CVIndependent

Thu11262020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Whatever you decide to do for the holiday, please do it as safely as possible.

The pandemic is getting scary out there—and I really don’t want to be writing three weeks from now about how holiday lapses made it even worse.

OK? OK!

Let’s get right into the news, because there’s a lot of it.

If you read only one story from this Daily Digest, please make it this piece, by Independent music and arts scribe Matt King. The headline: “Hi. My Name Is Matt. I'm 19—and COVID Is Kicking My Ass.” A lot of journalists have written personal “I got COVID and it was terrible” pieces—but those journalists haven’t been healthy 19-year-olds. Key quote: “Many people have misconceptions about this virus—including one that people my age aren’t at risk. I am here to tell you that’s wrong. I did everything right, and yet I haven’t been out of bed for more than 15 minutes at a time in more than a week.” Thanks to Matt for putting himself out there like this—and please keep getting better, my friend.

• Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report for the week ending Nov. 22. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and rural areas eastward.) The numbers are all trending in the wrong direction, save hospitalizations, which held steady (but have started spiking since the report period ended on Nov. 22). The local positivity rate is up to 8.6 percent—and five of our neighbors died from COVID 19 last week.

• I don’t link to a ton of Wall Street Journal pieces, because the newspaper has a pretty rigid paywall, but I am making an exception for this one: “Western nations face a big challenge in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic: Ten months into the health crisis, they still know little about where people are catching the virus.” Key quote: “The problem is becoming more acute as new cases are breaking records in the U.S. and Europe and pressure grows on authorities to impose targeted restrictions on places that are spreading the virus, rather than broad confinement measures that are wreaking havoc on the economy. In Germany, authorities say they don’t know where 75% of people who currently test positive for the coronavirus got it. In Austria, the figure stands at 77%.” Sigh.

• As coronavirus hospitalizations rise around the country, so, too, is the demand for nurses. Kaiser Health News reports that some traveling nurses can earn up to $10,000 per week due to the scarcity: “Early in the pandemic, hospitals were competing for ventilators, COVID tests and personal protective equipment. Now, sites across the country are competing for nurses. The fall surge in COVID cases has turned hospital staffing into a sort of national bidding war, with hospitals willing to pay exorbitant wages to secure the nurses they need. That threatens to shift the supply of nurses toward more affluent areas, leaving rural and urban public hospitals short-staffed as the pandemic worsens, and some hospitals unable to care for critically ill patients.”

• You know that good news that came out on Monday about the results of the AstraZeneca vaccine trial? Well, it’s been tainted by some serious problems about the trial and the data from it. The New York Times explains: “Since unveiling the preliminary results, AstraZeneca has acknowledged a key mistake in the vaccine dosage received by some study participants, adding to questions about whether the vaccine’s apparently spectacular efficacy will hold up under additional testing. Scientists and industry experts said the error and a series of other irregularities and omissions in the way AstraZeneca initially disclosed the data have eroded their confidence in the reliability of the results. Officials in the United States have noted that the results were not clear. The head of the flagship federal vaccine initiative suggested that the vaccine’s most promising results may not have reflected data from older people.”

Los Angeles County—which, as of tomorrow, will not allow outdoor dining for three weeks—is expected to soon issue yet more restrictions on citizens and businesses alike. However, the Los Angeles Times is reporting they won’t be as tight as things were back in April. “’Nonessential businesses will be very much open; gyms will be open outdoors; zoos will be open; hair salons; mini-golf and go-karts will be open with reduced capacity,’ supervisor Janice Hahn said. The proposed directives are all designed to keep people in their homes as much as possible, reduce capacity at sites where people from different households interact with each other, and curtail some nonessential activities.”

Our partners at CalMatters look at California’s vaccine-distribution plans: “Manufacturers and the federal government will likely distribute doses based on state conditions and population size, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary. ‘So California should get a significant and even the highest amount of vaccination based on those distribution plans,’ he said Tuesday.

• When the vaccines finally do arrive, it’s important to understand that the side effects of getting the does will NOT be fun. Per CNBC: “Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association said both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines require two doses at varying intervals. As a practicing physician, she said she worries whether her patients will come back for a second dose because of the potentially unpleasant side effects they may experience after the first shot. ‘We really need to make patients aware that this is not going to be a walk in the park,’ Fryhofer said. ‘They are going to know they had a vaccine. They are probably not going to feel wonderful. But they’ve got to come back for that second dose.”

If you have a Roomba or a Ring security camera that was on the fritz today, The Washington Post explains why: “Amazon’s widely used cloud computing service suffered a major outage in its eastern U.S. operations Wednesday, hampering everything from web-connected security-camera services to software applications that businesses use to design products. … Amazon Web Services is the world’s largest provider of cloud-computing services, which let customers rent data storage and processing capabilities over the web instead of running their own datacenters.”

• A whole lot of stories have been coming out recently about the fact that California’s unemployment system is a raging dumpster fire. First, Politico explains: “Sophisticated crime rings involving inmates in California's jails and prisons may have stolen upwards of $1 billion in pandemic unemployment aid, four district attorneys and a federal prosecutor announced Tuesday.”

• All of this happened despite the fact that Bank of America—which has an exclusive contract with the state to issue prepaid debit cards with the much-needed funds on them—has been randomly freezing the accounts of innocent recipients due to fraud concerns, among other idiocies. Our partners at CalMatters report: “A bipartisan group of California lawmakers on Wednesday asked Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan for answers about unemployment payment problems that have upended the lives of thousands of jobless Californians who rely on the bank’s prepaid debit cards. … ‘Constituents report they are unable to get through to your call centers, or when they do, the issue is not resolved,’ states the letter, which was signed by more than three dozen state senators and assemblymembers. ‘It is simply unacceptable that Californians entitled to benefits are suddenly not able to obtain them due to a Bank of America determination that is impossible to appeal.’ Among the questions the lawmakers want Moynihan to answer: Bank of America’s criteria for freezing accounts and seizing jobless benefits, who’s on the hook for paying back fraudulent charges, and how their constituents can resolve outstanding debit card claims.”

• Oh, and if your unemployment claim is denied, you do have options, as the San Francisco Chronicle explains: “If your claim for unemployment benefits was rejected by California’s Employment Development Department, or you received much less than you think you’re entitled to, you’re not alone. Between January and September, 177,248 Californians contested the agency’s decision, and more than half won rulings in their favor. You have the right to appeal a rejection, but it can be a tortuous process.” Read the Chronicle’s suggestions on how to handle that tortuous process.

Things are gonna be a little nuts between now and Jan. 20, and this is just the start: President Trump today pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, despite the fact that Flynn twice pleaded guilty to telling lies to the FBI.

And then there’s this move, explained by The Hill: “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signaled that he will move $455 billion in COVID-19 relief from the Federal Reserve back into the Treasury’s General Fund, a move that would make it harder for his successor to access the emergency funding. … Bharat Ramamurti, a former adviser to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who now serves as a member of the congressional committee appointed to oversee the funds, called Mnuchin's move ‘illegal.’ ‘This is Treasury’s latest ham-handed effort to undermine the Biden Administration,’ he said on Twitter.”

• Before we go, an FYI about two fun fundraisers being done by two great local nonprofits: First, Palm Canyon Theatre is having a one-day only streaming event tomorrow on Thanksgiving. From the news release: “Popcorn Falls star(s) Anthony Nannini and Nicholas Sloan. The sleepy town of Popcorn Falls is forced into bankruptcy when a neighboring town threatens to turn it into a sewage treatment plant. The hope of saving the town lies in the dreams of opening a live theatre there. Writer James Hindman spins a world of farce, love and desperation, with musical interludes by Jeffrey Lodin, which proves that art can save the world.” It costs $15 to stream the play—again, tomorrow only! Details here.

On Monday, Nov. 30, the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert will be holding its annual Wreath Auction. What’s normally a fun in-person affair will be an online/virtual event this year, of course. Some wreaths are already up for auction online, while others will be auctioned off live starting at 5:15 p.m. Monday. Register, bid and get more details here.

Finally … while this is probably just the work of some weird artist(s), we can’t be sure, because it’s 2020, and an alien invasion or something would be SO typical for this year. CNN explains: “What started as routine wildlife assistance took an extraterrestrial turn for Utah’s Department of Public Safety after officers stumbled upon a mysterious monolith in the middle of rural Utah. Officers from the Utah Department of Public Safety's Aero Bureau were flying by helicopter last Wednesday, helping the Division of Wildlife Resources count bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, when they spotted something that seemed right out of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’” The damn thing is 10 to 12 feet tall!

As always, thanks for reading. If you have a few dollars to spare, please consider supporting independent local journalism by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Barring any major news, the Daily Digest will be off until Monday. Have a safe yet fantastic Thanksgiving, everyone.

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Happy Monday, everyone!

Last week in this space, we linked to an article in which many experts were quoted as saying that curfews—like the one most of the state is under now—don’t help much when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

Well, uh, here’s an article from the Los Angeles Times that says the opposite:

It should be no surprise, as acting state public health officer Dr. Erica Pan outlined in her health order, that late-night activities are often related to social gatherings where there’s “reduced inhibition and and reduced likelihood” of wearing masks and staying distanced from friends and family.

“It’s because bad behavior goes up in the evening, at least as I recall from college,” Dr. George Rutherford, epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco, said at a campus town hall meeting last week.

So … curfews are helpful, unless they’re not. Got that? Good.

In other news: While small private gatherings can obviously lead to COVID-19 spread, they aren’t driving the spike we’re seeing around the country, according to this New York Times piece:

Household gatherings have “become a major vector of disease spread,” the Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, said in an interview with CNN in late October.

But many epidemiologists are far less certain, saying there is little evidence to suggest that household gatherings were the source of the majority of infections since the summer. Indeed, it has become much harder to pinpoint any source of any outbreak, now that the virus is so widespread and Americans may be exposed in so many ways.

“Somebody says something, and somebody else says it, and then it just becomes truth,” said Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard University. “I worry about this narrative that doesn’t yet seem to be data-based.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post today interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci. And what did he have to say?

Until a vaccine is widely available, he said, people must remain vigilant about following public-health guidelines such as maintaining social distance from others. Infections are increasingly spreading through small gatherings of five to 15 people, he said.

Sigh.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s crazy how little we know about this disease, eight-plus months into the height of the pandemic.

Today’s news:

• Finally: The formal transition process has begun. According to CNN: “The General Services Administration has informed President-elect Joe Biden that the Trump administration is ready to begin the formal transition process, according to a letter from Administrator Emily Murphy sent Monday afternoon and obtained by CNN. The letter is the first step the administration has taken to acknowledge President Donald Trump's defeat, more than two weeks after Biden was declared the winner in the election.” This news capped a busy day of transition news—including the announcement of several of Biden’s cabinet picks.

In Los Angeles County, officials are shutting down outdoor dining for at least three weeks—and say that a complete stay-at-home order could be put in place very soon if the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise. As a result, many restaurant owners are wondering if their businesses can survive.

• Another week, another vaccine-maker releases positive trial results. As The Washington Post explains: “AstraZeneca on Monday became the third pharmaceutical company to announce positive results from late-stage trials of a coronavirus vaccine, saying that its candidate, developed by Oxford University, is up to 90 percent effective. Scientists and politicians alike hailed the third straight week of buoyant scientific news as a sign that, even as coronavirus cases surge to devastating levels in many countries, an end to the pandemic is in sight.”

• The results of the Independent’s seventh annual Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll are here! Congrats to all the winners and finalists.

California’s first family is under quarantine after three of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s kids were in contact with a California Highway Patrol officer who tested positive for the virus. “Thankfully, the entire family tested negative today. However, consistent with local guidance, we will be quarantining for 14 days,” Newsom tweeted. NPR has the details

The monoclonal antibody cocktail President Trump credited for helping him overcome the coronavirus has received emergency-use authorization from the FDA. MedPage Today explains: “The FDA authorized use of Regeneron's REGN-COV2 intravenous monoclonal antibody cocktail … for treating mild to moderate COVID-19 in patients at high risk of progressing to severe disease, the agency said late Saturday. … ‘Authorizing these monoclonal antibody therapies may help outpatients avoid hospitalization and alleviate the burden on our health care system,’ FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, said in announcing the EUA.” 

• General Motors had been siding with President Trump in his effort to remove California’s ability to demand more fuel-efficient vehicles. Well, the automaker has changed its tune. Per The New York Times: “The decision by Mary Barra, the General Motors chief executive, to withdraw her company’s support for Trump administration efforts to strip California of its ability to set its own fuel efficiency standards was a striking reversal. It was also a signal that corporate America is moving on from President Trump. More specifically, it was a sign that Mr. Biden may find the auto industry amenable as he tries to reinstitute and rebuild Obama-era climate change regulations that Mr. Trump systematically dismantled, at times with the help of industry.”

• While SARS-CoV-2 is running amok in the U.S., people in China are living relatively normal lives. A scholar in public health, writing for The Conversation, says China is doing much better at handling the virus because the country learned lessons from a previous pandemic. Key quote: “My research suggests that the control of the virus in China is not the result of authoritarian policy, but of a national prioritization of health. China learned a tough lesson with SARS, the first coronavirus pandemic of the 21st century.”

Yes, please. Reuters reports: “New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she offered President-elect Joe Biden assistance with tackling the rampant outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States. During the first talks between the two since Biden was elected as the next U.S. president, Ardern said she offered access to New Zealand’s most senior health officials …  New Zealand has eliminated COVID-19 from the community twice, and currently has just 58 active cases of the virus, all in managed isolation facilities. In contrast, the United States over the weekend recorded its 12 millionth case.”

Our partners at CalMatters bring us this fascinating story about a dispute between two high-ranking Democratic state leaders: “The unpaid invoices piling up in Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office had climbed to more than $34.2 million. It was Nov. 2. Since early September, his staff had been wrangling with the staff of State Controller Betty Yee over whether Padilla’s office had the budgetary authority to pay for a $35 million contract it had awarded to public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker to run a statewide voter education campaign called Vote Safe California. The secretary of state’s office maintained that it did have budgetary authority. The controller’s office, which approves payments, maintained that it did not.

This San Francisco Chronicle article examines why more employers aren’t offering their employees coronavirus testing. Key quote: “The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance to employers to include coronavirus testing, and it advised that people working in close quarters be tested periodically. However, the federal government does not require employers to offer those tests. But the board overseeing the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, on Thursday approved emergency safety rules that are soon likely to require the state’s employers to provide coronavirus testing to all workers exposed to an outbreak on the job at no cost to the employees. Testing must be repeated a week later, followed by periodic testing. California would be the first state to mandate this, though the regulation doesn’t apply to routine testing of employees. That is up to individual businesses.”

• We may soon learn a little bit more about dinosaurs due to the “Dueling Dinosaurs.” National Geographic explains: “For more than a decade, paleontologists have speculated about a single fossil that preserves skeletons of two of the world’s most famous dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. Not only are the bones arranged as they once were in life, but the dinosaurs are practically intertwined. Each specimen is among the best of its kind ever found. Together, the pair—nicknamed the ‘Dueling Dinosaurs’—present a paleontological mystery: Did the beasts just happen to be entombed together by chance, perhaps as carcasses caught on the same river sandbar? Or had they been locked in mortal combat? Nobody has been able to study the fossil to find out. But that’s about to change.”

Finally, the producers of Jeopardy! have announced the new host … sort of. The Associated Press, via SFGate, reports: “’Jeopardy!’ record-holder Ken Jennings will be the first in a series of interim hosts replacing Alex Trebek when the show resumes production next Monday. Producers announced Monday that Jennings, who won 74 games in a row and claimed the show's ‘Greatest of All Time’ title in a competition last year, will host episodes that air in January. A long-term host for Trebek, who died of cancer on Nov. 8, will be named later.”

As always, thanks for reading the Daily Digest and the Coachella Valley Independent. Please click here to become a Supporter of the Independent if you want to help us be able to continue producing quality local journalism. Be safe, everyone.

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Happy Friday, all.

It’s been a busy day here at the Independent; we’ve been working hard on the December/Best of Coachella Valley print edition.

By the way, we’ll reveal all of those Best of Coachella Valley winners next Monday at 8 a.m. at CVIndependent.com—and in that aforementioned print edition, which will start hitting the streets on Monday.

And now, on with the news:

• On Wednesday in this space, we covered the fact that many experts don’t think curfews help much in the battle against COVID-19. Well … as of tomorrow (Saturday) night, the state will be under a month-long curfew anyway: From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., non-essential businesses and personal gatherings will be a no-no. CBS News has the details.

• Let’s hope the curfew and other measures work, because the direction in which California is headed is not good. Per the Los Angeles Times: “Statewide, 13,422 new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday—breaking the single-day record for the second time this week. The previous high-water mark—13,412—was set Monday, according to an independent county-by-county tally conducted by the Times. California has now recorded four consecutive days with at least 10,600 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, a stretch unlike any in the pandemic. Over the last week, the state has averaged 10,529 new cases per day, a 117 percent increase from two weeks ago.”

However, if you’re in a part of Riverside County where the policing is provided by the sheriff, well, you can consider the curfew to be merely advisory. According to KESQ: ”(Sheriff Chad) Bianco wrote that the Sheriff’s Department will not respond to reports that are just non-compliance of public health orders. ‘To ensure constitutional rights are not violated and to limit potential negative interactions and exposure to our deputies, we will not be responding to calls for service based solely on non-compliance with the new order or social distancing and mask guidelines,’ Bianco (said).” Sigh.

• We missed this article on Wednesday, so we’re presenting it now: The city of Riverside was debating taking serious action against businesses that violate COVID-19 restrictions—like gyms that remain open for indoor business—including fines and possibly shutting off water and/or electric service. How did that idea go over? Well, according to the Press-Enterprise: “For more than three hours, the council listened to gym operators, restaurant owners and small-business owners opposed to the plan. Some speakers dismissed the pandemic as a hoax or an exaggerated threat to society. Others said COVID-19 is a deadly disease and real, but emphasized that people’s physical health—and mental health—also hinges on being able to exercise.”

Pfizer was slated to officially apply to the FDA for an emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine today; Moderna is expected to do the same fairly soon. As a result, CNBC reports, the federal government is telling some employees that they could be receiving the vaccine within eight weeks: “Essential federal workers would be among the first group of Americans to get inoculated against the coronavirus after the nation’s health-care workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s vaccination program ‘interim playbook.’ The plan lists essential workers, along with the elderly and other highly vulnerable groups, in the first phase of its vaccine distribution plan, which hasn’t been finalized yet and could change.”

• A downside to the encouraging vaccine news: It’s causing some people currently in clinical trails to prematurely bail. According to NBC News: “(Dr. William) Hartman runs one of AstraZeneca's Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial sites, at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. But last week, a handful of trial volunteers either canceled or simply did not show up for their scheduled appointments. ‘People are asking if they can withdraw from the trial,’ Hartman said. Although he has been able to fill empty slots so far with people on the waiting list, he said he believes the reason for the slight setback may be the apparent success of two other vaccine candidates: those made by Pfizer and Moderna.” 

So … the vaccines are coming—but they were made in record time. Are they safe? A professor of medicine, writing for The Conversation, says … probably? Key quote: “Despite the vaccines’ relatively rapid development, the normal safety testing protocols are still in place.” 

• A downside to the race to create vaccines is that it’s creating problems for East Coast shore birds. Wait, what? How could that POSSIBLY make sense?! Audubon Magazine explains: “That’s because both the birds and the pharmaceutical companies depend on the same animal: the horseshoe crabs of the Delaware Bay. Horseshoe crab eggs are vital fuel during the Red Knots’ annual 9,000-mile migration from Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America, to the Canadian Arctic every spring. For the drugmakers, horseshoe crab blood is a vital component in vaccine production.” No, we are not making this up; read the article, which is rather fascinating, for a complete explanation. 

• Still planning to travel for Thanksgiving? Well, the CDC is advising that you change your plans. According to The Associated Press: “With the coronavirus surging out of control, the nation’s top public health agency pleaded with Americans on Thursday not to travel for Thanksgiving and not to spend the holiday with people from outside their household.”

• If you insist on having an indoor gathering for Thanksgiving—again, not advised—an expert on air quality, writing for The Conversation, offers some tips on how to do so in a way that’s a little safer. Key quote: “A safer home is one that constantly has lots of outside air replacing the stale air inside.”

• Back at the start of the pandemic, many workers at retail stores deemed essential (like supermarkets, etc.) were given a temporary wage boost. Now that the pandemic is worse than ever, will these workers again receive hazard pay? It seems unlikely, The New York Times reports

A World Health Organization panel yesterday recommended against doctors using remdesivir on COVID-19 patients—because there’s not enough evidence that it works. Key quote, via CNBC: “’After thoroughly reviewing this evidence, the WHO GDG expert panel, which includes experts from around the world including four patients who have had COVID-19, concluded that remdesivir has no meaningful effect on mortality or on other important outcomes for patients, such as the need for mechanical ventilation or time to clinical improvement,’ the group wrote in a press release.”

• Oops! The state has heretofore left a fairly major business sector without COVID-19 guidance: ski resorts. According to SFGate: “On Monday, the California Department of Public Health told SFGATE in an emailed statement that they are ‘constantly reviewing science, data and evidence and continually evaluating and updating guidance.’ The department will update its guidelines once information specific to ski resorts is available. In the meantime, the department stated that ’ski resorts are not permitted to operate.’ … And yet, ski resorts are already open and running, based on direction ski industry officials say they received from county health departments. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area opened last week.”

So it’s been a not-so-great day for the president. As this New York Times update page recaps: Georgia certified its election results, declaring Joe Biden to be the winner; Michigan legislators who were summoned to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with Trump said they have no plans to overturn the will of the voters; and Don Jr. has tested positive for the virus.

• And finally … good lord, the state unemployment system is a mess. The San Francisco Chronicle reports: “The California Employment Development Department has sent out at least 38 million pieces of mail containing unemployment applicants’ full Social Security numbers since the pandemic started, putting people at risk of identity fraud, California State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a harsh report issued Thursday.”

As always, thanks for reading. If you have the financial ability to do so, we kindly ask you to click here and consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can continue doing quality local journalism that’s made available for free to all. Have a good, safe weekend, everyone.

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I’ve been in a crabby mood.

The non-vaccine-related news has me down. I am bummed because I won’t be able to see my mom at Thanksgiving. I am in the middle of deadline hell on our December print edition.

Bleh.

However, I just read this article from The Washington Post—and it made me feel a little better. If you’re in need of a pick-me-up, you may want to read it, too.

You may or may not have heard that Dolly Parton gave $1 million to help fund the research into the Moderna vaccine. This story explains how that came to be—and how it was motivated, in part, by an unlikely friendship between Parton and Naji Abumrad, a physician and professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which developed when Parton sought medical help after a 2013 car accident.

Here’s a taste:

Their friendship may seem unlikely, bonding a Lebanese-born physician and a cultural tour de force who ended up building an amusement park graced with her own name. But after the car crash, the pair found out they were once both poor, mountain kids trying to get by, though they were raised more than 6,000 miles apart. Abumrad said Parton became someone he could confide in.

“Our homes were almost identical where we grew up,” Abumrad told The Post.

The physician’s son, Jad Abumrad, at first didn’t believe his father whenever he talked about his friend Dolly. Even when the physician’s phone rang and the name that came up was “Dolly Parton,” he remained skeptical of his stoic father’s claim of having the famous friend.

The piece helped me get out of my own selfish doldrums—with a beautiful reminder that there is indeed true, genuine good in this world.

Today’s news:

• Remember back in March and April, when everyone was talking about the need for a vaccine to get us out of this pandemic—but a vaccine was a question of “if,” not “when,” and the “when” part was months and months away? Well, it’s official: We have a good vaccine, and the “when” part for the first recipients could be just days away. As The New York Times explains: “The drug maker Pfizer said on Wednesday that its coronavirus vaccine was 95 percent effective and had no serious side effects—the first set of complete results from a late-stage vaccine trial as COVID-19 cases skyrocket around the globe. … Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its partner BioNTech, said the companies planned to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization ‘within days,’ raising hopes that a working vaccine could soon become a reality.”

• The first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could be administered by the end of the year, but some states are saying they’ll need financial help from the federal government—which is not exactly functioning very well right now—to get it properly tracked and distributed. ABC News explains.

• Some more good news: A new, non-peer-reviewed study hints that coronavirus immunity could last for years. According to The New York Times: “Eight months after infection, most people who have recovered still have enough immune cells to fend off the virus and prevent illness, the new data show. A slow rate of decline in the short term suggests, happily, that these cells may persist in the body for a very, very long time to come.” As with all studies like this, the conclusions should be taken with a gargantuan grain of figurative salt—but the news is encouraging nonetheless.

Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (A reminder: District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) As we noted in this space on Monday: The local trendlines are not good. For the week ending Nov. 15, cases are up; hospitalizations are steady-ish but not great; the positivity rate is up to 7.9 percent; and two of our neighbors lost their lives due to COVID-19. We’re in MUCH better shape than most of the rest of the country, however … but we all need to do our part to make sure it stays that way (with, of course, the rest of the country improving as well).

• The FDA has approved the first COVID-19 test that you can administer yourself at home. Here’s the news release.

• Sort-of related: After a successful roll-out in the city of Riverside, the county is expanding the use of self-administered COVID-19 tests—although the details (like whether the Coachella Valley will have a site or two where they’re used) have not been worked out. According to the Press-Enterprise: “Unlike other coronavirus tests, which rely on a health care worker deeply probing a subject’s nose or throat, Curative’s tests are done by subjects, who swab their mouth gently before putting the swab in a test tube and sealing a plastic bag. Test results are reported by email or text message within 48 hours.”

The Los Angeles Times reports: “Desperately seeking to find a seemingly responsible way to hold dinner parties, some people have started to get tests for the coronavirus as a way to clear themselves to attend dinner parties without needing to wear masks or keep their distance. That’s absolutely the wrong thing to do, according to Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health.”

Los Angeles County has issued, more or less, a curfew for most businesses—something Gov. Newsom has hinted could come to the entire state: Restaurants and nonessential retail in L.A. now have to close by 10 p.m. 

Speaking of curfews: This here Vox article says that a whole lot of experts think they’re worthless. Key quote from that piece: “‘It seems like it’s spreading all over, but I’ve seen no evidence it helps anything,’ Tara Smith, a public health professor at Kent State University, told me over email. ‘I’ve not seen a single public health person recommend this as an intervention. I’m mystified at their popularity.’”

• And speaking of Gov. Newsom: He remains in increasingly hot water for that dinner he attended at the French Laundry earlier this monthalong with, it turns out, some California Medical Association (!) officials, Politico notes. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times points out that there are questions about exactly how “outdoor” that dinner was—and that, in related news, some legislators have jetted off to Maui, with the bill possibly being picked up by special-interest groups. The art of leading by example is dead, I guess?

• Damn, things are even getting bad (well, relatively) in parts of Australia regarding COVID-19.

• While—make no mistake—COVID-19 remains a deadly disease, the mortality rate has decreased a bit over time. MedPage Today talks to experts about the various reasons why that’s happened.

• Not that you needed evidence of how deadly COVID-19 remains: The U.S. topped a quarter-million deaths from the disease todayand the number of dead continues to rise at an alarming rate.

• Mixed-blessing alert (but not really): The fact the virus is running rampant around the country is helping vaccine researchers learn how effective the vaccines are at a faster rate. Yay?

• SFGate talked to some Bay Area restaurant workers about the closure of indoor diningand found out that a lot of them are quite relieved.

• CNN reports that a lot of former and current Trump officials are starting to reach out to President-elect Joe Bidenat the risk of angering the current president.

• Finally, Wonder Woman 1984 will indeed be released on Christmas day—both in theaters and on HBO Max.

That’s more than enough news for the day. Please be safe, and thanks for reading. If you’d like to help make sure the Independent makes it through these crazy times, click here to learn how you can become a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

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You know that fall/winter COVID-19 spike the health experts have been warning us about? Well, it’s here—and I just don’t mean it’s here in the United States.

I mean it’s here in the Coachella Valley—and the steps we collectively take will determine how bad it gets.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced today that a whopping 40 of the state’s 58 counties are regressing by at least one tier—and that 41 counties, representing well more than 90 percent of the state’s population, are now in the purple, “widespread” tier. According to SFGate, that’s up from just nine three weeks ago.

“This is simply the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of this pandemic,” Newsom said, according to the Los Angeles Times. As a result, Newsom said, counties’ tier statuses will be updated on an ongoing basis—not just once a week on Tuesdays, as it had been before. Counties will also be demoted faster than they had before.

As for Riverside County … eek. Last week, the state reported the county as having a 6.7 percent positivity rate, and an adjusted 13.9 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. The numbers released by the state today: an 8.4 percent positivity rate, and an adjusted 22.4 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. That’s a terrifying increase in just one week.

Since we’ve already been the state’s most-restrictive tier, nothing much will change locally—at least for now. However, the state could hand down further restrictions if things keep getting worse.

Newsom did add one further restriction, as explained by our partners at CalMatters: “Californians also must wear a mask whenever outside their home, with a few exceptions, in a strengthening of the state’s existing mask mandate, Newsom said.”

Folks, it’s up to us to turn this scary tide. As the Los Angeles Times says: “As the case count swells, officials stress that it’s essential for residents to follow infection-prevention protocols such as wearing a mask in public, regularly washing their hands and staying home when they’re sick, as well as keeping a physical distance from, and avoiding gatherings with, those outside their households.”

More of today’s news:

• More cause for hope: Moderna announced today that early data shows its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is 94.5 percent effective. Again, this is early, unreviewed data—but the news is encouraging. According to CNBC: “Dr. Scott Gottlieb (said) on Monday that the devastating coronavirus pandemic could ‘effectively’ be ended next year, following promising developments around Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. … ‘Once we get these vaccines in sufficient qualities heading into 2021, the combination of the fact that a lot of the population will have already had COVID, combined with the fact that we’ll be vaccinating the public with a highly effective vaccine, we could effectively end this pandemic in 2021 with our technology,’ (said) Gottlieb, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner in the Trump administration.”

• Another cause for hope: monoclonal antibodies. A professor of clinical and laboratory science from Texas State University, writing for The Conversation, explains what this Trump-touted treatment is: “A monoclonal antibody treatment mimics the body’s natural immune response and targets foreign agents, like a virus, that infect or harm people. There are also monoclonal antibodies that pharmaceutical companies have designed that target cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies are one of most powerful types of medicine. In 2019 seven of the top 10 best-selling drugs were monoclonal antibodies.”

• Not all the vaccine news is good: Manufacturers and factories are preparing for a possible fight over who gets the doses first, and how many each country gets. According to NBC News: “The factory at the Serum Institute of India, a manufacturer of immunobiological drugs, appears ready to play a global role in the production of COVID-19 vaccines, once they are developed, because few manufacturers can match the scale of its facilities. As a leading supplier to the developing world, it is also in the forefront of efforts to combat ‘vaccine nationalism,’ where wealthy countries such as the United States pay to secure a massive number of doses to help their citizens first, while poor countries wait at the back of the line.”

• The nationwide surge has gotten so bad that Walmart is counting customers again. Key quote, from CNN: “We know from months of metering data in our stores that the vast majority of the time our stores didn’t reach our self-imposed 20 percent metering capacity,” said Kory Lundberg, a Walmart (WMT) spokesperson. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have resumed counting the number of people entering and leaving our stores.”

• The New York Times points out that some people have received some rather unpleasant and surprising bills for their COVID-19 tests—and offers some suggestions on how to avoid such a surprise. Key quote: “To avoid those extra charges, ask your provider what diseases they will screen for. It can be as simple as saying: ‘I understand I’m having a coronavirus test. Are there any other services you’ll bill me for?’ Having a better understanding of that up front can save you a headache later, and you can make an informed decision about what care is actually needed. If your providers can’t tell you what they’ll bill for, that may be a signal you want to seek care elsewhere.”

President-elect Joe Biden today called on Congress and President Trump to pass a new stimulus package—and urged the president to knock it off with the false claims that the election was rigged. According to The Washington Post: “Biden called on Congress to pass a large package approved by House Democrats earlier this year and said they cannot wait any longer to act. ‘Refusal of Democrats, Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a conscious decision. It’s a choice that we make. If we can decide not to cooperate, we could decide to cooperate.’”

• Related: Is there a correlation between stimulus efforts expiring, and COVID-19 cases spiking in the U.S.? Business Insider says there indeed is—although whether correlation means causation, in this case, remains a question.

• A scoop today from The Washington Post: Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said he’s being pressured by fellow Republicans—including Sen. Lindsey Graham—to toss legally cast votes. Key quote: “In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.” My god!

• Sen. Chuck Schumer said today that he believed that Joe Biden could wipe out a whole lot of student debt after he takes office—simply by signing an executive order. “I have a proposal with Elizabeth Warren that the first $50,000 of debt be vanquished,” said Schumer, according to CNBC. “And we believe that Joe Biden can do that with the pen as opposed to legislation.

• From the Independent: County supervisors recently OK’d a massive development in the eastern Coachella Valley called the Thermal Beach Club—where homes will be $1 million or more, and a non-resident club membership will cost $175,000 a year. Our Kevin Fitzgerald reports: “Not surprisingly, some current residents of the Thermal and Oasis communities are dismayed by that prospect. … But proponents of the project—including six of the seven members of the Thermal-Oasis Community Council, as well as all five members of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors—view the buildout, in a disadvantaged region of Coachella Valley, as an opportunity that could jumpstart improvement in the area.”

• Yikes. This lede from the Los Angeles Times is just awful (the content, not the writing): “The Boy Scouts of America will face at least 88,500 claims of sexual abuse in a landmark bankruptcy that could reshape the future of one of the nation’s oldest and largest youth organizations, lawyers in the case said Monday as the filing deadline loomed.”

• Since we’re all supposed to be pretty much staying home as much as possible, this is good news: “A consortium of museums is doing their part to bring the work of one of the world's most famous artists to the global masses. Van Gogh Worldwide is a new project by a group of Dutch museums which presents a digital collection of over 1,000 of the artist’s masterpieces. Building off the digitized collection begun several years ago by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, almost half of the post-Impressionist works of this prolific artist are now available to view—with scholarly commentary—from the safety of your own home.”

• Finally: Denizens of the internet, god bless them, have created a Lego version of Rudy Giuliani’s whacked-out Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference. It’s fantastic; be sure to click on the Flickr page.

That’s enough news for a Monday. Stay safe, everyone. If you’d like to help the Independent keep producing quality local journalism—and making it free to everyone, without subscription fees or annoying paywalls—please click here to become a Supporter of the Independent. Thanks for reading, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

Feeling anxious lately? Yeah, me, too.

The anxiety has been due, in part, to rising COVID-19 numbers across the country and the world—combined with the fact that waaaaaaay too many prominent Americans, people who should know better, are undermining our democracy by trying to delegitimize an election without cause or evidence.

Add in the usual work and life pressures … and hello, anxiety!

Anytime I leave the house, it seems like I witness things—usually involving either complacency or stupidity (take your pick)—that contribute to my anxiety.

The latest example: Last night, we decided to enjoy a socially distanced patio dinner at El Jefe at the Saguaro. We were seated on the patio not too far away from the pool, but the noise from nearby DJ music was overwhelming. I went to see what the source of the noise was—and I saw a group of what appeared to be several dozen people, line dancing in close proximity to each other, at the outdoor events space across the walkway. It was apparently a wedding group of some sort.

Not one of the people, at least that I could see, was wearing a face mask.

We decided to find somewhere else to eat.

According to this fun and terrifying new tool from the Georgia Institute of Technology … if, let’s say, there were only 25 people line-dancing there, and all of them were locals—pretty much the best-case scenarios—there’s a 20-35 percent chance that one of those people is COVID-19 positive.

Hello, anxiety!

And now, today’s news:

The governors of the three Pacific Coast states today requested that all residents stay put—and that visitors coming in from out of state quarantine for 14 days, given the COVID-19 spikes happening across the country. The request, however, is not a mandate; compliance is voluntary. Key quote, from a statement by Gov. Gavin Newsom, via CNBC: “California just surpassed a sobering threshold—one million COVID-19 cases—with no signs of the virus slowing down. Increased cases are adding pressure on our hospital systems and threatening the lives of seniors, essential workers and vulnerable Californians. Travel increases the risk of spreading COVID-19, and we must all collectively increase our efforts at this time to keep the virus at bay and save lives.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown put her state on lockdown, more or less, for two weeks. From our friends at Willamette Week: “The new restrictions, which go into effect Nov. 18, include limiting bars and restaurants to takeout only, in-home gatherings to six people from no more than two families, grocery and retail stores to 75 percent of capacity, and attendance at churches to no more than 25 people indoors or 50 outside.”

A similar lockdown is taking place in New Mexico, effective on Monday. From Newsweek: “Residents will be instructed to only leave home to take part in essential activities. Gatherings will be limited to no more than five people, with capacity at grocery stores and other essential businesses reduced to 25 percent. Plans for large celebrations on Thanksgiving, which falls within the two-week period, should be called off, the governor said.”

• Now, some sort-of good news: Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday that he’s confident the pandemic will come to an end in the foreseeable future thanks to vaccines—but we have a lot of work to do before we get there. Key quote from Fauci, via CNBC: “The cavalry is coming but don’t put your weapons down. You better keep fighting, because they are not here yet. Help is on the way, but it isn’t here yet.

• Meanwhile, Gov. Newsom is in a bit of hot water after a report that he violated some of his own rules at a recent gathering. According to SFGate: “California Gov. Gavin Newsom reportedly violated his state’s COVID-19 guidelines by going to a birthday party in Napa with more than three households in attendance. The Chronicle reported that Newsom and his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom attended longtime adviser Jason Kinney's 50th birthday party at French Laundry in Yountville (Napa County) on Nov. 6, and there were over 12 guests in attendance.”

• Speaking of governors: Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced this afternoon that he has tested positive for the coronavirus. He’s currently asymptomatic, he said.

The Washington Post today posted a stunning story with this headline: “More than 130 Secret Service officers are said to be infected with coronavirus or quarantining in wake of Trump’s campaign travel.” That equates to about 10 percent of the agency’s core security team the newspaper said.

If you want to go to a concert next year, you may need to prove you’ve either received a coronavirus vaccine, or recently tested negative for SARS-CoV-2. According to Billboard magazine, Ticketmaster has a plan: “After purchasing a ticket for a concert, fans would need to verify that they have already been vaccinated (which would provide approximately one year of COVID-19 protection) or test negative for coronavirus approximately 24 to 72 hours prior to the concert. The length of coverage a test would provide would be governed by regional health authorities.”

• Related: The Golden State Warriors, who play in San Francisco, have devised a plan to allow fans to attend home games—and the model, if successful, could spread to other teams and sports. The San Jose Mercury News explains: “The team submitted its plan to state and local officials a week ago to reopen the new arena at 50 percent capacity. The proposal called for every spectator to undergo a COVID-19 test. Attendees would be required to show proof of a negative test taken within 48 hours upon entering the arena. The proposed system could cost the Warriors about $30 million, a team spokesman said.”

• President Trump today spoke publicly for the first time since media outlets called the presidential race for President-elect Joe Biden last weekend—and he sort of threatened to withhold the vaccine, when it’s first ready, from people in New York. According to NBC News, the president said: “’As soon as April the vaccine will be available to the entire general population, with the exception of places like New York State, where for political reasons the governor decided to say—and I don't think it's good politically, I think it’s very bad from a health standpoint—but he wants to take his time on the vaccine,’ Trump said. He was referring to comments (Gov. Andrew) Cuomo made in September, where he said he planned to have a panel of experts review a vaccine because he was concerned that Trump was trying to rush one out ahead of the presidential election.” For what it’s worth, Gov. Newsom has announced similar verification plans for California.

• As for that vaccine: Pfizer’s vaccine is likely to be the first one made available—and it needs to be shipped and stored at cold temperatures. Like, really cold: 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, to be exact. This causes problems, as Time magazine explains: “Those cold storage requirements are raising serious questions about who could get the Pfizer vaccine if it’s approved, and when. The reality, experts say, is that the Pfizer vaccine probably won’t be available to everyone, at least not right away. Large medical centers and urban centers are the most likely to have the resources necessary for ultra-cold storage. People without access to these facilities, such as those living in rural areas, nursing homes and developing nations, may have to wait for other vaccines working their way through the development pipeline.”

• Man, people are just terrible sometimes. According to ZDNet: “Microsoft says it detected three state-sponsored hacking operations (also known as APTs) that have launched cyber-attacks on at least seven prominent companies involved in COVID-19 vaccines research and treatments. Microsoft traced the attacks back to one threat actor in Russia and two North Korean hacking groups.”

• I was a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs Podcast, where I joined Dr. Laura Rush and hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr to talk about the mess in which the country finds itself. But it has funny parts, too! Check it out.

Voters rejected Prop 15, which would have increased commercial property taxes to, in part, help fund California’s schools with billions of dollars. So … what does this mean for the future of California’s schools? Our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent, take a look.

• A communication professor from Colorado State University, writing for The Conversation, examined Tweets sent out by the president and the president-elect—and examined their very different views on masculinity. Key quote: “The 2020 campaign gave voters an opportunity to compare and contrast how the two campaigns modeled gender roles differently. These differences not only reveal important insights about each campaign; they also shape the roles of ‘president’ and ‘vice president,’ making it more or less likely that, in the future, those offices can be held by someone other than a heterosexual white man.” 

• Finally, let’s end by looking at a shattered glass ceiling: The Miami Marlins today named Kim Ng as the team’s general manager. Not only is she the first woman to be a general manager for an MLB team; she’s the first female general manager in any of the four major North American sports leagues.

I could go on and on, but we’re at 1,500 words already, and that’s enough, I think. Everyone: Thank you for reading. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you’re able, as we need help to continue producing quality local journalism, available for free to everyone. Have a safe, sane weekend, everyone.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s horrifying that a lot of high-powered Republicans are—without any evidence whatsoever—making allegations of widespread election fraud.

However … these flailing attempts to mount a legal challenge to the election led to one of the most bonkers events in the history of this great nation—a hilarious event for which I will be forever grateful—and that’s what I’d like to discuss with you today.

By now, you’ve probably heard of Four Seasons Total Landscaping. If you somehow haven’t, strap yourself in, because we’re going on one hell of a ride.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping is the place in suburban Philadelphia where Rudy Giuliani and some other Trump representatives held a press conference on Saturday morning. Their goal was to garner publicity for their so-far baseless claims of election fraud. What they did, instead, was this:

• They caused a great deal of confusion about the venue. President Trump tweeted on Saturday: “Lawyers News Conference Four Seasons, Philadelphia, 11 a.m.” This understandably led people to assume the president meant the Four Seasons hotel. (Apparently, that’s where Trump initially thought the press conference was going to be held.) However, minutes later, he deleted that Tweet and clarified that the conference would actually be at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, as this absolutely must-read piece from The Philadelphia Inquirer explains.

• The confusion led the poor folks at the Four Seasons hotel to tweet out that, no, the press conference was NOT being held there. Meanwhile, speculation began running rampant that perhaps Trump’s team meant to book the hotel but instead booked the landscaping biz by accident; however, that aforementioned Inquirer piece makes it clear that the team booked Four Seasons Total Landscaping on purpose, so it would “take place in a section of Philadelphia where they might receive a more welcomed reception than at the raucous celebrations of Joe Biden’s victory going on in Center City.”

• As for that section of Philadelphia: It turns out that Four Seasons Total Landscaping’s neighbors include a sex-toy shop and a crematorium.

• Moments before Giuliani started speaking, the networks called the race for Joe Biden—something that Giuliani apparently didn’t know had happened. As the Daily Mail explains: “Taking a question from a reporter, the former New York City Mayor initially looked confused about ‘the call’ before asking, ‘Who was it called by?’ When he heard ‘all the networks’ had awarded Biden Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral college votes, he quickly regained his composure, taking on a sarcastic tone and looking around to his team saying ‘oh my goodness!’ He repeated that the Trump campaign would continue to fight the result as he said: ‘Networks don't get to decide elections, courts do.’” Courts do?!

• It was later revealed that one of Giuliani’s star witnesses of alleged fraud who spoke at the press conference is apparently a sex offender.

• In the aftermath of this press conference, Four Seasons Total Landscaping is milking it for all it’s worth—and selling merch!

• Buzzfeed has this interesting post-press conference tidbit: “Now, (Four Seasons Total Landscaping) exists in virtual reality—complete with weathered detailing and a last-minute Trump 2020 podium. And rejoicing furries.”

• If you don’t know furries are, um, well, uh, here’s a Wikipedia article.

• Finally, I want to yet again tip my hat to that Philadelphia Inquirer article, which reveals that the whole shebang apparently ticked off Four Seasons Total Landscaping’s neighbors. Key quote: “The 78-year-old employee manning the counter at the Fantasy Island sex shop, who declined to give his name, said the phone had been ringing off the hook since Saturday with callers asking: ‘Is Rudy Giuliani there?’”

God bless America.

Today’s news:

• The big—and very encouraging—news of the day: Pfizer announced that early analysis shows its vaccine appears to be more than 90 percent effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections. This could be a huge freaking deal.

• Related: CNBC looks at where all of the leading vaccine candidates stand as of now.

As the pandemic continues setting alarming records across the country, President-elect Joe Biden announced a 13-member coronavirus task force, to help his administration battle the pandemic once he takes office on Jan. 20.

At least three people who were at Trump’s Election Night party at the White House now have COVID-19, including Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development.

The head of the General Services Administration is so far refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect. What does this mean? According to NBC News: “More than 48 hours after media outlets projected that Joe Biden had defeated Trump to win the White House, GSA chief Emily Murphy has yet to sign the letter of ‘ascertainment’ a previously mostly noncontroversial process since the passage of the Presidential Transition Act of 1963. Signing that paperwork when a new president is elected triggers the release of millions of dollars in transition funding and allows an incoming administration access to current government officials.”

A huge spike in coronavirus cases in Utah has led the governor to, at long last, issue a mask mandate. According to The Washington Post: “In a video posted to Twitter late on Sunday—which Utah residents were alerted to watch via an emergency cellphone alert—(Gov. Gary) Herbert also declared a two-week state of emergency and announced a spate of other restrictions aimed to curb infections, which the governor noted are ‘growing at an alarming rate.’”

• Related-ish: Two experts tell MedPage Today that staffing and PPE shortages could haunt nursing homes as the pandemic rages through the winter.

President Trump today fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Key quote, from CNN: “Esper's firing has raised concerns that other top national security officials who have earned Trump's wrath may be next in the line of fire.”

Our partners at CalMatters point out that COVID-19 cases are starting to increase here in California, too.

• Also from CalMatters: Who could take Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ place in the U.S. Senate? Here are some possibilities.

What does the election of Joe Biden mean for the economy? An expert from Texas State University, writing for The Conversation, points out: “Historical data suggests that those who are concerned with the economy have reason to be fairly satisfied with the election results: The economy generally fares better under Democratic presidents.

Now this is a sad, horrifying headline, from NBC News: “Lawyers can't find the parents of 666 migrant kids, a higher number than previously reported.” Sigh.

• From the Independent: The year 2020 has been a year with a lot of death. Our Valerie-Jean (V.J.) Hume lost her husband to cancer earlier this year—and learned that grief can literally break someone’s heart. She tells the story of how she learned about the medical condition called broken heart syndrome—and how she’s now hopefully on the mend.

The final episode of Jeopardy! hosted by the late, great Alex Trebek will air on Christmas Day.

• Finally … a lot of people (myself included) were making fun of Nevada for its less-than-speedy ballot counting last week. Well, it’s now time to tip your hat to the Silver State—because voters there overwhelmingly made it the first state in the U.S. to protect same-sex marriage in its Constitution.

Happy Monday, everyone. Stay safe, and wear a mask when you’re around others, please. If you have the financial means to do so, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent to help continue to produce quality, independent local journalism. The Daily Digest will be back Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

Hi. My name is Jimmy, and I am here to remind you that while many of us are distracted as we watch for presidential-election results to come in, we’re still in the midst of a crippling pandemic.

A pandemic that’s worse than ever.

Consider:

More than 120,000 COVID-19 cases were reported in the U.S. yesterday—more than ever before. And that could be just the tip of the iceberg. As Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, told CNBC: “Remember 120,000 cases aren’t 120,000 cases. We’re probably, at best, diagnosing 1 in 5 cases right now, maybe a little bit less than that, so this is at least half a million cases a day, probably more in terms of actual numbers of infection.”

Hospitalizations are soaring in many communities in the U.S. According to CNN: “In the first five days of November—as the country has focused on elections—22 states reported at least one record-high day of Covid-19 hospitalizations, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project. The states are: Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.”

Meanwhile, somehow, N95 masks are in short supply again. Sigh.

• Are you a sports fan who was looking to the much-delayed start of the Pac-12 Conference football season? Well, as of now, two of the six Pac-12 games slated for this opening week have been cancelled due to COVID-19 cases. ESPN has the details.

While California is still doing MUCH better than most of the rest of the country, cases are starting to tick up here, too.

• In Europe, things are getting bad—and all of the minks in Denmark will be culled (translation: killed) “after a mutated form of coronavirus that can spread to humans was found on mink farms,” according to BBC News. Yikes.

• Finally, even if you have been distracted from the pandemic by all of the political coverage … if you watch MSNBC, you won’t be watching Rachel Maddow this evening—because she’s quarantining after being in close contact with someone who has tested positive. (She has tested negative so far.)

I could go on and on and on with the bleak COVID-19 news, but you get the point: We’re in the thick of it, folks, as a nation and as a planet.

We need your support to keep doing what we do here at the Independent, so please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have a few bucks to spare.

More of today’s news:

• Related to all of the above: Counties with the worst coronavirus surges voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. You may draw your own conclusions.

Should people be paid to take the COVID-19 vaccine? Some experts say that such a move would lead to a greater societal good, according to MedPage Today.

A “nontoxic and stable” nasal spray blocked ferrets from getting the coronavirus, according to a small study released yesterday. The New York Times talked to experts about what this may or may not mean.

• Here’s an infuriating headline, compliments of NPR: “CDC Report: Officials Knew Coronavirus Test Was Flawed But Released It Anyway.” Ugh. Key quote: “The lab designed and built the diagnostic test in record time, and the little vials that contained necessary reagents to identify the virus were boxed up and ready to go. But NPR has learned the results of that final quality control test suggested something troubling — it said the kit could fail 33% of the time.”

• Back to politics: Early in the morning on Wednesday, the president said he’d have the U.S. Supreme Court intervene in the election if he felt the need. However, could that actually happen? Both Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute and a University of Memphis law professor say it’s unlikely.

• Some history has been made in L.A.: After this election, the entire Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will be female. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-11-04/l-a-county-makes-history-with-all-female-board-of-supervisors

Some 4.3 million (!) ballots have yet to be counted in California. What could this mean for the various ballot measures? Our partners at CalMatters explain.

• Will hurricane season ever end? After devastating Nicaragua, Hurricane Eta appears to be heading toward Florida.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald talks to some of the people behind new nonprofit Palm to Pines Parasports, the goal of which is to enrich the lives of disabled Riverside County residents via athletics. Key quote, from founder Michael Rosenkrantz: “The idea is that we use sports as an entry point to leading a full life. So we want to create a lot of sports opportunities to get people with physical disabilities more active, both physically and emotionally.”

• Because why the heck not, our beer columnist looks at the weird and wild history of the “40,” aka a large bottle of malt liquor—and it is fascinating. Key quote: “Years later, in the ’60s, the 40-ounce bottle seems to have made its debut. Beer was often sold in quarts (32 ounces) and even half-gallon (64 ounces) sizes for the purpose of serving at parties—but as weird as 40 ounces sounds as a package, it’s simply a 25 percent increase from the quart. It was meant to allow the purchaser to save money while serving ‘friends’ at a soirée (presumably ‘friends’ the purchaser disliked). It was often sold based on its resemblance to champagne.”

• Finally, while I think Buzzfeed listacles are one of the key reasons for the downfall of our society, I feel compelled to share this one, titled “21 Tweets About MSNBC's Steve Kornacki Because He's The Internet's New Hero.”

That’s enough for the week. Stay safe, everyone—and as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s Friday, Oct. 23. The election is 11 days away. COVID-19 is setting alarming records across the United States. Interesting times, these.

Let’s get right to the news:

• A new study out of Columbia University says that between 130,000 and 210,000 deaths from COVID-19 could have been prevented with a better response by the federal government. Key quote from the study, via CNN: “Even with the dramatic recent appearance of new COVID-19 waves globally, the abject failures of U.S. government policies and crisis messaging persist. U.S. fatalities have remained disproportionately high throughout the pandemic when compared to even other high-mortality countries.”

• Related: Today was the worst day of the pandemic in the U.S., as far as coronavirus cases are concerned, with nearly 80,000 new cases reported nationwide. The New York Times is calling it the third surge.

• However, California, thank goodness, is the exception to the rule, as cases in the state overall are NOT surging. As a result, as our partners at CalMatters point out, the state government is receiving praise for its handling of the epidemic: “California ‘holds a lesson for all of us,’ Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, recently tweeted, praising ‘strong leadership’ from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s health and human services chief, Dr. Mark Ghaly. Jha credited the state’s ‘huge boost’ in testing and county-by-county ‘micro-targeting’ as ‘smart policies’ that have helped control the virus. California has averaged nearly 124,000 COVID-19 tests each day for the past two weeks.”

The Palm Springs District 4 City Council race has gotten rather ugly, with some online trolls saying horribly sexist things about incumbent Christy Holstege—and accusing her of lying about her sexuality. As a result, three LGBTQ groups have issued a joint statement condemning the attacks. Read that statement here.

Our partners at CalMatters examine possible reasons why Proposition 16, the affirmative-action ballot measure, may go down in defeat, if recent polls are correct—despite a number of high-profile endorsements. Spoiler alert: Voters find the concept of affirmative action to be confusing, apparently.

Remdesivir has become the first COVID-19 treatment to receive full FDA approval. (It had previously received emergency authorization from the FDA for use.) Of course, because this is 2020, the approval came right as a new study showed that the drug does not seem effective at preventing deaths.

Uber and Lyft suffered a big loss in court yesterday. Per NBC News: “A California state appellate court on Thursday upheld a lower court’s ruling that there was an ‘overwhelming likelihood’ Uber and Lyft had misclassified their drivers as contractors rather than employees in violation of a landmark state law.” However, because of holds and likely appeals, nothing will change for now—and, of course, Prop 22 could REALLY change things.

The Washington Post offers up this update on the confirmation fight over Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Despite the squabbling, it’s likely she will be installed on the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as Monday.

An expert in nonverbal communication, writing for The Conversation, watched the presidential debate last night. Click here to read his rather fascinating observations.

The CDC is planning on using an app to keep tabs on the safety of people who receive COVID-19 vaccine(s), if and when it/they is/are ready. CNN Reports: “Through V-SAFE, which stands for ‘vaccine safety assessment for essential workers,’ health checks can be conducted via text messages and email daily in the first week after a person receives the vaccine and then weekly thereafter for six weeks, according to the CDC’s website.”

• The Washington Post delivers encouraging news about the Moderna vaccine trial: The full number of participants have enrolled, and those participants are fairly diverse: “The coronavirus vaccine trials have been closely watched to ensure they reflect the diversity of the U.S. population at a minimum, and Moderna’s enrollment was slowed in September to recruit more minorities. A fifth of the participants are Hispanic and 10 percent are Black, according to data released by the company. People over 65, a population also at high risk for coronavirus, make up 25 percent of the study population.” 

• Also from The Washington Post: The newspaper followed up a bit on The New York Times’ reporting on the president’s finances—specifically the fact that Trump has a LOT of debt coming due, which leads to a whole lot of conflict-of-interest and even national-security concerns: “In the next four years, Trump faces payment deadlines for more than $400 million in loans—just as the pandemic robs his businesses of customers and income, according to a Washington Post analysis of Trump’s finances. The bills coming due include loans on his Chicago hotel, his D.C. hotel and his Doral resort, all hit by a double whammy: Trump’s political career slowed their business, then the pandemic ground it down much further.” 

One more thing from the Post: Less than two weeks before Election Day, “President Trump this week fired his biggest broadside yet against the federal bureaucracy by issuing an executive order that would remove job security from an estimated tens of thousands of civil servants and dramatically remake the government.” Wow.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: “A controversial new law that takes effect next year will dismantle the state’s current juvenile justice system and transfer responsibility for convicted youth back to counties.” Even advocates of the plan, which is being pushed by Gov. Newsom, admit it has problems.

Well this is a horrifying headline from NBC News: “Minnesota AG investigates company accused of recruiting armed guards for Election Day.”

• Finally, I returned as a guest to this week’s I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, where I chatted with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr about drama in downtown Palm Springs, our November print edition, Taco Bell’s unforgivable elimination of the Mexican pizza, and more.

Have a safe, sane weekend, everyone. Please, if you can afford it, consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent; all the news we do is free—but it costs a lot of produce, publish and distribute. The Daily Digest will return next week.

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I received some interesting reader responses to yesterday’s news that Riverside County was being demoted from the red, “Substantial” COVID-19 tier to the purple, “Widespread” tier. Here are three of those responses, slightly edited for style:


Gyms don’t make people sick; shitty food does, though. The fact that fast-food joints and cannabis shops are considered ESSENTIAL IS LUDICROUS. California invented the entire “fitness industry” and now they’re trying to destroy it. Why has no one in a position of leadership made any statement whatsoever about staying in shape and eating healthy—the most important things you can do?! Instead, people are told to stay home, order pizza and get fat.


I understand why you’re bummed about businesses closing—we all are. But you should point out there’s one person to blame for all of this: Trump. If he had properly led from the beginning and made sure everyone was on the same page with mask-wearing (after Fauci learned its importance), I believe most businesses would be open.

Business owners are venting at our responsible governor when he’s done everything he can to slow the spread. You can use this analogy with your readers: Trump is the divorced dad who has his kids on the weekend and never says no to them—including underage alcohol parties, wild sex and “screw the neighbors.” Newsom is the mom who has to be responsible in guiding her kids to make the right choices so they won’t harm themselves and succeed in life and don’t turn out to be delinquents.

“Dad” Trump will be gone after Jan. 21 while “mom” Newsom will be around at least until the next election, faced with cleaning up after the “dad’s” mess.


You said: “To those of you who look at this information and shout, ‘Lives are more important than businesses!’ You need to realize that lives and businesses are inextricably intertwined. Business are life-long dreams, sources of income, sanity-maintaining distractions and so much more, to so many people.” THANK YOU FOR UNDERSTANDING THIS! So many of us small business owners feel unheard and left behind.


If you value the journalism that the Independent provides—for free, both online and in print—please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Any amount of support helps us keep the figurative lights on; click here for more details. Thank you for reading.

News from the day:

• Example No. 244,851 of the importance of local journalism: The FBI raided the Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation as part of an investigation yesterday; you can read the San Diego Union-Tribune’s coverage of the raid here. The nonprofit medical provider—which has multiple locations in the Coachella Valley—started off in Borrego Springs, a small town in San Diego County south of Palm Desert and west of the Salton Sea, before expanding to become a behemoth provider in San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. So … what does this have to do with local journalism? The look into potential wrongdoing at Borrego appears to have started months ago, at the tiny Borrego Sun newspaper, which has a special page dedicated to its Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation coverage here. Props to the Borrego Sun for its work.

• An update on those shady ballot boxes put out by the California Republican Party, from the Los Angeles Times: “A Sacramento judge refused Wednesday to order the California Republican Party to disclose information about its ballot drop box program to state officials, rejecting an argument by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra that the investigation was essential to ensuring ballots are being properly handled. The decision by Judge David Brown does not prevent Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla from returning to court over the matter but marks a significant victory for GOP officials who have insisted their ballot collection campaign is following state election law.

• President Trump sat down for an interview with 60 Minutes yesterday—and it apparently did not go well. According to CNN: “Trump walked out of the interview because he was frustrated with (Lesley) Stahl's line of questioning, one source said. Another person said the bulk of the interview was focused on coronavirus. On Wednesday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said there is a ‘high probability’ that the President will release footage of the interview before it airs Sunday, and accused Stahl of acting ‘more like an opinion journalist.’” Sigh.

The pope has come out in favor of civil unions for same-sex couples. According to The Washington Post: “Francis’s comment does nothing to alter Catholic doctrine, but it nonetheless represents a remarkable shift for a church that has fought against LGBT legal rights—with past popes calling same-sex unions inadmissible and deviant. Francis’s statement is also notable within a papacy that on the whole hasn’t been as revolutionary as progressives had hoped and conservatives had feared.

• And now we get to the portion of the Daily Digest where we say something positive about the president. Yes, really. The Washington Post ran a fascinating piece today discussing how truly, honestly close we apparently are to having a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Key quote: “‘Going from where we were in January and February—where we are going to be hit by this tsunami—to very likely having a vaccine, or more than one vaccine, that is proven safe and effective within a year, is staggeringly impressive, and would only have happened with strong and effective federal action,’ said Robert Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. Wachter has strongly criticized the administration’s response to the pandemic, arguing it has cost tens of thousands of lives. But he called the vaccine effort ‘nearly flawless’ so far—words he said he found difficult to say.”

• Our partners at CalMatters are reporting that Gov. Gavin Newsom is about to get sued by environmental-group Center for Biological Diversity, because he continues to allow fracking permits. Key quote: “(Kassie) Siegel said the permits are ‘illegal’ and fail to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The Center for Biological Diversity warned Newsom on Sept. 21 of their intent to sue if his administration continued to issue fracking permits.

The Conversation takes a look at violence taking place against female political leaders—with male lawmakers often the perpetrators. Key quote: “On Sept. 24, House Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Jackie Speier introduced a resolution–a largely symbolic congressional statement that carries no legal weight but provides moral support on certain issues–recognizing violence against women in politics as a global phenomenon. House Resolution 1151, which is currently under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, calls on the government to take steps to mitigate this violence in the United States and abroad.”

• Speaking of violence in politics: Some voters in Alaska and Florida have received emails threatening them to vote for Trump, “or we will come after you.” Some of the emails say they were sent by the Proud Boys, but NPR reports that seems unlikely, and the group is denying involvement—and in fact, NBC News says the FBI thinks Iran may be involved.

• The good news: NPR looks at increasing evidence that COVID-19 death rates are going down because medical professionals have gotten a lot better at treating the disease:Two new peer-reviewed studies are showing a sharp drop in mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drop is seen in all groups, including older patients and those with underlying conditions, suggesting that physicians are getting better at helping patients survive their illness.

• The bad: There’s yet more evidence that the pandemic is taking more lives than those included in the official death counts for COVID-19. According to the CDC: “Overall, an estimated 299,028 excess deaths occurred from late January through October 3, 2020, with 198,081 (66%) excess deaths attributed to COVID-19. The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25–44 years and among Hispanic or Latino persons.”

• More CDC-related news: The agency has released new guidance on what, exactly, it means to be in “close contact” with someone who has COVID-19. According to the Washington Post: “The CDC had previously defined a ‘close contact’ as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case. The updated guidance, which health departments rely on to conduct contact tracing, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, according to a CDC statement Wednesday.

If a voter shows up to a polling place without a mask on Election Day, they will not be turned away, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Do you subscribe to Quibi? No? Neither do I—and therefore it’s no surprise that the streaming service announced it was shutting down today, even though backers had raised $1.75 billion (!) to launch the company.

• And now for some happier, local entertainment news, from the Independent: “There has been almost no programming from the Coachella Valley’s theater companies since the pandemic arrived and ruined everything in March—with one notable exception: CVRep, and its Theatre Thursday virtual shows. And if the California Department of Public Health gives the OK, CVRep—in conjunction with Cathedral City—could become the first local theater company to bring live productions back to the Coachella Valley, starting in December.” Read what CVRep’s Ron Celona had to say here.

• And finally … I am sorry to put this mental picture in your head, but it appears Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character caught Rudy Giuliani doing something less than appropriate: “In the film, (slated to be) released on Friday (Oct. 23), the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist.”

Again, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

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