Coachella Valley Independent

Daily Digest: Jan. 4, 2021

A number of Palm Springs restaurateurs have joined forces to fight the state’s ban on outdoor dining.

As you know, the vast majority of the state is currently under what is being called a stay-at-home order, due to the fact that our hospitals are being severely strained by COVID-19 patients.

However … while it’s being called a stay-at-home order, it really isn’t a stay-at-home order. Yes, hair salons and barber shops have been told they must close; restaurants have been ordered to only offer takeout or delivery; and lodging (i.e. hotels and short-term rentals) is supposed to be restricted to “COVID-19 mitigation and containment measures, treatment measures (and) accommodation for essential workers”—i.e., no recreational travel.

However, all retail outlets—even those offering goods that are decidedly nonessential—can remain open, albeit with capacity restrictions. And … well, a whole lot of businesses are disregarding all of the state’s rules anyway.

Look at any hotel-booking website—or witness how packed the streets of Palm Springs were over the weekend—and it’s clear that lodging isn’t being restricted to essential workers and COVID-19 mitigation. And if you drive to Palm Desert, you will see it’s rather obvious that certain gyms, hair salons and restaurants are very much open, in blatant defiance of the stay-at-home order.

Not surprisingly, restaurant owners who ARE following the restrictions feel like they’re being unfairly harmed—and this has led to the formation of a new group called Coachella Valley Hospitality Unites.

In a letter sent out today, the group—being represented by the owners of Jake’s Palm Springs (Chris Malm and Bruce Bloch), Tac/Quila and Farm (Liz and Mark Ostioch), and Zin American Bistro and Revel (Mindy Reed)—said it’s trying to raise $50,000 “to retain the law firm of Geragos and Geragos, who have represented other restaurant organizations in the state,” to represent the group in a class-action lawsuit against the state. The letter asks people who want to contribute to the effort to contribute to a GoFundMe effort, or drop off checks (made out to the law firm) at either Jake’s or Tac/Quila.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter

We began this journey in Palm Springs with a group of eight restaurants, then expanded to 20 and now we are up to 50+, and we haven’t even began recruiting down valley. Our goal is not to defy COVID-19 mandates, but to amend existing ones that match what the science has proven. Outside dining is not a major contributor to the spread. Meanwhile grocery and retail stores remain open without enforcement of restrictions, hotels are operating without enforcement (they are only supposed to house only essential workers) and short term rentals are, as well, unchecked. The tourists are here, but they cannot dine in any of our restaurants legally, nor sit with their takeout at our spaces that we created for the expansion of outside dining. 

Most of us have invested tens of thousands of dollars in expanding our spaces with no local assistance. The federal government has offered PPP and EIDL assistance, (that was in May), and we are responsible for some of that debt. Many restaurants are either considering closing for good, or piling up debt, and our employees are unemployed facing challenges of their own, and most certainly some rent is unpaid. We just want to do what we do best, protect our major investment and continue to share our passion for what we do. 

Empty outdoor restaurants help no one. These regulations force customers to gather in more dangerous situations, such as house gatherings or the casinos. The restaurant industry should not carry the burden of this pandemic. Enough is enough!

The COVID-19 prediction models the state uses predict that hospitalization rates will not be falling anytime soon. Presuming the models are even close to being accurate, it’s a fact: Barring a change in philosophy by the state, or the success of legal action like the suit being pursued by Coachella Valley Hospitality Unites, restaurants won’t be able to legally reopen for outdoor dining for a couple of months.

Another fact: Many, many restaurants won’t be able to survive that.

—Jimmy Boegle

From the Independent

The New Variant: The Latest on the COVID-19 Mutation That Is Now in California

By Ana B. Ibarra and Barbara Feder Ostrov, CalMatters

January 4, 2021

What you need to know about that U.K. variant of the coronavirus, which has now been found in California.

Home Video Review: Netflix’s ‘The Midnight Sky’ Is a Decent Sci-Fi Effort From George Clooney

By Bob Grimm

January 3, 2021

Ignore the other critics: While Netflix’s film The Midnight Sky isn’t George Clooney’s best, it is a decent sci-fi effort.

The Weekly Independent Comics Page for Dec. 31, 2020

By Staff

December 31, 2020

This week’s alternative comic strips!

And Now, the News

• In the “From the Independent” block above, you’ll find a link to a story by our partners at CalMatters explaining the meaning behind the discovery in the state of that possibly-more-contagious variant from the U.K. Well, it turns out that a variant now raging across South Africa is even more of a concern. CBS News explains: “Oxford immunologist Professor John Bell) said it was ‘unlikely’ the mutation would make the vaccines ineffective, but that they might need tweaks to provide as much protection against the strain as they do against the others already in wide circulation elsewhere.”

• I never imagined I would see a newspaper headline like this in my lifetime: “Ambulance crews told not to transport patients who have little chance of survival.” Per the Los Angeles Times: “The situation in L.A. County hospitals is so critical that ambulance crews have been advised to try to cut back on their use of oxygen and not to bring to hospitals patients who have virtually no chance of survival. Officials now say they need to focus on patients with a greater chance of surviving. The measures were taken as circumstances were expected to become even worse in coming weeks, when patients sickened over the Christmas holiday will need treatment, leaving officials desperate for ways to increase capacity and triage care to focus on the sickest patients.”

• Gov. Gavin Newsom today pledged that the state would speed up vaccinations—and that he was going to ask the Legislature for $300 million to aid in the massive task. According to the Los Angeles Times: “California has received just under 1.3 million vaccine doses, but only a touch more than 454,000 people have actually received the shots, according to figures Newsom presented. Though he has regularly maintained that distribution of the long-awaited vaccines is ‘like a flywheel, the first 10, 15 days we’re going to slowly start building pace, then you’re going to start seeing more rapid distribution,’ he said the process had, to this point, ‘gone too slowly, I know, for many of us.'”

• In order to speed up the vaccination effort, the feds are considering cutting the amount of the Moderna vaccine shot in half: CNBC reports that Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation”: “We know that for the Moderna vaccine giving half the dose for people between the ages of 18 to 55 — two doses, half the dose, which means exactly achieving the objective of immunizing double the number of people with the doses we have—we know it induces identical immune response to the 100 microgram dose. And therefore, we are in discussions with Moderna and with the FDA—of course ultimately it will be an FDA decision—to accelerate injecting half the volume.”

• Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers are beginning to make an ugly mark on things. A Wisconsin pharmacist is accused of purposefully destroying 570 doses of the Moderna vaccine by leaving it unrefrigerated. NBC News says: “(Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist Steven) Brandenburg is an ‘admitted conspiracy theorist,’ and he ‘told investigators that he believed that Covid-19 vaccine was not safe for people and could harm them and change their DNA.” Sigh.

NPR digs into the concerning matter that a surprising number of health-care workers are declining the vaccine: “Dr. Nikhila Juvvadi, the chief clinical officer at Chicago’s Loretto Hospital … says that, in her hospital, a lot of that hesitancy is based on minority groups’ deep-rooted mistrust of vaccinations and other large-scale health care programs: ‘I’ve heard Tuskegee more times than I can count in the past month—and, you know, it’s a valid, valid concern.'”

• In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times: “So many frontline workers in Riverside County gave refused the vaccine— an estimated 50%—that hospital and public officials met to strategize how best to distribute the unused doses, Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari said.”

Also according to the Los Angeles Times: Outbreaks at workplaces are occurring seemingly everywhere, from Costcos to Whole Foods to fire stations to airports to TV-show tapings. If you’re one of the fortunate souls who can work at home, thank your lucky stars—and if you’re not, please be as safe as you can.

• Unless you’ve been off the grid for the last couple of days, I am sure you heard about the phone call between the president and Georgia’s secretary of state. Well, it turns out many in the business community are sick of the president’s desperate attempts to overturn the election: “Almost 200 of the country’s top business leaders urged Congress to certify the electoral results for President-elect Joe Biden in a letter Monday, arguing that ‘attempts to thwart or delay this process run counter to the essential tenets of our democracy,'” The Washington Post reports.

• Related: So there’s an election in Georgia tomorrow that’s kinda significant.

England is yet again going into a national lockdown. The Guardian, in specific detail, explains how strict the lockdown will be—much like we had here in April. Key quote: “The regulations will be laid before parliament on Tuesday, will be subject to a vote on Wednesday and are expected to remain in place until the middle of February.”

• So many California small businesses have applied for the state’s relief grants that the deadline to apply has been extended through Jan. 13. According to the state’s press release: “The program, which officially opened December 30, experienced high traffic—receiving thousands of completed applications. However, due to the high traffic, some businesses may have had trouble accessing the application. Adjustments to the program’s website have been made and the application period has been extended to ensure that all interested applicants have the opportunity to apply.”

• Related: The city of Palm Springs has set up a hotline to help businesses applying for the aforementioned grant or federal PPP help. According to the news release: “The hotline will operate seven days a week and callers will receive a response within 24 hours, if not sooner (at 760-323-8273 or via email at ‘The goal of this new hotline is to provide assistance to any business struggling to complete the application process during this difficult time,’ said Jay Virata, the City’s director of Community & Economic Development. ‘We encourage anyone in need of help or advice to reach out and we will be ready and able to assist.'”

• Sort of related and infuriating: The Associated Press reports that “data from the Paycheck Protection Program released Dec. 1 and analyzed by The Associated Press show that many minority owners desperate for a relief loan didn’t receive one until the PPP’s last few weeks while many more white business owners were able to get loans earlier in the program.”

• Finally, because life is short (and, as of late, somewhat horrifying), why not take 25 minutes and watch Claire Saffitz make her carrot and pecan cake recipe?

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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...