CVIndependent

Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

So let’s get right to it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Wednesday, everyone. Let’s get right into it:

• Remember how on Monday, we said that Gov. Gavin Newsom was expressing tentative optimism about a statewide decrease in COVID-19 cases? Well … it turns out there may or may not be a decrease at all—because the state reporting system is currently being hampered by technical issues. According to our partners at CalMatters: “California’s daily count of COVID-19 cases appears to be falling, but that may be due to underreporting caused by technical issues, state health officials said (Tuesday). ‘We’ve discovered some discrepancies,’ said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary in a press call. Data, he said, is ‘getting stuck’ in the electronic system that feeds information from test labs to both the state and local public health departments. This means counties and the state are not getting a full picture of who and how many are testing positive. That lack of information hampers the counties’ ability to investigate cases and initiate contact tracing, Ghaly said.” Whoops! 

• And here are details on an even-more heinous state whoops, also according to our partners at CalMatters: “As the coronavirus continues to sicken Californians, the state mistakenly terminated or reduced health-insurance benefits for thousands of low-income people. An error involving the state’s Medi-Cal program and its automated system for renewals triggered the drops in coverage—despite the governor’s executive order earlier this year that was supposed to ensure that people maintain access to safety net programs during the pandemic.” Yeesh.

• Meanwhile, the United Parcel Service is prepping for that happy day a vaccine is available: Bloomberg reports that UPS is building two “giant freezer farms” that can each hold up to 48,000 vaccine vials.

• More vaccine news: Johnson and Johnson will deliver 100 million vaccine does to the U.S. for a cool $1 billion when they’re ready—and give the U.S. the option to buy another 200 million doses, the drug-maker announced today. Presuming, you know, the vaccine actually works.

• Because the federal testing plan … uh, really isn’t a thing, seven states have joined forces to buy more than 3 million coronavirus antigen tests. These tests could be a game-changer; according to Bloomberg, “the tests, which search for proteins on the surface of the virus, can deliver results in 15 to 20 minutes.

• Public Citizen, “a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power,” yesterday issued a scathing report accusing Gilead Sciences and the federal government of “sitting on a potentially promising coronavirus treatment (GS-441524) for months that may offer significant advantages over the closely related antiviral drug remdesivir, possibly to maximize profits.” Read what Public Citizen has to say here.

• CNN today released a series of before and after satellite images of the pure devastation created by the massive explosion in Beirut yesterday. Simply put: They’re horrifying.

• It appears neither major-party presidential candidate will appear at their conventions to accept their nominations this year. The Biden campaign said today that the former vice president will not be going to Milwaukee, while the Trump administration is making plans for the president to deliver his nomination-acceptance speech from the White House, which may not exactly be legal.

• From the Independent: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which allows some undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status—were illegal. Nonetheless, feds are pretty much terminating the program anyway. Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to two local activists about the toll the DACA shutdown is taking on local undocumented families.

• Also from the Independent: President Trump recently suggested that we delay the election because of the supposed threat of mail-in voting fraud. Could he really do such a thing? Probably not … but Jeffrey C. Billman examines other scenarios Republicans seem to be preparing to use to create a constitutional crisis the likes of which the country has not seen since 1976.

• Past and present U.S. surgeons general said earlier this week that concerns over vaccines in the Black community could be a big problem, according to MedPage Today. That same publication also examined a related problem: Scientists aren’t doing enough to make sure people of color are being included in various clinical trials.

• The U.S. military has found the amphibious assault vehicle that sank off the coast of San Clemente Island last week, killing eight Marines and one sailor. CNN has the details on these people who died in service to our country.

• If you have not yet watched the bonkers interview President Trump did with Axios on HBO yet … boy, it’s worth your time—and here’s a link to the whole thing.

The PPP loans are starting to run out … and that means that more layoffs are coming.

• Our partners at High Country News took a pants-wetting look at the ways in which religious zealots in the West are using the pandemic as an opportunity to gain converts. Key quote: “When asked how he would respond to observers who say he’s exploiting people’s fear to further his anti-LGBTQ+, anti-women, anti-abortion agenda, (Idaho preacher Doug) Wilson responded frankly. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I am.’

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted yesterday to declare racism as a public health crisis. Better late than never!

The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership crunched the numbers on the decrease in passenger accounts at the Palm Springs International Airport. Key quote: “The lockdown, which started in mid-March, had an immediate effect, with passenger traffic for the month quickly dropping 50 percent. April and May traffic were down an unfathomable 97 percent and 90 percent. Projecting a conservative 50 percent drop in passengers for the rest of the year would result in a 2.8 million decrease in passengers for the entire year, resulting in passenger traffic for the year being only one-third of 2019.”

Flu-shot makers are producing record amounts of this year’s flu vaccine, anticipating that more people than ever will be getting the shots, because of … well, you know. 

• If you’re planning on sneaking into New York City without quarantining for two weeks, beware: They may have checkpoints waiting for you.

• We recently pointed out social-media sleuthing indicating that the Riviera may soon become a Margaritaville resort. Well, Jimmy Buffett fans can rejoice, because the conversion was officially announced today.

If you have Disney+ and are willing to fork out an extra $29.99, you will be able to watch the much-anticipated Mulan from your couch Sept. 4.

• Finally, because life is random and weird, yet history keeps repeating: Both Who’s the Boss? and Ren and Stimpy are being rebooted. Happy, happy, joy, joy!

Be safe, everyone. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. If you value honest, independent local journalism, and have the means to do so, we ask you to help us continue to do what we do by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Thanks for reading! The Daily Digest will return Friday.

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It’s July 13. Let’s check and see how things are going!

COVID-19 is running amok.

The state is locking down more businesses again—with gyms, hair salons and churches pretty much ordered to close today in most of the state (including here in Riverside County).

The federal budget deficit last month alone was $864 billion.

More and more small businesses, seeing no end of this mess in sight, are giving up and closing their doors.

• The COVID-19 testing effort nationwide is becoming more and more of a fustercluck by the day, it seems

The White House is openly trying to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Meanwhile, the president is retweeting former game-show host Chuck Woolery’s conspiracy theory that everyone, including doctors (!), is lying about COVID-19.

So … yeah. THAT’S how things are going. Anyway, how was YOUR weekend?

More news from the day:

• Regarding the state’s order that gyms, hair salons and the like in counties on the state watch list (which Riverside County is most definitely on) close: There’s a loophole—according to the county, these businesses can stay open if they move operations outdoors. Given that local highs for the foreseeable future will not fall below 106 degrees, I don’t see a lot of local gyms and barbershops moving outside—but it’s something to watch for regardless.

• While most schools around here will not be reopening for in-person classes for the fall, at least not initially, schools are reopening in Europe and other places—and they offer lessons for the U.S. if we ever get this damn virus somewhat in check.

• Sigh. Will the pandemic ever end? The World Health Organization is reporting that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may only last for a few months in some peoplemeaning people could potentially contract COVID-19 multiple times.

• Could an existing tuberculosis vaccine offer some protection against the coronavirus? CNN examines the evidence.

• Related-ish: The Washington Post looks at the mad dash by glass-makers to make sure they have enough vials ready if/when a vaccine is ever available.

The Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau has put together a short, cool little video called “Mayors Mask Up,” featuring the mayors from eight of the nine valley cities encouraging people to wear a darned mask. The interesting exception: The video features eight mayors plus Palm Desert City Councilwoman Jan Harnik—NOT Palm Desert Mayor Gina Nestande, who has a history of saying less-than-smart things about the pandemic. Good lord!

• Our partners at CalMatters take a look at the varying COVID-19 testing experiences across the state of California. To put it mildly, the experiences vary drastically depending on where one is.

The Conversation takes a look at the fact that there were maskholes, or COVIDiots, or whatever you want to call people who refuse to wear masks during the last pandemic, too.

A study out of UCSF indicates that young people who smoke or vape are at a higher risk for COVID-19.

• Esquire files a report from Rome, as the city slowly gets back to life after one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world. Key quote: “While there is beauty to be found in the reopened city—in parks left untended, the grass has grown long and wild, and the landmarks are no longer congested with tourists—there is now a strangeness to everyday life. Bars serve drinks over tables wedged inside doorways, cashiers hide behind Perspex shields, and restaurants have become like hospitals, requiring customers to fill out long forms and disinfect themselves before entry.”

• Now that things are NOT going well in Riverside County regarding the pandemic, the Riverside Press-Enterprise asks: “Was lifting mask orders a mistake?” The answer seems obvious to me—but, hoo boy, the politicians have a lot of excuses.

• Finally … if you need a laugh after all of this, and you haven’t been turned on to the charms of comedian Sarah Cooper yet, please check out this InStyle piece she did about her viral popularity. Her lip-sync re-enactments of some of President Trump’s statements are true gems.

That’s the news of the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. If you appreciate what we do here at the Independent, help us continue producing local journalism, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Stay safe, everyone.

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It’s been a crazy, confusing and all-round fascinating news day, so let’s get right to it:

Riverside County wants to move forward in the reopening process! That was the message sent today by the Board of Supervisors, who are trying to make the case to Gov. Newsom that we’re pretty gosh-darned close to being ready to move further into Stage 2.

• Los Angeles County is going to be closed deep into the summer! That was the somewhat misleading message sent by this Los Angeles Times headline: “L.A. County could keep stay-at-home orders in place well into summer.” The headline was later changed. Why? Well, the story ran amok on social media, and late in the day, the county’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, sent out a news release clarifying that things were not as dire as the Los Angeles Times made things out to be: “L.A. County is continuing its progress on the road to recovery, with planned reopening of beaches for active recreation and an expansion of permitted retail activities coming tomorrow. While the Safer at Home orders will remain in place over the next few months, restrictions will be gradually relaxed under our 5-stage Roadmap to Recovery, while making sure we are keeping our communities as safe as possible during this pandemic. We are being guided by science and data that will safely move us forward along the road to recovery in a measured way—one that allows us to ensure that effective distancing and infection control measures are in place. We’re counting on the public’s continued compliance with the orders to enable us to relax restrictions, and we are committed to making sure that L.A. County is in the best position to provide its 10 million residents with the highest level of wellness possible as we progressively get back to normal.”

• Gov. Newsom was busy today. First, he signed an order allowing pharmacies to begin administering COVID-19 tests, which is a good thing. Second, he released a list of criteria restaurants will need to follow when they’re allowed to reopen for dine-in business. Third, he gave two Northern California counties the go-ahead to move further into Stage 2.

• Meanwhile, Arizona, our neighbors to the east, will pretty much be open by the end of the week.

• But back here in California, the state university system announced that—like College of the Desert locally—the fall semester will almost entirely take place online.

• Is all of this confusing the bloody hell out of you? Does what’s opening and closing and NOT opening and closing seem contradictory and random and baffling? I feel the same way! So, to make you feel better, here’s a delightful whiskey sour recipe. And if you don’t drink, here’s an easy chocolate cake recipe. The prep only takes one bowl—a needed dose of simplicity during these chaotic times.

• More encouraging drug news: While more study needs to be done, a combination of three drugs appears to be effective in helping COVID-19 patients recover.

• More evidence that the new normal may be better in some ways: Twitter has told most of its employees that they can work from home even after this whole mess is over.

• The city of Palm Springs could lose as much as $78 million in tax revenue this fiscal year and next, and wants federal help.

The California Legislature is working on a relief bill that would, among other things, give renters more than a decade to catch up on rent payments missed as a result of the pandemic.

• Are you young? Then Riverside County would like you to consider getting tested.

• Related: This opinion piece from Time magazine explains how testing a representative sample of the population could help slow the spread of the virus.

The economic shutdown is devastating small businesses. We knew that was happening, but The Washington Post has the numbers to prove it.

• Parts of Europe are starting to reopen, too, and The Conversation says the United States may be able to learn some lessons from that process.

Some people are perfectly happy with being stuck at home. God bless them.

• And now for something completely different: Cactus Hugs examined the mysterious message that was being painted on the roof of the Red Barn bar in Palm Desert. UPDATE: The message is finished, and it says “Suck My Governor.” While Red Barn management meant this as an insult, it sounds to me like a compliment, in that it’s an invitation for the governor to receive some pleasure, and I have clearly thought about this too much so I am going to be quiet now.

That’s all for today. Buy our Coloring Book, because you want to support local journalism AND the Create Center for the Arts AND local artists. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have a few bucks to spare, and you value independent local journalism. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. 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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It’s often said that you can’t prove a negative. However, that’s not accurate: Mathematically, you generally can.

It is accurate, however that you can’t disprove a conspiracy theory to a conspiracy theorist. This is something I have learned, painfully, over the years during many squabbles with them.

For example, there was the guy who wanted me, while I was the editor of the Tucson Weekly, to expose how Sept. 11 was an inside job. The key piece of evidence, he said, was the fact that the World Trade Center 7 building collapsed, despite not being directly hit by a plane. So I sent him some articles, including one from Popular Mechanics, thoroughly explaining why WTC 7 collapsed.

“Well, that stuff is obviously faked,” he said.

Then there are the chemtrails people—folks who insist that the government, or maybe it’s China, who knows, but SOMEBODY is spraying us with stuff from high-flying planes to … uh, control our minds, or change the weather, or sterilize people, or something.

How do they know? You can see the trails these planes leave in the sky, man!

What other evidence do they have? None.

Of course, now the conspiracy theories are coming out around COVID-19. The most recent one comes compliments of an anti-vaxer who is claiming that all of this illness has to do with a bad flu vaccine from several years ago. Really.

So … yeah.

I would try to explain here how that conclusion is, well … unlikely. For starters, a whole lot of people with better credentials say that that’s not what caused COVID-19. But, I won’t bother.

Why? Because if you believe in a conspiracy theory, there’s nothing I can say or do to convince you otherwise.

Today’s links:

• Yesterday’s bonkers Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting—at which supes were deciding to, and I am paraphrasing here, emphasize the “interests” of the business community over the advice of the county health officer—ended with a whole lot of nothing: The board voted 5-0 to decide things at an emergency Friday meeting instead.

• Breaking news: The county has further loosened the rules on pools at apartment complexes and in HOA-managed areas. Get the details here.

• So the president now says he won’t disband his coronavirus task force around the end of the month. Why did he change his mind? According to The New York Times, Trump said: “I thought we could wind it down sooner. But I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday, when I started talking about winding it down. I get calls from very respected people saying, ‘I think it would be better to keep it going. It’s done such a good job.’” So, uh, there ya go.

• Meanwhile, in Arizona—a state that, I will remind you, shares a border with us—the governor’s office is shutting up a team of professors at Arizona State and the University of Arizona that had been doing COVID-19 modeling. Turns out their models said reopening now—which the state is doing—was a bad idea. This move by Gov. Doug Ducey is, in a word, despicable.

Why have meat-processing facilities been such hotbeds for the spread of the coronavirus? The Conversation explains.

• OH, COME ON. REALLY?! This CNBC piece says that the damn virus will lead to millions of new tuberculosis cases, and will “set back global efforts to fight TB by at least five years, and possibly up to eight years.”

Why do some people simply refuse to wear masks? CNN looks at the psychology behind this.

• Another California court has refused to block the state from offering assistance to undocumented residents.

A lot of people think they already had COVID-19, back before we really knew it was a thing. While we are learning that the virus may have been in this country way earlier than previously known … sorry, but you probably didn’t have it.

• If you are one of the people who hasn’t yet received your stimulus money yet, we are sorry to tell you that a lot of dead people have received theirs.

Can llamas lead us to a breakthrough that could help solve the pandemic? Because nothing makes sense anymore, why, yes, they might.

• Famous and mysterious street artist Banksy has done a series paying tribute to health workers in Britain.

If you’re a fan of David Cross and Bob Odenkirk’s Mr. Show, you have something to look forward to now.

• Yeah, this period of quarantine has been awful. But on the bright side, it brought the world the first ever toilet flush to take place during U.S. Supreme Court arguments. So we have that, at least.

• Finally, here’s a look at a birthday party for a 20-year-old otter named Yaku.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Be safe. Buy our Coloring Book, because it’s amazing. If you can spare a few bucks, consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep doing quality local journalism. We’ll be back tomorrow.

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

On May 9, 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed former state assemblymember V. Manuel Perez to serve the remainder of the term of the late John Benoit, the Riverside County District 4 supervisor.

On June 5, Perez will attempt to hold on to the seat, but he’s facing a formidable challenge from Palm Desert City Councilmember Jan Harnik. While June 5 is considered the primary election, these two experienced Coachella Valley politicos will get no primary testing ground—because in their two-person race, one of them will almost certainly get a majority of the vote, avoiding a general-election contest and getting elected to a new four-year term.

“I think it’s important that people realize the magnitude of what this (campaign) means for the 4th District and for the county of Riverside as a whole,” Perez said during a recent phone interview. “This is the first time in years that we will see an (almost) new Board of Supervisors, and (it could be) a very diverse group, which I think is important to recognize.

“I am running because I’ve always felt a deep sense of responsibility to public service, and that dates back to me growing up as a kid on the east side of the Coachella Valley. But I’m also running because I believe that we need to have a voice that unites both sides of the valley. I believe I can do that.”

Perez is a Democrat, while Harnik is a Republican—but the supervisors’ seat is considered nonpartisan.

“I’m fortunate that I’ve always worked in nonpartisan positions,” Harnik said during a recent phone interview. “So my job has always been to do what’s best and to approach issues with logic and common sense—and, in fact, what is attractive to me in the supervisor position is exactly that. It’s nonpartisan, but, yes, I will carry my values. Yes, I am fiscally conservative, and I don’t believe in spending more than you have. But I don’t have to listen to somebody at the party and at a higher level telling me what is best.”

We asked each candidate about the most pressing issues they’d like to address.

“We have to make sure that we provide public safety in an effective manner,” Harnik said. “That’s the high-quality public safety that, I think, people deserve—but I think we have to get the budget in order before we can do much. The budget is $5.5 billion, and the revenue for that budget is $5.22 billion. Running in the red is unsustainable, and doing things like voting to spend $40 million on an outside consulting firm (KPMG, in this case) to find efficiencies and see how the county can spend their money better is a bad idea. Bringing in outside agencies to do those kinds of things are simply done now when people don’t want to make the tough decisions. … I will not shy away from tough decisions.”

Perez identified a host of critical concerns held by various segments of the county’s voters.

“I think the top issues to deal with are homelessness and behavioral-health efforts; continuing to support our veterans; and obviously, our economy and jobs are a major concern, as well as quality-of-life issues such as the Salton Sea, air pollution and asthma rates, infrastructure including sidewalks, and safe routes to schools,” Perez said.

Perez touted his governing experience and skills.

“What I think sets me apart from my opponent is not only do I have the education—having attended local schools, being a (University of California at Riverside) graduate, and then going off to Harvard University and coming back home—but I also have experience in policymaking, (on the) local city council, school board, and especially at the state level,” Perez said. “I learned how to connect the dots. I’m able to pick up the phone and call the speaker (of the California State Assembly) on a specific issue, and I’m able to text (Assemblymember) Eduardo Garcia or (U.S. Representative) Dr. Raul Ruiz and ask them how are we going to deliver a message to pass the Desert Healthcare District expansion so that we can get it in front of the voters. I think my opponent can’t compare to that—not that I’m better than her, but I’ve been very fortunate to hold these positions in my career.”

Both candidates have amassed considerable campaign chests. As of Dec. 31, Perez reported roughly $552,000 in donations, while Harnik showed close to $400,000, which included a $20,000 posthumous donation made by the John Benoit campaign fund. When we spoke with Perez in April, he updated his fundraising total to roughly $730,000.

“We knew early on that this was going to be a very expensive campaign,” Perez said.

We asked both candidates whether it was appropriate that they were receiving funds from donors who list their addresses as being not just outside of Riverside County—but completely out of state. The year-end reports showed nearly 3 percent of Perez’s contributions came from out of state, as did 5.4 percent of Harnik’s.

“I did notice that she had quite a lot of contributions from throughout the U.S., and it’s perfectly legal, so OK,” Perez said. “If I had access to all those individuals, I would probably be doing the same thing. I will say, though, that Riverside County is a bit antiquated when it comes to the rules around fundraising.”

Harnik said the large number of donors she has is evidence of her appeal.

“I hope you noticed how many donations I have; I have far more donors, because these are real people donating to me,” she said. “Now, the issue with the geography: Keep in mind that a lot of these people will say, ‘Well, I don’t vote here, so why would I donate to your campaign?’ Quite often, my answer is, ‘Because you own a home here, and you bought here because you like the quality of life here. You may not vote here. You may vote somewhere else because you’re only here three, four or five months a year, but you want to maintain the quality of life, and you want to protect your investment.’”

We asked the candidates if they had a specific message they wanted to share with voters.

“Never in close to eight years on the City Council have I missed a City Council meeting,” Harnik said. “That’s a great example of my work ethic. I work hard, and I come to every meeting prepared. I believe in this region, and I do believe there are some things that we really have to look at differently than we have. I can do that. I have the energy. I have the work ethic, and I’ll show up.”

Perez said: “I’m very honored to be in this role, and I don’t take it for granted. I know that people really loved former Supervisor John Benoit. I know I have to continue some of his legacy, and I have to create my own. I get that. It may not seem either sexy or specific, but I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to pass and carry policy, and keep staff as well as hire new staff to keep the momentum going (while) learning the nuances of the infrastructure at the Riverside County level. It’s a lot of work.”

Published in Politics

V. Manuel Perez was uncharacteristically feisty and aggressive when the Independent recently spoke to him about the final push in his campaign for the Riverside County District 4 Board of Supervisors seat, against incumbent Supervisor John Benoit.

“Benoit claims credit for efforts that are not even his, because I think he lacks substance,” said Perez, who is currently a member of the state Assembly. “He lacks vision, and he’s part of an effort that’s business as usual—and that’s getting old.”

Perez cites a bill that he sponsored as an example. “We passed legislation (AB 1318) for the Sentinel power plant,” built by Competitive Power Ventures in Desert Hot Springs and operational since May 2013, Perez said. “My opponent continues to claim that it was him who went to the east side of the valley and paved the road to the east side. Well, guess what? Where did he get that money from? That money came from the $53 million in mitigation funds that came from the build-out of that plant. We, at the state level, and I authored that legislation, and made sure that the money was in there.”

Benoit—a former member of the state Assembly and Senate—took exception to Perez’s statements.

“Well, first of all, the bill was Perez-Benoit, and I was the co-author, and I worked very, very hard with him, and, in fact, we could debate who carried more of the weight, but it was not just Mr. Perez in the Legislature passing that. There were a lot of people who weighed in,” Benoit said.

Benoit was a state senator when the original bill was introduced in the Assembly by Perez. A version of the bill listed on the Legislature’s website does cite Benoit as a co-author.

“The money was available, but it would not have happened without the county, at my request, putting together a single proposal for 31 parks that totaled over $4 million,” Benoit said. “So he can whine about not getting enough credit. I give credit to him at appropriate locations and times, and certainly everyone knows that he was the author of the bill.”

Perez also criticized Benoit for delaying the funding of renewable-energy projects in Riverside County. He spoke with pride about his Assembly initiatives and said they enabled the “fast-tracking, signing and permitting of renewable energy projects throughout rural California, and specifically in this (Riverside County) area, and that there was $7 million attached to that as well. … Imperial County applied for those monies a year ago and received $700,000, while Riverside County did not apply, because they were in the middle of a battle with the solar industry, because of John Benoit’s lack of understanding and stubbornness.

“He wanted to impose a property tax that was exorbitant that ultimately made the solar industry move to other areas, and we lost projects as a result of that. But finally, Riverside County did apply this year, because I reintroduced legislation, and they did receive $700,000 for the building of more renewables.”

Not surprisingly, Benoit had a different perspective. “That’s absolute nonsense,” Benoit said. “His bill contained so many flaws and required so much accounting in terms of matching funds and so forth that not only Riverside, but other counties, passed on the first go-around. He realized that, came back and drafted new regulations that fixed the problems in the first bill.

“The bill in its original form would have cost more than we would receive in benefits. So he fixed it, and now he’s claiming for political reasons that it was our lack of diligence the first year—but what about the other counties and all the other staff that looked at it and came to the same conclusion?”

As for property-tax initiative referred to by Perez: “My opponent has tried to make it sound like the only reason at all that any solar project in the last five years has been changed or didn’t move forward is this fee,” Benoit said. “Changing transmission rates for solar power, changes in the technology and the lack of available financing has caused many projects to change directions or go away. The fee had nothing to do with it.”

With the election in the winner-take-all primary just days away, how do the candidates assess their chances for victory?

“My team feels good about where we are and our position,” Perez said. “Our polling looks good. But ultimately, it’s about who gets out that vote, and that 15 to 20 percent who are undecided. Independents don’t care whether one is a Democrat or a Republican. What they care about is the one who produces.”

Benoit said that many people don’t realize the primary, since there are only two candidates, will determine the winner. “We’re working very hard right up to the end, but I’m confident based on polling that we’re going to prevail very strongly. I have had people say, ‘What do you think about your chances in November?’ And I say, ‘Wait a minute: You do understand that with only two of us, it’s going to be one of us in June?’

“But that will work itself out, because there are only two choices, and the one who gets the most votes will be the winner, because one of us will have more than 50 percent. Even my advanced math tells me that.”

Published in Politics

It’s going to be a busy election year in the Coachella Valley.

Residents of Rancho Mirage will kick things off with a municipal election on April 8, before the spotlight moves to the hotly contested big-name races. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat, will be opposed by Republican State Assemblymember Brian Nestande in a fierce battle that could help determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives. And Gov. Jerry Brown will be seeking his second term as the 39th governor of California against an as-yet-undetermined Republican candidate.

Down the ballot a bit is the election for Riverside County District 4 supervisor, featuring Republican incumbent John Benoit, and Democrat V. Manuel Perez, who is currently serving as the state assemblymember for the 56th District (which includes the Salton Sea area and much of the northern and eastern parts of the Coachella Valley, including all or parts of Coachella, Indio, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs). However, both of the seat’s announced contenders insisted that their race is just as important—if not more important—than the bigger-name contests.

“This seat is very important. In my opinion, it is one of the most important seats in government, if not the most important,” said Perez, who, like Dr. Ruiz, is a graduate of Harvard University and is considered a rising star in Democratic circles. “Many people don’t understand that. For all the policies that I’ll decide at my level, or Congressman Raul Ruiz will decide at his level, county government is where the rubber meets the road.”

Benoit, on this point, agreed with Perez.

“I enjoyed being a senator, and (serving in) the State Senate was an honor and a privilege,” said Benoit. “But nothing I did in the Senate even comes close to the impacts I have, sometimes every week, in the decisions I make here as a member of the Board of Supervisors—real impacts on real projects that are going to have real significance.”

The office of county supervisor is considered a nonpartisan position, although the office can be attained only by enduring a political campaign and an election process. Benoit addressed this contrariety.

“Because this is a nonpartisan office, and most of what we deal with is nonpartisan issues, I would think the biggest distinction between myself and my opponent is that I have 42 years of public-service experience,” he said. “That all helps a lot when you’re managing an office as part of a board responsible for 58 departments and 18,000 employees.”

As for the “nonpartisan” nature of the office he’s seeking, Perez mused: “It’s supposed to be. You know, I’ve been approached by many different entities and different allies on both sides of the aisle—Republicans and Democrats—to run for this seat. I feel that’s because of my work in Sacramento and because of my strong ties within the networks of the leadership there. I’ve worked in a bipartisan way, where (most) of the (policies) I’ve passed have been bipartisan, so I’ll definitely bring independent thinking to the county Board of Supervisors. I feel I’m the person who can bridge through and build up the Coachella Valley.”

What initiatives will be the focus of their respective campaigns? Benoit cited work he’s been doing in Mecca and the East Valley.

“We have the (66th Avenue) overcross and the Comfort Station, which is a legacy issue that we’re working on with the Galilee Center,” he said.

The Mecca Comfort Station would provide “restroom, shower, laundry, and adequate parking facilities to migrant farm workers in Mecca and the surrounding communities,” according to a county document. The Galilee Center assists the underprivileged in the East Valley.

He also pledged to work on the economy of the district.

“Every where you look, there are initiatives for growth and, in particular, solar projects and a vast array of potential renewable projects involved with the Salton Sea moving forward,” Benoit said.

Perez also said he’d focus on the economy.

“Ultimately, jobs and the economy are the No. 1 issue, because we still see a major gap between the rich and the poor,” he said. “In Riverside County, the largest number of poor exist here compared to every county in California, except Imperial County. I’ve got to make sure I deal with regulation, incentives and credits to lure in business.”

Both candidates are acutely aware of the see-saw voter-registration struggle going on in the Coachella Valley. Democrats have been whittling away at the Republican advantage in the county in recent years, although Republicans seemingly stopped that trend in 2013; as of Dec. 31, 2013, Republicans had a 5.14 percent voter-registration edge, according to the California Secretary of State.

“I’m pleased to see that the Republican registration numbers have come back some,” said Benoit. “But frankly, I’m not worried about that. I’m spending as much time or more talking to Democrats, talking to folks in the western part of the valley where I’m not as well-known—and when I talk to them, it has nothing to do with Republican or Democrat. I talk about all of my experience during four years in this supervisor’s office, and that I’m the right choice to continue what I’m doing.”

However, Perez pointed out that District 4 bucks the county trend; according to those same Dec. 31 figures from the Secretary of State, there were 3,600 more registered Democrats than Republicans in District 4.

“We have a 4 percent advantage in District 4,” Perez said. “… Earlier, we laughed about how this is supposed to be a nonpartisan race. Ultimately, we’re going to win this not because of those numbers, but because we’re going to out-work them. The numbers, be what they may be, do exist. But this campaign is going to be won on the ground.”

How do the candidates view their position in the race at this point? As of the end of 2013, Benoit had about $57,000 more in the bank, but Pérez was closing that gap.

“We know we’re way ahead in endorsements … and we certainly have an advantage in fundraising,” said Benoit. “Also, we’ve seen some polling numbers that indicate we’re in very good shape. But we’re putting all that behind us and running like we’re losing, to win.”

Perez also said he expects a close, challenging race.

“Ultimately, people are going to have to make a decision between two individuals who are going to work hard to win this election,” Perez said. “For some voters, this decision may be a tough one. They may have to break loyalties. So, yes, it’s going to be a campaign that, in my hope, causes people to reflect and dig deep inside—not only into their pocketbooks, but into their hearts and minds. They know that I actually care, and they’ll come out and vote for me.”

Below: V. Manuel Perez: "I’ve worked in a bipartisan way, where (most) of the (policies) I’ve passed have been bipartisan, so I’ll definitely bring independent thinking to the county Board of Supervisors. I feel I’m the person who can bridge through and build up the Coachella Valley.” Photo by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Politics

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