CVIndependent

Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

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

OK? OK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

There is SO MUCH NEWS—and we’re not even including anything about the vice-presidential debate or the president’s recent Tweetstorm.

So let’s get right to it:

• As sort-of portended in this space last week, Riverside County’s COVID-19 numbers are heading in a bad direction—and as a result, the county could slide back into the most-restrictive “widespread” (purple) tier as soon as next Tuesday. While the state calculates our positivity rate as 5 percent, which is good enough to keep us in the red, “substantial” tier, our adjusted cases-per-100,000 number is now 7.6—more than the 7.0 limit. The county also did not meet the just-introduced equity metric, which “ensure(s) that the test positivity rates in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods … do not significantly lag behind its overall county test positivity rate.” What does this all mean? It means that if our numbers don’t improve, businesses including gyms, movie theaters and indoor dining will have to close again.

• A glimmer of hope: Today’s county Daily Epidemiology Summary indicates that, as shown in the yellow box on the last page, the county’s positivity rate seems to be heading back downward.

The county Board of Supervisors yesterday decided NOT to set up a more-lenient business-opening timetable, thereby avoiding a potentially costly showdown with the state. Instead, the supes voted 4-1, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, to “seek clarity on whether group meetings, like the kind held in hotels and conference centers, that primarily involve county residents can take place with limits on attendance. Supervisors also want to know whether wedding receptions can be held with attendance caps.

• After weeks of gradual improvement, the Coachella Valley’s numbers are also heading in the wrong direction, according to the weekly Riverside County District 4 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) The weekly local positivity rate went up to 12.6 percent, and hospitalizations saw a modest uptick. Worst of all, two more of our neighbors passed away from COVID-19.

Well this is horrifying. According to The New York Times: “The FDA proposed stricter guidelines for emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine, but the White House chief of staff objected to provisions that would push approval past Election Day.”

• Meanwhile, a man named William Foege, who headed the CDC under both GOP and Dem presidents, wants current CDC Director Robert Redfield to fall on his figurative sword: “A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health titan who led the eradication of smallpox asked the embattled, current CDC leader to expose the failed U.S. response to the coronavirus, calling on him to orchestrate his own firing to protest White House interference,” according to USA Today.

• A tweet from the governor’s office over the weekend has led to some unflattering national attention. As explained by CBS News: “The California governor’s office put out a tweet on Saturday advising that restaurant-goers keep their masks on while dining. ‘Going out to eat with members of your household this weekend?’ the tweet reads. ‘Don’t forget to keep your mask on in between bites. Do your part to keep those around you healthy.’” I am all for mask-wearing … but in between bites?

It appears Coachella will be delayed yet again: “Multiple music-industry insiders now tell Rolling Stone that the 21st edition of the popular music festival will be pushed a third time, to October 2021.”

ICE raids in “sanctuary” cities across California have led to 128 arrests in recent weeks—a move decried by administration critics as a political stunt. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “The nation’s top immigration officials disclosed the results of Operation Rise during an unusual press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., slamming sanctuary jurisdictions and doubling down on the need to secure the country’s borders.

• Gov. Newsom had a busy day today. Most importantly, he announced that “an intern in (his) administration and another state employee who interacted with members of the governor’s staff have both tested positive for COVID-19, though neither came in contact with Newsom or his top advisors,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Newsom revealed that Disney Chairman Bob Iger had stepped down from his economic-recovery task force—in part because Newsom refuses to offer a pathway for the state’s theme parks to reopen. According to Deadline: “When asked about Iger’s departure, Newsom said: ‘It didn’t come to me as a surprise at all. There’s disagreements in terms of opening a major theme park. We’re going to let science and data make that determination.’

The governor also announced he had signed yet another executive order, this time in an effort to preserve at least 30 percent of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030. According to the San Jose Mercury News: “Newsom signed an executive order directing the state’s Natural Resources Agency to draw up a plan by Feb. 1, 2022, to achieve the goal in a way that also protects the state’s economy and agriculture industry, while expanding and restoring biodiversity.

• Our partners at CalMatters are reporting that in an effort to cut down on fraud, state officials are freezing unemployment accounts—but they’re often freezing the accounts of innocent people: “In what appears to be the latest problem at the besieged state Employment Development Department, unemployed Californians say their accounts are being erroneously frozen, leaving them unable to access a financial lifeline amid the pandemic. Reports surfaced last week and continued over the weekend with beneficiaries reporting their Bank of America accounts—where benefits are deposited and spent—frozen, closed or drained of money.

• An engineering professor, writing for The Conversation, says that a contagious person’s location in a room will help determine who else in that room is exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Read up on the emerging science here.

Wait, the coronavirus can cause diabetes now? Wired reports that scientists are looking into that very real possibility.

• The Washington Post looks at how restaurants are reinventing themselves to survive the pandemic. Restaurant critic Tom Sietsema writes: “At least in Washington, at least this season, more restaurants seem to be opening than closing, and unlike in the spring, when I penned a tear-streaked mash note to the industry I feel grateful to cover, fall feels ripe for a pulse check, even a dining guide to reflect on the smart ways the market has responded to the blow of a global crisis.

Facebook announced today it will stop running all political ads for about a week, after Election Day. It will also do this, per CNBC: “Additionally, Facebook on Wednesday announced that it will ‘remove calls for people to engage in poll watching when those calls use militarized language or suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control, or display power over election officials or voters.’” Baby steps …

• Gustavo Arellano, now a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tells the story of Ivette Zamora Cruz, a Rancho Mirage resident who publishes a Spanish-language magazine, La Revista. When the Black Lives Matter protests took place in June, she decided she needed to take action—by dedicating the latest issue of her magazine to Black voices. Arellano writes: “She began to cold-call Black businesses with offers of free ads, and asked Black writers and photographers via Instagram to submit their work. The issue published in August with profiles of Black artists and activists, and a historical timeline of police violence against Black people in the United States.” It’s a fantastic story.

• Here’s another local story from the Los Angeles Times, and this one is rather disconcerting: “Joining the growing—and increasingly controversial—list of American art museums that have sold or are preparing to sell major paintings from their permanent collections, the Palm Springs Art Museum is finalizing discussions to bring Helen Frankenthaler’s monumental 1979 canvas ‘Carousel’ to market, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plan.” Also: Art critic Christopher Knight points out that this isn’t the first time Museum Director Louis Grachos has been involved with a controversial museum-art sale.

• And finally, Fat Bear Week has a winner. Get to know the portly pre-hibernation fella nicknamed 747.

That’s enough for today. Please help support this Daily Digest and the other work the Independent does by becoming a Supporter of the Independent; we really could use your support. Be safe—and thanks for reading!

Published in Daily Digest

California recently approved longer paid family leave, allowing workers whose blessed events fall on the right side of the new law to take up to eight weeks off with partial pay to bond with a new baby.

How’s that going to work? We asked the experts and read the fine print to help you figure it out.

I’m about to have or adopt a baby. Do I get the longer paid leave?

Probably not. The new eight-week plan kicks in on July 1, 2020. If you file a claim to take paid family leave before that date, you will likely be put on the current plan that allows for six weeks of paid leave, according to Loree Levy, deputy director of the Employment Development Department. She said the rules are still being finalized, but that’s how she expects it will work.

Remember: Paid family leave is on top of the six weeks of disability pay that women can get after childbirth.

Can I take six weeks of paid family leave now and get two more weeks after July 1, 2020?

Probably not, Levy said. Again, the rules aren’t final, but that’s her expectation based on how changes have been made in the past.

Does my baby have to be born after July 1, 2020, for me to take eight weeks of paid leave?

Probably not. Whether you get six or eight weeks of paid leave will likely depend on the “effective date” you put on the paperwork you file with the state—not when your baby is born or adopted. Same caveat as above: The rules are still in the works.

A glimmer of good news for families expecting a baby in the spring: If your baby is born before July 1, and you can wait to start taking paid leave, you may be able to get eight weeks of paid leave by putting a July 1, 2020, effective date on your claim.

I’m not pregnant, but my partner is. Do I get eight weeks of paid leave too?

Yes. Both parents can take up to eight weeks of paid family leave.

How much will I get paid?

About 60 to 70 percent of your normal wages, depending on your income. Gov. Gavin Newsom has put together a task force to study how to increase that to 90 percent for low-income workers, but it hasn’t yet come up with a plan.

Some employers may allow you to take vacation time or provide other benefits to get your paycheck up to 100 percent, said Sebastian Chilco, an employment attorney with the Littler law firm in San Francisco. Though you can file for paid family leave through the state without telling your employer, he recommends letting your company know so you can find out what other benefits are available.

“It’s a lot easier to deal with things in advance,” Chilco said.

How do I know if I qualify for paid family leave?

You need to have paid into the State Disability Insurance fund in the last five to 18 months. In general, this is a program for private-sector workers, though some government employees also participate. Check your pay stub for payments to “CASDI,” and click here for more details.  

Does my employer have to let me take the longer leave if I want it?

Only in certain circumstances. If you have worked at your company for at least 26 hours a week over the last year and your worksite has at least 20 employees, your employer has to hold your job for you while you take baby-bonding leave.

But smaller companies are not required to hold your job for you. That means about 25 percent of California workers are paying into the leave system but could be fired if they take it, said Jenna Gerry, an attorney at Legal Aid at Work.

Her group supported a bill this year that would have aligned the rules “so if you qualify for paid family leave, you also qualify for the right to take time off and return to your job after your leave,” Gerry said. It stalled, but advocates plan to try again next year.

I thought Gov. Newsom proposed six months of paid leave for new parents. Why are you talking about eight weeks?

It’s true that Newsom proposed six months of paid leave, saying in January that “there is no substitute for parents spending time with their children.”

But his idea is that each baby in California will be cared for by a parent or close family member for six months—not that each worker will get six months of paid leave. Newsom’s plan envisions two family members each taking two to four months off to care for a baby—so the new eight-week paid leave gets pretty close for two-parent families. If one of them is a birth mother who also takes six weeks of pregnancy disability pay, the family would get 22 weeks of paid time off, or about 5 1/2 months.

Newsom’s task force is studying how California could structure a paid leave plan that would allow six months of family care for every baby. It’s expected to make recommendations in November.

Who’s paying for all this?

You are, if you’re among the 95 percent of California workers who pay into the State Disability Insurance fund through a 1 percent tax on your paycheck. The state is lowering the amount of money held in the fund’s reserves to cover the cost of the additional two weeks of leave.

Paid leave isn’t just for parents, though—right?

Right. You can take six weeks of paid family leave to care for a seriously ill child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse or registered domestic partner. And that increases to eight weeks on July 1, 2020. But the job-protection rules are a little different than they are for people taking leave to bond with a baby.

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

Published in Local Issues