapy for the coronavirus, which received emergency-use authorization for COVID-19 on Monday. Says CNN: “FDA authorization was based on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October. It found the treatment seemed to lower the risk of hospitalization and ease some symptoms in a small number of patients with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.”

NPR makes it clear: “Wearing a mask protects the wearer, and not just other people, from the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized in an updated scientific brief issued Tuesday. And the protective benefits of masks are stronger the more people wear masks consistently and correctly, the agency says.”

Our partners at CalMatters contrast the ways in which the states of California and Oregon report workplace COVID-19 outbreaks: “Since May, Oregon has used a centralized tracking system, which has enabled health officials there to release weekly reports that list the names and addresses of every known business with at least 30 employees where five or more positive COVID-19 cases are identified. … California, in contrast, doesn’t post workplace outbreaks. The state lets its 58 counties handle coronavirus data, with wide variety in how each county tracks and reports workplace outbreaks. The distinction has workers and public health experts worried.”

The Conversation asked an epidemiologist about the precautions she’s taking to host a safe Thanksgiving meal. Key quote: “No matter how careful you and your family are, there is some risk that someone will be infected. With that in mind, the goal is to reduce the conditions that lead to viral spread. The biggest risks are indoor spaces with poor ventilation, large groups and close contact. So we are planning the opposite: a short outdoor Thanksgiving with a small group and plenty of space between everyone.”

• And now for news about the unprecedented and dangerous effort to undermine the results of last week’s election: The New York Times called election officials in every state—red, blue and every shade in between. How much fraud did they find? None. Key quote: “Top election officials across the country said in interviews and statements that the process had been a remarkable success despite record turnout and the complications of a dangerous pandemic. ‘There’s a great human capacity for inventing things that aren’t true about elections,’ said Frank LaRose, a Republican who serves as Ohio’s secretary of state. ‘The conspiracy theories and rumors and all those things run rampant. For some reason, elections breed that type of mythology.’”

The AP looks at the various lawsuits President Trump’s campaign has been filing in battleground states … and doesn’t find any winning at all: “A barrage of lawsuits and investigations led by President Donald Trump’s campaign and allies has not come close to proving a multi-state failure that would call into question his loss to President-elect Joe Biden. The campaign has filed at least 17 lawsuits in various state and federal courts. Most make similar claims that have not been proven to have affected any votes, including allegations that Trump election observers didn’t have the access they sought or that mail-in ballots were fraudulently cast.”

• Military.com notes that Trump’s installation of a new acting secretary of defense wasn’t exactly done by the book: “President Donald Trump on Monday fired Mark Esper as defense secretary and put Christopher C. Miller, who previously led the National Counterterrorism Center, in charge at the Pentagon. … But some say that doesn't follow the rules set by DoD statute and an executive order on the Defense Department’s line of succession. Those call for the deputy defense secretary—another Senate-confirmed position—to fill the vacancy.”

• And the firing of Esper/installation of Miller is just the tip of the iceberg. This sentence from a Politico article is, to put it mildly, alarming: “In quick succession, top officials overseeing policy, intelligence and the defense secretary’s staff all had resigned by the end of the day Tuesday, replaced by political operatives who are fiercely loyal to Trump and have trafficked in ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories.” Gulp.

• Finally … after all that pants-wetting news, doesn’t a nice hike sound lovely? If you’re nodding your head right now, check out the Independent’s brand-new hiking column, Hiking With T.

That’s enough for today, right? Thanks for reading—and please help the Independent continue its mission of offering quality local journalism for free to everyone by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

So, uh, hello there. Let’s start off today by looking at the numbers … the COVID-19 numbers, that is.

The state today released its weekly county-by-county tier stats—delayed a day due to Election Day—and, alas, Riverside County is headed in the wrong direction.

While our positivity rate (5.9 percent) and health-equity quartile positivity rate (a measure of the rate in underserved populations; 7.8 percent) would qualify Riverside County to be in the less-restrictive “substantial” tier, our 11.5 cases per 100,000 are well above the allowed 7 per 100,000.

However, the news is not all bad. For the first time, the state did not adjust the county’s case-per-100,000 number upward—meaning we’re finally doing a state-average amount of testing. Also, on a local level, according to this week’s District 4 report, the Coachella Valley’s positivity rate is 5.6 percent—up a wee bit from last week’s 5.2 percent, but still the second-best number we’ve had here in months. Meanwhile, the valley’s hospitalization numbers remain steady—but two of our neighbors lost their lives due to COVID-19 during the week ending Nov. 1.

What does all this all mean? We are, thank goodness, thus far avoiding the huge spikes being seen almost everywhere else in the country. However, it also means that indoor dining, gyms and movie theaters won’t be happening again here for quite some time.

Today’s links:

• As for the national election stuff … it’s a debacle, and we really have nothing to add—except to say there are bits of good news to be found: More LGBTQ candidates ran for office in 2020 than ever beforeand some have earned some historic wins

• On the local level: More than 400,000 ballots have yet to be counted in Riverside County, with the next batch of results coming at 6 p.m. tonight (Wednesday). However:

— Independent Chad Mayes has a substantial lead over Republican challenger Andrew Kotyuk in Assembly District 42.

— Democrat Eduardo Garcia is way ahead of Republican America Figueroa in Assembly District 56.

— While a lot of votes in Cathedral City have yet to be counted, Rita Lamb has a large lead over Alan Carvalho in District 1, while Nancy Ross has more than twice the number of votes as JR Corrales in District 2.

— The races in Coachella are too close to call. Incumbent Steven Hernandez has 2,835 votes to Lesly Figueroa’s 2,430 in the mayoral race, while Denise Delgado (2,473) and Emmanuel Martinez (1,946) are in the lead for two City Council seats over Neftali Galarza (1,897) and Philip “Felipe” Bautista (955).

Scott Matas has a large lead (2,208 to 1,217) over Adam Sanchez in the DHS mayoral race, while Russell Betts has a commanding lead over the field for one of two City Council seats; the second seat remains very much up in the air.

— Incumbents Glenn Miller and Lupe Ramos Amith have large leads in their respective Indio City Council races.

Karina Quintanilla (932) leads incumbent Susan Marie Weber (589) in the brand-new Palm Desert City Council District 1 race, while incumbents Gina Nestande and Kathleen Kelly lead in District 2.

— Incumbent Christy Holstege (1,812) has a big lead over Mike McCulloch (915) and Dian Torres (380) in the Palm Springs City Council District 4 contest.

For up to date results, and for results on other contests in the county, go to the county results website.

• Our partners at CalMatters have all the details on the statewide ballot questions. The big news: Prop 22 passed, meaning drivers for Lyft, Uber and the other apps will remain independent contractors.

• Late on Monday, a judge issued a preliminary ruling that Gov. Gavin Newsom has been overstepping his bounds with COVID-19 orders. According to The Associated Press via SFGate: “Sutter County Superior Court Judge Sarah Heckman tentatively ruled that one of the dozens of executive orders Newsom has issued overstepped his authority and was ‘an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power.’ She more broadly barred him ‘from exercising any power under the California Emergency Services Act which amends, alters, or changes existing statutory law or makes new statutory law or legislative policy.’” The effects of this ruling remain to be seen—but could be substantial.

• In other court news: The U.S. Supreme Court—including newest member Amy Coney Barrett—heard a big LGBT rights case today. According to The New York Times: “In an argument marked by sharp exchanges on the sweep of its 2015 decision establishing a right to same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court on Wednesday considered whether Philadelphia may bar a Catholic agency that refuses to work with same-sex couples from screening potential foster parents.”

• Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, joined the growing chorus of voices pleading with the Trump administration to take action as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket. She said, according to The Washington Post: “We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality. This is not about lockdowns—it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.

• The New York Times looks at the kick-ass job college newspapers are doing at covering coronavirus outbreaks on campuses all across the country.

• Finally, if you have an extra $2.25 million sitting around, you can buy Jerry Lewis’ old Palm Springs digs.

Given the news overload most of us have endured over the last 24 hours … I think that’s enough for the day. Please consider clicking here to become a Supporter of the Independent; we offer our local journalism free to all, but it costs a lot to produce. As always, thanks for reading—and please stay safe.

Published in Daily Digest

So, uh, hi. Raise your hand if you’re just a wee bit nervous about what may take place four days from now—not only regarding the outcome, but the reaction to that outcome.

Yeah. I see a lot of hands raised out there.

A whole lot of Americans are expecting the figurative shit to hit the fan next week, in large part because one of the two major participants in this year’s presidential election has refused to say he’ll accept the results if he loses—with some of his followers going so far as to say that the only way he could lose is if there’s fraud, despite what all the polls say.

According to NBC News: “In the crosshairs of what may be a struggle over the result of the election are the country’s thousands of storefront businesses. ‘Many have (and will be) boarding up locations or relying on other safety precautions—normally methods that are reserved for severe weather incidents (hurricanes, floods),’ Tom Buiocchi, CEO of the facilities software company ServiceChannel, said in an email. ‘But now also for the social unrest throughout the summer of 2020 and in preparation for the upcoming national election.’”

Here in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said today that the state was preparing for post-election violence—but declined to be more specific.

Per Politico: “Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that California is taking precautions in case of civil unrest on election night amid an emotional and partisan presidential campaign, in a state where voters overwhelmingly oppose President Donald Trump. ‘As it relates to making sure people are safe, making sure not only the process of voting is a safe and healthy one, but keeping people safe after the election for whatever may occur, the answer is yes, we are always gaming out different scenarios and making sure that we are prepared,’ the governor said when asked about possible election night chaos.”

Folks, I have no idea what next week will bring. However, I can promise you that the Independent will be here to help you make sense of it.

Today’s news:

• Related to all of the above: According to The Washington Post, mail delays are causing major problems in swing states: “Over the past five days, the on-time rate for ballots in 17 postal districts representing 10 battleground states and 151 electoral votes was 89.1 percent—5.9 percentage points lower than the national average. By that measure, more than 1 in 10 ballots are arriving outside the Postal Service’s one-to-three-day delivery window for first-class mail. Those delays loom large over the election: 28 states will not accept ballots that arrive after Election Day, even if they are postmarked before.” Gulp.

• This was the worst week for COVID-19 cases in the U.S. since the pandemic arrived …

• … and the worst week for the stock market since March, when everything started going to hell.

• Yikes! I need a drink now! Maybe something with Fernet in it? From the Independent: “Unlike most apertifs and digestifs, Fernet-Branca is very low in sugar. It’s also one of the only amari liqueurs to be aged for a full year in oak barrels, a process that adds intensity and complexities to the final result. Distilled in Milan, Italy, since 1845, its ingredients include the familiar and the exotic: Chamomile, peppermint, saffron, myrrh, Chinese rhubarb, aloe ferox, angelica, colombo root, cinchona bark and orris root are just a sampling of the herbs that go into the mix using both hot and cold infusion processes. … On this continent, it’s most frequently consumed as a bracing shot. It’s also turning up as an ingredient in many craft-cocktail recipes.”

• OK. Back to the news—and some good news to boot: Scientists are examining the possibility that a flu shot may also offer some protection against the coronavirus.

• Look! More good news: It looks like Regeneron—the antibody treatment the president received as he battled COVID-19—is somewhat effective against the virus. At least that’s what the company behind Regeneron said earlier this week.

• Alas, the good news stops here: A Washington Post investigation looks at how the government bungled the response in nursing homes to COVID-19: “Government inspectors … during the first six months of the crisis cleared nearly 8 in 10 nursing homes of any infection-control violations even as the deadliest pandemic to strike the United States in a century sickened and killed thousands. … All told, homes that received a clean bill of health earlier this year had about 290,000 coronavirus cases and 43,000 deaths among residents and staff, state and federal data shows. That death toll constitutes roughly two-thirds of all COVID-19 fatalities linked to nursing homes from March through August.”

• NPR reports that the government is gathering—but not publicly releasing—data on COVID-19 hospitalizations that could be quite helpful: “NPR has obtained documents that give a snapshot of data the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services collects and analyzes daily. The documents—reports sent to agency staffers—highlight trends in hospitalizations and pinpoint cities nearing full hospital capacity and facilities under stress. They paint a granular picture of the strain on hospitals across the country that could help local citizens decide when to take extra precautions against COVID-19. Withholding this information from the public and the research community is a missed opportunity to help prevent outbreaks and even save lives, say public health and data experts who reviewed the documents for NPR.”

• Buzzfeed yesterday published a trove of documents—which Immigrations and Customs Enforcement only provided after being sued—regarding more than 40 immigrants who died while in custody over the last four years. Key quote: “In response to a request for comment on this story, ICE said the agency takes the health and safety of detainees very seriously and while deaths are ‘unfortunate and always a cause for concern,’ they are ‘exceedingly rare.’ But internal emails show that ICE’s own investigators raised serious concerns about the agency’s care of the people it detains, with one employee describing the treatment leading up to one death as ‘a bit scary.’”

The Trump administration is removing the gray wolf from the Endangered Species list. The Interior Department is hailing the removal as a species-recovery success story; environmentalists are calling it “premature” and “reckless.”

• Gov. Newsom signed an executive order on Wednesday allowing Californians 70 and older to renew their driver’s licenses by mail. According to the Sacramento Bee: “These Californians traditionally have to apply in-person for a new license at a DMV office. The department estimates around 860,000 seniors visit offices every year to apply for updated licenses.

• The Riverside Press-Enterprise looks at steps Inland Empire hospitals are taking just in case Southern California endures a coronavirus surge—and examines the ways in which treatments for COVID-19 have changed as medical professionals have learned more about the disease.

• Our partners at CalMatters break down the ways in which counties—including our very own—are joining forces to challenge the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. Key quote: “There’s a lot of broad consensus among the counties that … we should be able to return to local control of the crisis and not be stuck under this (tiered reopening) metric for the long term.

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs Podcast, with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr. I joined fellow guest Dr. Laura Rush to discuss COVID-19, mask enforcement (or the lack thereof) and other things. Check it out!

• Finally, we set our clocks back this weekend, as Daylight Saving Time comes to an end for another year. A neurologist, writing for The Conversation, looks at the reasons why the time change is really a terrible thing for humans who need sleep.

As always, thanks for reading. Please have a safe, fun weekend—because next week’s certainly going to be a doozy. If you like this Daily Digest, or the other journalism the Independent produces, please consider becoming a Supporter of us by clicking here. The Daily Digest will return on Monday.

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I received some interesting reader responses to yesterday’s news that Riverside County was being demoted from the red, “Substantial” COVID-19 tier to the purple, “Widespread” tier. Here are three of those responses, slightly edited for style:


Gyms don’t make people sick; shitty food does, though. The fact that fast-food joints and cannabis shops are considered ESSENTIAL IS LUDICROUS. California invented the entire “fitness industry” and now they’re trying to destroy it. Why has no one in a position of leadership made any statement whatsoever about staying in shape and eating healthy—the most important things you can do?! Instead, people are told to stay home, order pizza and get fat.


I understand why you’re bummed about businesses closing—we all are. But you should point out there’s one person to blame for all of this: Trump. If he had properly led from the beginning and made sure everyone was on the same page with mask-wearing (after Fauci learned its importance), I believe most businesses would be open.

Business owners are venting at our responsible governor when he’s done everything he can to slow the spread. You can use this analogy with your readers: Trump is the divorced dad who has his kids on the weekend and never says no to them—including underage alcohol parties, wild sex and “screw the neighbors.” Newsom is the mom who has to be responsible in guiding her kids to make the right choices so they won’t harm themselves and succeed in life and don’t turn out to be delinquents.

“Dad” Trump will be gone after Jan. 21 while “mom” Newsom will be around at least until the next election, faced with cleaning up after the “dad’s” mess.


You said: “To those of you who look at this information and shout, ‘Lives are more important than businesses!’ You need to realize that lives and businesses are inextricably intertwined. Business are life-long dreams, sources of income, sanity-maintaining distractions and so much more, to so many people.” THANK YOU FOR UNDERSTANDING THIS! So many of us small business owners feel unheard and left behind.


If you value the journalism that the Independent provides—for free, both online and in print—please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Any amount of support helps us keep the figurative lights on; click here for more details. Thank you for reading.

News from the day:

• Example No. 244,851 of the importance of local journalism: The FBI raided the Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation as part of an investigation yesterday; you can read the San Diego Union-Tribune’s coverage of the raid here. The nonprofit medical provider—which has multiple locations in the Coachella Valley—started off in Borrego Springs, a small town in San Diego County south of Palm Desert and west of the Salton Sea, before expanding to become a behemoth provider in San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. So … what does this have to do with local journalism? The look into potential wrongdoing at Borrego appears to have started months ago, at the tiny Borrego Sun newspaper, which has a special page dedicated to its Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation coverage here. Props to the Borrego Sun for its work.

• An update on those shady ballot boxes put out by the California Republican Party, from the Los Angeles Times: “A Sacramento judge refused Wednesday to order the California Republican Party to disclose information about its ballot drop box program to state officials, rejecting an argument by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra that the investigation was essential to ensuring ballots are being properly handled. The decision by Judge David Brown does not prevent Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla from returning to court over the matter but marks a significant victory for GOP officials who have insisted their ballot collection campaign is following state election law.

• President Trump sat down for an interview with 60 Minutes yesterday—and it apparently did not go well. According to CNN: “Trump walked out of the interview because he was frustrated with (Lesley) Stahl's line of questioning, one source said. Another person said the bulk of the interview was focused on coronavirus. On Wednesday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said there is a ‘high probability’ that the President will release footage of the interview before it airs Sunday, and accused Stahl of acting ‘more like an opinion journalist.’” Sigh.

The pope has come out in favor of civil unions for same-sex couples. According to The Washington Post: “Francis’s comment does nothing to alter Catholic doctrine, but it nonetheless represents a remarkable shift for a church that has fought against LGBT legal rights—with past popes calling same-sex unions inadmissible and deviant. Francis’s statement is also notable within a papacy that on the whole hasn’t been as revolutionary as progressives had hoped and conservatives had feared.

• And now we get to the portion of the Daily Digest where we say something positive about the president. Yes, really. The Washington Post ran a fascinating piece today discussing how truly, honestly close we apparently are to having a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Key quote: “‘Going from where we were in January and February—where we are going to be hit by this tsunami—to very likely having a vaccine, or more than one vaccine, that is proven safe and effective within a year, is staggeringly impressive, and would only have happened with strong and effective federal action,’ said Robert Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. Wachter has strongly criticized the administration’s response to the pandemic, arguing it has cost tens of thousands of lives. But he called the vaccine effort ‘nearly flawless’ so far—words he said he found difficult to say.”

• Our partners at CalMatters are reporting that Gov. Gavin Newsom is about to get sued by environmental-group Center for Biological Diversity, because he continues to allow fracking permits. Key quote: “(Kassie) Siegel said the permits are ‘illegal’ and fail to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The Center for Biological Diversity warned Newsom on Sept. 21 of their intent to sue if his administration continued to issue fracking permits.

The Conversation takes a look at violence taking place against female political leaders—with male lawmakers often the perpetrators. Key quote: “On Sept. 24, House Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Jackie Speier introduced a resolution–a largely symbolic congressional statement that carries no legal weight but provides moral support on certain issues–recognizing violence against women in politics as a global phenomenon. House Resolution 1151, which is currently under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, calls on the government to take steps to mitigate this violence in the United States and abroad.”

• Speaking of violence in politics: Some voters in Alaska and Florida have received emails threatening them to vote for Trump, “or we will come after you.” Some of the emails say they were sent by the Proud Boys, but NPR reports that seems unlikely, and the group is denying involvement—and in fact, NBC News says the FBI thinks Iran may be involved.

• The good news: NPR looks at increasing evidence that COVID-19 death rates are going down because medical professionals have gotten a lot better at treating the disease:Two new peer-reviewed studies are showing a sharp drop in mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drop is seen in all groups, including older patients and those with underlying conditions, suggesting that physicians are getting better at helping patients survive their illness.

• The bad: There’s yet more evidence that the pandemic is taking more lives than those included in the official death counts for COVID-19. According to the CDC: “Overall, an estimated 299,028 excess deaths occurred from late January through October 3, 2020, with 198,081 (66%) excess deaths attributed to COVID-19. The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25–44 years and among Hispanic or Latino persons.”

• More CDC-related news: The agency has released new guidance on what, exactly, it means to be in “close contact” with someone who has COVID-19. According to the Washington Post: “The CDC had previously defined a ‘close contact’ as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case. The updated guidance, which health departments rely on to conduct contact tracing, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, according to a CDC statement Wednesday.

If a voter shows up to a polling place without a mask on Election Day, they will not be turned away, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Do you subscribe to Quibi? No? Neither do I—and therefore it’s no surprise that the streaming service announced it was shutting down today, even though backers had raised $1.75 billion (!) to launch the company.

• And now for some happier, local entertainment news, from the Independent: “There has been almost no programming from the Coachella Valley’s theater companies since the pandemic arrived and ruined everything in March—with one notable exception: CVRep, and its Theatre Thursday virtual shows. And if the California Department of Public Health gives the OK, CVRep—in conjunction with Cathedral City—could become the first local theater company to bring live productions back to the Coachella Valley, starting in December.” Read what CVRep’s Ron Celona had to say here.

• And finally … I am sorry to put this mental picture in your head, but it appears Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character caught Rudy Giuliani doing something less than appropriate: “In the film, (slated to be) released on Friday (Oct. 23), the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist.”

Again, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

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