CVIndependent

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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

If being on social media weren’t an important part of my job, I’d be taking a break from Facebook right now.

Why? Frankly … I could use a break from all of the hysterics.

Let me make one thing clear: Now is a time when hysterics are understandable. Many of us are hurting. We’re broke. Or we’re tired. Or we’re watching our dreams die. Or we’re freaked the heck out. However … seeing this all play out, in contradictory fashion, within consecutive Facebook posts, is exhausting.

First post: A friend of mine owns a nail salon. He’s freaking out because his business, his dream, is dying. He thinks he should be allowed to reopen, because he took all the appropriate safety measures when his salon was allowed to reopen, and all went well. Nobody got sick. He made things safe, he says. He’s hurting. His employees are hurting. He’s in hysterics.

Next post: A local acquaintance is beside herself with anger and frustration because of all the people she sees roaming around downtown Palm Springs without masks. She calls not only for a shutdown of the hotels and vacation rentals; she also calls for a shutdown of all non-essential businesses, period. She’s tired of people she knows getting sick. She’s afraid. She’s in hysterics.

The gut-wrenching thing about these posts is that they’re completely contradictory … and they’re both entirely valid. I could give a half-dozen similar examples of this dichotomy each day from Facebook—but I probably don’t need to, because you’ve seen them yourselves.

Ugh, this goddamned pandemic.

Today’s news links:

• The Los Angeles Times looks at the myriad reasons that COVID-19 patients are now dying at a lower rate. One encouraging reason: Doctors and hospitals have learned a lot about treating the disease over the last five-plus months.

The director of the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Sonia Angell, stepped down yesterday. Interestingly, nobody is saying why she resigned—although it happened after the state’s embarrassing COVID-19 reporting-system problems were revealed last week.

• Related: Gov. Newsom said today California’s COVID-19 case numbers are indeed trending in the right direction, after the state worked over the weekend to resolve that aforementioned data mess.

• I debated whether or not I should even share this, given 1) the still-being-resolved state data mess, and 2) the fact I have yet to get a proper explanation from the county on how the weekly positivity rate is calculated … but anyway, here’s this week’s county District 4 report. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) The good news: Hospitalizations are way down. The awful news: Another 14 of our neighbors have died from COVID-19. Also, that weekly positivity rate is as high as I can ever remember it being, even though Eisenhower Health says its positivity rate has been moving downward. So, I am a bit confused.

• From our partners at CalMatters: How are unemployed Californians getting by after the expiration of benefits from the federal government?Without an expired federal $600 weekly boost, unemployed Californians are living on the brink by making candy and emptying out their 401(k)s.

• How is it possible to make indoor spaces safer from the spread of SARS-CoV-2? A professor of mechanical engineering, writing for The Conversation, says the keys are ventilation with outside air, and air filtration.

• MedPage Today covered a talk given Friday by the president of the American Medical Association—and among other key takeaways, Dr. Susan Bailey bemoaned the dismissal of science in many of the policy decisions surrounding the coronavirus. Key quote: “Politics should have no place in a public health crisis, but I think we all understand that, sadly, that’s not the world we're living in today,” she said. “As physicians, we have to stand up for science and make sure it's at the center of our policy decisions.”

In opinion piece for The New York Times, a medical expert and an economic expert—the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, respectivelycalled for a six-week nationwide lockdown, to both save lives and cause as little ongoing harm as possible to the economy. Key quote: “The United States recorded its lowest seven-day average since March 31 on May 28, when it was 21,000 cases, or 6.4 new cases per 100,000 people per day. This rate was seven to 10 times higher than the rates in countries that successfully contained their new infections. While many countries are now experiencing modest flare-ups of the virus, their case loads are in the hundreds or low thousands of infections per day, not tens of thousands, and small enough that public health officials can largely control the spread.”

A columnist for the Los Angeles Times offers a warning: “Payroll tax cut” means the same thing as “cutting funding to Social Security.” Well, if he gets a second term, Trump has said he wants to “terminate” the payroll tax … which, therefore, means terminating Social Security.

This lead from the Riverside Press-Enterprise made me despair for the future of humanity: “More than a dozen Southern California parents, from the Inland Empire to the Los Angeles County coast, have joined forces in a lawsuit against several California officials—arguing that barring in-person classes this fall will hurt students, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

Adding to this despair comes this headline from the Los Angeles Times: “Coronavirus surging among children, teenagers in California.”

More despair, with a side of alarm, is created by this headline, from CNBC: “TSA: July air travel down 75 percent from 2019, but gun confiscation rates triple.” Key quote: “Eighty percent of the guns were loaded, TSA said.” What?!

• The federal residential eviction moratorium expired in July and has not yet been extended. That means evictions in some parts of the country are under way. NBC News looks at the mess with evictions taking place in South Carolina. Horrifying key quote: “In South Carolina alone, 52 percent of renter households can't pay their rent and are at risk of eviction, according to an analysis of census data by the consulting firm Stout Risius Ross. About 185,000 evictions could be filed in the state over the next four months.”

• This is sort of ironic: Amazon is talking to a large, national mall company about turning some shuttered J.C. Penney and Sears locations into fulfillment centers. It’s sort of like the start of the WALL-E story coming to life, no?

If you are a student within or employee of the University of California system, and you don’t have an approved medical exemption, you’re going to need to get a flu shot by Nov. 1.

• There’s currently a moratorium on executions in the state of California. However, as the San Francisco Chronicle is pointing out, the coronavirus is serving as an executioner by killing death-row inmates at San Quentin.

• Related, and much less morally vexing: The virus is also killing people who work at prisons. And case counts are spiking at youth prisons.

• The college football season is in jeopardy. According to ESPN, the five largest college football conferences are seriously considering cancelling college sports this fall, because of a serious medical condition linked to COVID-19. Key quote: “Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, has been found in at least five Big Ten Conference athletes and among several other athletes in other conferences, according to two sources with knowledge of athletes’ medical care. Two Football Bowl Subdivision conferences have already postponed or cancelled fall sports.

• Meanwhile, Disney World is cutting back its hours because of disappointing attendance figures. Maybe there’s hope for humanity after all

• The New York Times reports that the Trump administration is getting ready to roll back yet more environmental protectionsthis time, controls on the release of methane.

• Oh, look, some happy local news! From the Independent: The Palm Springs Public Arts Commission just finished funding the painting of another 10 downtown benches by local artists—and has a call out to artists to do another 16 benches. We talked to a couple of locals involved with the project.

That’s enough for the day. Hey, you: This Daily Digest and all of our journalism, in both print and pixels, costs money to produce—yet we make it free to everyone, without paywalls or fees. If you can spare it (and ONLY if you can spare it), and you appreciate what we do, please consider throwing us a few bucks by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. OK? Thank you, and be safe.

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The state of California’s response to the pandemic, as of late, has been a big mess.

First: The state’s COVID-19 data reporting is all messed up. According to the Los Angeles Times, the state is dealing with a backlog of up to 300,000 test results—and is in the process of developing a whole new tracking system, because the current one is not up to the admittedly massive task:

“(Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Health and Human Services secretary) said the state would work through the backlog of records, which include COVID-19 tests and other health results, over the next 24 to 48 hours. He said state missteps compounded a problem that began with a server outage and promised a full investigation.

“The data failure set off alarm bells this week as total deaths surpassed 10,000 in California, a state that leads the nation in COVID-19 cases despite the undercount and has struggled to mitigate the virus. The delayed results could significantly increase the confirmed spread of COVID-19 from a total of 540,000 cases in the state as of early Friday.”

Sigh. Meanwhile, county health officials—already upset about the state’s arbitrary and odd reopening criteria—are being left in the figurative lurch without accurate data from the state.

Second: The state was tardy in issuing guidance to the state’s colleges and universities on how to handle student housing, in-person instruction and other important matters. Again, according to the Los Angeles Times: “Many campuses, including USC and Claremont McKenna, say the lack of clear and timely state guidance has caused them to spend enormous energy and money preparing for varying reopening scenarios—without knowing what will be allowed amid a surge of COVID-19 infections.

For the record, the state finally released that guidance today. Check it out here—if you’re bored, crazy or into dense 34-page lists of rules.

In the state’s defense, this pandemic and its effects are so huge, all-encompassing and unforeseen that mistakes and delays are not only understandable; they’re inevitable. But still … state officials need to do better than this.

Also worth noting: Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a news conference on Monday, when he touted the news of statewide COVID-19 case decreases—news that we now know may not have been accurate, because of the data mess, which people began learning about on Tuesday.

Newsom hasn’t given a news conference since. Not good, governor.

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More news links :

Here are some stats we can trust … we think: The COVID-19 stats at Eisenhower Medical Center are trending in the right direction.

The extra federal unemployment boost has ended. PPP loans are running out. And our federal government can’t agree on what to do about it. Sigh.

• Per usual, I was a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr. Hear me rant more about the state data fustercluck, as well as the crappiness of most talk radio!

• As more and more vaccine candidates get closer to what we all hope are successful finish lines, we’ve been bombarded with news about them—often spun by the profit-driven manufacturers themselves. Well, MedPage Today just published a nice, concise look at these vaccines, how they’re different, and what we do and do not know.

• The Washington Post today posted an excellent interactive piece examining what it will take for the United States to reach herd immunity, be it by letting the virus run its course, or via a successful vaccine. The piece also looks at where we are now regarding antibodies and possible immunity. Spoiler alert: If you’re someone who thinks we should adopt the Sweden 1.0 approach and just let the virus run amok … that’ll likely mean a million or more dead Americans.

• So after the vaccines (hopefully) arrive … then what? HuffPost asked some experts to predict what life in the U.S. will be like in the years that follow a successful vaccine. Hint: Don’t expect a return to a February-style “normal.”

• According to Desert Healthcare District CEO Conrado Barzaga, the district is focused on “strengthening our healthcare infrastructure, improving our community’s health, and providing protection to vulnerable populations while still fighting a pandemic.” If you are involved with an entity that can help do any of that, take note: The DHCD will be holding a webinar at 3 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10, via Zoom to introduce five new strategic funding areas, and to demonstrate how to apply for grants or mini-grants. You need to RSVP; get details here.

A partisan elected official is responsible for writing the wording of each ballot proposition … and, well, that partisanship often affects what is written. This leads to numerous lawsuits—but judges almost never step in to change what Attorney Xavier Becerra’s office has come up with. Our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent, look at this mess—and possible solutions.

More airlines are getting very serious about mask use. Hooray.

Two stories about this week’s devastating explosion in Beirut worth reading: A Los Angeles Times reporter writes about his experience surviving the explosion; he notes that he probably should be dead, but a motorcycle helmet saved his life. Meanwhile, for you science nerds out there: A blast-injury specialist examines the physics of the blast, and compares it to what we know about the only other comparable non-nuclear explosion on record, which happened in 1917 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

• Also from Wired: The magazine recently sat down for an interview with Bill Gates, who does not have nice things to say about the federal response to the pandemic. Beyond that, he has a lot of other revealing things to say. Key quote: “Now whenever we get this done, we will have lost many years in malaria and polio and HIV and the indebtedness of countries of all sizes and instability. It’ll take you years beyond that before you’d even get back to where you were at the start of 2020.

According to The Conversation, it’s becoming more and more apparent that wearable fitness devices may be able to let you know if you’re suffering from possible early coronavirus symptoms.

• Federal employees, including some who work at prisons, are suing the federal government. Why? They think they deserve hazard pay, according to NPR.

• Related: State prison employees are also taking legal action: Their union has filed a grievance claiming the state’s misdeeds have led to uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s prison system.

• CNBC talked to experts regarding legitimate medical reasons people could possibly have to not wear a face mask while around other people. The conclusion? Unless you have a specific facial deformity or a “sensory processing disorder,” you should be masking up.

• Much has been written about Donald Trump’s … uh, baffling moves to ban TikTok. Well, as MarketWatch points out, his executive orders went well beyond TikTok—and could hamper everything from Tesla to streaming sports to the world’s most popular videogames.

Oregon voters will decide in November whether to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all drugs.

• Barring a change of plans, the Mission Inn Festival of Lights in Riverside will indeed happen this year—albeit without the crowd-gathering events and parties.

The Apple Fire continues to burn, with some residents of Pioneertown and Morongo Valley being told to prepare to evacuate.

• And now for something completely different: Regular readers of the Independent have enjoyed Keith Knight’s comics, (Th)ink and The Chronicles, for years. Well, a new show based on his life is coming to Hulu on Sept. 9. Check out the trailer for Woke here—and congrats, Keef!

Have a safe and happy-as-possible weekend, everyone. Be safe. The Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Wednesday, everyone. Let’s get right into it:

• Remember how on Monday, we said that Gov. Gavin Newsom was expressing tentative optimism about a statewide decrease in COVID-19 cases? Well … it turns out there may or may not be a decrease at all—because the state reporting system is currently being hampered by technical issues. According to our partners at CalMatters: “California’s daily count of COVID-19 cases appears to be falling, but that may be due to underreporting caused by technical issues, state health officials said (Tuesday). ‘We’ve discovered some discrepancies,’ said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary in a press call. Data, he said, is ‘getting stuck’ in the electronic system that feeds information from test labs to both the state and local public health departments. This means counties and the state are not getting a full picture of who and how many are testing positive. That lack of information hampers the counties’ ability to investigate cases and initiate contact tracing, Ghaly said.” Whoops! 

• And here are details on an even-more heinous state whoops, also according to our partners at CalMatters: “As the coronavirus continues to sicken Californians, the state mistakenly terminated or reduced health-insurance benefits for thousands of low-income people. An error involving the state’s Medi-Cal program and its automated system for renewals triggered the drops in coverage—despite the governor’s executive order earlier this year that was supposed to ensure that people maintain access to safety net programs during the pandemic.” Yeesh.

• Meanwhile, the United Parcel Service is prepping for that happy day a vaccine is available: Bloomberg reports that UPS is building two “giant freezer farms” that can each hold up to 48,000 vaccine vials.

• More vaccine news: Johnson and Johnson will deliver 100 million vaccine does to the U.S. for a cool $1 billion when they’re ready—and give the U.S. the option to buy another 200 million doses, the drug-maker announced today. Presuming, you know, the vaccine actually works.

• Because the federal testing plan … uh, really isn’t a thing, seven states have joined forces to buy more than 3 million coronavirus antigen tests. These tests could be a game-changer; according to Bloomberg, “the tests, which search for proteins on the surface of the virus, can deliver results in 15 to 20 minutes.

• Public Citizen, “a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power,” yesterday issued a scathing report accusing Gilead Sciences and the federal government of “sitting on a potentially promising coronavirus treatment (GS-441524) for months that may offer significant advantages over the closely related antiviral drug remdesivir, possibly to maximize profits.” Read what Public Citizen has to say here.

• CNN today released a series of before and after satellite images of the pure devastation created by the massive explosion in Beirut yesterday. Simply put: They’re horrifying.

• It appears neither major-party presidential candidate will appear at their conventions to accept their nominations this year. The Biden campaign said today that the former vice president will not be going to Milwaukee, while the Trump administration is making plans for the president to deliver his nomination-acceptance speech from the White House, which may not exactly be legal.

• From the Independent: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which allows some undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status—were illegal. Nonetheless, feds are pretty much terminating the program anyway. Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to two local activists about the toll the DACA shutdown is taking on local undocumented families.

• Also from the Independent: President Trump recently suggested that we delay the election because of the supposed threat of mail-in voting fraud. Could he really do such a thing? Probably not … but Jeffrey C. Billman examines other scenarios Republicans seem to be preparing to use to create a constitutional crisis the likes of which the country has not seen since 1976.

• Past and present U.S. surgeons general said earlier this week that concerns over vaccines in the Black community could be a big problem, according to MedPage Today. That same publication also examined a related problem: Scientists aren’t doing enough to make sure people of color are being included in various clinical trials.

• The U.S. military has found the amphibious assault vehicle that sank off the coast of San Clemente Island last week, killing eight Marines and one sailor. CNN has the details on these people who died in service to our country.

• If you have not yet watched the bonkers interview President Trump did with Axios on HBO yet … boy, it’s worth your time—and here’s a link to the whole thing.

The PPP loans are starting to run out … and that means that more layoffs are coming.

• Our partners at High Country News took a pants-wetting look at the ways in which religious zealots in the West are using the pandemic as an opportunity to gain converts. Key quote: “When asked how he would respond to observers who say he’s exploiting people’s fear to further his anti-LGBTQ+, anti-women, anti-abortion agenda, (Idaho preacher Doug) Wilson responded frankly. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I am.’

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted yesterday to declare racism as a public health crisis. Better late than never!

The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership crunched the numbers on the decrease in passenger accounts at the Palm Springs International Airport. Key quote: “The lockdown, which started in mid-March, had an immediate effect, with passenger traffic for the month quickly dropping 50 percent. April and May traffic were down an unfathomable 97 percent and 90 percent. Projecting a conservative 50 percent drop in passengers for the rest of the year would result in a 2.8 million decrease in passengers for the entire year, resulting in passenger traffic for the year being only one-third of 2019.”

Flu-shot makers are producing record amounts of this year’s flu vaccine, anticipating that more people than ever will be getting the shots, because of … well, you know. 

• If you’re planning on sneaking into New York City without quarantining for two weeks, beware: They may have checkpoints waiting for you.

• We recently pointed out social-media sleuthing indicating that the Riviera may soon become a Margaritaville resort. Well, Jimmy Buffett fans can rejoice, because the conversion was officially announced today.

If you have Disney+ and are willing to fork out an extra $29.99, you will be able to watch the much-anticipated Mulan from your couch Sept. 4.

• Finally, because life is random and weird, yet history keeps repeating: Both Who’s the Boss? and Ren and Stimpy are being rebooted. Happy, happy, joy, joy!

Be safe, everyone. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. If you value honest, independent local journalism, and have the means to do so, we ask you to help us continue to do what we do by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Thanks for reading! The Daily Digest will return Friday.

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If your anxiety and/or depression levels were high this weekend, you were not alone.

More than a handful of people have told me were out of sorts this weekend—something that I, too, experienced. I suspect the extreme heat and at-times apocalyptic-looking skies due to the fires had something to do with it.

Despite the bleakness … at least as far as the coronavirus goes, there are signs that we’re making progress at flattening that pesky, pain-in-the-ass curve once more.

Consider:

Eisenhower Medical Center posted on Friday: “We are seeing a sustained 14-day decline in our percent positivity rate, and a corresponding decline in hospitalizations.” Indeed, hospitalizations at all of the valley’s hospitals have been steadily decreasing.

• Other parts of Southern California are seeing improvements, too. Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County public health director said today: “We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re getting back on track to slowing the spread of COVID-19. I want to emphasize the word ‘cautiously.’” 

The same goes for the state as a whole. “California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at his Monday press briefing more tests are being done, but the percentage of people testing positive is going down. The 14-day positivity rate is 7 percent compared to 7.5 percent a week ago,” according to SFGate.

We’re nowhere near the end of this thing … but it seems we’re heading in a better direction than we were a couple of weeks ago.

More news links:

Here’s the latest District 4 from the county. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley, as well as points eastward.) Hospitalizations are down, as mentioned above, but the positivity rate remains too darned high. Worst of all: 20 of our neighbors died in the last week.

• There is an increasing amount of discussion about what will happen if a vaccine is ready to go. However, this positive comes with a big, honking negative: Nobody’s quite sure how a vaccine-distribution effort’s going to take place. The Washington Post today cited a number of people, from scientists to governors, who are concerned the federal government may not be up to the task. Key quote: “‘This is a slow-motion train wreck,’ said one state official who has been involved in planning efforts and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. The official pointed in particular to the administration’s botched rollout of remdesivir, an antiviral medication that is one of the only approved treatments for covid-19 patients. ‘There’s certainly a lot of concern, and not being able to plan creates a significant amount of confusion,’ the official said.”

• Related: The New York Times reported that more and more doctors are worried that the Trump administration may rush a vaccine—to make it available before Election Day—before it’s been proven to be safe and effective.

• And here’s another dose of cold, hard reality: The World Health Organization today reminded everyone that a great vaccine is no sure thing. Key quote, from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials, and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection. However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment—and there might never be.”

• In other parts of the country, schools are beginning to reopen—and things aren’t necessarily going well. The Associated Press headline: “Parents struggle as schools reopen amid coronavirus surge.

Four former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration today co-wrote a piece for The Washington Post saying that the use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, according to the headline, “might be the treatment we need.” They wrote: “We need a concerted effort to collect blood plasma, along with clinical trials to determine when its benefits outweigh the risks so we can treat the right people at the right time. With that evidence in hand, we need to maintain a highly synchronized distribution system to get the plasma to the right health-care facilities in a timely and equitable way.”

• Sigh. The Center for Public Integrity reports that many businesses have been illegally denying paid sick leave to COVID-19-stricken workers: “Hundreds of U.S. businesses have been cited for illegally denying paid leave to workers during the pandemic, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. As of June 12, nearly 700 companies had violated the law’s paid-leave provisions and owed back wages to hundreds of employees, according to Labor Department records. Violators include six McDonald’s franchises and the franchise owners of a Comfort Suites, Courtyard by Marriott and Red Roof Inn.”

Eli Lilly announced today it’s starting a late-stage trial—among people who live in or work at nursing homes—on an experimental COVID-19 antibody treatment to see if it can prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

It’s time to check your hand sanitizers: The FDA now has a list of more than 100 types that need to be avoided—either because they’re dangerous, or they don’t include enough alcohol to be effective.

NBC News published a sobering story today about how systemic racism remains pervasive in the housing market.

The San Francisco Chronicle looked at the mess that is California’s unemployment system—officially known as the Employment Development Department—and what lawmakers are talking about doing to fix it. “More than a million jobless Californians are in limbo, desperately seeking unemployment benefits. That includes 889,000 who may be eligible for benefits with additional information, and 239,000 whose cases are pending resolution, according to a letter EDD Director Sharon Hilliard sent to her boss, Labor Secretary Julie Su, (last) Wednesday.” The Chronicle also included a list of 12 tips that may help people get the benefits they need.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise looked at how the county’s small-business grant awarding process was going; the application period for the $10,000 grants remains open through Aug. 31. Businesses must have 50 or fewer employees; they must have been harmed by the pandemic financially; and they can’t have received Paycheck Protection Act funding. (Full disclosure: We learned over the weekend that the Independent was awarded one of these grants.)

• The Apple Fire, which continues to threaten homes and is only 5 percent contained, was started by the exhaust of a malfunctioning diesel-fueled vehicle, CAL FIRE announced today.

• Depressingly related: Two Purdue University environmental engineers, writing for The Conversation, offer tips on what communities can do to protect themselves from drinking-water systems that become polluted in the aftermath of a wildfire—as happened following the terrible Northern California fires in 2017 and 2018.

• Is it safe to play college football this fall? A number of Pac-12 players issued a letter via The Players Tribune over the weekend, demanding more COVID-19 safety regulations. That’s not all; the players also said athletic programs should protect other sports programs by “reduc(ing) excessive pay” of coaches and administrators, and demanded that the league take steps to end racial injustice in college sports. If these steps aren’t taken, players may opt out of playing.

• Members of the local LGBTQ community, take note: Our friends at Gay Desert Guide are hosting a ton of virtual events during these dog days of summer, including comedy shows, scavenger hunts and speed-dating events. The first one is tomorrow at 7 p.m., when Shann Carr hosts Big Gay Trivia! A small fee ($10 or so) applies for most events; get all the details here.

That’s plenty for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. If you appreciate honest local journalism, and have a few bucks to spare, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Stay safe, everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Features & Profiles

Before we get to the links, I’d like to briefly discuss face coverings.

The COVID-19 projections by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE) have been among the most lauded from the start of this whole mess—and the people behind the projections recently added a new metric: universal mask use.

And, boy, are the results stunning.

Here in California, as of today’s reports, 5,632 people have died from COVID-19. According to the IMHE models, that number—if we keep on our current track—will double, reach 11,631, by Oct. 1.

However, if California could get “95 percent mask usage in public in every location, reaching levels seen in Singapore,” the projections show 8,745 deaths by Oct. 1.

That’s a difference of 2,886 people.

Nationwide, the model is projecting 179,106 deaths by Oct. 1. With 95 percent mask usage, the number drops to 146,047—a difference of more than 33,000 people.

While I have a feeling I’m preaching to the choir here … if any of you out there are not yet onboard with wearing masks in public, please reconsider. Please. If these numbers are anywhere near correct, many thousands of lives will be saved if we all just wear face coverings in public. If not, well, you were slightly inconvenienced.

Wear a mask, people. Please. 

Today’s links:

• Gov. Gavin Newsom said today that if county governments don’t comply with things like the face-covering mandate, the state could withhold state and federal funding that comes through the state budget. Orange County (and, to a lesser extent, our own Riverside County) should take note. 

Nevada and North Carolina are the latest states to mandate that people wear face coverings in public. To repeat: Lives. Saved.

• As COVID-19 cases rise nationally, the federal government plans on ending support of coronavirus testing sites in five states at the end of the month. Sigh.

NPR reports that contract tracing is leading to some interesting conclusions—like, for example, in Washington state, protests haven’t led to a rise in cases—but parties and other private celebrations have.

• Related: News Channel 3 took a look at local contact-tracing efforts. The county currently has 250 contact tracers on the job, and more are coming.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are requiring that people traveling there from hotspot states self-quarantine for 14 days. As of now, the list of states from which people must quarantine does NOT include California; it does include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Texas according to CNBC

• While testing capacity seems decent in the Coachella Valley, such is not the case in Los Angeles, where people are getting quite frustrated at how hard it is to make testing appointments, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Also according to the Times: I don’t necessarily agree with the paper’s characterization of Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties as “suburban,” but the paper’s assertion that we have contributed to the statewide uptick in hospitalizations is unfortunately quite accurate.

• After you read this story in The New York Times, about the steps other countries are taking to keep COVID-19 at bay, you may shake your head and wonder what could be happening in the United States under competent federal leadership. Just sayin’.

• Affirmative action has been banned in California since 1996. In November, voters will get to choose whether to remove that ban, following steps taken today by the Legislature.

The Democratic National Convention will be dramatically scaled down come August, the party announced today: While there will still be some in-person events in Milwaukee, delegates and others will be asked to stay home.

• Finally, if the rising number of COVID-19 cases is worrying you, an epidemiologist from the University of Arizona, writing for The Conversation, suggests five things you can do right now. I, for one, need to work on No. 4.

That’s enough for today. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Fight injustice. If you can afford it, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, because all this quality news we’re providing, for free to all, costs money to produce. We’ll return tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Juneteenth, everyone.

Here’s today’s news:

• Gov Gavin Newsom said today that he intends for the statewide face-coverings order to be persuasive—but didn’t rule out punishment, via the Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. “We’re not looking to fine people. We’re looking to educate people, encourage people,” Newsom said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “And to the extent that people flaunt and abuse, which may be the exception, then we have many tools in the tool kit.”

• It’s a good thing the state is willing to find ways to enforce the ordinance if needed. Later in that article, the Orange County sheriff said he didn’t think it was the job of law enforcement to make sure people comply, and the Sacramento County sheriff said his agency would not enforce the law, “due to the minor nature of the offense, the potential for negative outcomes during enforcement encounters, and anticipating the various ways in which the order may be violated.”

There’s face-covering progress being made in Arizona, aka our neighbor to the east, aka the nation’s newest COVID-19 hot spot: Gov. Doug Ducey recently revoked an order forbidding local governments from issuing face-mask requirements stronger than the state’s (non-) requirements—and as a result, various cities, including Tucson and Phoenix, are now requiring face coverings. Lives. Being. Saved.

• Meanwhile, in Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts is being a complete idiot: “He’s told counties that they won’t receive any of the $100 million in federal COVID-19 money if their ‘customers’ are required to wear masks,” according to the Omaha World-Herald.

• LG’s Prime Steakhouse is closing both of its locations for a couple of weeks after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. Read the company’s statement here—and don’t be surprised to see more such announcements as the pandemic rolls on.

• Gov. Newsom has signed into law a bill requiring that every active voter get a mail-in ballot for November’s election.

• Disneyland is planning on reopening in several weeks. However, unions representing 17,000 Disneyland employees don’t think it’s safe to do so yet, and are asking Disney to delay

Remember that aircraft carrier captain who walked off his coronavirus-stricken ship to thunderous applause, when he was removed after expressing concerns about the outbreak? Well, his firing has been upheld.

The New York Times points out there was a lot of coronavirus business news today: Apple is closing stores in four states where cases are rising (but not here) (yet?); and AMC reversed course and said it’ll require customers to wear face coverings, after the CEO (stupidly) said yesterday the theater would not.

• Carnival Cruise Line had previously said it would start resuming some cruises on Aug. 1. However, that company—and all other major cruise lines—announced today that they’d voluntarily suspend operations until at least Sept. 15.

Medpage Today offers a fascinating if wonky look at a study in China of asymptomatic people with COVID-19. Remember that all studies these days need to be looked at skeptically and with that grain of salt we keep talking about, but takeaways include: “Asymptomatic individuals carrying SARS-CoV-2 shed the virus longer than those with COVID-19 symptoms,” and asymptomatic people were less likely to develop certain antibodies.

• Apparently, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth can help you battle viral infections. Who knew? A UCLA professor, writing for The Conversation, explains that it has to do with nitrous oxide.

• Are you worried about welcoming back housekeepers or other workers who come into your home? You’re not alone; The New York Times explains how to do so in the safest way possible for everyone.

• A bunch of big-name artists are calling on the federal government to help save our country’s independent music venues—which remain closed for the foreseeable future. Here’s hoping Congress heeds their call.

The Chinese government throws some serious shade at the president in this short, weird YouTube video.

The New York Times takes a wonderful look at the role of comedy in addressing police brutality—especially the comedy of the late, great Richard Pryor. Check it out.

• Finally, pray for Tulsa. Tomorrow very likely is going to be a dangerous day there, because the chief executive of the country has decided he doesn’t need to listen to experts anymore, and he wants to have a damn rally.

That’s enough for today. Please have a fantastic—and safe—weekend. Wear a mask. No, really, wear a mask. Wash your hands. If you appreciate quality local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will be back Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s now the law: Californians must wear face coverings while they’re in public.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the mandate—something this newspaper called on the governor to do two days ago—earlier today, as confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

More people are hospitalized in Riverside County—which rescinded a mask order on May 9—and the Coachella Valley with COVID-19 than ever before. The number of hospitalizations in Riverside County rose by almost 11 percent in one day, to 285, as of yesterday. In the Coachella Valley, also as of yesterday, the three hospitals reported 108 COVID-19 patients, up from a previous all-time high of 103 the day before.

The statewide order replaces a patchwork mess of local orders—some cities and counties required masks, while others didn’t, leading to a lot of confusion. It also takes the pressure off of beleaguered county health officials—at least seven of which have quit their jobs in recent weeks, in part because of angry reactions from the public.

The importance of the order is bolstered by an increasing amount of science indicating that the use of masks can make a huge difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

While some people’s minds won’t be changed by the new state law, others’ minds will be changed. Our partners at CalMatters, reporting on the news of the day, talked to a Sacramento woman, Wendy Valdez, who was not wearing a mask while she shopped at a grocery store. “Her reasoning: It wasn’t required at the time,” CalMatters reported. “But if it were, she said, she’d wear it. ‘I just got my hair done and they required it, so I wore one,’ she said.”

This face-covering order is a big deal. It’ll decrease the amount of time overwhelmed local business owners need to spend acting as the “mask police”—and it’ll save lives. To repeat what we said two days ago: California’s reopening process has a much better chance of succeeding now.

Thank you, Gov. Newsom.

Just a few more items from the day:

• I was on the I Love Gay Palm Springs Podcast today—you can hear me rant about the need for a statewide mask order before Newsom’s announcement—along with hosts John Taylor and Shann Carr, and guests Bryan Gallo, of NBC Palm Springs; Will Dean, of the Desert Healthcare District; LaShawn McGhee, co-founder of Revry TV; and actress Allie McCarthy, who stars in a Palm Springs International ShortFest film.

Airlines are beginning to crack down on the need for face coverings during flights. This has led, alas, to some drama.

• Speaking of face masks: While scientists virtually all agree that they’re effective, they’re arguing about how effective they are. Buzzfeed News looks at a letter more than 40 scientists sent to a journal, asking them to retract a paper written by Nobel Prize-winning chemist regarding their effectiveness.

Facebook today removed advertisements placed by the Trump campaign that, according to The New York Times, “prominently featured a symbol used by Nazis to classify political prisoners during World War II, saying the imagery violated company policy.” Wow.

We’ll be back tomorrow with an expanded Daily Digest. In the meantime, wash your hands; fight injustice; and wear a mask, because it’s the law. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means, and you value the quality local journalism that we do. Thank you.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s time for Gov. Gavin Newsom and, if possible, the California Legislature to make the usage of face masks mandatory.

It’s time. We see what’s happening in other states—most notably our neighbors to the east—where hospitalizations continue to skyrocket. We also keep seeing science come out showing how stunningly effective the use of simple face masks can be in slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

What else are we seeing? We’re seeing concerning local upticks in hospitalizations. We’re seeing local business owners—trying so hard to do the right thing—upset after influxes of customers, many of whom are from out of town, wandering in without wearing masks, in violation of local mask mandates.

We’re seeing local health officials fleeing from their jobs due to public and political pushback—including death threats. And we don’t even have the words to describe the hostile insanity going on in Orange County.

The verdict is in: Masks work. Masks could potentially help society keep going without total calamity until we get a vaccine or otherwise get a handle on things. Masks can help retail, offices and restaurants keep their doors open. But due to horrific leadership from the top, misguided business lobbying and public intimidation, local mandates are being revoked or just not followed—if there are local mandates at all.

Since nothing’s ever going to happen at the federal level, that leaves the state.

In the seven-plus year history of the Independent, we’ve never written an endorsement or editorialized directly on policy. That is, until now: Gov. Newsom, it’s time to save lives and give California’s reopening process its best chance of success by enacting a statewide mask order.

Today’s links:

• Some of the most encouraging medical news since the pandemic began came out today: A commonly used steroid, called dexamethasone, has been shown by scientists at the University of Oxford to save the lives of many COVID-19 patients who require oxygen. According to The New York Times, “In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.” Now, this doesn’t solve the pandemic, and the study has yet to be peer reviewed, meaning we need to take the news with that massive grain of salt we keep talking about. Nonetheless, this could be a very big deal in terms of saving thousands of lives.

• Speaking of taking things with a grain of salt: The county released its weekly district reports today. Looking at the District 4 report—in other words, the Coachella Valley—the COVID-19 numbers look so-so. We’re holding steady, more or less, with one big exception: The positivity rate is up to a disturbing 16 percent. However … the numbers don’t add up. If you divide the number of positives (345) by the number of tests (4,840), you get the positivity rate—and while the report explains that there’s a lag because tests results can take 3-5 days to come in, the difference between 345 divided by 4,840, or 7.1 percent, and 16 percent is so massive that it doesn’t seem possible for all these numbers to be correct; it’s also entirely possible I am misunderstanding something. I have a message in to the county to get an explanation; I will report back when I get an answer.

• The Palm Springs Police Department today announced that an officer has tested positive for COVID-19. The city says that officers who were in contact with that officer have been quarantined—and all seem fine—and that any known members of the public who came in contact with the officer have been notified. Get the info here.

• If you’re eating, or will be eating soon, or are generally averse to things that are disgusting, skip to the next item. Otherwise, check out this story from The New York Times; as someone noted on Twitter, this headline gets more disturbing with each word: “Flushing the Toilet May Fling Coronavirus Aerosols All Over: A new study shows how turbulence from a toilet bowl can create a large plume that is potentially infectious to a bathroom’s next visitor.”

• The San Francisco Chronicle talked to the owner of a Napa restaurant who opened his doors—only to close them again, and go back to doing just takeout, a week later.

• As noted in this space, numerous large media organizations have faced reckonings regarding diversity ever since the Black Lives Matter protests began—including the Los Angeles Times, NPR reports.

• From the Independent: We’re talking to three local protest organizers about their motivations; for the second piece in our series, we chatted with Erin Teran, one of the organizers of the #NoMoreHashtags rally in Indio last week. Key quote: “Going to a protest or a rally is so very important, because we have to be able to assemble and have a voice—but young people have to understand that you need to have a voice at City Council meetings and Board of Supervisors meetings, too.”

• Federal law enforcement agencies have pledged to investigate the hanging deaths of two Black men in Southern California in recent weeks. Local authorities have said there are no signs of foul play—but family members of the two men aren’t buying it.

• Some members of Congress who received federal stimulus grants and/or loans are now opposing legislation to shine a light on where all that taxpayer money went. See a problem?

• A GOP congressman who refused to wear a mask on the House floor has now come down with COVID-19, as has his wife and son. Ugh.

That’s enough for today. Thanks to all of you who have become Supporters of the Independent; if you would like to join these people in supporting quality local journalism, made free to all with no paywalls, you can do so here. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Toward the start of the stay-at-home order, I remember telling a friend (on a Zoom chat, of course) how much I looked forward to that wonderful day when the lockdown was over, and we could meet for happy-hour and hug again.

Ah, how naïve I was. If only it could be that simple.

We could meet for that happy hour again on Friday, as bars will be reopening that day. However, the scene would not be like it was in my mind’s eye. When I imagined that wonderful day, I didn’t imagine face masks and socially distanced tables—nor did I imagine the agonizing, scary dilemma going out to a bar would present.

And that hug? It’s definitely too soon for that.

Nothing seems simple in this pandemic-tinged, half-assed world in which we now live. On one hand, I keep seeing justifiably optimistic announcements on social media about gyms and cocktail lounges and movie theaters and even Disneyland reopening soon.

On the other … I keep looking at the local COVID-19 stats, and sighing at the across-the-board increases—which, predictably, people are freaking out about on social media. According to the state, our local hospitals have 85 coronavirus patients as of yesterday—the highest number I have seen a while.

But there’s a dilemma within this dilemma: The experts have said all along that when we reopened, cases would begin to rise. As Gov. Newsom said yesterday: “As we phase in, in a responsible way, a reopening of the economy, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases.

He’s right. They did say that. The goal is to make COVID-19 a manageable problem as life resumes. But it’s still a problem—a potentially deadly one—and nobody’s sure if we’ll be able to keep it “manageable” or not.

Today’s links:

• It’s official: Coachella and Stagecoach are cancelled for 2020. Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, officially pulled the plug this afternoon. “I am concerned as indications grow that COVID 19 could worsen in the fall,” said Kaiser in a news release. “In addition, events like Coachella and Stagecoach would fall under Governor Newsom’s Stage 4, which he has previously stated would require treatments or a vaccine to enter. Given the projected circumstances and potential, I would not be comfortable moving forward.”

• If you’re one of the people who is sniveling about masks, or denying that they work … it’s time for you to stop the sniveling and the denying.

Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege and the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association are in the midst of a war of words. Here’s the brief, oversimplified version what happened: On Monday, Holstege wrote an open letter to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in support of Supervisor V. Manuel Perez’s proposed resolutions to condemn the killing of George Floyd (which barely passed), and request the Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies (which failed when Perez couldn’t get a second). In it, Holstege wrote, among other things: “Like most communities throughout Riverside County, in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, we have a long history of racial segregation and exclusion, racial violence, racist city policies and policing, and injustice and disparities in our community that exist today.” This did not sit well with the officers’ union, which today accused Holstege of not bringing up any problems with the department until now, as well as “vilify(ing) our officers and department.” Holstege has since responded with claims that the union is mischaracterizing what she said. All three statements are recommended reading.

• Related-ish: San Francisco’s public-transportation agency recently announced it would no longer transport police officers to protests. The San Francisco Police Officers Association’s response? Hey Muni, lose our number.

• From ProPublica comes this piece: “The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years. I Know Because I’m One of Them.” Wendi Thomas’ story is a must-read.

• The Black Lives Matters protests are resulting in a lot of long-overdue changes. One shockingly meaningful one was announced today: NASCAR will no longer allow confederate flags at its racetracks.

And Walmart has announced it will stop keeping its “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cases.

And the Riverside County Sheriff announced today it would no longer use the use the carotid restraint technique.

• The government is understandably rushing the approvals processes to make potentially helpful COVID-10 treatments available. However, as The Conversation points out this is a potentially dangerous thing to do.

Also being rushed: A whole lot of state contracts for various things needed to battle the pandemic. Our partners at CalMatters break down how this created—and forgive the language, but this is the only word I can think of that sums things up properly—a complete and total clusterfuck.

• Provincetown, Mass., is normally a packed LGBT haven during the summer. However, this year, businesses there are just starting to reopen—and they’re trying to figure out the correct balance between income and safety.

Your blood type may help determine how you’ll fare if you get COVID-19. If you have Type 0, you may be less at risk—and if you have Type A, you may be more at risk.

Wired magazine talked to three vaccine researchers for a 15-minute YouTube video. Hear the voices and see the faces of the scientists behind the fight to end SARS-CoV-2.

A study of seamen on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt—where there was a much-publicized COVID-19 outbreak—offers hope that people who recover from the disease may have immunity.

If it seems like groceries are more expensive, that’s because they are—about 8.2 percent more expensive.

What fascinating times these are. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Black Lives Matter. Please help the Independent continue what we’re doing, without paywalls, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will likely be back tomorrow—Friday at the latest.

Published in Daily Digest

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