Coachella Valley Independent

Daily Digest: Jan. 29, 2021

There was an insurrection. There was an inauguration. There was a lot more that happened, too.

Yes, January 2021 was a crazy month.

Barring anything humungous happening over the weekend, this is the final Daily Digest of the month. Therefore, I’d like to close things out on a positive note—because, really, truly, there are actually a lot of encouraging things going on, especially on the pandemic front

We’ll leave the depressing stuff for the section down below. For now, the good stuff:

We got a whole lot of great vaccine news this week. Yesterday, we learned that early data out of the U.K. shows that Novavax’s vaccine is 89 percent effective. However, it’ll be a bit before the U.S. larger-trial data will be in—so while it’s probably coming, the Novavax vaccine won’t be authorized here in the U.S. for a while.

• The really good news came today when Johnson and Johnson revealed that its one dose, easy-to-store vaccine was 66 percent effective in its large study. I’ll link to The New York Times’ piece here, as explains things well—even though the newspaper framed the piece horribly.

The headline—”Johnson and Johnson’s Vaccine Offers Strong Protection but Fuels Concern About Variants”—downplays how truly fantastic this vaccine news is. After 23 paragraphs of discussion about the vaccine, information on how it compares to other vaccines, and scary news about how it doesn’t work quite as well against all the variants, this is the story’s 24th paragraph:

Johnson and Johnson presented only a summary of findings of its clinical trial. The vaccine was 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease in all three regions where the trial was run: the United States, Latin America and South Africa. After 28 days, none of the vaccinated participants who developed COVID-19 had to be hospitalized.

Let’s look at that last sentence again: After 28 days, none of the vaccinated participants who developed COVID-19 had to be hospitalized.

That’s kind of a big freaking deal: This single-dose vaccine—that the U.S. is slated to have 100 million does of by June—kept everyone who got it from getting sick enough to require hospitalization.

• While the vaccine rollout has undeniably been a mess, 23.2 million people in the U.S. have gotten at least one shot so far—and that represents a significant percentage of healthcare workers, older people and people in nursing homes.

• Speaking of hospitalizations, here’s the graph on COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Coachella Valley. It shows hospitalizations are down by a third since their peak earlier this month.

• The flu, which is normally responsible for a fair number of hospitalizations in the fall and winter, is pretty much not a thing this year.

• Scientists are working on a vaccine that would work against all coronaviruses. Yes, all of them. The Los Angeles Times reported several weeks ago on the efforts of some researchers at UC Irvine: “‘Our vaccine is not only targeting COVID-19—it’s also targeting the viruses that caused previous outbreaks,’ UC Irvine professor Lbachir BenMohamed said. ‘Don’t forget that we had several outbreaks in the last 20 years. It just happened that the outbreak that happened in 2019 is more dangerous because the virus transmitted faster. But we did have other other coronavirus outbreaks back in 2003, in 2008 and 2015. But they were contained. They were contained very quickly before they transmitted worldwide.'”

Obviously, things are still scary. A lot of things could go wrong, especially as far as these variants are concerned. More deaths and long-term illnesses are in our collective future. We still need to mask up and be careful. But there’s no denying that there is a lot of positive, encouraging news to report as the calendar flips from January to February 2021.

—Jimmy Boegle

From the Independent

The Weekly Independent Comics Page for Jan. 28, 2021!

By Staff

January 28, 2021

On this week’s Blockbuster Video-stock-hoarding weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles ponders the claim, “This is not who we are”; This Modern World looks […]

Content Shifter: Nine Cyberpunk Movies to Stream

By Bill Frost

January 29, 2021

Our streaming-TV critic goes back to the 1990s to look into the future with nine … interesting movies.

February Astronomy: Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury Emerge From the Solar Glare Into Early-Morning Skies

By Robert Victor

January 29, 2021

What you will see in the nighttime/morning skies during February 2021.

And Now, More News

• If you or a loved one is a Riverside County resident who is 85 or older, take note: The county has opened several dozen special vaccination clinics just for people 85 and up. Get details here; they’re filling up fairly quickly, but appointments are still left.

• News that has been long expected was made official today: April’s Coachella and Stagecoach weekends have been cancelled. Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s health officer, issued an order today prohibiting the events. It’s expected that Goldenvoice may—again—try to have the events in October, but that’s not a sure thing.

Moderna has asked the FDA for permission to put more doses of vaccine in each vial—in an effort to speed up the manufacturing process. CNBC says: “The change would allow Moderna to put 15 doses in the same size vials now cleared to hold 10, alleviating pressure on the part of the manufacturing process known as fill/finish. … The bottleneck isn’t the vials themselves, according to the person familiar; it’s the manufacturing capacity to fill the vials. The fill/finish process in manufacturing must be done under aseptic conditions to assure no contamination, and capacity is at a premium.”

• The various variants are causing some countries to enact travel bans—and a lot others to consider them. Two experts on airlines, writing for The Conversation, crunched the data on Trump’s travel bans from China and Europe, and learned that the earlier, more-comprehensive China ban may have done some good—while the looser European ban did not. Key quote: “If the evidence does warrant additional travel restrictions, our research says to act quickly and think broadly.”

The variant running amok in Brazil (and just found in the U.S.) is particularly concerning, as explained by this NPR article. Why? Concerns over immunity and reinfection. “‘If you were to ask me right now, what’s most concerning of all the things that I’ve heard so far, it’s the fact that they are reporting a sudden increase in cases in Manaus, Brazil,’ virus expert Jeremy Luban at the University of Massachusetts told NPR two weeks ago before the variant arrived in the United States. ‘Manaus already had 75% of people infected [in the spring of last year].'”

• SFGate says a UCSF study shows the most dangerous job for people 18-65, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, is being a line cook. Key quote: “And while cooks have the highest ‘risk ratio for mortality,’ with 828 deaths between March and October of 2020, other food-related jobs were also found to be in the top riskiest channels of employment. Agricultural workers and bakers ranked in the top five, with chefs/head cooks and bartenders following close behind.”

• Related and bone-chilling … this Los Angeles Times headline: “Latino COVID-19 deaths hit ‘horrifying’ levels, up 1,000% since November in L.A. County.” Key quote: “Among all groups, the COVID-19 death rate for Latino residents in L.A. County is nearly triple that of white residents. ‘While every single race and ethnicity group in L.A. County has seen a horrendous increase in mortality rates, the gap between the experiences of those in our Latinx community and all others is frankly horrifying,’ (L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara) Ferrer said.”

• The Desert Healthcare District is warning people to be on the lookout for vaccine scams. Basically, if anyone says you need to pay to be put on a list, or that you can pay to get get early access, that’s a scam.

• The state’s eviction protections have been officially extended through June: “The measure prevents landlords from evicting tenants who pay at least 25% of their rent through June and attest that they face financial hardship because of COVID-19 and its effect on the economy. The bill also provides $2.6 billion in federal funds for rent subsidies that will help pay most past-due rent by low-income tenants dating back to last April,” says the Los Angeles Times.

Our partners at CalMatters take a whack at explaining how in the world the state’s unemployment system became rife with fraud. Key quote: “Despite repeated warnings from federal authorities that fraudsters would target California, EDD waited six months and processed 7.4 million claims before it began flagging addresses with unusually high numbers of claims, the (state) audit found. In ‘the most egregious example,’ more than 1,700 claims came from a single address. EDD also paid $10.4 billion to claimants with unverified identities and $810 million to prison inmates. State labor officials confirmed this week the total fraud could reach $31 billion.” Good lord.

• According to ZDNet, Apple’s CEO says society is heading toward a bad place because of an obsession with engagement at any cost. CEO Tim Cook said: “At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement—the longer the better—and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible,” he said.

• Related: The Associated Press yesterday did a story on some QAnon believers who are bailing out. Meanwhile, other believers are doubling down on theories that are even more bonkers: “More than a week after Donald Trump departed the White House, shattering their hopes that he would expose the worldwide cabal, some QAnon adherents have concocted ever more elaborate stories to keep their faith alive. But others … are turning to therapy and online support groups to talk about the damage done when beliefs collide with reality.”

• I did my semi-usual spot on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week with Dr. Laura Rush and hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr. We discuss the latest COVID news and some events (virtual, of course) taking place.

• Finally, if you’re a fan of Subway’s tuna sandwiches, boy, have I got some terrible news for you: A lawsuit is alleging that, uh, that’s NOT tuna. The Washington Post explains: “The star ingredient, according to the lawsuit, is ‘made from anything but tuna.’ Based on independent lab tests of ‘multiple samples’ taken from Subway locations in California, the ‘tuna’ is ‘a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by defendants to imitate the appearance of tuna,’ according to the complaint. Shalini Dogra, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, declined to say exactly what ingredients the lab tests revealed.” Mmm, concoctions! Subway is saying this claim is without merit, for the record.

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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...