CVIndependent

Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Let the reopening begin! Again! Hopefully without a horrifying spike in COVID-19 cases this time!

Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced an all-new reopening plan—and gone is that state county watch list and all the various stages that, frankly, didn’t always make sense. In their place is a four-tiered system, with each county’s tier based on two major criteria: the number of new cases per 100,000 people, and the positivity rate. Counties will have to meet each tier’s criteria for at least two weeks before moving up.

What does this mean for us here in Riverside County? Even though we’re in the worst tier (like most of the rest of the state), it means more reopenings in the short-term: Hair salons, barber shops and malls will be able to reopen for some indoor business on Monday.

As for everything else … let’s just say the wider post-Labor Day reopenings the county was hoping for ain’t gonna happen.

According to the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least three weeks before moving forward. Data is reviewed weekly and tiers are updated on Tuesdays. To move forward, a county must meet the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks.

Translated: We are in the “Widespread” tier. The next-best tier is the “Substantial” tier; counties there can allow restaurants to reopen for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, and gyms to open indoors at 10 percent capacity, among other things. But to get admitted into the “Substantial” tier, Riverside County would need to see fewer than seven new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 people, and get the positivity rate below 8 percent—and do so for at least two weeks.

As of now, according to the state, we’re seeing 10.4 cases per day per 100,000 people, with an 8.4 percent positivity rate.

All in all, this is a much clearer—and much stricter—set of guidelines. If they’re followed, it means we’re much, much less likely to run into another spike.

But it also means a whole lot of businesses are going to remain limited or closed altogether for a very long time. Take bars, for example: According to these new guidelines, they can’t reopen indoors without serving food until a county reaches the least-restrictive “Minimal” tier—when there’s less than one new case per day per 100,000 people, and the positivity rate is less than 2 percent. And even then, they can open only at half-capacity.

More news from the day below.

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• Related, sort of: The owners of theme parks are pushing for them to be allowed to reopen—although based on the guidelines issued today, that doesn’t seem likely. “Legoland California will host a news conference in Miniland U.S.A. on Friday, Aug. 28 with county and city officials who will call for the park and other San Diego County business to be allowed to open,” according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

• On Monday, we linked to a piece about a quick-turnaround, no-lab-needed COVID-19 test being used for employees and flight crews at San Francisco International Airport. Well, this latest potential pandemic “game-changer” just received emergency-use authorization from the FDA—and could come to a place near you within a couple months. Per CNN: “The antigen test, in which involves a nasal swab, uses the same type of technology as a flu test. Abbott says it anticipates producing 50 million BinaxNOW tests a month by October.

• Oh, and if you’re an investor in Abbott Labs’ stock, rejoice, because the feds announced yesterday that they’re spending $750 million to buy 150 million of these rapid tests.

• I am a little biased here, being a journalist and all, but I don’t think this has received as much attention as it should have: The Washington Post published a piece revealing that President Trump’s company has charged the federal government more than $900,000 for Secret Service hotel rooms and various other things. That’s a big deal in and of itself. But then there’s this—an authoritarian-style threat from a White House spokesman for exposing such malfeasance. “The Washington Post is blatantly interfering with the business relationships of the Trump Organization, and it must stop,” Deere wrote in his statement. “Please be advised that we are building up a very large ‘dossier’ on the many false David Fahrenthold and others stories as they are a disgrace to journalism and the American people.” Wow.

• The Washington Post also did a stunning piece showing that Trump’s insistence on public appearances is putting the Secret Service agents tasked with keeping him safe at risk: “In the past two months, dozens of Secret Service agents who worked to ensure the security of the president and Vice President Pence at public events have been sickened or sidelined because they were in direct contact with infected people, according to multiple people familiar with the episodes, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the incidents.

A whole lot of states are basically ignoring the CDC’s stunningly lax new testing guidelines. “California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey and New York all plan to continue to test asymptomatic people who have been exposed to COVID-19, despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggesting that such tests may not be needed,” according to Reuters.

• NBA playoff games are slated to resume tomorrow, and the protests that started in the NBA on Wednesday and spread to other sports are leading to some very good things. According to NPR: “The league has committed to create a social justice coalition, work with elections officials to convert NBA arenas into polling places for the 2020 election and create advertising spots to promote ‘greater civic engagement in national and local elections.’”

CNN posted a series of before-and-after satellite images showing the awful devastation Hurricane Laura has wrought in southwestern Louisiana. And NBC News examined fears that the evacuations forced by the hurricane could cause more spread of COVID-19. Similarly, The Conversation examined how the hurricane and California’s wildfires could make the pandemic worse.

• Sign No. 273,464 that this recession/depression is going to be lengthy and difficult: MGM Resorts is laying off 18,000 peopleabout a quarter of its employees in the U.S.

• As the California Legislature works feverishly on unfinished business before the session’s end on Monday, they’re doing so without most Senate Republicans being allowed in the Capitol—because they were exposed to a state senator who has COVID-19.

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week. Along with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr, I talked to Palm Springs Pride head Ron deHarte about the plans for a socially distant Pride in November, and Palm Springs City Councilmember Grace Garner about the controversial vote on the new downtown park.

• We’ve linked to stories in this space before regarding the possibility that sewage testing could stop coronavirus outbreaks early. Well, it appears that very thing happened at the University of Arizona, where two—but only two—people in a dorm were found to have COVID-19 after the virus was found in wastewater samples.

The delayed and much-changed Tour de France bicycle race starts tomorrow. Key quote, from The Associated Press: “Amid the pandemic, the usually boisterous celebration of cycling that for decades has drawn packed throngs of cheering roadside spectators promises to be a strange and more subdued affair, moved for the first time in its 117-year history out of its traditional July slot to a September month when many fans will be back at school or at work after summer vacations.

• CNET takes an in-depth look at the nasty battle taking place over California’s gig-worker laws—in which Lyft and Uber’s representatives are engaging in at-times nasty attacks against people who support the move to make the rideshare apps’ drivers employees rather than contractors.

• And finally, we’re just going to leave this quote from a New York Post article right here, and try very, very hard to forget all about it: “Scientists now say that the coronavirus may be able to spread throughout buildings, via toilets and drain pipes—an especially alarming prospect for apartment dwellers with suspect plumbing. The discovery was made in China, after researchers swabbed the “long vacant” apartment directly below a family of five who tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the fact that no one was living in the apartment below, the researchers found traces of the virus on the sink, faucet and shower handle.”

That’s enough news for what’s been a crazy news week. Wash your hands. Be kind, and enjoy your weekend. Please take the time to vote in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll! The Daily Digest will be back Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Today is one of the biggest, craziest news days I have ever seen. Let’s get right to it:

The reverberations of the shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday in Kenosha, Wis., continue to intensify. First and most awful: A 17-year-old was arrested after allegedly shooting three people, two fatally, at a protest in Kenosha late last night.

• Buzzfeed is reporting that the alleged shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, was front and center in the crowd at a January Trump rally in January. “Kyle Howard Rittenhouse’s social media presence is filled with him posing with weapons, posting ‘Blue Lives Matter,’ and supporting Trump for president. Footage from the Des Moines, Iowa, rally on Jan. 30 shows Rittenhouse feet away from the president, in the front row, to the left of the podium. He posted a TikTok video from the event.”

• To protest the shooting of Blake, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not take the court for Game 5 of their best-of-seven NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic this afternoon—a moment unparalleled in modern sports history. Shortly thereafter, all of today’s NBA playoff games were postponed, as were all of today’s scheduled WNBA games. The players’ strike then spread to Major League Soccer as well as Major League Baseball, where several games—including the game involving the Milwaukee Brewers—have been called off in protest.

Jacob Blake’s family says he is paralyzed and dealing with serious internal injuries.

A professor of labor and employment relations from Penn State, writing for The Conversation, says police unions should not be considered part of the broader U.S. labor movement. Key quote: “Exclusively protecting the interests of their members, without consideration for other workers, also sets police unions apart from other labor groups. Yes, the first priority of any union is to fight for their members, but most other unions see that fight in the context of a larger movement that fights for all workers. Police unions do not see themselves as part of this movement. With one exception—the International Union of Police Associations, which represents just 2.7 percent of American police—law enforcement unions are not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the U.S. labor body that unites all unions.”

• In other news: Hurricane Laura is approaching Texas and Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, and more than a half-million people have been told to evacuate. It could be the most intense storm to hit that area in recorded history, and is drawing a lot of comparisons to Hurricane Katrina. “Some areas when they wake up Thursday morning, they’re not going to believe what happened,” Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the hurricane center, told NBC News. “What doesn’t get blown down by the wind could easily get knocked down by the rising ocean waters pushing well inland.”

• The CDC just issued new guidelines regarding COVID-19 testing that have left public-health experts around the country completely baffled: According to CNN: “The new guidelines raise the bar on who should get tested, advising that some people without symptoms probably don't need it—even if they've been in close contact with an infected person.” According to CNN, the Trump administration pressured the CDC to make the change. Unbelievable.

• Where was Dr. Anthony Fauci when these changes were being made? In surgery. Yes, really. According to Axios: “Anthony Fauci was in the operating room under general anesthesia last Thursday when the White House coronavirus task force approved the narrowing of CDC testing recommendations to exclude asymptomatic individuals, according to CNN's Sanjay Gupta.” Fauci also told Gupta he’s “concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is."

• Heading in the opposite direction: Gov. Newsom today announced plans for the state to double its COVID-19 testing capacity, and reduce turn-around time. However, note the dates—this is not happening right away. The opening paragraph of the news release: “Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that California has signed a groundbreaking contract with a major diagnostics company, which will allow California to process up to an additional 150,000 COVID-19 diagnostic tests a day, with a contractual turnaround time of 24-48 hours. The goal is to stand up a laboratory facility and begin processing tens of thousands of additional tests by November 1 and run at full capacity by ­no later than March 1, 2021.”

• Given that March date above, this is related: The Conversation breaks down the reasons why it’s going to take quite a while to get vaccine produced at a large-enough scale. Key quote: “The shrinking and outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing capacity has reached into all sectors. Vaccines are no exception. … When a coronavirus vaccine is approved, production of other vaccines will need to continue as well. With the flu season each year and children being born every day, you can’t simply reallocate all existing vaccine manufacturing capacity to COVID-19 vaccine production. New additional capacity will be needed.”

The New York Times has started a college COVID-19 case tracker. The takeaway: “A New York Times survey of more than 1,500 American colleges and universities—including every four-year public institution, every private college that competes in NCAA sports and others that identified cases—has revealed at least 26,000 cases and 64 deaths since the pandemic began.”

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is working on a different vaccine, of sortsone that can be taken as a nasal spray.

You know all that furor you saw on social media regarding Melania Trump’s revamp of the White House Rose Garden? Well, it is all a bunch of inaccurate nonsense.

• Public health experts around the country are keeping their eyes out for possible coronavirus cases that spread at the massive Sturgis Motorcycle Rally a week and a half ago. According to The Associated Press: “An analysis of anonymous cell phone data from Camber Systems, a firm that aggregates cell phone activity for health researchers, found that 61 percent of all the counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis, creating a travel hub that was comparable to a major U.S. city.”

• Related: Genetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 reveals that the annual leadership meeting of drug-company Biogen, late in February in Boston, became a super-spreader event for the coronavirus. Key quote: “A sweeping study of nearly 800 coronavirus genomes … has found that viruses carrying the conference’s characteristic mutation infected hundreds of people in the Boston area, as well as victims from Alaska to Senegal to Luxembourg. As of mid-July, the variant had been found in about one-third of the cases sequenced in Massachusetts and 3 percent of all genomes studied thus far in the United States.”

• The business devastation as a result of the pandemic-caused economic shutdown is unparalleled, as revealed by a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce study showing that more than half of the storefronts in SF have closed since COVID-19 arrived.

• Related and local: Local restaurants continue to announce closures. Evzin Mediterranean Cuisine's owner announced on social media today that both locations will be no more after this weekend.

• From the Independent: Indie music venues across the country are asking Congress to offer them a lifeline—including the renowned Pappy and Harriet’s. Pappy’s owner Robyn Celia answered questions from the Independent about the effort—and how Pappy’s is surviving the shutdown.

• Also from the Independent, a little bit of positive news: The Palm Springs Cultural Center has big plans for the fall, even though the doors to the building will likely remain closed through at least the end of the year. A lot of events—including showings for the annual LGBT film fest Cinema Diverse—will take place around the Cultural Center’s new drive-in screen.

• Here’s this week’s District 4 COVID-19 report from the county. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Same as last week: Hospitalizations and cases are ticking down; the weekly positivity rate remains crazy high; I remain confused as to the methodology behind the positivity numbers.

• MedPage Today explains the reasons why scientists remain unsure about the efficacy of convalescent plasma, which received emergency-use authorization from the FDA in a somewhat controversial fashion. The main reason: The biggest study of the plasma so far “was observational only, with no untreated control group. That makes the findings merely hypothesis-generating, and can't offer any firm conclusions. That's fine for issuing an emergency use authorization (EUA), but not so much for making claims about survival benefit, independent researchers said.”

The San Jose Mercury News did an amazing story on Vacaville resident Chad Little. He lost his house to a fire in 2015—and decided he was not going to go through that experience again, so he stayed behind to fight the fire himself … and when the water went out, he turned to the wettest thing he could find to fight the blaze: A 30-pack of Bud Light.

If you’re someone who prays, please pray for coastal Texas and Louisiana, as well as for Jacob Blake. Stay safe, everyone—and thanks for reading the Independent.

Published in Daily Digest