CVIndependent

Tue08042020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Testing shortages are getting worse, both in Southern California and across the country. San Bernardino County has had to decrease the number of appointments at county-run testing sites from from 400-500 to 170-180 per day, due to supply shortages, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise. This. Is. Very. Bad. 

• For months, the country’s coronavirus death rate has been steadily decreasing. While, that isn’t happening anymore. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/10/us/daily-virus-death-toll-rises-in-some-states.html

• Meanwhile, did you know there was a safe injection we could all get that would possibly protect us from SARS-CoV-2? The Los Angeles Times is reporting that “scientists have devised a way to use the antibody-rich blood plasma of COVID-19 survivors for an upper-arm injection that they say could inoculate people against the virus for months.” The problem is the federal government and the drug companies don’t seem too interested. Baffling and infuriating. 

• Keep in mind it’s Gilead that’s saying this, so serious skepticism is warranted, but this is fantastic news even if it’s partially true: The company says remdesivir reduces the risk of death for severely sick coronavirus patients by 62 percent. Fingers crossed.

• From the Independent: We take a look at the Great Plates Delivered program, which is feeding more than 1,000 local seniors three meals each day—and those meals are provided by 28 local restaurants that, as a result, are keeping more workers employed. Key quote, from Robb Wirt of Bongo Johnny’s: “Everyone has been so kind and appreciative—so many positive vibes. One guest says, ‘This 70-year-old retired teacher feels like a princess or like I have won the lottery, to experience your wonderful food. Thank you.’”

• Also from the Independent: The state has released last year’s figures on the number of Californians who used the End of Life Option Act (aka the dying with dignity law)—and almost all of the critically ill patients using the law are white. Key quote, from Patricia González-Portillo, the national Latino media and constituency director for Compassion and Choices: “I can tell you that Latinos refuse to engage in these conversations. … We (at Compassion and Choices) want to have people talk to their doctors, to have these conversations that are so important—especially now. This is critical during the pandemic.”

The virus is sweeping through yet another incarceration facility—the Monterey County Jail. “As of Friday, July 10, 67 inmates in a single housing unit—the B dorm—have tested positive for the virus, and the county Health Department is moving to test upwards of 700 inmates and 200 staff members, starting today, to determine how widespread the outbreak is,” according to the Monterey County Weekly

• Related: The numerous outbreaks at prisons are leading the state to release up to 8,000 inmates earlywith more than half of those releases anticipated by the end of the month, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Finally: The World Health Organization yesterday finally admitted that, yes, the virus can be spread via airborne particles, especially indoors—something bunches of scientists have been saying for months now

• This is fascinating: Americans are paying off credit-card debt—not racking it up—during the pandemic-caused economic downturn, according to CNN. This is very different behavior than in past economic downturns.

• If you read only one article from this digest (other than the two Independent pieces above … yes, I am biased), I recommend making it this Wired interview with epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, some who helped eradicate small pox—and predicted that we’d see a pandemic like we are now. He’s blunt and critical—but he also points out a few things that are actually going right in the worldwide fight against SARS-CoV-2.

• The organizers of the Palm Springs International Film Festival are pushing back the start of the 2021 festivities to Feb. 25. Raise your hand if you’ll be dancing in the streets if that delayed date winds up being possible.

• The fact that COVID-19 is running increasingly amok has forced Riverside County to close almost all county offices again. Instead of doing county business in person, you’ll need to pick up the phone or get on the internet.

• Meanwhile, more than 80 children and staff members got the virus at a Missouri summer camp. Horrifying key quote: “The infected campers and employees have since returned to at least 10 states, as well as several Missouri counties, officials said.” Yeesh.

• Time magazine reports that some teachers, without an end to the pandemic in sight, are choosing to retire rather than return to the classroom.

• The San Francisco Chronicle says some big-name bands, like Green Day and Pearl Jam, received PPP loans from the feds

• Bands pay taxes, while churches generally don’t—which makes it vexing that the Catholic Church has received more than $1.4 billion, with a B, in federal loans during the pandemic.

• The New York Times today published a fascinating piece on what life will look like in the United States in 2022 (or whenever the pandemic is over). Writer David Leonhardt makes the case that the pandemic will dramatically shape the world that comes next, as much as World War II or the Great Depression did. The piece’s prediction about newspapers is especially alarming.

• Speaking of newspapers, The Ringer published a piece on alternative newspapers like the Independent, and how we’re all doing in these crazy times. The headline: “Alt-Weeklies Face Total Annihilation. But They’re Thriving in the Chaos.”

• Finally, Independent astronomy columnist Robert Victor sent this piece to me: It’s worth getting your butt out of bed around 4 a.m. right now to see NEOWISE, one of the brightest comets to visit our neck of the solar system in years.

That’s enough for the day. Make the most of this weekend—while taking precautions to keep yourself and others safe; as we’ve said before, these pandemic days count toward our total, after all. If you value local journalism, made available free to all in both print and pixels, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Monday, everyone. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it:

The coronavirus is spreading locally. According to the just-released Riverside County District 4 report, the local positivity rate—the percentage of tests that come back positive for the virus—is a too-high 14 percent. (The state wants that number kept below 8 percent.)

The numbers of cases keep going up. At first glance, the recent case numbers always look deceptively low on this report, and here’s why: The dates reflect positive cases based on when the tests are taken, not when the results come back—and since test results can take 3-5 days to receive, sometimes longer, we don’t have a lot of results back yet from last week. Just look at the numbers from May 25 on, and you’ll see the mess that the Coachella Valley is in.

• COVID-19-related hospitalizations, after being somewhat stable for the last week, have gone up substantially in recent days. County-wide, as of the weekend, 98.7 percent of our hospitals’ ICU beds were taken. However … according to the Los Angeles Times, that’s not the big problem, believe it or not; apparently, even in non-pandemic times, local hospitals frequently run out of ICU beds (!). Even now, there’s enough space, and plenty of ventilators. The problem is the number of medical professionals. Key quote:

Michael Ditoro, chief operating officer at Desert Regional Medical Center, said the facility hit ICU-bed capacity “well prior to COVID. Year after year.” The medical center’s surge beds are equally equipped to treat patients as regular ICU beds, he said.

Bed capacity might not be their biggest challenge, Ditoro said. Instead, it’s scant staffing.

“You don’t really have a centralized area with the beds all around it where it’s really quick to get to them. Instead, you may be in a longer hall unit where you need staff closer to each room,” he said of the surge units.

• Because of the increasing numbers, Gov. Gavin Newsom over the weekend cracked down on 15 counties, either ordering that they close bars—or strongly suggesting they do so. As a result, bars here in Riverside County—many of which had already voluntarily closed—will need to shut their doors tonight. Loophole alert: Bars can remain open if they serve food, and mandate that customers purchase food with their drinks. It’s also worth noting that Newsom said more closings could be ordered if things don’t improve.

The county Board of Supervisors meeting will take place online tomorrow, and parts of the County Administrative Center were closed, because several county employees tested positive for the virus

Los Angeles County is closing beaches over the July 4 weekend, since we, as Americans, are collectively proving that we’re incapable of wearing masks and social distancing and simply being intelligent in general.

• Cocktail break! Here’s Alton Brown’s refreshing mint julep recipe. If you don’t partake in spirits, here’s a non-alcoholic recipe.

• In Arizona, one of the COVID-19 hotbeds in the United States, Gov. Doug Ducey today ordered that bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks close for at least 30 days, starting this evening. He also pushed back the planned opening of schools there by a couple of weeks. Weirdly enough, there’s still NOT a statewide mask order in the Grand Canyon State.

All Broadway shows have been cancelled through the rest of 2020 due to the pandemic—which has also led Cirque du Soleil to file for bankruptcy.

• However, in some places, the show is going on. CBS News looks at how some smaller theater companies are planning on presenting socially distanced plays.

• Oh, great. There’s more evidence this damn virus has mutated to make it more contagious. Just great!

According to this BBC News lede: “A new strain of flu that has the potential to become a pandemic has been identified in China by scientists.” OH COME ON YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME.

• I don’t think we’ve ever taken two cocktail breaks in a Daily Digest before, but it seems necessary today. So, compliments of Independent cocktail scribe Kevin Carlow, here’s the lowdown on the history of the mai tai—with delicious recipes included.

Gilead has set the prices for remdesivir—the one drug sorta proven to help really sick COVID-19 patients—and it’s definitely not cheap.

• Maybe good news: According to The Conversation, SARS-Co-V-2 attacks cells kind of like some types of cancers do—but that means some cancer drugs may help battle the virus, too.

• We’ve often warned in this space that stories on scientific studies need to be taken with massive figurative grains of salt. CNN’s Sanjay Gupta isn’t wild about what he calls science by press release.

As a result of a screwed-up prison transfer, more than 1,000 inmates at San Quentin State Prison—that’s a third of the prison population there—have COVID-19.

• “Screwed up” can also describe the state inspectors’ response to COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes, which have killed thousands of people in California alone. Key quote from this Los Angeles Times piece: “Time and again, inspectors sent to assess nursing homes’ ability to contain the new virus found no deficiencies at facilities that were in the midst of deadly outbreaks or about to endure one.

• Finally, after all of that crappy-ass news, take 3 1/2 minutes, and let Randy Rainbow offer you a laugh or two—because he’s back with a new, mask-related ditty.

I think you’ll agree that this is more than enough news for the day. Please, everyone, wash your hands. Wear a mask. Social distance. Be kind. If you have the ability, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep paying Kevin Carlow to write about mai tais. (And so we can do other quality local journalism, too.) The digest will be back on Wednesday, barring something humongous happening tomorrow. 

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Let’s get right to it:

The city of Palm Springs announced today that an employee has tested positive for the coronavirus, and that all employees who had direct contact with the employee are being tested and quarantined at home. My two cents: Don’t be concerned by announcements like this; take them as a good sign: We know the virus is out there, and diligent actions like this will help stop the spread.

The deadline to apply for $33 million in rental assistance—up to $3,500 per household—is just two days away. Get details and the application here.

• Meanwhile, some more shady counting is going down in Florida, as the Department of Health has told hospitals to decrease the numbers of COVID-19 patients they’re reporting in their ICUs. Here’s an explanation why.

Younger people are driving the increases in COVID-19 cases in some places seeing spikes, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. “The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges that we're seeing in Florida, Texas and Arizona,” Fauci said.

• On a happier note, Fauci said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that there will be a vaccine available around the first of the year, which, if you’re keeping track, is about six months from now.

• Oh, and Fauci made it clear that, despite what the president says, nobody has asked him to slow down testing—and, in fact, he said the federal government is working on doing more testing.

• Public-health experts yesterday explained to a House committee that systemic racism is to blame for a disproportionately high number of COVID-19 cases in America’s Black communities.

A doctor with UCSF answers five questions you may have about asymptomatic carriers of SARS-CoV-2. Key quote: “Public health experts don’t know exactly how much spread is caused by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic patients. But there are some telling hints that it is a major driver of this pandemic.”

• Because the United States is not exactly doing a bang-up job in flattening the curve, the European Union is considering barring Americans from visiting.

Washington state has become the latest place to require that people wear face coverings in public places. Lives. Saved.

• Remdesivir can currently only be administered intravenously, meaning someone pretty much has to be hospitalized to receive it. However, Gilead Sciences is working on an inhalable version—which means it could be given to people suffering from COVID-19 when they’re at home, before the disease can further progress. One doctor told the San Francisco Chronicle that’s a potential game-changer.

Square, used by a lot of small businesses to collect payments, is holding up to 30 percent of businesses’ payments all of a sudden. Square claims it’s to protect against possible refunds or risky transactions—but The New York Times found that to often be a lame excuse.

• Well, folks, it’s come to this: A new Apple Watch feature senses when a wearer is washing his or her hands—and is offering prompts to encourage said wearer to keep going for the recommended 20 seconds.

A Los Angeles doctor invented a machine seven years ago that could quickly disinfect an airplane using ultraviolet light. Nobody was very interested in the idea until, well, along came the pandemic.

• Recycling efforts have taken a serious beating due to the coronavirus. Two researchers, writing for The Conversation, say they “are concerned about challenges facing the recycling sector and growing distrust of communal and secondhand goods. The trends we see in the making and consuming of single-use goods, particularly plastic, could have lasting negative effects on the circular economy.

• Finally, a researcher on alternative media, also writing for The Conversation, looks at how important alternative newspaper coverage of the Stonewall Riots was at documenting what actually happened—while The New York Times was running headlines like “4 Policemen Hurt in ‘Village’ Raid.

We’ll be back with more tomorrow. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Speak out against injustice. Please support independent alternative news sources, like the Independent, if you’re able. Thank you, and be safe.

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Let’s get right to the day’s news:

• I owe Supervisor V. Manuel Perez an apology. In this space last Friday, I called his attempt to get the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies “pretty weak,” because, well, he was asking THEM to review THEIR OWN policies, more or less. Here’s what’s happened since. First, the department’s union announced they were opposed to the idea because, in the words of the union president, “There is no need to suggest or invent problems that do not exist in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.” Then Sheriff Chad Bianco—the one who has recently been on Fox News—said he didn’t want a “political” process, and pointed out that the County Commission doesn’t have authority over him. Second, Perez’s motion by the County Commission failed, because he couldn’t get a second. Yeesh. Key quote from Bianco, to the supervisors: “It's not your job to tell me what to do.”

• From the Independent: We spoke to Angel Moreno, one of the organizers of the June 1 Black Lives Matter protest in Palm Desert: “What’s happening right now is just really unacceptable, and we just wanted to do this protest so our words could be heard.”

• The TV show Cops’ 33rd season was slated to premiere next week. That’s not going to happen now.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently asked an epidemiologist how long it’ll take to determine whether the Black Lives Matter protests will cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Key quote: “(Dr. George) Rutherford is encouraged by what he sees in Minnesota, which is where the protests started on the week of May 25. It has been almost a full two weeks since the protests began, and the number of new confirmed cases statewide is actually trending downwards.”

The Conversation uses science to explain that COVID-19 deaths and the killing of George Floyd (and many other Black men and women over the years) have something in common: Racism.

• The state announced late yesterday that movie theaters could reopen—at 25 percent capacity—on Friday. However, most of them probably won’t open that soon. Deadline explains the reasons why.

• Meanwhile, The Living Desert is reopening on Monday. Here’s what the people who run zoo and gardens are doing to reopen as safely as possible.

• Yesterday, we discussed how a WHO doctor created a furor by claiming asymptomatic SARS=CoV-2 infectees don’t spread the virus all that much. Well, today, WHO did a whole lot of backpedaling.

• One of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the state is taking place right now in a prison in this very county: Almost 1,000 inmates at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison have tested positive, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Why is COVID-19 killing more men than women? The Conversation examines what we know, what we don’t know, and, uh, why we don’t know the things we don’t know.

• Some people who are making the very wise decision to stay home while the world around them reopens are getting shamed, according to this USA Today columnist.

Even though you might think the opposite if you’re a loyal viewer of NBC Palm Springs, Amazon’s coronavirus response has been rather problematic. Therefore, it’s a good thing that the retail giant is going to soon start testing its workers a whole lot more.

• Yet another analysis of SARS-CoV-2 mutations explains why the San Francisco Bay Area was briefly such a COVID-19 hotbed: The virus entered the area from all sorts of different places as it started to spread.

A company that’s on the leading edge of the vaccine race just got all sorts of government cash to work on a treatment to battle COVID-19 designed around antibodies.

• On a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he was “almost certain” more than one vaccine being developed would work against the disease he called his “worst nightmare.” He also made it abundantly clear that we’re nowhere near the end of this damned pandemic.

All of the state’s DMV offices will soon be open again. (Well, except for the one damaged by looters in San Bernardino.)

• This story probably has no application to your life whatsoever, but we’re presenting it here because it’s so damned weird. The Business Insider headline: “People are paying as much as $10,000 for an unlicensed remdesivir variant for their cats, in a thriving black market linked to Facebook groups.”

• Finally, on his Netflix show Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj explains why a whole lot of local newspapers are in trouble—and how essential they really, truly are.

That’s the news for this Tuesday. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Fight injustice. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means to do so. We’ll be back tomorrow.

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While this Daily Digest is (for now, at least) dedicated to news about COVID-19 and the resulting societal and economic mess, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what’s going on in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, murders like that of George Floyd, at the hands of police officers, are nothing new—and until recently, police-involved deaths weren’t even properly tracked. This is something my friend and fellow journalist D. Brian Burghart discovered when he was the editor of the Reno News & Review newspaper. So he did something about it: He started tracking them—and, with grant funding, donations and a team of volunteers, created a national database of deaths, going all the way back to 2000, called Fatal Encounters.

The Independent covered Fatal Encounters back in 2016, when Burghart and his team completed California’s data set. When I talked to Brian for the story in 2016, I asked him why he thought the government hadn’t been keeping track of police deaths. An excerpt from the story:

“It’s usually just incompetence, to be honest,” he said. “Many people that I’ve talked to over the years want to find a conspiracy, but I really believe that it’s mostly government incompetence.”

California’s government has done better than most at gathering data. The state Office of the Attorney General’s “Open Justice” website offers data on deaths in custody and arrest-related deaths between 2005 and 2014. Over that period, the state database includes about 1,200 arrest-related deaths.

Over that same time period, Burghart said, Fatal Encounters has counted twice the number of deaths.

“The government tracks everything that it thinks matters. That suggests to me that the government does not believe that these deaths matter,” he said. “If a low-tech guy like me could do this, then the FBI—with millions of dollars to apply to it and super high-tech knowledge—could do it in an hour.”

Thankfully, due to Fatal Encounters, we now have a good database—which is being used by analysts and scientists to find trends and craft policy. (We actually have more than one database, including one by The Washington Post—which took Brian’s idea without credit, created an inferior-if-prettier database, and won a Pulitzer Prize for it … but that’s an annoying story for another time, preferably when bars are open again.)

Unfortunately, racism and bad cultures in some police departments remain big problems. One would presume that since most of the country has been sheltering in place for a good chunk of 2020, police-involved killings would be down this year. Right? No … they’re actually up.

Meanwhile, Brian and his team continue to update Fatal Encounters—making the data available to all. Brian tells me that as of today, the database includes 28,200 death records … with 265 known asphyxiation/restraint deaths—including the horrifying killing of George Floyd.

Today’s news links:

• This week’s edition of the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast/videocast is up! I joined Dr. Laura Rush, fabulous Stoli rep Patrik Gallineaux and hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr to talk about reopening, the virus and other pertinent things.

• Keeping with the themes of 1) all studies like this need to be taken with that gigantic grain of salt, and 2) we really know so darned little about this damned virus: A new study reveals that during a COVID-19 outbreak on a cruise ship, 80 percent of the people who had the virus were asymptomatic. Yes, 80-percent.

• The state other states should emulate regarding the response to the pandemic is … South Carolina?! Yep, at least in some ways; as The Conversation points out, South Carolina is doing a fantastic job with contact tracing.

• Wear your mask; keep social distancing; wash your hands; and realize that some California counties are actually slowing or backtracking on the reopening process because of new spikes in cases.

• Meanwhile, the Bay Area has been extra-cautious and slow regarding reopening—but today, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced plans to get the process (still slowly) moving.

• The state has called for SARS-CoV-2 testing to take place at all California nursing homes.

The maker of remdesivir gave the medicine to the federal government to distribute. Well, so far, that hasn’t gone so well, according to The Washington Post.

• Also from The Washington Post: Could Fitbits, Apple Watches and other wearable devices alert a person that they’re showing signs of COVID-19 infection? It’s a good possibility.

• Here’s an update on the complete mess that is the Pennsylvania Legislature, where at least one GOP lawmaker tested positive for the virus—and decided that was information his Democratic colleagues didn’t need to know.

• Another update: A week or so ago, we reported that the Trump administration was planning on ending the deployment of National Guard members helping in pandemic-response efforts around the country—on the day before benefits kicked in. Fortunately, the administration has changed course and announced the deployments would be extended.

Trump, as promised, signed an executive order aimed at curtailing efforts by Twitter and other social-media sources to censor him. NPR explains what this does and doesn’t mean.

• Local political types are encouraging people—even asymptomatic people—to get tested for the virus. If this is something that interests you, here’s the county’s map of state and county testing sites. The tests won’t cost you anything out of pocket—but be sure you make an appointment.

• And finally: With tongue firmly in cheek, here’s a letter from the university of your choice regarding its plans for the next semester.

That’s today’s news. Be kind. Wash your hands. Buy our splendid Coloring Book—I am mailing the next batch of orders tomorrow, so now’s the time!—and please consider supporting honest, ethical local journalism, made available for free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

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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.

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For my friend Matt, it was the permanent closure of Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes—a restaurant where he had his first job—that made him fully realize the world we knew in early March was gone forever.

“I actually cried a few times yesterday, and it’s not just over big-chunk chicken-noodle soup and focaccia bread,” Matt wrote on Twitter. “It’s the realization that our lives will not ever ‘go back to normal.’ Our world is rapidly changing, and change is inevitable. I just didn’t expect it to be this fast.”

So many places, institutions and businesses are going to be wiped out by the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn—which may very well qualify as a depression by the time all is said and done. We are going to see a lot of closed-for-good announcements in the coming weeks and months—like the one we got today, from Cathedral City’s Desert Ice Castle. Many of the places, institutions and businesses that do survive may be changed drastically, too.

However … not all of these changes will be bad.

For example, the Seattle Times is reporting that 20 miles of streets in that city—initially closed to make it easier for people to be socially distant—will now forever be closed to traffic, changing them into permanent places for people to walk and bike safely.

Closer to home, I have been hearing that Palm Springs and other cities are looking into the possibility of closing down some streets and parking lots so they can be used by bars and restaurants. If the science continues to show that the virus doesn’t nearly spread as well outdoors, then this would be a perfect way for businesses to reopen in a safer and more-delightful way.

It’s up to all of us to speak out, advocate and do whatever we can to make sure our “new normals”—both during the fight against COVID-19 and afterward—are the best possible “normals” we can have.

So … let’s get to work!

Today’s news:

I was the guest on today’s edition of the Los Angeles Times’ Coronavirus in California podcast. I talked with my friend Gustavo Arellano a couple weeks ago about the state of local media today—and how completely jarring it was for April in the Coachella Valley to be so darned quiet.

• As of this writing, the county meeting regarding Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s health orders was still going. Will the county Board of Supervisors side with the good doctor or the impatient business community? Watch this link, from the Riverside Press-Enterprise, to find out.

• Gov. Newsom announced today that all California voters will be asked to vote by mail in November—although some polling places will remain open for those who insist on voting in person.

• How long will it be until we can get haircuts again? Mid-June, perhaps? This is what Gov. Newsom had to say about that today: “Phase 3 (which includes the opening of hair salons and barbers) is not a year away. It’s not six months away. It’s not even three months away; it may not even be more than a month away. We just want to make sure that we have a protocol in place to secure customer safety, employee safety and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.”

• OK, OK, maybe mid-July for that haircut? A Los Angeles Times analysis reveals that per Gov. Newsom’s stated criteria, almost all California counties are nowhere near being able to properly move to Phase 3.

• Eisenhower Medical Center has started releasing Coachella Valley-specific hospitalization numbers. The takeaway—we’ve flattened the curve here—but it remains flat, and we’re not on the downside yet.

Yet another person within the White House’s inner circle has the virusKatie Miller, who is Mike Pence’s press secretary, and Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller’s wife.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: Counties and cities in California are facing massive, unprecedented budget deficits. Expect horrible cuts and yet more layoffs to come.

• Good news: After a public outcry and a whole lot of negative media attention, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey decided to let the COVID-19 modelers at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University keep doing their work after all.

• The country is heading for a rental crisis, according to this sobering article from Politico.

• From the “We Are Not Making This Up” files: We have verified this TMZ report that 2020 U.S. quarters feature … a bat. Yes, really.

• As predicted, the federal government’s distribution method for promising COVID-19 drug remdesivir has become a fustercluck, or something like that.

• If your iPhone has been acting stupid lately, we have some good news: Apple Store locations are starting to reopen. Aaaand the bad news: The ones in California remain closed indefinitely.

• Even though we’re not sure how this would work in 108-degree weather, we implore the good folks at the Palm Springs Cultural Center and D’Place Entertainment to look into the fact that the coronavirus has made drive-in movie theaters a thing again.

That’s all for today! Please buy our Coloring Book, because it’s 1) awesome, and 2) sales benefit the Independent AND the Create Center for the Arts’ efforts to make PPE items AND local artists. Also, please consider supporting independent local journalism if you can spare a buck or three. Barring anything huge, the Daily Digest will take the weekend off, and we’ll be back Monday.

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“As the (COVID-19) pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”

— UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The United Nations honors World Press Freedom Day every May 3—and on this World Press Freedom Day, many media organizations find themselves in serious trouble, because of the economic chaos brought to us by the pandemic. 

I am going to turn things over to A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, by sharing part of a note he sent to me and a whole bunch of other news publishers on Friday:

“I wanted to reach out to you to say how much we appreciate the important, difficult work you’re doing right now. My colleagues and I stand with you in your commitment to providing information that is critical to the safety, security, and knowledge of our communities. As the coronavirus pandemic presents unprecedented reporting challenges and growing financial pressures, it’s also underscored the value of great journalism.

“We want to share the news … that The New York Times will launch a campaign encouraging readers find a local news organization they trust, and to support it through a subscription or donation.

“Like many of my colleagues at The Times, I spent years working in local news. We know firsthand the essential role original, quality news organizations play in communities across the nation. And we’ve been distressed to watch as the pressure on local news continues to rise through the pandemic, leading to an estimated 36,000 journalists being laid off or furloughed in a matter of months. We hope we can help by raising awareness of the importance of supporting local news organizations.”

You can find the database The New York Times put together of trusted local journalism sources here. I am proud to say that the Independent is one of three Coachella Valley news sources listed.

Over the last seven weeks—since the figurative, uh, “stuff” started hitting the fan—we’ve received a heartening amount of reader support. However, if you have not yet become a Supporter of the Independent, and you are able, I ask you to consider doing so now. We’ve lost 80-plus percent of our advertising revenue as a result of the pandemic, and we need your help to continue doing what we do—quality, Coachella Valley-focused journalism, which we make available for free to everyone, both in pixels and print. Learn how to become a Supporter here.

To all of you who have become Supporters of the Independent … thank you. Because of your support, we have so far been able to avoid cutting staff or content. However, if you are able, I have one more thing to ask of you: Please consider going to The New York Times database, and finding another journalism organization to support as well—like a hometown news source, for example.

As always, thanks to all of you for reading. Now, here are today’s links:

• The big local news: Why in the world does the business community think it understands the virus better than the county health officer—and why are county supervisors, including local rep V. Manuel Perez, considering siding with the business community over that local health officer? This will all come to a head when county supes vote on Tuesday to revoke Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s health orders if they go beyond the state’s orders.

• The New York Times looks at the effort by scientists to answer a key question about COVID-19: “Why Does the Virus Wallop Some Places and Spare Others?

Why aren’t California pharmacies being enlisted in the effort to ramp up COVID-19 testing—like pharmacies are in other states? The San Francisco Chronicle attempts to answer this query.

When the virus hits indigenous tribes, things could get very, very bad. The Guardian looks at an effort being made by a lot of big names to get Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to pay attention to this fact.

A Hong Kong restaurant group has released its “playbook” on how to reopen. Here are the details.

• USA Today points out the obvious, albeit in an interesting way: We’re all dying to travel (safely) right now.

• This somewhat overwritten column by Frank Bruni from The New York Times focuses on Laurie Garrett, a journalist who predicted that the pandemic would happen. You don’t want to know what she thinks will come next.

• Well, this is one hell of a teaser, from the folks at the PBS NewsHour: “More and more, people don't care about expert views. That’s according to Tom Nichols, author of ‘The Death of Expertise,’ who says Americans have become insufferable know-it-alls, locked in constant conflict and debate with others over topics they actually know almost nothing about. Nichols shares his humble opinion on how we got here.” What fun!

• Good news: Gilead Sciences—which sure has been doing a lot of lobbying as of late——is releasing 1.5 million vials of remdesivir, for free, for emergency use this week. Perhaps not-so-good news: The federal government will decide where the vials go.

• The Los Angeles Times looks at drugs not named remdesivir that may help battle this damned virus.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 47: Business is booming at a diner in El Dorado, Calif., after the owner decided to violate state law by opening her doors for dine-in customers, because, you know, she has bills to pay.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 48: The mayor of a city in Oklahoma rescinded an order to wear masks because some people got a little pissy.

• Trevor Noah is good people: He’s paying furloughed members of The Daily Show staff out of his own pocket.

• If you haven’t yet heard of the arrival in the U.S. of ASIAN MURDER HORNETS, well, sit down, because we have some bad news.

• Finally, because why not, comes this headline from Esquire: “Behind the Scenes of a Nude Photography Project in Quarantine.”

That’s all we have for today. Wash your hands. Be safe. Be kind. We’ll be back tomorrow with more.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s been yet another busy news day—in fact, there are links to more than 20 interesting stories below. But before we get into the news of the day, I wanted to share a link to my editor’s note (tweaked ever so slightly for online publication) from the Independent’s May print edition.

It covers all sorts of stuff I’ve already covered in this space (our coloring book, our Facebook grant, etc.), but if you want a recap of how things are going with your local independent newspaper, here’s a good place to start.

I’ll discuss the May print edition a little more tomorrow. But in the meantime … here are today’s links:

• The big news of the day: Preliminary study results now show that Gilead Sciences’ drug remdesivir can help a statistically significant number of people battling COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci said this is a big deal—because it shows drugs can indeed fight this thing.

• I found this piece 1) gross, 2) fascinating and 3) oddly reassuring: Wanna know how scientists are watching for signs of an uptick in coronavirus infections? By studying sewage.

• This is evil and awful: You know how some states are starting the reopening process—even though the vast majority of the experts say that’s a terrible, terrible idea? Well, one “benefit” for the states is it forces people to go back to work—and gets them off of unemployment. But what if you work at a business that’s reopening, and you feel that it’s unsafe to go back? Well, in Iowa, at least, you have no choice.

• This is now the worst economy, like, ever (or at least since the government has been keeping track). So says Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell.

• Here’s a long read that is, for the most part, a good read, from The Atlantic, covering what we do and do not know about SARS-CoV-2.

• Good for Costco: Starting Monday, store hours are going back to normal—and masks will be mandatory.

• Keep your fingers crossed again: If all goes well (and a LOT will have to go well, but …) another vaccine candidate could be ready for emergency use by the fall.

• The vice president continues to receive criticism for his maskless trip to the Mayo Clinic. And the clinic’s getting flak for letting him get away with it.

The Bay Area is loosening restrictions on some businesses and industries juuust a little bit.

• Did Donald Trump suggest this? (Kidding!) (At least we think we are!) The first graph from this BBC News piece: “Authorities in a Spanish coastal resort have apologised after spraying a beach with bleach in an attempt to protect children from coronavirus.”

• Contact tracing is often cited as being a key element in helping us reopen before we have a vaccine. NPR recently surveyed all 50 states regarding their current contact-tracing capacity. Spoiler alert: Unless you live in North Dakota, your state doesn’t have enough.

• Well, Elon Musk is being an ass again.

• Late last week, we mentioned that the governor had announced a plan for the state to help pay for restaurants to prepare food for seniors and high-risk people in need. Well, Riverside County has started the signup process for both interested restaurants and people who may want to get food deliveries.

• Oh, great. Rashes and other weird skin issues can be a symptom of this damned virus, too.

AMC Theaters has banned Universal Pictures from its screens—and Regal Cinemas is threatening to take similar action—after the studio moved Trolls World Tour to a digital-exclusive release.

• You know times are weird when The Wall Street Journal, of all publications, publishes a piece on how to negotiate with creditors to lower or delay payments on bills.

• As long as they don’t become artificially intelligent and take over, robots may be able help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by cleaning places with UV light.

• The Los Angeles Times brings us yet another piece on the devastating effects the shutdown is having on the work of scientists who aren’t directly involved with the battle against COVID-19.

• Miss the museum? Check out the Palm Springs Art Museum’s online exhibit of the photography of Stephen H. Willard (1894-1966).

• Pro tip: If you’re going to do a news report from your home, and you decide to eschew pants, make sure that viewers can’t see that.

That’s all for today. Wash your hands. Buy our amazing Coloring Book. And if you can spare a few bucks, please consider becoming a supporter of the Independent; it costs a lot of money to do quality journalism and make it available for free to all. Thanks again for reading. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

We here at Independent World Headquarters are careening toward the deadline for our packed-with-amazing-content 32-page May print edition.

However, even though we’re very busy here, the news doesn’t stop—and, in fact, a lot of really fascinating news broke today. So, here are today’s Daily Digest news links:

• The most fascinating story to come out today, at least to my eyes: Yet another preliminary antibody test shows a surprisingly high number of people may have already had COVID-19. This one is out of New York City, and showed that more than 20 percent of residents apparently have antibodies. There are a lot of “if’s” here—IF the antibody tests are accurate, IF the stats pan out, etc.—this is a big deal. On one hand, it means that the disease may be less deadly in terms of percentages than previously believed, and that we may be closer to herd immunity IF it’s proven that people infected with the virus can’t get sick from it again for some period of time. On the other, it means the virus—which is still very, very deadly—spreads rapidly and easily, IF these tests are accurate. It’ll be VERY interesting to see how this all plays out.

• Speaking of more evidence about how rapidly and easily this damn thing may spread: Researchers are openly speculating about whether the spread of the virus may have gotten a jump start at the Consumer Electronics Show, which took place between Jan. 7 and 10 in Las Vegas, and had 170,000 attendees—some from Wuhan, and a lot from Santa Clara County (i.e. Silicon Valley), where the first known COVID-19 victim in the United States lived.

• From the Independent: How does the Coachella Valley’s only free health clinic continue to help people in need during a pandemic—when those people can’t come in for an office visit? Kevin Fitzgerald talked to the board president of Indio’s Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine to find out.

• Also from the Independent: Here’s a quick, inspirational read on just a handful of local efforts our neighbors are making to help out our local medical professionals—and, yes, you can get involved if you have money or time.

Let’s tell a story: The World Health Organization mistakenly posts a report showing that one of the drugs everyone has their fingers crossed about—Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir—didn’t work on COVID-19 patients in China. The stock market freaks out. Gilead freaks out and says the results were inconclusive and that the WHO shouldn’t have posted the report. The WHO removes report. We all sigh and shake our heads and wave our fists at the sky.

• The New York Times in recent days has published a couple of completely gripping longer-form personal stories. First was this piece, by the great Joel Grey, now 88, about how badly he misses theater. Then came this story by Gabrielle Hamilton, the owner of Prune restaurant in Manhattan, about the heartbreak of closing the place she built up for 20 years—and her confusion over whether there will ever again be a place for Prune in the Manhattan of the future.

• Meanwhile, the more we learn about COVID-19 … the more we realize how truly little we know about it. Research out of New York shows that, among all sorts of surprising findings, some 70 percent of the people studied who were admitted to the hospital due to the coronavirus weren’t running a fever.

• A teeny, tiny step in California toward normalcy: Doctors may again perform non-emergency surgical procedures, as long as they’re deemed essential (i.e. not merely cosmetic).

• The more we learn about the first round of Paycheck Protection Program loan recipients, the more it appears that some really shady crap was going on. Thankfully, however, for the next round, the SBA has issued new guidelines that, at least in theory, should cut down on the shenanigans.

• From our partners at CalMatters: Gov. Newsom said today that the state will not allow debt collectors to seize stimulus payments, and that payments on many private student loans can be postponed for three months.

Could the pandemic revive the car hop restaurant? That’s what has happened, at least temporarily, at the Bob’s Big Boy down in Burbank.

• Related: Could the pandemic revive the drive-in movie theater? Some clever restaurants (with larger parking lots) are giving it a shot—with car-hop food service, of course.

OK. It’s time for us to get back to work on the dead-tree edition. If you want to support a local small business and the Independent, check out the deets on our Adopt a Small Business program. Oh, and buy our amazing Coloring Book! We hope to mail out the first batch over the weekend or early next week. Wash your hands, and wear a mask when you absolutely must go outside. Back tomorrow. Thanks, as always, for reading the Coachella Valley Independent.

Published in Daily Digest

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