CVIndependent

Sat12052020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy Friday, all.

It’s been a completely bonkers news day, so let’s get right into it:

• Shortly after we sent/published the Daily Digest last night, the state made some tweaks and clarifications to the impending Regional Stay at Home Order. First: The state released its figures on ICU capacity in each of the state’s five regions—and as of last night, Southern California had 20.6 percent of its ICU capacity remaining. Second: The order will go into effect “within 24 hours”—not 48 hours, as first announced—once the state determines that ICU capacity has dropped below 15 percent. How soon may that happen? Your guess is as good as mine, although Gov. Gavin Newsom said yesterday he expected it to happen very soon. The numbers had not yet been updated as of 5:30 p.m. today.

Five Bay Area counties—in the region Gov. Newsom said would likely be the LAST to be subject to the new stay-at-home order—today decided to go ahead and enact that order on their own. As the Los Angeles Times explains: “The orders will go into effect in San Francisco, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties on Sunday; in Alameda County on Monday and Marin County on Tuesday. The four other Bay Area counties—San Mateo, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties—are not part of the joint action. ‘Waiting until only 15% of a region’s ICU beds are available is just too late,’ said Dr. Tomás Aragon, health officer for San Francisco. ‘Many heavily impacted parts of our region already have less than 15% of ICU beds available, and the time to act is now.’ SFGate notes that the city of Berkeley is also enacting the order, which closes gyms, hair salons and outdoor dining, and cuts all retail-store capacities to 20%.

• Casinos owned by Native American tribes, because they are on sovereign land, are not subject to these state orders. However, over in Arizona, one Tucson-area casino has decided to close for the rest of the year, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

Meanwhile, down in L.A., Fox 11 Los Angeles reports: “Deputies in Los Angeles County are not expecting to go all-out in enforcement at businesses if—or when—Governor Gavin Newsom’s new stay-at-home order kicks in for Southern California. L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva explained enforcement at businesses is the health department’s job, not his deputies’. … ‘They bent over backwards to modify their entire operation to conform to these current health orders, and then they have the rug yanked out from under them, that’s a disservice. I don’t want to make their lives any more miserable,’ Villanueva told FOX 11’s Bill Melugin.

Our partners at CalMatters explain the state’s preliminary plans regarding the recipients of the first 327,000 doses of vaccines, which could arrive as early as next weekend: “The coveted first batch is reserved for health care workers directly caring for COVID-19 patients in hospitals, including psychiatric and prison hospitals, residents and staff in long-term care facilities, paramedics and other emergency medical responders, and workers in dialysis centers, according to priorities set by state and federal health officials.”

Related: MedPage Today examines the dilemma that some health-care professionals will be facing, well, as early as next weekend in California: Should medical workers who have had COVID-19 get vaccinated, given they likely already have some degree of immunity? It’s a VERY complicated question: “Experts disagree when it comes to interpreting the evidence regarding lasting immunity and the need for vaccination among healthcare workers (or anyone, for that matter) who’ve already been infected. Cases of reinfection have been documented; they appear to be rare, but the true rate remains unknown. For starters, second infections won't be recognized as such if the first was never detected. … At the same time, the vaccine trials thus far have not examined whether the shots prevent infection, only clinical illness.”

The last sentence from the item above is explored more in-depth in this piece from The Hill: The chairman of Pfizer admits that it’s unknown whether people who get vaccinated will be able to spread the coronavirus. This could be kind of a big deal when it comes to achieving herd immunity.

• The CDC—showing increasing independence from the seemingly checked-out Trump administration—today said that if you’re not at home, you should pretty much be wearing a mask wherever you go … and there are even times at home when you should be masked up. CNN explains the latest guidance.

The New York Times surveyed 700 epidemiologists and asked them how they’re living their lives now, and what they think the future will bring. Key quote: “Even with coronavirus vaccines on the way, many epidemiologists do not expect their lives to return to pre-pandemic normal until most Americans are vaccinated. In the meantime, most have eased up on some precautions—now going to the grocery store or seeing friends outdoors, for example—but are as cautious as ever about many activities of daily life.”

• On one hand, doctors and nurses around the country are begging more-lenient elected officials to take action against the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The Washington Post reports: “The largest organized effort by health-care providers may be in Connecticut, where dozens of doctors wrote Gov. Ned Lamont (D), asking him to halt indoor dining, close gyms and ban ‘all other unnecessary public gatherings.’ Nearly 700 people signed an online version of the letter, adding comments that illustrate their frustration and fear about the unrelenting flow of patients into the state’s hospitals.”

• On the other, business owners around the country are rather unhappy with less-lenient officials who have taken action against the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Locally, the Press-Enterprise reports: “‘They just left us high and dry with no compensation about how we’re going to survive,’ said Tammy Rapp, who owns the horror-themed Little Shop of Hairdos salon in downtown Upland. ‘This is the third time this year.’”

• So … does outdoor dining spread COVID-19? The San Francisco Chronicle talked to a bunch of experts … and the evidence is murky, at best—and it definitely depends on what is meant by “outdoor dining.”

• Guess who wants to be put close to the front of the vaccine line? If you guessed Wall Street traders and bankers, you’re damn right! Per MarketWatch: “Lenders, bank tellers and traders could jump ahead of most Americans for vaccines, after such remedies receive emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, potentially putting financial industry workers ahead of those aged above 65, adults with medical issues and the rest of the U.S. population. The American Bankers Association said it has asked for the CDC to designate financial services industry as ‘essential workers,’ following guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

The brainiacs at MIT examined the data available from the leading vaccine candidates, and found this, according to ZDNet: “Vaccines to block COVID-19 that are in development by Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and others, and that are currently in Phase III clinical trials, may not do as well covering people of Black or Asian genetic ancestry as they do for white people.”

If you’re sick of reading about vaccines, but would like to learn more in video form, we offer you this seven-minute video filmed on Dec. 1, compliments of popular YouTube channel SciShow.

The New York Times offers an update on the gala held by the New York Young Republican Club, which was mentioned in this space yesterday. It took place last night, and: “Crowds gathered, masks were not worn and pictures were taken. And by Friday, the event space, in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, was shut down.” Stay tuned for the inevitable update in this space on how many COVID-19 cases come as a result.

NPR reports: “Millions of Americans who are expected to receive the new COVID-19 vaccinations in coming months will need to take two doses of the drug—and the U.S. government says it will issue a vaccine card and use other tools to help people follow through with their immunizations. ‘We've set up everything [in] a draconian process, where when we sent out the ancillary kits which have needles and syringes, we’ve included paper cards to be filled out and ... given to the individuals, reminding them of their next vaccine due date,’ Army Gen. Gustave Perna, Warp Speed’s chief operating officer, said at a briefing Wednesday.”

• Meanwhile, in China, one of the coronavirus vaccine candidates is under a cloud of suspicion, because its CEO apparently has a history of “bribing China’s drug regulator for vaccine approvals,” The Washington Post reports.

• Schools are seeing a lot more students getting bad grades during this era of distance learning. The Poynter Institute has gathered together some recent news stories from across the country looking into this disturbing trend.

• And now, for some non-COVID-related news: A federal judge has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to begin accepting new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by Monday. According to NBC News: ‘U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said in his six-page ruling that he was fully reinstating the DACA program based on the terms established under former President Barack Obama’s administration. (President) Trump tried to end the program in September 2017, and this past July, Chad Wolf, the acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, suspended DACA pending a ‘comprehensive’ review.

• KESQ is reporting that charges against John Wessman, one of the two developers accused of bribing former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, have been dismissedbut the charges against Pougnet and the developer Richard Meaney are moving forward.

Folks, please have a safe and enjoyable weekend. If you have the means, and would like to support the quality local journalism produced by the Independent, please click here. The Daily Digest will return on Monday—or perhaps sooner, depending on the news that breaks over the weekend.

Published in Daily Digest

The lockdown is coming—and it could go into effect as soon as the conclusion of the weekend.

As expected, Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced a new “Regional Stay at Home Order.” For the purposes of the order, the state is being broken up into five regions, and the order will go into effect within 48 hours, for at least three weeks, when a region’s total hospital ICU availability drops below 15 percent.

The Coachella Valley is part of the Southern California region, which includes Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Riverside Counties.

As of this writing, the order has not been imposed yet. However, Newsom said Southern California and three other regions would likely fall below the 15 percent ICU threshold within days—and there’s a better-than-good chance the declaration for Southern California will come tomorrow (Friday). Add on 48 hours, and that would mean that by Monday at the latest, we’d be under the order for at least three weeks.

The good news: The order is nowhere near as restrictive as the March/April lockdown was. Retail stores can all remain open—but at a 20 percent capacity. Also, a lot of outdoor activities will still be allowed—including, it’s believed, outdoor gyms. (However, playgrounds will need to close, a fact which has already ticked off a lot of Los Angeles parents.)

The bad news: ALL retail will be limited to 20 percent capacity, meaning you may have to wait to get into a grocery store during peak hours.

The really, really, really bad news: Outdoor dining will be closed, meaning restaurants will be forced to either close or limp along doing just takeout and delivery. Hair and nail salons, barber shops and other personal-service businesses will need to shut down. Non-essential travel is not allowed, and “hotels and lodging” can be open for “critical infrastructure support only.” (I would THINK short-term rentals would count as lodging, but the order on the state website doesn’t specifically spell that out.)

In other words, unless you’re an essential worker, plan on staying home a whole lot for at least the rest of this month.

And now, a plea.

If you’re fortunate enough to still be working and/or be financially secure, I beg of you: PLEASE, PLEASE SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE during the stay-at-home order. (You should ALWAYS support local businesses as much as possible, but it’s now more important than ever.) Get what you need at locally owned stores, not Amazon. Get takeout and delivery from restaurants that remain open, and TIP WELL. Use the delivery apps if that’s the ONLY workable option, because those app companies tend to take a hefty chunk out of a restaurant’s take; instead, do curbside pickup or use a restaurant’s in-house delivery service. And I repeat: TIP WELL.

Please. And thank you.

Read the story about the stay-at-home order by our partners at CalMatters here.

Read the Los Angeles Times’ story here.

Read SFGate’s story here, and the San Francisco Chronicle piece here.

Read NBC News’ story here.

More news from the day:

The Wall Street Journal today broke the story that Pfizer has had to halve its original vaccine roll-out numbers due to supply-chain issues. However, CBNC reports that the company still says it’ll meet the goals it has publicly announced.

• As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated California’s ban on religious gatherings runs afoul of (the current justices’ interpretation of) the U.S. Constitution. CNBC reports: “The justices, with no noted dissents, set aside a lower court ruling that rejected a challenge to Newsom’s policy by Harvest Rock Church Inc, which has several campuses in the state, and Harvest International Ministries Inc, an association of churches. Both are based in Pasadena, a city in Los Angeles County. The justices directed the lower court to reconsider the case in light of their ruling in the New York case.”

• There’s increasing optimism about the proposed $908 billion stimulus package—and also about avoiding a possible government shutdown. The Washington Post says: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke Thursday amid growing momentum for a targeted coronavirus relief deal, illustrating how Congress has snapped into action amid a surge in new cases and deaths. They also discussed reaching a deal on a spending bill to avert a government shutdown on Dec. 11. “We had a good conversation,” McConnell said after his discussion with Pelosi. “I think we’re both interested in getting an outcome, both on the (spending bill) and on a coronavirus package.

• The New York Times has a cute little interactive tool to determine when you’re likely to receive the COVID-19 vaccine compared to others. It’s quick, easy and kind of interesting.

• Related, sort of: Two experts, writing for The Conversation, explain what “emergency use authorizations” from the FDA are, and how they differ from conventional approvals—and what this all means regarding the safety of the new vaccines.

• Man, people suck sometimes. According to SFGate: “Wesley Moribe and Courtney Peterson, both 46, of Wailua, Hawaii, reportedly boarded a United flight on Nov. 29 despite having tested positive for COVID-19 and ‘placing the passengers of the flight in danger of death,’ according to the Kauai Police Department. They had a 4-year-old child in tow.” Wow. They’ve been arrested, thank goodness.

• Man, people suck sometimes, Vol. 2, is explained by this New York Times headline: “Young Republicans Stage Secret Gala, Ignoring Virus Concerns: At least 65 guests were expected at the New York group’s annual event, but its location was being kept secret because of fears of ‘violent left-wing attacks.’”

Warner Bros. announced today that all of its 2021 releases would be sent to theaters and a premium streaming service simultaneously. The Hollywood Reporter explains: “Warner Bros. is plotting a sweeping response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered movie theaters around the country. After announcing that Wonder Woman 1984 will go to HBO Max as well as theaters Dec. 25, the studio has laid out a similar path for its 2021 slate amid uncertainty about when moviegoing will get back to normal. The studio announced Thursday day-and-date releases for its 17-film slate, which will hit HBO Max for a one-month window that starts the same day they will be available in U.S. theaters.”

• I was again a guest on this week’s I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast. I joined Dr. Laura Rush and hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr to talk about the impending lockdown, as well as other happenings. Check it out.

• Google is under federal scrutiny for allegedly being a mean and creepy employer. CNBC explains: “Specifically, the NLRB case documents accuse Google of illegally spying on employees, firing several employees in retaliation for attempting to unionize, and illegally blocking employees from sharing work grievances and information with each other using general tools like calendars, email, meeting rooms, and an internal communication tool at Google called MemeGen.”

As always, thanks for reading. If you value this Daily Digest and think it’s worth a few bucks, please consider clicking here to become a Supporter of the Independent. Stay safe—and support local businesses!

Published in Daily Digest

Folks, another statewide stay-at-home order is coming. If I were a betting man (and I am not, even though I was born in Nevada), I’d go all-in on an announcement being made tomorrow (Thursday)—Friday at the latest.

This leads to an obvious question: What restrictions will be in that stay-at-home order, and what won’t be?

The counties that have forged ahead of the state regarding shut-downs have done so rather differently. For example, outdoor dining is currently on a hiatus of at least three weeks in Los Angeles, but in Santa Clara County, it’s still allowed—but if you enter the county after being more than 150 miles away, you must endure a mandatory two-week quarantine.

San Francisco TV station ABC 7 asked Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at UCSF, to take his best guess at what the seemingly inevitable stay-at-home order will include:

“I think we’ve learned a lot of stuff, right?” Dr. Rutherford explained. “We’ve learned that fomite transmission has probably been overblown somewhat. We’ve learned that this is almost exclusively a respiratory disease.”

Because of that, Dr. Rutherford said a stay-at-home order for purple-tiered counties would not necessarily need to include shutting down all outdoor dining and non-essential retail, rather counties may need to reduce their capacity.

“I think you could keep some retail shopping which, I think would help out a lot of small businesses,” he suggested. “Outdoor dining with low density and everybody wearing masks, maybe.”

We’ll almost certainly know whether Dr. Rutherford was correct within the next 24-48 hours.

More news from the day:

• A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has told officials in L.A. County—where outdoor dining is currently banned, as mentioned above—that they need to provide scientific evidence that outdoor dining causes COVID-19 spread. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The county must return to court Tuesday to present evidence supporting the ban, L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant said at a hearing Wednesday morning. ‘You have to do a risk-benefit analysis for public health. You don’t just talk about the risk of spreading disease. You have to talk about the benefit of keeping restaurants open,’ Chalfant said. Chalfant expressed some skepticism about the ban. Based on the studies he has reviewed, the risk of spreading the coronavirus from outdoor dining appears minimal, he said.” The judge gave the county a Tuesday deadline—but, of course, the point could be semi-moot if the state bans outdoor dining, too.

• Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4 pretty much means the Coachella Valley, as well as rural points eastward.) The overall hospitalization numbers are downright pants-wetting, and tragically, five more of our neighbors died from the virus during the week ending Nov. 29. However, the positivity rate and case numbers went down from the week before—but as much as I want to be encouraged by this news, I can’t be, because I suspect these numbers are a bit wonky because of the Thanksgiving holiday. We’ll know more with next week’s report.

• For the first time in months, it seems that there’s a legitimate chance that Congress may actually do something to provide pandemic-beleaguered Americans with financial help. However, even this modest aid package is far from a sure thing. NBC News reports: “Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, will support using the pared-back $908 billion COVID-19 aid package crafted by a group of bipartisan lawmakers as the basis for a final deal. Their support renews hope that Congress could approve aid before the end of the year. The proposal would provide an extra $300 a week in unemployment payments and extend help to cash-strapped local governments, as well as provide support for small businesses, transit systems and airlines.”

• A government panel has recommended that healthcare workers and people in long-term nursing homes be the first people to receive the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine(s) once approved. The Los Angeles Times explains: “The panel of independent scientific experts, created in 1964, makes recommendations to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who almost always approves them. … It will be up to state authorities whether to follow the guidance. It will also be left to them to make further, more detailed decisions if necessary—for example, whether to put emergency room doctors and nurses ahead of other healthcare workers if vaccine supplies are low.”

• Related-ish: The United Kingdom today became the first country to grant emergency-use approval of the Pfizer vaccine. CNN notes that the first vaccines could be given out there next week.

• Business Insider reports on increasing calls for the government to pay people to get vaccinated: “A recent poll from Gallup showed that around 42% of Americans say they wouldn’t get a shot right away, only a small drop from October. Other polls in the last few months suggested distrust of a vaccine regardless of political ideology. That skepticism tends to run deeper among Black and Hispanic Americans, surveys show. Robert Litan, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served in the Bill Clinton administration, designed a plan to encourage more people to take it: Pay $1,000 for a shot. It’s an amount comparable to the millions of stimulus checks sent to Americans earlier this year under a federal rescue package.”

• There is new evidence that the coronavirus arrived in the U.S. last December—but, no, you probably didn’t have it, because the virus didn’t start widely circulating until late February. NPR reports: “Researchers came to this conclusion after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from residents in nine states. They found evidence of coronavirus antibodies in 106 out of 7,389 blood donations. The CDC analyzed the blood collected between Dec. 13 and Jan. 17.”

Our partners at CalMatters examined the California ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling overturning New York’s COVID-19 restrictions on churches: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, priests, pastors and rabbis have been trying and failing to convince judges to strike down California’s public health restrictions on mass gatherings as unconstitutional violations of religious freedom. At least 10 cases alleging religious discrimination have been filed in both state and federal court, according to a CalMatters lawsuit tracker; all have either been dropped, struck down or are still pending. But the court’s decision last week has many aggrieved church leaders feeling optimistic that California will soon get the same legal comeuppance New York received.”

• The Conversation looks at the reasons why rapid COVID-19 tests have not been as helpful as many had hoped they’d be at tamping down the pandemic. Spoiler alert—their availability has been a problem: “In some targeted applications—and if people take other precautions including mask wearing and social distancing–rapid tests can be a valuable tool. But the current state of availability and accuracy of these tests greatly limit how effective they are at slowing the spread of the virus in communities.”

• It’s going to take a long while for Southern California’s economy to fully recover from the mess in which it’s currently in. That was one of the conclusions shared at the Southern California Economic Summit yesterday. Spectrum News reports: “(Southern California Association of Governments) officials said the theme of the event was echoed in the economic forecasts, which showed that lower-income segments of the population have experienced dramatically more negative impacts, including deeper job losses and a projected longer recovery. Those challenges are exacerbated by Southern California’s higher cost of living, particularly in the area of housing, SCAG officials said.”

Well, this is a frustrating lede, compliments of CNBC: “The Department of Labor has been both miscounting the number of people receiving unemployment benefits and underpaying those under a special program instituted to address the coronavirus pandemic, according to a government watchdog report Monday.” Sigh.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke with Jane Garrison, who spearheaded the successful effort to purchase and protect Oswit Canyon from developers. That sale closed on Nov. 2. “But well before the ink dried on those closing documents, Garrison and her team were evolving into a new nonprofit entity named the Oswit Land Trust—with plans to expand the organization’s efforts beyond Oswit Canyon: OLT is in negotiations to purchase three golf-course properties within Palm Springs, and then re-purpose the land to create the Mesquite Desert Preserve.”

• NBC News did a deep dive into data—finally released Tuesday night by the Small Business Administration after a whole lot of lawsuits—showing which businesses received PPP and EIDL money. One of the key findings? “The analysis found that properties owned by the Trump Organization as well as the Kushner Companies, owned by the family of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, profited from the program. … Over 25 PPP loans worth more than $3.65 million were given to businesses with addresses at Trump and Kushner real estate properties, paying rent to those owners. Fifteen of the properties self-reported that they only kept one job, zero jobs or did not report a number at all.”

• Finally … if you can, we encourage you to assist the good folks at the Purple Room to bring some joy to local kids in need. According to Michael Holmes and co: “Well in the Desert usually has a huge Christmas dinner at the Convention Center here in Palm Springs. In the past they have fed over 2,000 people that day, and Santa gives gifts to all the children. For many of these kids, it is the only gift they receive. Due to COVID, this is not happening this year. Darci Daniels and I have taken up the task to try and fill the gap. We are collecting toys for the kids at Purple Room Supper Club in the lobby of Club Trinidad.” Learn more details here.

As always, thanks for reading. If you can, please help us here at the Independent continue to do what we do—quality independent local journalism—by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday at the latest.

Published in Daily Digest

The New York Times today published a fabulous piece by renowned science writer Donald G. McNeil Jr., headlined “The Long Darkness Before Dawn.” The story is a nice primer, of sorts, on where the United States stands regarding the coronavirus, and where the country is headed.

This is the sub-headline on the piece: “With vaccines and a new administration, the pandemic will be tamed. But experts say the coming months ‘are going to be just horrible.’”

I really, really hope the second half of that sub-headline is wrong … but, yikes, the current numbers are bad—on national, state AND local levels.

They’re so bad, in fact, that another stay-at-home order could be coming to the Coachella Valley within a matter of days. Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier today said that unless the state’s COVID-19 case-count increases don’t stop VERY soon, ICU capacity in some parts of the state could be overwhelmed by mid-December—so the state may soon make most counties lock down again.

As the Los Angeles Times explains:

“If these trends continue, we’re going to have to take much more dramatic—arguably drastic—actions,” (Newsom) said during a briefing.

Those include “the potential for a stay-at-home order” for areas in the strictest purple tier of California’s coronavirus reopening road map, he said. Of the state’s 58 counties, 51 are in the purple tier.

Officials have watched with growing alarm as a recent record-setting flood of new coronavirus cases has started to wash over the state’s hospital system.

There were 7,787 coronavirus patients hospitalized statewide as of Sunday, according to the latest available data. That’s the highest number recorded during the pandemic and an increase of roughly 89 percent from two weeks ago.

Here in Riverside County, 585 confirmed COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized—more than ever before.

Hang on, folks. December is going to be a weird, difficult month.

More news from the day:

• On a slightly brighter note, Gov. Newsom laid out plans the state has to help small businesses get through the increasingly ugly mess that we’re in. Included are tax credits, low-interest loans and a new grant program. Details are still being worked out, however.

Our partners at CalMatters published a piece today pointing out that yet another sad COVID-19 record has been set in California: “Inside California’s prisons, coronavirus cases have exploded, reaching 3,861 active cases last week—the highest so far. Yet the state has slowed its early releases of inmates, raising questions about overcrowding as the infections spread through the prisons.”

• In other scary-as-heck coronavirus news: Santa Clara County over the weekend instituted restrictions that, among other things, require anyone coming to the county from more than 150 miles away to quarantine for two weeks. Those restrictions also forced the San Francisco 49ers to find a new temporary home.

Los Angeles County instituted a lockdown order lowering capacities at—but not closing—most retail businesses, and banning all gatherings among people from different households.

The NFL is a mess. A massive COVID-19 outbreak among the Baltimore Ravens has led to multiple postponements of their scheduled game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and lapses in protocols forced the Denver Broncos to play on Sunday without any of the quarterbacks on their roster. (That did not go so well.)

• Oh, and if you went to a larger gathering for Thanksgiving, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, kindly requests that you assume you’re infected and go into quarantine.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said this to CNBC today: “We’re going to probably have by the end of this year, 30% of the U.S. population infected. You look at states like North Dakota and South Dakota, it’s probably 30%, 35%. Maybe as high as 50%.”

CNN is reporting that Dr. Scott Atlas—a colleague of Birx’s who has been peddling discredited herd-immunity sorts of theorieshas resigned from the Trump administration.

• Good news: Moderna, as expected, today applied to the FDA for an emergency authorization for its vaccine, after a large-scale trial in which nobody who received the vaccine developed a serious COVID-19 illness.

• Bad news: NBC News reports that although Facebook recently banned some large anti-vax accounts from the platform, smaller yet influential groups continue to be a big problem: “While researchers of extremism and public health advocates see the removal of the largest anti-vaccination accounts as mostly positive, new research shows the bigger threat to public trust in a COVID-19 vaccine comes from smaller, better-connected Facebook groups that gravitated to anti-vaccination messaging in recent months.

The city of Rancho Mirage has launched drive-through, self-administered, no-cost testing via Curative. It takes place every Tuesday through Saturday at the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory’s west parking lot starting tomorrow; details here.

The organizers of Modernism Week announced today that they’re delaying the in-person portions of the event from February to April. From the news release: “Modernism Week has decided to reschedule in-person events from February to April 8-18-2021. … In its place in February, the Modernism Week Online Experience will include a curated line-up of more than 20 new video programs created specifically for Modernism Week, and encore presentations of past programs available for purchase and on-demand streaming February 1-28, 2021 at modernismweek.com. Also online in February, Modernism Week will offer an online auction February 1-14 that will feature one-of-a-kind architectural experiences and unique, limited specialty items not normally available to the public. … ‘We are committed to the safety of our guests and we are monitoring daily health advisories,’ said William Kopelk, Modernism Week Chairman. ‘We realize that it will not be possible to provide in-person events during our annual February dates, however, we are optimistic that we will be able to provide safer and more enjoyable in-person tours and programs in April as conditions improve. We want to do what is best for our guests, as well as for our staff and volunteers.’” Watch modernismweek.com for updates.

The San Francisco Chronicle reminds people who have received unemployment this year that the money is subject to federal taxes: “State employment agencies, including the California Employment Development Department, give people the option of having 10% of their base unemployment payment withheld for federal taxes. But most people don’t, and even if they do, it might not be enough to cover what they actually owe if they have other income. California does not tax unemployment benefits, although some states do.”

• Well, after all that, I could use a drink … or maybe a break to read about drinks? Well, if you want to read up on boozy treats, our cocktail columnist offers up this list of books and other possible gifts for the drink-lover in your life.

Happy Monday, all. Please have a great week, despite all the darkness that swirls around. Please, if you can afford it, click here to learn more about supporting local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. As always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Whatever you decide to do for the holiday, please do it as safely as possible.

The pandemic is getting scary out there—and I really don’t want to be writing three weeks from now about how holiday lapses made it even worse.

OK? OK!

Let’s get right into the news, because there’s a lot of it.

If you read only one story from this Daily Digest, please make it this piece, by Independent music and arts scribe Matt King. The headline: “Hi. My Name Is Matt. I'm 19—and COVID Is Kicking My Ass.” A lot of journalists have written personal “I got COVID and it was terrible” pieces—but those journalists haven’t been healthy 19-year-olds. Key quote: “Many people have misconceptions about this virus—including one that people my age aren’t at risk. I am here to tell you that’s wrong. I did everything right, and yet I haven’t been out of bed for more than 15 minutes at a time in more than a week.” Thanks to Matt for putting himself out there like this—and please keep getting better, my friend.

• Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report for the week ending Nov. 22. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and rural areas eastward.) The numbers are all trending in the wrong direction, save hospitalizations, which held steady (but have started spiking since the report period ended on Nov. 22). The local positivity rate is up to 8.6 percent—and five of our neighbors died from COVID 19 last week.

• I don’t link to a ton of Wall Street Journal pieces, because the newspaper has a pretty rigid paywall, but I am making an exception for this one: “Western nations face a big challenge in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic: Ten months into the health crisis, they still know little about where people are catching the virus.” Key quote: “The problem is becoming more acute as new cases are breaking records in the U.S. and Europe and pressure grows on authorities to impose targeted restrictions on places that are spreading the virus, rather than broad confinement measures that are wreaking havoc on the economy. In Germany, authorities say they don’t know where 75% of people who currently test positive for the coronavirus got it. In Austria, the figure stands at 77%.” Sigh.

• As coronavirus hospitalizations rise around the country, so, too, is the demand for nurses. Kaiser Health News reports that some traveling nurses can earn up to $10,000 per week due to the scarcity: “Early in the pandemic, hospitals were competing for ventilators, COVID tests and personal protective equipment. Now, sites across the country are competing for nurses. The fall surge in COVID cases has turned hospital staffing into a sort of national bidding war, with hospitals willing to pay exorbitant wages to secure the nurses they need. That threatens to shift the supply of nurses toward more affluent areas, leaving rural and urban public hospitals short-staffed as the pandemic worsens, and some hospitals unable to care for critically ill patients.”

• You know that good news that came out on Monday about the results of the AstraZeneca vaccine trial? Well, it’s been tainted by some serious problems about the trial and the data from it. The New York Times explains: “Since unveiling the preliminary results, AstraZeneca has acknowledged a key mistake in the vaccine dosage received by some study participants, adding to questions about whether the vaccine’s apparently spectacular efficacy will hold up under additional testing. Scientists and industry experts said the error and a series of other irregularities and omissions in the way AstraZeneca initially disclosed the data have eroded their confidence in the reliability of the results. Officials in the United States have noted that the results were not clear. The head of the flagship federal vaccine initiative suggested that the vaccine’s most promising results may not have reflected data from older people.”

Los Angeles County—which, as of tomorrow, will not allow outdoor dining for three weeks—is expected to soon issue yet more restrictions on citizens and businesses alike. However, the Los Angeles Times is reporting they won’t be as tight as things were back in April. “’Nonessential businesses will be very much open; gyms will be open outdoors; zoos will be open; hair salons; mini-golf and go-karts will be open with reduced capacity,’ supervisor Janice Hahn said. The proposed directives are all designed to keep people in their homes as much as possible, reduce capacity at sites where people from different households interact with each other, and curtail some nonessential activities.”

Our partners at CalMatters look at California’s vaccine-distribution plans: “Manufacturers and the federal government will likely distribute doses based on state conditions and population size, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary. ‘So California should get a significant and even the highest amount of vaccination based on those distribution plans,’ he said Tuesday.

• When the vaccines finally do arrive, it’s important to understand that the side effects of getting the does will NOT be fun. Per CNBC: “Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association said both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines require two doses at varying intervals. As a practicing physician, she said she worries whether her patients will come back for a second dose because of the potentially unpleasant side effects they may experience after the first shot. ‘We really need to make patients aware that this is not going to be a walk in the park,’ Fryhofer said. ‘They are going to know they had a vaccine. They are probably not going to feel wonderful. But they’ve got to come back for that second dose.”

If you have a Roomba or a Ring security camera that was on the fritz today, The Washington Post explains why: “Amazon’s widely used cloud computing service suffered a major outage in its eastern U.S. operations Wednesday, hampering everything from web-connected security-camera services to software applications that businesses use to design products. … Amazon Web Services is the world’s largest provider of cloud-computing services, which let customers rent data storage and processing capabilities over the web instead of running their own datacenters.”

• A whole lot of stories have been coming out recently about the fact that California’s unemployment system is a raging dumpster fire. First, Politico explains: “Sophisticated crime rings involving inmates in California's jails and prisons may have stolen upwards of $1 billion in pandemic unemployment aid, four district attorneys and a federal prosecutor announced Tuesday.”

• All of this happened despite the fact that Bank of America—which has an exclusive contract with the state to issue prepaid debit cards with the much-needed funds on them—has been randomly freezing the accounts of innocent recipients due to fraud concerns, among other idiocies. Our partners at CalMatters report: “A bipartisan group of California lawmakers on Wednesday asked Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan for answers about unemployment payment problems that have upended the lives of thousands of jobless Californians who rely on the bank’s prepaid debit cards. … ‘Constituents report they are unable to get through to your call centers, or when they do, the issue is not resolved,’ states the letter, which was signed by more than three dozen state senators and assemblymembers. ‘It is simply unacceptable that Californians entitled to benefits are suddenly not able to obtain them due to a Bank of America determination that is impossible to appeal.’ Among the questions the lawmakers want Moynihan to answer: Bank of America’s criteria for freezing accounts and seizing jobless benefits, who’s on the hook for paying back fraudulent charges, and how their constituents can resolve outstanding debit card claims.”

• Oh, and if your unemployment claim is denied, you do have options, as the San Francisco Chronicle explains: “If your claim for unemployment benefits was rejected by California’s Employment Development Department, or you received much less than you think you’re entitled to, you’re not alone. Between January and September, 177,248 Californians contested the agency’s decision, and more than half won rulings in their favor. You have the right to appeal a rejection, but it can be a tortuous process.” Read the Chronicle’s suggestions on how to handle that tortuous process.

Things are gonna be a little nuts between now and Jan. 20, and this is just the start: President Trump today pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, despite the fact that Flynn twice pleaded guilty to telling lies to the FBI.

And then there’s this move, explained by The Hill: “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signaled that he will move $455 billion in COVID-19 relief from the Federal Reserve back into the Treasury’s General Fund, a move that would make it harder for his successor to access the emergency funding. … Bharat Ramamurti, a former adviser to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who now serves as a member of the congressional committee appointed to oversee the funds, called Mnuchin's move ‘illegal.’ ‘This is Treasury’s latest ham-handed effort to undermine the Biden Administration,’ he said on Twitter.”

• Before we go, an FYI about two fun fundraisers being done by two great local nonprofits: First, Palm Canyon Theatre is having a one-day only streaming event tomorrow on Thanksgiving. From the news release: “Popcorn Falls star(s) Anthony Nannini and Nicholas Sloan. The sleepy town of Popcorn Falls is forced into bankruptcy when a neighboring town threatens to turn it into a sewage treatment plant. The hope of saving the town lies in the dreams of opening a live theatre there. Writer James Hindman spins a world of farce, love and desperation, with musical interludes by Jeffrey Lodin, which proves that art can save the world.” It costs $15 to stream the play—again, tomorrow only! Details here.

On Monday, Nov. 30, the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert will be holding its annual Wreath Auction. What’s normally a fun in-person affair will be an online/virtual event this year, of course. Some wreaths are already up for auction online, while others will be auctioned off live starting at 5:15 p.m. Monday. Register, bid and get more details here.

Finally … while this is probably just the work of some weird artist(s), we can’t be sure, because it’s 2020, and an alien invasion or something would be SO typical for this year. CNN explains: “What started as routine wildlife assistance took an extraterrestrial turn for Utah’s Department of Public Safety after officers stumbled upon a mysterious monolith in the middle of rural Utah. Officers from the Utah Department of Public Safety's Aero Bureau were flying by helicopter last Wednesday, helping the Division of Wildlife Resources count bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, when they spotted something that seemed right out of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’” The damn thing is 10 to 12 feet tall!

As always, thanks for reading. If you have a few dollars to spare, please consider supporting independent local journalism by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Barring any major news, the Daily Digest will be off until Monday. Have a safe yet fantastic Thanksgiving, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

Hello there. My name is Matt King. I’m 19 years old, and I have COVID-19.

I’ve been writing about music and the arts for the Independent for a year and a half now, but this piece is not about either of those topics. Instead, it’s about how I managed to get this terrible disease, despite an excess of caution.

Here’s how it all started … I think: My grandfather passed away shortly after my 19th birthday, and I was left with one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever faced: Should I travel to Mississippi for his services, despite the pandemic?

I chose to go. My brother and I decided we would feel safer driving rather than enduring the compressed-air experience of flying—but it’s a long way from Coachella to Mississippi, so the funeral trip turned into a weeklong excursion. From mountains to miles of sand, from heat to snow, from six hours of driving through Texas to another six hours of driving through Texas, my brother and I saw it all—and we made sure we sanitized every bathroom, hotel room and gas pump we stopped at along the way. It was a great trip for my brother and me, and was certainly one of the highlights of my 2020.

The funeral allowed me to say goodbye to my grandfather, who showed me nothing but love and compassion throughout my life. My mask was on constantly—but I can’t say the same about others there. I kept my distance and then some, and I tried to be both respectful and sanitary. It was nice to see family members I had not seen a while—while remaining socially distant.

My brother and I made it home a few days after the funeral, and all seemed well. My entire family got tested the day after we got back—all quarantining at home until we got our negative results—before returning to what passes for the “normal” world now.

On Friday the 13th, I went to work; I took my girlfriend to work; I went back to work; and I ran some errands that night. It was on the way home from those errands that my throat began hurting. After I got home, my sinuses and head started throbbing. I hoped it all was just a result of having a busy day after two chill days, which came after a stressful week. I took some medicine and went to bed.

The next morning, Saturday the 14th, I felt awful. I had a fever, and weird dreams woke me up all night. I felt really weak; everything I did, even turning my head, was painful. I texted back and forth with my girlfriend, and she suggested I get tested again. I managed to book an appointment for a test in Indio just 30 minutes later.

It’s hard to function when you have a fever. The streets of Indio were like a maze, and I’m surprised I made it to the testing center. I must have turned the air conditioner on and off about 10 times while waiting in line. This was my fourth COVID test—the first came after a potential exposure at work, while the second was just out of curiosity—and I soon learned that COVID tests suck so much more when you are sick. As the nurse stuck the swab in my nose, she told me to breathe through my mouth. That was easier said than done.

Another quarantine period began. While I was concerned, I really thought there was a good chance this was “just” the flu. After all, I’ve been taking this thing very seriously. I have asthma, a condition that makes people more susceptible to COVID-19, and I have been taking every precaution necessary while working, shopping, etc. I owe it to myself and to my family to keep myself safe. I also have seen the unpredictable nature of this virus—how it can turn the healthy into the dead.

I woke up on Tuesday the 17th, still feeling terrible, to an email with my results: I had tested positive for COVID-19. I printed them out via Bluetooth, so my mom, in the other room, would see them.

In the week since, it’s been all masks, all the time, with her or other family members. They all got tested again, and so far, all the results have been negative. Everyone has continued feeling well, other than my dad, who has felt a little unwell at times, although it’s been nothing serious. My mother has been such a saint: She has cleaned every surface I’ve touched while risking her own well-being to check up on me, bring me medicine and food, and make sure I’m not going insane while being stuck in my room.

The most baffling thing to me, although I am grateful for it, is the fact that my brother has continued to be healthy and test negative. We were together for our entire trip; we had our masks on and off at the same time—and I got it, but he apparently didn’t. Yet another mystery of the virus.

I am also grateful for the fact that Alyssa, my girlfriend, has continued to be healthy and test negative, after that car ride together just before I started feeling sick.

Thankfully, I have so far retained my sense of smell and taste. However, my other symptoms have been dreadful and shitty—a revolving door of sickness. I am weak and constantly out of breath. Anytime I get up for more than a few minutes, I feel as if I’ve just ran a mile. One day, I will have a headache; the next day, my sinuses will ache. As I’m writing this, I’ve been coughing like a smoker all day. Everything just hurts. However, the worst feeling comes from knowing that at any moment, I could pass this onto a family member. Sure, we’re all taking precautions, but precautions didn’t keep me from getting sick.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about how this pandemic may spark an artistic renaissance. Well, despite not feeling well, I’ve been able to create a lot of music and art, and do a lot of work, while confined to my room all day. (Just don’t try to sing with COVID … that was a really bad idea.)

I’ve learned a lot, too. My doctor told me that my first test after my trip was taken too quickly—because it can take up to two weeks, or even longer, after exposure to the coronavirus for symptoms to show up.

Many people have misconceptions about this virus—including one that people my age aren’t at risk. I am here to tell you that’s wrong. I did everything right, and yet I haven’t been out of bed for more than 15 minutes at a time in more than a week.

Please wear your mask. I have no idea how I contracted the virus, but I do know one thing: Masks help.

Thank you to everyone who has checked up on me, cared for me, and loved me during this time. I love you so much, Mom; thank you for all that you do, and all that you continue to do for me. Thank you, Alyssa, for keeping me company over the phone, and playing video games with me online. I love you a lot, and I can’t wait to see you again. A special thanks to my editor, who has checked in every day, and has recommended some things to help me get through this time—like writing this article. I hold my family, friends and my girlfriend very close to my heart. I can’t wait to get through this and get back to life again.

Published in Community Voices

Happy Monday, everyone!

Last week in this space, we linked to an article in which many experts were quoted as saying that curfews—like the one most of the state is under now—don’t help much when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

Well, uh, here’s an article from the Los Angeles Times that says the opposite:

It should be no surprise, as acting state public health officer Dr. Erica Pan outlined in her health order, that late-night activities are often related to social gatherings where there’s “reduced inhibition and and reduced likelihood” of wearing masks and staying distanced from friends and family.

“It’s because bad behavior goes up in the evening, at least as I recall from college,” Dr. George Rutherford, epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco, said at a campus town hall meeting last week.

So … curfews are helpful, unless they’re not. Got that? Good.

In other news: While small private gatherings can obviously lead to COVID-19 spread, they aren’t driving the spike we’re seeing around the country, according to this New York Times piece:

Household gatherings have “become a major vector of disease spread,” the Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, said in an interview with CNN in late October.

But many epidemiologists are far less certain, saying there is little evidence to suggest that household gatherings were the source of the majority of infections since the summer. Indeed, it has become much harder to pinpoint any source of any outbreak, now that the virus is so widespread and Americans may be exposed in so many ways.

“Somebody says something, and somebody else says it, and then it just becomes truth,” said Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard University. “I worry about this narrative that doesn’t yet seem to be data-based.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post today interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci. And what did he have to say?

Until a vaccine is widely available, he said, people must remain vigilant about following public-health guidelines such as maintaining social distance from others. Infections are increasingly spreading through small gatherings of five to 15 people, he said.

Sigh.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s crazy how little we know about this disease, eight-plus months into the height of the pandemic.

Today’s news:

• Finally: The formal transition process has begun. According to CNN: “The General Services Administration has informed President-elect Joe Biden that the Trump administration is ready to begin the formal transition process, according to a letter from Administrator Emily Murphy sent Monday afternoon and obtained by CNN. The letter is the first step the administration has taken to acknowledge President Donald Trump's defeat, more than two weeks after Biden was declared the winner in the election.” This news capped a busy day of transition news—including the announcement of several of Biden’s cabinet picks.

In Los Angeles County, officials are shutting down outdoor dining for at least three weeks—and say that a complete stay-at-home order could be put in place very soon if the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise. As a result, many restaurant owners are wondering if their businesses can survive.

• Another week, another vaccine-maker releases positive trial results. As The Washington Post explains: “AstraZeneca on Monday became the third pharmaceutical company to announce positive results from late-stage trials of a coronavirus vaccine, saying that its candidate, developed by Oxford University, is up to 90 percent effective. Scientists and politicians alike hailed the third straight week of buoyant scientific news as a sign that, even as coronavirus cases surge to devastating levels in many countries, an end to the pandemic is in sight.”

• The results of the Independent’s seventh annual Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll are here! Congrats to all the winners and finalists.

California’s first family is under quarantine after three of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s kids were in contact with a California Highway Patrol officer who tested positive for the virus. “Thankfully, the entire family tested negative today. However, consistent with local guidance, we will be quarantining for 14 days,” Newsom tweeted. NPR has the details

The monoclonal antibody cocktail President Trump credited for helping him overcome the coronavirus has received emergency-use authorization from the FDA. MedPage Today explains: “The FDA authorized use of Regeneron's REGN-COV2 intravenous monoclonal antibody cocktail … for treating mild to moderate COVID-19 in patients at high risk of progressing to severe disease, the agency said late Saturday. … ‘Authorizing these monoclonal antibody therapies may help outpatients avoid hospitalization and alleviate the burden on our health care system,’ FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, said in announcing the EUA.” 

• General Motors had been siding with President Trump in his effort to remove California’s ability to demand more fuel-efficient vehicles. Well, the automaker has changed its tune. Per The New York Times: “The decision by Mary Barra, the General Motors chief executive, to withdraw her company’s support for Trump administration efforts to strip California of its ability to set its own fuel efficiency standards was a striking reversal. It was also a signal that corporate America is moving on from President Trump. More specifically, it was a sign that Mr. Biden may find the auto industry amenable as he tries to reinstitute and rebuild Obama-era climate change regulations that Mr. Trump systematically dismantled, at times with the help of industry.”

• While SARS-CoV-2 is running amok in the U.S., people in China are living relatively normal lives. A scholar in public health, writing for The Conversation, says China is doing much better at handling the virus because the country learned lessons from a previous pandemic. Key quote: “My research suggests that the control of the virus in China is not the result of authoritarian policy, but of a national prioritization of health. China learned a tough lesson with SARS, the first coronavirus pandemic of the 21st century.”

Yes, please. Reuters reports: “New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she offered President-elect Joe Biden assistance with tackling the rampant outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States. During the first talks between the two since Biden was elected as the next U.S. president, Ardern said she offered access to New Zealand’s most senior health officials …  New Zealand has eliminated COVID-19 from the community twice, and currently has just 58 active cases of the virus, all in managed isolation facilities. In contrast, the United States over the weekend recorded its 12 millionth case.”

Our partners at CalMatters bring us this fascinating story about a dispute between two high-ranking Democratic state leaders: “The unpaid invoices piling up in Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office had climbed to more than $34.2 million. It was Nov. 2. Since early September, his staff had been wrangling with the staff of State Controller Betty Yee over whether Padilla’s office had the budgetary authority to pay for a $35 million contract it had awarded to public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker to run a statewide voter education campaign called Vote Safe California. The secretary of state’s office maintained that it did have budgetary authority. The controller’s office, which approves payments, maintained that it did not.

This San Francisco Chronicle article examines why more employers aren’t offering their employees coronavirus testing. Key quote: “The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance to employers to include coronavirus testing, and it advised that people working in close quarters be tested periodically. However, the federal government does not require employers to offer those tests. But the board overseeing the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, on Thursday approved emergency safety rules that are soon likely to require the state’s employers to provide coronavirus testing to all workers exposed to an outbreak on the job at no cost to the employees. Testing must be repeated a week later, followed by periodic testing. California would be the first state to mandate this, though the regulation doesn’t apply to routine testing of employees. That is up to individual businesses.”

• We may soon learn a little bit more about dinosaurs due to the “Dueling Dinosaurs.” National Geographic explains: “For more than a decade, paleontologists have speculated about a single fossil that preserves skeletons of two of the world’s most famous dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. Not only are the bones arranged as they once were in life, but the dinosaurs are practically intertwined. Each specimen is among the best of its kind ever found. Together, the pair—nicknamed the ‘Dueling Dinosaurs’—present a paleontological mystery: Did the beasts just happen to be entombed together by chance, perhaps as carcasses caught on the same river sandbar? Or had they been locked in mortal combat? Nobody has been able to study the fossil to find out. But that’s about to change.”

Finally, the producers of Jeopardy! have announced the new host … sort of. The Associated Press, via SFGate, reports: “’Jeopardy!’ record-holder Ken Jennings will be the first in a series of interim hosts replacing Alex Trebek when the show resumes production next Monday. Producers announced Monday that Jennings, who won 74 games in a row and claimed the show's ‘Greatest of All Time’ title in a competition last year, will host episodes that air in January. A long-term host for Trebek, who died of cancer on Nov. 8, will be named later.”

As always, thanks for reading the Daily Digest and the Coachella Valley Independent. Please click here to become a Supporter of the Independent if you want to help us be able to continue producing quality local journalism. Be safe, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Friday, all.

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

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

And now, on with the news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

I’ve been in a crabby mood.

The non-vaccine-related news has me down. I am bummed because I won’t be able to see my mom at Thanksgiving. I am in the middle of deadline hell on our December print edition.

Bleh.

However, I just read this article from The Washington Post—and it made me feel a little better. If you’re in need of a pick-me-up, you may want to read it, too.

You may or may not have heard that Dolly Parton gave $1 million to help fund the research into the Moderna vaccine. This story explains how that came to be—and how it was motivated, in part, by an unlikely friendship between Parton and Naji Abumrad, a physician and professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which developed when Parton sought medical help after a 2013 car accident.

Here’s a taste:

Their friendship may seem unlikely, bonding a Lebanese-born physician and a cultural tour de force who ended up building an amusement park graced with her own name. But after the car crash, the pair found out they were once both poor, mountain kids trying to get by, though they were raised more than 6,000 miles apart. Abumrad said Parton became someone he could confide in.

“Our homes were almost identical where we grew up,” Abumrad told The Post.

The physician’s son, Jad Abumrad, at first didn’t believe his father whenever he talked about his friend Dolly. Even when the physician’s phone rang and the name that came up was “Dolly Parton,” he remained skeptical of his stoic father’s claim of having the famous friend.

The piece helped me get out of my own selfish doldrums—with a beautiful reminder that there is indeed true, genuine good in this world.

Today’s news:

• Remember back in March and April, when everyone was talking about the need for a vaccine to get us out of this pandemic—but a vaccine was a question of “if,” not “when,” and the “when” part was months and months away? Well, it’s official: We have a good vaccine, and the “when” part for the first recipients could be just days away. As The New York Times explains: “The drug maker Pfizer said on Wednesday that its coronavirus vaccine was 95 percent effective and had no serious side effects—the first set of complete results from a late-stage vaccine trial as COVID-19 cases skyrocket around the globe. … Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its partner BioNTech, said the companies planned to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization ‘within days,’ raising hopes that a working vaccine could soon become a reality.”

• The first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could be administered by the end of the year, but some states are saying they’ll need financial help from the federal government—which is not exactly functioning very well right now—to get it properly tracked and distributed. ABC News explains.

• Some more good news: A new, non-peer-reviewed study hints that coronavirus immunity could last for years. According to The New York Times: “Eight months after infection, most people who have recovered still have enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness, the new data show. A slow rate of decline in the short term suggests, happily, that these cells may persist in the body for a very, very long time to come.” As with all studies like this, the conclusions should be taken with a gargantuan grain of figurative salt—but the news is encouraging nonetheless.

Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (A reminder: District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) As we noted in this space on Monday: The local trendlines are not good. For the week ending Nov. 15, cases are up; hospitalizations are steady-ish but not great; the positivity rate is up to 7.9 percent; and two of our neighbors lost their lives due to COVID-19. We’re in MUCH better shape than most of the rest of the country, however … but we all need to do our part to make sure it stays that way (with, of course, the rest of the country improving as well).

• The FDA has approved the first COVID-19 test that you can administer yourself at home. Here’s the news release.

• Sort-of related: After a successful roll-out in the city of Riverside, the county is expanding the use of self-administered COVID-19 tests—although the details (like whether the Coachella Valley will have a site or two where they’re used) have not been worked out. According to the Press-Enterprise: “Unlike other coronavirus tests, which rely on a health care worker deeply probing a subject’s nose or throat, Curative’s tests are done by subjects, who swab their mouth gently before putting the swab in a test tube and sealing a plastic bag. Test results are reported by email or text message within 48 hours.”

The Los Angeles Times reports: “Desperately seeking to find a seemingly responsible way to hold dinner parties, some people have started to get tests for the coronavirus as a way to clear themselves to attend dinner parties without needing to wear masks or keep their distance. That’s absolutely the wrong thing to do, according to Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health.”

Los Angeles County has issued, more or less, a curfew for most businesses—something Gov. Newsom has hinted could come to the entire state: Restaurants and nonessential retail in L.A. now have to close by 10 p.m. 

Speaking of curfews: This here Vox article says that a whole lot of experts think they’re worthless. Key quote from that piece: “‘It seems like it’s spreading all over, but I’ve seen no evidence it helps anything,’ Tara Smith, a public health professor at Kent State University, told me over email. ‘I’ve not seen a single public health person recommend this as an intervention. I’m mystified at their popularity.’”

• And speaking of Gov. Newsom: He remains in increasingly hot water for that dinner he attended at the French Laundry earlier this monthalong with, it turns out, some California Medical Association (!) officials, Politico notes. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times points out that there are questions about exactly how “outdoor” that dinner was—and that, in related news, some legislators have jetted off to Maui, with the bill possibly being picked up by special-interest groups. The art of leading by example is dead, I guess?

• Damn, things are even getting bad (well, relatively) in parts of Australia regarding COVID-19.

• While—make no mistake—COVID-19 remains a deadly disease, the mortality rate has decreased a bit over time. MedPage Today talks to experts about the various reasons why that’s happened.

• Not that you needed evidence of how deadly COVID-19 remains: The U.S. topped a quarter-million deaths from the disease todayand the number of dead continues to rise at an alarming rate.

• Mixed-blessing alert (but not really): The fact the virus is running rampant around the country is helping vaccine researchers learn how effective the vaccines are at a faster rate. Yay?

• SFGate talked to some Bay Area restaurant workers about the closure of indoor diningand found out that a lot of them are quite relieved.

• CNN reports that a lot of former and current Trump officials are starting to reach out to President-elect Joe Bidenat the risk of angering the current president.

• Finally, Wonder Woman 1984 will indeed be released on Christmas day—both in theaters and on HBO Max.

That’s more than enough news for the day. Please be safe, and thanks for reading. If you’d like to help make sure the Independent makes it through these crazy times, click here to learn how you can become a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

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You know that fall/winter COVID-19 spike the health experts have been warning us about? Well, it’s here—and I just don’t mean it’s here in the United States.

I mean it’s here in the Coachella Valley—and the steps we collectively take will determine how bad it gets.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced today that a whopping 40 of the state’s 58 counties are regressing by at least one tier—and that 41 counties, representing well more than 90 percent of the state’s population, are now in the purple, “widespread” tier. According to SFGate, that’s up from just nine three weeks ago.

“This is simply the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of this pandemic,” Newsom said, according to the Los Angeles Times. As a result, Newsom said, counties’ tier statuses will be updated on an ongoing basis—not just once a week on Tuesdays, as it had been before. Counties will also be demoted faster than they had before.

As for Riverside County … eek. Last week, the state reported the county as having a 6.7 percent positivity rate, and an adjusted 13.9 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. The numbers released by the state today: an 8.4 percent positivity rate, and an adjusted 22.4 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. That’s a terrifying increase in just one week.

Since we’ve already been the state’s most-restrictive tier, nothing much will change locally—at least for now. However, the state could hand down further restrictions if things keep getting worse.

Newsom did add one further restriction, as explained by our partners at CalMatters: “Californians also must wear a mask whenever outside their home, with a few exceptions, in a strengthening of the state’s existing mask mandate, Newsom said.”

Folks, it’s up to us to turn this scary tide. As the Los Angeles Times says: “As the case count swells, officials stress that it’s essential for residents to follow infection-prevention protocols such as wearing a mask in public, regularly washing their hands and staying home when they’re sick, as well as keeping a physical distance from, and avoiding gatherings with, those outside their households.”

More of today’s news:

• More cause for hope: Moderna announced today that early data shows its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is 94.5 percent effective. Again, this is early, unreviewed data—but the news is encouraging. According to CNBC: “Dr. Scott Gottlieb (said) on Monday that the devastating coronavirus pandemic could ‘effectively’ be ended next year, following promising developments around Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. … ‘Once we get these vaccines in sufficient qualities heading into 2021, the combination of the fact that a lot of the population will have already had COVID, combined with the fact that we’ll be vaccinating the public with a highly effective vaccine, we could effectively end this pandemic in 2021 with our technology,’ (said) Gottlieb, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner in the Trump administration.”

• Another cause for hope: monoclonal antibodies. A professor of clinical and laboratory science from Texas State University, writing for The Conversation, explains what this Trump-touted treatment is: “A monoclonal antibody treatment mimics the body’s natural immune response and targets foreign agents, like a virus, that infect or harm people. There are also monoclonal antibodies that pharmaceutical companies have designed that target cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies are one of most powerful types of medicine. In 2019 seven of the top 10 best-selling drugs were monoclonal antibodies.”

• Not all the vaccine news is good: Manufacturers and factories are preparing for a possible fight over who gets the doses first, and how many each country gets. According to NBC News: “The factory at the Serum Institute of India, a manufacturer of immunobiological drugs, appears ready to play a global role in the production of COVID-19 vaccines, once they are developed, because few manufacturers can match the scale of its facilities. As a leading supplier to the developing world, it is also in the forefront of efforts to combat ‘vaccine nationalism,’ where wealthy countries such as the United States pay to secure a massive number of doses to help their citizens first, while poor countries wait at the back of the line.”

• The nationwide surge has gotten so bad that Walmart is counting customers again. Key quote, from CNN: “We know from months of metering data in our stores that the vast majority of the time our stores didn’t reach our self-imposed 20 percent metering capacity,” said Kory Lundberg, a Walmart (WMT) spokesperson. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have resumed counting the number of people entering and leaving our stores.”

• The New York Times points out that some people have received some rather unpleasant and surprising bills for their COVID-19 tests—and offers some suggestions on how to avoid such a surprise. Key quote: “To avoid those extra charges, ask your provider what diseases they will screen for. It can be as simple as saying: ‘I understand I’m having a coronavirus test. Are there any other services you’ll bill me for?’ Having a better understanding of that up front can save you a headache later, and you can make an informed decision about what care is actually needed. If your providers can’t tell you what they’ll bill for, that may be a signal you want to seek care elsewhere.”

President-elect Joe Biden today called on Congress and President Trump to pass a new stimulus package—and urged the president to knock it off with the false claims that the election was rigged. According to The Washington Post: “Biden called on Congress to pass a large package approved by House Democrats earlier this year and said they cannot wait any longer to act. ‘Refusal of Democrats, Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a conscious decision. It’s a choice that we make. If we can decide not to cooperate, we could decide to cooperate.’”

• Related: Is there a correlation between stimulus efforts expiring, and COVID-19 cases spiking in the U.S.? Business Insider says there indeed is—although whether correlation means causation, in this case, remains a question.

• A scoop today from The Washington Post: Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said he’s being pressured by fellow Republicans—including Sen. Lindsey Graham—to toss legally cast votes. Key quote: “In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.” My god!

• Sen. Chuck Schumer said today that he believed that Joe Biden could wipe out a whole lot of student debt after he takes office—simply by signing an executive order. “I have a proposal with Elizabeth Warren that the first $50,000 of debt be vanquished,” said Schumer, according to CNBC. “And we believe that Joe Biden can do that with the pen as opposed to legislation.

• From the Independent: County supervisors recently OK’d a massive development in the eastern Coachella Valley called the Thermal Beach Club—where homes will be $1 million or more, and a non-resident club membership will cost $175,000 a year. Our Kevin Fitzgerald reports: “Not surprisingly, some current residents of the Thermal and Oasis communities are dismayed by that prospect. … But proponents of the project—including six of the seven members of the Thermal-Oasis Community Council, as well as all five members of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors—view the buildout, in a disadvantaged region of Coachella Valley, as an opportunity that could jumpstart improvement in the area.”

• Yikes. This lede from the Los Angeles Times is just awful (the content, not the writing): “The Boy Scouts of America will face at least 88,500 claims of sexual abuse in a landmark bankruptcy that could reshape the future of one of the nation’s oldest and largest youth organizations, lawyers in the case said Monday as the filing deadline loomed.”

• Since we’re all supposed to be pretty much staying home as much as possible, this is good news: “A consortium of museums is doing their part to bring the work of one of the world's most famous artists to the global masses. Van Gogh Worldwide is a new project by a group of Dutch museums which presents a digital collection of over 1,000 of the artist’s masterpieces. Building off the digitized collection begun several years ago by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, almost half of the post-Impressionist works of this prolific artist are now available to view—with scholarly commentary—from the safety of your own home.”

• Finally: Denizens of the internet, god bless them, have created a Lego version of Rudy Giuliani’s whacked-out Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference. It’s fantastic; be sure to click on the Flickr page.

That’s enough news for a Monday. Stay safe, everyone. If you’d like to help the Independent keep producing quality local journalism—and making it free to everyone, without subscription fees or annoying paywalls—please click here to become a Supporter of the Independent. Thanks for reading, everyone.

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