CVIndependent

Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Jimmy Boegle

Today is one of the biggest, craziest news days I have ever seen. Let’s get right to it:

The reverberations of the shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday in Kenosha, Wis., continue to intensify. First and most awful: A 17-year-old was arrested after allegedly shooting three people, two fatally, at a protest in Kenosha late last night.

• Buzzfeed is reporting that the alleged shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, was front and center in the crowd at a January Trump rally in January. “Kyle Howard Rittenhouse’s social media presence is filled with him posing with weapons, posting ‘Blue Lives Matter,’ and supporting Trump for president. Footage from the Des Moines, Iowa, rally on Jan. 30 shows Rittenhouse feet away from the president, in the front row, to the left of the podium. He posted a TikTok video from the event.”

• To protest the shooting of Blake, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not take the court for Game 5 of their best-of-seven NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic this afternoon—a moment unparalleled in modern sports history. Shortly thereafter, all of today’s NBA playoff games were postponed, as were all of today’s scheduled WNBA games. The players’ strike then spread to Major League Soccer as well as Major League Baseball, where several games—including the game involving the Milwaukee Brewers—have been called off in protest.

Jacob Blake’s family says he is paralyzed and dealing with serious internal injuries.

A professor of labor and employment relations from Penn State, writing for The Conversation, says police unions should not be considered part of the broader U.S. labor movement. Key quote: “Exclusively protecting the interests of their members, without consideration for other workers, also sets police unions apart from other labor groups. Yes, the first priority of any union is to fight for their members, but most other unions see that fight in the context of a larger movement that fights for all workers. Police unions do not see themselves as part of this movement. With one exception—the International Union of Police Associations, which represents just 2.7 percent of American police—law enforcement unions are not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the U.S. labor body that unites all unions.”

• In other news: Hurricane Laura is approaching Texas and Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, and more than a half-million people have been told to evacuate. It could be the most intense storm to hit that area in recorded history, and is drawing a lot of comparisons to Hurricane Katrina. “Some areas when they wake up Thursday morning, they’re not going to believe what happened,” Stacy Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the hurricane center, told NBC News. “What doesn’t get blown down by the wind could easily get knocked down by the rising ocean waters pushing well inland.”

• The CDC just issued new guidelines regarding COVID-19 testing that have left public-health experts around the country completely baffled: According to CNN: “The new guidelines raise the bar on who should get tested, advising that some people without symptoms probably don't need it—even if they've been in close contact with an infected person.” According to CNN, the Trump administration pressured the CDC to make the change. Unbelievable.

• Where was Dr. Anthony Fauci when these changes were being made? In surgery. Yes, really. According to Axios: “Anthony Fauci was in the operating room under general anesthesia last Thursday when the White House coronavirus task force approved the narrowing of CDC testing recommendations to exclude asymptomatic individuals, according to CNN's Sanjay Gupta.” Fauci also told Gupta he’s “concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is."

• Heading in the opposite direction: Gov. Newsom today announced plans for the state to double its COVID-19 testing capacity, and reduce turn-around time. However, note the dates—this is not happening right away. The opening paragraph of the news release: “Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that California has signed a groundbreaking contract with a major diagnostics company, which will allow California to process up to an additional 150,000 COVID-19 diagnostic tests a day, with a contractual turnaround time of 24-48 hours. The goal is to stand up a laboratory facility and begin processing tens of thousands of additional tests by November 1 and run at full capacity by ­no later than March 1, 2021.”

• Given that March date above, this is related: The Conversation breaks down the reasons why it’s going to take quite a while to get vaccine produced at a large-enough scale. Key quote: “The shrinking and outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing capacity has reached into all sectors. Vaccines are no exception. … When a coronavirus vaccine is approved, production of other vaccines will need to continue as well. With the flu season each year and children being born every day, you can’t simply reallocate all existing vaccine manufacturing capacity to COVID-19 vaccine production. New additional capacity will be needed.”

The New York Times has started a college COVID-19 case tracker. The takeaway: “A New York Times survey of more than 1,500 American colleges and universities—including every four-year public institution, every private college that competes in NCAA sports and others that identified cases—has revealed at least 26,000 cases and 64 deaths since the pandemic began.”

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is working on a different vaccine, of sortsone that can be taken as a nasal spray.

You know all that furor you saw on social media regarding Melania Trump’s revamp of the White House Rose Garden? Well, it is all a bunch of inaccurate nonsense.

• Public health experts around the country are keeping their eyes out for possible coronavirus cases that spread at the massive Sturgis Motorcycle Rally a week and a half ago. According to The Associated Press: “An analysis of anonymous cell phone data from Camber Systems, a firm that aggregates cell phone activity for health researchers, found that 61 percent of all the counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis, creating a travel hub that was comparable to a major U.S. city.”

• Related: Genetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 reveals that the annual leadership meeting of drug-company Biogen, late in February in Boston, became a super-spreader event for the coronavirus. Key quote: “A sweeping study of nearly 800 coronavirus genomes … has found that viruses carrying the conference’s characteristic mutation infected hundreds of people in the Boston area, as well as victims from Alaska to Senegal to Luxembourg. As of mid-July, the variant had been found in about one-third of the cases sequenced in Massachusetts and 3 percent of all genomes studied thus far in the United States.”

• The business devastation as a result of the pandemic-caused economic shutdown is unparalleled, as revealed by a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce study showing that more than half of the storefronts in SF have closed since COVID-19 arrived.

• Related and local: Local restaurants continue to announce closures. Evzin Mediterranean Cuisine's owner announced on social media today that both locations will be no more after this weekend.

• From the Independent: Indie music venues across the country are asking Congress to offer them a lifeline—including the renowned Pappy and Harriet’s. Pappy’s owner Robyn Celia answered questions from the Independent about the effort—and how Pappy’s is surviving the shutdown.

• Also from the Independent, a little bit of positive news: The Palm Springs Cultural Center has big plans for the fall, even though the doors to the building will likely remain closed through at least the end of the year. A lot of events—including showings for the annual LGBT film fest Cinema Diverse—will take place around the Cultural Center’s new drive-in screen.

• Here’s this week’s District 4 COVID-19 report from the county. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Same as last week: Hospitalizations and cases are ticking down; the weekly positivity rate remains crazy high; I remain confused as to the methodology behind the positivity numbers.

• MedPage Today explains the reasons why scientists remain unsure about the efficacy of convalescent plasma, which received emergency-use authorization from the FDA in a somewhat controversial fashion. The main reason: The biggest study of the plasma so far “was observational only, with no untreated control group. That makes the findings merely hypothesis-generating, and can't offer any firm conclusions. That's fine for issuing an emergency use authorization (EUA), but not so much for making claims about survival benefit, independent researchers said.”

The San Jose Mercury News did an amazing story on Vacaville resident Chad Little. He lost his house to a fire in 2015—and decided he was not going to go through that experience again, so he stayed behind to fight the fire himself … and when the water went out, he turned to the wettest thing he could find to fight the blaze: A 30-pack of Bud Light.

If you’re someone who prays, please pray for coastal Texas and Louisiana, as well as for Jacob Blake. Stay safe, everyone—and thanks for reading the Independent.

In September, the Palm Springs Cultural Center will reach the six-month anniversary of being shut down—along with all other venues across the state—by COVID-19.

While the doors of the Cultural Center building will remain closed to the public for the foreseeable future, management will still have far too much going on to take much notice of the anniversary.

The Saturday Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Markets continue, as do the drive-in films that have been taking place each weekend since the start of July. The “virtual cinema” streaming-film offerings will be expanded, and the center’s annual LGBTQ film fest, Cinema Diverse, will proceed despite the pandemic. And that’s just the beginning of the Cultural Center’s plans.

Many of the Cultural Center’s offerings these days revolve around the new drive-in screen. Michael Green, the executive director of the Palm Springs Cultural Center, explained how it came to be.

“One of our board members, Ann Sheffer, wanted to do it,” Green said. “She asked me to look into it and see what it would involve, and see if we could do it, because she had seen that they were becoming popular in other areas. She wanted to provide something to the community that would enable them to get together for entertainment safely.”

The drive-in went live over the Fourth of July weekend—and Green said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the attendance.

“I really didn’t think people would come out in this heat,” he said. “But we’ve been doing really well, and lots of nights have been sellouts.”

Green said the drive-in has attracted a different audience than the Cultural Center’s traditional indie-film fare.

“It’s definitely younger. There are a lot more families, and a lot of the ticket-buyers are female,” Green said. “Our audience, historically, we always laugh and say, ‘It’s the gays and the grays.’ We historically have had an older audience, and we’ve got a huge gay following, because we feature a lot of LGBTQ films that you can’t see anywhere else. But we’ve never managed to bring families in until the drive-in.”

As the fall approaches, Green said the Cultural Center plans to expand both its in-person, outdoor events and its virtual events. He said the virtual cinema streaming offerings thus far have been limited by the technologies of film distributors.

“If you pick a movie on our website, and you go to buy tickets, it’ll take you to the distributor’s page, and you’ll buy the film through them,” Green said. “Longer-term, we’re in the process of putting together our own streaming engine that we will use first for Cinema Diverse. After that, we’ll launch our own streaming channel powered by our own engine. That’ll enable us to put films up there whether the distributor has a direct streaming link or not.”

September means it’s time for Cinema Diverse, the Cultural Center’s annual LGBTQ Film Festival. This year’s event will include a mixture of online and—thanks to the drive-in setup—in-person screenings, starting on Sept. 11 and running through the month.

“We’ll open with a drive-in feature, and we’ll launch our streaming that day. The streaming will last through the end of the month, and we’ll have drive-in features every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night,” Green said. “The streaming engine that we’re putting in place does allow for Q&As with filmmakers, and it allows voting. So we’ll be able to continue a tradition of letting the audience select festival favorites, and we’ll be able to bring the filmmakers to the audience.”

Beyond Cinema Diverse and the drive-in film offerings, Green said the Cultural Center plans on branching out to begin hosting live music, live theatrical offerings in partnership with Coyote StageWorks, and possibly some programming in conjunction with Palm Springs Pride. Some of those events will take place entirely outdoors, he said, while others may take place with performers inside, and the performances streamed to audiences outside.

As for allowing audiences inside the Cultural Center, Green said he and his board of directors are budgeting under the assumption that the doors will be closed until sometime in 2021.

“If we’re fortunate enough for that to not be the case, great,” he said. “But we felt like it’s going to be a long time before people are feeling safe gathering in indoor locations. … We’re hoping that next year at some point, whenever that is, there’ll be a vaccine, and there’ll be people who are ready to get back together to see films and see other things.”

While the Cultural Center’s finances have been harmed by the pandemic, Green said the nonprofit remains on solid footing.

“It’s definitely a struggle,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we own the building, so we don’t have a mortgage, but it has definitely been a real struggle to keep the fundraising going and keep trying to raise money during this whole experience. We’re fortunate because we had established our Camelot Society, which is a monthly or annual giving program. We’ve got some folks who are members of that who are giving on an ongoing basis.”

One more thing: If anyone has partnership ideas, Green would love to talk.

“One thing we’re not only open to, but trying to encourage, is to provide a place where either other nonprofits or companies that want to do something (can use) the streaming (capabilities) and the drive-in,” he said. “We’ve encouraging people to think about ways that they could do something, utilizing what we have to help the rest of the community out and other organizations out.”

For more information, visit psculturalcenter.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe he isn’t resigning. Hmm.

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

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

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

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

So … let’s get to the news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California, to be frank, is a mess right now: According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, there are 367 major fires burning statewide right now.

Let me repeat that, because it’s shocking: There are 367 major fires burning right now.

The Los Angeles Times has a summary here. I also recommend checking out SFGate.com for free coverage of the various fires in Northern California. This is bad, folks.

Other news of the day:

• The Post Office, to be frank, is a mess right now. The American College of Physicians issued a statement expressing concern that the recent slowdowns in delivery could kill people: “Across the country millions of patients regularly depend on the U.S. mail to receive their prescription medications. There are already reports from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which fills 80 percent of its prescriptions by mail, that veterans have experienced significant delays in their mail-order prescription drugs. A delay in receiving a necessary prescription could be life-threatening.”

Did you know the U.S. Postal Service delivers live poultry? Yes, it does, and the delays are causing horrifying problems with that, too.

• The recent uproar over the USPS dismantling has caused major Trump donor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to say further operational changes will be suspended until after the election. But he hasn’t said whether the USPS would undo the changes already made.

Why in the world, in 2020, is California subject to rolling blackouts due to a lack of electricity? Our partners at CalMatters offer this helpful explainer.

• Let’s take a break from all of the heinous news for this: The Census is hiring temp workers. According to an email to the Independent: “The U.S. Census Bureau is hiring hundreds of workers for temporary jobs available in Riverside County for the 2020 Census. The 2020 Census Jobs website is now accepting applications for Census Takers at pay of $17 per hour. Census takers will visit the households that have not responded to the census, speaking with residents, and using electronic devices (such as smartphones issued by the Census Bureau) to collect census data. Census takers will follow local public health guidelines when they visit, and will be wearing masks. Census takers must complete a virtual COVID-19 training on social distancing protocols and other health and safety guidance before beginning their work in neighborhoods. Apply now at 2020census.gov/jobs or call 1-855-JOB-2020 (562-2020).”

Here’s the weekly District 4 COVID-19 report, from Riverside County. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Again, it shows hospitalizations trending down, cases slightly trending down (maybe), and a crazy-high 16.4 percent weekly positivity rate. Worst of all, we lost 20 more of our friends and neighbors.

• Meanwhile, Eisenhower Health’s latest stats show the weekly positivity rate at their facilities trending downward, and currently in (the high) single digits. So … I remain confused.

Desert Hot Springs has been the hardest-hit valley city when it comes to unemployment during the pandemic. That’s the conclusion of data-crunching by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership; see the breakdown here.

• From the Independent: Chef Andie Hubka is known for her three highly regarded restaurants in Indio and La Quinta, as well as her Cooking With Class school. Where other valley chefs have cut back service during this era of takeout and patio dining, Hubka has actually gone in the opposite direction by launching a brand-new concept, Citrine. Andrew Smith explains.

• Also from the Independent: Wine columnist Katie Finn looks at how South Africa has turned to alcohol prohibition as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19but that move, enforced at times with brutal violence, has devastated the country’s wine industry.

• The FDA was getting set to give emergency authorization for the use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as a treatment for the disease—but then federal health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, stepped in and stopped the authorization, saying the science isn’t clear yet. The New York Times explains.

• Speaking of unclear science: In this space, we recently linked to one of many articles, all from reliable sources, about a study regarding the effectiveness of various face masks. One of the key takeaways, as reported, was that neck gaiters could actually make matters worse. Well … as Science News reports, that conclusion may not be accurate. One of the problems: “The study was meant to figure out how to evaluate masks, not compare their effectiveness.”

• Keep in mind what the last two stories have said about the vagaries of reporting on studies these days when we bring you this lede, from MedPage Today: “More data from observational studies, this time in hospitalized patients, indicated that famotidine (Pepcid AC), which is used to treat heartburn, was associated with improved clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients.” The story goes on to make it clear that more research is needed before definitive conclusions are drawn.

• Here’s something that can be definitively said: It’s very important that people get flu shots this year. A nursing professor, writing for The Conversation, explains why. Key quote: “As a health care professional, I urge everyone to get the flu vaccine in September. Please do not wait for flu cases to start to peak. The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to reach peak effectiveness, so getting the vaccine in September will help provide the best protection as the flu increases in October and later in the season.”

• Also from The Conversation: A recent survey of essential workers in Massachusetts revealed that far more Black and Latino workers don’t feel safe on the job than white workers. Here is why—and why that’s important.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism nonprofit ProPublica doesn’t mince words regarding COVID-19 and Sin City: “Las Vegas casinos reopened June 4, and they have become a likely hotbed for the spread of the novel coronavirus, public health experts said. But if tourists return home and then test positive for COVID-19, the limitations of contact tracing in the midst of a pandemic make it unlikely such an outbreak would be identified.”

• CNBC looks at the status of that extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits that President Trump has promised. So far, 11 states have been approved for the money (California is not one of them)—but a whole lot of people are going to be left out regardless.

• Finally, Taiwan—a country which has done a much better job of managing the coronavirus than the United States has—recently hosted a 10,000-person arena concert. Time magazine explains how the experience was different, thanks to the specter of SARS-CoV-2.

That’s enough for the day. Count your blessings. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. If you have the means, please consider supporting quality independent local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Happy Monday all! Let’s get right to it:

• OK, so we’re in the midst of a crippling pandemic, and it’s hot as hell … and now we have to deal with possible rolling blackouts?! Yes, indeed we do—2020 keeps getting more bonkers by the day, doesn’t it?—and Gov. Gavin Newsom is less than pleased. He said today the power shortage was “unacceptable” and pledged an investigation into the matter. 

How hot has it been throughout California? Well, Death Valley may have reached the hottest temp recorded on Earth in 90 years yesterday.

The Trump administration’s efforts to hamper the U.S. Postal Service has drawn the attention of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back into session, and Senate Democrats are asking the Postal Service’s Board of Governors to reverse Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recent efforts to slow down mail delivery—and remove DeJoy from the job if he doesn’t cooperate. Key quote, from The Washington Post: “In recent days, DeJoy’s agency changes have reduced mail deliveries and overtime hours, resulting in massive mail backlogs that have delayed critical communications and packages, including prescription drugs. The Postal Service also sought to eliminate hundreds of high-speed mail sorting machines this month while removing public-collection boxes in states including California, New York and Pennsylvania, sparking a broad outcry.”

• We keep hearing about potential COVID-19 “game-changers,” and so far, this terrible game has not changed much. Well, here’s the latest thing to keep your fingers crossed about: We mentioned hopes for rapid saliva COVID-19 tests in Friday’s Daily Digest. Well, on Saturday, the FDA granted emergency authorization to the SalivaDirect test, created by the Yale School of Public Health. According to CNN: “Researchers said the new test can produce results in less than three hours, and the accuracy is on par with results from traditional nasal swabbing. They said SalivaDirect tests could become publicly available in the coming weeks. Yale plans to publish its protocol as ‘open-source,’ meaning designated labs could follow the protocol to perform their own tests according to Yale’s instructions, the FDA said.”

• We also mentioned on Friday that the FDA had recently updated guidelines to say that people who have recovered coronavirus will likely have immunity for three months. Well, late Friday night, they sort of took that back, and chided the media for reporting what they’d said, because absolutely nothing makes sense anymore.

Counties are beginning to move on and off of the state’s COVID-19 watch list. Today, five were added; one was removed; and another—San Diego County—could be removed tomorrow. Counties removed from the watchlist can reopen more indoor businesses—like gyms and hair salons—as well as schools. (Riverside County, for the record, can’t be removed from the watch list, because our test-positivity rate remains too darned high.)

• However, Riverside County has a plan to “fix” that: It wants the state to raise the positivity-rate criteria! It’s part of a reopening plan the county has submitted to the state. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the county wants to open churches, offices, hair salons and indoor dining on Sept. 8; indoor malls, group meetings (!) and wedding receptions on Sept. 22; and gyms, movie theaters and bars on Oct. 6. Hmm.

• The New York Times examines hopes that we could achieve herd immunity with just 50 percent of the population having antibodies to the damned virus, via either recovering from COVID-19 or getting a vaccine. Key quote: “I’m quite prepared to believe that there are pockets in New York City and London which have substantial immunity,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “What happens this winter will reflect that. The question of what it means for the population as a whole, however, is much more fraught.”

• The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill brought students back to campus for classes a couple of weeks ago. Well, that didn’t work out so well: 135 students and staffers have tested positive over the last week, and the school has decided to cancel all in-person classes and shift to remote learning. Sigh.

Should the U.S. allow people to be deliberately given COVID-19 as part of the vaccine trials? Two scientists, writing for The Conversation, make the case that “human challenge trials” should be allowed for the greater good, because it would speed things up. Key quote: “Rapid development of an effective vaccine could save hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. At present, more than 5,000 people die of COVID-19 each day. At that rate, every month of delay in vaccine availability costs 150,000 lives.”

• Also from The Conversation: Some indigenous communities in Mexico have found ways to battle the coronavirus, despite poverty and a lack of access to health care. A professor of anthropology from Ohio State writes: “I find the Zapotec are surviving the pandemic by doing what they’ve always done when the Mexican government can’t, or won’t, help them: drawing on local Indigenous traditions of cooperation, self-reliance and isolation.

• A new study out of Stanford attempts to explain why some people get ill from SARS-CoV-2, and others don’t. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “Three key molecules appear to play a crucial role, new research revealed this week. These key indicators, all found in the bloodstreams of severely ill patients, can be characterized as specific cytokines, or hormone-like molecules produced by the immune cells in the body that can regulate immune response. When overproduced, cytokines accelerate inflammation and can induce severe results.”

This lede from The New York Times … just ugh: “The Trump administration has been using major hotel chains to detain children and families taken into custody at the border, creating a largely unregulated shadow system of detention and swift expulsions without the safeguards that are intended to protect the most vulnerable migrants.”

• Bloomberg reports that homeowners with Federal Housing Administration mortgages are being delinquent with payments at a rate not seen in at least four decades. “The share of late FHA loans rose to almost 16 percent in the second quarter, up from about 9.7 percent in the previous three months and the highest level in records dating back to 1979, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Monday. The delinquency rate for conventional loans, by comparison, was 6.7 percent.”

Do you have questions about voting—when the registration deadline is? Do you need a photo ID? NBC News answers each of these questions, state by state.

The cost of insulin is soaring … and that’s just fine with pharmaceutical companies. FairWarning, via NBC News, reports: “Spurred by stories that diabetics are spending thousands of dollars a year on insulin, or even dying trying to ration it, lawmakers in at least 36 states are trying to tackle the issue, according to a FairWarning review of state bills introduced in the past two years. But the lawmakers are finding that the drug industry is working full-time to weaken or kill insulin price caps.”

That’s enough news for the day. Hooray—we’re one day closer to the end of this mess, whatever that may mean. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you’re around others. If you value independent local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Wednesday.

SAN FRANCISCO—The walk from the apartment to the doctor’s office and back was so depressing that my husband was ready to pack up and make the 480-mile drive back to Palm Springs that night—even though we’d been in San Francisco for less than 24 hours.

“Most of the things good things about San Francisco are gone,” he said. “And all the bad things, like the homelessness, are far worse.”

Because his work requires a semi-regular presence in the San Francisco-based office when pandemics aren’t raging, my husband has a small—we’re talking 200 square feet, no kitchen, no heating or a/c, no frills at ALL—studio apartment South of Market. We had not set foot in the apartment since Jan. 22, the day after he shattered his kneecap on a rain-soaked sidewalk outside of a grocery store. He came back to Palm Springs to have surgery and recover. Had COVID-19 not showed up, he’d have been back here long before now.

A friend had been picking up his mail every couple of weeks, and did a quick clean on the refrigerator when it became apparent that Garrett’s absence would be lengthier than planned. But still, it was time for us to drive up, check things out, pick up some things, and prepare the apartment for whatever comes next. We drove up Wednesday, arriving around 10 p.m. The next day, we set out—masks on, social distancing maintained—to see what the area looked like, before Garrett’s doctor’s appointment.

What does it look like? While the neighborhoods more on the outskirts seem to be faring slightly better, the word that comes to mind regarding SoMa, Union Square the Financial District is “sad.”

Almost all of the nearby businesses, understandably, are closed. Many of them are closed for good. We went to lunch at Rocco’s, one of our neighborhood favorites. The normally bustling, iconic restaurant had been reduced to two sidewalk tables, plus takeout, open four days a week.

Garrett’s doctor’s office is near Union Square—equidistant, roughly, between the apartment and his currently shuttered office in the Financial District. So many places he knew of, had shopped at and had dined at, along that walk were no more.

The dearth of culture and commerce hit our psyches hard.

We’ve adjusted to the state of things in the Coachella Valley—I won’t say we’ve gotten used to it, because it’s still wrenching to see the pandemic’s toll on life at home. But seeing it here, another place we know and love, took us back to that horror—that pit-in-your-stomach realization that what is happening is unbelievably bad—we all felt back in March and April. Yeah, we knew San Francisco would be devastated, like everywhere else. But there’s a difference between knowing and experiencing.

We didn’t return to Palm Springs that night, but we did decide to cut our visit short. We want to be home in Palm Springs again.

Today’s news links:

• This just in from the Census folks: “An army of census takers will begin fanning out throughout Coachella Valley in Riverside County to make sure that the thousands of area residents who have not yet responded to the 2020 U.S. Census are counted. Just under two-thirds of all California households have responded online, by phone or by mail, but the response rates are significantly lower in many parts of Southern California. On the county level, response rates are only 62.3 percent in Riverside County compared to a 65 percent self-response rate across the state. Because the deadline to respond is Sept. 30, Census Bureau officials are urging households to respond before the census taker comes to your door. You can respond now by completing and mailing back the paper questionnaire you received, by responding online at 2020census.gov, or by phone at (844) 330-2020 for English, and (844) 468-2020 for Spanish. Households can respond in one of 13 languages and find assistance in many more.”

• Our nationwide testing and medical situation is such a steaming mess that it’s delaying potential COVID-19 treatments. Key depressing quote, from The New York Times: Researchers at a dozen clinical trial sites said that testing delays, staffing shortages, space constraints and reluctant patients were complicating their efforts to test monoclonal antibodies, man-made drugs that mimic the molecular soldiers made by the human immune system. As a result, once-ambitious deadlines are slipping. The drug maker Regeneron, which previously said it could have emergency doses of its antibody cocktail ready by the end of summer, has shifted to talking about how “initial data” could be available by the end of September. And Eli Lilly’s chief scientific officer said in June that its antibody treatment might be ready in September, but in an interview this week, he said he now hopes for something before the end of the year.”

• Also in the “national steaming mess” category: that’s what the Trump administration is trying to turn the U.S. Post Office into. Example No. 1. According to CNBC, the USPS has been “warning states that it cannot guarantee all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted in the presidential race.” Example No. 2: The post office is removing sorting machines and either removing or moving all sorts of mailboxes

• Let’s keep the “national steaming mess” theme going! Here’s a lede from The Wall Street Journal: “Public release of hospital data about the coronavirus pandemic has slowed to a crawl, one month after the federal government ordered states to report it directly to the Department of Health and Human Services and bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Sigh.

The CDC recently updated guidelines to say that people who have recovered coronavirus will likely have immunity for three months. However, as CNN points out, this might not be true for everyone. It’s also true that most recoverees might have immunity for much longer. But nobody knows for sure. Got all that?

You know who’s not struggling during this pandemic? Health insurers! In fact, they’re raking in massive, record profits.

• A new study out of USC shows that in many COVID-19 patients, the symptoms show up in a specific ordera discovery that could help lead to earlier detection of the disease

• MedPage Today reports that concerns over myocarditis—a potentially serious heart condition that is related to COVID-19—was one of the driving factors in some conferences delaying or cancelling the college football season. Key quote: “At a Thursday telebriefing hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) chief medical officer said he was aware of 12 recent myocarditis cases affecting NCAA athletes.

• OK, let’s switch to better news for a bit: You can probably stop worrying about getting the coronavirus from food or food packaging, according to the World Health Organization.

• Two related stories: First, The Conversation explains how rapid COVID-19 tests—with results given in minutes—could help us solve this damn thing, even if the tests aren’t as accurate. Second, Reuters offers details on a saliva test being developed at an Israeli hospital that would do just that.

• The pandemic’s consequences have affected the way people cope with other diseases. A professor at North Carolina State University, writing for The Conversation, details how it’s affected her battle with bulimia.

The Atlantic did a fascinating story examining the various Wikipedia edits that were made, or were attempted, on Kamala Harris’ page regarding her race. Ugh.

• I was NOT a guest on this week’s episode of the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr. But Nino Eilets, Dr. Laura Rush and writer/director Del Shores were. Check it out.

• The U.S. 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California’s ban on high-capacity gun magazines is unconstitutional. Wait, isn’t the 9th Circuit supposed to be relentlessly leftist?

• Finally, CNN looks at yet another casualty of the pandemic (and the cheapness of some of the country’s biggest newspaper companies): The newsroom is going the way of the dodo.

That’s the news of the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Enjoy life. And please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means and like what we do. Have a great weekend; the Daily Digest will return Monday.

Let’s jump right into today’s news, because there sure is a lot of it:

Our partners at CalMatters look at Sen. Kamala Harris—soon to be the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, as you may have heard—and her distinctively Californian roots. Key quote: “Born and bused to school in Berkeley, tested by San Francisco’s cut-throat municipal politics and propelled onto the national stage as the state’s top law enforcement officer and then its first female senator of color, Harris’ approach to politics and policymaking were honed here.”

• MedPage Today explains the hopes doctors have for something called a vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) called RLF-100 as a coronavirus treatment. The VIP was first developed 50 years ago—and this could be its shining moment.

• More encouraging news, this time out of USCF: Scientists there are touting the results of a study of a nasal spray that apparently blocks SARS-CoV-2. Once manufactured, it could be sold in stores—and offer serious protection from the virus.

Is it possible previous immunizations are protecting some people from COVID-19? While that figurative jury remains out, it’s indeed possible, according to researchers interviewed by CNN.

We’ll just leave this MedPage Today study headline and subheadline right here: ‘Widespread COVID-19 Outbreak at Georgia Camp Raises Concerns About Reopening Schools; 76% SARS-CoV-2 positivity rate suggests kids are ‘efficient transmitters.’

• According to the Los Angeles Times, proper state stockpiles of masks and other personal protective equipment could have saved at least 15,800 essential workers from getting COVID-19and could have saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment claims, per a study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

An epidemiologist, writing for The Conversation, got sick with COVID-19 back in March, and is still dealing with symptoms more than four months later. She discusses the research being done on people like her—who call themselves “long-haulers.”

COVID-19 case rates have been steadily declining in the U.S. for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, so has the volume of testing—meaning we don’t know for sure whether progress is actually being made. Sigh.

The Washington Post reports on a Duke University study on the effectiveness of masks. Key takeaways: The more layers, the better—and neck gaiters may actually make matters worse.

Russia became the first country to register a COVID-19 vaccine—even though scientists are skeptical, because the vaccine has not gone through all the proper clinical trials and tests. CNBC explains the Russians’ justification for the early registry: They were working on the vaccine long before this particular coronavirus came along.

• Sort-of related: The feds have announced yet another deal for 100 million vaccine doses, from yet another manufacturer, for yet more billions of dollars.

• Horrifically, the outbreak at San Quentin State Prison has become a real-time test of the achievability of herd immunityand, as the Los Angeles Times points out, so far, the results are not good.

• During normal economic downturns, people tend to spend less on their pets. However, the exact opposite has happened this year: Veterinarians’ business is booming, according to The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/10/upshot/pets-health-boom-coronavirus.html

• Even though there is a residential eviction moratorium in the state, people are still being evicted from their homes—including many here in Riverside County. From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: “More than 1,600 California households … have been evicted since Newsom declared a statewide state of emergency on March 4, according to data CalMatters obtained via public record requests from more than 40 California sheriffs’ departments. Nearly a third of those evictions took place after Newsom’s March 19 shelter-in-place order, and more than 400 since Newsom issued a self-described March 27 “eviction moratorium.” 

• Medical experts are justifiably worried about the potential double-whammy of influenza and COVID-19 during the upcoming flu season. However, SFGate points out that the flu season has been mercifully light in the Southern Hemisphere, thanks to mask usage and more people getting flu shots.

What are the odds of contracting COVID-19 on an airplane flight? According to a preliminary study by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they’re pretty darned low.

• The New York Times reports that “bars and restaurants have become a focal point for clusters of COVID infections.” Fortunately, the story is mostly talking about indoor dining—not outdoor, as is allowed here. Key quote: “’As of recently, we still hadn’t traced a major U.S. outbreak of any sort to an outdoor exposure,’ Lindsey Leininger, a health policy researcher and a clinical professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, said.

The Wall Street Journal examines the supply-chain shortages that continue to keep supermarket shelves emptier than normal.

• Meanwhile, in Florida, a sheriff has prohibited his deputies and visitors to his department from wearing masks. Correct, he will not ALLOW people to wear masks. It would be irresponsible for me to engage in speculation regarding what inadequacies Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods’ may be overcompensating for here to make such an overwrought move.

After losing a critical court case over whether its drivers should be classified as employees or independent contractors, Uber’s CEO said today that the company may need to temporarily suspend operations in California.

• The New York Times examines the current state-by-state status of voting by mail. The good news: people in 42 states, representing 76 percent of voters, can vote by mail without an excuse. The bad … well, there’s that other 24 percent.

• Every summer, the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce holds its Taste of Summer Rancho Mirage fundraiser. It works like this: You buy a wristband for $10 from a charity that gets to keep that $10; that wristband gets you deals at participating Rancho Mirage restaurants. This year’s fundraiser was delayed a bit because of, well, you know, but the revamped “Take Out” Taste of Summer starts Aug. 17. Get the details here.

At more than 20 links, that’s enough news for the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. If you’re able, please consider throwing a few bucks our way to the Independent can keep doing what we do, and making it free to everyone. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

To properly explain how our cat, Buster, is hanging out at Dodger Stadium at a time when we are unable to do so, we need to start the story in June 2006.

We were living in Tucson, Ariz., and it had been about a year since my cat, Beavis, had died. After serious negotiations with my then-boyfriend (and now-husband), Garrett, we decided it was time to bring another feline into our lives. One weekend, we headed to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona to meet some of the cats and kittens up for adoption. I was looking at a cute little grey furball when Garrett pointed to a cage containing two orange-and-white male kittens, about six weeks old. One of the kittens, then named Yoda—presumably because of the tufts of white hair sprouting out his ears—was nervously sitting in the back of his cage. The other, then named Kiku, was hanging on the wire door, mewling his extreme displeasure at anyone and everyone who passed by.

“If we get two cats, they won’t be alone when we’re not home,” Garrett said.

So we went over to meet them. Yoda remained nervous. When picked up Kiku to give him a look, he reached out and clawed my upper lip.

“Handsome, you’re going to be paying for that for the rest of your life,” I said.

After they received the requisite neutering and vaccinations, we took Yoda and Kiku home. Yoda became Maeby, and Kiku became Buster. (I was a big Arrested Development fan at the time.) As beloved pets do, Maeby and Buster became family.

Maeby, the fluffier one, transformed from a skittish, nervous kitten into, no exaggeration, the sweetest creature I have encountered on this planet. He exuded joy—whenever someone picked him up, he’d reflexively begin kneading with happiness—and loved being social whenever friends would come over. He enjoyed playing fetch, but we had to be careful when taking him outside, because he could escape from any harness placed upon him.

Buster, the shorter-haired one, turned into the alpha of the pack—at least in his own mind. While he and Maeby adored each other, he’d chew off Maeby’s whiskers when we weren’t looking. He could be just as loving and as social as Maeby, but he was also perfectly happy to hang out by himself, whereas Maeby wanted attention whenever possible. Buster had one obsession—bugs. Whenever one was spotted inside the house, it would demand his rapt attention.

In early 2013, we had decided to move to Palm Springs; this meant uprooting Buster and Maeby from the only home they had known. While they HATED the car trip here—they always hated car trips, associating them with vet visits—they settled into their new home in Palm Springs nicely. However, several months after the move, Maeby got very ill—he had an impacted hairball in his colon. He was also given another diagnosis: He was in the early stages of kidney disease.

After emergency surgery and a short hospital stay, Maeby came home and fully recovered—although we were told to shave his gorgeous fur to cut down on the chances of a recurrence. While he didn’t care much for the clipper jobs, they didn’t ruin his happy, ever-loving nature. He remained his sweet self until suffering an apparent stroke. In 2015, at the age of 9, our Maeby passed away.

Maeby’s death transformed Buster. While his base personality remained the same, and he still had occasional moments of solitude, he became an attention freak: When he was in the mood, he insisted on attention. If there was a lap open, he was on it, and if there wasn’t a lap open, he would wait, not-so-patiently, until there was. The picture posted here was taken one night as he waited for me to finish dinner so he could have access to my lap—and, more importantly, get belly rubs

Shortly after Maeby’s passing, Buster, too, was diagnosed with early-stage kidney disease. But as of his regular checkup last March—right as the world was shutting down—his kidney levels were OK, and his overall health was good.

Buster was quite happy with the lockdown, because it meant that both of his dads were working from home and rarely went anywhere—meaning he got more attention, belly rubs and snuggles.

Early in the summer, we noticed that Buster was getting skinnier. His food bowl didn’t empty as quickly as before, and as the days passed, it started barely emptying at all. While Buster was as loving—and insistent on belly rubs—as ever, he had moments of lethargy. The final straw came when we noticed he wasn’t cleaning his fur as well as he always had: It was time to subject our 14-year-old Buster to the cross-town car trip to the vet. (Our cats went to Banfield Pet Hospital; shortly after Buster’s March visit, they closed down the nearby Palm Springs location, meaning we had to drive him to Palm Desert.)

We dropped him off on the morning of Friday, July 24; several hours later, the vet called with the news: His kidney levels were off the charts. Buster was very sick. He had only a few days left, and he could start having seizures at any time.

We had a brief discussion, and decided that it was time to let Buster go. We told the vet we’d return to say goodbye.


One of the most awful things about this damned pandemic is that it’s robbed us of our coping devices—the things we use to deal with the travails life brings us. Going to the gym, happy hour with friends, a summer vacation … nope, not possible right now.

The timing of Buster’s death coincided with the blessed return of one of my coping devices: baseball. I am a huge Los Angeles Dodgers fan. In normal times, I watch at least half of the team’s games on TV, and I try to get to Dodger Stadium once or twice a year to take in a game.

While Major League Baseball is back (at least as of this writing … you never know what COVID-19 has in store for the future), it’s different. Some of the rules have been changed; players are asked to keep their distance from each other in the dugout; and, most notably, there are no fans in the stands.

Well, actually, there are fans … sort of.

The Dodgers, as well as other teams, are allowing people to purchase fan cutouts, which are then placed in seats at the stadium. (Fun fact: A cutout of the eponymous corpse from Weekend at Bernie’s currently sits behind home plate at Kansas City Royals games.) In the Dodgers’ case, all of the proceeds, except for the $11.25 value of the cutout, go to the nonprofit Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

The Dodgers aren’t just allowing human cutouts at the stadium; they’re allowing pets, too. So … because we can’t go to Dodger games in person this year, and because the bulk of the $149 fee goes to a good cause, we decided to send Buster, in cutout form, to Dodger Stadium on our behalf.

On Saturday, Aug. 8, as we watched the Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants on TV, we spotted Buster in the stands. The sight led to biggest smile I’ve had on my face since March.

If being on social media weren’t an important part of my job, I’d be taking a break from Facebook right now.

Why? Frankly … I could use a break from all of the hysterics.

Let me make one thing clear: Now is a time when hysterics are understandable. Many of us are hurting. We’re broke. Or we’re tired. Or we’re watching our dreams die. Or we’re freaked the heck out. However … seeing this all play out, in contradictory fashion, within consecutive Facebook posts, is exhausting.

First post: A friend of mine owns a nail salon. He’s freaking out because his business, his dream, is dying. He thinks he should be allowed to reopen, because he took all the appropriate safety measures when his salon was allowed to reopen, and all went well. Nobody got sick. He made things safe, he says. He’s hurting. His employees are hurting. He’s in hysterics.

Next post: A local acquaintance is beside herself with anger and frustration because of all the people she sees roaming around downtown Palm Springs without masks. She calls not only for a shutdown of the hotels and vacation rentals; she also calls for a shutdown of all non-essential businesses, period. She’s tired of people she knows getting sick. She’s afraid. She’s in hysterics.

The gut-wrenching thing about these posts is that they’re completely contradictory … and they’re both entirely valid. I could give a half-dozen similar examples of this dichotomy each day from Facebook—but I probably don’t need to, because you’ve seen them yourselves.

Ugh, this goddamned pandemic.

Today’s news links:

• The Los Angeles Times looks at the myriad reasons that COVID-19 patients are now dying at a lower rate. One encouraging reason: Doctors and hospitals have learned a lot about treating the disease over the last five-plus months.

The director of the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Sonia Angell, stepped down yesterday. Interestingly, nobody is saying why she resigned—although it happened after the state’s embarrassing COVID-19 reporting-system problems were revealed last week.

• Related: Gov. Newsom said today California’s COVID-19 case numbers are indeed trending in the right direction, after the state worked over the weekend to resolve that aforementioned data mess.

• I debated whether or not I should even share this, given 1) the still-being-resolved state data mess, and 2) the fact I have yet to get a proper explanation from the county on how the weekly positivity rate is calculated … but anyway, here’s this week’s county District 4 report. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) The good news: Hospitalizations are way down. The awful news: Another 14 of our neighbors have died from COVID-19. Also, that weekly positivity rate is as high as I can ever remember it being, even though Eisenhower Health says its positivity rate has been moving downward. So, I am a bit confused.

• From our partners at CalMatters: How are unemployed Californians getting by after the expiration of benefits from the federal government?Without an expired federal $600 weekly boost, unemployed Californians are living on the brink by making candy and emptying out their 401(k)s.

• How is it possible to make indoor spaces safer from the spread of SARS-CoV-2? A professor of mechanical engineering, writing for The Conversation, says the keys are ventilation with outside air, and air filtration.

• MedPage Today covered a talk given Friday by the president of the American Medical Association—and among other key takeaways, Dr. Susan Bailey bemoaned the dismissal of science in many of the policy decisions surrounding the coronavirus. Key quote: “Politics should have no place in a public health crisis, but I think we all understand that, sadly, that’s not the world we're living in today,” she said. “As physicians, we have to stand up for science and make sure it's at the center of our policy decisions.”

In opinion piece for The New York Times, a medical expert and an economic expert—the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, respectivelycalled for a six-week nationwide lockdown, to both save lives and cause as little ongoing harm as possible to the economy. Key quote: “The United States recorded its lowest seven-day average since March 31 on May 28, when it was 21,000 cases, or 6.4 new cases per 100,000 people per day. This rate was seven to 10 times higher than the rates in countries that successfully contained their new infections. While many countries are now experiencing modest flare-ups of the virus, their case loads are in the hundreds or low thousands of infections per day, not tens of thousands, and small enough that public health officials can largely control the spread.”

A columnist for the Los Angeles Times offers a warning: “Payroll tax cut” means the same thing as “cutting funding to Social Security.” Well, if he gets a second term, Trump has said he wants to “terminate” the payroll tax … which, therefore, means terminating Social Security.

This lead from the Riverside Press-Enterprise made me despair for the future of humanity: “More than a dozen Southern California parents, from the Inland Empire to the Los Angeles County coast, have joined forces in a lawsuit against several California officials—arguing that barring in-person classes this fall will hurt students, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

Adding to this despair comes this headline from the Los Angeles Times: “Coronavirus surging among children, teenagers in California.”

More despair, with a side of alarm, is created by this headline, from CNBC: “TSA: July air travel down 75 percent from 2019, but gun confiscation rates triple.” Key quote: “Eighty percent of the guns were loaded, TSA said.” What?!

• The federal residential eviction moratorium expired in July and has not yet been extended. That means evictions in some parts of the country are under way. NBC News looks at the mess with evictions taking place in South Carolina. Horrifying key quote: “In South Carolina alone, 52 percent of renter households can't pay their rent and are at risk of eviction, according to an analysis of census data by the consulting firm Stout Risius Ross. About 185,000 evictions could be filed in the state over the next four months.”

• This is sort of ironic: Amazon is talking to a large, national mall company about turning some shuttered J.C. Penney and Sears locations into fulfillment centers. It’s sort of like the start of the WALL-E story coming to life, no?

If you are a student within or employee of the University of California system, and you don’t have an approved medical exemption, you’re going to need to get a flu shot by Nov. 1.

• There’s currently a moratorium on executions in the state of California. However, as the San Francisco Chronicle is pointing out, the coronavirus is serving as an executioner by killing death-row inmates at San Quentin.

• Related, and much less morally vexing: The virus is also killing people who work at prisons. And case counts are spiking at youth prisons.

• The college football season is in jeopardy. According to ESPN, the five largest college football conferences are seriously considering cancelling college sports this fall, because of a serious medical condition linked to COVID-19. Key quote: “Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, has been found in at least five Big Ten Conference athletes and among several other athletes in other conferences, according to two sources with knowledge of athletes’ medical care. Two Football Bowl Subdivision conferences have already postponed or cancelled fall sports.

• Meanwhile, Disney World is cutting back its hours because of disappointing attendance figures. Maybe there’s hope for humanity after all

• The New York Times reports that the Trump administration is getting ready to roll back yet more environmental protectionsthis time, controls on the release of methane.

• Oh, look, some happy local news! From the Independent: The Palm Springs Public Arts Commission just finished funding the painting of another 10 downtown benches by local artists—and has a call out to artists to do another 16 benches. We talked to a couple of locals involved with the project.

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