CVIndependent

Fri11272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

COVID-19 has created a great deal of pessimism in the restaurant industry, for good reason—but Andie Hubka has a positive attitude, and is finding a purpose for every proverbial lemon that life gives.

Hubka has opened four food concepts since 2008, conveniently divided between two sets of adjoining units, in La Quinta and Indio. It started with Cooking With Class, a recreational cooking school, before expanding to Cork and Fork, Heirloom Craft Kitchen, and Tu Madres Cantina and Grill. All of her concepts center around fresh, local ingredients with modern, creative flair. They’ve established Hubka as one the valley’s most reputable and recognizable chefs.

She’s been going virtually non-stop for 12 years, and Hubka planned to take a break after opening Tu Madres in December. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other ideas.

She limited her restaurants to takeout a week before the governor’s official orders. “Some restaurants had to close suddenly, then were left reassessing and scrambling amidst constant changes,” Hubka said.

Each of her restaurants had their own challenges. Heirloom was reasonably well set, with takeout already accounting for half the sales—and it’s actually doing better this year than last. Cork and Fork, however, is known for a social and intimate setting.

“That whole model doesn’t lend itself well to COVID,” Hubka joked.

Tu Madres is half-bar and has no patio. “We hadn't established ourselves, so we literally had to start over,” she said.

And Cooking With Class? “We have no idea when we’re going to be able to reopen that. It could be a long time.”

Hubka is accustomed to adversity; Cooking With Class opened in the midst of the 2008 downturn, after all. She claims to have more than 100 concepts in her head, and she’s been investing in new equipment at a time when others are cutting back. In fact, she’s decided to take advantage of this takeout- and delivery-centered restaurant era by introducing yet another restaurant concept.

“When life gives you lemons, eat Citrine!” That’s the tagline for her latest concept, one focused on fresh Mediterranean cuisine. However, you can’t dine at Citrine, because in the traditional restaurant sense, it doesn’t exist. It’s part of a modern trend of “ghost” or “shadow” kitchens, which operate in a shared space and sell through delivery apps. Hubka was inspired by a Los Angeles restaurateur who was running five virtual restaurants out of one location; Citrine takes advantage of unused capacity at Cooking With Class.

“With shadow kitchens, most consumers don’t realize that they're not an actual restaurant,” Hubka said. “But we made it completely transparent, and our customers can physically come pick up in-person.”

While patio dining is now permitted, the transition hasn’t been easy at Hubka’s restaurants, in part due to the desert heat. Heirloom always had a few outside tables, but the other concepts needed help. Tu Madres borrows the patio from the coffee shop next door in the evenings, and as the weather cools, Hubka plans to extend a shared patio for Heirloom and Tu Madres into the parking lot.

“You can make it feel really nice if you dress it up with plants and umbrellas,” she joked.

They’ve had strong support in that regard. “The city of Indio has allowed us to do whatever we can to survive, while La Quinta gave us grants to extend the Cork and Fork patio and make it more hospitable,” Hubka said. The city even paid for the misters—except there was a problem: “It turned out there was a mister shortage, and every company was booked for months. Another interesting side effect of the pandemic!”

Traditionally a source of supplemental revenue, takeout is now at the forefront. In addition to the third-party apps, all of Hubka’s restaurant websites offer online ordering. She’s also worked on packaging and presentation.

“We really wanted to focus on how people would eat and reheat the food,” she said. “In the past, I might revisit a restaurant because of great service or their wine list, but now it’s how well the food was packaged.” It was part of the mindset behind Citrine, because Mediterranean and Italian food “travel well.”

While Hubka has removed a few menu items due to poor transportability, she’s resisted the urge to streamline and cut costs, she said.

“We wanted to make sure our customers could still get the food they expected,” Hubka said. “We’ve actually expanded our offerings with daily specials. They keep our customers coming back, and also give us reason to post on social media.”

She’s also added affordable family meals, enhancing offerings with a brand-new smoker. The first weekend’s barbecue offerings sold out fast, generating great feedback—and a waiting list. “We rotate the smoker around all four restaurants, so they all get to be creative and have fun with it,” she said.

While Cooking With Class is currently not operating, Hubka remains dedicated to teaching. She’s heavily involved with La Quinta High School and has published three cookbooks. Because quarantine has spawned a wave of aspiring home chefs, she took to social media with free, live cooking shows.

“The cooking school started my career and was behind everything we’ve done,” she said. “It means a lot to a lot of people, myself included.”

She is exploring options to convert Cooking With Class into a virtual model. “There’s no comparison to physical cooking classes where you get to taste everything, but going forward, people might want the comfort of cooking classes from their own home,” she said.

Hubka has also embarked on a series of virtual happy hours, co-hosted with a local real estate agent. With guests and giveaways, the happy hours have developed a strong following.

“We wanted to do something fun, invite other local business owners, and talk about what we’re doing to survive,” Hubka said. “It’s been a cool, communal thing. It’s allowed us to touch base with people, see how they’re doing, and show them what we’ve been up to.”

COVID-19 will likely reshape social behaviors indefinitely. Consumers may be slow to return to packed dining rooms, and many of us have gotten used to new technologies and remote experiences. Hubka is embracing rather than fighting that change.

“It was time to get creative, reinvent and find new ways to connect with our base,” she said.

Published in Features & Profiles

When the going gets tough, the tough get going—straight to the liquor store. And the not-so-tough are right behind them.

If there has been one consistent thing during this pandemic, it’s alcohol consumption. While curling up with a bottle of cabernet might not be the best coping mechanism, if you’re of drinking age, you’re free to self-medicate away.

But that has not been the case in South Africa for much of the pandemic: South Africa has twice banned booze, meaning all sales and consumption of alcohol were considered a crime. The first ban was put into place on March 27 and lifted on June 1. Without warning, a second complete prohibition was put in place on July 12, and lifted on Aug. 17.

Rightly or wrongly, those bans have had a devastating impact.

The idea was simple: If people don’t drink, people can’t get knee-walking, commode-hugging drunk, and that reduces the amount of alcohol-related injuries. No more drunk drivers. No more bar brawls. A reduction of domestic violence and child abuse. Who wouldn’t be on board with that?

Perhaps this was an easy decision for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, given the staggering number of coronavirus cases there, and the unhealthy relationship and history the country has with alcohol. For years, laborers were paid with leftover wine or any unsavory hooch laying around. Drinking your wages was an easy way into rampant alcoholism.

But was the cure worse than the disease? The impact of these extreme restrictions will be felt for years. More than 1 million jobs were affected, and the revenue loss is in the hundreds of millions. The economic partnership between South Africa and the European Union was fractured. More than 500 liquor stores were robbed, and the boom in illegal alcohol production spiraled out of control, with modern-day Al Capones seizing an opportunity to supply the thirsty masses. As the United States learned during our own decade-long Prohibition, where’s there a will, there’s a way.

Even with the ban lifted, restrictions remain. Alcohol can be consumed inside restaurants and bars, but only until 10 p.m. If the citizens of South Africa want to purchase libations to enjoy at home, they can do so—but liquor outlets can only be open Monday through Thursday, during daytime hours, and citizens are subject to a curfew.

Meanwhile, pineapple sales have gone through the roof. It’s an easy fruit to ferment and turn into alcohol in the privacy of one’s own bathroom. Home brewers are discovering all kinds of new ways to create their own happy hour.

But the police minister was having none of it. He enthusiastically and proudly promoted extreme methods of enforcement, proclaiming he’d destroy the infrastructure where alcohol is sold. He encouraged his police task force to use any measure of prosecution—including the beating to death of a man caught drinking alcohol in his own backyard.

The devastation doesn’t stop there. Mirroring the sentiments in this country, there is a fierce debate going on regarding the importance of lives versus livelihoods: Teetering on a catastrophic recession, with huge unemployment numbers, the South African wine industry has been on the verge of collapse. This breaks my heart.

Small, family-owned and family-operated wineries are facing the biggest risk of extinction. They are dependent on local consumption and tourism, both of which have been nonexistent. Many of them have limited access to exportation or distribution, and those that do are being impacted by trade agreements that require reciprocity.

What’s more is that a lot of these wineries are Black-owned. The idea that a Black person could own land, much less be a winemaker, was a concept that was unthinkable 30 years ago.

In 1997, Charles Back, of Fairview Winery, created the Fair Valley Workers Association. This was an amazing step toward equality: For the first time, Black workers had the opportunity to acquire land and make their own wines. In 1999, the country saw its first wine produced by a female Black winemaker, Carmen Stevens, who was just 27 years old at the time. Since then, more than 40 wineries have been established by Black entrepreneurs.

That’s South Africa for you. During the area’s 360 years of wine production, the country has proven time and again that you can knock her down, but she gets right back up. For every step back, South Africa becomes even more determined to take two steps forward. This is why I love this country and its wines so much: Not only do they have undeniable, unapologetic flavors and aromas that are unique and thought-provoking; the industry has always seized opportunities to modernize and advance. It is a powerful force and will not go quietly.

The good news is that we can help: The next time you’re out running your necessary and essential errands, pick up a bottle or two of South African wine. Explore different grapes and regions. See what chenin blanc from Paarl tastes like. Try a Rhone-inspired red blend from the Franschhoek area. Be daring, and open a bottle of the country’s signature wine from a grape called pinotage. Encourage your friends to find some South African wine, and have a virtual tasting.

While the United States doesn’t exactly have a healthy relationship with alcohol, either, at least this time when we drink South African wine, we can drink for a good cause. I think this calls for a lovely bottle of Graham Beck Brut Rose.

Cheers!

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Happy Monday all! Let’s get right to it:

• OK, so we’re in the midst of a crippling pandemic, and it’s hot as hell … and now we have to deal with possible rolling blackouts?! Yes, indeed we do—2020 keeps getting more bonkers by the day, doesn’t it?—and Gov. Gavin Newsom is less than pleased. He said today the power shortage was “unacceptable” and pledged an investigation into the matter. 

How hot has it been throughout California? Well, Death Valley may have reached the hottest temp recorded on Earth in 90 years yesterday.

The Trump administration’s efforts to hamper the U.S. Postal Service has drawn the attention of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back into session, and Senate Democrats are asking the Postal Service’s Board of Governors to reverse Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recent efforts to slow down mail delivery—and remove DeJoy from the job if he doesn’t cooperate. Key quote, from The Washington Post: “In recent days, DeJoy’s agency changes have reduced mail deliveries and overtime hours, resulting in massive mail backlogs that have delayed critical communications and packages, including prescription drugs. The Postal Service also sought to eliminate hundreds of high-speed mail sorting machines this month while removing public-collection boxes in states including California, New York and Pennsylvania, sparking a broad outcry.”

• We keep hearing about potential COVID-19 “game-changers,” and so far, this terrible game has not changed much. Well, here’s the latest thing to keep your fingers crossed about: We mentioned hopes for rapid saliva COVID-19 tests in Friday’s Daily Digest. Well, on Saturday, the FDA granted emergency authorization to the SalivaDirect test, created by the Yale School of Public Health. According to CNN: “Researchers said the new test can produce results in less than three hours, and the accuracy is on par with results from traditional nasal swabbing. They said SalivaDirect tests could become publicly available in the coming weeks. Yale plans to publish its protocol as ‘open-source,’ meaning designated labs could follow the protocol to perform their own tests according to Yale’s instructions, the FDA said.”

• We also mentioned on Friday that the FDA had recently updated guidelines to say that people who have recovered coronavirus will likely have immunity for three months. Well, late Friday night, they sort of took that back, and chided the media for reporting what they’d said, because absolutely nothing makes sense anymore.

Counties are beginning to move on and off of the state’s COVID-19 watch list. Today, five were added; one was removed; and another—San Diego County—could be removed tomorrow. Counties removed from the watchlist can reopen more indoor businesses—like gyms and hair salons—as well as schools. (Riverside County, for the record, can’t be removed from the watch list, because our test-positivity rate remains too darned high.)

• However, Riverside County has a plan to “fix” that: It wants the state to raise the positivity-rate criteria! It’s part of a reopening plan the county has submitted to the state. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the county wants to open churches, offices, hair salons and indoor dining on Sept. 8; indoor malls, group meetings (!) and wedding receptions on Sept. 22; and gyms, movie theaters and bars on Oct. 6. Hmm.

• The New York Times examines hopes that we could achieve herd immunity with just 50 percent of the population having antibodies to the damned virus, via either recovering from COVID-19 or getting a vaccine. Key quote: “I’m quite prepared to believe that there are pockets in New York City and London which have substantial immunity,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “What happens this winter will reflect that. The question of what it means for the population as a whole, however, is much more fraught.”

• The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill brought students back to campus for classes a couple of weeks ago. Well, that didn’t work out so well: 135 students and staffers have tested positive over the last week, and the school has decided to cancel all in-person classes and shift to remote learning. Sigh.

Should the U.S. allow people to be deliberately given COVID-19 as part of the vaccine trials? Two scientists, writing for The Conversation, make the case that “human challenge trials” should be allowed for the greater good, because it would speed things up. Key quote: “Rapid development of an effective vaccine could save hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. At present, more than 5,000 people die of COVID-19 each day. At that rate, every month of delay in vaccine availability costs 150,000 lives.”

• Also from The Conversation: Some indigenous communities in Mexico have found ways to battle the coronavirus, despite poverty and a lack of access to health care. A professor of anthropology from Ohio State writes: “I find the Zapotec are surviving the pandemic by doing what they’ve always done when the Mexican government can’t, or won’t, help them: drawing on local Indigenous traditions of cooperation, self-reliance and isolation.

• A new study out of Stanford attempts to explain why some people get ill from SARS-CoV-2, and others don’t. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “Three key molecules appear to play a crucial role, new research revealed this week. These key indicators, all found in the bloodstreams of severely ill patients, can be characterized as specific cytokines, or hormone-like molecules produced by the immune cells in the body that can regulate immune response. When overproduced, cytokines accelerate inflammation and can induce severe results.”

This lede from The New York Times … just ugh: “The Trump administration has been using major hotel chains to detain children and families taken into custody at the border, creating a largely unregulated shadow system of detention and swift expulsions without the safeguards that are intended to protect the most vulnerable migrants.”

• Bloomberg reports that homeowners with Federal Housing Administration mortgages are being delinquent with payments at a rate not seen in at least four decades. “The share of late FHA loans rose to almost 16 percent in the second quarter, up from about 9.7 percent in the previous three months and the highest level in records dating back to 1979, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Monday. The delinquency rate for conventional loans, by comparison, was 6.7 percent.”

Do you have questions about voting—when the registration deadline is? Do you need a photo ID? NBC News answers each of these questions, state by state.

The cost of insulin is soaring … and that’s just fine with pharmaceutical companies. FairWarning, via NBC News, reports: “Spurred by stories that diabetics are spending thousands of dollars a year on insulin, or even dying trying to ration it, lawmakers in at least 36 states are trying to tackle the issue, according to a FairWarning review of state bills introduced in the past two years. But the lawmakers are finding that the drug industry is working full-time to weaken or kill insulin price caps.”

That’s enough news for the day. Hooray—we’re one day closer to the end of this mess, whatever that may mean. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you’re around others. If you value independent local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dearth of culture and commerce hit our psyches hard.

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

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

Today’s news links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Well, actually, there are fans … sort of.

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

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

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

Published in Pets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unclear Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Newsom administration declined multiple requests for comment.

Tenant groups also approached Attorney General Xavier Becerra to intervene.

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

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

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


Sheriff Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Evicting Without Masks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Landlord costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stopgap Measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Local Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh, this goddamned pandemic.

Today’s news links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More news links :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest