CVIndependent

Sat12052020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

The lockdown is coming—and it could go into effect as soon as the conclusion of the weekend.

As expected, Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced a new “Regional Stay at Home Order.” For the purposes of the order, the state is being broken up into five regions, and the order will go into effect within 48 hours, for at least three weeks, when a region’s total hospital ICU availability drops below 15 percent.

The Coachella Valley is part of the Southern California region, which includes Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Riverside Counties.

As of this writing, the order has not been imposed yet. However, Newsom said Southern California and three other regions would likely fall below the 15 percent ICU threshold within days—and there’s a better-than-good chance the declaration for Southern California will come tomorrow (Friday). Add on 48 hours, and that would mean that by Monday at the latest, we’d be under the order for at least three weeks.

The good news: The order is nowhere near as restrictive as the March/April lockdown was. Retail stores can all remain open—but at a 20 percent capacity. Also, a lot of outdoor activities will still be allowed—including, it’s believed, outdoor gyms. (However, playgrounds will need to close, a fact which has already ticked off a lot of Los Angeles parents.)

The bad news: ALL retail will be limited to 20 percent capacity, meaning you may have to wait to get into a grocery store during peak hours.

The really, really, really bad news: Outdoor dining will be closed, meaning restaurants will be forced to either close or limp along doing just takeout and delivery. Hair and nail salons, barber shops and other personal-service businesses will need to shut down. Non-essential travel is not allowed, and “hotels and lodging” can be open for “critical infrastructure support only.” (I would THINK short-term rentals would count as lodging, but the order on the state website doesn’t specifically spell that out.)

In other words, unless you’re an essential worker, plan on staying home a whole lot for at least the rest of this month.

And now, a plea.

If you’re fortunate enough to still be working and/or be financially secure, I beg of you: PLEASE, PLEASE SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE during the stay-at-home order. (You should ALWAYS support local businesses as much as possible, but it’s now more important than ever.) Get what you need at locally owned stores, not Amazon. Get takeout and delivery from restaurants that remain open, and TIP WELL. Use the delivery apps if that’s the ONLY workable option, because those app companies tend to take a hefty chunk out of a restaurant’s take; instead, do curbside pickup or use a restaurant’s in-house delivery service. And I repeat: TIP WELL.

Please. And thank you.

Read the story about the stay-at-home order by our partners at CalMatters here.

Read the Los Angeles Times’ story here.

Read SFGate’s story here, and the San Francisco Chronicle piece here.

Read NBC News’ story here.

More news from the day:

The Wall Street Journal today broke the story that Pfizer has had to halve its original vaccine roll-out numbers due to supply-chain issues. However, CBNC reports that the company still says it’ll meet the goals it has publicly announced.

• As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated California’s ban on religious gatherings runs afoul of (the current justices’ interpretation of) the U.S. Constitution. CNBC reports: “The justices, with no noted dissents, set aside a lower court ruling that rejected a challenge to Newsom’s policy by Harvest Rock Church Inc, which has several campuses in the state, and Harvest International Ministries Inc, an association of churches. Both are based in Pasadena, a city in Los Angeles County. The justices directed the lower court to reconsider the case in light of their ruling in the New York case.”

• There’s increasing optimism about the proposed $908 billion stimulus package—and also about avoiding a possible government shutdown. The Washington Post says: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke Thursday amid growing momentum for a targeted coronavirus relief deal, illustrating how Congress has snapped into action amid a surge in new cases and deaths. They also discussed reaching a deal on a spending bill to avert a government shutdown on Dec. 11. “We had a good conversation,” McConnell said after his discussion with Pelosi. “I think we’re both interested in getting an outcome, both on the (spending bill) and on a coronavirus package.

• The New York Times has a cute little interactive tool to determine when you’re likely to receive the COVID-19 vaccine compared to others. It’s quick, easy and kind of interesting.

• Related, sort of: Two experts, writing for The Conversation, explain what “emergency use authorizations” from the FDA are, and how they differ from conventional approvals—and what this all means regarding the safety of the new vaccines.

• Man, people suck sometimes. According to SFGate: “Wesley Moribe and Courtney Peterson, both 46, of Wailua, Hawaii, reportedly boarded a United flight on Nov. 29 despite having tested positive for COVID-19 and ‘placing the passengers of the flight in danger of death,’ according to the Kauai Police Department. They had a 4-year-old child in tow.” Wow. They’ve been arrested, thank goodness.

• Man, people suck sometimes, Vol. 2, is explained by this New York Times headline: “Young Republicans Stage Secret Gala, Ignoring Virus Concerns: At least 65 guests were expected at the New York group’s annual event, but its location was being kept secret because of fears of ‘violent left-wing attacks.’”

Warner Bros. announced today that all of its 2021 releases would be sent to theaters and a premium streaming service simultaneously. The Hollywood Reporter explains: “Warner Bros. is plotting a sweeping response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered movie theaters around the country. After announcing that Wonder Woman 1984 will go to HBO Max as well as theaters Dec. 25, the studio has laid out a similar path for its 2021 slate amid uncertainty about when moviegoing will get back to normal. The studio announced Thursday day-and-date releases for its 17-film slate, which will hit HBO Max for a one-month window that starts the same day they will be available in U.S. theaters.”

• I was again a guest on this week’s I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast. I joined Dr. Laura Rush and hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr to talk about the impending lockdown, as well as other happenings. Check it out.

• Google is under federal scrutiny for allegedly being a mean and creepy employer. CNBC explains: “Specifically, the NLRB case documents accuse Google of illegally spying on employees, firing several employees in retaliation for attempting to unionize, and illegally blocking employees from sharing work grievances and information with each other using general tools like calendars, email, meeting rooms, and an internal communication tool at Google called MemeGen.”

As always, thanks for reading. If you value this Daily Digest and think it’s worth a few bucks, please consider clicking here to become a Supporter of the Independent. Stay safe—and support local businesses!

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The New York Times today published a fabulous piece by renowned science writer Donald G. McNeil Jr., headlined “The Long Darkness Before Dawn.” The story is a nice primer, of sorts, on where the United States stands regarding the coronavirus, and where the country is headed.

This is the sub-headline on the piece: “With vaccines and a new administration, the pandemic will be tamed. But experts say the coming months ‘are going to be just horrible.’”

I really, really hope the second half of that sub-headline is wrong … but, yikes, the current numbers are bad—on national, state AND local levels.

They’re so bad, in fact, that another stay-at-home order could be coming to the Coachella Valley within a matter of days. Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier today said that unless the state’s COVID-19 case-count increases don’t stop VERY soon, ICU capacity in some parts of the state could be overwhelmed by mid-December—so the state may soon make most counties lock down again.

As the Los Angeles Times explains:

“If these trends continue, we’re going to have to take much more dramatic—arguably drastic—actions,” (Newsom) said during a briefing.

Those include “the potential for a stay-at-home order” for areas in the strictest purple tier of California’s coronavirus reopening road map, he said. Of the state’s 58 counties, 51 are in the purple tier.

Officials have watched with growing alarm as a recent record-setting flood of new coronavirus cases has started to wash over the state’s hospital system.

There were 7,787 coronavirus patients hospitalized statewide as of Sunday, according to the latest available data. That’s the highest number recorded during the pandemic and an increase of roughly 89 percent from two weeks ago.

Here in Riverside County, 585 confirmed COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized—more than ever before.

Hang on, folks. December is going to be a weird, difficult month.

More news from the day:

• On a slightly brighter note, Gov. Newsom laid out plans the state has to help small businesses get through the increasingly ugly mess that we’re in. Included are tax credits, low-interest loans and a new grant program. Details are still being worked out, however.

Our partners at CalMatters published a piece today pointing out that yet another sad COVID-19 record has been set in California: “Inside California’s prisons, coronavirus cases have exploded, reaching 3,861 active cases last week—the highest so far. Yet the state has slowed its early releases of inmates, raising questions about overcrowding as the infections spread through the prisons.”

• In other scary-as-heck coronavirus news: Santa Clara County over the weekend instituted restrictions that, among other things, require anyone coming to the county from more than 150 miles away to quarantine for two weeks. Those restrictions also forced the San Francisco 49ers to find a new temporary home.

Los Angeles County instituted a lockdown order lowering capacities at—but not closing—most retail businesses, and banning all gatherings among people from different households.

The NFL is a mess. A massive COVID-19 outbreak among the Baltimore Ravens has led to multiple postponements of their scheduled game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and lapses in protocols forced the Denver Broncos to play on Sunday without any of the quarterbacks on their roster. (That did not go so well.)

• Oh, and if you went to a larger gathering for Thanksgiving, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, kindly requests that you assume you’re infected and go into quarantine.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said this to CNBC today: “We’re going to probably have by the end of this year, 30% of the U.S. population infected. You look at states like North Dakota and South Dakota, it’s probably 30%, 35%. Maybe as high as 50%.”

CNN is reporting that Dr. Scott Atlas—a colleague of Birx’s who has been peddling discredited herd-immunity sorts of theorieshas resigned from the Trump administration.

• Good news: Moderna, as expected, today applied to the FDA for an emergency authorization for its vaccine, after a large-scale trial in which nobody who received the vaccine developed a serious COVID-19 illness.

• Bad news: NBC News reports that although Facebook recently banned some large anti-vax accounts from the platform, smaller yet influential groups continue to be a big problem: “While researchers of extremism and public health advocates see the removal of the largest anti-vaccination accounts as mostly positive, new research shows the bigger threat to public trust in a COVID-19 vaccine comes from smaller, better-connected Facebook groups that gravitated to anti-vaccination messaging in recent months.

The city of Rancho Mirage has launched drive-through, self-administered, no-cost testing via Curative. It takes place every Tuesday through Saturday at the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory’s west parking lot starting tomorrow; details here.

The organizers of Modernism Week announced today that they’re delaying the in-person portions of the event from February to April. From the news release: “Modernism Week has decided to reschedule in-person events from February to April 8-18-2021. … In its place in February, the Modernism Week Online Experience will include a curated line-up of more than 20 new video programs created specifically for Modernism Week, and encore presentations of past programs available for purchase and on-demand streaming February 1-28, 2021 at modernismweek.com. Also online in February, Modernism Week will offer an online auction February 1-14 that will feature one-of-a-kind architectural experiences and unique, limited specialty items not normally available to the public. … ‘We are committed to the safety of our guests and we are monitoring daily health advisories,’ said William Kopelk, Modernism Week Chairman. ‘We realize that it will not be possible to provide in-person events during our annual February dates, however, we are optimistic that we will be able to provide safer and more enjoyable in-person tours and programs in April as conditions improve. We want to do what is best for our guests, as well as for our staff and volunteers.’” Watch modernismweek.com for updates.

The San Francisco Chronicle reminds people who have received unemployment this year that the money is subject to federal taxes: “State employment agencies, including the California Employment Development Department, give people the option of having 10% of their base unemployment payment withheld for federal taxes. But most people don’t, and even if they do, it might not be enough to cover what they actually owe if they have other income. California does not tax unemployment benefits, although some states do.”

• Well, after all that, I could use a drink … or maybe a break to read about drinks? Well, if you want to read up on boozy treats, our cocktail columnist offers up this list of books and other possible gifts for the drink-lover in your life.

Happy Monday, all. Please have a great week, despite all the darkness that swirls around. Please, if you can afford it, click here to learn more about supporting local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. As always, thanks for reading.

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Happy Monday, everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

Today’s news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’ve been in a crabby mood.

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

Bleh.

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

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

Here’s a taste:

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

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

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

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

Today’s news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More of today’s news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

Feeling anxious lately? Yeah, me, too.

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

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

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

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

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

We decided to find somewhere else to eat.

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

Hello, anxiety!

And now, today’s news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

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

For decades, California teens who committed the most-serious crimes—robbery, assault, murder—were sent to state juvenile prisons to serve their sentences.

Now that is about to change.

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.

Orchestrated this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom in a swift move, the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice will no longer accept newly convicted young people after July 2021—leaving counties with less than a year to plan for where to house the state’s most-serious young offenders.

Opponents say they were stunned by the speed of the decision, and how little input was solicited from counties, probation officials, youth advocates and others affected by the dramatic overhaul.

“We were caught off guard when the administration put this policy into the works,” said Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California. “This is the first time I’ve seen something so big get through like it did, so quickly.”

Even some advocates of the plan agree it was passed quickly, is not fleshed out, and could result in more youth being sent to adult prisons because counties are not prepared.

But the plan—while not perfect—will keep youth close to home where they might benefit from family and community support, proponents contend.

“If you are taken from SoCal and moved to Stockton, that impacts your ability to maintain those relationships, and it is a big deal for young people who are still going through phases of development,” said Chet Hewitt, president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation. “Oversight of the local programs is going to be important now. There should be no difference whether you are in San Francisco or Fresno county.”

A spokesperson for the Division of Juvenile Justice declined to be interviewed.


A turbulent past

By the time Newsom signed this into law on Sept. 30, the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice was already in upheaval. Last year, Newsom decided to move the division from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the Health and Human Services Agency.

Then along came the pandemic—and the state budget was thrown into free fall. With dwindling revenues, Newsom included the system’s closure in his May budget revision, which focused on budget cuts and eliminated or significantly trimmed nearly all the expansive ideas he had proposed in January.

For now, the Division of Juvenile Justice will stay under Corrections until it completely shuts down.

It’s still unclear how much the state will actually save by closing the division, because it has promised to reimburse counties for keeping the youth in custody, and to support their housing and rehabilitation needs.

The overhaul, however quickly it came, has been batted around for years as critics pushed for reform. Formerly known as the California Youth Authority, the division has a long history of controversy. In the 1990s, the agency was in the hot seat for reports of excessive punishment, abuse and violence. Lawsuits against the state brought change in how youth were treated.

At its peak in 1996, the system housed 10,000 inmates and operated 11 facilities, from Los Angeles to Stockton to Ione in Amador County.

In the years since, the division has been shrinking because youth crime decreased, and the state began limiting the use of state facilities to only those who had committed the most-serious crimes.

Today, the division houses 750 youths at three facilities—two in Stockton and one in Ventura County. The fire camp for young offenders in Pine Grove will remain open.

The new plan will not change life for those currently serving their time. They will stay in state lockup until their sentences are over, or they transfer out at 25. Only when the last youth is out of custody will the division actually close entirely.

Youth who would have been sent to state custody after July 2021 will ideally be housed in their home county and provided with support and rehabilitative services, according to the new law. In cases where counties cannot do this, the law allows them to contract with nearby counties, although no details have been worked out.


A big hand-off to counties

Under the new law, counties must create their own plans for how to deal with this population. The state is retaining some oversight with creation of an Office of Youth and Community Restoration and an ombudsman position to oversee the grants that will go to counties.

Some youth advocates say they are concerned about the differences that will emerge as 58 different counties, varying in size and resources, create their own approaches.

“There will have to be some centralization of counties—because some youth will need some services that are not available in every county,” said Mike Males, senior research fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco.

Some larger counties may be able to absorb the young offenders more readily with programs already in place. For example, Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile-justice system in the country. By contrast, Alpine County, population 1,100, does not have a juvenile hall—or an adult jail, for that matter. Instead, it contracts with nearby El Dorado County for both services.

“I’ve been here for three years, and thankfully, we haven’t had a serious youth offender,” said Tami DiSalvo, chief probation officer for Alpine County. “My first call would probably be to El Dorado.”

Some counties are also skeptical about the vagueness of the state’s funding formula. Money will not be granted in a flat amount per youth, but will instead be based on various factors, such as how much the country has relied on state facilities previously for youth incarceration.

The final plan has serious shortcomings that “do not set counties and youth up for success,” said Darby Kernan, deputy executive director of legislative affairs for the California State Association of Counties, in a statement.

The association, along with Urban Counties of California, Rural Counties Representatives of California and the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, have opposed the plan.

In a letter to the Legislature, the groups said the new system is “unworkable” and that the state “is attempting to reduce costs and transfer liability.”

Democratic Assemblyman Jim Cooper of Elk Grove, a former sheriff’s deputy, also opposes the plan, saying the state is dismantling a system that has created valuable programs—especially for young sex offenders.

“It took them a long time to get there and develop it,” he said. “Counties don’t have it, and I don’t think they can replicate it the way (the Division of Juvenile Justice) has done it.”


Former inmates, differing views

California youth advocates Frankie Guzman and Chet Hewitt have been there. Guzman spent years in California’s juvenile-justice system in the 1990s for armed robbery. Hewitt served time decades ago as a teenager in New York’s Rikers Island for gang activity. 

But they see this issue differently. 

Guzman was arrested at 15 and spent six years in and out of state facilities. When he was intermittently free, he attended community college, which he says helped him find a better path.

He acknowledges the division has a terrible track record with violence, abuse and neglect, but he said that has improved since his time there. Guzman worries that without a state juvenile prison system, young people who commit the most serious crimes will get sent to adult prisons if counties aren’t prepared to help them.

“There is nothing in the plan to mitigate transfer to the adult system,” said Guzman, now an attorney and director of the California Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law.

Guzman said the state has dramatically decreased the number of youth being tried as adults, but now worries that trend could be reversed if there is no alternative between county juvenile hall and adult prison. In 2008, 1,201 youth were tried as adults, compared with only 66 in 2019, according to the W. Haywood Burns Institute, which analyzed California Department of Justice data.

Hewitt was 16 when he was convicted, spending seven months behind bars. He graduated from high school in Rikers Island.

“There was not a single redemptive or rehabilitative component in any of it,” he said. “All you could do is come out more harmed than you went in.”

His community, he said, is where he found redemption.

“They didn’t view me for what I did; they viewed me for what I could be,” he said. The state system “was not producing the kind of outcome we hope for kids.”

Hewitt went on to become president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation. He supports the system’s return to local counties, so youth can be near family and community, he said.


But will it save money?

But even Hewitt said he sees the potential pitfalls of having each county devise its own plan. Meanwhile, the funding is murky.

According to the bill and the legislative analysis, the state estimates it will spend nearly $39.9 million in the first year and, by 2024-25, the state will funnel $208 million annually to counties. In addition, a one-time $9.6 million general fund distribution will be used to create the new office and help counties develop local plans.

The Division of Juvenile Justice is currently operating on a $220 million budget, which includes health care and education, according to the state.

This is what worries counties: They don’t know how much money they will receive per youth.

Males, the research fellow who supports the change, said counties fear losing what has been a good deal and now have to assume responsibility for these offenders.

The jury is out on whether counties can do better, Males said.

“This is an experiment,” he said. “Some will, and some won’t.”

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.

Published in Local Issues

Regular readers of the Daily Digest know that we often link to stories about scientific studies in this space. And regular readers also know that we always suggest that these stories be taken with a huge, honking figurative grain of salt—because science is often an inexact process, especially these days, given the mad rush to learn about a virus that we didn’t even know existed this time last year.

So … keep that all in mind as you read this piece regarding a brand-new study regarding the risks of getting COVID-19 on an airline flight.

According to ABC News: “United Airlines says the risk of COVID-19 exposure onboard its aircraft is ‘virtually non-existent’ after a new study finds that when masks are worn there is only a 0.003% chance particles from a passenger can enter the passenger's breathing space who is sitting beside them. The study, conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines, was published Thursday.”

The study seems pretty encouraging—but the fact the study was done in part by an airline is what we call a gigantic conflict of interest. So … make that figurative grain of salt we keep talking about even larger in this case.

That said, the findings sort of make sense, given what we know about the effectiveness of masks, and how air circulation is handled on planes.

For what it’s worth, I flew earlier this week for the first time since the pandemic arrived. I am in the middle of a quick trip to San Francisco with the hubby to take care of some things with the apartment he has up here for work, since he’s going to be working from home for the time being—and much of the tech world is even making work-from-home a permanent thing.

As for the flying experience, it felt quite safe; everyone was wearing masks, and there were plenty of open spaces between most seats. The airports themselves were a little eerie—most of the stores and restaurants at both PSP and SFO were closed—but that’s to be expected.

It’s a strange, different world now compared to what it was like eight months ago. Who knows what it’ll be like in another eight months?

If you have the means, please consider clicking here to become a Supporter of the Independent. We make all of our content available for free to all, via email, CVIndependent.com and print—but quality journalism costs a lot of money to produce. Thanks for reading!

And now, the news:

• It’s usually a mere formality for a state’s disaster-declaration request to be approved by FEMA—but this is 2020, and the president is Donald Trump, so nothing is a “mere formality” anymore. Still, it was shocking when his administration at first denied Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request earlier this week regarding the recent, deadly wildfires—before changing course today after a conversation between Newsom and Trump. The approval is a big deal, because, as the Los Angeles Times explains: “The state and its local governments count on FEMA every year to help recover up to 75 percent of their staffing costs for sending firefighters into other jurisdictions—including onto federal land—to help fight wildfires for weeks at a time.

• Here’s the latest Riverside County District 4 report. District 4 is basically the Coachella Valley and the rural points eastward—and, frankly, I found the report’s weekly positively rate shocking (in a good way). District 4 has had a weekly positivity rate in the double-digits for almost the entirety of the past few months, yet on this report, it’s down to 5.9 percent. If this is accurate, this is fantastic progress. However, the report contains sobering reminders that SARS-CoV-2 remains a terrible adversary: Five of our friends and neighbors lost their lives as a result of the virus during the week ending Oct. 11.

• The New York Times did an examination of the scramble the Trump administration is making to enact (or revoke) various policies and regulations. The lede: “Facing the prospect that President Trump could lose his re-election bid, his cabinet is scrambling to enact regulatory changes affecting millions of Americans in a blitz so rushed it may leave some changes vulnerable to court challenges.” Oh, and here’s a quote that should get one’s attention: “Some cases, like a new rule to allow railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, have led to warnings of public safety threats.” Yikes!

ABC News agreed to do a “town hall” with Joe Biden last night … and then NBC, rather dubiously, agreed to do one with Trump at the same time. Well, the ratings are in—and more people watched Joe Biden, even though Trump’s town hall was also simulcast on NBC’s cable-news networks.

• Sen. Dianne Feinstein said some rather nice things about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and Sen. Lindsey Graham during the Senate hearings this week. This didn’t sit well at ALL with some Democrats.

• The Conversation has been knocking it out of the park this week with all sorts of interesting pieces looking at the science behind the news. In one piece, a history professor looks at how past pandemics have ended—and what lessons can be found about how this one will end. Spoiler alert: The virus that causes COVID-19 is here to stay, even though its effects will lessen over time. Key quote: “Hopefully COVID-19 will not persist for millennia. But until there’s a successful vaccine, and likely even after, no one is safe. Politics here are crucial: When vaccination programs are weakened, infections can come roaring back. Just look at measles and polio, which resurge as soon as vaccination efforts falter.

• In another piece, a medicine professor reveals that dementia-related deaths were up a shocking 20 percent over the summer—and nobody is sure why. She explains four possible factors in this sad increase.

• In yet another, a physiology professor makes the case that pneumonia vaccines may help save lives until the much-anticipated coronavirus vaccines arrive.

• Here are a couple of bits of disconcerting science news on the COVID-19 front, although—say it along with me—we should take all of these studies with that figurative grain of salt. One: According to MedPage Today, “Additional evidence continued to suggest blood type may not only play a role in COVID-19 susceptibility, but also severity of infection, according to two retrospective studies.”

• Two: A large study shows that remdesivir does not prevent COVID-19 deaths. However, this study and its conclusions have come under fire from critics—including, surprise surprise, the maker of the drug.

Pfizer may become the first company to apply for an emergency-use authorization for a helpful coronavirus vaccine—but that’s not going to happen until late November at the earliest, the company says.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to all four of the candidates running for two City Council seats in Cathedral City. Find out what District 1 candidates Rita Lamb and Alan Carvalho had to say here, and what District 2 candidates JR Corrales and Nancy Ross had to say here.

• One of the questions we asked the aforementioned Cathedral City candidates involves a recently enacted ban on most short-term vacation rentals in the city. Well, a similar ban appears to be coming to Rancho Mirage as well, as The Desert Sun reports.

• Twitter went down for a good chunk of the day yesterday, and a satire website posted a story joking that Twitter had shut down the site to avoid negative news being spread about Joe Biden. Well … Trump tweeted out that satire piece, apparently believing it to be real news. Sigh.

• And finally, the mayor of Anchorage resigned earlier this week after admitting that he exchanged inappropriate messages with a local TV anchor. However, as The New York Times explains, the story is waaaaay more bonkers than that sentence implies. Here’s a taste: “Mr. Berkowitz’s resignation followed an unsubstantiated claim posted to social media on Friday by the news anchor, Maria Athens, promising viewers an ‘exclusive’ story set to air on upcoming newscasts. Mr. Berkowitz responded by calling the allegations ‘slanderous’ and false, and Ms. Athens shot back by posting what she said was an image of the mayor’s bare backside, with a laughing emoji.” And things get even crazier from there. Trust me: This is worth a read.

That’s enough news from the week. Wash your hands; wear a mask; be kind; be safe. As always, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will be back next week.

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There is SO MUCH NEWS—and we’re not even including anything about the vice-presidential debate or the president’s recent Tweetstorm.

So let’s get right to it:

• As sort-of portended in this space last week, Riverside County’s COVID-19 numbers are heading in a bad direction—and as a result, the county could slide back into the most-restrictive “widespread” (purple) tier as soon as next Tuesday. While the state calculates our positivity rate as 5 percent, which is good enough to keep us in the red, “substantial” tier, our adjusted cases-per-100,000 number is now 7.6—more than the 7.0 limit. The county also did not meet the just-introduced equity metric, which “ensure(s) that the test positivity rates in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods … do not significantly lag behind its overall county test positivity rate.” What does this all mean? It means that if our numbers don’t improve, businesses including gyms, movie theaters and indoor dining will have to close again.

• A glimmer of hope: Today’s county Daily Epidemiology Summary indicates that, as shown in the yellow box on the last page, the county’s positivity rate seems to be heading back downward.

The county Board of Supervisors yesterday decided NOT to set up a more-lenient business-opening timetable, thereby avoiding a potentially costly showdown with the state. Instead, the supes voted 4-1, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, to “seek clarity on whether group meetings, like the kind held in hotels and conference centers, that primarily involve county residents can take place with limits on attendance. Supervisors also want to know whether wedding receptions can be held with attendance caps.

• After weeks of gradual improvement, the Coachella Valley’s numbers are also heading in the wrong direction, according to the weekly Riverside County District 4 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) The weekly local positivity rate went up to 12.6 percent, and hospitalizations saw a modest uptick. Worst of all, two more of our neighbors passed away from COVID-19.

Well this is horrifying. According to The New York Times: “The FDA proposed stricter guidelines for emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine, but the White House chief of staff objected to provisions that would push approval past Election Day.”

• Meanwhile, a man named William Foege, who headed the CDC under both GOP and Dem presidents, wants current CDC Director Robert Redfield to fall on his figurative sword: “A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health titan who led the eradication of smallpox asked the embattled, current CDC leader to expose the failed U.S. response to the coronavirus, calling on him to orchestrate his own firing to protest White House interference,” according to USA Today.

• A tweet from the governor’s office over the weekend has led to some unflattering national attention. As explained by CBS News: “The California governor’s office put out a tweet on Saturday advising that restaurant-goers keep their masks on while dining. ‘Going out to eat with members of your household this weekend?’ the tweet reads. ‘Don’t forget to keep your mask on in between bites. Do your part to keep those around you healthy.’” I am all for mask-wearing … but in between bites?

It appears Coachella will be delayed yet again: “Multiple music-industry insiders now tell Rolling Stone that the 21st edition of the popular music festival will be pushed a third time, to October 2021.”

ICE raids in “sanctuary” cities across California have led to 128 arrests in recent weeks—a move decried by administration critics as a political stunt. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “The nation’s top immigration officials disclosed the results of Operation Rise during an unusual press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., slamming sanctuary jurisdictions and doubling down on the need to secure the country’s borders.

• Gov. Newsom had a busy day today. Most importantly, he announced that “an intern in (his) administration and another state employee who interacted with members of the governor’s staff have both tested positive for COVID-19, though neither came in contact with Newsom or his top advisors,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Newsom revealed that Disney Chairman Bob Iger had stepped down from his economic-recovery task force—in part because Newsom refuses to offer a pathway for the state’s theme parks to reopen. According to Deadline: “When asked about Iger’s departure, Newsom said: ‘It didn’t come to me as a surprise at all. There’s disagreements in terms of opening a major theme park. We’re going to let science and data make that determination.’

The governor also announced he had signed yet another executive order, this time in an effort to preserve at least 30 percent of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030. According to the San Jose Mercury News: “Newsom signed an executive order directing the state’s Natural Resources Agency to draw up a plan by Feb. 1, 2022, to achieve the goal in a way that also protects the state’s economy and agriculture industry, while expanding and restoring biodiversity.

• Our partners at CalMatters are reporting that in an effort to cut down on fraud, state officials are freezing unemployment accounts—but they’re often freezing the accounts of innocent people: “In what appears to be the latest problem at the besieged state Employment Development Department, unemployed Californians say their accounts are being erroneously frozen, leaving them unable to access a financial lifeline amid the pandemic. Reports surfaced last week and continued over the weekend with beneficiaries reporting their Bank of America accounts—where benefits are deposited and spent—frozen, closed or drained of money.

• An engineering professor, writing for The Conversation, says that a contagious person’s location in a room will help determine who else in that room is exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Read up on the emerging science here.

Wait, the coronavirus can cause diabetes now? Wired reports that scientists are looking into that very real possibility.

• The Washington Post looks at how restaurants are reinventing themselves to survive the pandemic. Restaurant critic Tom Sietsema writes: “At least in Washington, at least this season, more restaurants seem to be opening than closing, and unlike in the spring, when I penned a tear-streaked mash note to the industry I feel grateful to cover, fall feels ripe for a pulse check, even a dining guide to reflect on the smart ways the market has responded to the blow of a global crisis.

Facebook announced today it will stop running all political ads for about a week, after Election Day. It will also do this, per CNBC: “Additionally, Facebook on Wednesday announced that it will ‘remove calls for people to engage in poll watching when those calls use militarized language or suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control, or display power over election officials or voters.’” Baby steps …

• Gustavo Arellano, now a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tells the story of Ivette Zamora Cruz, a Rancho Mirage resident who publishes a Spanish-language magazine, La Revista. When the Black Lives Matter protests took place in June, she decided she needed to take action—by dedicating the latest issue of her magazine to Black voices. Arellano writes: “She began to cold-call Black businesses with offers of free ads, and asked Black writers and photographers via Instagram to submit their work. The issue published in August with profiles of Black artists and activists, and a historical timeline of police violence against Black people in the United States.” It’s a fantastic story.

• Here’s another local story from the Los Angeles Times, and this one is rather disconcerting: “Joining the growing—and increasingly controversial—list of American art museums that have sold or are preparing to sell major paintings from their permanent collections, the Palm Springs Art Museum is finalizing discussions to bring Helen Frankenthaler’s monumental 1979 canvas ‘Carousel’ to market, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plan.” Also: Art critic Christopher Knight points out that this isn’t the first time Museum Director Louis Grachos has been involved with a controversial museum-art sale.

• And finally, Fat Bear Week has a winner. Get to know the portly pre-hibernation fella nicknamed 747.

That’s enough for today. Please help support this Daily Digest and the other work the Independent does by becoming a Supporter of the Independent; we really could use your support. Be safe—and thanks for reading!

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