CVIndependent

Sat11282020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy Friday, all.

It’s been a busy day here at the Independent; we’ve been working hard on the December/Best of Coachella Valley print edition.

By the way, we’ll reveal all of those Best of Coachella Valley winners next Monday at 8 a.m. at CVIndependent.com—and in that aforementioned print edition, which will start hitting the streets on Monday.

And now, on with the news:

• On Wednesday in this space, we covered the fact that many experts don’t think curfews help much in the battle against COVID-19. Well … as of tomorrow (Saturday) night, the state will be under a month-long curfew anyway: From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., non-essential businesses and personal gatherings will be a no-no. CBS News has the details.

• Let’s hope the curfew and other measures work, because the direction in which California is headed is not good. Per the Los Angeles Times: “Statewide, 13,422 new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday—breaking the single-day record for the second time this week. The previous high-water mark—13,412—was set Monday, according to an independent county-by-county tally conducted by the Times. California has now recorded four consecutive days with at least 10,600 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, a stretch unlike any in the pandemic. Over the last week, the state has averaged 10,529 new cases per day, a 117 percent increase from two weeks ago.”

However, if you’re in a part of Riverside County where the policing is provided by the sheriff, well, you can consider the curfew to be merely advisory. According to KESQ: ”(Sheriff Chad) Bianco wrote that the Sheriff’s Department will not respond to reports that are just non-compliance of public health orders. ‘To ensure constitutional rights are not violated and to limit potential negative interactions and exposure to our deputies, we will not be responding to calls for service based solely on non-compliance with the new order or social distancing and mask guidelines,’ Bianco (said).” Sigh.

• We missed this article on Wednesday, so we’re presenting it now: The city of Riverside was debating taking serious action against businesses that violate COVID-19 restrictions—like gyms that remain open for indoor business—including fines and possibly shutting off water and/or electric service. How did that idea go over? Well, according to the Press-Enterprise: “For more than three hours, the council listened to gym operators, restaurant owners and small-business owners opposed to the plan. Some speakers dismissed the pandemic as a hoax or an exaggerated threat to society. Others said COVID-19 is a deadly disease and real, but emphasized that people’s physical health—and mental health—also hinges on being able to exercise.”

Pfizer was slated to officially apply to the FDA for an emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine today; Moderna is expected to do the same fairly soon. As a result, CNBC reports, the federal government is telling some employees that they could be receiving the vaccine within eight weeks: “Essential federal workers would be among the first group of Americans to get inoculated against the coronavirus after the nation’s health-care workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s vaccination program ‘interim playbook.’ The plan lists essential workers, along with the elderly and other highly vulnerable groups, in the first phase of its vaccine distribution plan, which hasn’t been finalized yet and could change.”

• A downside to the encouraging vaccine news: It’s causing some people currently in clinical trails to prematurely bail. According to NBC News: “(Dr. William) Hartman runs one of AstraZeneca's Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial sites, at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. But last week, a handful of trial volunteers either canceled or simply did not show up for their scheduled appointments. ‘People are asking if they can withdraw from the trial,’ Hartman said. Although he has been able to fill empty slots so far with people on the waiting list, he said he believes the reason for the slight setback may be the apparent success of two other vaccine candidates: those made by Pfizer and Moderna.” 

So … the vaccines are coming—but they were made in record time. Are they safe? A professor of medicine, writing for The Conversation, says … probably? Key quote: “Despite the vaccines’ relatively rapid development, the normal safety testing protocols are still in place.” 

• A downside to the race to create vaccines is that it’s creating problems for East Coast shore birds. Wait, what? How could that POSSIBLY make sense?! Audubon Magazine explains: “That’s because both the birds and the pharmaceutical companies depend on the same animal: the horseshoe crabs of the Delaware Bay. Horseshoe crab eggs are vital fuel during the Red Knots’ annual 9,000-mile migration from Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America, to the Canadian Arctic every spring. For the drugmakers, horseshoe crab blood is a vital component in vaccine production.” No, we are not making this up; read the article, which is rather fascinating, for a complete explanation. 

• Still planning to travel for Thanksgiving? Well, the CDC is advising that you change your plans. According to The Associated Press: “With the coronavirus surging out of control, the nation’s top public health agency pleaded with Americans on Thursday not to travel for Thanksgiving and not to spend the holiday with people from outside their household.”

• If you insist on having an indoor gathering for Thanksgiving—again, not advised—an expert on air quality, writing for The Conversation, offers some tips on how to do so in a way that’s a little safer. Key quote: “A safer home is one that constantly has lots of outside air replacing the stale air inside.”

• Back at the start of the pandemic, many workers at retail stores deemed essential (like supermarkets, etc.) were given a temporary wage boost. Now that the pandemic is worse than ever, will these workers again receive hazard pay? It seems unlikely, The New York Times reports

A World Health Organization panel yesterday recommended against doctors using remdesivir on COVID-19 patients—because there’s not enough evidence that it works. Key quote, via CNBC: “’After thoroughly reviewing this evidence, the WHO GDG expert panel, which includes experts from around the world including four patients who have had COVID-19, concluded that remdesivir has no meaningful effect on mortality or on other important outcomes for patients, such as the need for mechanical ventilation or time to clinical improvement,’ the group wrote in a press release.”

• Oops! The state has heretofore left a fairly major business sector without COVID-19 guidance: ski resorts. According to SFGate: “On Monday, the California Department of Public Health told SFGATE in an emailed statement that they are ‘constantly reviewing science, data and evidence and continually evaluating and updating guidance.’ The department will update its guidelines once information specific to ski resorts is available. In the meantime, the department stated that ’ski resorts are not permitted to operate.’ … And yet, ski resorts are already open and running, based on direction ski industry officials say they received from county health departments. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area opened last week.”

So it’s been a not-so-great day for the president. As this New York Times update page recaps: Georgia certified its election results, declaring Joe Biden to be the winner; Michigan legislators who were summoned to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with Trump said they have no plans to overturn the will of the voters; and Don Jr. has tested positive for the virus.

• And finally … good lord, the state unemployment system is a mess. The San Francisco Chronicle reports: “The California Employment Development Department has sent out at least 38 million pieces of mail containing unemployment applicants’ full Social Security numbers since the pandemic started, putting people at risk of identity fraud, California State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a harsh report issued Thursday.”

As always, thanks for reading. If you have the financial ability to do so, we kindly ask you to click here and consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can continue doing quality local journalism that’s made available for free to all. Have a good, safe weekend, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

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.

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

It’s horrifying that a lot of high-powered Republicans are—without any evidence whatsoever—making allegations of widespread election fraud.

However … these flailing attempts to mount a legal challenge to the election led to one of the most bonkers events in the history of this great nation—a hilarious event for which I will be forever grateful—and that’s what I’d like to discuss with you today.

By now, you’ve probably heard of Four Seasons Total Landscaping. If you somehow haven’t, strap yourself in, because we’re going on one hell of a ride.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping is the place in suburban Philadelphia where Rudy Giuliani and some other Trump representatives held a press conference on Saturday morning. Their goal was to garner publicity for their so-far baseless claims of election fraud. What they did, instead, was this:

• They caused a great deal of confusion about the venue. President Trump tweeted on Saturday: “Lawyers News Conference Four Seasons, Philadelphia, 11 a.m.” This understandably led people to assume the president meant the Four Seasons hotel. (Apparently, that’s where Trump initially thought the press conference was going to be held.) However, minutes later, he deleted that Tweet and clarified that the conference would actually be at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, as this absolutely must-read piece from The Philadelphia Inquirer explains.

• The confusion led the poor folks at the Four Seasons hotel to tweet out that, no, the press conference was NOT being held there. Meanwhile, speculation began running rampant that perhaps Trump’s team meant to book the hotel but instead booked the landscaping biz by accident; however, that aforementioned Inquirer piece makes it clear that the team booked Four Seasons Total Landscaping on purpose, so it would “take place in a section of Philadelphia where they might receive a more welcomed reception than at the raucous celebrations of Joe Biden’s victory going on in Center City.”

• As for that section of Philadelphia: It turns out that Four Seasons Total Landscaping’s neighbors include a sex-toy shop and a crematorium.

• Moments before Giuliani started speaking, the networks called the race for Joe Biden—something that Giuliani apparently didn’t know had happened. As the Daily Mail explains: “Taking a question from a reporter, the former New York City Mayor initially looked confused about ‘the call’ before asking, ‘Who was it called by?’ When he heard ‘all the networks’ had awarded Biden Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral college votes, he quickly regained his composure, taking on a sarcastic tone and looking around to his team saying ‘oh my goodness!’ He repeated that the Trump campaign would continue to fight the result as he said: ‘Networks don't get to decide elections, courts do.’” Courts do?!

• It was later revealed that one of Giuliani’s star witnesses of alleged fraud who spoke at the press conference is apparently a sex offender.

• In the aftermath of this press conference, Four Seasons Total Landscaping is milking it for all it’s worth—and selling merch!

• Buzzfeed has this interesting post-press conference tidbit: “Now, (Four Seasons Total Landscaping) exists in virtual reality—complete with weathered detailing and a last-minute Trump 2020 podium. And rejoicing furries.”

• If you don’t know furries are, um, well, uh, here’s a Wikipedia article.

• Finally, I want to yet again tip my hat to that Philadelphia Inquirer article, which reveals that the whole shebang apparently ticked off Four Seasons Total Landscaping’s neighbors. Key quote: “The 78-year-old employee manning the counter at the Fantasy Island sex shop, who declined to give his name, said the phone had been ringing off the hook since Saturday with callers asking: ‘Is Rudy Giuliani there?’”

God bless America.

Today’s news:

• The big—and very encouraging—news of the day: Pfizer announced that early analysis shows its vaccine appears to be more than 90 percent effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections. This could be a huge freaking deal.

• Related: CNBC looks at where all of the leading vaccine candidates stand as of now.

As the pandemic continues setting alarming records across the country, President-elect Joe Biden announced a 13-member coronavirus task force, to help his administration battle the pandemic once he takes office on Jan. 20.

At least three people who were at Trump’s Election Night party at the White House now have COVID-19, including Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development.

The head of the General Services Administration is so far refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect. What does this mean? According to NBC News: “More than 48 hours after media outlets projected that Joe Biden had defeated Trump to win the White House, GSA chief Emily Murphy has yet to sign the letter of ‘ascertainment’ a previously mostly noncontroversial process since the passage of the Presidential Transition Act of 1963. Signing that paperwork when a new president is elected triggers the release of millions of dollars in transition funding and allows an incoming administration access to current government officials.”

A huge spike in coronavirus cases in Utah has led the governor to, at long last, issue a mask mandate. According to The Washington Post: “In a video posted to Twitter late on Sunday—which Utah residents were alerted to watch via an emergency cellphone alert—(Gov. Gary) Herbert also declared a two-week state of emergency and announced a spate of other restrictions aimed to curb infections, which the governor noted are ‘growing at an alarming rate.’”

• Related-ish: Two experts tell MedPage Today that staffing and PPE shortages could haunt nursing homes as the pandemic rages through the winter.

President Trump today fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Key quote, from CNN: “Esper's firing has raised concerns that other top national security officials who have earned Trump's wrath may be next in the line of fire.”

Our partners at CalMatters point out that COVID-19 cases are starting to increase here in California, too.

• Also from CalMatters: Who could take Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ place in the U.S. Senate? Here are some possibilities.

What does the election of Joe Biden mean for the economy? An expert from Texas State University, writing for The Conversation, points out: “Historical data suggests that those who are concerned with the economy have reason to be fairly satisfied with the election results: The economy generally fares better under Democratic presidents.

Now this is a sad, horrifying headline, from NBC News: “Lawyers can't find the parents of 666 migrant kids, a higher number than previously reported.” Sigh.

• From the Independent: The year 2020 has been a year with a lot of death. Our Valerie-Jean (V.J.) Hume lost her husband to cancer earlier this year—and learned that grief can literally break someone’s heart. She tells the story of how she learned about the medical condition called broken heart syndrome—and how she’s now hopefully on the mend.

The final episode of Jeopardy! hosted by the late, great Alex Trebek will air on Christmas Day.

• Finally … a lot of people (myself included) were making fun of Nevada for its less-than-speedy ballot counting last week. Well, it’s now time to tip your hat to the Silver State—because voters there overwhelmingly made it the first state in the U.S. to protect same-sex marriage in its Constitution.

Happy Monday, everyone. Stay safe, and wear a mask when you’re around others, please. If you have the financial means to do so, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent to help continue to produce quality, independent local journalism. The Daily Digest will be back Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

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.

Published in Daily Digest

Good science journalism is hard to do. And SARS-CoV-2 is a tricky S.O.B.

Those are today’s lessons, brought to you by The New York Times and The Washington Post, two undeniably great newspapers, which today brought us these online headlines:

Can You Get Covid Again? It’s Very Unlikely, Experts Say.

Can you get coronavirus twice? Doctors are unsure even as anecdotal reports mount.

Yep: Here we have two stories, impeccably sourced and well-written, that on the surface come to two entirely different conclusions—on a question of utmost importance.

“While little is definitively known about the coronavirus, just seven months into the pandemic, the new virus is behaving like most others, (experts) said, lending credence to the belief that herd immunity can be achieved with a vaccine,” says the Times.

“As the United States marks its sixth month since the arrival of the virus, (WNBA player Sophie) Cunningham’s story is among a growing number of reports of people getting COVID-19, recovering and then falling sick again—assertions, that if proved, could complicate efforts to make a long-lasting vaccine, or to achieve herd immunity where most of the population has become immune to the virus.”

Sigh.

Anyway … if you dig a little deeper into the stories, you’ll find that the two entirely different sets of experts the writers spoke to indirectly come to the same conclusion: Nobody knows for sure whether or not someone can get COVID-19 twice. Various experts have different opinions, some stronger than others … but the figurative, hopefully-mask-wearing jury is still out.

Other news from the day:

• We’re No. 1. Crap! California today passed New York to become the state with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the state is working to get more personal protective equipment, as complaints about shortages begin to mount.

• The city of Palm Springs is calling on the state to do a better job of distributing federal stimulus money. According to a news release by the city, “the largest 13 cities (in the state) are receiving between $85 and $174 per resident while cities like Palm Springs are receiving just $12.28 per resident” in federal funds. The city is asking Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assemblyman Chad Mayes, State Sen. Melissa Melendez and U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz to fix this inequity for those of us who live in cities of less than 300,000 people

• From the Independent: Can the show go on? The valley’s theater companies are in limbo, not knowing when they’ll be able to reopen—or, in some cases, if they’ll survive that long. In an effort to support each other, some—but not all—companies have banded together to form the brand-new Alliance of Desert Theatres. Here’s what people in the know have to say about the uncertain future of Coachella Valley theater.

• Also from the Independent: Anita Rufus’ Know Your Neighbors column introduces Michael “Mick” McGuire, an elder-law attorney—who’s quite upset about the nursing-home mess in the country, a mess that’s been exposed in horrific fashion by the coronavirus. Key quote: “It should be a red flag that out of all the developed countries in the world, we’re (the only one) without a plan. We can talk about it all academically, but when it’s your family member, the whole thing changes.”

More than 100,000 people have signed up to be vaccine test subjects so farsomething that makes Dr. Anthony Fauci happy, reports The Hill.

• Related-ish: Can states or employers force people to get a coronavirus vaccine? Surprisingly, according to a law professor writing for The Conversation, in a lot of cases, they can.

Another legal expert, also writing for The Conversation, says the same thing goes for mask requirements.

• More vaccine news: The federal government has agreed to pay Pfizer and its biotech partner nearly $2 billion for 100 million doses of its now-being-tested coronavirus vaccine—with delivery by the end of the year.

MIT scientists have designed a reusable face mask that’s just as effective of N95 masks, according to CNBC.

• After four deaths and more than 1,000 COVID-19 infections at the Lompoc prison complex, a U.S. District Court judge has demanded that the prison release medically vulnerable inmates to home confinement, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• The Washington Post declares: “The inflatable pool is the official symbol of America’s lost summer.” Has there ever been a sentence so wholesome and depressing at the same time?

• Finally, Randy Rainbow is back with another song parody: “Gee, Anthony Fauci!

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Enjoy yourself (safely, of course). If you value free-to-all journalism like this Daily Digest and our aforementioned stories on the theater scene and the elder-law attorney, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Thank you.

Published in Daily Digest

Today was one of those days where I sat at my desk all day, and was busy all day … and then all of a sudden, it was the early evening, and my to-do list was just as long as it had been first thing this morning.

I was going to tell you my harrowing and baffling story of trying to navigate the federal small-business loan process, but that’ll have to wait until later this week. In the meantime, strap yourselves in for news from this completely not normal Cinco de Mayo:

• The county supervisors’ meeting today—at which supervisors are considering rescinding county health orders that go further than the state’s orders—has been something of a debacle. As of this writing, it’s still going on

• As reported in this space yesterday: The county is opening two new testing sites in the valley—one in Mecca, and one in DHS. KESQ has the details.

• Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the Trump administration is preparing to close up shop on the coronavirus task force. However, it will be replaced with “something in a different form,” says The New York Times. Well, OK then!

• To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Dr. Rick Bright—the just-fired head of the federal office charged with developing a COVID-19 virus—has filed a whistleblower complaint, claiming the Trump administration ignored his warnings about the virus.

• Because we simply are NOT allowed to have nice things anymore, a preliminary study shows that COVID-19 mutated fairly quickly into a more-contagious version of itself

• Yet more evidence that we really don’t know much of anything about this virus yet: Yesterday, we mentioned encouraging news about a Japanese drug called favipiravir. Well, it turns out that drug can cause some pretty bad birth defects

• After that depressing news, here’s an NBC News report on a joint project by New York University and Pfizer that’s attempting to have a vaccine ready by the end of the summer.

• The governor said today the Northern California counties that violated state orders by reopening already have made a “big mistake.” However, he did not say whether the state would take any action.

• From The Conversation: A person’s genetics may determine how badly a person is affected by the coronavirus. Read more about the research into the matter here.

• NPR breaks down the aforementioned complete debacle that is the government’s small-business loan program.

• Here’s not a link to a story, but a site with all sorts of great stories: The Appeal is a fantastic news source for criminal-justice issues, and it’s been doing fantastic coverage of the complete mess the coronavirus has caused in our nation’s prisons. Check it out for yourself.

Speaking of complete messes, there’s our food-supply chain. The Los Angeles Times does a fine job of explaining what’s gone wrong—and what changes some businesses have made to keep things running.

• There is a special place in hell for the decision-makers at this Dallas-based restaurant company, because they’re telling employees they can’t wear masks or other personal protective equipment while they work. And then there’s this tidbit, from The Dallas Morning News: “The employees said those who chose not to work were told they would not be scheduled for further shifts. Not being terminated, however, would preclude employees from being able to file an unemployment claim.

• STAT (which, if you’ve never heard of it, is owned by the same company as the Boston Globe) looks at three ways this whole virus thing could go. None of them are particularly great.

Do your glasses keep fogging up whilst wearing a mask? Two doctors from England, via CNN, explain how to prevent that.

• From the Independent: Running out of things to watch? Our TV columnist recommends these 13 dumb TV comedy series for these dumb times in which we live.

• This man is my new personal hero: A North Carolina high school principal made sure all 220 of his graduating seniors got a personal parade.

• Meanwhile, in Utah, 5-year-olds are getting stopped on the freeway trying to get to California so they can buy Lamborghinis. No, I have not yet had any margaritas yet.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Give to a local charity for two for Giving Tuesday Now if you can—perhaps the Desert AIDS Project, or the LGBT Community Center’s Food Bank, or Shelter From the Storm. We will be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest