CVIndependent

Wed11252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

On this week's drawn-before-the-election weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles pines for pre-COVID days; This Modern World offers up a do-it-yourself strip; Jen Sorensen remembers her family's ancestors; Red Meat enjoys a driving lesson; and Apoca Clips hears Li'l Trumpy's predictions.

Published in Comics

Nov. 3—a day most of us have long been looking forward to, with a mixture of anticipation and dread—is just hours away.

I have been an anxious mess, I will admit, all day—in large part because no matter what happens, a whole lot of people are going to be angry.

As for tomorrow: The Independent won’t be covering the results as they come in, as we don’t have the proper staffing to do that well—and we don’t do things we can’t do well. We’ll have PLENTY of coverage post-election on what everything means, but for Election Day and the immediate aftermath, here are the sources I recommend.

For local results: Follow the county’s election page here. This is where you can see the city and other local results as they come in.

For state results: I recommend following the fantastic coverage of our partners at CalMatters. You can also view the live results as they come in at the secretary of state’s page. Finally, the Los Angeles Times is the closest thing the state has to a newspaper of record, so it’s worth a watch.

For national results: Well, take your pick of all the big media sources. I recommend a big-newspaper website like The New York Times or The Washington Post, or one of the original four (ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS) networks’ news sites over any of the cable-news sites. Also, if you want an interesting foreign perspective, BBC News is worth a look.

Take a deep breath. Stay calm. And hang in there.

News from the day, much of it related, as you’d expect:

• The Associated Press has published a lengthy explainer on how the organization “calls” each race. Find that here.

• Remember that on the national level, there is not just one election; there are actually 50 separate elections taking place, all of which are done a little differently—and that’s REALLY important to remember this year. In some states, all of the early/received mail-in votes will be counted and released first (and those, according to polling, may tend to favor Biden); in other states, it’s the exact opposite. The New York Times has published a fantastic chart explaining when we can expect each state to report what results here.

Nate Silver, of FiveThirtyEight, says Trump has about a 10 percent chance of winning—and 10 percent is NOT nothing. His piece, “I’m Here To Remind You That Trump Can Still Win,” is worth a read, to better understand the vagaries of polling and whatnot.

• Sigh. The president today signed an executive order creating a “1776 Commission.” According to Politico, the goal of the commission is “to promote ‘patriotic education’ and counter lessons that he says divide Americans on race and slavery and teach students to ‘hate their own country.’” This is some scary stuff.

• Meanwhile, the White House is being surrounded by “non-scalable” fencing in anticipation of protests.

• Aaand in some states, last-minute attack ads with a decidedly anti-LGBTQ slant are popping up. According to NBC News, an example: “Omar Leos, a candidate for the San Antonio School Board, has been happily married to his husband since 2013, but he did not expect his relationship to be an issue in the campaign. However, Texas Family Action, a political action committee affiliated with the conservative San Antonio Family Association, sent a mailer to voters in Leos’ district describing him as being ‘“married” to same-sex man’ and noting he has ‘no children’ in the school district.” 

• Now for some good news: A federal judge—known for a conservative bent—rejected an attempt by Republicans to get 127,000 votes thrown out in Texasbecause they were cast via drive-through voting. Thank goodness.

• The big local news of the day: The 2021 Palm Springs International Film Festival has been cancelled. While not surprising at all, it is very sad. A quote from the news release: “As we reach the end of the year, it is clear that we will not be able to present the film festival the way we have over the past 31 years. This is not an easy choice but we have made the decision to skip the 2021 edition. Rest assured we plan to be back in 2022 when we can hopefully be together safely again in theaters. We are still planning to celebrate and honor the best in cinema with our Film Awards Presentation on February 25, 2021 and plans for our annual short film festival scheduled for June 22-28, 2021 remain intact.”

• Back to national news: Over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci told The Washington Post that the status of the pandemic in the United States is dire: He said: “We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation. All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”

• You can probably guess what happened next, but anyway: This assessment really ticked off the president and his supporters—so much so that Trump told a crowd that he might fire Fauci after the election.

• Sort of related: Dr. Scott Atlas, the man who apparently has Trump’s ear over Fauci these days regarding the coronavirus, doesn’t know what RT is. According to The New York Times: “Dr. Scott W. Atlas, the White House coronavirus adviser, apologized on Sunday for appearing on a Russian state-sponsored news show that has been instrumental in an effort by the Russian government to spread false health information during the pandemic. Dr. Atlas did not, however, apologize for the content of the interview, where he continued a pattern as Mr. Trump’s adviser of downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as asserting without evidence that lockdown measures used to contain the virus are ‘killing people.’

• Our partners at CalMatters created a map/chart showing where donations to the two main presidential candidates came from in California, broken down by zip code. By that measure, some parts of the Coachella Valley prefer Biden; others prefer Trump.

The conclusions of a recent Stanford study: “We investigate the effects of large group meetings on the spread of COVID-19 by studying the impact of 18 Trump campaign rallies. … We conclude that these 18 rallies ultimately resulted in more than 30,000 incremental confirmed cases of COVID-19. Applying county-specific post-event death rates, we conclude that the rallies likely led to more than 700 deaths (not necessarily among attendees).”

• Related, I fear, is this headline from Slate: “Trump Plans to Hold an Election Night Party Inside White House With 400 Guests.”

• OK, and now a little more good news: A small study out of the U.K. shows that people who had mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 cases still had cellular immunity six months later, “suggesting they might have some level of protection for at least that time.”

• Also good: A judge has told the U.S. Postal Service to get its crap together: “The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) must remind senior managers they must follow its ‘extraordinary measures’ policy and use its Express Mail Network to expedite ballots ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election, under an order signed by a U.S. judge.”

• Finally, there’s a word in Mexico, “zozobra,” that defines a concept that heretofore was unfamiliar to many Americans: “The word ‘zozobra’ is an ordinary Spanish term for ‘anxiety’ but with connotations that call to mind the wobbling of a ship about to capsize. The term emerged as a key concept among Mexican intellectuals in the early 20th century to describe the sense of having no stable ground and feeling out of place in the world.” Read more, from The Conversation, on how to handle zozobra—something many of us are experiencing right now.

Well, here we go. Stay safe, and go vote if you have not done so already. The Daily Digest will be back on Wednesday, the good Lord willing.

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.

Published in Daily Digest

In this space back on April 2, I was feeling sad, in part due to the fact that—other than bad ’80s music—most of my normal coping mechanisms were gone due to the lockdown:

On days like this during “normal” times, there are a handful of things I know I can do to get my head into a happier, more-productive frame of mind. Watching or listening to baseball, for example. A quick dip in the apartment hot tub helps. For some reason, a quick Aldi run does the trick. Yes, I am weird: Grocery shopping normally clears my head.

But … there’s no baseball. The apartment hot tub is closed, per state orders. And grocery shopping is daunting these days, and should only be done when absolutely necessary.

Today, as October prepares to make way for November, the apartment complex’s hot tub is open again. Grocery-store runs are less daunting (with plenty of toilet paper and hand sanitizer!). And then there’s baseball: If you’d have told me on back on April 2 that on Oct. 28, I’d be celebrating my Los Angeles Dodgers’ first World Series win since 1988, I’d have been euphoric—because at that point, I didn’t think there would be a 2020 baseball season at all.

This brings us to the nauseating peculiarities of last night’s World Series Game 6, during which the Dodgers won their elusive championship.

At the beginning of the eighth inning, the Dodgers’ star third baseman, Justin Turner, was mysteriously removed from the game; the announcers speculated that he may have suffered some sort of injury. Fortunately, Turner’s absence didn’t cost the Dodgers; they went on to win, 3-1, clinching the series, four games to two.

I stood in my living room, close to tears, as I watched it all unfold. I was so grateful that we got baseball this year. And I was elated that my team had won it all, after years of near misses, for the first time since my middle school years.

And then came the announcement: Justin Turner had been removed from the game because he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

Had the Rays won that game, there almost certainly would not have been a deciding Game 7 tonight; it would have been postponed, like so many other sports contests have been postponed as this virus continues to spread. If other players subsequently tested positive—as of this writing, no other positive tests have been announced, thank goodness—it’s possible Game 7 could have been delayed for up to a week, and possibly even cancelled.

To make matters even crazier, Turner decided to leave the area to which he’d been quarantined to join his teammates on the field during the latter portion of the post-game celebration. And it’s since been revealed that Turner was allowed to stay in the game after the league learned, apparently during the second inning, that Turner had received an “inconclusive” test result. According to league protocols, he should have been removed from the game right then and there.

In other words, even though baseball made it through the season, it barely did so—with plenty of questionable behavior all around. In typical 2020 fashion, we can’t even have a dramatic World Series win without a depressing subplot.

In terms of dealing with this damned pandemic, we’ve come a long way. But the full story of the World Series shows how far we’ve yet to go.

Today’s news:

Health-care workers at 11 Tenet-operated hospitals in California—including Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, JFK Memorial in Indio, and the High Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree—have voted to strike sometime soon. These members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West say Tenet is not doing enough to keep both workers and patients safe during the pandemic. Read the strike announcement here; for more on the concerns the workers have, read the Independent’s coverage here.

Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and largely rural points eastward.) Our numbers here remain so-so: Cases are trending up slightly, while our weekly case-positivity rate remains OK (5.2 percent). Hospitalizations are also steady. (Ignore the weird Oct. 25 ICU spike; that didn’t actually happen and had to do with a data glitch.) Worst of all, five of our neighbors died from COVID-19 during the week ending Oct. 25.

• Related: COVID-19 is now the No. 3 cause of death in Riverside County, behind heart disease and cancer—and it continues to disproportionately kill Black and Latino residents, according to county Director of Public Health Kim Saruwatari. Key quote, from the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “Saruwatari also addressed the assertion by many pandemic skeptics that COVID-19 deaths are being inflated. ‘When we look at 2019 compared to 2020, cancer and heart disease, our leading causes of death, have increased in 2020, as did COVID,’ Saruwatari said. ‘So it’s not that we are detracting from our other leading causes of death and adding to COVID. We are seeing a true increase in death due to COVID.’

A statewide moratorium on water-service shutoffs remains in effect, to make sure people who can’t pay their water bills due to the economic downturn don’t lose this vital utility. The Independent’s Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to two of the largest valley water agencies regarding how the moratorium is affecting their finances; learn what they had to say here.

• Remember that anonymously written op-ed that appeared in The New York Times back in 2018, in which a senior official in the Trump administration claimed a lot of White House employees were working hard to counter the president’s “misguided impulses”? Well, the author revealed himself today—and it’s Miles Taylor, a former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security. Who in the heck is Miles Taylor, you ask? The Los Angeles Times explains.

• So … why in the world did the president and other members of his administration spill the beans so extensively to Bob Woodward, of all people, earlier this year? The latest stunner to come out of those conversations came out of the mouth of Jared Kushner, per CNN: “In a taped interview on April 18, Kushner told legendary journalist Bob Woodward that Trump was ‘getting the country back from the doctors’ in what he called a ‘negotiated settlement.’ Kushner also proclaimed that the US was moving swiftly through the ‘panic phase’ and ‘pain phase’ of the pandemic and that the country was at the ‘beginning of the comeback phase.’” What?! 

• Cases in Europe are surging—and governments there are locking down again. However, at least in Germany, there’s a key difference compared to what’s happening here, per The New York Times: “(German Chancellor Angela) Merkel conceded that the restrictions are ‘burdensome’ for a public that has grown increasingly weary of—and rebellious toward—limitations. But she stressed that they were necessary. German hospitals have seen the number of patients double in the past 10 days. The government will compensate small and midsize businesses affected by the monthlong closures with up to 75 percent of losses, the chancellor said. Financial aid for affected business will be worth up to 10 billion euros.”

• Related: The former commissioner of the FDA says the U.S. is about three weeks behind Europe in terms of the coronavirus surge. Key quote, from CNBC: “‘The density of the epidemic underway in European countries like France, Italy and the U.K. right now far exceeds what’s under way in the United States,’ he said. ‘For the most part, it’s a little bad everywhere in the United States. It’s not really, really bad anywhere with the exception of maybe Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Utah.’” Gulp.

• From The Conversation: Donald Trump’s support among evangelicals is beginning to slip … but just a little. Key quote: “What appears to have changed of late is that some politically conservative evangelicals—those who prioritize abortion restrictions, opposition to same-sex marriage and religious freedom—agree less than they did in 2016 that Trump deserves their vote. While President Trump may not be ‘pastor-in-chief,’ many evangelical leaders are reminding their fellow Christians that they should not view the office of president as somehow exempt from what they perceive as biblical standards of leadership.

A recent Axios-Ipsos poll shows that most Americans are taking the pandemic seriously, and exercising necessary precautions. Key quote: “A majority of Americans remain extremely or very concerned about the coronavirus, and about the possibility of cases rising in their area this fall and winter. However, there continues to be a significant difference in levels of concern by party affiliation.

• And finally: While things in many ways are terrible right now, at least we have this re-creation of that Access Hollywood interview of Trump by Billy Bush, compliments of Sarah Cooper and Helen Mirren.

As always, thanks for reading. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you’re able; advertising remains way down due to the pandemic, so we’re depending on reader support more than ever before. Be safe, please; the Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

On April 2, with COVID-19 establishing itself as both a financial and fatal threat, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order prohibiting water shutoffs by local water agencies.

The order applied to all homes and small businesses in the state, protecting them from losing their access to water due to the nonpayment of service fees.

“This executive order will help people who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring they have water service,” Gov. Newsom said at the time. “Water is critical to our very lives, and in this time, it is critically important that it is available for everyone.”

Today, nearly seven months have passed since then, and the state is still mired in the pandemic—so questions are beginning to arise about how much debt is being accumulated, not only by the state’s water providers, but by customers who can’t afford to keep up with payments.

An Oct. 15 article from CalMatters reported: “The State Water Resources Control Board regulates all public water systems in California, serving close to 85 percent of the state’s customers. The board hasn’t required the utilities under its purview to report specific data about how the pandemic has had an impact on their finances, nor has it tracked ratepayer debt. Initial efforts over the summer to collect some of that information from water providers through a voluntary survey fell short” when only 10 percent of the state’s approximately 2,900 public-water systems responded.

The Independent spoke to representatives from two of the largest Coachella Valley water agencies to assess the impacts of this moratorium on their operations. To their credit, the directors at both the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and the Desert Water Agency (DWA) voted on their own to enact water-shutoff moratoriums in March, weeks prior to the governor’s order.

“Right now, we have 510 accounts, out of a total of 23,492 active accounts, that are severely delinquent, which means they’re somewhere between five and nine months past due,” said Ashley Metzger, the outreach and conservation manager at the DWA. “Also, we have about 1,240 accounts that are delinquent, meaning at least two to five months past due. So, overall, we have 1,750 past-due accounts.”

Katie Evans, the director of communication and conservation at the CVWD, was less specific, but said the impact of the shutoff moratorium has been “exactly what we expected.”

“Every year, we generate around $1 million in late or delinquency fees. So we’re now anticipating that won’t happen (for the 2020-2021 fiscal year). In the meantime, other revenue hasn’t really changed much,” Evans said.

Is the shortfall in customer payments causing a cashflow problem for the CVWD?

“We have a reserve fund called the rate-stabilization fund,” Evans said. “It’s very specific for (an unusual occurrence) like this. It ensures that we have funds if there’s a major change in revenue. The intention there is to prevent a big spike in consumer rates in order to compensate for a catastrophic change in revenues due to some crazy situation like a pandemic. So, I think we’re fine, because we have that reserve available.”

To date, CVWD has not yet needed to tap into that reserve.

One reason why cashflow hasn’t yet become a major issue for these local water providers is the valley-wide customer-payment assistance program in which they’ve all opted to participate, administered by the United Way of the Desert. According to the United Way website, The “Help2Others” (or “H2O”) program helps eligible residential customers avoid water-service shutoffs due to nonpayment. Agencies across the Coachella Valley offer between $50 and $100 in annual credits.

(To find out about the program, visit www.unitedwayofthedesert.org/help2others.)

“We have experienced a 200 percent increase in demand for participation in the assistance program,” CVWD’s Evans said. “That’s actually kind of good news, because that means customers who are having trouble paying their bills, instead of just letting it accumulate, are reaching out for customer assistance to get help to pay their bill.”

Currently, both agencies contribute “non-rate” revenues to the H2O program, and at times, other ancillary revenues have been directed there, including water-vendor contributions, public donations and contributions from employees of the agencies themselves.

“Our fund was actually started using employee contributions and money from vendors,” DWA’s Metzger said. “It helps low-income customers when they need it. Also, what we really liked when we set up the program is that the United Way can connect our customers with other social services and resources, so that it’s more of a holistic approach.”

Looking ahead at the financial picture, Metzger reports some positive developments at the DWA in the July-September period—the first quarter of the new fiscal year.

“We’re actually tracking under budget for expenses, which is good,” she said. “Year-to-date, in our operating fund, expenses were 12 percent under budget, while our revenues are (tracking) 7 percent over budget projections.”

That good news didn’t happen by accident, though. The DWA’s fiscal 2021 budget was being prepared when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and the extent of the potential financial losses became apparent quickly.

“Our general manager, Mark Krause, told us all: ‘I don’t want to see a wish list. I don’t want to see a want list. I want to see a need list,’” Metzger said. “Basically, he said that if there’s (an expense) that isn’t imperative to do this year, then we don’t want to do it this year.”

Over at the CVWD, Evans reported: “The 2021 fiscal-year budget maintains current rates for domestic water, (as well as) canal and construction meter charges, and includes no increases in staffing for the district.” The operating budget decreased by 3.8 percent ($11.1 million) year over year, while the capital-improvement budget saw a 23.2 percent ($29.4 million) cut.

Still, there is much uncertainty about what the future holds regarding the longer-term costs and the potential debt problems lurking beneath the surface. No specific date has been set by the state for ending the moratorium.

As for when the moratorium ends, Metzger offered some words of comfort.

“It’s not as if the day that the moratorium ends, we’re going to shut everybody off,” she said. “We’ll work with people to set up payment plans so that they can get (their finances) back in order.”

Published in Local Issues

Happy (?) Monday, everyone.

If you have not yet voted in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll … well, now’s your last chance. Voting is slated to end tonight (Monday night). However, I know a lot of you don’t read the Daily Digest until the morning after we send it—so we’re going to extend voting until noon on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Unlike the other publications’ reader polls, we only ask each reader to vote once. That’s because unlike, say, that desperate daily’s poll, the goal of our Best of Coachella Valley poll is not to boost our web traffic; our goal is to get a strong, comprehensive slate of winners and finalists.

Thanks to all of you who already have voted! And for those of you who haven’t, click here!

Today’s news:

• The wind that’s wreaked minor havoc here in the last 24 hours is helping fuel a nasty wildfire in Orange County that, as of this writing, has forced 60,000 people to evacuate in Irvine. Two firefighters have also been badly injured, according to the Los Angeles Times: “The firefighters, 26 and 31, were both intubated after one of them suffered second and third degree burns over 65% of their body and the other suffered burns over 50% of their body.

The winds plus fire dangers have caused PG&E to cut power to 361,000 Northern Californians.

• By the time you read this, there’s a very good chance that Amy Coney Barrett will have been confirmed as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

NASA announced today that there is now definitive evidence that there’s water on the moon. The Washington Post explains one reason why this matters: “Moon water has been eyed as a potential resource by NASA, which created a program named Artemis in 2019 to send American astronauts back to the moon this decade. Launching water to space costs thousands of dollars per gallon. Future explorers may be able to use lunar water not only to quench their own thirst but to refuel their rockets.”

I recently spoke with Mike Thompson, the CEO of the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, about the construction currently under way at the Center’s building—which has been closed since March because of, well, you know. We also discussed what changes COVID-19 will lead to when the Center reopens—and Thompson teased possible expansion plans, but wouldn’t spill the beans. Key quote: “I was on (a virtual Center program) last week with a small group of people, and one of the gentlemen was older, and he said, ‘I’ve been able to do more since the pandemic than I was prior, because my physical condition just didn’t allow me to do so many things. Now, I feel more connected than I did before, because I can sit in on a new number of things virtually.’ So I think we have to be mindful that ‘connection’ means different things to different people.” 

• Now THIS is a 2020 news-story lede: “Eight days out from a presidential election, the president of Fox News and key members of the network’s election team have been told to quarantine after they were exposed to someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. … The infected person was on a flight chartered to transport Fox News employees returning to New York from the Thursday night presidential debate in Nashville. The person tested negative before departing Nashville and positive after returning.

• We’ve linked to stories that basically say the same thing before, and I am pretty sure we’ll link to stories that basically say the same thing again … and if you want to be really horrified, read to the end of this quote, from MedPage Today: “If 95% of people in the U.S. wore masks, about 130,000 fewer Americans would die through February 2021 compared to current reference data, reported the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) COVID-19 Forecasting Team, based at the University of Washington in Seattle. At 85% adherence, almost 96,000 lives could be saved in the U.S., the authors wrote in Nature Medicine. Otherwise, the model projects a cumulative death toll of about 511,000 people in the U.S. by the end of February.” Sigh.

• The White House chief of staff made a remark over the weekend that raised a LOT of eyebrows—because it implied that the Trump administration is, more or less, conceding the battle against the virus’ spread. According to CNN: “White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday that the US is ‘not going to control’ the coronavirus pandemic, as cases surge across the country and nearly 225,000 Americans have died from the virus. ‘We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas,’ Meadows told CNN's Jake Tapper on State of the Union.

• An immunologist, writing for The Conversation, explains one of the reasons why COVID-19 can be so deadly: It appears that in some people, the disease causes their immune systems to turn against them: “Of great concern has been the sporadic identification of so-called autoreactive antibodies that, instead of targeting disease causing microbes, target the tissues of individuals suffering from severe cases of COVID-19.

• Wait … COVID-19 causes HAIR LOSS in some people?! Yep, according to NBC News.

Our partners at CalMatters took a look at some of those glossy mailers we’re all being inundated with … and discovers, surprise surprise, that they’re often rather deceptive.

• The New York Times published a powerful piece on Charles Adams, a Black police officer and football coach in Minneapolis—who feared for both his life and the lives of his students when protests broke out there following the death of George Floyd. Key quote: “He was a 20-year veteran of the police force, an African-American officer who tried to effect change from the inside. He was also the coach of a state championship football team in a poor, Black neighborhood, and a steadfast shepherd for his players. As the sky darkened, he feared for them. Where were they? Were they safe? He feared for himself. His uniform made him a target. The face shield and gas mask hid his identity from the angry crowds, obscuring the beloved figure he has been across large swaths of the city.”

• Well, this is depressing: Buzzfeed talks to some health-care workers who were forced to turn to online sex work to make ends meet after SARS-CoV-2 arrived: “Stories of young women paying their way through school with sex work are nothing new, but in the seven months since the WHO declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic, online sex work—often left out of discussions of ride-hailing and food delivery apps—has become an increasingly mainstream facet of the gig economy, and people like Clara (who lost work at a university hospital as a patient care assistant) say the risks are worth it to keep themselves afloat.”

And finally … vandalism of campaign signs is a common occurrence across the country, alas. But Florida—of COURSE it’s Florida—takes things to a whole new level: NBC News reports that a man named James Blight decided to commandeer a backhoe to attack Biden-Harris signs. Key quote: “’Blight told police that he had been drinking whiskey all day and did not remember most of the day,’ (Haines City Police Public Information Officer Mike) Ferguson wrote. ‘He said that he couldn’t help but hit the Joe Biden signs and acknowledged to taking down a fence in the process. Blight said he did not know how to operate the equipment.’”

Try to have a good week, everyone—but expect craziness, because, well, it’s eight days before Election Day, and it’s 2020. The Daily Digest will be back Wednesday—and please help us out, if you can, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, because, well, we have bills to pay, and we give out our content for free, because that’s how we roll. As always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

In November 2016, Mike Thompson, the CEO of the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, joined his staff and the organization’s board of directors to officially welcome the public to the Center’s new home—the McDonald/Wright Building, located at 1301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.

“The Center has a big vision to truly be a community center for LGBT people living in the Coachella Valley,” Thompson told the Independent in 2015, when the purchase of the building on behalf of the Center, by John McDonald and Rob Wright, was announced. “We’ve already outgrown the space we’re in.”

In the years that followed, the Center and its supporters spent millions of dollars turning the building into a true community hub for the Coachella Valley’s LGBTQ residents—so much so that the Center needed to recently embark on more construction, to expand the usable spaces within the building.

Then came COVID-19. Four years after that triumphant ribbon-cutting, the Center’s doors have now been closed to the public for more than seven months.

I recently spoke to Thompson about the sudden and shocking conversion he and his staff had to make from operating a physical community center, to running a largely virtual, online community center. We also talked about the building’s ongoing construction; preparations to eventually reopen; and the Center’s efforts to bolster its offerings to LGBTQ residents valley-wide—especially in the eastern Coachella Valley.

The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert has put a lot of time and effort, justifiably so, into this big, beautiful building. However, since March, you’ve had this big, beautiful building that people can’t go into. Talk to me about the task of taking the Center from physical to virtual.

We like to say that while our doors are closed, our hearts are open. We understand that we have a responsibility in caring for our community, and we will be slow in reopening our physical doors. So we’re taking this time when our doors are closed to prepare the space for when it can be reopened.

What does that actually mean? We’re fitting all our community rooms to be able to accommodate both in-person participants and virtual participants. In every community room, there will be two monitors. One monitor is on the facilitator, and then other is projecting back the in-person participants. So anyone that joins remotely can feel that he, she or they is part of the physical space.

We’re reallocating how the space is used, because we are moving our Behavioral Health Clinic from 750 square feet to 2,800 square feet on our second floor. It’s going from four therapy offices to 10 therapy offices, plus two group-therapy spaces. That frees up a space on our third floor that will be a conference room. … We found ourselves competing with our own programming for space use, because everybody was using the Center—which is what it was designed for. … We’re making sure we’re able to accommodate people, both in person and virtually, because we know when we do reopen, there will be reduced capacity.

We’re undergoing an extensive construction project where people couldn’t even access the building if they wanted to. So, actually, if there’s any silver lining in this downtime, it’s that it has allowed us to really focus on all the construction without the interference of risking the safety of our staff or guests with our doors being open.

How much of this was planned before COVID, and how much of this has been planned since COVID?

The entire reconstruction was planned pre-COVID. In fact, we were beginning about the time that the shutdown began. Now, how we plan for the future—that’s all a result of COVID. We’re putting UV lighting in our (heating and cooling) system, to make sure the air that is circulated through the Center is as clean and healthy as possible, so that when people come here, their risk is mitigated. We’re trying to eliminate as many touchpoints as possible. Urinals and water fountains—all that stuff is going to be new and touchless. We’re even going to a QR code. … When you come in, you scan your QR code that lets us know that you’re here, but only after you’ve come up to a body-temperature kiosk.

So, let’s say you want to come to this Eisenhower presentation on a Wednesday night (after we reopen). We’re only going to let X number of people into the space, so we’ll ask you to go online and fill out a form; it will reserve your spot. Once we’ve identified that the physical spaces are allocated, we’ll then direct people to sign up for the virtual participation. … So, after people come in and use their QR code, if something were to happen during your time here, we can now track everybody that’s been here during a particular time of day.

So that could be used for COVID-19 contact tracing, for example?

Exactly.

When do you anticipate the construction being completed?

We’re saying the end of January, but actually, in the second-floor clinic, they’re painting the baseboards, so the second-floor project is almost done. … New elevators are going in at the beginning of the year as well.

Let’s say Feb. 1 is the date that construction is done. Do you anticipate being able to open your doors by then? I know I’m asking you to predict the future.

Given that the majority of our members and clients are in groups that are most vulnerable (to COVID-19), we want to make sure that we’re not too quick out of the gate. We’re going to follow our health-care professionals and city officials about when they believe it is safe to reopen. … We talk about how there’s our physical well-being that we need to care for—and follow protocols and precautions—and then there’s also our mental health and well-being. What’s the balance? How do we meaningfully create opportunities for people to connect?

Do you worry that the formalities—the temperature-check kiosk, the QR codes, the distancing, the fact that fewer people might be able to come to the Center for that Eisenhower lecture on a Wednesday night—could hinder the “community” part of the community center?

I hope not. I’m encouraged because on these virtual programs that we have going, people are able to join us from any number of places. We’ve got people from Seattle, and Chicago, and Wisconsin, and Northern California who are joining. I was on one last week with a small group of people, and one of the gentlemen was older, and he said, “I’ve been able to do more since the pandemic than I was prior, because my physical condition just didn’t allow me to do so many things. Now, I feel more connected than I did before, because I can sit in on a new number of things virtually.” So I think we have to be mindful that “connection” means different things to different people.

So how do we create the most meaningful opportunities possible? The thing that I’ve heard people miss the most is the monthly Center Social. … You can’t re-create that virtually. I don’t know that there is a replacement for that.

Let’s talk about the financial aspect of this. Your two big fundraising events this year, Red Dress/Dress Red and Center Stage, have been cancelled. First, are they going to come back? Are they going to be different? Second, talk about the financial impact the cancellations have had.

The only event that we are going to do virtually is our Wreath Auction. We didn’t want to do Center Stage in a virtual format, because we wanted to maintain the integrity of that event for when we bring it back. Certainly, we want to do the same with the Red Dress Party, because you can’t replicate that in a different format. … So rather than think about events in the short term, we’re focusing on individual philanthropy. We’ve got a broad and deep donor base, and the majority of our fundraising right now is all targeted individual fundraising. We’ve got our Ocotillo Club, which is our annual and monthly sustaining donor group. They have been consistently generous and faithful, which has been great. In fact, we’ve had a number of new Ocotillo Club donors step in. We’ve also had Ocotillo Club donors increase their level of giving because they had the capacity to do so.

As a community center, we wanted to be really careful. We’ve not publicly had our hand out since the pandemic, because we wanted to make sure that people feel safe and secure first. Now we will be asking for money at points along the way, but we’re going to be doing it differently. Certainly, programs like our Community Food Bank have gotten a big increase in support, (and we’ve gotten) gifts targeted or earmarked for our Behavioral Health Clinic, because those are two things that people know there’s a demand for during this time.

So financially, the Center is doing OK?

We’re in a good, stable place. Even with this construction project, it was paid for before we even started the project. I don’t feel vulnerable at this point. We don’t know what the future is going to hold, but today, I’m comfortable with the decisions that we’ve made, how we’re doing fundraising, and how the community responded.

Tell me about some of the lessons you’ve learned from this pandemic, and how those lessons might lead to better things in the future.

We have said all along that our work has to be relationship-focused … and we’re constantly reminding each other that nobody’s more important than the person in front of us right now. We made a format change in our weekly newsletter; we’re looking at that as an opportunity to engage people just by the questions that we’re asking. At one point early in the pandemic, we were asking people: Do they have access to food? If they said no, then we made sure that they became a client at our Food Bank if they could benefit from that. If they needed people to bring them food—if they couldn’t get to the grocery store for whatever reason—we would make sure that people could get it to them.

The one question that we asked that broke my heart was: Do you have somebody to talk to everyday? The people who responded “no”—that auto-generated an email that said, “Would you like somebody to call you?” So those people who then said “yes,” I personally called. My shortest phone call was probably 25 minutes. They averaged 40 to 45 minutes.

That’s awesome and heartbreaking at the same time.

It is. I still get emotional. … We already had this program ready to launch before the pandemic; we’d been kind of massaging it, but the pandemic accelerated our … buddy program.

That whole idea is: How do we get personal with people? These 7,000-plus people that get our newsletter every week—how do we talk to them in a way where it feels personal, that whatever their need is, they feel they can reach out to us and ask us for help? So that’s, I think, our biggest lesson here—not to get distracted by a building project. We need to be innovative in the way we do programs and to remember that, at the core, it is about relationships.

I know the Center in recent years has been making an effort to reach out further into the Coachella Valley’s LGBTQ community—especially in the east valley. What steps has the Center has made to keep reaching out to the east valley?

We’ll be making more announcements about that soon, but I can say this for now: We recently announced our domain name has changed to TheCenterCV.org to better represent the scope of our work across the Coachella Valley; before, it had been TheCenterPS.org. Not only is that representative of our current work, but our future work, because we’ve got our eye across the valley to make sure that queer people, wherever they are in the Coachella Valley, have access to our programs and services.

Published in Features

It’s Friday, Oct. 23. The election is 11 days away. COVID-19 is setting alarming records across the United States. Interesting times, these.

Let’s get right to the news:

• A new study out of Columbia University says that between 130,000 and 210,000 deaths from COVID-19 could have been prevented with a better response by the federal government. Key quote from the study, via CNN: “Even with the dramatic recent appearance of new COVID-19 waves globally, the abject failures of U.S. government policies and crisis messaging persist. U.S. fatalities have remained disproportionately high throughout the pandemic when compared to even other high-mortality countries.”

• Related: Today was the worst day of the pandemic in the U.S., as far as coronavirus cases are concerned, with nearly 80,000 new cases reported nationwide. The New York Times is calling it the third surge.

• However, California, thank goodness, is the exception to the rule, as cases in the state overall are NOT surging. As a result, as our partners at CalMatters point out, the state government is receiving praise for its handling of the epidemic: “California ‘holds a lesson for all of us,’ Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, recently tweeted, praising ‘strong leadership’ from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s health and human services chief, Dr. Mark Ghaly. Jha credited the state’s ‘huge boost’ in testing and county-by-county ‘micro-targeting’ as ‘smart policies’ that have helped control the virus. California has averaged nearly 124,000 COVID-19 tests each day for the past two weeks.”

The Palm Springs District 4 City Council race has gotten rather ugly, with some online trolls saying horribly sexist things about incumbent Christy Holstege—and accusing her of lying about her sexuality. As a result, three LGBTQ groups have issued a joint statement condemning the attacks. Read that statement here.

Our partners at CalMatters examine possible reasons why Proposition 16, the affirmative-action ballot measure, may go down in defeat, if recent polls are correct—despite a number of high-profile endorsements. Spoiler alert: Voters find the concept of affirmative action to be confusing, apparently.

Remdesivir has become the first COVID-19 treatment to receive full FDA approval. (It had previously received emergency authorization from the FDA for use.) Of course, because this is 2020, the approval came right as a new study showed that the drug does not seem effective at preventing deaths.

Uber and Lyft suffered a big loss in court yesterday. Per NBC News: “A California state appellate court on Thursday upheld a lower court’s ruling that there was an ‘overwhelming likelihood’ Uber and Lyft had misclassified their drivers as contractors rather than employees in violation of a landmark state law.” However, because of holds and likely appeals, nothing will change for now—and, of course, Prop 22 could REALLY change things.

The Washington Post offers up this update on the confirmation fight over Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Despite the squabbling, it’s likely she will be installed on the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as Monday.

An expert in nonverbal communication, writing for The Conversation, watched the presidential debate last night. Click here to read his rather fascinating observations.

The CDC is planning on using an app to keep tabs on the safety of people who receive COVID-19 vaccine(s), if and when it/they is/are ready. CNN Reports: “Through V-SAFE, which stands for ‘vaccine safety assessment for essential workers,’ health checks can be conducted via text messages and email daily in the first week after a person receives the vaccine and then weekly thereafter for six weeks, according to the CDC’s website.”

• The Washington Post delivers encouraging news about the Moderna vaccine trial: The full number of participants have enrolled, and those participants are fairly diverse: “The coronavirus vaccine trials have been closely watched to ensure they reflect the diversity of the U.S. population at a minimum, and Moderna’s enrollment was slowed in September to recruit more minorities. A fifth of the participants are Hispanic and 10 percent are Black, according to data released by the company. People over 65, a population also at high risk for coronavirus, make up 25 percent of the study population.” 

• Also from The Washington Post: The newspaper followed up a bit on The New York Times’ reporting on the president’s finances—specifically the fact that Trump has a LOT of debt coming due, which leads to a whole lot of conflict-of-interest and even national-security concerns: “In the next four years, Trump faces payment deadlines for more than $400 million in loans—just as the pandemic robs his businesses of customers and income, according to a Washington Post analysis of Trump’s finances. The bills coming due include loans on his Chicago hotel, his D.C. hotel and his Doral resort, all hit by a double whammy: Trump’s political career slowed their business, then the pandemic ground it down much further.” 

One more thing from the Post: Less than two weeks before Election Day, “President Trump this week fired his biggest broadside yet against the federal bureaucracy by issuing an executive order that would remove job security from an estimated tens of thousands of civil servants and dramatically remake the government.” Wow.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: “A controversial new law that takes effect next year will dismantle the state’s current juvenile justice system and transfer responsibility for convicted youth back to counties.” Even advocates of the plan, which is being pushed by Gov. Newsom, admit it has problems.

Well this is a horrifying headline from NBC News: “Minnesota AG investigates company accused of recruiting armed guards for Election Day.”

• Finally, I returned as a guest to this week’s I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, where I chatted with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr about drama in downtown Palm Springs, our November print edition, Taco Bell’s unforgivable elimination of the Mexican pizza, and more.

Have a safe, sane weekend, everyone. Please, if you can afford it, consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent; all the news we do is free—but it costs a lot of produce, publish and distribute. The Daily Digest will return next week.

Published in Daily Digest

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.

Published in Daily Digest

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.

Ron Celona, CVRep’s founding artistic director, explained during a recent phone interview that because the theater company is now the proud owner of its own building—the CVRep Playhouse, in Cathedral City—he couldn’t just wait out the pandemic without doing anything.

“This is a year where I can’t even break even,” he said. “I have to make money just to support the building. So that’s what took us to the current plan.”

That plan started with the launch of Theatre Thursday in April. Every non-holiday Thursday at 6 p.m., CVRep produces a show, via Zoom, free of charge, with the participating artists donating their time and talent. The shows range from staged readings of plays to musical performances to monologues and more.

“Theatre Thursday does two wonderful things: It keeps CVRep in the forefront of our patrons’ and followers’ (minds), to know that something is available from CVRep on a weekly basis,” Celona said. “The other thing is, it keeps the artists active. They can work by doing a monologue or a dance or a piece. … Many artists launched their Zoom experience with us and then went on to support other theater companies.”

Celona said attendance at the shows has varied wildly, from a high of 200 people, to a low of 60 or less.

“There is no guarantee. That’s the difference between a ticket for a show: You know how many people are coming that night,” Celona said. “But there is no guarantee in the virtual world; all of these shows are free of charge. However, we do ask for a donation during the program, and each person receives a thank-you after; the email has a donate button on the thank-you. So we do receive donations each week.”

While donations from supporters and attendees of the virtual Theatre Thursday shows have helped CVRep’s financial situation, the organization was still losing money each month—until sponsors stepped in, Celona said.

“We started in August doing monthly sponsorships, and I’m thrilled to tell you, I expected two or three sponsors a month. Well, I’m wrong. We’re getting five to 10 sponsors a month,” Celona said. “The sponsorship is $500 a month, and they’re thanked at each week’s event. They also rotate on our marquee we have on Highway 111.”

As for CVRep’s hoped-for return to live shows: Celona initially looked at doing CVRep’s full planned season at the Cathedral City Community Amphitheater, which is adjacent to the CVRep Playhouse. However, COVID-19 made that cost-prohibitive.

“With the Equity rules, whether a show be indoor or outdoor, the protocol requires that every actor, and everybody that also comes in contact with that actor, be tested once a week. So that’s the crew; that’s the makeup artist, and so on,” Celona said. “We do six-week contracts for plays. And Equity requires a 24-hour turnaround, which means you can’t go to the county; you have to go to a private lab—and then you need written results.

“As for other expenses involved in doing a production: I need a dressing room. So that means I would need to have a trailer, like an RV—a portable dressing room. I would need a storage unit for the set and the props and everything to come off and on for each performance. And at the amphitheater—this is true even for the one-night events we’re going to be doing—we need to bring in port-a-potties, and they need to be sanitized and cleaned throughout the night.”

Instead of the full productions, CVRep and Cathedral City decided to partner on a series of those aforementioned one-night events. Celona hopes a holiday show will kick things off on Dec. 12. Events would follow on the first three Saturdays of January, February and March (with the exception of that third weekend in March, which we’ll explain in a moment.) Tickets will be $25 per person—much less than a typical CVRep show ticket.

If the outdoor shows do take place, Celona said, social distancing and many other precautions will be in place.

“The proposal that we created for the city of Cathedral City included our 23-page safety manual,” Celona said. “(Attendees) will be taken to pods, if you will—circular or square pods that hold a table for two or four. Each pod is about 10 feet apart for social distance. Everyone will be required to wear masks to come into the venue, and they must wear their masks the entire time, unless they’re eating. When the doors open, they’re going to have an hour and a half before the show. People could either bring their own meal, or they could buy, so to speak, a box lunch, but it will be a dinner. Once that food goes away, then they need to put their masks back on to watch the show.”

Celona said his plans include a once-a-month jazz show, a Latinx series and a Broadway style revue. Then there’s that third weekend in March.

“We’ll be culminating in March with something very exciting: It will be our first Shakespeare festival,” Celona said. “Instead of one night, it’ll be a Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the third week of March. It will include two Shakespeare plays performed in rotation. … Our goal is that it kicks off an annual Shakespeare festival that CVRep produces.”

As you may have noticed, these plans include a lot of “ifs.” The reason: As of now, live performances like this are not allowed by the state. Therefore, CVRep and the city of Cathedral City have written a letter to the state Department of Public Health, asking for a waiver.

“One of the strongest points is the venue holds 2,900 people,” Celona said. “The maximum number of people that we will allow to see a show is 225 people—much less than 10 percent of capacity.”

Beyond the hoped-for amphitheater performances, Celona also has hopes that maybe, just maybe, the company can return to the CVRep Playhouse for one full production to close out the 2020-2021 season.

“The only thing we left in the budget is what was supposed to be the final production of this past season, Native Gardens,” Celona said. “I have it in the budget to produce it in April, inside the playhouse. If that turns out not to be legally allowed, then we just cancel the production.”

For more information, visit cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance