CVIndependent

Tue11242020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

On this week's board-certified weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen ponders the ongoing attempted coup; The K Chronicles listens in on a conversation as the devil encourages Trump to look at the bright side; This Modern World checks in to see how things are going on Parallel Earth; Red Meat's cowboys take action to make the teasing stop; and Apoca Clips features Li'l Trumpy teaching his son a lesson.

Published in Comics

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.

Published in Daily Digest

Voters narrowly defeated Proposition 15, the tax measure that aimed to eliminate decades-long protections for commercial properties—dashing hopes of billions of dollars flowing into California’s cash-strapped public schools and community colleges in the coming years.

In the second-most-expensive ballot fight this election, Prop 15 supporters said the measure would help right what they viewed as a fundamental wrong in the state’s school-funding system by increasing the share of property-tax revenues going toward schools. Opponents characterized Prop 15 as harmful to small businesses and the state’s economy at a time when the pandemic has already strained or shuttered several local businesses.

“We’re the fifth-largest economy in the world,” said E. Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association, the top benefactor for the Yes on 15 campaign, “and big corporations should be paying their fair share to invest in our students, our public schools, our families and our communities.”

The measure—backed by labor unions, community organizations and several of the state’s progressive leaders—challenged the state’s still-popular 1978 constitutional amendment, Prop13, and had been slightly trailing in the vote count since election night before the Associated Press called its defeat Tuesday by a 51.8 percent (no) to 48.2 percent (yes) margin.

What happens now?

Legislative analysts projected Prop 15 would have drawn between $6.5 billion and $11.5 billion in commercial property tax revenues, with 40 percent of the take going to K-12 schools and community colleges beginning in 2022-23.

So while the measure would have been a boon in the long term, any financial fruits coming from a Prop 15 win would not have arrived soon enough to address the immediate twin financial crises facing the state’s public schools: tense efforts to physically reopen campuses and the state education budget’s looming cliff.

California K-12 schools and community colleges, almost a decade removed from the steep Great Recession-era cuts that resulted in more than 30,000 teacher layoffs, were slated to receive a record $84 billion in state funding this year—up from $81.6 billion—before the pandemic cratered the state’s budget forecast.

Faced with a potential 10 percent cut to the state’s main school finance artery, the Local Control Funding Formula, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature protected school budgets this year by deferring $11 billion in state funding for schools. That move held schools’ funding flat by delaying payments to schools into the next fiscal year—some installments coming as late as seven months—but also means the state will have to confront a potentially taller school finance cliff starting next year.

“Yes, Prop 15 would’ve helped in the long run, but it wouldn’t have fixed this short-term problem that the Legislature’s going to face in the coming spring,” said Bruce Fuller, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education.

As state education funding increased over the latter part of the decade, so, too, have fixed costs such as employee pension contributions and support services for growing populations of students in the state who have special needs or are English learners.

Several communities across California with the state’s permission to reopen campuses are engaged in fraught debates among school leaders, teachers, parents and employee unions over when and how to do so. Among the sticking points has been whether schools have the resources to implement and sustain safety measures, such as surveillance coronavirus testing for employees. At a recent legislative hearing, state lawmakers acknowledged schools’ dearth of testing capacity was prolonging potential campus reopenings while noting that the state had little room in its budget to assist with local efforts.

State officials have suggested on several occasions schools tap into $5.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds allocated for schools this summer to purchase laptops and technology for remote learning, personal protective equipment and expand their coronavirus testing bandwidth.

“(This) is not magical money that can be stretched forever,” Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association, said of the CARES Act funding, adding that schools are “in a very perilous position” financially.

“Anytime there’s a new expectation or the state imposes a new requirement, it keeps pointing to that same pot of money,” Flint said.

Prop 15 is the second education-related statewide measure to face defeat this year, in part, due to the tall shadow of the landmark measure commonly referred to as the third rail of state politics.

Voters also rejected in the March primary a $15 billion state bond for school construction that, because of the state’s sequential numbering requirements for ballot measures, shared the same name as the 1978 property-tax cut: Prop 13. Though some political observers pointed to the measure’s confusing name as a reason for its defeat, others also noted that its supporters failed to adequately communicate to voters the bond’s importance.

Despite Prop 15’s defeat, supporters were optimistic late election night when initial returns came in, saying that the closeness of the vote suggested an appetite from voters to invest more money in public services such as K-12 education.

At the local level, school measures across the state continued to receive broad support—another sign of voters’ support for education funding, according to advocates. About 80 percent of the 60 K-12 and community college bonds on local ballots, including a $7 billion bond in Los Angeles Unified, appeared headed toward approval at press time, according to results gathered by Michael Coleman, publisher of the California Local Government Finance Almanac. Nine out of 13 parcel taxes, which require two-thirds voter approval, appeared to pass, though the votes remained too close to call in two communities.

Another attempt at an education-related tax measure in the near future seems likely, though it’s too soon to predict how a future measure would be structured. Also unclear at the moment is whether education and community advocates would again mount their own effort, similar to Prop 15, or if the governor and Legislature would get involved.

Before the state’s budget crunch, researchers affiliated with Stanford University had calculated it would take an additional $25 billion in school funding for all of the state’s 6.1 million public-school students to meet its learning standards. In recent years, some state lawmakers have wanted to go even further. The pandemic has increased those needs, according to advocates.

Newsom endorsed Prop 15 in September, though he did not campaign for the measure. The governor also said recently that he would not support legislation calling for higher income taxes.

Whatever the course, the road to more schools funding will likely require broad support among state leaders, education unions, advocacy groups as well as a unified message, said Carrie Hahnel, an independent education researcher and fellow with the Berkeley-based Opportunity Institute.

Without federal or state intervention, Hahnel wrote in a recent Policy Analysis for California Education brief, schools are likely to face a downturn like the one they experienced nearly a decade ago. Because California’s public schools are heavily reliant on state income taxes, it makes them more susceptible to volatility amid the peaks and valleys of the state’s economy, Hahnel wrote.

In 2012, at the tail end of the recession as the state neared a similar school funding cliff, then-Gov. Jerry Brown campaigned aggressively for Proposition 30, a quarter-cent sales tax that aimed to prop up school funding. The message then was clear: Vote yes, or schools stood to lose $6 billion in cuts. It passed with 55.4 percent That kind of support from the governor might be what it takes to put a future ballot measure over the top.

“I think we need to start from scratch and get everybody together and say what we are trying to do and how we can build this thing even if it means some compromises, some shared pain,” Hahnel said. “It’s very hard to hit the business community alone.”

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.

Published in Local Issues

It’s Nov. 11, Veterans Day. To all of you out there who served our country: Thank you.

Let’s get right into the news … and please accept my apologies for the fact that much of it is rather dour:

• Riverside County needs to get used to being in the state’s most-restrictive coronavirus tier—because we’re going to be in it for a good, long while, according to the weekly numbers released by the state yesterday. As the Riverside Press-Enterprise explains: “Riverside County’s seven-day average of daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, adjusted for testing volume, rose to 13.9 from last week’s 11.5. This week’s rate is nearly double the threshold of seven new cases per day allowed in the red tier—the next lower and less-restrictive level.”

In the Coachella Valley specifically, we’re also heading in the wrong direction, according to the county’s latest District 4 report. (District 4 includes the valley and points eastward.) Case counts, hospitalizations and the weekly positivity rate are all going up. Worst of all, six of our neighbors died due to COVID-19 in the week ending Nov. 8. This is NOT GOOD, folks.

At the state level: No counties this week advanced into a better tier. On the flip side, as explained by SFGate: “Acting California Public Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan announced Tuesday that 11 counties are falling back to more restrictive tiers in the state's reopening plan, forcing a host of businesses to close and activities to stop. Sacramento, San Diego and Stanislaus are moving back to the most stringent purple tier marking widespread infection.”

On a national level, case counts continue to set horrifying new records. As The Washington Post explains: “In one week, new daily coronavirus cases in the United States went from 104,000 to more than 145,000 on Wednesday, the latest all-time high. Almost every metric is trending in the wrong direction as states add restrictions and health officials warn of a dangerous fall ahead.”

Things are getting so bad in North Dakota that this is happening, according to The Hill: “North Dakota is allowing health care workers with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic to keep working in coronavirus units to make up for a staff shortage. The extraordinary move, announced by Gov. Doug Burgum (R) on Monday, comes as hospitals hit their capacity amid a rise in coronavirus cases.”

• College football is a mess of cancellations and postponements. In the high-powered SEC, four of seven scheduled games this weekend has been postponed. Sports Illustrated explains that contact tracing is just as much to blame as players testing positive.

A top adviser for President-elect Joe Biden thinks we’d all benefit from another strict lockdown. As reported by CNBC: “Shutting down businesses and paying people for lost wages for four to six weeks could help keep the coronavirus pandemic in check and get the economy on track until a vaccine is approved and distributed, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, a coronavirus advisor to President-elect Joe Biden.”

• I think we can safely call President Trump’s election night gathering at the White House a super-spreader event. As The New York Times explains: “Three more White House staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, including at least one, the political director, Brian Jack, who attended an election night event at the White House, people familiar with the diagnoses said on Wednesday. … Three other people had previously tested positive after attending the election night event.”

• Finally, some decent news, but first, I challenge you to say “bamlanivimab” three times fast! Or, uh, maybe just once correctly? Or don’t. Anyway, what is bamlanivimab? It’s Eli Lilly and Co.’s new monoclonal antibody therapy for the coronavirus, which received emergency-use authorization for COVID-19 on Monday. Says CNN: “FDA authorization was based on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October. It found the treatment seemed to lower the risk of hospitalization and ease some symptoms in a small number of patients with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.”

NPR makes it clear: “Wearing a mask protects the wearer, and not just other people, from the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized in an updated scientific brief issued Tuesday. And the protective benefits of masks are stronger the more people wear masks consistently and correctly, the agency says.”

Our partners at CalMatters contrast the ways in which the states of California and Oregon report workplace COVID-19 outbreaks: “Since May, Oregon has used a centralized tracking system, which has enabled health officials there to release weekly reports that list the names and addresses of every known business with at least 30 employees where five or more positive COVID-19 cases are identified. … California, in contrast, doesn’t post workplace outbreaks. The state lets its 58 counties handle coronavirus data, with wide variety in how each county tracks and reports workplace outbreaks. The distinction has workers and public health experts worried.”

The Conversation asked an epidemiologist about the precautions she’s taking to host a safe Thanksgiving meal. Key quote: “No matter how careful you and your family are, there is some risk that someone will be infected. With that in mind, the goal is to reduce the conditions that lead to viral spread. The biggest risks are indoor spaces with poor ventilation, large groups and close contact. So we are planning the opposite: a short outdoor Thanksgiving with a small group and plenty of space between everyone.”

• And now for news about the unprecedented and dangerous effort to undermine the results of last week’s election: The New York Times called election officials in every state—red, blue and every shade in between. How much fraud did they find? None. Key quote: “Top election officials across the country said in interviews and statements that the process had been a remarkable success despite record turnout and the complications of a dangerous pandemic. ‘There’s a great human capacity for inventing things that aren’t true about elections,’ said Frank LaRose, a Republican who serves as Ohio’s secretary of state. ‘The conspiracy theories and rumors and all those things run rampant. For some reason, elections breed that type of mythology.’”

The AP looks at the various lawsuits President Trump’s campaign has been filing in battleground states … and doesn’t find any winning at all: “A barrage of lawsuits and investigations led by President Donald Trump’s campaign and allies has not come close to proving a multi-state failure that would call into question his loss to President-elect Joe Biden. The campaign has filed at least 17 lawsuits in various state and federal courts. Most make similar claims that have not been proven to have affected any votes, including allegations that Trump election observers didn’t have the access they sought or that mail-in ballots were fraudulently cast.”

• Military.com notes that Trump’s installation of a new acting secretary of defense wasn’t exactly done by the book: “President Donald Trump on Monday fired Mark Esper as defense secretary and put Christopher C. Miller, who previously led the National Counterterrorism Center, in charge at the Pentagon. … But some say that doesn't follow the rules set by DoD statute and an executive order on the Defense Department’s line of succession. Those call for the deputy defense secretary—another Senate-confirmed position—to fill the vacancy.”

• And the firing of Esper/installation of Miller is just the tip of the iceberg. This sentence from a Politico article is, to put it mildly, alarming: “In quick succession, top officials overseeing policy, intelligence and the defense secretary’s staff all had resigned by the end of the day Tuesday, replaced by political operatives who are fiercely loyal to Trump and have trafficked in ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories.” Gulp.

• Finally … after all that pants-wetting news, doesn’t a nice hike sound lovely? If you’re nodding your head right now, check out the Independent’s brand-new hiking column, Hiking With T.

That’s enough for today, right? Thanks for reading—and please help the Independent continue its mission of offering quality local journalism for free to everyone by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's provisionally cast weekly Independent comics page: (Th)ink says the election results are finally in; This Modern World looks at Life in the Stupidverse, post-election; Jen Sorensen ponders reaching across the figurative aisle; Apoca Clips watches as Li'l Trumpy gets interrupted on the golf course; and Red Meat makes a dangerous mistake.

Published in Comics

It’s horrifying that a lot of high-powered Republicans are—without any evidence whatsoever—making allegations of widespread election fraud.

However … these flailing attempts to mount a legal challenge to the election led to one of the most bonkers events in the history of this great nation—a hilarious event for which I will be forever grateful—and that’s what I’d like to discuss with you today.

By now, you’ve probably heard of Four Seasons Total Landscaping. If you somehow haven’t, strap yourself in, because we’re going on one hell of a ride.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping is the place in suburban Philadelphia where Rudy Giuliani and some other Trump representatives held a press conference on Saturday morning. Their goal was to garner publicity for their so-far baseless claims of election fraud. What they did, instead, was this:

• They caused a great deal of confusion about the venue. President Trump tweeted on Saturday: “Lawyers News Conference Four Seasons, Philadelphia, 11 a.m.” This understandably led people to assume the president meant the Four Seasons hotel. (Apparently, that’s where Trump initially thought the press conference was going to be held.) However, minutes later, he deleted that Tweet and clarified that the conference would actually be at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, as this absolutely must-read piece from The Philadelphia Inquirer explains.

• The confusion led the poor folks at the Four Seasons hotel to tweet out that, no, the press conference was NOT being held there. Meanwhile, speculation began running rampant that perhaps Trump’s team meant to book the hotel but instead booked the landscaping biz by accident; however, that aforementioned Inquirer piece makes it clear that the team booked Four Seasons Total Landscaping on purpose, so it would “take place in a section of Philadelphia where they might receive a more welcomed reception than at the raucous celebrations of Joe Biden’s victory going on in Center City.”

• As for that section of Philadelphia: It turns out that Four Seasons Total Landscaping’s neighbors include a sex-toy shop and a crematorium.

• Moments before Giuliani started speaking, the networks called the race for Joe Biden—something that Giuliani apparently didn’t know had happened. As the Daily Mail explains: “Taking a question from a reporter, the former New York City Mayor initially looked confused about ‘the call’ before asking, ‘Who was it called by?’ When he heard ‘all the networks’ had awarded Biden Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral college votes, he quickly regained his composure, taking on a sarcastic tone and looking around to his team saying ‘oh my goodness!’ He repeated that the Trump campaign would continue to fight the result as he said: ‘Networks don't get to decide elections, courts do.’” Courts do?!

• It was later revealed that one of Giuliani’s star witnesses of alleged fraud who spoke at the press conference is apparently a sex offender.

• In the aftermath of this press conference, Four Seasons Total Landscaping is milking it for all it’s worth—and selling merch!

• Buzzfeed has this interesting post-press conference tidbit: “Now, (Four Seasons Total Landscaping) exists in virtual reality—complete with weathered detailing and a last-minute Trump 2020 podium. And rejoicing furries.”

• If you don’t know furries are, um, well, uh, here’s a Wikipedia article.

• Finally, I want to yet again tip my hat to that Philadelphia Inquirer article, which reveals that the whole shebang apparently ticked off Four Seasons Total Landscaping’s neighbors. Key quote: “The 78-year-old employee manning the counter at the Fantasy Island sex shop, who declined to give his name, said the phone had been ringing off the hook since Saturday with callers asking: ‘Is Rudy Giuliani there?’”

God bless America.

Today’s news:

• The big—and very encouraging—news of the day: Pfizer announced that early analysis shows its vaccine appears to be more than 90 percent effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections. This could be a huge freaking deal.

• Related: CNBC looks at where all of the leading vaccine candidates stand as of now.

As the pandemic continues setting alarming records across the country, President-elect Joe Biden announced a 13-member coronavirus task force, to help his administration battle the pandemic once he takes office on Jan. 20.

At least three people who were at Trump’s Election Night party at the White House now have COVID-19, including Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development.

The head of the General Services Administration is so far refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect. What does this mean? According to NBC News: “More than 48 hours after media outlets projected that Joe Biden had defeated Trump to win the White House, GSA chief Emily Murphy has yet to sign the letter of ‘ascertainment’ a previously mostly noncontroversial process since the passage of the Presidential Transition Act of 1963. Signing that paperwork when a new president is elected triggers the release of millions of dollars in transition funding and allows an incoming administration access to current government officials.”

A huge spike in coronavirus cases in Utah has led the governor to, at long last, issue a mask mandate. According to The Washington Post: “In a video posted to Twitter late on Sunday—which Utah residents were alerted to watch via an emergency cellphone alert—(Gov. Gary) Herbert also declared a two-week state of emergency and announced a spate of other restrictions aimed to curb infections, which the governor noted are ‘growing at an alarming rate.’”

• Related-ish: Two experts tell MedPage Today that staffing and PPE shortages could haunt nursing homes as the pandemic rages through the winter.

President Trump today fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Key quote, from CNN: “Esper's firing has raised concerns that other top national security officials who have earned Trump's wrath may be next in the line of fire.”

Our partners at CalMatters point out that COVID-19 cases are starting to increase here in California, too.

• Also from CalMatters: Who could take Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ place in the U.S. Senate? Here are some possibilities.

What does the election of Joe Biden mean for the economy? An expert from Texas State University, writing for The Conversation, points out: “Historical data suggests that those who are concerned with the economy have reason to be fairly satisfied with the election results: The economy generally fares better under Democratic presidents.

Now this is a sad, horrifying headline, from NBC News: “Lawyers can't find the parents of 666 migrant kids, a higher number than previously reported.” Sigh.

• From the Independent: The year 2020 has been a year with a lot of death. Our Valerie-Jean (V.J.) Hume lost her husband to cancer earlier this year—and learned that grief can literally break someone’s heart. She tells the story of how she learned about the medical condition called broken heart syndrome—and how she’s now hopefully on the mend.

The final episode of Jeopardy! hosted by the late, great Alex Trebek will air on Christmas Day.

• Finally … a lot of people (myself included) were making fun of Nevada for its less-than-speedy ballot counting last week. Well, it’s now time to tip your hat to the Silver State—because voters there overwhelmingly made it the first state in the U.S. to protect same-sex marriage in its Constitution.

Happy Monday, everyone. Stay safe, and wear a mask when you’re around others, please. If you have the financial means to do so, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent to help continue to produce quality, independent local journalism. The Daily Digest will be back Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

Hi. My name is Jimmy, and I am here to remind you that while many of us are distracted as we watch for presidential-election results to come in, we’re still in the midst of a crippling pandemic.

A pandemic that’s worse than ever.

Consider:

More than 120,000 COVID-19 cases were reported in the U.S. yesterday—more than ever before. And that could be just the tip of the iceberg. As Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, told CNBC: “Remember 120,000 cases aren’t 120,000 cases. We’re probably, at best, diagnosing 1 in 5 cases right now, maybe a little bit less than that, so this is at least half a million cases a day, probably more in terms of actual numbers of infection.”

Hospitalizations are soaring in many communities in the U.S. According to CNN: “In the first five days of November—as the country has focused on elections—22 states reported at least one record-high day of Covid-19 hospitalizations, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project. The states are: Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.”

Meanwhile, somehow, N95 masks are in short supply again. Sigh.

• Are you a sports fan who was looking to the much-delayed start of the Pac-12 Conference football season? Well, as of now, two of the six Pac-12 games slated for this opening week have been cancelled due to COVID-19 cases. ESPN has the details.

While California is still doing MUCH better than most of the rest of the country, cases are starting to tick up here, too.

• In Europe, things are getting bad—and all of the minks in Denmark will be culled (translation: killed) “after a mutated form of coronavirus that can spread to humans was found on mink farms,” according to BBC News. Yikes.

• Finally, even if you have been distracted from the pandemic by all of the political coverage … if you watch MSNBC, you won’t be watching Rachel Maddow this evening—because she’s quarantining after being in close contact with someone who has tested positive. (She has tested negative so far.)

I could go on and on and on with the bleak COVID-19 news, but you get the point: We’re in the thick of it, folks, as a nation and as a planet.

We need your support to keep doing what we do here at the Independent, so please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have a few bucks to spare.

More of today’s news:

• Related to all of the above: Counties with the worst coronavirus surges voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. You may draw your own conclusions.

Should people be paid to take the COVID-19 vaccine? Some experts say that such a move would lead to a greater societal good, according to MedPage Today.

A “nontoxic and stable” nasal spray blocked ferrets from getting the coronavirus, according to a small study released yesterday. The New York Times talked to experts about what this may or may not mean.

• Here’s an infuriating headline, compliments of NPR: “CDC Report: Officials Knew Coronavirus Test Was Flawed But Released It Anyway.” Ugh. Key quote: “The lab designed and built the diagnostic test in record time, and the little vials that contained necessary reagents to identify the virus were boxed up and ready to go. But NPR has learned the results of that final quality control test suggested something troubling — it said the kit could fail 33% of the time.”

• Back to politics: Early in the morning on Wednesday, the president said he’d have the U.S. Supreme Court intervene in the election if he felt the need. However, could that actually happen? Both Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute and a University of Memphis law professor say it’s unlikely.

• Some history has been made in L.A.: After this election, the entire Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will be female. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-11-04/l-a-county-makes-history-with-all-female-board-of-supervisors

Some 4.3 million (!) ballots have yet to be counted in California. What could this mean for the various ballot measures? Our partners at CalMatters explain.

• Will hurricane season ever end? After devastating Nicaragua, Hurricane Eta appears to be heading toward Florida.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald talks to some of the people behind new nonprofit Palm to Pines Parasports, the goal of which is to enrich the lives of disabled Riverside County residents via athletics. Key quote, from founder Michael Rosenkrantz: “The idea is that we use sports as an entry point to leading a full life. So we want to create a lot of sports opportunities to get people with physical disabilities more active, both physically and emotionally.”

• Because why the heck not, our beer columnist looks at the weird and wild history of the “40,” aka a large bottle of malt liquor—and it is fascinating. Key quote: “Years later, in the ’60s, the 40-ounce bottle seems to have made its debut. Beer was often sold in quarts (32 ounces) and even half-gallon (64 ounces) sizes for the purpose of serving at parties—but as weird as 40 ounces sounds as a package, it’s simply a 25 percent increase from the quart. It was meant to allow the purchaser to save money while serving ‘friends’ at a soirée (presumably ‘friends’ the purchaser disliked). It was often sold based on its resemblance to champagne.”

• Finally, while I think Buzzfeed listacles are one of the key reasons for the downfall of our society, I feel compelled to share this one, titled “21 Tweets About MSNBC's Steve Kornacki Because He's The Internet's New Hero.”

That’s enough for the week. Stay safe, everyone—and as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

So, uh, hello there. Let’s start off today by looking at the numbers … the COVID-19 numbers, that is.

The state today released its weekly county-by-county tier stats—delayed a day due to Election Day—and, alas, Riverside County is headed in the wrong direction.

While our positivity rate (5.9 percent) and health-equity quartile positivity rate (a measure of the rate in underserved populations; 7.8 percent) would qualify Riverside County to be in the less-restrictive “substantial” tier, our 11.5 cases per 100,000 are well above the allowed 7 per 100,000.

However, the news is not all bad. For the first time, the state did not adjust the county’s case-per-100,000 number upward—meaning we’re finally doing a state-average amount of testing. Also, on a local level, according to this week’s District 4 report, the Coachella Valley’s positivity rate is 5.6 percent—up a wee bit from last week’s 5.2 percent, but still the second-best number we’ve had here in months. Meanwhile, the valley’s hospitalization numbers remain steady—but two of our neighbors lost their lives due to COVID-19 during the week ending Nov. 1.

What does all this all mean? We are, thank goodness, thus far avoiding the huge spikes being seen almost everywhere else in the country. However, it also means that indoor dining, gyms and movie theaters won’t be happening again here for quite some time.

Today’s links:

• As for the national election stuff … it’s a debacle, and we really have nothing to add—except to say there are bits of good news to be found: More LGBTQ candidates ran for office in 2020 than ever beforeand some have earned some historic wins

• On the local level: More than 400,000 ballots have yet to be counted in Riverside County, with the next batch of results coming at 6 p.m. tonight (Wednesday). However:

— Independent Chad Mayes has a substantial lead over Republican challenger Andrew Kotyuk in Assembly District 42.

— Democrat Eduardo Garcia is way ahead of Republican America Figueroa in Assembly District 56.

— While a lot of votes in Cathedral City have yet to be counted, Rita Lamb has a large lead over Alan Carvalho in District 1, while Nancy Ross has more than twice the number of votes as JR Corrales in District 2.

— The races in Coachella are too close to call. Incumbent Steven Hernandez has 2,835 votes to Lesly Figueroa’s 2,430 in the mayoral race, while Denise Delgado (2,473) and Emmanuel Martinez (1,946) are in the lead for two City Council seats over Neftali Galarza (1,897) and Philip “Felipe” Bautista (955).

Scott Matas has a large lead (2,208 to 1,217) over Adam Sanchez in the DHS mayoral race, while Russell Betts has a commanding lead over the field for one of two City Council seats; the second seat remains very much up in the air.

— Incumbents Glenn Miller and Lupe Ramos Amith have large leads in their respective Indio City Council races.

Karina Quintanilla (932) leads incumbent Susan Marie Weber (589) in the brand-new Palm Desert City Council District 1 race, while incumbents Gina Nestande and Kathleen Kelly lead in District 2.

— Incumbent Christy Holstege (1,812) has a big lead over Mike McCulloch (915) and Dian Torres (380) in the Palm Springs City Council District 4 contest.

For up to date results, and for results on other contests in the county, go to the county results website.

• Our partners at CalMatters have all the details on the statewide ballot questions. The big news: Prop 22 passed, meaning drivers for Lyft, Uber and the other apps will remain independent contractors.

• Late on Monday, a judge issued a preliminary ruling that Gov. Gavin Newsom has been overstepping his bounds with COVID-19 orders. According to The Associated Press via SFGate: “Sutter County Superior Court Judge Sarah Heckman tentatively ruled that one of the dozens of executive orders Newsom has issued overstepped his authority and was ‘an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power.’ She more broadly barred him ‘from exercising any power under the California Emergency Services Act which amends, alters, or changes existing statutory law or makes new statutory law or legislative policy.’” The effects of this ruling remain to be seen—but could be substantial.

• In other court news: The U.S. Supreme Court—including newest member Amy Coney Barrett—heard a big LGBT rights case today. According to The New York Times: “In an argument marked by sharp exchanges on the sweep of its 2015 decision establishing a right to same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court on Wednesday considered whether Philadelphia may bar a Catholic agency that refuses to work with same-sex couples from screening potential foster parents.”

• Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, joined the growing chorus of voices pleading with the Trump administration to take action as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket. She said, according to The Washington Post: “We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality. This is not about lockdowns—it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.

• The New York Times looks at the kick-ass job college newspapers are doing at covering coronavirus outbreaks on campuses all across the country.

• Finally, if you have an extra $2.25 million sitting around, you can buy Jerry Lewis’ old Palm Springs digs.

Given the news overload most of us have endured over the last 24 hours … I think that’s enough for the day. Please consider clicking here to become a Supporter of the Independent; we offer our local journalism free to all, but it costs a lot to produce. As always, thanks for reading—and please stay safe.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's drawn-before-the-election weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles pines for pre-COVID days; This Modern World offers up a do-it-yourself strip; Jen Sorensen remembers her family's ancestors; Red Meat enjoys a driving lesson; and Apoca Clips hears Li'l Trumpy's predictions.

Published in Comics

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