Coachella Valley Independent

Daily Digest: April 6, 2021

Today was a big news day on the pandemic front—and it’s safe to say it was the BEST news day on the pandemic front in Riverside County and the state of California since this whole mess started.

The big news items:

For the first time, Riverside County will move into the less-restrictive orange/moderate tier, effective tomorrow. There are two reasons for the move: 1) The state just reached a goal of administering 4 million vaccine doses in California’s most vulnerable communities, therefore triggering new criteria that make it easier for counties to move to less-restrictive levels. 2) The county’s numbers continue to improve. Normally, counties have to qualify for a less-restrictive tier for two weeks to move; however, because the state hit the aforementioned vaccine goal, AND the county’s numbers both last week and this week fit the new criteria triggered when the state hit the goal, the state moved us up.

What does this all mean? According to the county: “Retail businesses may increase capacity to 100 percent indoors. Places of worship, movie theaters (and) restaurants, as well as museums, zoos and aquariums may increase indoor capacity to 50 percent with modifications. Gyms, as well as wineries, breweries and distilleries may increase indoor capacity to 25 percent indoors with modifications. Starting April 15, meetings, receptions and conferences are allowed indoors up to 150, if all guests are tested or fully vaccinated.”

As of now, the state lists Riverside County as seeing 3.5 new COVID-19 cases per day, per 100,000 residents, with a 2.0 percent positivity rate; the positivity rate in underserved communities is 2.3 percent. To move into the yellow, or “minimal” tier, we’d need to decrease the rate of new daily cases per 100,000 below 2; get the positivity rate below 2.0 percent; and get the positivity rate in underserved communities below 2.2 percent.

More vaccination providers in Riverside County are offering vaccines to all adults. Shortly after we published yesterday’s Daily Digest, the city of Palm Springs announced the four Curative-run sites—including the ones in Indio and at the Palm Springs Convention Center—would join the county-run sites in offering vaccine appointments to all county residents 16 and older. (People as young as 16 can get the Pfizer vaccine; Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots are available to people 18 and up.)

As for other vaccine providers, some are opening appointments to everyone 16 or 18 and up; others are following the state guidance and only offering appointments to people 50+ and other qualifiers through April 15. If you’re confused, I HIGHLY recommend following Vaxie on Facebook, and/or contacting the good folks there for assistance.

The state of California today announced a goal of dropping the tier system and most other restrictions on June 15. As the state website explains:

“As we reach 20 million vaccines administered and COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations have stabilized, California is looking to move beyond the Blueprint for a Safer Economy to fully reopening our economy. On June 15, all industries across the state can return to usual operations with common-sense risk reduction measures such as masking and vaccinations. We will only progress to this stage if we continue to stay vigilant, keep wearing our masks and getting vaccinated. The state will monitor hospitalization rates, vaccine access, and vaccine efficacy against variants with the option to revisit the June 15 date if needed. What triggers our move Beyond the Blueprint? On June 15, California will fully open its economy if two criteria are met: 1. Equitable vaccine availability: If vaccine supply is sufficient for Californians 16 years or older who wish to be inoculated; AND 2. Consistently low burden of disease: Hospitalizations are stable and low, and specifically, hospitalizations among fully vaccinated individuals are low.”

For more on this announcement by the state, I recommend this story, from our partners at CalMatters. The piece makes it clear that some restrictions will remain—including the statewide mask mandate—and that counties could enact restrictions if they so choose. And there’s this: “Until at least Oct. 1, events at large settings like convention centers will only be allowed if organizers can show that attendees are either vaccinated or are tested. There is still no plan, however, for large, multi-day events like music festivals to take place, (Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health secretary), said.”

We’re certainly not out of this yet. And if the variants run amok and/or too many people refuse to get vaccinated, it’s possible the June 15 reopening may not happen. But take a minute, please, to enjoy this moment: After 13 months of hell, it’s fantastic and exciting that we have, at long last, a date on the calendar we can look to for a partial end to all of this.

—Jimmy Boegle

From the Independent

A Lifeline for Nonprofits: The Berger Foundation’s Coachella Valley Spotlight Grants Offer Much-Needed Help to Organizations Like Lee Espinoza’s Coachella Valley Boxing Club

By Kevin Fitzgerald

April 6, 2021

Lee Espinoza’s Coachella Valley Boxing Club, which for years has been a haven for youth and others in Coachella, gets a much-needed $25,000 grant.

More News of the Day

President Joe Biden today moved the date when all adults in the U.S. will be vaccine-eligible up to April 19. According to The Associated Press: “Biden also announced that 150 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been shot into arms since his inauguration on Jan. 20. That puts the president well on track to meet his new goal of 200 million shots administered by his 100th day in office on April 30. Biden’s original goal had been 100 million shots by the end of his first 100 days, but that number was reached in March. Still, he acknowledged Tuesday that his administration fell short of its goal to deliver at least one shot to every teacher, school staff member and childcare worker during the month of March, to try to accelerate school reopenings. Biden announced the target early last month and directed federal resources toward achieving it, but said Tuesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 80% of teachers, school staff and childcare workers had received a shot.”

• Look, I understand the value and importance of personal freedoms and liberties. But I do. Not. Get. This. At ALL. Per ABC News: “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott used his executive power Tuesday to ban state government and some private entities from requiring COVID-19 ‘vaccine passports’ to access services, in the latest move from a Republican governor pitting public health campaigns against personal freedom and private choices.” He’s following in the footsteps of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the governor of Tennessee seems to be following in their footsteps. Sigh.

Yesterday, we noted that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson had vetoed a bill that would make it illegal for transgender minors to receive gender-affirming medication or surgery. Today, the Arkansas Legislature overrode the veto. NBC News says: “The law prohibits doctors from providing gender-affirming medical care, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, and prevents them from referring minors to other providers. Major medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, opposed the bill, which transgender advocates say could have severe negative effects on trans youths in the state.”

Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) While things continue trending in a better direction, one of our neighbors died due to COVID-19 during the week of April 4—and belated death reports pushed the total number of deaths in District 4 over 1,000. What a bleak milestone.

The New York Times did some digging into that Emergent BioSolutions factory where some 15 million Johnson and Johnson vaccine doses had to be thrown away due to errors … and discovers that was just one in a series of serious mistakes made there. Key quote: “Emergent and government health officials have long touted their partnership as a success, but an examination by The New York Times of manufacturing practices at the Baltimore facility found serious problems, including a corporate culture that often ignored or deflected missteps and a government sponsor, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, that acted more as a partner than a policeman. … The loss of the Johnson & Johnson doses was not the first time the company threw out coronavirus vaccine for fear of contamination. Between early October and January, Emergent discarded five lots of AstraZeneca vaccine—each the equivalent of two million to three million doses—because of contamination or suspected contamination, according to internal logs, a government official and a former company supervisor.”

• Sort of related: The Atlantic looks at the comparatively slow vaccine rollout in Canada—and the frustrations our neighbors to the north are feeling as a result. Key quote: “To some degree, this is the natural result of living in a small country during an unprecedented global health crisis that has scrambled supply chains all over the world. Without much domestic manufacturing capacity to speak of, Canada had to sign advance-purchase deals with international vaccine companies. The country hedged its bet by mostly going with companies funded by Operation Warp Speed, and so far its strategy has been to overbuy doses in the hopes of securing enough to vaccinate all of its citizens. A mounting critique, however, is that perhaps Canada should have been more specific than ‘first quarter of 2021’ in terms of arranging vaccine-delivery timing. (Health expert André) Picard said that Canada, by not giving manufacturers a specific week, or even day, allowed them to push delivery until the outer limit of the quarter.”

• How much is the sports world contributing to the spread of SARS-CoV-2? As Major League Baseball enjoys its first full week of play during the 2021 season, two researchers, writing for The Conversation, note that—while conceding that cause and effect can’t be proven—there was a correlation between large NFL stadium crowds and subsequent increases in COVID-19 cases: “We found that in counties where teams had 20,000 fans or more at games, there were more than twice as many COVID-19 cases in the three weeks after games compared to counties with other teams. The case rate per 100,000 residents was also twice as high. Neighboring counties also experienced higher case counts and rates in the three weeks following games with lots of fans in the seats. … When stadiums had fewer than 5,000 fans in the stands, we didn’t see elevated case numbers like we did in those that permitted more than 20,000 fans.”

• Next up from the sports world: The Washington Post compiles increasing evidence that indoor youth sports may be driving outbreaks of COVID-19 from the more-dangerous British virus variant. Key quote: “In Nevada, the B.1.1.7 variant—which has been confirmed in several studies to be more infectious—has been linked to an outbreak at a recent youth volleyball tournament. In Michigan, cases among those ages 10 to 19 have jumped 133 percent during the past month, faster than any other age group, and the state’s leading epidemiologist said the infections seem to have been spread through activities ‘including sports, but not limited to sports,’ rather than in the classroom.”

• Walgreens, what are you thinking?! This question is prompted by this revelation from The New York Times, regarding Pfizer vaccinations at the drugstore chain: “People are supposed to get two doses, three weeks apart. Walgreens, however, separated them by four weeks because that made it faster and simpler for the company to schedule appointments. There is no evidence that separating the doses by an extra week decreases the vaccine’s effectiveness. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a three-week gap, the agency says it is acceptable to separate the doses by up to six weeks if necessary. But Walgreens’s decision, which it didn’t publicly announce, confused some customers and caught the attention of federal health officials. Kate Grusich, a spokeswoman for the CDC, said the agency had asked Walgreens to stop using a longer-than-recommended period between doses.”

Also from The New York Times: An easier- and cheaper-to-make coronavirus vaccine is entering clinical trials in some parts of the world. Key quote: “Existing vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson must be produced in specialized factories using hard-to-acquire ingredients. In contrast, the new vaccine can be mass-produced in chicken eggs—the same eggs that produce billions of influenza vaccines every year in factories around the world. If NDV-HXP-S proves safe and effective, flu vaccine manufacturers could potentially produce well over a billion doses of it a year. Low- and middle-income countries currently struggling to obtain vaccines from wealthier countries may be able to make NDV-HXP-S for themselves or acquire it at low cost from neighbors.”

The ACLU and three SoCal district attorneys—including Riverside County’s DA—are having a bit of a tiff over the fact that the DAs are trying to move forward with death-penalty cases. The Press-Enterprise reports: “District attorneys in three California counties are firing back at the American Civil Liberties Union and other prisoner advocacy groups, calling their attempt to block the prosecutors’  participation in a longstanding death penalty lawsuit frivolous. Additionally, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin and San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe say they take offense to recently being characterized as ‘bloodthirsty’ and trying to ‘fast-track executions’ in California.”

• Meanwhile, in Northern California, a DA has filed criminal charges against a utility following a dangerous fire. According to KTVU: “A slew of criminal charges filed against Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) accuse the utility of recklessly causing the 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County. District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced the five felonies and 28 misdemeanors Tuesday, blaming the utility for a fire that resulted in firefighters getting hurt, homes and forest land burning down, and other air pollution crimes. The fire started October 23, 2019, at the Geysers Geothermal Field, not far from the town of Geyserville. It scorched 120 square miles, destroying 374 structures.”

And finally … the U.S. is considering a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. CNBC explains: “(State spokesman Ned) Price said the United States has not yet made a decision but was concerned about China’s egregious human rights abuses. The Olympic Games are due to take place between Feb. 4 and Feb. 20. Price later added on Twitter that the United States will continue to consult with allies and that the games are 10 months away.”

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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...