Coachella Valley Independent

Daily Digest: Jan. 25, 2021

The stay-at-home order has been lifted.

That surprising news—which broke last night and was officially announced this morning—means the state goes back to the tiered status system. Riverside County (and the vast majority of the rest of the state) is back in the purple (most-restrictive) category; however, this means restaurants can again offer outdoor dining, and barber shops/salons can reopen with limitations.

This surprising news also means that, alas, people are getting on social media and spreading misinformation about what, exactly, is happening. Therefore, I’d like to use this space to clarify some things. Everything here is supported with links to reliable sources; you can use all this to come to your own educated conclusions. OK? OK!

• The official reason given for the change is that ICU capacity is supposed to reach the 15 percent benchmark within the next four weeks. Specifically, the state says Southern California is projected to have a third of its ICU beds open as of Feb. 21.

• The state is being vague, to put it nicely, regarding its methodology for the ICU determination. As Victoria Colliver, Politico’s California-based health-care reporter stated earlier today on Twitter: “Lots of interest here in knowing the data behind these decisions so please SHOW YOUR WORK. We’re here and we’re listening.”

• The end of the stay-at-home order took legislators on both sides of the aisle by surprise, as our partners at CalMatters note. It’s also worth noting that the governor is the subject of a recall effort. Key quote: “In a mid-day press conference, Newsom rejected any notion that the loosening of virus restrictions was a political maneuver to generate goodwill as ‘complete, utter nonsense.’ He said the decision to lift stay-at-home orders was driven by declining hospitalization rates and increasing ICU capacity and emphasized that California’s rate of positive COVID-19 tests has also dropped, adding to optimism about reopening more businesses in the coming weeks.”

• It is indeed true that hospitalizations have been declining, both locally and across the state. However, as these graphs show, our hospitals—especially the ICUs—are still pretty strained.

• There is still a LOT of COVID out there—including the scary variants everyone keeps talking about. However, test positivity rates have been falling (though they’re still higher than they have been for most of the pandemic), and Palm Springs City Councilman Geoff Kors today said that “data from Palm Springs Wastewater also shows a major reduction (in COVID-19) levels since December.”

• I can’t find any confirmed evidence of a link between outdoor dining and COVID-19 spread. I’ve looked and looked and looked; if you can find some, please send it to me.

• Even with the stay-at-home order lifted, California still is more restricted than almost everywhere else in the country.

• The business closures and limitations are believed to be a key factor in California’s increasing unemployment rate

• Vaccinations (as Israel is proving) and the immunity of people who have recovered from COVID-19 will no doubt help slow—but not stop (at least for a while)—the spread. But those variants will increase it. Oh, and at least one of those variants may be deadlier, too.

So … in summary: Things are getting better, but COVID-19 is still widespread. California is more open than it was, but still closed more than most places in the country. Help is coming, but so are scary variants.

What does this all mean? How will it all play out? Nobody knows for sure—not even the amateur epidemiologists commenting with such certainty on Facebook.

—Jimmy Boegle

From the Independent

On Cocktails: Maybe You Should Consider Ordering (Some of) These Drinks From the 1970s When Bars Are a Thing Again

By Kevin Carlow

January 25, 2021

A tribute to some drinks that were popular in the days of disco and bellbottoms.

A Worthy Tearjerker: ‘Our Friend’ Features Powerful Performances by Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck and Jason Segal

By Bob Grimm

January 25, 2021

Our Friend is an ode to bravery in the face of dying, to the true love shared by a couple facing such peril, and the […]

And Now, the News

• Even though the vaccines are still seemingly effective against the various SARS-CoV-2 variants out there, they’re less effective against at least one of them, according to The New York Times. As a result, the vaccine makers are tweaking things a bit: “As a precaution, Moderna has begun developing a new form of its vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against the variant in South Africa. ‘We’re doing it today to be ahead of the curve, should we need to,’ Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said in an interview. “I think of it as an insurance policy.”

The fourth Impeachment against a president—and the first one for inciting an insurrection—in our nation’s history has been sent to the Senate.

• The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has partially affirmed the state’s ability to ban indoor religious services during the COVID crisis. As the Los Angeles Times explains. “A federal appeals court on Monday struck down California coronavirus rules limiting indoor church attendance to specific numbers but allowed the state to continue to ban indoor worship during times of widespread infection. … The 9th Circuit was bound by a November U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down rules limiting indoor attendance at places of worship in New York to a specific number, without taking into account the size of the building. From now on, the 9th Circuit said, restrictions on indoor worship when infections are not widespread should be based on a percentage of the church’s capacity as set by fire codes.”

• The state plans on tweaking its confusing vaccine-prioritization system to make it more based on age. KTLA explains: “After those 65 and older, health care workers and essential workers like first responders, teachers, and food and agriculture workers are inoculated, the state is moving to an age-based vaccine prioritization system, the governor said. … The state didn’t release a break-down of the age groups that’ll be prioritized in future tiers, and it’s unclear whether prioritizing older residents in the later stages of vaccine distribution will mean others will be getting their shots later than expected. More information was expected Tuesday.”

The state has extended the moratorium on residential evictions through June 30. According to statement from the governor and the legislative leaders: “We are also moving forward as quickly as possible to deploy California’s share of the latest federal stimulus bill—ensuring that up to $2.6 billion in renter aid is administered quickly, equitably and accountably.”

• After criticisms that his target of 1 million vaccine shots per day was too low, President Biden raised the bar: His new goal is 1.5 million a day. CNBC says Biden explained things as only he could: “I think with the grace of God and the good will of the neighbor and the creek not rising, as the old saying goes, I think we may be able to get that to 1.5 million a day, rather than 1 million a day, but we have to meet that goal of a million a day.”

• Sigh. “The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Sunday that the federal government does not know how much coronavirus vaccine the nation has, a complication that adds to the already herculean task before the Biden administration,” CNBC reports.

• Also from CNBC: Merck has ended its quest to develop SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, because “both vaccines generated immune responses that were inferior to those seen in people who had recovered from Covid-19 as well as those reported for other COVID-19 vaccines.” Instead, the company will focus its efforts on two possible COVID-19 medicines.

The president today reversed a significant bit of Trump administration bigotry. NBC News says: “President Joe Biden on Monday signed an executive order repealing the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, a ban that former President Donald Trump had put in effect, the White House said. In a statement, the White House said Biden’s order ‘sets the policy that all Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to serve.'”

• Scientists at UCSF say they think they’ve created a powerful new drug for treating COVID-19 made from … (checks notes) sea squirts. Wait, what? As broken down by SFGate: “The study, which has been published in the journal Science, shows that (the extraction from) the ‘sea squirt’ found off the coast of Ibiza could be ‘almost 30 times more potent than Remdesivir,’ the (San Francisco) Chronicle reported. While not yet approved to treat patients with COVID-19, if proven effective this treatment would be a welcome addition to the still small amount of antiviral drugs available to treat the disease.”

A Bay Area hospital is in deep trouble after the San Jose Spotlight broke this appalling story: “Santa Clara County will not provide Good Samaritan any more doses of COVID-19 vaccine unless it follows the rules, a sanction issued by health officials after this news organization reported hospital leaders allowed an affluent school district to skip the line and get vaccinated ahead of seniors and other vulnerable populations.” The Los Gatos Union School District superintendent, the Spotlight reported, “encouraged teachers and staff to pretend to be health care workers when they sign up for a vaccine appointment—at the behest of the hospital’s top leadership.”

• The U.S. Supreme Court threw out two lawsuits regarding Donald Trump’s business dealings as the president … because they’re moot now that he’s no longer president: “The cases raised a novel question about a president’s ability to receive income from businesses patronized by government officials. But once Trump left office, it was assumed that the cases would be dismissed as moot because the constitutional provision would no longer apply to him—leaving unanswered the legal questions they raised,” NBC News says.

• Speaking of the former president, The Wall Street Journal published this scary bit of journalism yesterday (the start of which is linked to here via MarketWatch, since the WSJ has a hard paywall): “In his last weeks in office, former President Donald Trump considered moving to replace the acting attorney general with another official ready to pursue unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, and he pushed the Justice Department to ask the Supreme Court to invalidate President Biden’s victory, people familiar with the matter said. Those efforts failed due to pushback from his own appointees in the Justice Department, who refused to file what they viewed as a legally baseless lawsuit in the Supreme Court.” Yeesh.

• Meanwhile, Dominion Voting Systems is suing the former president’s lawyer for a cool $1.3 billion-plus. As The Washington Post explains: “The 107-page complaint, filed in federal court in D.C., cites dozens of statements (Rudolph) Giuliani made about Dominion—on Twitter, in appearances on conservative media shows and on his own podcast—to promote the ‘false preconceived narrative’ that the election was stolen from Trump.” There’s also this tidbit: “In a text message, Giuliani said he believed the case would give him an opportunity to prove his allegations about Dominion.” Well, that should be interesting!

The Desert AIDS Project today announced a new name—DAP Health—and an expanded mission. Here’s an excerpt from the DAP Health news release: “For the first time in our 36-year history, we are changing how the community identifies us, a move that will amplify our mission and values as the COVID crisis makes health equity more important than ever. … ‘Our patient-centered model of care promises patients that we are there for them, regardless of economic or HIV status,’ said David Brinkman, CEO, DAP Health. ‘This name change will help the public identify DAP as an advocacy-based health center with the capacity and heart to meet our ongoing public healthcare needs.'”

It’s official: The First Dogs, Champ and Major, have arrived at the White House.

• Our friends at the Desert Rose Playhouse have created a video of a performance of Robbie Wayne’s cabaret show “A Road Less Traveled” as a fundraiser for the company. It costs $15 to rent the show for 24 hours; go here to do just that.

• Finally … the great Larry King died on Saturday at the age of 87. Damn you, COVID. In tribute, I must recommend this 2015 feature on King and his obsession with death from The New York Times Magazine. It’s a long read, but worth your time, as it’s one of the best personality profiles I have ever read—and one of the funniest pieces I have ever read. A small taste. “Washington’s media-political fancies always viewed King with both respect and derision. The latter arose from King’s refusal to play the tough-guy inquisitor that had become the pose of so many ‘TV journalist’ types. My colleague Maureen Dowd once called King ‘the resort area of American journalism.’ King had an unabashed interest in celebrity and scandal, devoured the trial of his old pal O.J. Simpson and spoke at the funeral of his dear friend Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Bakker). Yet the famous and powerful coveted King’s audience and appreciated his unthreatening style. His questions were short, basic and often open-ended (‘Never been in the hotel? Never?’ he asked Nixon, referring to the Watergate Hotel); solicitous (‘How did you emotionally hold up?’ he asked Clinton); and at times slyly provocative (Why do you keep saying if the Holocaust happened? he asked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran). He asked Ronald Reagan what it was like to be shot.”

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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...