CVIndependent

Tue12012020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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.

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Riverside County will remain in the red, “Substantial” COVID-19 tier for at least one more week—even though the county’s numbers are getting worse.

Why? The county asked the state for another week to make improvements—and the state, via an “adjudication process,” gave the county the requested break.

“The aim with the adjudication process is to make the case to the state that we can maintain our current status and still control COVID-19 in our communities,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, via a news release. “Whether or not we stay red or return to purple, we have to get people tested to find cases, and continue to use facial coverings, social distance and avoid gatherings. If we return to purple, we want to get back to red as quickly as we can. If we stay red, we want to progress. We can’t do either of those things without individuals, businesses and institutions working together to reduce spread.”

In order to be in the red tier, a county is supposed to have a positivity rate below 8 percent, and less than 7 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. As of today’s weekly reporting, the county has a 5.9 percent positivity rate—but 8.1 new daily cases per 100,000, a number the state adjusted up to 9.2, because the county is lagging behind the rest of the state in testing.

The county did meet the criterion for the new health equity metric, coming in below 8 percent (at 7.7 percent, to be exact). This metric tracks the positivity rate in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

So … what does this all mean? If we don’t get that case rate per 100,000 residents down, the state could put Riverside County back into the purple, “Widespread” tier, as soon as next week. That would mean movie theaters, gyms, restaurants and places of worship would have to close down indoor operations—yet again.

Stay tuned.

Other news from the day:

Another vaccine’s Stage 3 trial has been halted due to a serious illness. The Associated Press reports via SF Gate: “(Johnson and Johnson) said in a statement Monday evening that illnesses, accidents and other so-called adverse events ‘are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies’ but that its physicians and a safety monitoring panel would try to determine what might have caused the illness.” Johnson and Johnson’s potential vaccine, unlike many other candidates, only requires one dose.

A similar halt over a safety concern has occurred in the clinical trials for Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody treatment. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board recommended pausing enrollment in the U.S. government-sponsored trial, a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. The company didn’t provide information about what caused the panel to recommend the stoppage.” This treatment is similar to the antibody therapy from Regeneron that President Trump received and has hailed incorrectly as a “cure.”

• In other COVID-treatment news, the one company that could know for sure whether it has a working vaccine by the end of the month is taking steps to make sure people trust the vaccine, should everything work out. Per Politico: “The company behind President Donald Trump’s last hope for a vaccine by Election Day has quietly begun courting influential health experts, including some of its toughest critics, to head off charges that it's moving too fast in the face of intense political pressure.

A Nevadan is the unlucky man who has become the first person in North America confirmed to have gotten COVID-19 twice, from two slightly different versions of SARS-CoV-2. The Los Angeles Times explains why these rare re-infections show why we need a vaccine, and can’t just depend on herd immunity.

Having said that, we’ll present this headline from The Washington Post sans comment: “Proposal to hasten herd immunity to the coronavirus grabs White House attention but appalls top scientists.”

• By now, you’ve probably heard of the unauthorized drop boxes that have been appearing around the state—often with labeling saying they’re “official.” The state Republican party is responsible; the state attorney general has demanded the Republicans cease and desist; the state party is refusing to do so. Our partners at CalMatters look at the legal questions involved with this shady move by the GOP.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Trump administration can stop Census field operations early. According to The Associated Press, via SFGate: “The Supreme Court justices’ ruling came as the nation’s largest statistical association, and even the bureau’s own census takers and partners, have been raising questions about the quality of the data being gathered — numbers that are used to determine how much federal funding is allotted to states and localities, and how many congressional seats each states gets.” Interestingly, only one of the eight justices, Sonia Sotomayor, dissented. 

• The state has officially said that Californians should not go trick-or-treating this year. According to the Los Angeles Times: “Health officials voiced concerns that it’s not possible to practice social distancing while trick-or-treating and that Día de los Muertos and Halloween celebrations would lead to people interacting with those from outside their households. State officials are strongly discouraging trick-or-treating and suggested that some Halloween activities, such as costume contests and pumpkin carving, move online. They recommended that families go on a walk while dressed up but forgo going door-to-door for candy.” Damn you, 2020!

• Climate change and poor forest management have fueled (literally) California’s awful wildfires in recent years. So … what can be done to fix the forest-management portion? According to two engineering professors, writing for The Conversation, forests can be restored—but it’ll take many years and billions of dollars.

• Republicans have been crying out about the possibility that a President Biden could choose to “pack” the U.S. Supreme Court by adding justices. Well, it turns out the Republican Party has been more than happy to “pack” lower courts. According to The Washington Post: “Marin Levy, a law professor at Duke University, says there’s important context missing from the discussion: the recent partisan attempts to pack state supreme courts. In a study published earlier this year, well before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Levy documented court-packing attempts in at least 11 states in recent years. Most of those efforts were initiated by Republicans, including the two that succeeded. Moreover, compared with earlier decades, court-packing attempts are now more common and more explicitly partisan.”

President Trump’s campaign used an out-of-context quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci—and Fauci is not pleased. According to CBS News: “Fauci also said he thinks that the approach could backfire and be detrimental to President Trump's re-election chances. ‘By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me,’ he said. ‘Since campaign ads are about getting votes, their harassment of me might have the opposite effect of turning some voters off.’” Yikes.

• Hmm. The New York Times is reporting that the Trump administration is accelerating subsidies to farmers as Election Day approaches: “Farmers are not the only constituency benefiting from the president’s largess: He has promised $200 prescription drug cards to millions of seniors, approved $13 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, which could help his prospects in Florida, and he directed his Agriculture Department to include letters signed by him in millions of food aid boxes that are being distributed to the poor.

Also from The New York Times: A whole lot of large companies are telling their employees to plan on working from home until next summer. At least.

That’s enough news for the day. A scheduling note: The Daily Digest will be off tomorrow, but will return later in the week. Be safe, everyone—and please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you’re able.

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It’s common practice for media organizations to prepare coverage of certain events before said events have actually happened.

Take obituaries, for example. The Associated Press, The New York Times and other large media organizations have files upon files of pre-written obituaries for prominent people. (Reporters once worked on them on what used to be called “slow news days,” a concept that the year 2020 has completely and totally obliterated.) This way, when a death does occur, all editors need to do is pull out the pre-written obit, add in a date and a cause of death, and perhaps update a few details before quickly publishing. This practice is sometimes called “preparedness.”

Sometimes, this preparedness can cause weirdness. The New York Times, for example, has a long and storied history of publishing bylined obituaries penned by writers who themselves have been dead for years.

Then there’s the problem of obituaries making their way to the wire or the internet before the subject has actually died. My favorite example of this happened back in 1998, when someone working for the AP hit the wrong button, more or less, and sent out Bob Hope’s obituary. The obit was clearly not complete—a bunch of x’s were in the places where Hope’s cause of death and his age would have been—but the story got the attention of an aide to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, which led to Hope’s death being announced on the House floor. Which led Reuters to report Hope’s death. Which led ABC Radio to report Hope’s death. And so on.

Hope would live five more years.

Today, in an effort to get things published online quickly after they happen, some news websites will pre-write stories, just in case something, which may or may not happen, actually happens. And this brings us to the big mistake Deadline made yesterday.

The background: Vice President Mike Pence cancelled an event scheduled for today in his home state. Even though a Pence spokesman said at the time that COVID-19 was NOT the reason for the change, the fact that the White House is now confirmed to have been the site of a super-spreader event led to all sorts of speculation—and apparently led Deadline to write up a piece announcing that Pence had tested positive for COVID-19, so it was ready to go in case that actually happened.

But then someone at Deadline actually published the piece. And then the piece was shared on Deadline’s Twitter page.

As with the AP’s premature Bob Hope obit, it was clear to anyone paying attention that the Deadline piece was published prematurely, given “PREP. DO NOT PUBLISH UNTIL THE NEWS CROSSES” was in the headline before the actual headline. But that didn’t stop people from jumping to erroneous conclusions —even though as of this writing, the vice president appears to be COVID-free.

Sigh. I miss slow news days.

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Today’s news:

The second presidential debate is officially cancelled. The Commission on Presidential Debates wanted to make the scheduled Oct. 15 debate a virtual event, because one of the two participants was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. However, that participant refused to participate in a virtual event, so the debate was cancelled. As of now, the Oct. 22 debate remains on the schedule, but who in the hell knows what the 13 days between now and then will bring.

And then there’s this headline from The New York Times: “Trump plans to hold a rally for thousands on the White House lawn Saturday, raising new concerns over possible virus spread.” He also has a rally planned in Florida on Monday. Yes, really.

Related, from Reuters: “U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of President Donald Trump’s most powerful allies in Washington, has avoided visiting the White House for more than two months because of its handling of the coronavirus, he told reporters on Thursday.” Holy cow!

• Oh, and the White House last month blocked the CDC from requiring masks on all forms of public and commercial transportation, according to the Times. My god.

• Hey, who needs a drink? We’re only the intro plus three stories into this Digest, but I sure do … and a Manhattan sounds amazing! But did you know the sweet vermouth you use in a Manhattan is just as important as the whiskey? So here’s a Thrillist piece on some good sweet vermouths.

• Before we get to more despair, let’s share some good news on the COVID-19 battle. First: Two drug-makers have requested emergency-use authorizations for antibody therapies to battle SARS-CoV-2—including the one the president received. Per NBC News: “The announcements from drug manufacturers Regeneron and Eli Lilly came within hours of Trump making public pleas to drum up support and enthusiasm for the medicines—referring to the antibodies as a ‘cure,’ despite a lack of evidence backing up such a claim.” Still, the therapies show promise.

Fingers crossed regarding this CNBC lede: “Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday the U.S. could have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for every American as early as March, a more optimistic estimate than President Donald Trump has publicly said.”

Also from CNBC comes the news that the FDA has granted emergency authorization for a rapid test that can screen patients for both the flu and COVID-19—plus other viruses and bugs.

• Hey, another silver lining! COVID-19 is making us filthy Americans wash our disgusting hands more frequently.

The New York Times today published yet another piece regarding portions of President Trump’s taxes where the numbers don’t really add up. This story involves a mysterious $21 million in payments to Trump in 2016 that largely “went through a company called Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing that had little previous income, no clear business purpose and no employees.”

Yet another NFL team was in limbo today after a positive COVID-19 test. (It turned out that the test was apparently a false positive.) As CNBC points out, the NFL is likely to keep playing, no matter what—because too much money is at stake.

• Did you know that the rich have access to private firefighting crews? The Los Angeles Times points out that not only does this raise serious questions about societal inequities; “when private, for-profit groups come in and don’t follow protocol, they can confuse residents, get in the way of firefighting activities or even require assistance themselves.”

• Why in the world are rolling blackouts still a thing in 2020? According to our partners at CalMatters, the preliminary results of an investigation into the blackouts earlier this year show the state did a bad job at planning and preparing.

Also from CalMatters, via the Independent: Proposition 24 is one of the most confusing questions on the ballot this year. It’s supposed to protect citizens’ privacy on the internet … but leading privacy advocates disagree on whether the proposition would actually do that.

Happy Friday, everyone. We made it through another crazy week! Be safe, and have a great weekend. The Digest will return Monday.

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

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

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

Consider:

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

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

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

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

More news links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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