CVIndependent

Wed11252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope everyone out there had a fantastic weekend, despite the troubling nature of these times.

While my weekend had some lovely moments—a socially distanced patio dinner with friends being the highlight—I also spent a fair amount of time counting all of your votes in the first round of our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll. Well, all of that counting is complete, and I am happy to announce this year’s slate of fantastic finalists in 126 categories!

With that, voting is now under way in our final round of voting, which is taking place here through Oct. 26. As I’ve mentioned in this space before: We ask each reader to vote once, and only once, in each round. Whereas the goals of other “Best Of” polls in this town are to get their publications as much web traffic as possible from readers visiting their websites repeatedly to vote, our goal is to come up with the best slate of finalists and winners. So, please vote—but only once. And we’ll be watching IP addresses and verifying email addresses to cut down on the shenanigans.

Thanks to everyone who voted in the first round, and thanks in advance to all of you for voting in this final around. Oh, and congrats to all of our finalists; thanks for helping to make the Coachella Valley the amazing place that it is!

Today’s news:

• Unless you’ve been hiding in some sort of bunker for the last 24 hours, you’ve likely heard about the complete bombshell The New York Times dropped yesterday regarding Donald Trump’s taxes. The newspaper seems to have gotten Trump’s tax records—documents he’s long fought to kept out of the public’s eye—and they show a history of massive losses, suspect deductions and very little actual taxes paid. Most alarmingly, however, they show that the president has $421 million in debt coming due soon—which, as the speaker of the House pointed out today, raises security questions. It’s not hyperbole to say that this is one of the most important stories of the year. It’s also true that the revelations are unlikely to sway Trump devotees, given that previous unsavory revelations have failed to do so.

A series of wildfires in Sonoma and Napa counties have resulted in “significant loss,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Nearly 50,000 people face evacuations; the situation in wine country is beyond heartbreaking.

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, was taken into custody yesterday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after he apparently threatened to kill himself. Parscale was fired as campaign manager in July but still worked for the campaign. According to The Washington Post: “The police were called by Parscale’s wife, Candice Parscale, who told the officers upon their arrival that ‘her husband was armed, had access to multiple firearms inside the residence and was threatening to harm himself.’ Parscale was in the house with 10 guns and was inebriated when the police arrived, according to a police report released Monday. His wife had escaped the house after he cocked a gun and threatened suicide, the report said. Her arms were bruised, and she told officers that her husband had hit her days earlier, according to the police report.”

• Efforts by Trump campaign donor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to “reform” the U.S. Postal Service by cutting costs and severely slowing mail delivery were dealt a blow by a federal judge today. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The U.S. Postal Service must prioritize election mail and immediately reverse changes that resulted in widespread delays in California and several other states, a federal judge ruled Monday. … The judge’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit by attorneys general for the District of Columbia and six states, including California, that accused the Trump administration of undermining the Postal Service by decommissioning high-speed mail-sorting machines, curtailing overtime and mandating that trucks run on time, which led to backlogs because mail was left behind.”

• Related is this scoop from Time magazine: “For three weeks in August, as election officials across the country were preparing to send out mail-in ballots to tens of millions of voters, the U.S. Postal Service stopped fully updating a national change of address system that most states use to keep their voter rolls current, according to multiple officials who use the system.” At least 1.8 million addresses (!) are effected.

• Oh, and then there’s this from NBC News: It turns out the USPS isn’t really keeping track of mail theft. “The Postal Service’s law enforcement arm acknowledged the shortcoming after NBC News, prompted by anecdotal accounts of an uptick in mail theft around the country, sought and received mail theft figures through a Freedom of Information Act request.

• Even though a federal judge has ordered the U.S. Census count to continue through Oct. 31, the bureau today said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “has announced a target date of October 5, 2020 to conclude 2020 Census self-response and field data collection operations.” Hmm.

Politico over the weekend dropped a story with this frightening lede: “The (Health and Human Services) department is moving quickly on a highly unusual advertising campaign to ‘defeat despair’ about the coronavirus, a $300 million-plus effort that was shaped by a political appointee close to President Donald Trump and executed in part by close allies of the official, using taxpayer funds.” In journalism school, we were taught that this is called “propaganda.”

• Now let’s compare that story with this piece from CNBC: “The United States is ‘not in a good place’ as colder months loom and the number of newly reported coronavirus cases continues to swell beyond 40,000 people every day, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.

Channel 4 News, out of the United Kingdom, reported today that it had obtained a “vast cache” of data used by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. What did that cache reveal? “It reveals that 3.5 million Black Americans were categorised by Donald Trump’s campaign as ‘Deterrence’—voters they wanted to stay home on election day. Tonight, civil rights campaigners said the evidence amounted to a new form of voter ‘suppression’ and called on Facebook to disclose ads and targeting information that has never been made public.”

According to NBC News: “A major hospital chain has been hit by what appears to be one of the largest medical cyberattacks in United States history. Computer systems for Universal Health Services, which has more than 400 locations, primarily in the U.S., began to fail over the weekend, and some hospitals have had to resort to filing patient information with pen and paper, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.” Eek! Locally, according to the UHS website, the company operates Michael’s House in Palm Springs.

The San Francisco Chronicle today became the latest newspaper to examine the troubling fact that a lot of people who have “recovered” from COVID-19 have not actually fully recovered. Key quote: “The coronavirus can infiltrate and injure multiple organs. Studies have reported lasting damage to the lungs and heart. People have suffered strokes due to coronavirus-related clotting issues. The virus can cause skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems. Some people lose their sense of smell and taste for weeks or even months.”

A political science professor, writing for The Conversation, explains a study he did that proves something fairly self-evident: “Politicians deepen existing divides when they use inflammatory language, such as hate speech, and this makes their societies more likely to experience political violence and terrorism. That’s the conclusion from a study I recently did on the connection between political rhetoric and actual violence.” Yes, Trump’s speeches are examined, as are those by other world leaders.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times issued an unprecedented and expansive self-examination of and apology for decades of systemic racism at the newspaper. It’s worth a read.

Stay safe, everyone. Please consider helping us continue producing local journalism—made available for free to everyone—by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you can. The Daily Digest will return Wednesday.

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If your anxiety and/or depression levels were high this weekend, you were not alone.

More than a handful of people have told me were out of sorts this weekend—something that I, too, experienced. I suspect the extreme heat and at-times apocalyptic-looking skies due to the fires had something to do with it.

Despite the bleakness … at least as far as the coronavirus goes, there are signs that we’re making progress at flattening that pesky, pain-in-the-ass curve once more.

Consider:

Eisenhower Medical Center posted on Friday: “We are seeing a sustained 14-day decline in our percent positivity rate, and a corresponding decline in hospitalizations.” Indeed, hospitalizations at all of the valley’s hospitals have been steadily decreasing.

• Other parts of Southern California are seeing improvements, too. Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County public health director said today: “We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re getting back on track to slowing the spread of COVID-19. I want to emphasize the word ‘cautiously.’” 

The same goes for the state as a whole. “California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at his Monday press briefing more tests are being done, but the percentage of people testing positive is going down. The 14-day positivity rate is 7 percent compared to 7.5 percent a week ago,” according to SFGate.

We’re nowhere near the end of this thing … but it seems we’re heading in a better direction than we were a couple of weeks ago.

More news links:

Here’s the latest District 4 from the county. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley, as well as points eastward.) Hospitalizations are down, as mentioned above, but the positivity rate remains too darned high. Worst of all: 20 of our neighbors died in the last week.

• There is an increasing amount of discussion about what will happen if a vaccine is ready to go. However, this positive comes with a big, honking negative: Nobody’s quite sure how a vaccine-distribution effort’s going to take place. The Washington Post today cited a number of people, from scientists to governors, who are concerned the federal government may not be up to the task. Key quote: “‘This is a slow-motion train wreck,’ said one state official who has been involved in planning efforts and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. The official pointed in particular to the administration’s botched rollout of remdesivir, an antiviral medication that is one of the only approved treatments for covid-19 patients. ‘There’s certainly a lot of concern, and not being able to plan creates a significant amount of confusion,’ the official said.”

• Related: The New York Times reported that more and more doctors are worried that the Trump administration may rush a vaccine—to make it available before Election Day—before it’s been proven to be safe and effective.

• And here’s another dose of cold, hard reality: The World Health Organization today reminded everyone that a great vaccine is no sure thing. Key quote, from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials, and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection. However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment—and there might never be.”

• In other parts of the country, schools are beginning to reopen—and things aren’t necessarily going well. The Associated Press headline: “Parents struggle as schools reopen amid coronavirus surge.

Four former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration today co-wrote a piece for The Washington Post saying that the use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, according to the headline, “might be the treatment we need.” They wrote: “We need a concerted effort to collect blood plasma, along with clinical trials to determine when its benefits outweigh the risks so we can treat the right people at the right time. With that evidence in hand, we need to maintain a highly synchronized distribution system to get the plasma to the right health-care facilities in a timely and equitable way.”

• Sigh. The Center for Public Integrity reports that many businesses have been illegally denying paid sick leave to COVID-19-stricken workers: “Hundreds of U.S. businesses have been cited for illegally denying paid leave to workers during the pandemic, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. As of June 12, nearly 700 companies had violated the law’s paid-leave provisions and owed back wages to hundreds of employees, according to Labor Department records. Violators include six McDonald’s franchises and the franchise owners of a Comfort Suites, Courtyard by Marriott and Red Roof Inn.”

Eli Lilly announced today it’s starting a late-stage trial—among people who live in or work at nursing homes—on an experimental COVID-19 antibody treatment to see if it can prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

It’s time to check your hand sanitizers: The FDA now has a list of more than 100 types that need to be avoided—either because they’re dangerous, or they don’t include enough alcohol to be effective.

NBC News published a sobering story today about how systemic racism remains pervasive in the housing market.

The San Francisco Chronicle looked at the mess that is California’s unemployment system—officially known as the Employment Development Department—and what lawmakers are talking about doing to fix it. “More than a million jobless Californians are in limbo, desperately seeking unemployment benefits. That includes 889,000 who may be eligible for benefits with additional information, and 239,000 whose cases are pending resolution, according to a letter EDD Director Sharon Hilliard sent to her boss, Labor Secretary Julie Su, (last) Wednesday.” The Chronicle also included a list of 12 tips that may help people get the benefits they need.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise looked at how the county’s small-business grant awarding process was going; the application period for the $10,000 grants remains open through Aug. 31. Businesses must have 50 or fewer employees; they must have been harmed by the pandemic financially; and they can’t have received Paycheck Protection Act funding. (Full disclosure: We learned over the weekend that the Independent was awarded one of these grants.)

• The Apple Fire, which continues to threaten homes and is only 5 percent contained, was started by the exhaust of a malfunctioning diesel-fueled vehicle, CAL FIRE announced today.

• Depressingly related: Two Purdue University environmental engineers, writing for The Conversation, offer tips on what communities can do to protect themselves from drinking-water systems that become polluted in the aftermath of a wildfire—as happened following the terrible Northern California fires in 2017 and 2018.

• Is it safe to play college football this fall? A number of Pac-12 players issued a letter via The Players Tribune over the weekend, demanding more COVID-19 safety regulations. That’s not all; the players also said athletic programs should protect other sports programs by “reduc(ing) excessive pay” of coaches and administrators, and demanded that the league take steps to end racial injustice in college sports. If these steps aren’t taken, players may opt out of playing.

• Members of the local LGBTQ community, take note: Our friends at Gay Desert Guide are hosting a ton of virtual events during these dog days of summer, including comedy shows, scavenger hunts and speed-dating events. The first one is tomorrow at 7 p.m., when Shann Carr hosts Big Gay Trivia! A small fee ($10 or so) applies for most events; get all the details here.

That’s plenty for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. If you appreciate honest local journalism, and have a few bucks to spare, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Stay safe, everyone.

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Happy Friday, all. We survived another week!

Today’s news links:

• Under pressure from the Trump administration, the CDC has released new school-reopening guidelines that The New York Times callsa full-throated call to reopen schools.” Yeesh. 

• The governor today announced that the state would take more steps to protect essential workers. Key quote: “The governor said his administration has fallen short in educating businesses on how to safely reopen, and he's trying to make up for that with a new public information campaign targeted at employers. The state launched a new handbook for business owners and employers to support a safe, clean environment, with guidance on everything from cleaning guidelines to what to do in an outbreak.”

• The much-needed next round of stimulus spending—including a possible extension of extra federal unemployment benefits, which will run out in mere days—is likely several weeks away, according to the Senate majority leader.

• Related: NPR and Bloomberg both offer updates on the impending nationwide eviction crisis.

Also related, here’s some good news locally, from The Desert Sun: The city of Palm Springs has extended its eviction moratorium through Sept. 30.

• So … if/when that glorious day comes when there’s a coronavirus vaccine available, who will get the first doses? How will that be decided? The New York Times looks at the matter. Spoiler alert: The word “lottery” comes into play.

• The FDA has now recalled some 77 different types of hand sanitizer that federal regulators say are toxic.

• This is a nasty virus. NBC News reports that the CDC revealed today that many people who get COVID-19, but are not hospitalized, can have lingering effects from the illness for weeks or even months.

• Orange County is quickly becoming the state’s coronavirus hotspot—and beleaguered experts there are having a hard time figuring out the cause, according to the Los Angeles Times. This quote from the county’s acting health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, speaks volumes and will make you want to bang your head against the wall: “It’s quite difficult, even the person themself would not know,” he said during a briefing Thursday. “‘Well, I was at the bar; I was at the beach; I was here; I was there, where did I get infected?’ It’s a very difficult question to decipher, and all case investigators and tracers do their best to try to ask people, ‘Where were you at so we can pinpoint?’ But, as far as I know, we can’t really pinpoint.”

• Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread in Los Angeles—largely among people of color.

• McDonald’s is the latest large businesses to say it’s going to start requiring customers to wear face coverings. What took ya so long?

• Riverside County plans on giving out 10 million masks via local nonprofits, churches and businesses. They’re calling it the Masks Are Medicine campaign.

Meanwhile, they’re getting serious about masks in Indiana: As of July 27, people not wearing masks there could be charged with a misdemeanor.

• Related: There have been a lot of recent news articles about the science behind masks. NPR cites scientists saying that if 95 percent of people wore masks, coronavirus transmission would decrease by at least 30 percent; meanwhile, CNBC says the more layers a mask has, the better.

• Many so-called experts have declared that the pandemic has essentially ended the era of the office, in favor or working at home. However, The Conversation says not so fast. Key quote: “Organizational life is founded on relationships. Sure, the current remote work experiment has demonstrated that more jobs can be done virtually than many managers previously assumed. But jobs are comprised of tasks; organizations are comprised of relationships. And relationships require ongoing—and often unintended—interactions.”

• Also from The Conversation: The U.S. coronavirus testing system is a mess—but you probably knew that already … and it isn’t going to be easy to fix.

• Speaking of testing: Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services, says tests soon will be able to look for both SARS-CoV-2 and the flu. Yay?

• The lost year of 2020 continues: The Dinah, the huge party weekend for lesbians and queer women every year, will not be held this year.

• How much of 2021 will be lost, too? This just in from the county, via a news release: “The 2021 Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival, set for February 12-21, has been canceled and hopes to resume in 2022 with its 75th year celebration. In addition, the Queen Scheherazade Scholarship Pageant, scheduled for November 2020, is also being canceled. Queen Scheherazade and her court act as goodwill ambassadors leading up to, and during, the Fair in February.”

Movies keep getting pushed back, too: Disney has delayed the release of Mulan, and all Star Wars and Avatar films are being delayed a year.

• And finally, now for something completely different: The New York Times yesterday published a piece on the Pentagon’s Office of Naval Intelligence—the secretive agency that looks into UFO reports. The Times botched the piece by writing it in such a droll and formal fashion—and by burying some holy-shit-level revelations about some of the office’s findings. Key quote: “Eric W. Davis, an astrophysicist who worked as a subcontractor and then a consultant for the Pentagon UFO program since 2007, said that, in some cases, examination of the materials (gathered from purported UFO crashes) had so far failed to determine their source and led him to conclude, ‘We couldn’t make it ourselves.’

That’s enough for the week! Stay safe. Wear a mask. Enjoy the weekend, as best you can—safely, of course. Oh, and if you can spare a buck or two, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent; we’re giving you great local journalism free of charge … but it isn’t cheap to produce! The Digest will be back Monday.

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A while back, a reader complained that I never discussed the plight of people who are unable to wear face masks—so I asked readers who deal with that plight to write in, and explain how they handle (or don’t handle) that dilemma.

Even though this Daily Digest is emailed to 4,000 people, and available to the entire world at CVIndependent.com, I received a grand total of … zero replies from people who say they won’t wear a mask.

I did, however, receive replies from some people who said they have difficulties wearing masks—but do so anyway.

“I have COPD, and it is VERY uncomfortable to wear a mask,” said one reader, who asked not to be identified. “It is hard to breathe through a paper or cloth mask.”

This reader mentioned mask and oxygen options that would help—but are out of the reader’s price range—before concluding: “Anyways, I do wear a mask when out in public and try to keep my breathing slow and steady which helps.”

I also received this from a reader: “Don’t like Newsom. Don’t like gay marriage. Don’t like anarchy. Don’t like looters. Don’t like Biden. Trump is stupid about masks, but he is better than Biden on the issues in my opinion. However, if I am within six feet of a person or going into any store, bar, etc. I will wear a mask.”

OK then!

I’ll conclude this non-debate with this advice from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, as stated in some of the agency’s news releases: “People with medical conditions that prevent safe use of a face covering are asked to wear a face shield.”

Translation: One way another, cover your gosh darned face. There’s no excuse not to.

Today’s links:

Here’s the latest District 4 report from Riverside County. (District 4 includes all of the Coachella Valley, plus the vastness between here and the state line to the east.) The numbers, simply put, are not good. Please note that the cases are presented here based on the testing date, NOT the report date, so the more-recent weeks’ numbers will always seem smaller than they actually are, given the length of time it takes to get test results back.

• However, I do want to point out one encouraging sign: For the third straight week, the weekly positivity rate has decreased. As of the week ending July 5, it’s 12.2 percent—still too high, as the state wants that number below 8 percent, and preferably much lower. However, that’s down from 14 percent as of the week ending June 28; 14.6 percent as of the week ending June 21; and 16 percent as of the week ending June 14. I am still waiting on an explanation from the county on how, exactly, this number is calculated—but lower numbers are always good, and I am crossing my fingers tightly that is evidence that the measures we’re taking locally are finally starting to slow down the COVID-19 spread.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to Desert Healthcare District CEO Dr. Conrado Barzaga about his declaration that systemic racism is a public health crisisand we’re seeing that play out in the eastern Coachella Valley during the pandemic, as COVID-19 cases there are sky high compared to the rest of the valley.

• Sigh. Squabbles between Moderna Inc. and government scientists are responsible for the delay in one of the most-promising vaccine candidates, according to Reuters.

The Palm Springs Unified School district plans on starting the school year on Aug. 5 with all-online instruction, before moving to a hybrid model within a month or so, if the pandemic allows it. 

• Related and utterly unbelievable: The president is threatening to withhold funding from schools that don’t reopen for in-person classes in the fall, and his administration is forcing the CDC to issue weaker guidelines for school openings. Why?!

• The results are in regarding Sweden’s grand experiment to keep society mostly open and let the virus run its course: The death rate there is sky-high, and the country’s economy is no better off than the economies of its neighbors that did shut down.

Related: Is the cure worse than the disease? Experts writing for The Conversation crunched the numbers—and came to the conclusion that, no, shutdowns were better for society overall than letting the virus run amok.

Also from The Conversation: The feds’ plan to send home foreign college students if they can’t attend in-person classes would be very bad for the economy.

• Oh, great! Our partners at High Country News are looking at the possibility that North American bats could get SARS-CoV-2. Key quote, from the subheadline: “This is bad news for bats and humans.

• CNBC put a weird spin on this story: “Apple Maps driving activity is slowing again in warning sign for the economy.Yeah, but if more people are staying home, isn’t that a good sign for battling the coronavirus?

• The Washington Post has revealed that at the government-run Southeastern Veterans’ Center, in the Philadelphia area, patients received a “COVID cocktail” including hydroxychloroquine—which has some pretty terrible side effects. According to the Post: “Though precise estimates vary, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said about 30 residents received the drug. Several nursing home staff members placed the number higher. The Chester County coroner, who reviewed the medical records for some of those who died, said at least 11 residents who had received the hydroxychloroquine treatment had not been tested for COVID-19.” Yikes!

NBC News looks at what it’ll mean for the United States to pull out of the World Health Organization. Key quote: “Apart from the effect on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. exit from the WHO also puts at risk a polio vaccination program that has long been a priority for the U.S. across several administrations. Trump’s decision comes just as doctors believe polio is on the verge of being eradicated from the planet.”

• Equinox—which operates 23 gyms in Southern California—is asking some of its teachers to do a lot more for a lot less, with a lot more risk mixed in, according to BuzzFeed. Key quote: “Despite the risk, Equinox is asking its group fitness instructors to come back to the gym and teach classes at a discounted rate, keeping the teachers at their 75 percent pay, rather than restoring their pre-COVID-19 rates. Instructors have also been asked to help clean the group fitness studios after classes, without additional pay, as part of an effort to more frequently deep-clean the studios.”

• Finally, Randy Rainbow is back with another Trump parody video: “Poor Deplorable Troll.”

That’s today’s news. Please consider supporting honest independent local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Be safe. Be kind. Wear a mask. The Daily Digest will return on Friday.

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On July 31, Dr. Conrado Barzaga will celebrate his one-year anniversary as the CEO of the Desert Healthcare District—and what a completely unforeseeable year it’s been.

His organization and the valley’s overall health-care infrastructure are being severely challenged by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic—as well as a related and much-longer-term issue that came to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness on May 25, when George Floyd was killed while restrained and lying on a street in Minneapolis police custody.

The baring of the long-simmering racial injustices in our society ignited the passion of Barzaga—so much so that on June 3, he issued a statement linking systemic racism to the subpar public-health outcomes of minority populations, both in the Coachella Valley and across the country.

Here is an excerpt: “As communities across the country take to the street and risk their lives to demand justice, the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation stands in solidarity with protesters and against racism, oppression and inequality in all of its forms, because we believe that inequities have consequences, both visible and invisible. … Some may say that our focus is health care. It is in this context that we recognize that the killing of Black Americans in this country is, and for too long, has been a public health crisis.

“It is a crisis rooted in the toxic traditions of systemic racism and white supremacy. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many more have died at the hands of the police and vigilantes—they should all be alive today. For this, we condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. No one should have to fear for their lives because of the color of their skin, ethnic origin or identity. No parent should have to worry for their child’s safety and well-being when they venture outside of their home. No community should disproportionately bear the burden of social, economic and health challenges, and yet studies show that the overall health of people of color ranks lower than the overall health of whites.”

The Independent spoke with Barzaga recently and asked what motivated him to issue such an emphatic statement.

“I believe strongly that racism has public-health consequences, and that is the reason why we took that position,” Barzaga said. “For one thing, we see that Black Americans have higher mortality rates compared to other races due to a variety of issues. One is the murder rate. If you look at deaths from a public-health standpoint, there is such a thing as ‘untimely death.’ Black Americans die in an untimely (fashion) resulting from police brutality. That is a fact. But there are other public-health issues that affect that community, and those are the result of systemic racism. Black children are born at a lower weight, and they’re born prematurely (more frequently) as a result of racism. That inflicts a tremendous amount of stress and distress on Black women.”

Barzaga said institutions of policing, learning and health care all need to undergo an important change in perspective.

“I believe that we have been (following) a philosophy of diversity, equity and inclusion that’s causing many public entities and the majority of health-care foundations to address funding through an equity-based lens,” Barzaga said. “I believe that we need to take the conversation a little bit further. We need to move from diversity, equity and inclusion to have a conversation about ‘belonging’ in our communities. The people need to feel ownership and that this is their place—not that they’re being integrated into a community or that they ‘count.’ It’s not an issue of counting; it’s an issue of belonging.

“When I moved to the desert, I found that the community is welcoming. I believe that everyone should have that same feeling—not only that you’re welcome, but that you feel you belong in this community, that you’re part of it, and that you’re celebrated. Not because you’re white, or Black, or gay, or straight, or a man or a woman; I think it’s an issue of belonging. And, when we incorporate that lens of belonging, I think we will make our desert a much better place.

“Although, I do have to say that the desert is a wonderful place—but there is space for improvement.”

The DHCD is working on taking immediate action to address longstanding needs in local Black communities, such as the Desert Highlands Gateway neighborhood of Palm Springs. Barzaga and the DHCD Board of Directors have introduced a resolution formalizing a grant of more than $432,000 for minority health-care improvement, some of which will be earmarked to improve overall health-related conditions for those who live there.

“The district has been working for years with the Desert Highland Gateway community, and I think this will be a continuation of that response,” Barzaga said. “But this time, there will be a definitive action to bring health-care as a reality to that community. That’s what the community says they need; that’s what the community wants; that’s what they have expressed through their community health-needs assessment; and that’s what the leaders are saying. They have been raising the issue of a lack of affordable, nutritious food in that area. There’s no supermarket or any market at all that’s providing services to that community. So there are many issues that I believe require a collective response, not only from the DHCD, but from the city of Palm Springs as well. We are trying to mobilize other resources so that this can become a more comprehensive response to the needs of that community.

“The district is taking a leadership role. We have made a beautiful statement about solidarity, but I think we have to show actions, and not only words—and this might even become a template for how we address the health-care needs of other minority communities in the Coachella Valley.”

The DHCD board recently voted to allow all funding provided to the district to be spent in any region of the expanded “One Coachella Valley” district, whose boundaries now run from Palm Springs in the west to communities like Coachella, Indio and Mecca in the east. The district’s eastern boundary for years was Cook Street, but voters approved the expansion in November 2018. However, that expansion did not come with an expansion in revenues.

“The people have decided that the DHCD should cover the entire Coachella Valley, so, that’s what we’re doing,” Barzaga said. “We will continue to raise the issue of funding disparities between east and west. I think, ultimately, it may have to be the Legislature who will have to provide a solution for that valley-wide funding issue.”

Barzaga said the imminent danger presented by the pandemic has highlighted inequities in the Coachella Valley. By a wide margin, there have been more COVID-19 cases in Indio and Coachella than any other valley city.

“It is clear that we cannot neglect the health-care needs of the eastern Coachella Valley residents, and COVID-19 really put this front and center,” Barzaga said. “Very early on, we knew that we were going to have a much larger problem in the eastern valley as related to COVID-19. These are residents who depend on working day-to-day (outside of their homes). They don’t have the same ability, as many of us do, to work from home. They have to go into the fields, and they have to go and serve the people of Coachella Valley (via the service industry) while being in close proximity to one another. This population doesn’t have the same access to health care as residents in the western parts of the valley. That combination of less protection, less access to care and a more impacted (personal) immune system has been a formula for disaster, and we are seeing the results right now. We have made very heavy investments in our community clinics to make sure that we’re deploying resources for the serious needs of that community.

“There is a gap between the health outcomes in the east and west that we intend to close,” Barzaga said. “It will be years before we have a more-robust health-care infrastructure that can meet the needs and demands of everyone in Coachella Valley. That’s why we’re doing the Community Health Needs Assessment, which is a community-driven plan. Through that needs assessment, we want the community to tell us what they want as a health-improvement plan, and that health-improvement plan will be the road map for the next 10, 20 or 30 years for the district’s investments in the health-care structure of the valley, and to be responsive to the needs of the neediest in our communities.”

Published in Local Issues

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.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Monday, everyone. We have more than 20 story links today, so let’s get right to ’em:

• It was a big news day for the U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark 6-3 ruling, the court ruled that gay, lesbian and transgender workers are protected by federal civil-rights lawsand Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch (!) wrote the majority opinion. The court also more or less upheld California’s sanctuary law by declining to hear a challenge to it.

• This just in, from the city of Palm Springs: “In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, continue to flatten the curve and keep residents and visitors safe, the city of Palm Springs would like to notify the community that this year’s Fourth of July fireworks spectacular has been CANCELLED. ‘Due to the fact that the state of California is prohibiting large gatherings there will be no fireworks this year,’ said Cynthia Alvarado-Crawford, director of Palm Springs Parks and Recreation. ‘We thank our Palm Springs residents for their understanding.’”

T-Mobile—and possibly other wireless services—suffered a major outage today. Details are unclear on what exactly happened as of this writing.

• OK, now this is weird: The mayor of Indio apparently told KESQ News Channel 3 that even though Coachella and Stagecoach have been cancelled, Goldenvoice is still considering putting on a large, Desert Trip-style festival in October. We have no idea how such a large gathering would be possible, but as we’ve repeatedly said in this space, nothing makes sense anymore, so who knows.

• Despite rising case numbers, California is still doing OK as a whole in terms of COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Newsom said today.

• Yet again, the president has made a baffling remark regarding COVID-19: “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.” Sigh …

• The Los Angeles Times takes a look at the reopening debate taking place in Imperial County, which borders Riverside County to the southeast, and has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the state. Despite the high rates, some people there want to start the reopening process anyway.

• Hmm. Three large California police unions announced a plan yesterday—via full-page advertisements in some large daily newspapers—to root out racists and reform police departments. While some will scoff at this, the fact that police unions are suggesting such reforms is nothing short of stunning.

• Also stunning: A major Federal Reserve official said yesterday that systemic racism is holding back the U.S. economy.

• Sign No. 435,045 that we know very little about the disease: At first, scientists feared common hypertension drugs could make COVID-19 worse in people who took them. Fortunately, now they’ve changed their minds.

• Sign No. 435,046 that we know very little about the disease: Scientists from UCSF and Stanford say that “super antibodies,” found in less than 5 percent of COVID-19 patients, could be used to treat others battling the disease—and may help in the development of a vaccine. That’s the good news. The bad news, according to Dr. George Rutherford, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle: “Between 10 percent and 20 percent of patients with COVID-19 show no antibodies in serological tests, Rutherford said. The remaining 75 percent or more of coronavirus patients develop antibodies, he said, but they aren’t the neutralizing kind, indicating immunity to the disease might not last long in most people.

• The FDA has revoked the emergency-use authorization for hydroxychloroquine, aka the president’s COVID-19 drug of choice.

Tesla—and other companies—refuse to disclose coronavirus stats at their workplaces. Neither will county health departments. Why? They’re citing federal health-privacy laws as a reason—even though that’s not necessarily how federal health-privacy laws work.

• Writing for The Conversation, a professor of music explains why for some churches, the inability to sing is a really big deal.

• Also from The Conversation, and also religion-related: Indian leaders are using Hindu goddesses in the fight against the coronavirusand it’s not the first time they’ve used deities to battle disease.

• The Riverside Press-Enterprise writes about local public-health officials, people who normally work fairly anonymously, but who have now been thrust into the limelight—and a large degree of public scrutiny, often undeserved—thanks to the pandemic.

• The Legislature is in the process of passing a budget today—even though they’re still negotiating things with Gov. Newsom. Why the urgency? Well, they have to pass a budget by today if they want to continue being paid. In any case, there’s disagreement on how to deal with a $54 billion deficit caused by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The 2021 Academy Awards are being delayed two months due to the fact that most movie theaters remain closed, and most movie productions have been suspended because of, well, you know.

• This column from The Washington Post may leave you beating your head against the wall: “Are Americans hard-wired to spread the coronavirus?

• The pandemic has led some companies to institute the four-day work week. NBC News looks at the pluses and minuses—and finds mostly pluses.

China’s embassy and consulates have been engaging in displays of kindness—like free lunches and donations of medical supplies—in U.S. communities where they’re needed. NBC News looks into this interesting tidbit.

That’s the day’s news. Wash your hands. Please, please PLEASE wear a mask whenever you’re around other people. Fight injustice. Be kind. If you value honest, local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest