CVIndependent

Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

I received some interesting reader responses to yesterday’s news that Riverside County was being demoted from the red, “Substantial” COVID-19 tier to the purple, “Widespread” tier. Here are three of those responses, slightly edited for style:


Gyms don’t make people sick; shitty food does, though. The fact that fast-food joints and cannabis shops are considered ESSENTIAL IS LUDICROUS. California invented the entire “fitness industry” and now they’re trying to destroy it. Why has no one in a position of leadership made any statement whatsoever about staying in shape and eating healthy—the most important things you can do?! Instead, people are told to stay home, order pizza and get fat.


I understand why you’re bummed about businesses closing—we all are. But you should point out there’s one person to blame for all of this: Trump. If he had properly led from the beginning and made sure everyone was on the same page with mask-wearing (after Fauci learned its importance), I believe most businesses would be open.

Business owners are venting at our responsible governor when he’s done everything he can to slow the spread. You can use this analogy with your readers: Trump is the divorced dad who has his kids on the weekend and never says no to them—including underage alcohol parties, wild sex and “screw the neighbors.” Newsom is the mom who has to be responsible in guiding her kids to make the right choices so they won’t harm themselves and succeed in life and don’t turn out to be delinquents.

“Dad” Trump will be gone after Jan. 21 while “mom” Newsom will be around at least until the next election, faced with cleaning up after the “dad’s” mess.


You said: “To those of you who look at this information and shout, ‘Lives are more important than businesses!’ You need to realize that lives and businesses are inextricably intertwined. Business are life-long dreams, sources of income, sanity-maintaining distractions and so much more, to so many people.” THANK YOU FOR UNDERSTANDING THIS! So many of us small business owners feel unheard and left behind.


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News from the day:

• Example No. 244,851 of the importance of local journalism: The FBI raided the Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation as part of an investigation yesterday; you can read the San Diego Union-Tribune’s coverage of the raid here. The nonprofit medical provider—which has multiple locations in the Coachella Valley—started off in Borrego Springs, a small town in San Diego County south of Palm Desert and west of the Salton Sea, before expanding to become a behemoth provider in San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. So … what does this have to do with local journalism? The look into potential wrongdoing at Borrego appears to have started months ago, at the tiny Borrego Sun newspaper, which has a special page dedicated to its Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation coverage here. Props to the Borrego Sun for its work.

• An update on those shady ballot boxes put out by the California Republican Party, from the Los Angeles Times: “A Sacramento judge refused Wednesday to order the California Republican Party to disclose information about its ballot drop box program to state officials, rejecting an argument by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra that the investigation was essential to ensuring ballots are being properly handled. The decision by Judge David Brown does not prevent Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla from returning to court over the matter but marks a significant victory for GOP officials who have insisted their ballot collection campaign is following state election law.

• President Trump sat down for an interview with 60 Minutes yesterday—and it apparently did not go well. According to CNN: “Trump walked out of the interview because he was frustrated with (Lesley) Stahl's line of questioning, one source said. Another person said the bulk of the interview was focused on coronavirus. On Wednesday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said there is a ‘high probability’ that the President will release footage of the interview before it airs Sunday, and accused Stahl of acting ‘more like an opinion journalist.’” Sigh.

The pope has come out in favor of civil unions for same-sex couples. According to The Washington Post: “Francis’s comment does nothing to alter Catholic doctrine, but it nonetheless represents a remarkable shift for a church that has fought against LGBT legal rights—with past popes calling same-sex unions inadmissible and deviant. Francis’s statement is also notable within a papacy that on the whole hasn’t been as revolutionary as progressives had hoped and conservatives had feared.

• And now we get to the portion of the Daily Digest where we say something positive about the president. Yes, really. The Washington Post ran a fascinating piece today discussing how truly, honestly close we apparently are to having a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Key quote: “‘Going from where we were in January and February—where we are going to be hit by this tsunami—to very likely having a vaccine, or more than one vaccine, that is proven safe and effective within a year, is staggeringly impressive, and would only have happened with strong and effective federal action,’ said Robert Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. Wachter has strongly criticized the administration’s response to the pandemic, arguing it has cost tens of thousands of lives. But he called the vaccine effort ‘nearly flawless’ so far—words he said he found difficult to say.”

• Our partners at CalMatters are reporting that Gov. Gavin Newsom is about to get sued by environmental-group Center for Biological Diversity, because he continues to allow fracking permits. Key quote: “(Kassie) Siegel said the permits are ‘illegal’ and fail to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The Center for Biological Diversity warned Newsom on Sept. 21 of their intent to sue if his administration continued to issue fracking permits.

The Conversation takes a look at violence taking place against female political leaders—with male lawmakers often the perpetrators. Key quote: “On Sept. 24, House Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Jackie Speier introduced a resolution–a largely symbolic congressional statement that carries no legal weight but provides moral support on certain issues–recognizing violence against women in politics as a global phenomenon. House Resolution 1151, which is currently under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, calls on the government to take steps to mitigate this violence in the United States and abroad.”

• Speaking of violence in politics: Some voters in Alaska and Florida have received emails threatening them to vote for Trump, “or we will come after you.” Some of the emails say they were sent by the Proud Boys, but NPR reports that seems unlikely, and the group is denying involvement—and in fact, NBC News says the FBI thinks Iran may be involved.

• The good news: NPR looks at increasing evidence that COVID-19 death rates are going down because medical professionals have gotten a lot better at treating the disease:Two new peer-reviewed studies are showing a sharp drop in mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drop is seen in all groups, including older patients and those with underlying conditions, suggesting that physicians are getting better at helping patients survive their illness.

• The bad: There’s yet more evidence that the pandemic is taking more lives than those included in the official death counts for COVID-19. According to the CDC: “Overall, an estimated 299,028 excess deaths occurred from late January through October 3, 2020, with 198,081 (66%) excess deaths attributed to COVID-19. The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25–44 years and among Hispanic or Latino persons.”

• More CDC-related news: The agency has released new guidance on what, exactly, it means to be in “close contact” with someone who has COVID-19. According to the Washington Post: “The CDC had previously defined a ‘close contact’ as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case. The updated guidance, which health departments rely on to conduct contact tracing, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, according to a CDC statement Wednesday.

If a voter shows up to a polling place without a mask on Election Day, they will not be turned away, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Do you subscribe to Quibi? No? Neither do I—and therefore it’s no surprise that the streaming service announced it was shutting down today, even though backers had raised $1.75 billion (!) to launch the company.

• And now for some happier, local entertainment news, from the Independent: “There has been almost no programming from the Coachella Valley’s theater companies since the pandemic arrived and ruined everything in March—with one notable exception: CVRep, and its Theatre Thursday virtual shows. And if the California Department of Public Health gives the OK, CVRep—in conjunction with Cathedral City—could become the first local theater company to bring live productions back to the Coachella Valley, starting in December.” Read what CVRep’s Ron Celona had to say here.

• And finally … I am sorry to put this mental picture in your head, but it appears Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character caught Rudy Giuliani doing something less than appropriate: “In the film, (slated to be) released on Friday (Oct. 23), the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist.”

Again, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

Gyms, movie theaters, churches, nail salons and indoor dining at restaurants may now open—with limits, of course—in Riverside County.

The state of California earlier today announced that the county has officially been moved into the red, “Substantial” tier of the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” because we’ve had two straight weeks with less than 7 daily cases per 100,000 people, and a positivity rate less of than 8 percent.

This move out of the purple, “Widespread” tier means some big decisions will need to be made regarding schools. According to the state, after Riverside County has been in the “Substantial” tier for two weeks, schools can fully reopen for in-person instruction—if local school officials decide that’s what they want to do.

The move puts the county fairly close, reopenings-wise, to where we were back in June … and we all remember how that went: Cases spiked, and local hospital ICUs came close to maxing out. Let’s hope lessons were learned, and things go better this time.

As they say … stay tuned.

Some other news from the day:

• As of this writing, a marathon meeting of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors—regarding a proposal to defy the state and use a county reopening plan instead—was still ongoing. There are a lot of fascinating nuggets in Jeff Horseman’s coverage at the Riverside Press-Enterprise, like: “Speakers, some sobbing, others seething, spoke of missing weddings and funerals or feeling like they’re living in a totalitarian state. Others lamented those struggling with depression, isolation, substance abuse and unemployment. Pastors demanded that their churches be considered essential and for in-person worship to resume.” If the county voted to go along with this plan from Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, it would cause a huge mess, for a number of reasons, including the fact that Hewitt’s plan is oddly MORE restrictive in some cases (now that Riverside County has moved up a tier). Oh, and the state could decide to withhold funding from the county due to the defiance.

San Diego County will stay in the “Substantial” tier for at least another two weeks. After venturing into more-restrictive “Widespread” territory last week, the county’s case rate per 100,000 people eked down below 7 this week.

SFGate offers a nice, if slightly Bay Area-focused, summary of all the county tier movement across the state today. Lots of good news, as well as this: “In his update on the fourth week of the state’s new reopening plan, (Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark) Ghaly also announced nail salons will be allowed to open statewide, even if their county is in the most restrictive purple tier.” 

• And now some perspective: If the Coachella Valley were a separate county, we would not be moving into a less-restrictive tier. According to this week’s District 4 report from the county—District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and mostly rural points eastward—our COVID-19 stats continue to head in the right direction. However, we still have a 10.3 percent weekly positivity rate. Also, the report offers a sobering reminder about how awful this disease is: Six more of our neighbors died over the last week as a result of this awful virus.

• On this day of reopening in Riverside County, the United States hit a milestone: A reported 200,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19. CNBC offers perspective.

• While Riverside County and other parts of California are experiencing a decrease in COVID-19 cases, such is not the case in much of the rest of the country—and the world. From The Washington Post: “Twenty-seven states and Puerto Rico have shown an increase in the seven-day average of new confirmed cases since the final week of August, according to The Post’s analysis of public health data. Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Utah set record highs Monday for seven-day averages. The global picture has reaffirmed that COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is not about to fade away. Countries that had been successful early in the pandemic in driving down viral transmission—such as France, Spain and Israel—are struggling with new waves of cases and instituting new shutdowns. Most people remain susceptible to infection, and the virus is highly opportunistic.”

• STAT created a compelling theoretical “road map” for how the battle against the coronavirus may go over the next year plus. “In this project, STAT describes 30 key moments, possible turning points that could steer the pandemic onto a different course or barometers for how the virus is reshaping our lives, from rituals like Halloween and the Super Bowl, to what school could look like, to just how long we might be incorporating precautions into our routines. This road map is informed by insights from more than three dozen experts, including Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates, people on the frontlines at schools and hospitals, as well as STAT reporters. It largely focuses on the U.S.”

• Well this is interesting: SARS-CoV-2 may be able to block pain. This has some terrible health implications—but it creates some fascinating research opportunities, and opens the door to possible medical advancements regarding pain management. A professor of pharmacology for the University of Arizona, writing for The Conversation, explains.

According to the Los Angeles Times: “UC admitted 64 well-connected or rich students over more qualified ones, audit finds.” Sigh.

• And here’s another sigh-inducing bit of journalism, compliments of The Washington Post: “A $1 billion fund Congress gave the Pentagon in March to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment has instead been mostly funneled to defense contractors and used to make things such as jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms.”

• College football remains a huge mess. On the heels of news that the Big 10 and Pac-12 conferences are taking steps to get back on the fields this fall comes this alarming news, from ESPN: “The Notre Dame-Wake Forest football game scheduled for Saturday has been postponed after the Irish announced 13 players are in isolation. In a statement Tuesday, Notre Dame said seven players tested positive for coronavirus out of 94 tests done Monday. Combined with testing results from last week, 13 players are in isolation, with 10 in quarantine. As a result, Notre Dame has paused all football-related activities. The two schools are working on a date to reschedule the game.”

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Published in Daily Digest

Tomorrow’s going to be a fascinating day on the COVID-19 reopening front. Why? Well …

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is slated to vote tomorrow on a proposal that would give a big middle finger to the state, and enact a county plan allowing businesses to open faster, with fewer restrictions. The proposal comes from District 5 Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, a Libertarian. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “’The state’s lack of clear guidelines has left thousands of peoples (sic) uncertain about their abilities to pay bills and provide for their families,’ Hewitt, whose district includes the Pass, Moreno Valley, Perris and Menifee, wrote in a memo to colleagues. ‘ … We (will) feel the burden of these economic impacts for years to come, it is time for Riverside County to take responsibility for our own wellbeing.’”

We’ll also find out tomorrow if Riverside County continues to meet the requirements to move into the less-restrictive “Substantial” category. Per the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving forward.” The county has met the criteria for one week, according to the state’s weekly updates, issued every Tuesday. Since the last update, it appears cases have ticked up a bit in the county—but so has testing. So, yeah, stay tuned.

• In related news: Elemental recently published a nice primer on what we know about how COVID-19 is transmitted. Key quote: “Instead of obsessing over objects and surfaces, scientists now say the biggest infection risk comes from inhaling what someone else is exhaling, whether it’s a tiny aerosol or a larger droplet. And while a virus traveling through the air sounds terrifying, the good news is there is a safe, cheap, and effective way to stop the spread: wearing a mask.” It’s a fantastic, if long, read.

The state of California will not accept new unemployment claims for two weeks, because the current system is an overwhelmed fustercluck. The state plans on taking these two weeks to fix, update and streamline the system, Gov. Newsom announced today.

• Speaking of fusterclucks: Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the 2020 version of the CDC. So on Friday, the once-trusted government organization issued new guidance saying SARS-CoV-2 can spread through aerosols that can remain suspended in the air and travel farther than 6 feet. Today, the CDC took it back. Sigh.

• The Washington Post looks at the key role college newspapers have played in exposing a whole lot of news about COVID-19—and beyond. Key quote: “The contracting media industry has left few local outlets with dedicated higher-education reporters, leaving student journalists as ‘really the best watchdogs’ in this moment, said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. ‘They’re the ones who are going to get the invites to parties, and they’re the ones whose friends are going to be reporting symptoms, and they’re following all the right people on social media, so they know first when there’s an outbreak or when there are unsafe conditions.’”

• The New York Times examines at the mess surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine. In an effort to be more transparent, the company just released its trial blueprints. Why? “Experts have been particularly concerned about AstraZeneca’s vaccine trials, which began in April in Britain, because of the company’s refusal to provide details about serious neurological illnesses in two participants, both women, who received its experimental vaccine in Britain. Those cases spurred the company to halt its trials twice, the second time earlier this month. The studies have resumed in Britain, Brazil, India and South Africa, but are still on pause in the U.S. About 18,000 people worldwide have received AstraZeneca’s vaccine so far.” Eek.

• From the Independent: Much of what the Desert Recreation District normally does can’t be done right now, because … well, you know—so the organization has started operating distance-learning hubs, primarily in the eastern portion of the valley, for elementary schoolers. Key quote: “Students in kindergarten through the sixth-grade can participate, and they can be registered by the week, or for extended periods. At all locations, the program begins at 7:30 a.m. each weekday and runs until 5:30 p.m. No class will contain more than 10 students, with two adult educator supervisors.”

• Good news: The U.S. set a record for the largest number of COVID-19 tests given in a day. The bad news, per Reuters: We need to be doing at least six times that number of tests.

• As the politicking and maneuvering takes place over the fate of the U.S. Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Conversation breaks down the four steps that need to be taken before a new justice can be seated.

• Soooo many businesses have been devastated by the pandemic—including hotels. Both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times look at the “tsunami” of hotel closures that’s already under way.

• COVID-19 has led to numerous delays in the California State Bar exam—which is costing recent law-school graduates a lot of time and money. Key quote, from the San Francisco Chronicle: “The State Bar pushed the test normally scheduled in July back to September, then to October as it figured out the software and security issues around a new online format for the hours-long exam, which normally involves test takers crammed into conference rooms. … Results from the July bar exams normally come out in mid-November, at which time law students who do not pass can begin studying for the February exams, according to Daniel Schweitzer, a longtime bar exam tutor. With results from the delayed October test not slated to come out until mid-January, there will be almost no time for students who fail to begin studying for the February test unless it too gets delayed.

• Also from the Chronicle: An increasing number of people are ignoring wildfire evacuation orders. During the North Complex fire: “Firefighters rescued at least 100 people as the fire blew through communities including Berry Creek, Feather Falls and Brush Creek. Hundreds of homes burned, dozens of residents were injured and at least 15 people were killed. The disaster could have largely been avoided had residents listened to emergency workers when there was still time to get out, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff. The victims were among scores of people who have defied evacuation orders during the wildfires that have been raging across California, a distressing trend that officials say puts emergency workers at risk, hampers firefighting efforts and often ends in loss of life.”

• Dammit, now Sizzler is filing for bankruptcy. Eff you, 2020.

• Finally, a tip of the hat from those of us at the Independent to the people who worked for the press operation at The Desert Sun. Today was the press’ last day of operation—and the October print edition of the Independent was one of the last publications to roll off of it.

Before we started the print edition 7 1/2 years ago, I got print bids from presses around Southern California—and, by far, the best deal was offered by the Gannett-owned Desert Sun. While I hated—hated—to give my business to Gannett, a company that has not always been the best steward of the papers it has owned (that’s a gross understatement), we started (and continue to operate) the Independent on a very-shoestring budget, so I needed to go with the best deal.

Through 87 print editions, the press folks there did nothing but fantastic work on the Independent. They were professional; they were accommodating when I needed extra time due to various injuries (including my left elbow dislocation in 2018, and my right elbow dislocation seven months ago); and the print quality was consistently good.

From our November 2020 print edition on, the Independent will be printed—like The Desert Sun and some of the other commercial-print jobs that used to be done at the Gene Autry Trail building here—at the Gannett operation in Phoenix. They’ll have to work very hard in Arizona to match the quality and professionalism that was displayed by the operation here.

The Desert Sun did a nice feature over the weekend on the people who worked there. I recommend checking it out.

That’s enough for today. Please help us pay our print bill, and our writers, and for MailChimp, and etc. by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you’re able. Stay safe, and as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

Gov. Gavin Newsom in July ordered all of the state’s school campuses to remain closed in counties where COVID-19 case rates remained too high, according to the state’s criteria.

That list included Riverside County—and as of our press deadline, almost all local schools remained closed for in-person instruction.

“We fully anticipated re-opening in the first week of July at all of our facilities,” said Desert Recreation District General Manager Kevin Kalman during a recent phone interview. “Then Riverside County had its infection rates start rising again. So what we had geared up for, and had been prepping our team for, all changed overnight. This ED-REC/Connect (ERC) program became the best activity we could think of to be truly relevant and helpful in this time. This pandemic is everybody’s problem—and our goal is to be part of the solution.”

Since mid-August, the ERC has sponsored well-equipped, supervised distance-learning hubs at various locations, primarily in the eastern Coachella Valley, including sites in North Shore, Mecca, Thermal, Indio, Palm Desert, La Quinta and Bermuda Dunes. As of Sept. 15, 66 students were enrolled in the program, with a maximum capacity of 140. Then on Sept. 16, an additional location was opened at the Mecca Library, in order to help meet the serious needs of east valley working families and their student children—and the 10 students accepted at the Mecca location will have their tuition fees waived, due to the support of the Community Action Partnership of Riverside County, the Riverside County Library System, and the Desert Recreation Foundation/Desert Recreation District. At other locations, weekly resident tuition prices are $75.

“When we first rolled out the program, we didn’t have some of our funding partners on board yet,” Kalman said. “So, while the (registration fee) was very reasonable for a full day of childcare, we knew it was priced at a point where we weren’t going to be able to get some families into the program. But the Regional Access Project, which previously had given us a grant for certain communities to provide programming, authorized us to re-allocate that funding specifically to this program, because all our other programs are really not running (due to the pandemic). That was a huge help. Basically, it brought the fee down by half. Then, likewise, the county authorized us to re-allocate some Community Development Block Grant funding that was for youth programming in the unincorporated areas of the eastern Coachella Valley to this program. Then, our board further subsidized (tuition) for the rest of the valley to make it more reasonable.

“Now, the most anyone would pay is $75 per week, and along with that, our foundation offers a scholarship program which could bring it as low as $37.50 per week.”

Students in kindergarten through the sixth-grade can participate, and they can be registered by the week, or for extended periods. At all locations, the program begins at 7:30 a.m. each weekday and runs until 5:30 p.m. No class will contain more than 10 students, with two adult educator supervisors.

“The first half of the day is spent online in the classroom with their respective teachers,” Kalman said. “Each student brings their school-district-issued laptop, or iPad, or whatever it is that their particular school district is using. Our staff is there to assist the children in logging in, making sure that they’re connected when they’re supposed to be connected, and helping them with any technical issues they may have. Also, they assist the students with any questions or issues they have with their lessons that aren’t answered by the teacher online.

“Next, they have lunch,” Kalman continued, adding that students must bring their own lunch. “And then the afternoon program is like our typical afterschool program, where they participate in sports and enrichment, crafts and other activities.”

Safety is a top priority at each of the program’s distance-learning hubs.

“Only 10 students are in each class, because we have such great restrictions to make it a safe environment,” Kalman said. “It will be the same 10 kids every day in each of these different classrooms, and only those same 10 kids, along with the same two staff members. That way, there’s a reduced chance of any infection being brought in from outside.”

Each participant is given a temperature check before entering each day, and mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines must be observed.

“Parents aren’t even allowed into the facility,” Kalman said. “Basically, it’s curbside drop-off and pickup.”

Still, even with all the planning and effort expended to run the program, Kalman said he looks forward to the day when it comes to an end.

“We hope this will be a short-lived program, and that the kids will be back in their classrooms sooner rather than later,” Kalman said.

When does Kalman think local students may return to their classrooms?

“I don’t see it happening before the holidays,” he said. “It could change, but what I’ve heard is that it’s not likely to happen before next spring. So everybody is kind of scrambling to adapt. Hopefully, as we move forward—and people realize that this isn’t just a short-term thing, but we’re going to have to cope with it for a while—it will get taken much more seriously by all families. I think there is so much beyond just the instruction that (students) get out of school, and that’s what they’re missing.”

Families who are interested should call 760-347-3484, or visit www.myrecreationdistrict.com.

Published in Local Issues

There’s a lot of news on this Sept. 11, so let’s get right to it:

• The West Coast is on fire. The New York Times has started a live-updates page regarding the horrific blazes, the deadliest of which is near Portland, Ore., where dozens of people are either dead or missing, and half a million people face possible evacuation orders. Key quote: “‘We are preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the numbers of structures that have been lost,’ said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.”

• Our friends at Willamette Week, the Pulitzer-winning alternative newsweekly in Portland, are also doing fantastic coverage of the fires up there. Check it out.

• In Northern California, at least 10 are dead, with 16 reported missing, due to the North Complex fire in Butte County. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The collective scale of the infernos that have scarred the state over the last month is staggering: at least 20 fatalities, tens of thousands of structures destroyed and more than 3.1 million acres burned—the most recorded in a single year.”

• Of course, no tragedy these days can take place without conspiracy theories and misinformation popping up. The New York Times, via SFGate, looked at the insane and baseless claims, making their way around social media, that some of the West Coast wildfires were started by Antifa. Key quote: “Several law enforcement agencies in Oregon said they had been flooded with inquiries about rumors that activists were responsible. On Thursday, several journalists reporting on fires near the city of Molalla, Oregon, said they had been confronted by a group of armed people who were worried about unverified reports of arsonists in the area.”

• All the fires have created poor air quality throughout much of the west—and in Los Angeles, the smoky air prompted the county to shut down COVID-19 testing sites. Yikes.

• Related to the fires, here’s a speck of good news: Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed a bill that will make it easier for former inmates who served as volunteer firefighters to become badly needed professional firefighters. “For decades, thousands of inmate firefighters have battled wildfires across the state, working alongside professional firefighters in the scorching heat and smoke,” reports NBC News. “Yet the men and women prisoners who throw themselves in danger to help save lives and property often find it impossible to put their firefighting skills to use after their release, even in a state desperate for such labor.

• Related to COVID-19 testing: Riverside County is asking people, whether they’re symptomatic or not, to go get tested for COVID-19. In recent weeks, the number of county residents getting tested has fallen—to the point that it’s messing up the county’s hopes of moving into the next reopening tier. According to a news release: “Riverside County reached the positivity rate that will allow it to move to the red tier (7.8 percent), but the case rate remains higher than the state’s requirement. This week, the state began adjusting the case rate higher for counties that are not meeting the state’s daily average testing volume, which brought Riverside County’s case rate from 7.4 to 8.6. While Riverside County has the volume to test 4,000 people a day, only half that number have been getting tested at county and state testing sites in recent weeks.”

The Associated Press, via SFGate, reports that the testing backlog that was a huge problem in the state a month ago is gone, as the state increases testing capacity and fewer people get tested. “California's typical turnaround time for coronavirus tests has dropped to less than two days, state health officials said Thursday, a mark that allows for effective isolation and quarantine of those who are infected to limit the spread. Test results now are available from laboratories within 1.3 days on average, down from the five- to seven business days that officials commonly reported last month.”

• Regular readers know the Daily Digest rule about studies—they usually need to be taken with a massive grain of figurative salt. Well, such is the case with a new CDC study, which led to this alarming CNN headline: “Adults with Covid-19 about 'twice as likely' to say they have dined at a restaurant, CDC study suggests.” However, the study, of 314 people who were tested in July at 11 facilities around the country, has a massive flaw or two: “The study comes with some limitations, including … the question assessing dining at a restaurant did not distinguish between indoor versus outdoor dining.” That seems like a big distinction, no?!

• Well here’s something weird: Some researchers think the coronavirus may have been spreading in Los Angeles in December—before China even announced the outbreak in Wuhan. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The researchers didn’t conduct any diagnostic tests, so they can’t say with certainty when doctors first encountered anyone infected with the virus that came to be known as SARS-CoV-2. But if the coronavirus had indeed been spreading under the radar since around Christmas, the pattern of patient visits to UCLA facilities would have looked a lot like what actually happened, they wrote in a study published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.”

• Related: A group of engineering professors, writing for The Conversation, take a look at the 6-foot coronavirus rule—and the limitations it has. They say to think about COVID-19 the way you’d think of cigarette smoke at a bar: “There is no safe distance in a poorly ventilated room, unfortunately. Good ventilation and filtration strategies that bring in fresh air are critical to reduce aerosol concentration levels, just as opening windows can clear out a smoke-filled room.”

• The New York Daily News reported today—on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks—this: “The Trump administration has secretly siphoned nearly $4 million away from a program that tracks and treats FDNY firefighters and medics suffering from 9/11 related illnesses.” Key quote: “Here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers, at a time when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to COVID-19, and we’re not getting the money we need to be able to treat these heroes,” said (Dr. David) Prezant, the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer. “And for years, they wouldn’t even tell us—we never ever received a letter telling us this.

• It’s come to this: The Washington Post has started tracking the number of teachers who have died of COVID-19 this fall across the country. So far, the tally is six.

• Health Net and Carol’s Kitchen are offering a free flu-shot clinic, open to all Riverside County residents, on Monday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the James A. Venable Community Center, at 50390 Carmen Ave., up in Cabazon. If interested, get there early, as the supply of shots is limited.

The city of Palm Springs really wants you to participate in the 2020 Census! From the city: “On Wednesday, Sept. 16 the five members of the City Council will kick off a friendly competition to see whose district can get the highest Census response rate by hosting drive-by caravans throughout their respective districts to urge residents to respond. The caravans will kick off at 5:30 p.m. from the parking lot of the Palm Springs Public Library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, with several representatives from city departments, business, nonprofit and neighborhood organizations on hand.” Get details on that and more here. (Full disclosure: The city has paid for Census-outreach advertising at CVIndependent.com and in the Daily Digest; however, this item is not related to that purchase.)

The much-ballyhooed Virgin Hotel will not be built in Palm Springs after all. Per KESQ: “(Developer) Grit and Virgin also agreed to use the hotel site to instead build a 62-unit condominium complex instead of a hotel.” Hmm.

• I took this week off from the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, but Shann, John, Brad and Dr. Laura were all there, as were The Standard’s Nino Eilets, event-producer Daniel Vaillancourt, and the fabulous Debra Ann Mumm, the founder of the Create Center for the Arts!

• And finally, after all of that, you may need a drink. Our beer writer, Brett Newton, thinks perhaps you should consider mead for that drink … even though mead isn’t a beer. Check out what he has to say.

Have a great weekend, everyone. If you haven’t yet voted in the first round of the Independent’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, please do so by clicking here—voting closes on Monday! And you appreciate this Daily Digest and the other local journalism produced by the Independent, please consider financially helping out by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Be safe; the Daily Digest will return on Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Hey, everyone. Let’s start off on a happy note from our friends at Eisenhower Health, posted earlier today on Facebook, and slightly edited to remove hashtags and whatnot: 

As of today, there are 12 COVID 19 patients in our hospital. The same number we had at the start of Memorial Day 2020.

At that time, California moved to an accelerated stage 2 opening—lifting mask requirements and allowing indoor dining, etc.

Within just three weeks, the number of our COVID-19 hospitalizations more than tripled. … Less than two months later, we reached a peak of nearly 90 COVID-19 patients hospitalized and a nearly full ICU.

So, please, for your health and the health of your loved ones … be safe this Labor Day Weekend.

Folks, we’re really making progress with this terrible disease—to repeat, there are 12 people hospitalized at EMC, where there were nearly 90 not long ago. That’s encouraging!

However, as the Eisenhower post mentions, those numbers spiked, in part, because people let their guard down on Memorial Day Weekend. People letting their guard down on Fourth of July made the spike even worse (spikier?).

So … this weekend, let’s not let our guard down.

Please, enjoy yourselves. But wear a mask. Wash your hands a lot. Keep gatherings outside (yes, I know it’s gonna be hot AF, but the coronavirus doesn’t care) and socially distanced and small.

OK? OK! Thank you.

And now, the news:

• The big news story of the week—and something that has the potential to become one of the biggest news stories of the year, depending on how things play out—was published yesterday by The Atlantic. The piece, by Jeffrey Goldberg, and based on interviews with numerous undisclosed sources, revealed that President Trump has repeatedly said horrible things about members of the U.S. military, calling them “suckers” and “losers.” The lead anecdote involves him cancelling a planned visit to honor American war dead at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 because the cemetery was “filled with losers.” And that’s just the beginning.

• While Trump and many allies have issued full-throated denials, numerous news sources have confirmed parts of The Atlantic piece, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, and even, sort of, Fox News.

• Related-ish: USA Today broke the news today that Stars and Stripes, the military’s independent newspaper since the Civil War, was being shut down by Trump’s Department of Defense by end of the month. After a more-than-justified outcry, Trump tweeted this afternoon that the newspaper would continue to be funded. We’ve said it before, and we will say it again: Nothing makes sense anymore.

One of the big local-news items of the last couple days: Southwest Airlines has announced it intends to begin flying in and out of Palm Springs later this year.

• Dammit, September’s supposed to bring cooler temperatures! But that’s not happening yet—and in fact, Gov. Newsom has declared a state of emergency regarding the extreme heat California faces over the weekend. Everyone is being asked to conserve energy, and rolling blackouts are possible.

• MedPage Today looks at the ongoing discussions over which groups will get first access to a COVID-19 vaccine if/when it’s ready. Key quote: “In addition to race/ethnicity, experts advocated for priority vaccine access for a larger population of older people, other healthcare workers beyond the medical setting, such as pharmacists and dentists, and public service workers.

• Related: A group of scientists, writing for The Conversation, say they disagree with a lot of other experts in that they believe younger people should move toward the front of the vaccination line, only after essential workers. Why? Because they’re “superspreaders.”

• Also related: The co-chief of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine effort said yesterday that it was “possible but very unlikely” a vaccine would be ready to go before the election. Earlier this week, the CDC had told health officials nationwide to be ready to distribute a vaccine as early as Nov. 1, i.e. just before Election Day—raising concerns that such a move could be politically motivated. Key quote, from Moncef Slaoui: “I think it’s extremely unlikely but not impossible, and therefore it’s the right thing to do to be prepared, in case.

• As noted in this space, the CDC is banning some evictions through the end of the year, on public-health grounds. A professor from the University of Memphis explains via The Conversation what this will mean for tenants and landlords.

• This is horrifying: More than 410,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19 by the end of the year, if a new forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is correct. That’s more than double the current tally—and the numbers could be even worse if too many restrictions are eased. CNBC explains.

• Related: A Los Angeles Times investigation found that a lot more people are dying at home than normal—and COVID-19 is to blame, even if those deaths aren’t often attributed to the coronavirus.

• Our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent, explain how much extra money and effort California’s school districts are needing to spend to get ready for the return of students to in-person learning. Key quote, from San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten: “When the funding’s not there, we will have to stop (reopening). When you reopen and you can’t put the appropriate nursing and counseling and distancing in place, and physical changes that need to happen, you slow it down, or you don’t do it as safely.”

• Prisons are a deadly place when it comes to the coronavirus. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “The death rate nationwide from COVID-19 is higher inside prison walls than outside and more than twice as high in California prisons, according to a study released Wednesday. The study by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit with bipartisan leadership, comes while inmate advocates are calling for more releases from overcrowded prisons, where cleaning supplies and protective equipment are sometimes limited, and social distancing is nearly impossible.”

Here’s a CNBC headline: “As small U.S. farms face crisis, Trump’s trade aid flowed to corporations.” Sigh … 

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, joining hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr to discuss the news of the week—including, alas, Nancy Pelosi’s infamous salon visit. Check it out.

Have an amazing Labor Day Weekend, all! Please vote in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, if you haven’t already—and if you have voted, THANK YOU! Also, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, because it costs a lot to do this Daily Digest and the other journalism the Independent produces, and makes available free to all. Because the news never stops, the Daily Digest will be back on Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

An academic year in which public education will intersect with public health has created back-to-school shopping lists unlike any other for California’s schools as they attempt to transition toward in-person instruction—once they have the state’s blessing.

Bakersfield’s Panama-Buena Vista Union School District plans to hire a manager to handle contact tracing for a system of 19,000 students and 4,000 employees.

Anaheim Union High School District spent more than $500,000 this summer on additional band instruments so students won’t have to share clarinets, saxophones and flutes.

Among the few California schools to physically reopen, Yreka Union High School District near the Oregon border is spending about 10 percent more than it would in any given year to hire more maintenance staff to support exhaustive cleaning efforts.

While an overwhelming majority of students began the year in distance learning, schools are preparing for that moment when schools physically open—sourcing personal protective equipment for teachers and kids in a competitive market, figuring out how they will trace coronavirus cases and test employees, and wondering just how far their dollars will stretch this year.

The laundry list of safety measures schools are spending on is due to new state public-health requirements they will have to abide by for in-person learning, and mounting pressures to bring students back to campuses to help stop widespread learning loss and revive a sputtering state economy.

Doing that will require safety precautions to help prevent coronavirus outbreaks and give parents, students, teachers and staff enough confidence to return in person. The exact costs related to health and safety measures depend on how much of the year schools will offer in-person instruction. That amount of time is in turn tied to local health conditions and, school officials say, whether they will have enough money in their budgets to sustain it.

This summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office of Emergency Services procured a 60-day supply of protective equipment for the state’s 1,037 school districts, anticipating that campuses were going to physically reopen to begin the new term. Order forms of the $53 million shipment, obtained through a public-records request, partially illustrate the scale and cost attached to reopening schools for the state’s 6.1 million K-12 students:

• $633,457.10 for more than 204,000 N95 respirators for school nurses.

• $2,732,978.56 for 55,912 no-touch thermometers.

• $6,729,690.24 for 154,068 gallons of hand sanitizer.

• $14,142,785,63 for almost 7.2 million cloth face coverings for elementary students.

The state and FEMA have helped with masks. In some counties, such as Kern, hospitals and businesses have chipped in with donations for personal protective equipment, or PPE. But high demand for supplies have driven up costs and attracted sketchy vendors looking to make money off districts in urgent need of supplies.

School leaders have called on the federal government to help with the extraordinary costs of doing distance learning and physically reopening schools. In fact, they sat financial challenges could threaten efforts to bring students back on campuses.

In San Diego Unified, superintendent Cindy Marten said a precarious budget situation will affect how quickly and to what extent the state’s second-largest school district will be able to offer in-person instruction this year. To date, the district has spent $11 million on personal protective equipment.

“When the funding’s not there, we will have to stop (reopening),” Marten said Thursday, calling on Congress to pass a financial relief package for schools. “When you reopen and you can’t put the appropriate nursing and counseling and distancing in place, and physical changes that need to happen, you slow it down, or you don’t do it as safely.”

The federal government’s lack of involvement in procuring protective gear for hospitals has meant state governments are competing with each other for supplies, driving up prices and putting individual school districts at a disadvantage, said Robert McEntire, director of management consulting services for School Services of California. For example, the cost of industrial-size Lysol disinfectant, about $6.50 in ordinary times, now costs as much as $19, McEntire said.

“When you get these small districts operating on their own for their own supplies, they’re struggling to compete, and often if they can even get stuff, they’re paying far more for it,” McEntire said.

That has helped create a “Wild West” of procurement, he said, that has drawn “fly-by-night people looking to profiteer” from schools that struggled to get protective gear and technology through their normal suppliers.

The Panama-Buena Vista district spent this summer buying electrostatic foggers for each of its 24 schools that custodial staff will use to deep clean classrooms, which will each have “sanitation stations” teachers and staff can use for minor disinfection. The district spent money on air purifiers to help dissolve aerosol particles indoors, as well as extra N95 masks for special-education teachers to wear when working with special-needs students who might not be able to wear their own face coverings.

“If you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to be able to learn. If you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to be able to teach,” said Jennifer Irvin, the district’s assistant superintendent for education services.

Though the distance-learning start has meant more time for schools to prepare for in-person learning, it’s unclear when that will happen for Kern County schools. As of Thursday, the county was still in the purple tier of the state’s new reopening guidelines, meaning schools can’t reopen. In July, before new state guidelines that almost entirely shut the door on campus reopenings, the Panama-Buena Vista school board planned on giving families the option of sending kids to school five days a week.

Maple Elementary, a district of 300 kids in Shafter, has spent about $225,000 on desk barriers, a mask stockpile, two student teachers to help with distance learning, and two portable classrooms to help expand the school’s indoor capacity, according to superintendent Julie Boesch.

Like the rest of the state’s school districts, Maple is affected by deferrals—delayed cash payments to schools that the state used to plug its $15 billion educationbudget shortfall. With about 30 percent of the state cash flow to districts not coming until next school year, many schools are borrowing money and repaying it with interest this year to get by.

Instead of borrowing money, though, Maple has sent layoff notices to its instructional aides. Layoff protections to teachers and some classified employees approved by Newsom and the Legislature were intended to prevent schools from cutting personnel essential for school reopenings, but have hamstrung some schools’ abilities to deal with volatile budgets.

That’s left Boesch, whose husband is a bus driver at a nearby school district, conflicted.

“As much as on a personal level I’m like, ‘OK, I’m glad (for my husband),’ on a professional level, that’s tying our hands with where we can cut expenses when we still have an enormous amount of costs,” Boesch said.

Some of the state’s classified employees—which include custodians, food service workers and instructional aides—have reported either not receiving enough supplies from their schools to their local unions, or not being notified when a colleague has tested positive.

The latter was the case recently when Ben Valdepeña, president of the California School Employees Association and a school custodian for 38 years, received an email from a local chapter. Several fellow custodians at a local school district were concerned about a colleague who’d been absent from work for two days with little explanation from their school leaders.

It was later found that the custodian, Valdapeña said, had tested positive for coronavirus.

“It’s scary to me. You have districts that do the exact right thing. They follow all the rules; they tell everybody what they need to know, and they may even send people home and quarantine them,” Valdepeña said. “And then you have other districts where it’s like they try to hide it.”

Valdepeña said schools should not underestimate the amount of cleaning supplies and gear it will take to sanitize schools on a routine basis, adding that custodial workers and employees “will need a ridiculous amount of PPE.”

At the global scale, many of the countries that have successfully reopened schools have done so with stellar hand hygiene, strict physical distancing and face-mask requirements, said Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical officer at the Bipartisan Policy Center, who is researching school reopenings worldwide. Some of the countries that opened schools without a face-covering mandate did so because they had reached very low transmission levels, Parekh said.

Nationwide, a safe reopening would cost schools $22 billion in just protective gear, cleaning supplies, and additional school nurses and custodial staff, according to an estimate from the American Federation of Teachers.

Children and teens will be encouraged to bring in their own cloth face coverings, but if they forget theirs or don’t have one, schools will need to provide that for them, said Sheri Coburn, a school nurse in San Joaquin County and past president of the California School Nurses Organization.

Although the state has already distributed millions of masks to schools, including child-size ones, there will likely be a need to resupply periodically. “So hopefully the state can continue to help,” Coburn said.

While most California students are doing distance learning, some teachers have returned to their classrooms to lead video instruction from there. Coburn said that in her district, this means a daily screening of staff, which entails a questionnaire and temperature checks.

That, however, is not feasible for students. “We have high schools of 4,000 to 5,000 students; we would be there all day,” Coburn said. That is why when students return to the classroom, it will be up to parents to monitor their child’s symptoms, she said.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

After reading Friday’s Daily Digest, a reader unsubscribed from the e-mailed version, with this note:

“You shouldn’t be giving your personal opinion in informational articles. And if you are, you should clearly state it’s your opinion.”

Sigh.

OK, even though that reader left us, for those of you remain, here’s a disclaimer: This here Daily Digest includes both news links and bursts of personal commentary, by yours truly, Jimmy Boegle. By the way, there is no such thing as “objective” journalism, and it’s nigh impossible to write “informational articles,” with any degree of complexity, without some sort of “personal opinion” slipping, intentionally or unintentionally, into said article. So there.

I could write a treatise about this topic, but I won’t, because others already have. Google “objective journalism,” as well as “false balance” or “bothsidesism,” and you’ll see a bazillion pieces about all of this.

I’ll try to take the time to address this topic in more depth on a day when there’s less going on (so, sometime in 2023, maybe?), but for now, I’ll discard the words “objective” and “balance” and “opinion,” and just leave you with this: The goal of the Daily Digest, as well as everything else in the Independent, is to offer the reader a bit knowledge, entertainment and/or enlightenment, in a way that’s transparent, and fair, and as free of conflicts of interest as possible.

If you have any questions about this, or want to have a further discussion, hit reply—seriously. I am happy to discuss.

So, here’s the news of the day, along with those aforementioned bursts of political commentary:

• Is it just me, or does this seem, well, very wrong? “The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has informed the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence that it'll no longer be briefing in-person on election security issues, according to letters obtained by CNN. Instead, ODNI will primarily provide written updates to the congressional panels, a senior administration official said.

• Is it just me, or does this seem, well, scary as hell? “One of President Trump’s top medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy to combat the pandemic, which would entail allowing the coronavirus to spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations, according to five people familiar with the discussions.

The New York Times on Saturday ran a story saying that some coronavirus tests may be too darn sensitive. Wait, what? “Most of these people are not likely to be contagious, and identifying them may contribute to bottlenecks that prevent those who are contagious from being found in time. But researchers say the solution is not to test less, or to skip testing people without symptoms, as recently suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, new data underscore the need for more widespread use of rapid tests, even if they are less sensitive.”

Spain was one of the hardest-hit countries by the virus … and the second wave of COVID-19 has arrived there. According to The New York Times: “France is also surging, as are parts of Eastern Europe, and cases are ticking up in Germany, Greece, Italy and Belgium, too, but in the past week, Spain has recorded the most new cases on the continent by far—more than 53,000. With 114 new infections per 100,000 people in that time, the virus is spreading faster in Spain than in the United States, more than twice as fast as in France, about eight times the rate in Italy and Britain, and ten times the pace in Germany.”

Today is the final day of California’s 2020 Legislature session, and our friends at CalMatters have put together a tracker with some of the more noteworthy legislation that’s made it to the governor’s desk. Check it out.

• “Twitter on Sunday removed a post retweeted by President Donald Trump that falsely claimed the COVID-19 pandemic is not as deadly as officials have reported,” says this lede from USA Today, proving yet again that we are apparently in the worst timeline.

• And here’s yet more proof that this is the worst timeline, compliments of an Arizona State University professor, writing for The Conversation: “In August, the Trump administration announced the plan to end the 2020 Census count a month early, on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 31. With about a month left before that new end date, fewer than two-thirds of U.S. households have been counted so far. The result will be that the Census will count fewer Black Americans, Indigenous peoples, Asian Americans and Americans of Hispanic or Latino origin than actually live in the U.S. That will mean less public money for essential services in their communities, and less representation by elected officials at the state and federal levels.” Sigh.

• Today marks the end of the deadliest month from COVID-19 in the state of California. Let’s all pray that August remains the deadliest month.

According to CNBC, President Trump’s executive order regarding the deferral of the payroll tax has resulted in a confusing mess.

• The head of the FDA had to come out and say that any decisions on vaccine use will be based on science rather than politics—and the fact that he had to come out and say that is alarming, says NBC News. “(Dr. Stephen) Hahn made the pledge after a series of recent public missteps involving the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—two of the federal agencies critical to the U.S. coronavirus response—which have damaged their reputations at a time when they are needed the most, according to seven prominent doctors and scientists who spoke to NBC News. They say that the recent events are clear signs of political interference from the White House and that they have shaken their trust and confidence in the leadership of the agencies.”

• California needs firefighters. A number of former inmates got firefighting experience while they were in prison. However, former inmates aren’t allowed to be firefighters. The San Francisco Chronicle looks at this dilemma—which, fingers crossed, could be repaired by the Legislature in its final day this year.

• Two seniors at a Wisconsin High School thought it was, well, bonkers that their school had a dress code … but no face-mask requirement. The Lily, a publication of The Washington Post, looks at the successful fight Ava Rheeve and Julia Going put up against the madness.

The New York Times looks how the move to reopen colleges in some places is leading to technological advances that could benefit us all: “The fall of 2020 will go down as a period of profound experimentation at colleges and universities transformed into hothouse laboratories. They are trying out wastewater tests, dozens of health-check apps and versions of homegrown contact technologies that log student movement and exposure risk. And they are experimenting with different testing methods that might yield faster results and be easier to administer, such as using saliva instead of nasal swabs.”

• Online/virtual, not-in-person classes are under way at College of the Desert—despite a malware attack that took down the college’s website and email system. Yeesh!

• As god-awful as this pandemic has been, we can at least take a teeny, tiny amount of solace that it’s spurred some airlines to ditch change and standby feessomething United Airlines started a trend with following an announcement yesterday.

That’s enough for today. Please vote in the first round of the Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll if you haven’t already. Also, if you value the Daily Digest and the other journalism published by the Independent, please consider throwing a few bucks our way. Thanks for reading; the Digest will return on Wednesday. In the meantime, watch CVIndependent.com for updates.

Published in Daily Digest

We here at the Independent debated postponing our annual Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll this year.

Why? For one thing, the city magazine and the daily already do readers’ polls—and the timing of the daily’s poll overlaps with ours, which confuses the heck out of everyone.

For another thing … as you know, we’re in the middle of a raging pandemic, which has curtailed or shuttered many of the businesses and organizations that are featured in our poll.

However, upon further reflection, we decided not to postpone our poll … so here we go! First-round (nomination) voting will be open through Monday, Sept. 14. Go here to access the ballot, where you will fill in the blank in each category. (In other words, we have no pre-determined list of candidates.)

Why did we decide to press forward? Well, for one thing—and I say this with all due respect to the winners and everyone else otherwise involved—those other readers’ polls are kind of terrible.

For our Best of Coachella Valley poll, we ask each reader to vote only once per round, because our goal is to come up with a slate of truly excellent finalists and winners. The other polls have no such prohibition, because the goal of those polls is not to get a great slate of finalists and winners—the goal is for the publications to get as much web traffic as possible from readers visiting their websites over and over again to vote.

The other reason why we pressed forward: There’s never been a more important time to shine a light on the valley’s best businesses, individuals and organizations, because so many of us are struggling right now.

The top vote-getters in the first round of voting will advance to the final round, which will take place at CVIndependent.com starting Monday, Sept. 28. The Best of Coachella Valley results will be announced at CVIndependent.com on Monday, Nov. 23, and in our special December print edition.

Thanks in advance to all of you wonderful readers who take the time to vote!

Today’s news—and, boy oh boy, is there a lot of it:

Sigh. Here’s a lede from an NBC News story: “A Black man was shot in the back multiple times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, a bystander's video showed, prompting community protests and widespread anger.” Thank god this time the victim lived: Jacob Blake, 29, is in serious but stable condition. Here’s what happened, according to Blake’s attorney: “Blake was helping to deescalate a domestic incident when police drew their weapons and tasered him. As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point blank range. Blake’s three sons were only a few feet away and witnessed police shoot their father.”

This is why it’s not a good idea to have large gatherings of people, especially indoors, right now: “The number of COVID-19 cases connected to a wedding reception in Millinocket (Maine) continues to climb, with state health officials saying on Saturday that they could trace 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus to the reception. That’s up from 32 confirmed cases on Friday.”

• If you’ve ever doubted whether an absence of competent federal leadership can truly affect issues at the local level, this story will erase those dounts rather quickly: The Associated Press reports that distance-learning efforts are being hampered by a laptop shortage. Key quote: “The world’s three biggest computer companies, Lenovo, HP and Dell, have told school districts they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops, in some cases exacerbated by Trump administration sanctions on Chinese suppliers, according to interviews with over two dozen U.S. schools, districts in 15 states, suppliers, computer companies and industry analysts.”

• We’re only three stories in, and I need a drink. Or three. So here’s the Independent’s most recent cocktail column, in which Kevin Carlow offers guidance on how to make all the basic drinks. Cheers.

• Aaaand now back to the news, and this horrifying Business Insider headline: “Rats reported feeding on packages of rotted fruit and meat as postmaster general’s cutbacks unleash chaos at California's mail centers.” Sigh. And Ew.

• More bad news: It’s now been proven that a person can indeed get COVID-19 more than once. MedPage Today offers the damning details. But, no panicking! Key quote: “‘My hope is that while reinfection has been documented, it is a rare or uncommon occurrence,’ Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not involved in the research, told MedPage Today. ‘So far that seems to be the case, but we're still only a few months into this pandemic.’”

CBS News-YouGov just did a poll asking people about the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. … and sit down for this one: “57 percent of Republican respondents said the U.S. death toll for COVID-19 was ‘acceptable,’ while 43 percent said it was ‘unacceptable.’ Republicans were the only partisan group of which a majority of voters said the number of deaths was acceptable. Among Democrats, 10 percent said the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. was acceptable, while 90 percent said it was unacceptable. For independents, 33 percent labeled the death toll as acceptable, and 67 percent called it unacceptable.” For the record, that U.S. death toll is currently approaching 180,000.

The FDA on Sunday, after pressure and criticism from the president, decided to authorize the emergency use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients. The move has been criticized by many experts—including those from the WHO, Reuters reports.

• OK, here’s some actual good news: California has been approved for the extra $300 in weekly unemployment funds. BUT it’s going to take several weeks to actually start happening, and there are all sorts of exclusions. Bleh. The San Jose Mercury News explains.

• More good news: It appears the number of coronavirus infections nationwide is decreasing—and, according to The New York Times, experts say that’s because various restrictions, like mask ordinances, are having an effect.

The New York attorney general is looking into possible corruption in the Trump Organization. Key quote: “The attorney general’s office said it began investigating after Trump’s former lawyer and ‘fixer,’ Michael Cohen, told Congress in February 2019 that Trump had used these statements to inflate his net worth to lenders. The filing said that Eric Trump had been scheduled to be interviewed in the investigation in late July, but abruptly canceled that interview. The filing says that Eric Trump is now refusing to be interviewed, with Eric Trump’s lawyers saying, ‘We cannot allow the requested interview to go forward … pursuant to those rights afforded to every individual under the Constitution.’” Hmm.

Two political science professors, writing for The Conversation, examine a negative aspect to mail-in voting you may not have thought of: secrecy, or a lack thereof. Key quote: “Mail-in voting still requires an official ballot, and can still be validated and counted anonymously. That eliminates what’s commonly known as voter fraud—where someone casts a ballot on behalf of someone else. But it doesn’t address outside forces influencing the authentic voter at the moment they make their decision. The voter marks the ballot outside the supervision of election monitors – often at home. It’s possible to do so in secret. But secrecy is no longer guaranteed, and for some it may actually be impossible.”

The weather is finally giving overwhelmed and tired firefighters a break in Northern California. But dry and dangerous conditions remain.

Another county has been removed from the state’s COVID-19 watch list, meaning some businesses and schools may begin to reopen soon there. Congratulations to … (checks notes) … Orange County!?

• OK, this is genuinely a very cool thing, because it shows the technology exists, and could be more widespread soon: The San Francisco International Airport has set up rapid COVID-19 testing for employees and flight crews (but not, as of yet, passengers). Key quote: “Technicians use an Abbott Labs device, about the size of a toaster oven, to analyze samples obtained using a nasal swab. Abbott Labs said the device ‘amplifies the RNA hundreds of millions of times to make the virus detectable—returning test results in 13 minutes or less.’

• The city of Palm Springs will soon be closing down part of Palm Canyon Drive to allow restaurants to expand. “The pilot program, which is expected to kick off within the next two weeks, would allow for a full closure of Palm Canyon Drive between Baristo Road and Tahquitz Canyon Way,” says the news release.

• Also Palm Springs downtown-related, from the Independent: The PS City Council agreed to cut $3 million in funding from the under-construction downtown park when it passed the new budget several months ago. However, on Aug. 6, in a 3-2 vote, full funding for the park was restored—a move that infuriated many within the local business community. Kevin Fitzgerald talks to the City Council and breaks it all down.

• This damn pandemic has claimed another local restaurant: Zobo and Meester’s announced today it will close for good on Sept. 9.

• Alt-country great Justin Townes Earle died last week at his Nashville home, at the age of 38. You can read his New York Times obituary here. He appeared at Stagecoach several times, and spoke to the Independent in advance of the 2017 festival. “Nobody should ever expect me to make the same record twice, or (for the records to) even to be in line with each other,” he said. “I’m a whimsical motherfucker.” RIP, Justin.

• We’re now entering the “Let’s Get Weird!” section: Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned from Liberty University today after the news broke that his wife—with Falwell’s knowledge and occasional from-a-distance participation—apparently had a long affair with a younger man who was a “pool attendant” when they met. From NPR: “Falwell's departure comes on the heels of an investigation by Reuters on Monday in which Falwell's former business partner, Giancarlo Granda, claimed he had a multiyear sexual relationship with Falwell's wife, Becki, which involved Falwell looking on while the pair engaged in sex acts.

Or maybe he isn’t resigning. Hmm.

KFC has temporarily dropped its “finger lickin’ good” slogan, because, you know, WE CAN’T LICK OURSELVES ANYMORE BECAUSE OF COVID. Wait. That’s not exactly what I meant … oh, never mind.

That’s a LOT of news for today. Be safe. Be careful. Be happy. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, to help us keep doing quality local journalism. The Digest will return Wednesday.

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Happy Friday, all. On one hand, we’re one week closer to the end of the pandemic.

On the other, we’re one week closer to the end … period. Sigh.

So … let’s get to the news:

• Fires continue to devastate California, especially in the northern part of the state. As the Los Angeles Times grimly puts it: “A series of wildfires burning an area larger than the state of Rhode Island have depleted California’s firefighting resources and triggered requests for help from across the West, the East Coast and even as far as Australia.” 

Among the things being threatened by the fires: A major power plant.

• Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before Congress today, pledging to make sure vote-by-mail ballots were handled in a timely fashion, and saying it was “outrageous” to suggest that he—a major Trump donor—would intentionally mess things up to help the president. There was also this, according to The New York Times: “Under intense pressure from Democrats, however, he refused to reverse other steps, like removing hundreds of blue mailboxes and mail-sorting machines, that he said his predecessors had initiated in response to a steady decline in mail volume.”

The so-called Golden State Killer was sentenced to multiple life-in-prison sentences today, after agreeing to a plea deal in June that meant he’d avoid the death penalty. The Associated Press, via SFGate, has the details.

• The president has made several alarming election-related statements as of late—including a threat to send law enforcement officers to polling locations to monitor things. Would it be legal for him to do such a thing? CNN says probably would not be.

In other Trump-related news: The endless fight to not turn over his tax returns continues.

Our partners at CalMatters look at one of the more contentious proposals being debated by the California Legislature. The lede: “It doesn’t sound like an idea that would generate much controversy in a statehouse dominated by Democrats: Should more California workers be assured they can return to their jobs if they take time off to care for a sick family member or new baby? But a proposal to do just that has caused a major rift among Democrats in the California Capitol. As lawmakers enter the final week of the legislative session, it’s shaping up as a bitter fight and casting uncertainty on a key piece of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans to advance what he calls a ‘parents’ agenda.’”

• From the Independent comes a piece regarding something else the Legislature is pondering during these final days of the session—an expansion of protections for farmworkers and, by extension, a significant part of the food-supply chain. Key quote, from Assemblyperson Eduardo Garcia: “We’re talking about PPE investments, greater testing and permanent housing for our farmworkers. Then, of course, we’re talking about transparency and accountability to make sure that we’re accounting for farmworkers who test positive (for COVID-19) to make sure that we isolate them and keep others safe from becoming infected. We’re not asking for things outside the norm. We’re asking for greater investment in, and attention to, a very important part of our essential workforce that ties directly into our strong economy as it relates to the $50 billion agriculture industry.”

Native American communities are being hammered by COVID-19. MedPage Today examines the reasons why, with the help of some recently completed studies and data-crunching.

• The Los Angeles Times takes a fascinating look at the case of Qian Lang, who became the first—and, for weeks, only known—COVID-19 victim identified in Los Angeles. He was also one of the first patients to get treated with remdesivir. Key quote: “The 38-year-old salesman played an important role, not widely known until now, in a frantic race to understand the deadly new virus before it hit the United States in full force. Public health officials and researchers looked to him as a real-time, flesh-and-blood case study.

Can you imagine working as a school nurse these days? According to The New York Times: “School nurses are already in short supply, with less than 40 percent of schools employing one full time before the pandemic. Now those overburdened health care specialists are finding themselves on the front lines of a risky, high-stakes experiment in protecting public health as districts reopen their doors amid spiking caseloads in many parts of the country.”

Also from The New York Times comes a story about an amazing piece of anecdotal evidence supporting immunity in recovered COVID-19 patients, regarding an outbreak on a Seattle fishing vessel: “More than a hundred crew members aboard the American Dynasty were stricken by the infection over 18 days at sea. But three sailors who initially carried antibodies remained virus-free, according to a new report.”

• Chin up, buttercup! A professor of medicine, writing for The Conversation, offers nine reasons to be optimistic that we will, in fact, have a widely available COVID-19 vaccine next year.

• Also from The Conversation: If it seems sometimes like Democrats and Republicans these days are living in alternate realities … well, that’s because we kind of are—and the pandemic has only served to make those “realities” even more different.

• Partially because of the pandemic, and partially because of a heightened awareness of racism and inequities in the restaurant industry, there will be no more James Beard restaurant awards until 2022. The San Francisco Chronicle explains.

• I returned to the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week to discuss COVID-19, Palm Springs city government and varied other things with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr, as well as fellow guest Dr. Laura Rush. See and hear what we have to say here.

Finally … in some parts of California, ash is falling from the skies due to the wildfires. But in Switzerland, it’s cocoa power that’s falling from the skies.

That’s enough for the week! Please, have a safe, enjoyable and enriching weekend. Oh, and wear a mask when you’re around others—and please consider throwing a few bucks our way to support independent local journalism, but only if you can afford to do so. The Daily Digest will be back Monday.

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