CVIndependent

Sun11292020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Last Friday’s Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting and its aftermath were simply remarkable—one of the most stupefying series of political events I’ve ever witnessed.

Here’s the short version: The supes voted unanimously to revoke three of county health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s orders, as well as most of a fourth. Instead, the county will now defer to the state’s weaker (and, in some cases, less-clear) orders.

Frankly … the revocation of the orders involving golf courses and short-term lodging, and the partial revocation of the order involving schools, won’t change much. But that fourth one … in terms of sending a message, at least, it’s a doozy: The supervisors voted to revoke Cameron’s requirement that face masks be worn, and social distancing protocols be followed, in businesses and public places. Instead, face coverings and social distancing are now just “strongly recommended.” (They’re still required in Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs and some cities, for the record.)

Here’s what is remarkable about the vote, and what followed:

• Local supervisor V. Manuel Perez voted with the rest of the supervisors to revoke the orders, and he hasn’t explained why. Before the vote, Perez signaled that he wanted to keep the face-mask requirement in place … but then he voted to revoke it. Since the vote, he’s been quiet on his social media. We asked his office for an explanation of his vote over the weekend, and have not yet received a response as of this writing. Therefore, all we have to go off of is a Facebook video posted on Sunday by Greg Rodriguez, Perez’s government affairs and public policy advisor … and it’s not very helpful. First: Although Rodriguez uses the term “we” throughout the video, he starts off by saying he is not speaking for Perez, so we should take him at his word. And second: Rodriguez never explains why Perez voted how he did anyway. Rodriguez says around the 4:35 mark: “You’ve got to have a majority of votes to pass something, and we did not have those votes to support what our stance was.”

So … Perez voted for something he was against?

My guess was that Perez was bowing to the wishes of the local business community, including the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce (of which the Independent, I should disclose, is a member—and a less-than-happy one, FWIW), which has been clamoring for Perez to push for a faster reopening. But that’s just speculation.

Mr. Perez, you have some explaining to do.

• Perez was excoriated by his usual political allies after the vote. I don’t use the term “excoriate” lightly here. Perez is a progressive Democrat, and other progressive Democrats were not shy about openly criticizing him. On a Facebook post by Rodriguez, Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors commented about Perez: “He failed by voting to overturn all of the public health orders of the county’s public health officials which will delay our ability to reopen more businesses, hurt workers on the front lines and harm more residents’ health. How disappointing! To allow those who don’t want to wear face coverings to infect grocery workers is not something to be proud of. Glad Palm Springs City Council adopted our own rules to protect workers’ and residents’ public health.”

• The vote occurred after the county sheriff had already said he would not enforce the health orders anyway. Sheriff Chad Bianco—in a speech littered with falsehoods—had previously told the supes that the state had gone too far and had inappropriately taken away people’s constitutional rights with the shutdown order. He also at one point implied the virus really wasn’t a threat to healthy people (?!). So, therefore, he said, he wasn’t going to enforce the county’s orders. He then went on Fox and Friends and said similar things. So, yeah, holy shit.

• The supervisors, at this crazy meeting, did make some good points regarding the unfairness of Gov. Newsom’s reopening criteria. When Gov. Newsom announced what benchmarks counties would need to meet to further reopen, one of the requirements was that there be no COVID-19-related deaths for two weeks. If this requirement were truly followed, some of California’s larger counties might not be able to reopen until SARS-CoV-2 was more or less eradicated. Fortunately, Newsom has since signaled that the state would be a bit more flexible.

Expect more drama to unfold as soon as tomorrow, when Newsom is expected to offer more information about further business openings—including a possible timeline for in-restaurant dining.

Hang on, folks.

Today’s links:

• Remember the rule about studies these days—they need to be viewed veeeeeery skeptically—but, getting back to masks: A new study shows that consistent mask wearing may by itself be able to solve much of this COVID-19 mess we find ourselves in. From Vanity Fair: “Among the findings of their research paper, which the team plans to submit to a major journal: If 80 percent of a closed population were to don a mask, COVID-19 infection rates would statistically drop to approximately one twelfth the number of infections—compared to a live-virus population in which no one wore masks.” We say this with that figurative huge grain of salt, but wow.

• More encouraging health news: A clinical trial at Stanford is examining whether injections of a safe compound called peginterferon lambda-1a, when given early after a COVID-19 diagnosis, can reduce both deaths and patient recovery time.

• Also, some ER docs, writing in The New York Times, say checking at-risk people’s blood-oxygen levels early and often can help medical professionals get a jump on the virus.

• And according to this piece from The Wall Street Journal: Maybe ventilators aren’t the way to go with treatment?

• CBS’ 60 Minutes reports that the Trump administration is slashing the funding of some scientists working on a cure for COVID-19, because, again, nothing makes sense anymore.

Gov. Newsom and other Western governors are asking the feds for trillions in financial help. Yes, trillions with a “T.

• Meanwhile, in Shanghai, Disneyland is open again.

• The San Francisco Chronicle wonders: Are food trucks the future of dining in SF? (Follow-up question: Can we get some in the Coachella Valley? Please?)

• Also from the San Francisco Chronicle (which, in recent years, has improved to the point where it’s now one of the country’s most underrated newspapers): A data analysis shows that almost half of the coronavirus deaths in the state involve nursing homes.

• The Washington Post broke this story over the weekend, and it should really piss you off: A Texas company on Jan. 22 wrote the federal Department of Health and Human Services and asked if his company should ramp up production to make 1.7 million more N95 masks a week. He was ignored. Repeatedly. And that company’s still not making masks at capacity. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.

United Airlines touted the fact that it would leave middle seats open because, you know, social distancing. Turns out that’s not always the case.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapters 157, 158 and 159: There was a packed rodeo in Shasta County. And two people were arrested after attacking a Van Nuys Target employee who insisted they wear masks. And Elon Musk continues to be a dick.

• Meanwhile, doctors are having problems getting remdesivir—and sometimes having to decide which patients get it, and which ones don’t.

Is it possible the Florida governor knew what he was doing when he was slow to close down the state, and quick to reopen it? The Washington Post takes a nuanced look at Ron DeSantis.

• Finally, John Krasinski and some friends from The Office are here with your weekly dose of Some Good News.

That’s enough for today. In fact, we think this is the longest Daily Digest we’ve ever done. So, yay, news! Anyway, buy our Coloring Book, because it’s awesome. Also, if you can afford to support 1,300-word-plus Daily Digests like these, plus all sorts of other awesome local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Welcome to May 2020—which should be one of the most fascinating months in American history.

April was horrible, in terms of deaths and economic calamity—but for the most part, the country hunkered down and sheltered in place. But now that May is here, the figurative wheels may be starting to come off.

Many are states starting to reopen—despite an increasing number of COVID-19 cases. Some local governments in California are taking steps to reopen, in defiance of the state orderProtests seem to be getting angrier—including those close to home in Orange County, over Gov. Newsom’s surprising decision to close the beaches there, and only there, this weekend. 

Here in the Coachella Valley, some are getting restless, too. The Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce yesterday asked county supervisor V. Manuel Perez to do what he can to “start opening back up the Coachella Valley economy.” Meanwhile, Gov. Newsom said the first steps toward reopening California are days, not weeks, away … but has not been specific on what that means, exactly.

How is this all going to play out? I have no idea. All I know is that the next 30 days are going to be a wild ride—and that the Independent will be here to help make sense of it.

Wash your hands. Be kind. Be safe. And hold on tight, folks.

Today’s links:

• The big local news of the day: College of the Desert announced today that all summer AND fall classes will move online. More or less, this means the campus will be closed for the remainder of 2020.

• As expected, the government has announced that remdesivir may be used as an emergency treatment for COVID-19.

• Related: This opinion piece from The Washington Post does a good job of putting Dr. Anthony Fauci’s remarks on Wednesday regarding remdesivir in the proper context: They gave us real hope.

• Also related: The House wants Dr. Fauci to testify next week. The White House isn’t going to let him.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: Gov. Newsom’s program that would pay restaurants to make meals for seniors in need has a lot of problemsand as a result, not a single meal has been delivered yet.

• Here’s a holy-cow-that’s-awful stat: More than 4,000 workers at 115 meatpacking plants in the country have tested positive for the virus. More than 900 of those are at a single Tyson plant in Indiana.

• Related: It turns out the much-touted executive order by the president for meat plants to reopen isn’t going to do much of anything.

• Not only is the race on to develop a new vaccine; some scientists are studying whether old vaccines, for polio and tuberculosis, can help fight the coronavirus. How’s that possible? It involves something called “innate immunity.”

• The Palm Springs Cultural Center this week has added two films to its watch-at-home lineup. Get the details on Crescendo and Saint Frances here.

• The Atlantic takes a mostly depressing look at how the pandemic is going to change retail business in the country.

• The U.S. Bartenders’ Guild fund has only dispersed $1.5 million of the $7 million it has in its emergency aid fund—with up to 90 percent of applicants being rejected. The San Francisco Chronicle gets some answers on why that is.

• Omar Tate, the proprietor of a popup restaurant experience called Honeysuckle, wrote a powerful essay for Esquire; this one line sums things up masterfully: “When America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia.”

• The headline on this piece from a HuffPost political reporter gets straight to the point: “Tribes Were Supposed to Get $8 Billion In COVID-19 Aid. They’ve Gotten $0.”

Former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has a message for the people protesting stay-at-home orders: You’re being selfish, and you’re disrespecting America’s veterans.

• Related: Elon Musk is getting some Silicon Valley execs on the “reopen now!” bandwagon—while others are decidedly in disagreement.

• The consistently excellent Texas Tribune breaks down the battle in that state over unemployment benefits—and as that state reopens (prematurely, perhaps), many fearful people are being forced to go back to work.

If you’re one of the people who somehow believes COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, either you’re ignorant, or you don’t know how numbers work.

• When it’s time for Las Vegas to reopen … it’s not going to reopen all at once, as the MGM Resorts acting CEO pointed out during a call yesterday.

• Some people are starting to get an email from the Census Bureau asking questions about how they’re faring during the pandemic. Here’s a story from NPR, from a week or two back, on why that’s happening.

That’s enough for today. Be safe. Wash your hands. Check in on a loved one and see how they’re doing. Get details on our fantastic coloring book here, and becoming a Supporter of the Independent here. Barring anything major, we’ll be off tomorrow, but back on Sunday, in honor of World Press Freedom Day.

Published in Daily Digest

I have a slight bone to pick with Dr. Cameron Kaiser.

I say “slight,” because overall, the public health officer for Riverside County has done a fantastic job of handling what is, most certainly, an unprecedented health crisis. He was quick to declare a public health emergency. He’s been ahead of the figurative game on many moves—like a mandate to wear masks when leaving home. And the county health system has been good about updating the COVID-19 case numbers on a daily basis, and even including city-by-city breakdowns—something that’s not being done in many places.

So, to repeat: He’s doing a fantastic job overall—but when it comes to keeping the public informed, in some ways, he and his staff could be doing better.

On April 7, his office released some information that was well, scary as hell: a projection that the county, at current capacity, would fill up all 131 ICI beds by April 14; we’d run out of hospital beds by April 23; and we’d run out of ventilators by April 26.

The county also projected that by early May, the county would need 3,000 ICU beds. Again, the county’s current capacity, 131.

Excuse my language … but holy shit! The graphic made it clear that the projections would change based on reported cases, bed availability and resources, but still, there’s a huge difference between 131 and 3,000.

As April 14 has come closer—that’s four days from now, AKA TUESDAY—I’ve been watching for an update to the information. But … there has been no update. Yes, the main counts have been updated daily, but not the pants-wetting ICU-bed projections. Given that we are hearing better things on both a Coachella Valley-specific level and a statewide level, I’d really like an update.

A footnote: It’s also worth noting that one of our writers reached out about a week ago to Dr. Kaiser’s office for an interview. Our writer received a two-sentence response: “I'm sorry. Dr. Kaiser is not available.”

I have no doubt that Dr. Kaiser is bonkers-busy right now. I can’t imagine how busy he is right now. I understand.

But there aren’t that many functional news operations these days in Riverside County—sad, but true—and all we need is 15 minutes, tops. So on Monday, I am going to personally call Dr. Cameron’s office and ask for an interview. I’ll let you know how that goes.

And hey, if Dr. Cameron or someone on his staff is reading this: Can we get an update on those ICU beds, please?

Today’s links:

• I have mixed feelings about this: According to The Verge: “Apple and Google announced a system for tracking the spread of the new coronavirus, allowing users to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved apps from health organizations.” At least there are fewer privacy concerns with this method than the methods used in other countries’ tracking apps.

• The Riverside County mobile app has been updated to allow people to report people and businesses who are not complying with health orders.

• Important, if you didn’t file taxes for 2018 or 2019, and/or you don’t receive various federal benefits: The IRS has set up a website for you to sign up to get your stimulus payments.

• One of the biggest unknowns in this pandemic: How many people may have had COVID-19, but never knew it? A test in Los Angeles County of 1,000 people will help us start to figure out how much the coronavirus has really spread.

• Remember the jackass biotech exec who was sent to prison after jacking up the costs of HIV/AIDS medications? Martin Shkreli wants to be furloughed from prison to help with the fight against COVID-19.

• Even though nursing homes have been the sites of some of the worst coronavirus outbreaks, the federal government isn’t doing a great job of tracking them. So NBC News did their best to fill that gap.

• The Greater Coachella Valley Chamber Commerce is having a call-in legislative and COVID-19 update with Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia at 11 a.m., Wednesday, April 15. Details here.

• KESQ News Channel 3 talked to Coyote StageWorks founder Chuck Yates about the financial havoc the pandemic is causing for local arts organizations. You can read about the week when local theater came to a halt in this Independent piece.

Confused about face coverings, and good practices when it comes to using them? Eisenhower Health has some answers.

• I found this piece fascinating: You know which groups are doing a fine job at combating the spread of the coronavirus around the world? Some militant and criminal gangs!

• The pandemic has ripped a hole in the budgets of many LGBT pride organizations. They’ve banded together to create a Pride Operational Support Fund—and they need donations.

• It’s undeniable: Some people have been hit harder than others by the pandemic and the resulting health and financial crises. But, as this Wall Street Journal piece eloquently points out, this has been hard on almost all of us, in some way.

• The Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center have joined other art-house theaters in offering a curated selection of indie films that you can purchase tickets for to watch at home! Not only can you watch great films; you can support the Palm Springs Cultural Center while doing so!

• Yesterday, we talked about the new Palm Springs Zoom backgrounds being offered by the local tourism bureau. Well, if those aren’t your cup of tea, Nickelodeon is offering some backgrounds that are a little more, well, cartoony.

• You know things are tough when the Hilton corporation, in a lovely gesture to help us feel better (if perhaps a bit fatter), releases what was heretofore a fiercely kept secret: The recipe for the famous DoubleTree chocolate-chip cookies.

• Wiping down food containers after going to the grocery store? Good idea. Washing your fruits and vegetables with soap? Not so much.

• Stressed? Well, calm down by getting together, for free, with the immortal Bob Ross, and paint some happy trees.

• By the way, if you wanted to submit art for our Coloring Book project, but haven’t gotten around to it yet, good news: A couple of artists asked us for more time, so we have extended the deadline to Tuesday, April 14. Get all the specs and details here.

That’s all for the traditional work week! Wash your hands. If you have a virtual event—a Facebook live concert, or a drag show, or a story time, or whatever—add it to our online virtual event calendar. Then go wash your hands again. Then if you value local, independent journalism, and are fortunate enough to have the means to do so, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep what we’re doing, and making it free to all—at a time when most of our advertisers have had to go on hiatus. Now make sure you’ve properly washed your mask, and make sure you wear it out in public. Tomorrow’s my sanity day off; we’ll return Sunday.

Published in Daily Digest

Thank goodness I live in California.

Those are six words that I don’t always, well, feel. Don’t get me wrong; I love it here. This is the place I chose to live, after all. But there are times the state government can be a serious pain in the ass, as any, and I mean ANY, small-business owner will tell you.

But, man, when it comes to this pandemic, thank goodness I live in California. The leadership from the state has been fairly quick, decisive and competent … and such is not the case in other states.

Those six words—thank goodness I live in California—have been running through my head in a loop every time I read a tweet from my friend Donna Ladd. She’s the co-founder of the Jackson Free Press, the kick-ass alternative newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi—a state where things, basically, are a mess.

Why? Because Gov. Tate Reeves has made them that way.

For the full story, I’ll direct you to this just-published editorial, by Donna and her team. But here’s the four-sentence summary: Reeves declared a state of emergency, closed schools, expedited unemployment, etc. … which is good. He then issued an executive order closing or limiting businesses unless they’re deemed essential … which is painful, but good for public-health purposes. However, the order goes on to, in the words of the Free Press, “exempt pretty much all businesses” … which is bad. And finally, the order, again in the words of the Free Press, “contains specific, direct language saying that it overrides any efforts by other bodies—like local mayors—to order stronger distancing in their areas of Mississippi” … which is WTF-you-must-be-kidding-me heinous.

Props to Donna and her staff. Their work is a prime example of the importance of independent journalism—especially in crazy times like these.

Oh, and one more thing: Thank goodness I live in California.

And now, some news:

• If you want a copy of our April print edition delivered to you by mail, that is now an option. I’ll elaborate more on this and the Independent’s other plans moving forward tomorrow.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: Here’s an update on the state’s efforts to house the homeless during the pandemic.

We’re No. 1. U.S.A. Sigh.

• Also from The New York Times: An interactive piece where you can see (admittedly rough and flawed, but still helpful and revealing) projections of the COVID-19 toll based on social distancing time and severity, seasonal factors and so on.

• I appeared again on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast—this time, with video (so you can see what my raggedy face looks like at 8 a.m. in the morning, and I am really sorry about that)—for a Q&A with Dr. Laura Rush.

• If you can give blood, please do so.

• From the city of Palm Springs: “A new hotline and email is now available for Palm Springs businesses and residents impacted by the spread of coronavirus. Anyone with questions such as how to apply for unemployment, a small business loan, unemployment, find information about recent city and state of California orders related to sheltering in place, parks, trails, golf courses, the moratorium on vacation rentals, homeshares, hotels and any other issue, can now call a hotline number at (760) 902-1155 or reach out via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Our goal is that city staff will respond to your call within one hour, Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m.” Cool.

• You know that drug Donald Trump touted as a COVID-19 treatment? And a bunch of people said that was really stupid? And then someone took a bunch of it to self-treat himself and died? Here’s the nuanced truth on chloroquine, from the always-excellent The Conversation. (Spoiler alert: It was still really stupid for the president to say that.)

• James Dyson—the dude who makes that weird vacuum cleaner—designed and began producing a new kind of ventilator. In 10 days. He’s donating 5,000 of them to the worldwide fight against COVID-19. #badass

If you’re caring for someone dealing with dementia during this crazy time: 1) God bless you, and 2) Check out these tips from the Alzheimer’s Association.

• The Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce is lobbying the state insurance commissioner to make insurance carriers cover business interruptions—like, say, this pandemic—under existing policies.

• The Desert AIDS Project is seeking donations of personal protective equipment.

Chris Hemsworth is offering free virtual workouts for the next six weeks. Go Thor!

• Finally … a long read, but a good read—one so good that President Obama endorsed it via Tweet: From The Atlantic, “How the Pandemic Will End.”

That’s all for now. Wash your hands. For the full 20 seconds. Yeah, get the thumbs, and down your wrist, etc. There you go. Good job. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

January marks the start of the “high season” of activity at the world-famous Empire Polo Club—and before the huge music events arrive in April, the grounds will host the 34th edition of the Southwest Arts Festival, and its sumptuous display of works created by roughly 250 talented artists, from Thursday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 26.

Josh Bonner is the president and CEO of the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce (GCVCC), the host organization of this valley tradition. He explained how artists get selected to participate.

“Artists from across the country will put in their applications to be at the show,” Bonner said. “As part of that process, they submit multiple pictures of their artwork. Also, they will submit a photo of the display they use at shows, so we can see what it would look like if they were at our art show. That all goes before our panel of judges. … Primarily, the jury pool is made up of artists, because we want (applicants) to be judged by their peers.”

The number of applications is much larger than the allotted number of spots, in part because the Southwest Arts Festival is viewed as an artist-friendly show.

“Art shows operate in two different ways,” Bonner said. “One way is (organizers) charge a very large upfront fee, like $700-$800, for the artist to come out. Then (the artists) keep all of their sales. We charge a much lower upfront fee of $350, and then they pay a small percentage commission on their sales. We do it that way, because, in our opinion, it helps the artist. If the artist comes out and has a great show, then he or she has a great show. But if they come out and they don’t have a great show for some reason, at least they’re not out that huge upfront investment.”

A lot of selling indeed goes on—Bonner said last year’s sales exceeded $1 million—and those sales do a lot of good for local nonprofits.

“The GCVCC is an interesting organization, because we are not like other chambers,” Bonner said. “We’re sort of an umbrella chamber. The GCVCC puts the festival on, but underneath us, you have the chambers of commerce from Indio, Coachella and La Quinta (among other cities), and the Desert Advertising Federation, which is an association of marketing professionals. All of those nonprofit entities benefit from the show.

“In addition, we’ll also designate two or three other local nonprofits who will benefit from a portion of the proceeds. In the past, we’ve had proceeds that benefited the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and ABC Recovery Center.”

Bonner said the 12,000 to 15,000 festival-goers can enjoy a variety of experiences.

“One thing we realized is that when you come to an art show with some 250 artists, it takes time for you to get through all those artists. People are normally on the grounds for a few hours; they don’t just show up for five minutes,” Bonner said. “So, because of that, we work with the Empire Polo Club, and every year, they help out with food and beverage. They bring in different culinary experiences. … There are several different restaurants there that people can choose from to eat lunch, or a snack, while they’re at the event. There are bars with drinks available throughout the venue as well.

“We have interactive art displays. We’ll have an area where kids can paint, and sometimes, we’ll have (hands-on experiences with) glass-blowing or metalwork. Or we’ll have live canvas painting going on, so that people can see the artistic process taking place. On top of all of that, we have live music as well. At every point during each day, we’ll have some type of live performance music going on.”

Bonner said attendees will get exposed to a lot of art with which they’re unfamiliar.

“I get asked a lot: ‘Hey, do you have famous artists?’” Bonner said with a laugh. “My answer is always, ‘No.’ But I think that’s also the allure of art festivals and to the people who like to go to them: They get to discover new art, unique art. It’s not the Picassos who everyone knows about, but these are really talented local artists from around the country who come to show their wares, and you get to see things you’ve never seen before. That, to me, is the allure of the Southwest Art Festival.

“We have a local artist, Richard Curtner, who operates out of Cathedral City. He does these wonderful collages where he takes like different newspaper (clippings), and he’ll manipulate them to form this beautiful picture. … It is fine art, and these are extremely talented artists, but the beauty and allure of it is that these are artists that you probably have never heard of before.”

The Southwest Arts Festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 23-26, at the Empire Polo Club, 81800 51st Ave., in Indio. Tickets, which are good for all four days, are $15; or $13 for seniors. For tickets or more information, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/the-southwest-arts-festival-indio-2020-tickets-76332928845.

Published in Visual Arts