CVIndependent

Tue10272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Riverside County will remain in the red, “Substantial” COVID-19 tier for at least one more week—even though the county’s numbers are getting worse.

Why? The county asked the state for another week to make improvements—and the state, via an “adjudication process,” gave the county the requested break.

“The aim with the adjudication process is to make the case to the state that we can maintain our current status and still control COVID-19 in our communities,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, via a news release. “Whether or not we stay red or return to purple, we have to get people tested to find cases, and continue to use facial coverings, social distance and avoid gatherings. If we return to purple, we want to get back to red as quickly as we can. If we stay red, we want to progress. We can’t do either of those things without individuals, businesses and institutions working together to reduce spread.”

In order to be in the red tier, a county is supposed to have a positivity rate below 8 percent, and less than 7 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. As of today’s weekly reporting, the county has a 5.9 percent positivity rate—but 8.1 new daily cases per 100,000, a number the state adjusted up to 9.2, because the county is lagging behind the rest of the state in testing.

The county did meet the criterion for the new health equity metric, coming in below 8 percent (at 7.7 percent, to be exact). This metric tracks the positivity rate in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

So … what does this all mean? If we don’t get that case rate per 100,000 residents down, the state could put Riverside County back into the purple, “Widespread” tier, as soon as next week. That would mean movie theaters, gyms, restaurants and places of worship would have to close down indoor operations—yet again.

Stay tuned.

Other news from the day:

Another vaccine’s Stage 3 trial has been halted due to a serious illness. The Associated Press reports via SF Gate: “(Johnson and Johnson) said in a statement Monday evening that illnesses, accidents and other so-called adverse events ‘are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies’ but that its physicians and a safety monitoring panel would try to determine what might have caused the illness.” Johnson and Johnson’s potential vaccine, unlike many other candidates, only requires one dose.

A similar halt over a safety concern has occurred in the clinical trials for Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody treatment. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board recommended pausing enrollment in the U.S. government-sponsored trial, a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. The company didn’t provide information about what caused the panel to recommend the stoppage.” This treatment is similar to the antibody therapy from Regeneron that President Trump received and has hailed incorrectly as a “cure.”

• In other COVID-treatment news, the one company that could know for sure whether it has a working vaccine by the end of the month is taking steps to make sure people trust the vaccine, should everything work out. Per Politico: “The company behind President Donald Trump’s last hope for a vaccine by Election Day has quietly begun courting influential health experts, including some of its toughest critics, to head off charges that it's moving too fast in the face of intense political pressure.

A Nevadan is the unlucky man who has become the first person in North America confirmed to have gotten COVID-19 twice, from two slightly different versions of SARS-CoV-2. The Los Angeles Times explains why these rare re-infections show why we need a vaccine, and can’t just depend on herd immunity.

Having said that, we’ll present this headline from The Washington Post sans comment: “Proposal to hasten herd immunity to the coronavirus grabs White House attention but appalls top scientists.”

• By now, you’ve probably heard of the unauthorized drop boxes that have been appearing around the state—often with labeling saying they’re “official.” The state Republican party is responsible; the state attorney general has demanded the Republicans cease and desist; the state party is refusing to do so. Our partners at CalMatters look at the legal questions involved with this shady move by the GOP.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Trump administration can stop Census field operations early. According to The Associated Press, via SFGate: “The Supreme Court justices’ ruling came as the nation’s largest statistical association, and even the bureau’s own census takers and partners, have been raising questions about the quality of the data being gathered — numbers that are used to determine how much federal funding is allotted to states and localities, and how many congressional seats each states gets.” Interestingly, only one of the eight justices, Sonia Sotomayor, dissented. 

• The state has officially said that Californians should not go trick-or-treating this year. According to the Los Angeles Times: “Health officials voiced concerns that it’s not possible to practice social distancing while trick-or-treating and that Día de los Muertos and Halloween celebrations would lead to people interacting with those from outside their households. State officials are strongly discouraging trick-or-treating and suggested that some Halloween activities, such as costume contests and pumpkin carving, move online. They recommended that families go on a walk while dressed up but forgo going door-to-door for candy.” Damn you, 2020!

• Climate change and poor forest management have fueled (literally) California’s awful wildfires in recent years. So … what can be done to fix the forest-management portion? According to two engineering professors, writing for The Conversation, forests can be restored—but it’ll take many years and billions of dollars.

• Republicans have been crying out about the possibility that a President Biden could choose to “pack” the U.S. Supreme Court by adding justices. Well, it turns out the Republican Party has been more than happy to “pack” lower courts. According to The Washington Post: “Marin Levy, a law professor at Duke University, says there’s important context missing from the discussion: the recent partisan attempts to pack state supreme courts. In a study published earlier this year, well before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Levy documented court-packing attempts in at least 11 states in recent years. Most of those efforts were initiated by Republicans, including the two that succeeded. Moreover, compared with earlier decades, court-packing attempts are now more common and more explicitly partisan.”

President Trump’s campaign used an out-of-context quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci—and Fauci is not pleased. According to CBS News: “Fauci also said he thinks that the approach could backfire and be detrimental to President Trump's re-election chances. ‘By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me,’ he said. ‘Since campaign ads are about getting votes, their harassment of me might have the opposite effect of turning some voters off.’” Yikes.

• Hmm. The New York Times is reporting that the Trump administration is accelerating subsidies to farmers as Election Day approaches: “Farmers are not the only constituency benefiting from the president’s largess: He has promised $200 prescription drug cards to millions of seniors, approved $13 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, which could help his prospects in Florida, and he directed his Agriculture Department to include letters signed by him in millions of food aid boxes that are being distributed to the poor.

Also from The New York Times: A whole lot of large companies are telling their employees to plan on working from home until next summer. At least.

That’s enough news for the day. A scheduling note: The Daily Digest will be off tomorrow, but will return later in the week. Be safe, everyone—and please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you’re able.

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We have more than 25 news links today—a new Daily Digest record—so let’s get right to it:

• On the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, I joined hosts Brad Fuhr, Shann Carr and John Taylor to discuss the various news with Dr. Laura Rush; The Standard Magazine publisher Nino Eilets; and Clifton Tatum and Andre Carthen from Brothers of the Desert. Check it out.

• Protests force change! Some members of Congress are developing “a sweeping package of police reforms,” according to NBC News.

• Unfortunately, the Trump administration, showing a clear inability to “read the room,” doesn’t seem too interested in reforms. “Apart from supporting a federal civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death, the president has offered no proposals for changing how police use force, train new officers or interact with their communities,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

More change being forced by the protests: Los Angeles is considering cutting up to $150 million from the police budget to instead invest in communities of color.

• Yet more change: The chancellor of California’s community college system—where 80 percent of the state’s police officers get training—wants to change the curriculum to address systemic racism.

• Observers in Washington, D.C., have noticed a very disconcerting thing: law-enforcement officers with no visible affiliation or personal identities. This. Is. Scary.

• Also scary: The number of incidents of police violently using force against peaceful protesters continues to grow.

• Twitter is an odd mix of community, fun and simply terrible people. Well, community and fun won the battle against simply terrible people today: A bunch of K-pop fans took over the white-supremacist #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag by using it to share their fave stars, videos and memes—meaning the hate was hard to find among all the K-pop.

• As if I needed more proof that I should have picked another damned profession (kidding) (mostly), the United States is now on Reporters Without Borders’ list of deadliest countries for journalists.

• Also from the journalism world: Newsrooms around the world are currently in the midst of a debate: Should our coverage show protesters’ faces?

• Meanwhile, journalists at two major newspapers are none too pleased with the actions of their editors: Journalists of color at Philadelphia Inquirer are taking a “sick and tired” day to protest a recent “Buildings Matter, Too” headline, while journalists at The New York Times are speaking out against an op-ed mentioned here yesterday by Sen. Tom Cotton that called for the feds to use the military to tamp down on the protests.

• Independent contributor Keith Knight—he does The K Chronicles and (Th)ink comics that appear on the weekly Independent comics page—shared with us this list of “anti-racism resources for white people.”

• Not a cause for panic, but a reminder that we all have to take precautions: Eisenhower Medical Center confirmed it’s seeing more positive COVID-19 tests from the community in recent days.

• COVID-19 testing sites in Los Angeles County were either closed or limited due to the protests and curfews. This has public health officials—and others—concerned.

• We’ve all seen that graph of the various waves of death caused by the flu pandemic of 1918-19. While it’s possible we may see similar patterns with COVID-19—although let’s hope not—this is a very different time, and a very different virus, according to The Conversation. That’s both a good thing, and a bad thing.

• Hmm … Riverside County did not update its COVID-19 stats today. According to a tweet from Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the public health officer: “Due to technical issues, we were not able to access local data from the state's CalREDIE website. We apologize for this delay, and will strive to have updated #COVID19 data and information for you tomorrow, June 4.” (He meant tomorrow, June 5, we assume.)

• The Trump administration continues to use COVID-19 as an excuse to roll back environmental protections permanently.

• Hooray for … Chuck Grassley? The Iowa senator has pledged to block two Trump nominations until his administration explains why Trump fired two different watchdogs.

The Pentagon got billions in stimulus money to fight the pandemic. However, much of that money has gone unspent … and some of it that has been spent has been spent rather strangely.

• National employment numbers continue to rise (albeit it a slower pace)—and now the government layoffs are beginning—including in Palm Springs and La Quinta.

• We’ve mentioned in this space the dangers of (necessarily) rushed science taking place in the battle against COVID-19. Well, a major study regarding hydroxychloroquine—President Trump’s COVID-19 drug of choice—was just retracted by its authors.

• Schools reopened in Israel two weeks ago. However, students are testing positive for the coronaviruscausing some schools to close. In fact, there’s discussion of closing all of them again.

• From the Independent: The latest piece in our Pandemic Stories series looks at the Palm Springs Power, the collegiate baseball team that plays at Palm Springs Stadium every summer. The team’s season was supposed to start last week, but was—to nobody’s surprise—delayed. However, team management is keeping fingers crossed for some sort of season to take place at some point.

Las Vegas is again open for business.

• And finally, let’s end on a brighter note: The Palm Springs International Shortfest has announced its official selections for 2020! Because the in-person event is not happening this year, not all of the selections will be shown—but some will be streaming online between June 16-22. Get all of the details here.

That’s all for today. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Fight injustice. If you have the means, and you value independent local journalism, we kindly ask you to consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

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Last Friday’s Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting and its aftermath were simply remarkable—one of the most stupefying series of political events I’ve ever witnessed.

Here’s the short version: The supes voted unanimously to revoke three of county health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s orders, as well as most of a fourth. Instead, the county will now defer to the state’s weaker (and, in some cases, less-clear) orders.

Frankly … the revocation of the orders involving golf courses and short-term lodging, and the partial revocation of the order involving schools, won’t change much. But that fourth one … in terms of sending a message, at least, it’s a doozy: The supervisors voted to revoke Cameron’s requirement that face masks be worn, and social distancing protocols be followed, in businesses and public places. Instead, face coverings and social distancing are now just “strongly recommended.” (They’re still required in Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs and some cities, for the record.)

Here’s what is remarkable about the vote, and what followed:

• Local supervisor V. Manuel Perez voted with the rest of the supervisors to revoke the orders, and he hasn’t explained why. Before the vote, Perez signaled that he wanted to keep the face-mask requirement in place … but then he voted to revoke it. Since the vote, he’s been quiet on his social media. We asked his office for an explanation of his vote over the weekend, and have not yet received a response as of this writing. Therefore, all we have to go off of is a Facebook video posted on Sunday by Greg Rodriguez, Perez’s government affairs and public policy advisor … and it’s not very helpful. First: Although Rodriguez uses the term “we” throughout the video, he starts off by saying he is not speaking for Perez, so we should take him at his word. And second: Rodriguez never explains why Perez voted how he did anyway. Rodriguez says around the 4:35 mark: “You’ve got to have a majority of votes to pass something, and we did not have those votes to support what our stance was.”

So … Perez voted for something he was against?

My guess was that Perez was bowing to the wishes of the local business community, including the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce (of which the Independent, I should disclose, is a member—and a less-than-happy one, FWIW), which has been clamoring for Perez to push for a faster reopening. But that’s just speculation.

Mr. Perez, you have some explaining to do.

• Perez was excoriated by his usual political allies after the vote. I don’t use the term “excoriate” lightly here. Perez is a progressive Democrat, and other progressive Democrats were not shy about openly criticizing him. On a Facebook post by Rodriguez, Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors commented about Perez: “He failed by voting to overturn all of the public health orders of the county’s public health officials which will delay our ability to reopen more businesses, hurt workers on the front lines and harm more residents’ health. How disappointing! To allow those who don’t want to wear face coverings to infect grocery workers is not something to be proud of. Glad Palm Springs City Council adopted our own rules to protect workers’ and residents’ public health.”

• The vote occurred after the county sheriff had already said he would not enforce the health orders anyway. Sheriff Chad Bianco—in a speech littered with falsehoods—had previously told the supes that the state had gone too far and had inappropriately taken away people’s constitutional rights with the shutdown order. He also at one point implied the virus really wasn’t a threat to healthy people (?!). So, therefore, he said, he wasn’t going to enforce the county’s orders. He then went on Fox and Friends and said similar things. So, yeah, holy shit.

• The supervisors, at this crazy meeting, did make some good points regarding the unfairness of Gov. Newsom’s reopening criteria. When Gov. Newsom announced what benchmarks counties would need to meet to further reopen, one of the requirements was that there be no COVID-19-related deaths for two weeks. If this requirement were truly followed, some of California’s larger counties might not be able to reopen until SARS-CoV-2 was more or less eradicated. Fortunately, Newsom has since signaled that the state would be a bit more flexible.

Expect more drama to unfold as soon as tomorrow, when Newsom is expected to offer more information about further business openings—including a possible timeline for in-restaurant dining.

Hang on, folks.

Today’s links:

• Remember the rule about studies these days—they need to be viewed veeeeeery skeptically—but, getting back to masks: A new study shows that consistent mask wearing may by itself be able to solve much of this COVID-19 mess we find ourselves in. From Vanity Fair: “Among the findings of their research paper, which the team plans to submit to a major journal: If 80 percent of a closed population were to don a mask, COVID-19 infection rates would statistically drop to approximately one twelfth the number of infections—compared to a live-virus population in which no one wore masks.” We say this with that figurative huge grain of salt, but wow.

• More encouraging health news: A clinical trial at Stanford is examining whether injections of a safe compound called peginterferon lambda-1a, when given early after a COVID-19 diagnosis, can reduce both deaths and patient recovery time.

• Also, some ER docs, writing in The New York Times, say checking at-risk people’s blood-oxygen levels early and often can help medical professionals get a jump on the virus.

• And according to this piece from The Wall Street Journal: Maybe ventilators aren’t the way to go with treatment?

• CBS’ 60 Minutes reports that the Trump administration is slashing the funding of some scientists working on a cure for COVID-19, because, again, nothing makes sense anymore.

Gov. Newsom and other Western governors are asking the feds for trillions in financial help. Yes, trillions with a “T.

• Meanwhile, in Shanghai, Disneyland is open again.

• The San Francisco Chronicle wonders: Are food trucks the future of dining in SF? (Follow-up question: Can we get some in the Coachella Valley? Please?)

• Also from the San Francisco Chronicle (which, in recent years, has improved to the point where it’s now one of the country’s most underrated newspapers): A data analysis shows that almost half of the coronavirus deaths in the state involve nursing homes.

• The Washington Post broke this story over the weekend, and it should really piss you off: A Texas company on Jan. 22 wrote the federal Department of Health and Human Services and asked if his company should ramp up production to make 1.7 million more N95 masks a week. He was ignored. Repeatedly. And that company’s still not making masks at capacity. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.

United Airlines touted the fact that it would leave middle seats open because, you know, social distancing. Turns out that’s not always the case.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapters 157, 158 and 159: There was a packed rodeo in Shasta County. And two people were arrested after attacking a Van Nuys Target employee who insisted they wear masks. And Elon Musk continues to be a dick.

• Meanwhile, doctors are having problems getting remdesivir—and sometimes having to decide which patients get it, and which ones don’t.

Is it possible the Florida governor knew what he was doing when he was slow to close down the state, and quick to reopen it? The Washington Post takes a nuanced look at Ron DeSantis.

• Finally, John Krasinski and some friends from The Office are here with your weekly dose of Some Good News.

That’s enough for today. In fact, we think this is the longest Daily Digest we’ve ever done. So, yay, news! Anyway, buy our Coloring Book, because it’s awesome. Also, if you can afford to support 1,300-word-plus Daily Digests like these, plus all sorts of other awesome local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Back tomorrow.

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For my friend Matt, it was the permanent closure of Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes—a restaurant where he had his first job—that made him fully realize the world we knew in early March was gone forever.

“I actually cried a few times yesterday, and it’s not just over big-chunk chicken-noodle soup and focaccia bread,” Matt wrote on Twitter. “It’s the realization that our lives will not ever ‘go back to normal.’ Our world is rapidly changing, and change is inevitable. I just didn’t expect it to be this fast.”

So many places, institutions and businesses are going to be wiped out by the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn—which may very well qualify as a depression by the time all is said and done. We are going to see a lot of closed-for-good announcements in the coming weeks and months—like the one we got today, from Cathedral City’s Desert Ice Castle. Many of the places, institutions and businesses that do survive may be changed drastically, too.

However … not all of these changes will be bad.

For example, the Seattle Times is reporting that 20 miles of streets in that city—initially closed to make it easier for people to be socially distant—will now forever be closed to traffic, changing them into permanent places for people to walk and bike safely.

Closer to home, I have been hearing that Palm Springs and other cities are looking into the possibility of closing down some streets and parking lots so they can be used by bars and restaurants. If the science continues to show that the virus doesn’t nearly spread as well outdoors, then this would be a perfect way for businesses to reopen in a safer and more-delightful way.

It’s up to all of us to speak out, advocate and do whatever we can to make sure our “new normals”—both during the fight against COVID-19 and afterward—are the best possible “normals” we can have.

So … let’s get to work!

Today’s news:

I was the guest on today’s edition of the Los Angeles Times’ Coronavirus in California podcast. I talked with my friend Gustavo Arellano a couple weeks ago about the state of local media today—and how completely jarring it was for April in the Coachella Valley to be so darned quiet.

• As of this writing, the county meeting regarding Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s health orders was still going. Will the county Board of Supervisors side with the good doctor or the impatient business community? Watch this link, from the Riverside Press-Enterprise, to find out.

• Gov. Newsom announced today that all California voters will be asked to vote by mail in November—although some polling places will remain open for those who insist on voting in person.

• How long will it be until we can get haircuts again? Mid-June, perhaps? This is what Gov. Newsom had to say about that today: “Phase 3 (which includes the opening of hair salons and barbers) is not a year away. It’s not six months away. It’s not even three months away; it may not even be more than a month away. We just want to make sure that we have a protocol in place to secure customer safety, employee safety and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.”

• OK, OK, maybe mid-July for that haircut? A Los Angeles Times analysis reveals that per Gov. Newsom’s stated criteria, almost all California counties are nowhere near being able to properly move to Phase 3.

• Eisenhower Medical Center has started releasing Coachella Valley-specific hospitalization numbers. The takeaway—we’ve flattened the curve here—but it remains flat, and we’re not on the downside yet.

Yet another person within the White House’s inner circle has the virusKatie Miller, who is Mike Pence’s press secretary, and Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller’s wife.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: Counties and cities in California are facing massive, unprecedented budget deficits. Expect horrible cuts and yet more layoffs to come.

• Good news: After a public outcry and a whole lot of negative media attention, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey decided to let the COVID-19 modelers at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University keep doing their work after all.

• The country is heading for a rental crisis, according to this sobering article from Politico.

• From the “We Are Not Making This Up” files: We have verified this TMZ report that 2020 U.S. quarters feature … a bat. Yes, really.

• As predicted, the federal government’s distribution method for promising COVID-19 drug remdesivir has become a fustercluck, or something like that.

• If your iPhone has been acting stupid lately, we have some good news: Apple Store locations are starting to reopen. Aaaand the bad news: The ones in California remain closed indefinitely.

• Even though we’re not sure how this would work in 108-degree weather, we implore the good folks at the Palm Springs Cultural Center and D’Place Entertainment to look into the fact that the coronavirus has made drive-in movie theaters a thing again.

That’s all for today! Please buy our Coloring Book, because it’s 1) awesome, and 2) sales benefit the Independent AND the Create Center for the Arts’ efforts to make PPE items AND local artists. Also, please consider supporting independent local journalism if you can spare a buck or three. Barring anything huge, the Daily Digest will take the weekend off, and we’ll be back Monday.

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This has been one hell of a news day—one of the busiest news days since this whole mess started, I’d say—so let’s get right to it:

• Big news item No. 1: The state’s reopening process is slated to begin on Friday, with, for starters, retail stores allowed to open for pickup. Here are the details on Gov. Newsom’s announcement today, from our partners at CalMatters.

• Big news item No. 2: According to The New York Times, a Trump administration projection anticipates deaths from COVID-19 will skyrocket over the next month. Meanwhile, states—many of which are currently seeing a rise in cases—are continuing the reopening process. Meanwhile, nothing makes sense anymore, and I need a cocktail.

• Big news item No. 3: Arizona, aka our neighbors to the east, are pushing the accelerator on the reopening process, with salons able to open on Friday, and restaurants able to open for dine-in service a week from today.

• Big news item No. 4: The continuing debate over Riverside County supervisors’ possible move tomorrow to cancel the orders of its own health officer, in favor of aligning with the weaker state orders. Earlier today, local supervisor V. Manuel Perez released a Facebook video in which he explained his thinking. I listened to all 37-plus minutes of it, and as far as I can tell, he is leaning toward rescinding some of Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s orders (on school closures, for example), and keeping at least parts of others (on face coverings and short-term rentals). He also announced the county would be opening two new testing sites in our valley—in Mecca and Desert Hot Springs—and touched on plans for the county to mobilize 200 contact-tracers. After listening to the whole thing, I now need another cocktail.

• This just in: The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership just released a report on the economic damage being wrought locally by the pandemic. I haven’t had a chance to read the whole thing yet, but, well, the news is pretty terrible. Read the report yourself here.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to Allen Monroe, the CEO of The Living Desert, about where the Palm Desert zoo stands, and what the future holds. Interesting takeaway: The Living Desert had made emergency plans regarding earthquakes and fires—and that helped the zoo handle the pandemic, in some ways.

• There was a world summit today focusing on the effort to come up with a coronavirus vaccine. The U.S. didn’t take part.

• Testing on the rise: The Desert AIDS Project is now offering COVID-19 testing to anyone who wants it, even people who are asymptomatic. However, you need an appointment. Get the details here.

• OK, after all of that stuff, here, look! John Krasinski’s Some Good News is back with a new, graduation-themed episode.

• Feeling better? Good! Unfortunately, we now have to tell you that, according to this Washington Post headline: “The coronavirus pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis.”

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 58: A security guard was shot and killed after telling a Family Dollar customer in Flint, Mich., to put on a face mask.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 59: Another restaurant—this one in Orange County—was packed after opening its doors this weekend.

• In other Orange County-related news, the governor decided to stop picking on them, and is allowing the beaches there to reopen.

• If you miss live music, and you’re not worried about the virus, Missouri is the place for you: Concerts can be held there now, as long as attendees are socially distanced.

Our friends at the Create Center for the Arts were burglarized recently. Sigh. However, they’re keeping up their efforts to make personal protective equipment for local medical professionals by using 3-D printers

• Do you find yourself at times needing to take a break from all the pandemic news? You’re most certainly not alone.

• According to The Conversation, if the world gets an effective vaccine, and vaccine-deniers refuse to take it, that could be very, very bad for all of us.

Donald Trump had an uncle who was legitimately a brilliant scientist. A friend of the late John G. Trump said he’d be horrified by his nephew’s antics.

More promising news on the drug front, this time regarding a flu drug called favipiravir, made by Japanese company Fujifilm.

• If you’re starting to look like a mountain man, or perhaps a Muppet (or, in my case, a Muppet mountain man), consider these self-care tips from Esquire.

That’s more than enough. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Buy your coloring book. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you can afford to do so, so we can continue doing quality local journalism. We’ll be back tomorrow.

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“As the (COVID-19) pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”

— UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The United Nations honors World Press Freedom Day every May 3—and on this World Press Freedom Day, many media organizations find themselves in serious trouble, because of the economic chaos brought to us by the pandemic. 

I am going to turn things over to A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, by sharing part of a note he sent to me and a whole bunch of other news publishers on Friday:

“I wanted to reach out to you to say how much we appreciate the important, difficult work you’re doing right now. My colleagues and I stand with you in your commitment to providing information that is critical to the safety, security, and knowledge of our communities. As the coronavirus pandemic presents unprecedented reporting challenges and growing financial pressures, it’s also underscored the value of great journalism.

“We want to share the news … that The New York Times will launch a campaign encouraging readers find a local news organization they trust, and to support it through a subscription or donation.

“Like many of my colleagues at The Times, I spent years working in local news. We know firsthand the essential role original, quality news organizations play in communities across the nation. And we’ve been distressed to watch as the pressure on local news continues to rise through the pandemic, leading to an estimated 36,000 journalists being laid off or furloughed in a matter of months. We hope we can help by raising awareness of the importance of supporting local news organizations.”

You can find the database The New York Times put together of trusted local journalism sources here. I am proud to say that the Independent is one of three Coachella Valley news sources listed.

Over the last seven weeks—since the figurative, uh, “stuff” started hitting the fan—we’ve received a heartening amount of reader support. However, if you have not yet become a Supporter of the Independent, and you are able, I ask you to consider doing so now. We’ve lost 80-plus percent of our advertising revenue as a result of the pandemic, and we need your help to continue doing what we do—quality, Coachella Valley-focused journalism, which we make available for free to everyone, both in pixels and print. Learn how to become a Supporter here.

To all of you who have become Supporters of the Independent … thank you. Because of your support, we have so far been able to avoid cutting staff or content. However, if you are able, I have one more thing to ask of you: Please consider going to The New York Times database, and finding another journalism organization to support as well—like a hometown news source, for example.

As always, thanks to all of you for reading. Now, here are today’s links:

• The big local news: Why in the world does the business community think it understands the virus better than the county health officer—and why are county supervisors, including local rep V. Manuel Perez, considering siding with the business community over that local health officer? This will all come to a head when county supes vote on Tuesday to revoke Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s health orders if they go beyond the state’s orders.

• The New York Times looks at the effort by scientists to answer a key question about COVID-19: “Why Does the Virus Wallop Some Places and Spare Others?

Why aren’t California pharmacies being enlisted in the effort to ramp up COVID-19 testing—like pharmacies are in other states? The San Francisco Chronicle attempts to answer this query.

When the virus hits indigenous tribes, things could get very, very bad. The Guardian looks at an effort being made by a lot of big names to get Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to pay attention to this fact.

A Hong Kong restaurant group has released its “playbook” on how to reopen. Here are the details.

• USA Today points out the obvious, albeit in an interesting way: We’re all dying to travel (safely) right now.

• This somewhat overwritten column by Frank Bruni from The New York Times focuses on Laurie Garrett, a journalist who predicted that the pandemic would happen. You don’t want to know what she thinks will come next.

• Well, this is one hell of a teaser, from the folks at the PBS NewsHour: “More and more, people don't care about expert views. That’s according to Tom Nichols, author of ‘The Death of Expertise,’ who says Americans have become insufferable know-it-alls, locked in constant conflict and debate with others over topics they actually know almost nothing about. Nichols shares his humble opinion on how we got here.” What fun!

• Good news: Gilead Sciences—which sure has been doing a lot of lobbying as of late——is releasing 1.5 million vials of remdesivir, for free, for emergency use this week. Perhaps not-so-good news: The federal government will decide where the vials go.

• The Los Angeles Times looks at drugs not named remdesivir that may help battle this damned virus.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 47: Business is booming at a diner in El Dorado, Calif., after the owner decided to violate state law by opening her doors for dine-in customers, because, you know, she has bills to pay.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 48: The mayor of a city in Oklahoma rescinded an order to wear masks because some people got a little pissy.

• Trevor Noah is good people: He’s paying furloughed members of The Daily Show staff out of his own pocket.

• If you haven’t yet heard of the arrival in the U.S. of ASIAN MURDER HORNETS, well, sit down, because we have some bad news.

• Finally, because why not, comes this headline from Esquire: “Behind the Scenes of a Nude Photography Project in Quarantine.”

That’s all we have for today. Wash your hands. Be safe. Be kind. We’ll be back tomorrow with more.

Published in Daily Digest

I have a slight bone to pick with Dr. Cameron Kaiser.

I say “slight,” because overall, the public health officer for Riverside County has done a fantastic job of handling what is, most certainly, an unprecedented health crisis. He was quick to declare a public health emergency. He’s been ahead of the figurative game on many moves—like a mandate to wear masks when leaving home. And the county health system has been good about updating the COVID-19 case numbers on a daily basis, and even including city-by-city breakdowns—something that’s not being done in many places.

So, to repeat: He’s doing a fantastic job overall—but when it comes to keeping the public informed, in some ways, he and his staff could be doing better.

On April 7, his office released some information that was well, scary as hell: a projection that the county, at current capacity, would fill up all 131 ICI beds by April 14; we’d run out of hospital beds by April 23; and we’d run out of ventilators by April 26.

The county also projected that by early May, the county would need 3,000 ICU beds. Again, the county’s current capacity, 131.

Excuse my language … but holy shit! The graphic made it clear that the projections would change based on reported cases, bed availability and resources, but still, there’s a huge difference between 131 and 3,000.

As April 14 has come closer—that’s four days from now, AKA TUESDAY—I’ve been watching for an update to the information. But … there has been no update. Yes, the main counts have been updated daily, but not the pants-wetting ICU-bed projections. Given that we are hearing better things on both a Coachella Valley-specific level and a statewide level, I’d really like an update.

A footnote: It’s also worth noting that one of our writers reached out about a week ago to Dr. Kaiser’s office for an interview. Our writer received a two-sentence response: “I'm sorry. Dr. Kaiser is not available.”

I have no doubt that Dr. Kaiser is bonkers-busy right now. I can’t imagine how busy he is right now. I understand.

But there aren’t that many functional news operations these days in Riverside County—sad, but true—and all we need is 15 minutes, tops. So on Monday, I am going to personally call Dr. Cameron’s office and ask for an interview. I’ll let you know how that goes.

And hey, if Dr. Cameron or someone on his staff is reading this: Can we get an update on those ICU beds, please?

Today’s links:

• I have mixed feelings about this: According to The Verge: “Apple and Google announced a system for tracking the spread of the new coronavirus, allowing users to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved apps from health organizations.” At least there are fewer privacy concerns with this method than the methods used in other countries’ tracking apps.

• The Riverside County mobile app has been updated to allow people to report people and businesses who are not complying with health orders.

• Important, if you didn’t file taxes for 2018 or 2019, and/or you don’t receive various federal benefits: The IRS has set up a website for you to sign up to get your stimulus payments.

• One of the biggest unknowns in this pandemic: How many people may have had COVID-19, but never knew it? A test in Los Angeles County of 1,000 people will help us start to figure out how much the coronavirus has really spread.

• Remember the jackass biotech exec who was sent to prison after jacking up the costs of HIV/AIDS medications? Martin Shkreli wants to be furloughed from prison to help with the fight against COVID-19.

• Even though nursing homes have been the sites of some of the worst coronavirus outbreaks, the federal government isn’t doing a great job of tracking them. So NBC News did their best to fill that gap.

• The Greater Coachella Valley Chamber Commerce is having a call-in legislative and COVID-19 update with Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia at 11 a.m., Wednesday, April 15. Details here.

• KESQ News Channel 3 talked to Coyote StageWorks founder Chuck Yates about the financial havoc the pandemic is causing for local arts organizations. You can read about the week when local theater came to a halt in this Independent piece.

Confused about face coverings, and good practices when it comes to using them? Eisenhower Health has some answers.

• I found this piece fascinating: You know which groups are doing a fine job at combating the spread of the coronavirus around the world? Some militant and criminal gangs!

• The pandemic has ripped a hole in the budgets of many LGBT pride organizations. They’ve banded together to create a Pride Operational Support Fund—and they need donations.

• It’s undeniable: Some people have been hit harder than others by the pandemic and the resulting health and financial crises. But, as this Wall Street Journal piece eloquently points out, this has been hard on almost all of us, in some way.

• The Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center have joined other art-house theaters in offering a curated selection of indie films that you can purchase tickets for to watch at home! Not only can you watch great films; you can support the Palm Springs Cultural Center while doing so!

• Yesterday, we talked about the new Palm Springs Zoom backgrounds being offered by the local tourism bureau. Well, if those aren’t your cup of tea, Nickelodeon is offering some backgrounds that are a little more, well, cartoony.

• You know things are tough when the Hilton corporation, in a lovely gesture to help us feel better (if perhaps a bit fatter), releases what was heretofore a fiercely kept secret: The recipe for the famous DoubleTree chocolate-chip cookies.

• Wiping down food containers after going to the grocery store? Good idea. Washing your fruits and vegetables with soap? Not so much.

• Stressed? Well, calm down by getting together, for free, with the immortal Bob Ross, and paint some happy trees.

• By the way, if you wanted to submit art for our Coloring Book project, but haven’t gotten around to it yet, good news: A couple of artists asked us for more time, so we have extended the deadline to Tuesday, April 14. Get all the specs and details here.

That’s all for the traditional work week! Wash your hands. If you have a virtual event—a Facebook live concert, or a drag show, or a story time, or whatever—add it to our online virtual event calendar. Then go wash your hands again. Then if you value local, independent journalism, and are fortunate enough to have the means to do so, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep what we’re doing, and making it free to all—at a time when most of our advertisers have had to go on hiatus. Now make sure you’ve properly washed your mask, and make sure you wear it out in public. Tomorrow’s my sanity day off; we’ll return Sunday.

Published in Daily Digest

Last night, I met friends for drinks at a bar on Arenas Road, in downtown Palm Springs. I haven’t been out much this week, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

As we drove down Arenas, unsuccessfully looking for a spot, I was surprised to see that most of the bars appeared to be packed.

“I don’t know if I have ever had more mixed feelings about something in my life,” I told my husband.

On one hand … I was elated to see that all of these small, locally owned businesses were getting much-needed business. It was good to see the servers and bartenders making good money. I was proud to be part of that needed cash infusion.

On the other hand … I kept thinking: Should all of us be out and about like this?

After drinks, we wandered down Palm Canyon Drive and got dinner at a local restaurant. While the street wasn’t dead, it certainly was getting quieter as the night went on.

Again, mixed feelings.

After I hit send on this Daily Digest, I am going to get ready to head to CVRep in Cathedral City, to do a review of The City of Conversation—the only play currently running in the valley that has not yet been shuttered by the pandemic. (More on this below.) Then I am going to meet friends at a charity art event, and go to dinner at Lulu. I am going to savor it like it’s the last good night on the town I have for a while … because it might very well be.

I hope it’s not. But it might very well be.

Here’s today’s news.

• The Desert AIDS Project just announced something huge: It’s opening a COVID-19 triage clinic.

This just arrived in my inbox, from CEO David Brinkman:

“In the next 48 hours DAP will take a bold step and we ask you to please have our backs. Last week, we opened our new clinics for DAP’s day-to-day healthcare operations, leaving our original clinic temporarily vacant. Today, I worked with our infectious disease doctors to develop an emergency plan of action to ensure the health and well-being of all we serve. The original clinic will be transformed this weekend into a specialized COVID-19 triage clinic. This will allow our medical experts to screen patients demonstrating symptoms in a quarantined space, while also allowing our non-symptomatic patients to continue having their health needs met without potential exposure.

“This is no small undertaking. Desert AIDS Project is the healthcare home to 7,000 of our friends and neighbors, most of whom live at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below. And, the majority of our patients are of an age with significantly increased risk. We already are seeing a dramatic increase in inquiries and we must be able to meet the need as it grows in the coming weeks.

“This new clinic will cost DAP $575,000 to operate over the coming months.”

Wow.

See the full announcement—and make a donation while there, if you can—here.

• As for those plays: Yesterday, we reported that Desert TheatreWorks, Palm Canyon Theatre and CVRep were moving forward with their productions. This morning, however, Desert TheatreWorks announced last night’s production of The Producers would be its last until April 10, while Palm Canyon Theatre announced it was cancelling the final two planned performances this weekend of The Pajama Game. As of now, PCT plans on proceeding with the rest of its season—Sordid Lives is slated to open Thursday, March 26—but noted that this is a “very fluid situation.” This makes CVRep the last theater company standing: As of this writing, The City of Conversation will continue at least through this weekend.

Read more about all of this tomorrow in the second Installment of the Independent’s Pandemic Stories series. Yeah, I said yesterday that story would be available today … and then things changed. It’ll be worth the wait, I promise.

• All schools in Riverside County are closed for the next three weeks, per county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser. More info here.

• Good news: During the closure, kids in need within the Palm Springs Unified School District can still get free meals. School buses will be delivering them on normal morning routes, or they can be picked up at schools. Get the details hereDesert Sands and Coachella Valley Unified are also making meals available to kids at schools.

• The United Way of the Desert has launched a very good information page, chock full of resources and phone numbers people may need during this crisis. View it here

• This is amazingly cool: Yesterday, we reported that the Certified Farmers’ Markets had been suspended for the time being. Today, the organizers have started posting direct contact info for the various vendors (with their blessing) on the Certified Farmers’ Market Facebook page, so people can directly contact and buy from the vendors if they so choose. Get all the 411 here.

• The Palm Springs Art Museum has decided to close for the time being. More info here.

That’s all for now. Please, support local businesses. Be a good neighbor. Stop hoarding crap. Be smart and diligent and caring. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

The “2020 BNP Paribas Open Will Not Be Held” declared the emailed press release that arrived in my inbox at 6:43 p.m. on Sunday, March 8.

It came after news that a local patient was “presumed positive” after being tested for COVID-19 (aka the novel coronavirus). The unidentified patient is being treated at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage—just a few miles from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where the ATP and WTA tennis players’ favorite tournament in the world was to begin play today and run through Sunday, March 22.

The BNP Paribas Open’s cancellation came after the cancellations of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. Both were cancelled on March 6 due to concerns about the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus among their hundreds of thousands of participants and attendees. Still, as of the next day—Saturday, March 7—the 2020 BNP Paribas Open, which drew 382,000 fans last year, was slated to go on.

In fact, the unofficial local kickoff of the tournament did take place, starting on Saturday morning: the traditional Kids’ Day free event, which happened simultaneously along with the Oracle Challenger Series semifinal matches for ATP and WTA pros at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. And on Sunday, the pro series continued, with the WTA final being captured by Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, and the ATP finals win going to American pro Steve Johnson. Each earned a berth in the main draw of the tournament that is no longer going to take place—at least not this weekend.

The cancellation came after Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, declared a local public health emergency on Sunday, March 8. Tournament director Tommy Haas seemed to leave the door open for the possibility of re-scheduling the tournament at some point in 2020.

“We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors, and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance,” Haas said, according to the news release. “We are prepared to hold the tournament on another date and will explore options.”

All good intentions aside, it’s likely the tournament won’t return until March 2021. So, this year’s biggest winners of the 2020 BNP Paribas Open won’t be Novak Djokovic or Simona Halep. Instead, that distinction will go to the large contingent of kids of all ages who flocked into the Tennis Gardens on Saturday morning to enjoy a variety of fun activities. (Scroll down to view photos of the fun.)

The highlight of the day was the newly introduced tennis clinic held for local kids from Coachella Valley, sponsored and facilitated by the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and its partner, Universal Tennis. More than 140 local students from local schools took to the courts accompanied by coaches and a cadre of participating WTA and ATP pros. Big swings and even bigger smiles were the order of the day for the participants.

When asked what their favorite moments during the clinic had been, three young ladies from the George Washington Charter School in Palm Desert shared their thoughts with the Independent.

“Doing the high-5,” said Gianna.

“Playing with the pros,” Melia told us.

“Trying to beat the pros,” was Kaia’s favorite challenge of the day.

Published in Snapshot