CVIndependent

Tue07142020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

It’s July 13. Let’s check and see how things are going!

COVID-19 is running amok.

The state is locking down more businesses again—with gyms, hair salons and churches pretty much ordered to close today in most of the state (including here in Riverside County).

The federal budget deficit last month alone was $864 billion.

More and more small businesses, seeing no end of this mess in sight, are giving up and closing their doors.

• The COVID-19 testing effort nationwide is becoming more and more of a fustercluck by the day, it seems

The White House is openly trying to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Meanwhile, the president is retweeting former game-show host Chuck Woolery’s conspiracy theory that everyone, including doctors (!), is lying about COVID-19.

So … yeah. THAT’S how things are going. Anyway, how was YOUR weekend?

More news from the day:

• Regarding the state’s order that gyms, hair salons and the like in counties on the state watch list (which Riverside County is most definitely on) close: There’s a loophole—according to the county, these businesses can stay open if they move operations outdoors. Given that local highs for the foreseeable future will not fall below 106 degrees, I don’t see a lot of local gyms and barbershops moving outside—but it’s something to watch for regardless.

• While most schools around here will not be reopening for in-person classes for the fall, at least not initially, schools are reopening in Europe and other places—and they offer lessons for the U.S. if we ever get this damn virus somewhat in check.

• Sigh. Will the pandemic ever end? The World Health Organization is reporting that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may only last for a few months in some peoplemeaning people could potentially contract COVID-19 multiple times.

• Could an existing tuberculosis vaccine offer some protection against the coronavirus? CNN examines the evidence.

• Related-ish: The Washington Post looks at the mad dash by glass-makers to make sure they have enough vials ready if/when a vaccine is ever available.

The Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau has put together a short, cool little video called “Mayors Mask Up,” featuring the mayors from eight of the nine valley cities encouraging people to wear a darned mask. The interesting exception: The video features eight mayors plus Palm Desert City Councilwoman Jan Harnik—NOT Palm Desert Mayor Gina Nestande, who has a history of saying less-than-smart things about the pandemic. Good lord!

• Our partners at CalMatters take a look at the varying COVID-19 testing experiences across the state of California. To put it mildly, the experiences vary drastically depending on where one is.

The Conversation takes a look at the fact that there were maskholes, or COVIDiots, or whatever you want to call people who refuse to wear masks during the last pandemic, too.

A study out of UCSF indicates that young people who smoke or vape are at a higher risk for COVID-19.

• Esquire files a report from Rome, as the city slowly gets back to life after one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world. Key quote: “While there is beauty to be found in the reopened city—in parks left untended, the grass has grown long and wild, and the landmarks are no longer congested with tourists—there is now a strangeness to everyday life. Bars serve drinks over tables wedged inside doorways, cashiers hide behind Perspex shields, and restaurants have become like hospitals, requiring customers to fill out long forms and disinfect themselves before entry.”

• Now that things are NOT going well in Riverside County regarding the pandemic, the Riverside Press-Enterprise asks: “Was lifting mask orders a mistake?” The answer seems obvious to me—but, hoo boy, the politicians have a lot of excuses.

• Finally … if you need a laugh after all of this, and you haven’t been turned on to the charms of comedian Sarah Cooper yet, please check out this InStyle piece she did about her viral popularity. Her lip-sync re-enactments of some of President Trump’s statements are true gems.

That’s the news of the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. If you appreciate what we do here at the Independent, help us continue producing local journalism, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Stay safe, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

Many Coachella Valley musicians pull double, triple or even quadruple duty—and a prime example of this is Josh Heinz. He plays for both Blasting Echo and 5th Town; he’s an in-demand solo performer; and he regularly plans shows, most notably his annual Concert for Autism, a two-day festival raising money for the Desert Autism Foundation.

On top of being a local-music machine, Heinz is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. When I first started playing, he was the host of Open Mic Night at The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert. He was extremely accommodating and answered every question I had; since then, he has been a great friend, and has always reached out to invite my bands to share gigs.

Heinz just released his first solo album, Made in Memphis 2003, on every major streaming platform. The record is a post-grunge burner featuring 10 songs with Heinz’s heavy guitar and emphatic vocal deliveries. While the release is new, the album is not: As the title suggests, this album is 17 years old.

“I moved to the valley in 2001, and I didn’t know anyone,” Heinz said during a recent interview. “I was a stay-at-home dad, and I was just writing a bunch of songs. My band in Memphis, Wyndom Earle, ended, and my ex-wife and I didn’t want to raise her daughter in Memphis, so we moved here. In 2002, I went back to Memphis for a wedding, and talked to Robert Pickens (Picon), who produced and recorded Wyndom Earle. I talked to him about all the songs I had written, but I didn’t have a place to record them since I didn’t know anyone in the valley. He offered to record me in Memphis and cut me a deal—so in February of 2003, I drove cross-country to record.

“We recorded all those songs in 64 hours. I hired the drummer who was in Robert’s band to play drums, and he tracked those in 16 hours, after only hearing four of the songs prior to being in the studio. I played all the songs to a click, so we would both talk and figure out the drum parts in the studio. I talked to him through his headphones as to when to hit the ride or crash, and he nailed all those within three or four takes. I was very fortunate to have him onboard.”

The songs feature highly emotional lyrics, with “You’re Afraid Too” hosting a fearless Heinz projecting on the loss of patience and deceit within a relationship. The final track, “Distance,” is a slower song about the past, specifically the struggles of breaking free of things one would rather not keep around.

“A lot of the songs are about my experiences leaving Memphis and my band, Wyndom Earle, ending on a sour note,” Heinz said. “I started writing when I moved here in May of 2001, and when Sept. 11 happened, I felt like I couldn’t write—3,000 people had just lost their lives, and I felt I was in no place to be whining about my life, because I was still alive. The first song I worked on after that is called “Closure,” the fifth song on the record. The lyrics are: “So many left alone; so many still unknown.” It was me trying to put myself in the position of someone who lost a family member, and who might have not had closure with them. Maybe they got in an argument that day, or needed to say something to their loved one that they didn’t get to.”

Heinz said his songwriting approach has changed in the almost-two decades since he wrote Made in Memphis 2003.

“My approach when I was younger was carrying around a journal with me everywhere,” he said. “I would write down lyrics or poems whenever I had ideas, and would apply them to music later. My primary way is music first, though, because it really sets the tone for the song. Aggressive guitar tones can make for a heavier song, and lighter tones can make for something sweeter. There is no one right way; that’s just what I lean towards more.

“Back in 2003, I had no band. I wrote all my music how I heard it, and didn’t consult people for their take or ideas. It was very singular, and that’s how we recorded it so quickly. Robert and some others in the studio would give me a few ideas, but I really had everything in my head already. When I was younger, I was more apt to do that—just show up with the full idea for the song, whereas now things are more collaborative. Some songs with Blasting Echo will be all done by me, but the majority of our songs consist of all of our efforts poured into a song, starting with just a riff. I’ve grown more to asking others for their input, but it’s still good to have that vision and be set on it. As long as you are in a healthy relationship with your bandmates, you can all work together to believe in your vision and trust their thoughts on your idea.”

Why did Heinz sit on the recordings for as long as he did?

“The main idea behind recording this album was to have a calling card,” Heinz said. “When I finally met other musicians, I would show them a track or two, not the full thing. Initially, I wanted to find a band to play these live, and have it be our first album. It didn’t happen that way—and I’m glad it didn’t. I’ve been playing these songs for years, but only as acoustic performances.

“I never thought about releasing something with nothing to show for it live, but recently, I talked to my friends in Wyndom Earle about remastering and releasing some of our old songs. That conversation and also the restrictions of COVID-19 got me thinking about these songs again, and I just thought: Why not? Nobody is playing right now, and my other bands haven’t been able to meet, so I just wanted to get this stuff out.

“The one positive of COVID was being able to work with Michael (Spann) on the mastering, the artwork, and getting it on streaming services. Without COVID, I probably would not have had time to do all that.”

COVID-19 and the restrictions that have come with it have led many artists to reinvent themselves. I asked Heinz how the coronavirus is affecting him beyond Made in Memphis 2003.

“More than likely, the Concert for Autism will not happen, because safety is more important,” Heinz said. “Our dates have been changing with Goldenvoice’s Coachella plans, but the reality of it is that it’s not going to happen. Many of the businesses that support us are hurting as well, so it’d be hard to ask them for donations. We may try to do a virtual performance in place of it.

“I miss Blasting Echo and 5th Town, and I really miss cranking up my amp and jumping around. Our family has to be really careful, however. My wife, Linda, and I have four kids in the house, and one is severely autistic. We have to be conscious of that risk, because if someone were to get sick, it could affect our family in a major way.

“Linda and I have begun streaming every Sunday at 5 p.m. on the Blasting Echo Facebook page (www.facebook.com/blastingecho), and we are lucky to be doing that. It’s been our only creative outlet during these times. We’ve had the tools to stream forever, but never thought to do it until now. It’s been a lot of fun, and great getting to connect with family all over the world, and also people in the desert.”

For more information, visit joshheinzmadeinmemphis2003.hearnow.com.

Testing shortages are getting worse, both in Southern California and across the country. San Bernardino County has had to decrease the number of appointments at county-run testing sites from from 400-500 to 170-180 per day, due to supply shortages, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise. This. Is. Very. Bad. 

• For months, the country’s coronavirus death rate has been steadily decreasing. While, that isn’t happening anymore. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/10/us/daily-virus-death-toll-rises-in-some-states.html

• Meanwhile, did you know there was a safe injection we could all get that would possibly protect us from SARS-CoV-2? The Los Angeles Times is reporting that “scientists have devised a way to use the antibody-rich blood plasma of COVID-19 survivors for an upper-arm injection that they say could inoculate people against the virus for months.” The problem is the federal government and the drug companies don’t seem too interested. Baffling and infuriating. 

• Keep in mind it’s Gilead that’s saying this, so serious skepticism is warranted, but this is fantastic news even if it’s partially true: The company says remdesivir reduces the risk of death for severely sick coronavirus patients by 62 percent. Fingers crossed.

• From the Independent: We take a look at the Great Plates Delivered program, which is feeding more than 1,000 local seniors three meals each day—and those meals are provided by 28 local restaurants that, as a result, are keeping more workers employed. Key quote, from Robb Wirt of Bongo Johnny’s: “Everyone has been so kind and appreciative—so many positive vibes. One guest says, ‘This 70-year-old retired teacher feels like a princess or like I have won the lottery, to experience your wonderful food. Thank you.’”

• Also from the Independent: The state has released last year’s figures on the number of Californians who used the End of Life Option Act (aka the dying with dignity law)—and almost all of the critically ill patients using the law are white. Key quote, from Patricia González-Portillo, the national Latino media and constituency director for Compassion and Choices: “I can tell you that Latinos refuse to engage in these conversations. … We (at Compassion and Choices) want to have people talk to their doctors, to have these conversations that are so important—especially now. This is critical during the pandemic.”

The virus is sweeping through yet another incarceration facility—the Monterey County Jail. “As of Friday, July 10, 67 inmates in a single housing unit—the B dorm—have tested positive for the virus, and the county Health Department is moving to test upwards of 700 inmates and 200 staff members, starting today, to determine how widespread the outbreak is,” according to the Monterey County Weekly

• Related: The numerous outbreaks at prisons are leading the state to release up to 8,000 inmates earlywith more than half of those releases anticipated by the end of the month, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Finally: The World Health Organization yesterday finally admitted that, yes, the virus can be spread via airborne particles, especially indoors—something bunches of scientists have been saying for months now

• This is fascinating: Americans are paying off credit-card debt—not racking it up—during the pandemic-caused economic downturn, according to CNN. This is very different behavior than in past economic downturns.

• If you read only one article from this digest (other than the two Independent pieces above … yes, I am biased), I recommend making it this Wired interview with epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, some who helped eradicate small pox—and predicted that we’d see a pandemic like we are now. He’s blunt and critical—but he also points out a few things that are actually going right in the worldwide fight against SARS-CoV-2.

• The organizers of the Palm Springs International Film Festival are pushing back the start of the 2021 festivities to Feb. 25. Raise your hand if you’ll be dancing in the streets if that delayed date winds up being possible.

• The fact that COVID-19 is running increasingly amok has forced Riverside County to close almost all county offices again. Instead of doing county business in person, you’ll need to pick up the phone or get on the internet.

• Meanwhile, more than 80 children and staff members got the virus at a Missouri summer camp. Horrifying key quote: “The infected campers and employees have since returned to at least 10 states, as well as several Missouri counties, officials said.” Yeesh.

• Time magazine reports that some teachers, without an end to the pandemic in sight, are choosing to retire rather than return to the classroom.

• The San Francisco Chronicle says some big-name bands, like Green Day and Pearl Jam, received PPP loans from the feds

• Bands pay taxes, while churches generally don’t—which makes it vexing that the Catholic Church has received more than $1.4 billion, with a B, in federal loans during the pandemic.

• The New York Times today published a fascinating piece on what life will look like in the United States in 2022 (or whenever the pandemic is over). Writer David Leonhardt makes the case that the pandemic will dramatically shape the world that comes next, as much as World War II or the Great Depression did. The piece’s prediction about newspapers is especially alarming.

• Speaking of newspapers, The Ringer published a piece on alternative newspapers like the Independent, and how we’re all doing in these crazy times. The headline: “Alt-Weeklies Face Total Annihilation. But They’re Thriving in the Chaos.”

• Finally, Independent astronomy columnist Robert Victor sent this piece to me: It’s worth getting your butt out of bed around 4 a.m. right now to see NEOWISE, one of the brightest comets to visit our neck of the solar system in years.

That’s enough for the day. Make the most of this weekend—while taking precautions to keep yourself and others safe; as we’ve said before, these pandemic days count toward our total, after all. If you value local journalism, made available free to all in both print and pixels, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the creation of the Great Plates Delivered program, which had two goals in the midst of the COVID-19 shut-down order: feeding local seniors in need, and keeping restaurant workers employed.

Since then, the program has done both of those things. According to Riverside County spokesman Jose Arballo Jr., as of July 9, some 2,899 people have received 302,046 meals—three per day, seven days per week—from 51 restaurants employing 897 staffers countywide (not counting the cities of Perris, Moreno Valley and Rancho Mirage, which are administering the program themselves).

In the Coachella Valley (except for Rancho Mirage), Arballo said, 859 participants have received meals from 19 restaurants. In Rancho Mirage, 168 seniors from at least nine restaurants were receiving meals as of June 10, according to the city.

For Willie Rhine, the co-owner of Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge, participating in the program was a no-brainer, especially since the restaurant had launched a program to feed lunches to local health-care workers even before the Great Plates Delivered program was announced.

“Since the shutdown, we have delivered almost 2,000 boxed lunches to health-care workers throughout the valley,” Rhine said. “The Great Plates program seemed to fit perfectly and give us another opportunity to continue helping people, specifically seniors.

“Additionally, I wanted to keep as many staff employed as possible. The Great Plates program allowed us that opportunity.”

Great Plates delivered is largely funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the county or city administering the program chipping in a small percentage; as of now, the program is funded through Aug. 9. This program is open to seniors 65 or older, or seniors age 60-64 who are at high risk of COVID-19, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Participants can make up to 600 percent of the federal poverty limit; must live alone or with one other program-eligible adult; not be currently receiving aid from other state or federal nutrition-assistance programs; and affirm an inability to prepare or obtain meals for themselves.

In order to participate, restaurants must meet certain nutritional guidelines, such as including fresh fruits and vegetables on each dish; keeping foods low in sodium; and not including “sugary drinks” (although 100 percent fruit juice is allowed). Preference was also given to restaurants and food providers who source and prioritize food from California-based farms and ranches; meet the cultural needs of program participants; and promote standards of fairness and equality in employment practices.

In Riverside County, 49 percent of the participating restaurants are minority-owned, Arballo said. Restaurants can receive up to $66 percent day—$16 for breakfast, $17 for lunch, $28 for dinner, and up to $5 for incidentals. Some have their patrons order directly off the menu, while some don’t; some restaurants deliver daily, while others deliver multiple meals three times per week.

To meet the needs of their customers, each restaurant has been in close contact with the people they are serving, to learn about the special dietary needs the clients may have—like food allergies and diabetes—as well as their physical limitations. For example, Michael Fietsam, of Great Plates Delivered participant PS Underground, said one his customers has lost her fingers, so their chef devised special plating for each of her meals to ensure she can dine with dignity.

The restaurants have faced challenges essentially doing a large catering job every day.

“We originally received a list of clients in cities throughout the valley; we asked if we could limit our deliveries to clients closer to Eight4Nine, ensuring faster service and fresher product,” Rhine said. “Once we had a local client list, we could plan the logistics of daily deliveries. We deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner daily between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. We have been in the catering-events business for many years, so we simply adopted this program as a daily catering event and kept the logistics pretty simple.”

The program also ensures that some of the most-vulnerable members of our community have someone checking on them on a regular basis. Early on, one of the restaurants’ delivery people realized a client’s refrigerator wasn’t working, and the restaurant helped connect that client to services to get that fixed.

Robb Wirt, of Bongo Johnny’s, said the impact of Great Plates Delivered has been “immeasurable”—both to his business and the clients Bongo Johnny’s has been serving.

“Everyone has been so kind and appreciative—so many positive vibes,” Wirt said. “One guest says, ‘This 70-year-old retired teacher feels like a princess or like I have won the lottery, to experience your wonderful food. Thank you.’ … Another said: ‘I know we have said it before, but it deserves repeating over and over again: Thank you. Your staff and you are making this isolating period tolerable. Not only can we stay safer by not having to go out to the grocery stores numerous times a week; we also have a joyful moment each day as our delicious, healthy and well-presented meals arrive."

All of the restaurateurs we spoke to said they’re happy to participate in the program as long as it’s funded.

“Without community, we wouldn't be here,” Wirt said.

For more information on the county’s Great Plates Delivered program, call the Riverside County Office on Aging at 800-510-2020. For more information on the Rancho Mirage program, call 877-652-4844, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Jimmy Boegle contributed to this story.

Published in Features & Profiles

Last year, I dedicated an entire column to information and etiquette for people visiting taprooms. Part of my motivation was selfish—I work at a taproom myself, specifically the Coachella Valley Brewing taproom in Thousand Palms—but I also wanted to help people who have little to no experience in the taproom world, and might feel intimidated by it.

I was not intending to follow it up at the time—but things have changed dramatically since those, dare I say, innocent times of late 2019. I want to give you the perspective of someone who is back behind the bar and happy to see his regulars back—while fully understanding that this pandemic is far from over. This brings some new things to consider when visiting your favorite brewery taproom—if it’s one of the few that remains open—and I hope this perspective can help you should you decide you absolutely have to go out for a pint or two, be it now or a little later when more taprooms can reopen again.

There is nowhere to start other than to state the obvious: Bring and wear a mask. This is required in "common and public space, and outdoors when distancing is not possible," according to the California state mandate. Thankfully, I have not had very many customers who felt put out by being required to wear one to order or while walking around—but we’ve all seen the videos of the Karens out there who insist that wearing a mask is a most serious infringement upon their civil rights, and who feel they are the Rosa Parks of the movement. (Is "movement" even the word for this?)

This also assumes you know how to wear a mask properly: It needs to cover your nose and mouth. I've seen a small minority of people whose facial coverings either droop down or just expose their noses outright. "But it's harder to breathe," said one customer to me when I pointed this out to him. Seriously, people: Suck it up. Thankfully, I have all the power in my situation—you have to go through me to get beer, and you’d better believe I am not backing down. When you are at your table or leave the taproom property, you are free to take the mask off and breathe as freely as you wish. Meanwhile, I deeply appreciate you wearing that mask when ordering or walking around the taproom, for my sake—just as I'm wearing my mask for yours.

As of this writing, bars, taprooms and restaurants have had to close their indoor operations, and bars and taprooms can only be open for outdoor service if there is a "bona fide meal provider" (AKA catering service or food truck). This is easier for some places to accomplish than others, but even when taprooms make an effort, this is the time of year when you just don't want to spend much time outside at all—and this doesn't even take into count the toll alcoholic beverages can have on you when it's that hot outside; you have to drink a lot of water to counterbalance its diuretic effect. I have seen some diehards come and have beer (with food) at the taproom, but I would most certainly not do the same, so I understand why I see more people looking to purchase beer to go. This mandate was needed because some businesses were not enforcing social-distancing and/or mask-wearing, and because an increasing amount of science shows that the coronavirus spreads easier indoors than outdoors. Anyway, to summarize: If there is a meal for each person drinking on the tab, and they cover their faces when appropriate, and they sit outside, they can have beer.

It can often feel like there is nothing but bad news out there, especially if you watch cable news or pay attention to social media, but I am happy to say that this is not the case: I have personally been the beneficiary of the generosity of many people who have stopped in to get something to go or have something onsite—and it has been extremely heart-warming. My mother has said that, when I was very young, I used to get overwhelmed to the point of tears when I would get a certain number of Christmas or birthday presents. Some of that emotion has stuck with me to this day—buried deep inside my calloused soul—and I've felt it well up a number of times during the past few months. There have been fewer customers, fewer fun shifts with my co-workers, and lots of moments of worry—but the vast majority of the patrons have been understanding and magnanimous with their tips. I cannot properly express my gratitude for this, but I'm going to try anyway: Thank you. It has meant a lot to me to so far not have to worry about my financial situation on top of all that there is to worry about, and that would not have been possible if it weren't for you. The brewery I work for feels the same way in that we have been able to keep the doors open despite the madness that has befallen us.

I just want us to be able to get to the other side of the pandemic, where we might be able to enjoy some high-fives and hugs again—without having to think about potentially serious lung damage or death. Which means that I hope you stay safe until then.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

A while back, a reader complained that I never discussed the plight of people who are unable to wear face masks—so I asked readers who deal with that plight to write in, and explain how they handle (or don’t handle) that dilemma.

Even though this Daily Digest is emailed to 4,000 people, and available to the entire world at CVIndependent.com, I received a grand total of … zero replies from people who say they won’t wear a mask.

I did, however, receive replies from some people who said they have difficulties wearing masks—but do so anyway.

“I have COPD, and it is VERY uncomfortable to wear a mask,” said one reader, who asked not to be identified. “It is hard to breathe through a paper or cloth mask.”

This reader mentioned mask and oxygen options that would help—but are out of the reader’s price range—before concluding: “Anyways, I do wear a mask when out in public and try to keep my breathing slow and steady which helps.”

I also received this from a reader: “Don’t like Newsom. Don’t like gay marriage. Don’t like anarchy. Don’t like looters. Don’t like Biden. Trump is stupid about masks, but he is better than Biden on the issues in my opinion. However, if I am within six feet of a person or going into any store, bar, etc. I will wear a mask.”

OK then!

I’ll conclude this non-debate with this advice from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, as stated in some of the agency’s news releases: “People with medical conditions that prevent safe use of a face covering are asked to wear a face shield.”

Translation: One way another, cover your gosh darned face. There’s no excuse not to.

Today’s links:

Here’s the latest District 4 report from Riverside County. (District 4 includes all of the Coachella Valley, plus the vastness between here and the state line to the east.) The numbers, simply put, are not good. Please note that the cases are presented here based on the testing date, NOT the report date, so the more-recent weeks’ numbers will always seem smaller than they actually are, given the length of time it takes to get test results back.

• However, I do want to point out one encouraging sign: For the third straight week, the weekly positivity rate has decreased. As of the week ending July 5, it’s 12.2 percent—still too high, as the state wants that number below 8 percent, and preferably much lower. However, that’s down from 14 percent as of the week ending June 28; 14.6 percent as of the week ending June 21; and 16 percent as of the week ending June 14. I am still waiting on an explanation from the county on how, exactly, this number is calculated—but lower numbers are always good, and I am crossing my fingers tightly that is evidence that the measures we’re taking locally are finally starting to slow down the COVID-19 spread.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to Desert Healthcare District CEO Dr. Conrado Barzaga about his declaration that systemic racism is a public health crisisand we’re seeing that play out in the eastern Coachella Valley during the pandemic, as COVID-19 cases there are sky high compared to the rest of the valley.

• Sigh. Squabbles between Moderna Inc. and government scientists are responsible for the delay in one of the most-promising vaccine candidates, according to Reuters.

The Palm Springs Unified School district plans on starting the school year on Aug. 5 with all-online instruction, before moving to a hybrid model within a month or so, if the pandemic allows it. 

• Related and utterly unbelievable: The president is threatening to withhold funding from schools that don’t reopen for in-person classes in the fall, and his administration is forcing the CDC to issue weaker guidelines for school openings. Why?!

• The results are in regarding Sweden’s grand experiment to keep society mostly open and let the virus run its course: The death rate there is sky-high, and the country’s economy is no better off than the economies of its neighbors that did shut down.

Related: Is the cure worse than the disease? Experts writing for The Conversation crunched the numbers—and came to the conclusion that, no, shutdowns were better for society overall than letting the virus run amok.

Also from The Conversation: The feds’ plan to send home foreign college students if they can’t attend in-person classes would be very bad for the economy.

• Oh, great! Our partners at High Country News are looking at the possibility that North American bats could get SARS-CoV-2. Key quote, from the subheadline: “This is bad news for bats and humans.

• CNBC put a weird spin on this story: “Apple Maps driving activity is slowing again in warning sign for the economy.Yeah, but if more people are staying home, isn’t that a good sign for battling the coronavirus?

• The Washington Post has revealed that at the government-run Southeastern Veterans’ Center, in the Philadelphia area, patients received a “COVID cocktail” including hydroxychloroquine—which has some pretty terrible side effects. According to the Post: “Though precise estimates vary, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said about 30 residents received the drug. Several nursing home staff members placed the number higher. The Chester County coroner, who reviewed the medical records for some of those who died, said at least 11 residents who had received the hydroxychloroquine treatment had not been tested for COVID-19.” Yikes!

NBC News looks at what it’ll mean for the United States to pull out of the World Health Organization. Key quote: “Apart from the effect on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. exit from the WHO also puts at risk a polio vaccination program that has long been a priority for the U.S. across several administrations. Trump’s decision comes just as doctors believe polio is on the verge of being eradicated from the planet.”

• Equinox—which operates 23 gyms in Southern California—is asking some of its teachers to do a lot more for a lot less, with a lot more risk mixed in, according to BuzzFeed. Key quote: “Despite the risk, Equinox is asking its group fitness instructors to come back to the gym and teach classes at a discounted rate, keeping the teachers at their 75 percent pay, rather than restoring their pre-COVID-19 rates. Instructors have also been asked to help clean the group fitness studios after classes, without additional pay, as part of an effort to more frequently deep-clean the studios.”

• Finally, Randy Rainbow is back with another Trump parody video: “Poor Deplorable Troll.”

That’s today’s news. Please consider supporting honest independent local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Be safe. Be kind. Wear a mask. The Daily Digest will return on Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's extra-super-toasty weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World invites you to play an exciting game of Spot the Mistakes; Jen Sorenson ponders the cycle of gentrification; (Th)ink figures out why there are such few Black NASCAR drivers; Apoca Clips reveals Li'l Trumpy's plans to stop the protests; and Red Meat takes in a delightful movie.

Published in Comics

On July 31, Dr. Conrado Barzaga will celebrate his one-year anniversary as the CEO of the Desert Healthcare District—and what a completely unforeseeable year it’s been.

His organization and the valley’s overall health-care infrastructure are being severely challenged by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic—as well as a related and much-longer-term issue that came to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness on May 25, when George Floyd was killed while restrained and lying on a street in Minneapolis police custody.

The baring of the long-simmering racial injustices in our society ignited the passion of Barzaga—so much so that on June 3, he issued a statement linking systemic racism to the subpar public-health outcomes of minority populations, both in the Coachella Valley and across the country.

Here is an excerpt: “As communities across the country take to the street and risk their lives to demand justice, the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation stands in solidarity with protesters and against racism, oppression and inequality in all of its forms, because we believe that inequities have consequences, both visible and invisible. … Some may say that our focus is health care. It is in this context that we recognize that the killing of Black Americans in this country is, and for too long, has been a public health crisis.

“It is a crisis rooted in the toxic traditions of systemic racism and white supremacy. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many more have died at the hands of the police and vigilantes—they should all be alive today. For this, we condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. No one should have to fear for their lives because of the color of their skin, ethnic origin or identity. No parent should have to worry for their child’s safety and well-being when they venture outside of their home. No community should disproportionately bear the burden of social, economic and health challenges, and yet studies show that the overall health of people of color ranks lower than the overall health of whites.”

The Independent spoke with Barzaga recently and asked what motivated him to issue such an emphatic statement.

“I believe strongly that racism has public-health consequences, and that is the reason why we took that position,” Barzaga said. “For one thing, we see that Black Americans have higher mortality rates compared to other races due to a variety of issues. One is the murder rate. If you look at deaths from a public-health standpoint, there is such a thing as ‘untimely death.’ Black Americans die in an untimely (fashion) resulting from police brutality. That is a fact. But there are other public-health issues that affect that community, and those are the result of systemic racism. Black children are born at a lower weight, and they’re born prematurely (more frequently) as a result of racism. That inflicts a tremendous amount of stress and distress on Black women.”

Barzaga said institutions of policing, learning and health care all need to undergo an important change in perspective.

“I believe that we have been (following) a philosophy of diversity, equity and inclusion that’s causing many public entities and the majority of health-care foundations to address funding through an equity-based lens,” Barzaga said. “I believe that we need to take the conversation a little bit further. We need to move from diversity, equity and inclusion to have a conversation about ‘belonging’ in our communities. The people need to feel ownership and that this is their place—not that they’re being integrated into a community or that they ‘count.’ It’s not an issue of counting; it’s an issue of belonging.

“When I moved to the desert, I found that the community is welcoming. I believe that everyone should have that same feeling—not only that you’re welcome, but that you feel you belong in this community, that you’re part of it, and that you’re celebrated. Not because you’re white, or Black, or gay, or straight, or a man or a woman; I think it’s an issue of belonging. And, when we incorporate that lens of belonging, I think we will make our desert a much better place.

“Although, I do have to say that the desert is a wonderful place—but there is space for improvement.”

The DHCD is working on taking immediate action to address longstanding needs in local Black communities, such as the Desert Highlands Gateway neighborhood of Palm Springs. Barzaga and the DHCD Board of Directors have introduced a resolution formalizing a grant of more than $432,000 for minority health-care improvement, some of which will be earmarked to improve overall health-related conditions for those who live there.

“The district has been working for years with the Desert Highland Gateway community, and I think this will be a continuation of that response,” Barzaga said. “But this time, there will be a definitive action to bring health-care as a reality to that community. That’s what the community says they need; that’s what the community wants; that’s what they have expressed through their community health-needs assessment; and that’s what the leaders are saying. They have been raising the issue of a lack of affordable, nutritious food in that area. There’s no supermarket or any market at all that’s providing services to that community. So there are many issues that I believe require a collective response, not only from the DHCD, but from the city of Palm Springs as well. We are trying to mobilize other resources so that this can become a more comprehensive response to the needs of that community.

“The district is taking a leadership role. We have made a beautiful statement about solidarity, but I think we have to show actions, and not only words—and this might even become a template for how we address the health-care needs of other minority communities in the Coachella Valley.”

The DHCD board recently voted to allow all funding provided to the district to be spent in any region of the expanded “One Coachella Valley” district, whose boundaries now run from Palm Springs in the west to communities like Coachella, Indio and Mecca in the east. The district’s eastern boundary for years was Cook Street, but voters approved the expansion in November 2018. However, that expansion did not come with an expansion in revenues.

“The people have decided that the DHCD should cover the entire Coachella Valley, so, that’s what we’re doing,” Barzaga said. “We will continue to raise the issue of funding disparities between east and west. I think, ultimately, it may have to be the Legislature who will have to provide a solution for that valley-wide funding issue.”

Barzaga said the imminent danger presented by the pandemic has highlighted inequities in the Coachella Valley. By a wide margin, there have been more COVID-19 cases in Indio and Coachella than any other valley city.

“It is clear that we cannot neglect the health-care needs of the eastern Coachella Valley residents, and COVID-19 really put this front and center,” Barzaga said. “Very early on, we knew that we were going to have a much larger problem in the eastern valley as related to COVID-19. These are residents who depend on working day-to-day (outside of their homes). They don’t have the same ability, as many of us do, to work from home. They have to go into the fields, and they have to go and serve the people of Coachella Valley (via the service industry) while being in close proximity to one another. This population doesn’t have the same access to health care as residents in the western parts of the valley. That combination of less protection, less access to care and a more impacted (personal) immune system has been a formula for disaster, and we are seeing the results right now. We have made very heavy investments in our community clinics to make sure that we’re deploying resources for the serious needs of that community.

“There is a gap between the health outcomes in the east and west that we intend to close,” Barzaga said. “It will be years before we have a more-robust health-care infrastructure that can meet the needs and demands of everyone in Coachella Valley. That’s why we’re doing the Community Health Needs Assessment, which is a community-driven plan. Through that needs assessment, we want the community to tell us what they want as a health-improvement plan, and that health-improvement plan will be the road map for the next 10, 20 or 30 years for the district’s investments in the health care structure of the valley, and to be responsive to the needs of the neediest in our communities.”

Published in Local Issues

If we’re going to beat this pandemic, we need to do a better job at testing.

A friend decided over the weekend to get a COVID-19 test. He’s developed sinus issues, as well as an annoying cough. He’s confident he doesn’t have COVID-19—he is fairly susceptible to these types of coughs, especially during allergy season—but he wants to be safe, seeing as he is in a high-risk category, and he lives with his elderly father.

He called the county on Saturday to get an appointment at the Cathedral City testing site, and got an appointment for Thursday. However, five days to get a test—plus another five days or so to get results—is a long time, so he called CVS to see about getting an appointment there. They said they could get him tested on Wednesday—with results in another 5-7 days.

I realize my friend’s story is merely one anecdote, and does not make a trend—but I’ve heard plenty of other stories, and seen plenty of news coverage about testing delays, like the Los Angeles Times reporting today that L.A. County appointments are being booked as quickly as they’re made available.

The county and the state—in the absence of federal leadership (and don’t get me started on that)—need to do everything they can to make COVID-19 testing more available, with results returned faster. The quicker someone can learn whether they’re positive, the faster they can take precautions—and the faster contact tracers can get to work.

We need to do better—and we can’t just wait for the technology to get better. Someone with pre-existing health conditions and an elderly father living with him shouldn’t be facing a 10-day wait to find out whether or not he has this god-awful virus.

Today’s news:

The Washington Post looks at the grim state of the pandemic in the nation as we emerge from the Fourth of July weekend. Key quote: “The country’s rolling seven-day average of daily new cases hit a record high Monday—the 28th record-setting day in a row.” 

• While Harvard University will be allowing some students back on campus for the fall, all courses will be taught online, the school announced today

• Related: Instead of focusing on testing or evictions or anything helpful, the federal government announced today that foreign students will need to leave the U.S.—or face deportation—if their colleges move to online-only courses. Sigh. 

• Up in Sacramento, the Capitol building has been closed for a week after a Marina del Ray assemblyperson and four others who work there tested positive for the virus

Here’s another piece on the impending national eviction crisis. Key quote: “Of the 110 million Americans living in rental households, 20 percent are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, according to an analysis by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, a Colorado-based community group. African American and Hispanic renters are expected to be hardest hit.”

• The World Health Organization continues to say that the coronavirus is spread by large respiratory droplets that don’t linger in the air. Well, a large number of experts are now calling on the WHO to change its guidance—because they’re sure it’s transmitted by smaller droplets that remain airborne for longer.

• The Washington Post asked five infectious-disease experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, what risks they’re willing to take in their day to day lives, in terms of going out, letting people into their homes, etc. Some of their answers are a little surprising.

• Speaking of Dr. Fauci: He announced today that the average age of coronavirus patients nationwide has dropped by 15 years in recent weeks. Key quote: “It’s a serious situation that we have to address immediately.”

• Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms—rumored to be on Joe Biden’s VP short list—announced today she’s tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Fortunately, she has no symptoms as of now.

Hate incidents against Asian Americans are skyrocketing due to stupidity and this damn virus (mostly stupidity)—and activists want Gov. Gavin Newsom to do more about it.

• Good news: The feds today released information on the companies that received PPP loans totaling more than $150,000. Key quote: “The Ayn Rand Institute, named for the objectivist writer cited as an influence on libertarian thought, was approved for $350,000 to $1 million.” Wait what?

• And because nothing makes sense anymore, announced-presidential-candidate-but-not-really Kanye West’s Yeezy was one of those companies, receiving more than $2 million in PPP money.

And so was … Burning Man?! Yes, really. Our partners at CalMatters look at some of the California-based takeaways from the long-overdue PPP data release.

• San Diego County today joined Riverside County (and much of the rest of the state) in being forced to close indoor dining at restaurants, because the county has now spent more than three days on the state’s watchlist.

• Let’s end with a couple of positive pieces: The San Francisco Chronicle talked to Bay Area doctors about how much they’ve learned since the pandemic began about treating COVID-19and the new treatments that are saving lives.

NBC News takes a look at the relationship between Dalila Reynoso and Smith County, Texas, Sheriff Larry Smith. She started calling for the sheriff to do more to slow COVID-19 in his system’s jails—and he listened.

That’s enough for today. Wear a mask. Please support local journalism, without fees or paywalls, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Fourth of July weekend, y’all.

Those of us here at Independent World Headquarters are planning on basically staying at home this weekend. We’ll support some of our fave restaurants by getting takeout and cocktails; have a Zoom happy hour or two with friends; and catch up on some much-needed rest.

If you do decide to venture out this weekend, I recommend taking the advice of this Los Angeles Times article: Assume everyone you’re around has the virus. Positivity and hospitalization rates are on the upswing, after all.

I’d like to take this chance to thank all of you who have supported the Independent’s work over these last several trying months. I can’t tell you how much all of the emails, social-media messages and phone calls have meant to us. I’d also like to thank the dozens of you who have opened your wallets to support us financially by becoming Supporters of the Independent—and I ask those of you who haven’t done so already to join them. Find details on how to do that here.

Stay safe. Wear a mask. And keep making the Coachella Valley the amazing place that is.

Here’s the news:

• Some interesting drug news out of Spain: Some HIV-positive patients on anti-viral medications seem to be less at risk for COVID-19 than the general population. Could drugs that helped slow the AIDS pandemic help slow the coronavirus pandemic?

The late-stage trial for one of the more promising vaccine candidates has been delayed by several weeks.

• Recent unemployment numbers have not been as dire as many had forecasted. However, the economy’s still going to take a while to recover, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. (Spoiler alert: The coronavirus surge isn’t helping.) The Washington Post explains.

• One other thing that may keep the economy down: While a lot of workers have kept their jobs (at least for now), they’ve had to accept sometimes-drastic pay cuts.

NBC News looks at the latest research into whether people infected with COVID-19 will have immunity—and there’s “some encouraging early evidence of possible protection against reinfection.” 

• Things have gotten rather dire in Arizona—you know, our neighbors to the east. The state this week became the first in the nation to enact crisis standards of care—which, to oversimplify things, means overwhelmed doctors there may begin determining which patients get treated, and which ones don’t, based on limited resources.

• Chicago is the latest to place to demand that people from California and other states experiencing a coronavirus surge quarantine for two weeks

• Oh, and Mexico has closed the Arizona border based on the spike in that state

• While more people than ever before are getting sick with COVID-19 in the United States, so far, the death rate has remained relatively low. The New York Times explains why that is—and why that may not remain the case for long.

• Hooray! It’s now easier to make SARS-Co-V-2 testing appointments at Riverside County-run sites; you can now make appointments online

The New York Times examines why fireworks are driving so many people crazy here in California.

• Good news: The state has extended unemployment benefits. Bad news: Some eligible people who filed months ago have yet to receive a dime.

California is doing about 85,000 coronavirus tests per day. However, Harvard says the state needs to do several times that to keep the virus in check

Amazon is facing yet more criticism for not taking proper care of its people; this time, workers with Amazon’s air service are making the complaints about unsafe environments

• In some places, contract tracers are using subpoenas to get people infected with COVID-19 to spill the beans on who they’ve been with, and where they’ve been

• The Conversation takes a deep dive into the history of Mexico City, where many water ways were destroyed to prevent illnesses—but that history has paved the way (pun not intended) for COVID-19 to run amok there.

Have great weekend. We’ll be back on Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

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