When we launched the Independent back in late 2012, we did so on a tight (read: nearly non-existent) budget. After doing some research, we decided to build our website on an open-source web platform called Joomla, using a news template built by a company called JoomlArt.

Despite our meager resources, we built a strong, user-friendly and attractive news website—a site of which I was quite proud.

Of course, all things age, including websites. The lack of flexibility in the template we used for CVIndependent.com became more and more of an issue as we started adding features (events, our gift certificate market, newsletter signups, etc.)—especially on the mobile/tablet side. As the years passed, the website started looking stale on desktop computers—and became a jumbled mess on smartphones.

I started looking for a new website solution over the summer … and I am so, so happy I discovered Newspack.

Newspack is a joint project of WordPress.com and the Google News Initiative. As Newspack’s website explains: “Newspack is an all-in-one publishing platform that incorporates industry best practices to help small and medium-sized news organizations produce great journalism, drive audience, and generate revenue.”

The biggest challenge for newspapers when it comes to changing websites involves migration: We have thousands upon thousands of articles, photos, embeds, etc. in our archives, and switching them from one platform to the next doesn’t always go well … if it goes at all. I’ve been in the journalism biz for almost 2 1/2 decades now—hence all the gray in my beard—and I’ve seen some horrid, costly debacles when it comes to newspaper-website changes. So, I will admit I was rather concerned about moving to CVIndependent.com 2.0.

Well … my worries were all for naught: The Newspack folks were amazing. They took time to train me on the new system, answer my dumb questions and walk me through various options. They got the site migrated and launched on schedule, to my specifications—and they did so beautifully, exceeding my expectations. To the Newspack crew, including Steve, Claudiu, Laurel and especially Andrew: I sincerely thank you.

To you, our fantastic readers: If you haven’t checked out the new CVIndependent.com yet, please do so—and let me know if you have any feedback!

The news of the day:

• Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown by approving a two-day funding bill to keep the U.S. government open—because the Senate still can’t agree on a pandemic-relief package. According to NBC News: “A new roadblock emerged as Democrats on Friday accused Republicans, led by Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, of seeking to hamstring the incoming Biden administration by cutting off Federal Reserve emergency lending facilities created by the CARES Act to protect the fragile economy.” Sigh.

• Why am I sharing yesterday’s COVID live-updates page from The Washington Post? Because the first two items are really things you should know: 1. “Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine got the greenlight from a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee Thursday, paving the way for authorization of a second shot as the United States reported single-day highs in new infections, hospitalizations and deaths.” 2. “California has become the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., posting in the past 48 hours more than 100,000 new cases and setting a new daily death record. In Southern California, a region that includes Los Angeles and San Diego, ICU capacity fell to 0 percent.”

• And late today, the FDA made the emergency authorization of Moderna’s vaccine officially official.

• Related and horrifying, from the Los Angeles Times: “Los Angeles County is on the verge of becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, a health official said Friday—a dire declaration that comes as Californians are dying from COVID-19 in numbers never seen before. … ‘I’m not going to sugarcoat this: We are getting crushed,’ said Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

• Meanwhile, both here in Riverside County and in all of Southern Californiathere are still no normal licensed ICU beds left.

• Elsewhere in the country, the COVID-19 spike may be juuuuust starting to ease … but it sure ain’t here. According to MedPage Today: (Adm. Brett Giroir, MD, assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services) cited declining numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the Midwest, Northern plains, and the ‘Heartland’ as driving the national reduction (in positivity rates). But numbers are still rising on the coasts—especially in California—and in parts of the deep South, he said.

• Now, this is weird and annoying: “Several states say they have been told to expect far fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in its second week of distribution, prompting worries about potential delays in shots for health care workers and long-term care residents,” The Associated Press reported. “But senior Trump administration officials on Thursday downplayed the risk of delays, citing a confusion over semantics, while Pfizer said its production levels have not changed.”

• Some people are saying this delay, or “confusion over semantics,” is due to a failure by the federal government—and things get worse from there. Vanity Fair reports: “Of the vaccines the U.S. does have, a shitload are apparently just sitting in a warehouse somewhere, ready to be delivered, if only the Trump administration would give the company the word. ‘This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to locations specified by them,’ Pfizer said in a statement Thursday. ‘We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.’”

• And then there’s this bit of maddening news: “The European Union is paying less money than the United States for a range of coronavirus vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation being rolled out across the country, according to a Washington Post comparison of the breakdowns. The costs to the E.U. had been confidential until a Belgian official tweeted—and then deleted—a list late Thursday.” Grrrr.

• The New York Times today published an opinion piece co-written by a Harvard University epidemiologist looking at the possibility that acceptable results could be achieved with one dose, rather than the now-prescribed two, of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines: “In data provided to the F.D.A., there are clues for a tantalizing possibility: that even a single dose may provide significant levels of protection against the disease. If that’s shown to be the case, this would be a game changer, allowing us to vaccinate up to twice the number of people and greatly alleviating the suffering not just in the United States, but also in countries where vaccine shortages may take years to resolve.”

• Both the Los Angeles Times and our partners at CalMatters (via the Independent, in the latter case) look at the ways in which privileged people are trying to cut in line to get the vaccine sooner—and what’s being done to stop thatKey quote, from the Times: “‘We get hundreds of calls every single day,’ said Dr. Ehsan Ali, who runs Beverly Hills Concierge Doctor. His clients, who include Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, pay between $2,000 and $10,000 a year for personalized care. ‘This is the first time where I have not been able to get something for my patients.’”

• From the Independent: On Nov. 30, the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert suspended all programming and laid off all remaining staff members—because of a pandemic-induced financial crisis. Unfortunately, the Children’s Museum is far from the only local nonprofit that’s struggling. Kevin Fitzgerald talked to others in the valley’s nonprofit world about the dire straits in which many amazing local organizations find themselves.

• Also from the Independent: Our Unsung Heroes column features Ray Carmona, a volunteer for FIND Food Bank, where 22 million pounds of food has been distributed to people in need—in just one year. As Madeline Zuckerman writes: “Like many locals, Carmona is currently furloughed from his job because of the COVID-19 pandemic—so Carmona is putting his time and energy into his volunteer work with FIND Food Bank, distributing food to people in need.

• If, for some reason, you have plans to head to San Francisco anytime soon, you may want to reconsider: “San Francisco’s Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax announced Thursday a new travel order requiring a mandatory quarantine of 10 days for anyone traveling, moving or returning to the city from anywhere outside the Bay Area. The order goes into effect on Friday (today) and applies to both visitors and residents.

• I was a guest this week on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcastI joined hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr to talk about the Independent’s new website, before talking vaccines with Dr. Laura Rush. Check it out.

• Finally … you may have seen a meme buzzing around social media claiming that the star of Bethlehem is making a comeback this year, due to the rare and spectacular Dec. 21 conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Alas, a professor of religion writes in The Conversation that such is not the case: “As a scholar of early Christian literature writing a book on the three wise men, I argue that the upcoming planetary conjunction is likely not the fabled Star of Bethlehem. The biblical story of the star is intended to convey theological rather than historical or astronomical truths.”

Everyone: It’s scary out there. Please be safe. If you appreciate the quality local journalism we do here at the Independent, and can spare a buck or two, please consider clicking here to learn more about becoming a Supporter of the Independent. As always, thanks for reading.

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Jimmy Boegle

Jimmy Boegle is the founding editor and publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent. He is also the executive editor and publisher of the Reno News & Review in Reno, Nev. A native of Reno, the Dodgers...