CVIndependent

Fri10302020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Jimmy Boegle

Palm Springs Pride has played an important role in the Independent’s history.

The 18th story published at CVIndependent.com, eight years ago now, was a brief photo piece about the 2012 festival—published when the website was still in beta, and we were more concerned about having content to build the site around than people actually seeing what we produced.

The 2013 festival was the first major event at which the Independent had a presence. We gave out logo reusable grocery bags—along with copies of our first Pride Issue, which was our fourth print edition overall.

In the years since, the Independent has had a booth at every Palm Springs Pride festival, as the celebration moved from Palm Springs Stadium, to the streets of downtown Palm Springs, to that odd area sort of in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum, back to the streets of downtown Palm Springs. We’ve given out logo frisbees, refrigerator magnets, fidget spinners, chip-bag clips, Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week shot glasses, and thousands of copies of each year’s Pride Issue.

This year, however, that won’t be happening. While both Palm Springs Pride, largely in a virtual format, and our annual Pride Issue are still here, we can’t currently gather because of this damned pandemic.

Sigh.

It’s often said that change is the only constant in life, and a lot of things have certainly changed in 2020—and who knows what the last two months of this year will bring?

I do know that the end of 2020 will be bringing some exciting changes to the Independent. I’m proud to announce that in mid-December, if all goes according to plan, we’ll be launching a brand-new, state-of-the-art, beautiful website. We’ll also be making some design tweaks to the print edition, starting with the January 2021 edition.

But before all of that happens, we’ll be announcing our amazing slate of Best of Coachella Valley winners—online on Monday, Nov. 23, and in our December print edition. But again, there will be change there as well: We can’t have our winners’ party like we always have in the past, so we’re looking at doing either a virtual celebration or perhaps a drive-in party. Watch for details on that as we figure them out.

While we here at the Independent are certainly embracing change, I really hope that in November 2021, we’re all back on Palm Canyon Drive for the Palm Springs Pride festival, gathering joyously like before.

As always, thanks for reading—and be sure to pick up our November 2020 print edition, our special Pride Issue.

In this space back on April 2, I was feeling sad, in part due to the fact that—other than bad ’80s music—most of my normal coping mechanisms were gone due to the lockdown:

On days like this during “normal” times, there are a handful of things I know I can do to get my head into a happier, more-productive frame of mind. Watching or listening to baseball, for example. A quick dip in the apartment hot tub helps. For some reason, a quick Aldi run does the trick. Yes, I am weird: Grocery shopping normally clears my head.

But … there’s no baseball. The apartment hot tub is closed, per state orders. And grocery shopping is daunting these days, and should only be done when absolutely necessary.

Today, as October prepares to make way for November, the apartment complex’s hot tub is open again. Grocery-store runs are less daunting (with plenty of toilet paper and hand sanitizer!). And then there’s baseball: If you’d have told me on back on April 2 that on Oct. 28, I’d be celebrating my Los Angeles Dodgers’ first World Series win since 1988, I’d have been euphoric—because at that point, I didn’t think there would be a 2020 baseball season at all.

This brings us to the nauseating peculiarities of last night’s World Series Game 6, during which the Dodgers won their elusive championship.

At the beginning of the eighth inning, the Dodgers’ star third baseman, Justin Turner, was mysteriously removed from the game; the announcers speculated that he may have suffered some sort of injury. Fortunately, Turner’s absence didn’t cost the Dodgers; they went on to win, 3-1, clinching the series, four games to two.

I stood in my living room, close to tears, as I watched it all unfold. I was so grateful that we got baseball this year. And I was elated that my team had won it all, after years of near misses, for the first time since my middle school years.

And then came the announcement: Justin Turner had been removed from the game because he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

Had the Rays won that game, there almost certainly would not have been a deciding Game 7 tonight; it would have been postponed, like so many other sports contests have been postponed as this virus continues to spread. If other players subsequently tested positive—as of this writing, no other positive tests have been announced, thank goodness—it’s possible Game 7 could have been delayed for up to a week, and possibly even cancelled.

To make matters even crazier, Turner decided to leave the area to which he’d been quarantined to join his teammates on the field during the latter portion of the post-game celebration. And it’s since been revealed that Turner was allowed to stay in the game after the league learned, apparently during the second inning, that Turner had received an “inconclusive” test result. According to league protocols, he should have been removed from the game right then and there.

In other words, even though baseball made it through the season, it barely did so—with plenty of questionable behavior all around. In typical 2020 fashion, we can’t even have a dramatic World Series win without a depressing subplot.

In terms of dealing with this damned pandemic, we’ve come a long way. But the full story of the World Series shows how far we’ve yet to go.

Today’s news:

Health-care workers at 11 Tenet-operated hospitals in California—including Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, JFK Memorial in Indio, and the High Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree—have voted to strike sometime soon. These members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West say Tenet is not doing enough to keep both workers and patients safe during the pandemic. Read the strike announcement here; for more on the concerns the workers have, read the Independent’s coverage here.

Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and largely rural points eastward.) Our numbers here remain so-so: Cases are trending up slightly, while our weekly case-positivity rate remains OK (5.2 percent). Hospitalizations are also steady. (Ignore the weird Oct. 25 ICU spike; that didn’t actually happen and had to do with a data glitch.) Worst of all, five of our neighbors died from COVID-19 during the week ending Oct. 25.

• Related: COVID-19 is now the No. 3 cause of death in Riverside County, behind heart disease and cancer—and it continues to disproportionately kill Black and Latino residents, according to county Director of Public Health Kim Saruwatari. Key quote, from the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “Saruwatari also addressed the assertion by many pandemic skeptics that COVID-19 deaths are being inflated. ‘When we look at 2019 compared to 2020, cancer and heart disease, our leading causes of death, have increased in 2020, as did COVID,’ Saruwatari said. ‘So it’s not that we are detracting from our other leading causes of death and adding to COVID. We are seeing a true increase in death due to COVID.’

A statewide moratorium on water-service shutoffs remains in effect, to make sure people who can’t pay their water bills due to the economic downturn don’t lose this vital utility. The Independent’s Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to two of the largest valley water agencies regarding how the moratorium is affecting their finances; learn what they had to say here.

• Remember that anonymously written op-ed that appeared in The New York Times back in 2018, in which a senior official in the Trump administration claimed a lot of White House employees were working hard to counter the president’s “misguided impulses”? Well, the author revealed himself today—and it’s Miles Taylor, a former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security. Who in the heck is Miles Taylor, you ask? The Los Angeles Times explains.

• So … why in the world did the president and other members of his administration spill the beans so extensively to Bob Woodward, of all people, earlier this year? The latest stunner to come out of those conversations came out of the mouth of Jared Kushner, per CNN: “In a taped interview on April 18, Kushner told legendary journalist Bob Woodward that Trump was ‘getting the country back from the doctors’ in what he called a ‘negotiated settlement.’ Kushner also proclaimed that the US was moving swiftly through the ‘panic phase’ and ‘pain phase’ of the pandemic and that the country was at the ‘beginning of the comeback phase.’” What?! 

• Cases in Europe are surging—and governments there are locking down again. However, at least in Germany, there’s a key difference compared to what’s happening here, per The New York Times: “(German Chancellor Angela) Merkel conceded that the restrictions are ‘burdensome’ for a public that has grown increasingly weary of—and rebellious toward—limitations. But she stressed that they were necessary. German hospitals have seen the number of patients double in the past 10 days. The government will compensate small and midsize businesses affected by the monthlong closures with up to 75 percent of losses, the chancellor said. Financial aid for affected business will be worth up to 10 billion euros.”

• Related: The former commissioner of the FDA says the U.S. is about three weeks behind Europe in terms of the coronavirus surge. Key quote, from CNBC: “‘The density of the epidemic underway in European countries like France, Italy and the U.K. right now far exceeds what’s under way in the United States,’ he said. ‘For the most part, it’s a little bad everywhere in the United States. It’s not really, really bad anywhere with the exception of maybe Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Utah.’” Gulp.

• From The Conversation: Donald Trump’s support among evangelicals is beginning to slip … but just a little. Key quote: “What appears to have changed of late is that some politically conservative evangelicals—those who prioritize abortion restrictions, opposition to same-sex marriage and religious freedom—agree less than they did in 2016 that Trump deserves their vote. While President Trump may not be ‘pastor-in-chief,’ many evangelical leaders are reminding their fellow Christians that they should not view the office of president as somehow exempt from what they perceive as biblical standards of leadership.

A recent Axios-Ipsos poll shows that most Americans are taking the pandemic seriously, and exercising necessary precautions. Key quote: “A majority of Americans remain extremely or very concerned about the coronavirus, and about the possibility of cases rising in their area this fall and winter. However, there continues to be a significant difference in levels of concern by party affiliation.

• And finally: While things in many ways are terrible right now, at least we have this re-creation of that Access Hollywood interview of Trump by Billy Bush, compliments of Sarah Cooper and Helen Mirren.

As always, thanks for reading. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you’re able; advertising remains way down due to the pandemic, so we’re depending on reader support more than ever before. Be safe, please; the Daily Digest will return Friday.

Happy (?) Monday, everyone.

If you have not yet voted in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll … well, now’s your last chance. Voting is slated to end tonight (Monday night). However, I know a lot of you don’t read the Daily Digest until the morning after we send it—so we’re going to extend voting until noon on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Unlike the other publications’ reader polls, we only ask each reader to vote once. That’s because unlike, say, that desperate daily’s poll, the goal of our Best of Coachella Valley poll is not to boost our web traffic; our goal is to get a strong, comprehensive slate of winners and finalists.

Thanks to all of you who already have voted! And for those of you who haven’t, click here!

Today’s news:

• The wind that’s wreaked minor havoc here in the last 24 hours is helping fuel a nasty wildfire in Orange County that, as of this writing, has forced 60,000 people to evacuate in Irvine. Two firefighters have also been badly injured, according to the Los Angeles Times: “The firefighters, 26 and 31, were both intubated after one of them suffered second and third degree burns over 65% of their body and the other suffered burns over 50% of their body.

The winds plus fire dangers have caused PG&E to cut power to 361,000 Northern Californians.

• By the time you read this, there’s a very good chance that Amy Coney Barrett will have been confirmed as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

NASA announced today that there is now definitive evidence that there’s water on the moon. The Washington Post explains one reason why this matters: “Moon water has been eyed as a potential resource by NASA, which created a program named Artemis in 2019 to send American astronauts back to the moon this decade. Launching water to space costs thousands of dollars per gallon. Future explorers may be able to use lunar water not only to quench their own thirst but to refuel their rockets.”

I recently spoke with Mike Thompson, the CEO of the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, about the construction currently under way at the Center’s building—which has been closed since March because of, well, you know. We also discussed what changes COVID-19 will lead to when the Center reopens—and Thompson teased possible expansion plans, but wouldn’t spill the beans. Key quote: “I was on (a virtual Center program) last week with a small group of people, and one of the gentlemen was older, and he said, ‘I’ve been able to do more since the pandemic than I was prior, because my physical condition just didn’t allow me to do so many things. Now, I feel more connected than I did before, because I can sit in on a new number of things virtually.’ So I think we have to be mindful that ‘connection’ means different things to different people.” 

• Now THIS is a 2020 news-story lede: “Eight days out from a presidential election, the president of Fox News and key members of the network’s election team have been told to quarantine after they were exposed to someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. … The infected person was on a flight chartered to transport Fox News employees returning to New York from the Thursday night presidential debate in Nashville. The person tested negative before departing Nashville and positive after returning.

• We’ve linked to stories that basically say the same thing before, and I am pretty sure we’ll link to stories that basically say the same thing again … and if you want to be really horrified, read to the end of this quote, from MedPage Today: “If 95% of people in the U.S. wore masks, about 130,000 fewer Americans would die through February 2021 compared to current reference data, reported the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) COVID-19 Forecasting Team, based at the University of Washington in Seattle. At 85% adherence, almost 96,000 lives could be saved in the U.S., the authors wrote in Nature Medicine. Otherwise, the model projects a cumulative death toll of about 511,000 people in the U.S. by the end of February.” Sigh.

• The White House chief of staff made a remark over the weekend that raised a LOT of eyebrows—because it implied that the Trump administration is, more or less, conceding the battle against the virus’ spread. According to CNN: “White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday that the US is ‘not going to control’ the coronavirus pandemic, as cases surge across the country and nearly 225,000 Americans have died from the virus. ‘We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas,’ Meadows told CNN's Jake Tapper on State of the Union.

• An immunologist, writing for The Conversation, explains one of the reasons why COVID-19 can be so deadly: It appears that in some people, the disease causes their immune systems to turn against them: “Of great concern has been the sporadic identification of so-called autoreactive antibodies that, instead of targeting disease causing microbes, target the tissues of individuals suffering from severe cases of COVID-19.

• Wait … COVID-19 causes HAIR LOSS in some people?! Yep, according to NBC News.

Our partners at CalMatters took a look at some of those glossy mailers we’re all being inundated with … and discovers, surprise surprise, that they’re often rather deceptive.

• The New York Times published a powerful piece on Charles Adams, a Black police officer and football coach in Minneapolis—who feared for both his life and the lives of his students when protests broke out there following the death of George Floyd. Key quote: “He was a 20-year veteran of the police force, an African-American officer who tried to effect change from the inside. He was also the coach of a state championship football team in a poor, Black neighborhood, and a steadfast shepherd for his players. As the sky darkened, he feared for them. Where were they? Were they safe? He feared for himself. His uniform made him a target. The face shield and gas mask hid his identity from the angry crowds, obscuring the beloved figure he has been across large swaths of the city.”

• Well, this is depressing: Buzzfeed talks to some health-care workers who were forced to turn to online sex work to make ends meet after SARS-CoV-2 arrived: “Stories of young women paying their way through school with sex work are nothing new, but in the seven months since the WHO declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic, online sex work—often left out of discussions of ride-hailing and food delivery apps—has become an increasingly mainstream facet of the gig economy, and people like Clara (who lost work at a university hospital as a patient care assistant) say the risks are worth it to keep themselves afloat.”

And finally … vandalism of campaign signs is a common occurrence across the country, alas. But Florida—of COURSE it’s Florida—takes things to a whole new level: NBC News reports that a man named James Blight decided to commandeer a backhoe to attack Biden-Harris signs. Key quote: “’Blight told police that he had been drinking whiskey all day and did not remember most of the day,’ (Haines City Police Public Information Officer Mike) Ferguson wrote. ‘He said that he couldn’t help but hit the Joe Biden signs and acknowledged to taking down a fence in the process. Blight said he did not know how to operate the equipment.’”

Try to have a good week, everyone—but expect craziness, because, well, it’s eight days before Election Day, and it’s 2020. The Daily Digest will be back Wednesday—and please help us out, if you can, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, because, well, we have bills to pay, and we give out our content for free, because that’s how we roll. As always, thanks for reading.

In November 2016, Mike Thompson, the CEO of the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, joined his staff and the organization’s board of directors to officially welcome the public to the Center’s new home—the McDonald/Wright Building, located at 1301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.

“The Center has a big vision to truly be a community center for LGBT people living in the Coachella Valley,” Thompson told the Independent in 2015, when the purchase of the building on behalf of the Center, by John McDonald and Rob Wright, was announced. “We’ve already outgrown the space we’re in.”

In the years that followed, the Center and its supporters spent millions of dollars turning the building into a true community hub for the Coachella Valley’s LGBTQ residents—so much so that the Center needed to recently embark on more construction, to expand the usable spaces within the building.

Then came COVID-19. Four years after that triumphant ribbon-cutting, the Center’s doors have now been closed to the public for more than seven months.

I recently spoke to Thompson about the sudden and shocking conversion he and his staff had to make from operating a physical community center, to running a largely virtual, online community center. We also talked about the building’s ongoing construction; preparations to eventually reopen; and the Center’s efforts to bolster its offerings to LGBTQ residents valley-wide—especially in the eastern Coachella Valley.

The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert has put a lot of time and effort, justifiably so, into this big, beautiful building. However, since March, you’ve had this big, beautiful building that people can’t go into. Talk to me about the task of taking the Center from physical to virtual.

We like to say that while our doors are closed, our hearts are open. We understand that we have a responsibility in caring for our community, and we will be slow in reopening our physical doors. So we’re taking this time when our doors are closed to prepare the space for when it can be reopened.

What does that actually mean? We’re fitting all our community rooms to be able to accommodate both in-person participants and virtual participants. In every community room, there will be two monitors. One monitor is on the facilitator, and then other is projecting back the in-person participants. So anyone that joins remotely can feel that he, she or they is part of the physical space.

We’re reallocating how the space is used, because we are moving our Behavioral Health Clinic from 750 square feet to 2,800 square feet on our second floor. It’s going from four therapy offices to 10 therapy offices, plus two group-therapy spaces. That frees up a space on our third floor that will be a conference room. … We found ourselves competing with our own programming for space use, because everybody was using the Center—which is what it was designed for. … We’re making sure we’re able to accommodate people, both in person and virtually, because we know when we do reopen, there will be reduced capacity.

We’re undergoing an extensive construction project where people couldn’t even access the building if they wanted to. So, actually, if there’s any silver lining in this downtime, it’s that it has allowed us to really focus on all the construction without the interference of risking the safety of our staff or guests with our doors being open.

How much of this was planned before COVID, and how much of this has been planned since COVID?

The entire reconstruction was planned pre-COVID. In fact, we were beginning about the time that the shutdown began. Now, how we plan for the future—that’s all a result of COVID. We’re putting UV lighting in our (heating and cooling) system, to make sure the air that is circulated through the Center is as clean and healthy as possible, so that when people come here, their risk is mitigated. We’re trying to eliminate as many touchpoints as possible. Urinals and water fountains—all that stuff is going to be new and touchless. We’re even going to a QR code. … When you come in, you scan your QR code that lets us know that you’re here, but only after you’ve come up to a body-temperature kiosk.

So, let’s say you want to come to this Eisenhower presentation on a Wednesday night (after we reopen). We’re only going to let X number of people into the space, so we’ll ask you to go online and fill out a form; it will reserve your spot. Once we’ve identified that the physical spaces are allocated, we’ll then direct people to sign up for the virtual participation. … So, after people come in and use their QR code, if something were to happen during your time here, we can now track everybody that’s been here during a particular time of day.

So that could be used for COVID-19 contact tracing, for example?

Exactly.

When do you anticipate the construction being completed?

We’re saying the end of January, but actually, in the second-floor clinic, they’re painting the baseboards, so the second-floor project is almost done. … New elevators are going in at the beginning of the year as well.

Let’s say Feb. 1 is the date that construction is done. Do you anticipate being able to open your doors by then? I know I’m asking you to predict the future.

Given that the majority of our members and clients are in groups that are most vulnerable (to COVID-19), we want to make sure that we’re not too quick out of the gate. We’re going to follow our health-care professionals and city officials about when they believe it is safe to reopen. … We talk about how there’s our physical well-being that we need to care for—and follow protocols and precautions—and then there’s also our mental health and well-being. What’s the balance? How do we meaningfully create opportunities for people to connect?

Do you worry that the formalities—the temperature-check kiosk, the QR codes, the distancing, the fact that fewer people might be able to come to the Center for that Eisenhower lecture on a Wednesday night—could hinder the “community” part of the community center?

I hope not. I’m encouraged because on these virtual programs that we have going, people are able to join us from any number of places. We’ve got people from Seattle, and Chicago, and Wisconsin, and Northern California who are joining. I was on one last week with a small group of people, and one of the gentlemen was older, and he said, “I’ve been able to do more since the pandemic than I was prior, because my physical condition just didn’t allow me to do so many things. Now, I feel more connected than I did before, because I can sit in on a new number of things virtually.” So I think we have to be mindful that “connection” means different things to different people.

So how do we create the most meaningful opportunities possible? The thing that I’ve heard people miss the most is the monthly Center Social. … You can’t re-create that virtually. I don’t know that there is a replacement for that.

Let’s talk about the financial aspect of this. Your two big fundraising events this year, Red Dress/Dress Red and Center Stage, have been cancelled. First, are they going to come back? Are they going to be different? Second, talk about the financial impact the cancellations have had.

The only event that we are going to do virtually is our Wreath Auction. We didn’t want to do Center Stage in a virtual format, because we wanted to maintain the integrity of that event for when we bring it back. Certainly, we want to do the same with the Red Dress Party, because you can’t replicate that in a different format. … So rather than think about events in the short term, we’re focusing on individual philanthropy. We’ve got a broad and deep donor base, and the majority of our fundraising right now is all targeted individual fundraising. We’ve got our Ocotillo Club, which is our annual and monthly sustaining donor group. They have been consistently generous and faithful, which has been great. In fact, we’ve had a number of new Ocotillo Club donors step in. We’ve also had Ocotillo Club donors increase their level of giving because they had the capacity to do so.

As a community center, we wanted to be really careful. We’ve not publicly had our hand out since the pandemic, because we wanted to make sure that people feel safe and secure first. Now we will be asking for money at points along the way, but we’re going to be doing it differently. Certainly, programs like our Community Food Bank have gotten a big increase in support, (and we’ve gotten) gifts targeted or earmarked for our Behavioral Health Clinic, because those are two things that people know there’s a demand for during this time.

So financially, the Center is doing OK?

We’re in a good, stable place. Even with this construction project, it was paid for before we even started the project. I don’t feel vulnerable at this point. We don’t know what the future is going to hold, but today, I’m comfortable with the decisions that we’ve made, how we’re doing fundraising, and how the community responded.

Tell me about some of the lessons you’ve learned from this pandemic, and how those lessons might lead to better things in the future.

We have said all along that our work has to be relationship-focused … and we’re constantly reminding each other that nobody’s more important than the person in front of us right now. We made a format change in our weekly newsletter; we’re looking at that as an opportunity to engage people just by the questions that we’re asking. At one point early in the pandemic, we were asking people: Do they have access to food? If they said no, then we made sure that they became a client at our Food Bank if they could benefit from that. If they needed people to bring them food—if they couldn’t get to the grocery store for whatever reason—we would make sure that people could get it to them.

The one question that we asked that broke my heart was: Do you have somebody to talk to everyday? The people who responded “no”—that auto-generated an email that said, “Would you like somebody to call you?” So those people who then said “yes,” I personally called. My shortest phone call was probably 25 minutes. They averaged 40 to 45 minutes.

That’s awesome and heartbreaking at the same time.

It is. I still get emotional. … We already had this program ready to launch before the pandemic; we’d been kind of massaging it, but the pandemic accelerated our … buddy program.

That whole idea is: How do we get personal with people? These 7,000-plus people that get our newsletter every week—how do we talk to them in a way where it feels personal, that whatever their need is, they feel they can reach out to us and ask us for help? So that’s, I think, our biggest lesson here—not to get distracted by a building project. We need to be innovative in the way we do programs and to remember that, at the core, it is about relationships.

I know the Center in recent years has been making an effort to reach out further into the Coachella Valley’s LGBTQ community—especially in the east valley. What steps has the Center has made to keep reaching out to the east valley?

We’ll be making more announcements about that soon, but I can say this for now: We recently announced our domain name has changed to TheCenterCV.org to better represent the scope of our work across the Coachella Valley; before, it had been TheCenterPS.org. Not only is that representative of our current work, but our future work, because we’ve got our eye across the valley to make sure that queer people, wherever they are in the Coachella Valley, have access to our programs and services.

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.

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.

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.

Ron Celona, CVRep’s founding artistic director, explained during a recent phone interview that because the theater company is now the proud owner of its own building—the CVRep Playhouse, in Cathedral City—he couldn’t just wait out the pandemic without doing anything.

“This is a year where I can’t even break even,” he said. “I have to make money just to support the building. So that’s what took us to the current plan.”

That plan started with the launch of Theatre Thursday in April. Every non-holiday Thursday at 6 p.m., CVRep produces a show, via Zoom, free of charge, with the participating artists donating their time and talent. The shows range from staged readings of plays to musical performances to monologues and more.

“Theatre Thursday does two wonderful things: It keeps CVRep in the forefront of our patrons’ and followers’ (minds), to know that something is available from CVRep on a weekly basis,” Celona said. “The other thing is, it keeps the artists active. They can work by doing a monologue or a dance or a piece. … Many artists launched their Zoom experience with us and then went on to support other theater companies.”

Celona said attendance at the shows has varied wildly, from a high of 200 people, to a low of 60 or less.

“There is no guarantee. That’s the difference between a ticket for a show: You know how many people are coming that night,” Celona said. “But there is no guarantee in the virtual world; all of these shows are free of charge. However, we do ask for a donation during the program, and each person receives a thank-you after; the email has a donate button on the thank-you. So we do receive donations each week.”

While donations from supporters and attendees of the virtual Theatre Thursday shows have helped CVRep’s financial situation, the organization was still losing money each month—until sponsors stepped in, Celona said.

“We started in August doing monthly sponsorships, and I’m thrilled to tell you, I expected two or three sponsors a month. Well, I’m wrong. We’re getting five to 10 sponsors a month,” Celona said. “The sponsorship is $500 a month, and they’re thanked at each week’s event. They also rotate on our marquee we have on Highway 111.”

As for CVRep’s hoped-for return to live shows: Celona initially looked at doing CVRep’s full planned season at the Cathedral City Community Amphitheater, which is adjacent to the CVRep Playhouse. However, COVID-19 made that cost-prohibitive.

“With the Equity rules, whether a show be indoor or outdoor, the protocol requires that every actor, and everybody that also comes in contact with that actor, be tested once a week. So that’s the crew; that’s the makeup artist, and so on,” Celona said. “We do six-week contracts for plays. And Equity requires a 24-hour turnaround, which means you can’t go to the county; you have to go to a private lab—and then you need written results.

“As for other expenses involved in doing a production: I need a dressing room. So that means I would need to have a trailer, like an RV—a portable dressing room. I would need a storage unit for the set and the props and everything to come off and on for each performance. And at the amphitheater—this is true even for the one-night events we’re going to be doing—we need to bring in port-a-potties, and they need to be sanitized and cleaned throughout the night.”

Instead of the full productions, CVRep and Cathedral City decided to partner on a series of those aforementioned one-night events. Celona hopes a holiday show will kick things off on Dec. 12. Events would follow on the first three Saturdays of January, February and March (with the exception of that third weekend in March, which we’ll explain in a moment.) Tickets will be $25 per person—much less than a typical CVRep show ticket.

If the outdoor shows do take place, Celona said, social distancing and many other precautions will be in place.

“The proposal that we created for the city of Cathedral City included our 23-page safety manual,” Celona said. “(Attendees) will be taken to pods, if you will—circular or square pods that hold a table for two or four. Each pod is about 10 feet apart for social distance. Everyone will be required to wear masks to come into the venue, and they must wear their masks the entire time, unless they’re eating. When the doors open, they’re going to have an hour and a half before the show. People could either bring their own meal, or they could buy, so to speak, a box lunch, but it will be a dinner. Once that food goes away, then they need to put their masks back on to watch the show.”

Celona said his plans include a once-a-month jazz show, a Latinx series and a Broadway style revue. Then there’s that third weekend in March.

“We’ll be culminating in March with something very exciting: It will be our first Shakespeare festival,” Celona said. “Instead of one night, it’ll be a Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the third week of March. It will include two Shakespeare plays performed in rotation. … Our goal is that it kicks off an annual Shakespeare festival that CVRep produces.”

As you may have noticed, these plans include a lot of “ifs.” The reason: As of now, live performances like this are not allowed by the state. Therefore, CVRep and the city of Cathedral City have written a letter to the state Department of Public Health, asking for a waiver.

“One of the strongest points is the venue holds 2,900 people,” Celona said. “The maximum number of people that we will allow to see a show is 225 people—much less than 10 percent of capacity.”

Beyond the hoped-for amphitheater performances, Celona also has hopes that maybe, just maybe, the company can return to the CVRep Playhouse for one full production to close out the 2020-2021 season.

“The only thing we left in the budget is what was supposed to be the final production of this past season, Native Gardens,” Celona said. “I have it in the budget to produce it in April, inside the playhouse. If that turns out not to be legally allowed, then we just cancel the production.”

For more information, visit cvrep.org.

Some thoughts on Riverside County’s descent into the purple, “Widespread” coronavirus tier:

• This will have a devastating impact on some local businesses. It means that within 72 hours, gyms and movie theaters must close all indoor operations. Places of worship can’t have indoor services. Restaurants can only operate outdoors—and, according to the county, it’ll be at LEAST three weeks before we can move back up into the red, “Substantial” tier. Make no mistake: This will result in some businesses closing for good.

• 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.

• While sliding backwards is very bad, the news is not ALL bad. First, the local weather is getting less-scorching, which means that businesses that have the wherewithal to move operations outdoors will probably have better luck doing so than they would have back in August.

• Also, the county’s numbers are trending in the right direction. The county’s positivity rate (5.2 percent), adjusted daily cases per 100,000 (9.1) and health-equity metric (which tracks the positivity rate in disadvantaged neighborhoods; 6.9 percent) are all better this week than last, and two of those three numbers remain in the red, “Substantial” range. Unfortunately, the adjusted daily case rate is too high—and while the state gave Riverside County a reprieve last week, the state Department of Health declined to do so for a second week.

• While the purple, “Widespread” tier is the most restrictive, it’s actually not as restrictive as things once were: The state now allows hair and nail salons to remain open indoors in all of the tiers.

• We should ALL take this as a call to be as safe and responsible as possible. That means wearing masks around others, washing hands, cooperating with contact tracers, getting tested and, in general, behaving like responsible adults. Our numbers are not great, but they’re waaaay better than they were a couple of short months ago. While much of the rest of the country is surging, we are not—and we all need to work to keep it that way.

More news:

College of the Desert announced today that instruction would remain almost entirely online for the winter intersession and spring semester. Read the details here.

• The state has, at long last, announced reopening guidelines for theme parks—and Disney officials are NOT happy with them. As the Los Angeles Times explains: “The protocols announced Tuesday allow a large park to reopen once coronavirus transmission in its home county has fallen enough for the county to reach Tier 4—the state’s least restrictive designation. A small park, meanwhile, can welcome guests once its home county reaches Tier 3, the second-least-restrictive level.

The state also announced that a limited number of fans can attend live sporting events—but only at outdoor stadiums; only in counties in one of the two least-restrictive tiers; and only if local health officials give the OK. As the San Jose Mercury News explains, all of this means fans won’t be attending games in California anytime soon.

• Here’s the latest weekly Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and rural-ish points eastward.) The news is mostly decent, with cases and hospitalizations holding steady—and the weekly positivity rate is down to 4.7 percent. However, COVID-19 claimed the lives of two of our neighbors last week.

• I’ll let this lede from The New York Times explain the big national news of the day: “The Justice Department accused Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the government’s most significant legal challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation.” Read more here.

People are voting early in record numbers. The Washington Post breaks it down.

• Some reassuring news: ProPublica is reporting that Dr. Anthony Fauci will play an important role in checking the results of various vaccine studiesalbeit with one big exception.

• Related and also reassuring: The state of California also plans on reviewing any vaccines before giving the OK for them to be distributed.

• Related and not reassuring: The president yesterday referred to Fauci as a “disaster” who “got it wrong” on the coronavirus.

• Sort of related and, well, sort of bonkers: Several media experts, writing for The Conversation, say that Russian media sources are starting to refer to President Trump in less-than-glowing language. Key quote: “Russian outlets tended to chastise Trump’s unwillingness to avoid large gatherings, practice social distancing or wear a mask, all of which violated his administration’s basic health guidelines. Likewise, Russian reports criticized Trump’s post-diagnosis behavior–like tweeting video messages while at the hospital and violating quarantine with his public appearances–as ‘publicity stunts’ that jeopardized the safety of his Secret Service detail and supporters.

A human challenge study—in which people are willingly exposed to SARS-CoV-2—is taking place in the United Kingdom. According to The Associated Press: “Imperial College London and a group of researchers said Tuesday that they are preparing to infect 90 healthy young volunteers with the virus, becoming the first to announce plans to use the technique to study COVID-19 and potentially speed up development of a vaccine that could help end the pandemic.

• As mentioned above, coronavirus cases are surging in much of the country—however, as The New York Times explains, the news is not all that dire. For starters, case numbers are up in part because testing is up, too—and deaths are holding fairly steady, in part, because we’re getting better at treating this darned disease.

Health departments across the Upper Midwest are reporting that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally played a rather large role in the surge in COVID-19 cases. Sigh.

Also sorta related comes this headline from CNN: “Minnesota traces outbreak of 20 COVID-19 cases to September Trump rally events.” Bleh.

• You may have heard about the New York Post’s big scoop regarding Hunter Biden’s hard drive. Well … the story’s principal writer refused to have his byline on the piece, because he had questions about its credibility, according to The New York Times.

• Yikes: Someone apparently set the contents of a ballot drop box in Los Angeles County ablaze Sunday night.

• From the Independent: A new Coachella Valley organization called Desert Support for Asylum Seekers is working to make sure refugees in the area—specifically LGBTQ refugees—get the help that they need. They’re focusing much of their efforts on people being detained at or released from the Imperial Regional Detention Center in Calexico. Key quote, from founder Ubaldo Boido: “The detention center was dropping people at the downtown Calexico Greyhound station. Even after the station was closed, (Border Patrol was) leaving them to fend for themselves. So we started this coordinator group to pick up people and get them on a bus, or get them here to Palm Springs where we could get them on a flight.

• Three scientists—who are increasingly getting the ear of the Trump administration—have been advocating against lockdowns in favor of herd immunity ever since the pandemic started. MedPage today looks at their backgrounds and their possible motivations.

• CNBC examines Joe Biden’s tax plan. Key quote: “While Americans earning less than $400,000 would, on average, receive tax cuts under Biden’s plan, the highest earners would face double-digit increases in their official tax rates, according to nonpartisan analyses. In California, New Jersey and New York City, taxpayers earning more than $400,000 a year could face combined state and local statutory income tax rates of more than 60 percent.” However, as the story explains, almost nobody winds up paying the statutory tax rate.

• So, uh, the phrase “Zoom dick” was trending on Twitter yesterday, because Jeffrey Toobin, of The New Yorker and CNN, apparently decided to have a wank in the middle of a Zoom call with colleagues. Read the sordid details here.

• And finally, because the news in outer space is far less horrifying than the news here on planet Earth, take a few moments to learn about what’s happening with a NASA mission called OSIRIS-Rex, which is attempting to gather “loose rubble” from an asteroid.

That’s enough for today. Be safe. Hang in there. Check in on a loved one. Oh, and please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the financial means, so we can keep producing quality journalism. The Daily Digest will be back tomorrow.

Regular readers of the Daily Digest know that we often link to stories about scientific studies in this space. And regular readers also know that we always suggest that these stories be taken with a huge, honking figurative grain of salt—because science is often an inexact process, especially these days, given the mad rush to learn about a virus that we didn’t even know existed this time last year.

So … keep that all in mind as you read this piece regarding a brand-new study regarding the risks of getting COVID-19 on an airline flight.

According to ABC News: “United Airlines says the risk of COVID-19 exposure onboard its aircraft is ‘virtually non-existent’ after a new study finds that when masks are worn there is only a 0.003% chance particles from a passenger can enter the passenger's breathing space who is sitting beside them. The study, conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines, was published Thursday.”

The study seems pretty encouraging—but the fact the study was done in part by an airline is what we call a gigantic conflict of interest. So … make that figurative grain of salt we keep talking about even larger in this case.

That said, the findings sort of make sense, given what we know about the effectiveness of masks, and how air circulation is handled on planes.

For what it’s worth, I flew earlier this week for the first time since the pandemic arrived. I am in the middle of a quick trip to San Francisco with the hubby to take care of some things with the apartment he has up here for work, since he’s going to be working from home for the time being—and much of the tech world is even making work-from-home a permanent thing.

As for the flying experience, it felt quite safe; everyone was wearing masks, and there were plenty of open spaces between most seats. The airports themselves were a little eerie—most of the stores and restaurants at both PSP and SFO were closed—but that’s to be expected.

It’s a strange, different world now compared to what it was like eight months ago. Who knows what it’ll be like in another eight months?

If you have the means, please consider clicking here to become a Supporter of the Independent. We make all of our content available for free to all, via email, CVIndependent.com and print—but quality journalism costs a lot of money to produce. Thanks for reading!

And now, the news:

• It’s usually a mere formality for a state’s disaster-declaration request to be approved by FEMA—but this is 2020, and the president is Donald Trump, so nothing is a “mere formality” anymore. Still, it was shocking when his administration at first denied Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request earlier this week regarding the recent, deadly wildfires—before changing course today after a conversation between Newsom and Trump. The approval is a big deal, because, as the Los Angeles Times explains: “The state and its local governments count on FEMA every year to help recover up to 75 percent of their staffing costs for sending firefighters into other jurisdictions—including onto federal land—to help fight wildfires for weeks at a time.

• Here’s the latest Riverside County District 4 report. District 4 is basically the Coachella Valley and the rural points eastward—and, frankly, I found the report’s weekly positively rate shocking (in a good way). District 4 has had a weekly positivity rate in the double-digits for almost the entirety of the past few months, yet on this report, it’s down to 5.9 percent. If this is accurate, this is fantastic progress. However, the report contains sobering reminders that SARS-CoV-2 remains a terrible adversary: Five of our friends and neighbors lost their lives as a result of the virus during the week ending Oct. 11.

• The New York Times did an examination of the scramble the Trump administration is making to enact (or revoke) various policies and regulations. The lede: “Facing the prospect that President Trump could lose his re-election bid, his cabinet is scrambling to enact regulatory changes affecting millions of Americans in a blitz so rushed it may leave some changes vulnerable to court challenges.” Oh, and here’s a quote that should get one’s attention: “Some cases, like a new rule to allow railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, have led to warnings of public safety threats.” Yikes!

ABC News agreed to do a “town hall” with Joe Biden last night … and then NBC, rather dubiously, agreed to do one with Trump at the same time. Well, the ratings are in—and more people watched Joe Biden, even though Trump’s town hall was also simulcast on NBC’s cable-news networks.

• Sen. Dianne Feinstein said some rather nice things about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and Sen. Lindsey Graham during the Senate hearings this week. This didn’t sit well at ALL with some Democrats.

• The Conversation has been knocking it out of the park this week with all sorts of interesting pieces looking at the science behind the news. In one piece, a history professor looks at how past pandemics have ended—and what lessons can be found about how this one will end. Spoiler alert: The virus that causes COVID-19 is here to stay, even though its effects will lessen over time. Key quote: “Hopefully COVID-19 will not persist for millennia. But until there’s a successful vaccine, and likely even after, no one is safe. Politics here are crucial: When vaccination programs are weakened, infections can come roaring back. Just look at measles and polio, which resurge as soon as vaccination efforts falter.

• In another piece, a medicine professor reveals that dementia-related deaths were up a shocking 20 percent over the summer—and nobody is sure why. She explains four possible factors in this sad increase.

• In yet another, a physiology professor makes the case that pneumonia vaccines may help save lives until the much-anticipated coronavirus vaccines arrive.

• Here are a couple of bits of disconcerting science news on the COVID-19 front, although—say it along with me—we should take all of these studies with that figurative grain of salt. One: According to MedPage Today, “Additional evidence continued to suggest blood type may not only play a role in COVID-19 susceptibility, but also severity of infection, according to two retrospective studies.”

• Two: A large study shows that remdesivir does not prevent COVID-19 deaths. However, this study and its conclusions have come under fire from critics—including, surprise surprise, the maker of the drug.

Pfizer may become the first company to apply for an emergency-use authorization for a helpful coronavirus vaccine—but that’s not going to happen until late November at the earliest, the company says.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to all four of the candidates running for two City Council seats in Cathedral City. Find out what District 1 candidates Rita Lamb and Alan Carvalho had to say here, and what District 2 candidates JR Corrales and Nancy Ross had to say here.

• One of the questions we asked the aforementioned Cathedral City candidates involves a recently enacted ban on most short-term vacation rentals in the city. Well, a similar ban appears to be coming to Rancho Mirage as well, as The Desert Sun reports.

• Twitter went down for a good chunk of the day yesterday, and a satire website posted a story joking that Twitter had shut down the site to avoid negative news being spread about Joe Biden. Well … Trump tweeted out that satire piece, apparently believing it to be real news. Sigh.

• And finally, the mayor of Anchorage resigned earlier this week after admitting that he exchanged inappropriate messages with a local TV anchor. However, as The New York Times explains, the story is waaaaay more bonkers than that sentence implies. Here’s a taste: “Mr. Berkowitz’s resignation followed an unsubstantiated claim posted to social media on Friday by the news anchor, Maria Athens, promising viewers an ‘exclusive’ story set to air on upcoming newscasts. Mr. Berkowitz responded by calling the allegations ‘slanderous’ and false, and Ms. Athens shot back by posting what she said was an image of the mayor’s bare backside, with a laughing emoji.” And things get even crazier from there. Trust me: This is worth a read.

That’s enough news from the week. Wash your hands; wear a mask; be kind; be safe. As always, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will be back next week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

Other news from the day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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