CVIndependent

Tue12012020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Regular readers of the Daily Digest know that we often link to stories about scientific studies in this space. And regular readers also know that we always suggest that these stories be taken with a huge, honking figurative grain of salt—because science is often an inexact process, especially these days, given the mad rush to learn about a virus that we didn’t even know existed this time last year.

So … keep that all in mind as you read this piece regarding a brand-new study regarding the risks of getting COVID-19 on an airline flight.

According to ABC News: “United Airlines says the risk of COVID-19 exposure onboard its aircraft is ‘virtually non-existent’ after a new study finds that when masks are worn there is only a 0.003% chance particles from a passenger can enter the passenger's breathing space who is sitting beside them. The study, conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines, was published Thursday.”

The study seems pretty encouraging—but the fact the study was done in part by an airline is what we call a gigantic conflict of interest. So … make that figurative grain of salt we keep talking about even larger in this case.

That said, the findings sort of make sense, given what we know about the effectiveness of masks, and how air circulation is handled on planes.

For what it’s worth, I flew earlier this week for the first time since the pandemic arrived. I am in the middle of a quick trip to San Francisco with the hubby to take care of some things with the apartment he has up here for work, since he’s going to be working from home for the time being—and much of the tech world is even making work-from-home a permanent thing.

As for the flying experience, it felt quite safe; everyone was wearing masks, and there were plenty of open spaces between most seats. The airports themselves were a little eerie—most of the stores and restaurants at both PSP and SFO were closed—but that’s to be expected.

It’s a strange, different world now compared to what it was like eight months ago. Who knows what it’ll be like in another eight months?

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And now, the news:

• It’s usually a mere formality for a state’s disaster-declaration request to be approved by FEMA—but this is 2020, and the president is Donald Trump, so nothing is a “mere formality” anymore. Still, it was shocking when his administration at first denied Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request earlier this week regarding the recent, deadly wildfires—before changing course today after a conversation between Newsom and Trump. The approval is a big deal, because, as the Los Angeles Times explains: “The state and its local governments count on FEMA every year to help recover up to 75 percent of their staffing costs for sending firefighters into other jurisdictions—including onto federal land—to help fight wildfires for weeks at a time.

• Here’s the latest Riverside County District 4 report. District 4 is basically the Coachella Valley and the rural points eastward—and, frankly, I found the report’s weekly positively rate shocking (in a good way). District 4 has had a weekly positivity rate in the double-digits for almost the entirety of the past few months, yet on this report, it’s down to 5.9 percent. If this is accurate, this is fantastic progress. However, the report contains sobering reminders that SARS-CoV-2 remains a terrible adversary: Five of our friends and neighbors lost their lives as a result of the virus during the week ending Oct. 11.

• The New York Times did an examination of the scramble the Trump administration is making to enact (or revoke) various policies and regulations. The lede: “Facing the prospect that President Trump could lose his re-election bid, his cabinet is scrambling to enact regulatory changes affecting millions of Americans in a blitz so rushed it may leave some changes vulnerable to court challenges.” Oh, and here’s a quote that should get one’s attention: “Some cases, like a new rule to allow railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, have led to warnings of public safety threats.” Yikes!

ABC News agreed to do a “town hall” with Joe Biden last night … and then NBC, rather dubiously, agreed to do one with Trump at the same time. Well, the ratings are in—and more people watched Joe Biden, even though Trump’s town hall was also simulcast on NBC’s cable-news networks.

• Sen. Dianne Feinstein said some rather nice things about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and Sen. Lindsey Graham during the Senate hearings this week. This didn’t sit well at ALL with some Democrats.

• The Conversation has been knocking it out of the park this week with all sorts of interesting pieces looking at the science behind the news. In one piece, a history professor looks at how past pandemics have ended—and what lessons can be found about how this one will end. Spoiler alert: The virus that causes COVID-19 is here to stay, even though its effects will lessen over time. Key quote: “Hopefully COVID-19 will not persist for millennia. But until there’s a successful vaccine, and likely even after, no one is safe. Politics here are crucial: When vaccination programs are weakened, infections can come roaring back. Just look at measles and polio, which resurge as soon as vaccination efforts falter.

• In another piece, a medicine professor reveals that dementia-related deaths were up a shocking 20 percent over the summer—and nobody is sure why. She explains four possible factors in this sad increase.

• In yet another, a physiology professor makes the case that pneumonia vaccines may help save lives until the much-anticipated coronavirus vaccines arrive.

• Here are a couple of bits of disconcerting science news on the COVID-19 front, although—say it along with me—we should take all of these studies with that figurative grain of salt. One: According to MedPage Today, “Additional evidence continued to suggest blood type may not only play a role in COVID-19 susceptibility, but also severity of infection, according to two retrospective studies.”

• Two: A large study shows that remdesivir does not prevent COVID-19 deaths. However, this study and its conclusions have come under fire from critics—including, surprise surprise, the maker of the drug.

Pfizer may become the first company to apply for an emergency-use authorization for a helpful coronavirus vaccine—but that’s not going to happen until late November at the earliest, the company says.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to all four of the candidates running for two City Council seats in Cathedral City. Find out what District 1 candidates Rita Lamb and Alan Carvalho had to say here, and what District 2 candidates JR Corrales and Nancy Ross had to say here.

• One of the questions we asked the aforementioned Cathedral City candidates involves a recently enacted ban on most short-term vacation rentals in the city. Well, a similar ban appears to be coming to Rancho Mirage as well, as The Desert Sun reports.

• Twitter went down for a good chunk of the day yesterday, and a satire website posted a story joking that Twitter had shut down the site to avoid negative news being spread about Joe Biden. Well … Trump tweeted out that satire piece, apparently believing it to be real news. Sigh.

• And finally, the mayor of Anchorage resigned earlier this week after admitting that he exchanged inappropriate messages with a local TV anchor. However, as The New York Times explains, the story is waaaaay more bonkers than that sentence implies. Here’s a taste: “Mr. Berkowitz’s resignation followed an unsubstantiated claim posted to social media on Friday by the news anchor, Maria Athens, promising viewers an ‘exclusive’ story set to air on upcoming newscasts. Mr. Berkowitz responded by calling the allegations ‘slanderous’ and false, and Ms. Athens shot back by posting what she said was an image of the mayor’s bare backside, with a laughing emoji.” And things get even crazier from there. Trust me: This is worth a read.

That’s enough news from the week. Wash your hands; wear a mask; be kind; be safe. As always, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will be back next week.

Published in Daily Digest

Back on May 1, we wrote: “Welcome to May 2020—which should be one of the most fascinating months in American history.”

Well, May sure lived up to that statement, didn’t it?

It’s now May 29. Here in the Coachella Valley, retail stores, restaurants, some casinos and—as of this afternoon—some vacation rentals are again open for business. So far … so OK, I guess.

Nationally, however, the country is in crisis—but not because of COVID-19, though the virus remains as deadly as ever. No, the culprit is good ol’ fashioned police brutality and racism.

As of this writing, protests are continuing to grow in cities including Atlanta; Washington, D.C., Chicago; San Jose; and beyond, after rough nights last night in Minneapolis, Louisville and other cities.

I am hoping—naively, perhaps—that some good may eventually come out of this. Derek Chauvin—the Minneapolis police officer who we’ve all seen pinning down George Floyd on that awful video—has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Meanwhile, police leadership around the country is speaking out, swiftly and strongly, in condemnation of what we all saw on that video.

These are gut-wrenching times, for so many reasons. We, as a country, need to fight to make sure we come out of this better—because we need to be better.

If you agree with that statement—and I sure hope you do—it’s time to ask yourself: What am *I* going to do be better?

Today’s news links:

• The big local news of the day, as mentioned above: Riverside County announced that short-term rentals can resume taking reservations immediatelyalbeit with restrictions. While some cities, like Rancho Mirage, are continuing to restrict them, the city of Palm Springs has clarified that they are, in fact, now allowed in P.S. This is a welcome boost to the economy. As for what it means for COVID-19 … we’ll just have to wait and see.

• And now for the bad-if-unsurprising local economic news of the day: The August edition of Splash House is officially cancelled.

CVS has opened free drive-through testing sites in Coachella, Palm Springs, La Quinta and Indio. Here’s the list and the details.

Los Angeles has been given the go-ahead for retail, restaurants and barber shops/salons to reopen.

• Gov. Newsom today defended the surprisingly fast reopening processes taking place in much of the state. Key quote: “Localism is determinative. We put out the how; counties decide the when."

• Another stimulus/relief bill is in the works. But Mitch McConnell says this’ll be the last one. NPR explains.

• Meanwhile, in the middle of the world’s worst pandemic in 102 years, the most prosperous country on the planet is completely pulling out of the World Health Organization. At least that’s what the president said today, because—as we keep saying—NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE.

From Bloomberg News comes this astonishing lead: “One farm in Tennessee distributed COVID-19 tests to all of its workers after an employee came down with the virus. It turned out that every single one of its roughly 200 employees had been infected.”

• NBC News reports that during “the first media briefing from the CDC in more than two months”—and I will remind everyone that WE ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC—it was revealed that the coronavirus began its spread in the U.S. in late January, a month or so before anyone noticed.

• One of the keys to keeping the virus contained may be antigen tests. What are they, and how do they differ from the diagnostic tests you know about, and the antibody tests? The Conversation explains.

• Spending is way down, and savings is way up, according to CNBC: Americans who are fortunate enough to have cash are holding onto it.

That’s enough for the day! Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Please consider helping us continue to do quality independent, local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you can afford to do so. We’ll be back Monday, at the latest.

Published in Daily Digest

Vacation rentals are one of the most contentious issues in Palm Springs—and on June 5, voters in the city will decide on a measure that opponents say would effectively ban vacation rentals, if approved.

Measure C is the culmination of a battle that’s been brewing for more than a decade over short-term rentals, or STRs. The housing-market crash during the Great Recession created an STR boom in Palm Springs, as buyers both local and from out of town snapped up foreclosed-property bargains, and later turned them into vacation rentals.

The problem is that these homes—available for weekend getaways and short retreats through Airbnb and other services, and at times the sites of rather raucous parties—are intermingled with homes occupied by full- and part-time residents.

According to Rob Grimm, the campaign manager for Palm Springs Neighbors for Neighborhoods—the group that got Measure C placed on the June ballot—there are 1,986 units registered as vacation rentals and home shares, which hosted an estimated 467,000 visitors in 2017.

“This is an alarming number of strangers to be rotating in and out of unsupervised mini-hotels located in residential neighborhoods,” said Grimm.

However, city officials claim that the STR issue is under control, thanks to strict enforcement of the city’s newish vacation rental compliance ordinance.

“We are one of the only cities in California that has a dedicated Vacation Rental Compliance Department,” said Boris Stark, a vacation-rental code-compliance officer. “Our latest ordinance … was a collaboration among community stakeholders and city leadership. It addresses neighborhood concerns head-on.”

Stark said the department includes eight officers and two vehicles. I personally have seen VRC officers working, often late at night and on weekends, to enforce the city’s ordinance. (I wanted to go on a ride-along with Stark, but City Manager David Ready did not respond to my request.)

The city makes hefty revenues from the STRs.

“For fiscal year 2016-17, total (transient occupancy tax) dollars from vacation rentals was $7.58 million, and for 2017-18, we anticipate the same,” Stark said. “Vacation Rental Compliance issued over 430 citations for various violations in 2017.”

Grimm said no neighborhood in Palm Springs has been unaffected by STRs.

“The city has refused to entertain density limits on the number of STRs allowed in the city,” he said.

Measure C has attracted fierce opposition in the form of a coalition called We Love Palm Springs. According to Jeremy Ogul, the coalition’s media relations coordinator, opposition to the STR ban comes from groups including Vacation Rental Owners and Neighbors of Palm Springs, representing nearly 400 homeowners; the Palm Springs Hospitality Association, with about 200 hotels, restaurants and attraction venues in the city; the Palm Springs Regional Association of Realtors; and the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, among other groups.

“We oppose Measure C because of the devastating impact it would have on the Palm Springs economy,” said Nona Watson, CEO of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, in a news release.

While a majority of vacation rentals are owned by people who are not residents of Palm Springs, local entrepreneurs have also invested in STRs. Athalie LaPamuk owns and manages two vacation rentals in the city. She also owns and operates Ice Cream and Shop(pe) at the Arrive Hotel.

“I often meet visitors at my vacation rental who are excited to plan a return trip to stay at the hotel, or guests at the hotel who want to come back and stay in a vacation rental,” LaPamuk said in a news release. “Those are some of the same people who end up moving here and starting businesses here. The point is that our city benefits from all this tourism activity.”

Both sides fervently believe they are acting in the city’s best interests.

“It is time for the residents of Palm Springs to decide what their neighborhoods should look like,” Grimm said.

Published in Local Issues