CVIndependent

Mon08102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

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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On this week's fresh and fruity weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen ponders the desires of Senate Republicans; The K Chronicles enjoys a quarantine dream about a frozen-foods empire; This Modern World looks at election reassurances from the Trump administration; Red Meat visits a mobile dermatologist; and Apoca Clips features Li'l Trumpy's musings on likability.

Published in Comics

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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Earlier this week, we asked you, our amazing readers, to answer a short, six-question survey about this Daily Digest—and more than 200 of you took the time to do so. We thank all of you who did.

Here are some takeaways:

• The majority of you (53.8 percent) said you preferred getting the Daily Digest three days per week—while 36.3 percent said you’d ideally like to receive it five times per week. However, some of the comments led us to believe that a lot of you who said you preferred three days per week did so because we talked about the time constraints we were under. So, moving forward, we’ll continue to do the Digest at least three days per week.

• More than 61.3 percent of you said you’d like the Daily Digest to include all news, not just COVID-19-related news. Therefore, in the coming weeks, we’ll broaden the range of news links included.

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Thank you yet again to all of you who responded. If you have questions or concerns I didn’t address here, send me an email, and I’ll be happy to answer. And finally, to all of you. Thanks for reading. That’s why we do what we do.

Enough yammering about ourselves. Here’s the news of the day:

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week. I joined hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr to talk to Dr. Laura Rush and Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors. Other guests joined the podcast as well; check it out!

• We previously mentioned that the city of Palm Springs had said that bars (serving food) and restaurants in the city (currently operating only outdoors) have to close at 11 p.m. for the time being. Well, after receiving some complaints, the city has extended that closure time to midnight.

RIP, Herman Cain. The former GOP presidential candidate and COVID-19/mask-wearing skeptic, who attended President Donald Trump’s infamous rally in Tulsa, died yesterday at the age of 74 due to the virus.

• It’s official: The national economy during the second quarter suffered from an unprecedented collapse due to the coronavirus and the resulting shutdowns.

• Wisconsin yesterday became the latest state to require that people wear face masks in public. However, Republicans in the state Legislature there seem determined to strike down Gov. Tony Evers’ order. Sigh.

Vanity Fair published something of a bombshell yesterday, saying that a team led by Jared Kushner had developed a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan—but it was shelved, in part, because the coronavirus then was primarily hitting Democratic-led states.

• Please pay attention to this, folks, as it’s really important: U.S. Postal Service backlogs continue to amount, as the Trump administration attacks and starves the agency in multiple waysand this could cause huge problems with mail ballots during the election.

• Pay attention to this, too: The U.S. Census Bureau is being pressured by the Trump administration to wrap up the oh-so-important once-a-decade count earlysomething that has Democrats rather alarmed.

A sad milestone: For the first confirmed time, a Californian under the age of 18 has died from the coronavirus.

• Listen to the president! Yes, really, in this instance: On the heels of reports that the FDA is getting ready to allow a more-widespread use of convalescent blood plasma to treat COVID-19 patients, President Trump yesterday encouraged people who had recovered from COVID-19 to donate.

Got goggles? Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended wearing them in addition to a face covering, if possible, to offer more protection from this nasty virus.

• The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the first wave of lawsuits being filed against employers who allegedly did not do all they could to protect their employees from SARS-CoV-2.

An NPR investigation found that a multi-million dollar contract the Trump administration awarded to a company to collect COVID-19 data from hospitals—something the CDC had already been doing capably—raises a whole lot of alarming questions.

• The $600 in extra unemployment benefits from the federal government is expiring, in large part due to claims that it’s acted as a disincentive for people to go back to work. However, a new Yale study indicates that those claims are not based in reality.

• The government has 44 million N95 masks stockpiled, with another half-billion on order. However, those masks aren’t getting to the professionals who need them in a prompt manner. Key quote: “It’s like we’re in the middle of a hurricane here. They should not be stockpiling PPE,” said Bob Gibson, vice president of the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest such union in Florida. “It should be given to the frontline health workers. They have been in this fight for five months now, and they are exhausted.”

The U.S. Mint kindly requests that you spend the coins you have, because there aren’t enough of them in circulation right now.

• Remember that huge Twitter hack several weeks back that essentially shut down all verified accounts? Well, feds say they’ve arrested the mastermind … 17-year-old Graham Ivan Clark.

• If you’re a baseball fan like me … savor this weekend’s games, as things could get shut down as soon as Monday, according to the MLB commissioner.

Hong Kong is postponing legislative elections for a year due to the coronavirus—something that has pro-democracy folks quite alarmed. That couldn’t happen here. Right?

• Experts writing for The Conversation say that some 800,000 low-income households may have recently had their electricity disconnected. Blame the COVID-19-related shutdown—and lawmakers who aren’t doing enough to intervene.

• Also from The Conversation: Older, under-maintained schools in poorer areas were dangerous to begin with—and they’ll be even more dangerous if students are forced to return to them as the pandemic rages.

• We’ve talked in this space a LOT about the various vaccines being tested—but it’s likely that those vaccines, even if proven to be generally effective, won’t work on everyone. Well, MIT is using machine learning to design a vaccine that would cover a lot more people.

• Sweden has not done a whole lot to shut down its economy—and a lot of people have died there from COVID-19 as a result. Still … the curve is being flatted there. How and why? Will it last? MedPage Today looks into it.

An Arenas Road bar is poised to reopen (for outdoor dining) on Aug. 9, thanks to a brand-new kitchen. See what Chill Bar has planned.

• Finally, from the Independent: Get outside when temps are only in the 90s and check out what the skies have to offer in August—including the Perseids meteor shower

Folks, we’ve survived another month. Who knows what August will bring? Stay tuned to find out. Have a great weekend; the Daily Digest will be back Monday.

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Happy Wednesday, everyone.

If you’re one of the 130 readers who has taken the time to complete our short, six-question survey: Thank you! If you have not taken the survey yet, and you have 90 seconds to spare, please click here.

We’ll close the survey tomorrow (Thursday) night, and I’ll share some takeaways from the survey in Friday’s Daily Digest.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Here are today’s links:

Here’s the most recent District 4 COVID-19 report from Riverside County. District 4 consists primarily of the Coachella Valley, as well as points eastward to the Arizona state border. The good news: Local cases and hospitalizations seem to be edging slowly downward. The bad: The weekly positivity rate remains alarmingly high. Peruse yourself you’d like.

• Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, who has resisted wearing a mask at the Capitol, has tested positive for the coronavirus. I shan’t comment further, because I have no words.

• Meanwhile, California has endured its deadliest day for COVID-19. Again.

• The state linked to this article yesterday: XPrize is offering $5 million to anyone who can “come up with inexpensive, fast, and easy COVID-19 testing that enables effective, data-driven tracing.” Let’s all hope they have to fork out that money—and fast.

The Conversation looks at the impending eviction crisis—and a legal system that, for centuries, has favored landlords over tenants.

• Related: The economies in California and a lot of other states will take huge hits if the new GOP stimulus package gets passed without major changes.

• Also related: California is considering providing the extra $600 in unemployment if the federal government doesn’t extend the benefit … but will need to borrow money to do so.

• NBC News looks at the tactics protesters are using to stand up to federal law enforcement in Portland. Get out the leaf blowers!

• Related: The New York Times reports that those federal agents have agreed to leave Portlandas long as the federal courthouse is secured.

• An NPR analysis shows that the coronavirus is becoming a huge problem in a lot of the nation’s small cities, as more and more hospitals become overwhelmed.

• The fact that we’re talking about what may happen when a vaccine arrives is a good thing, but nonetheless, take note: Now is the time for people to learn about a vaccine’s possible side effectsnot to cause alarm, but to learn.

AMC theaters and Universal Pictures have kissed and made up. AMC had said it’d never again show Universal films after the studio released Trolls World Tour online because of the pandemic. As part of the reconciliation, AMC has agreed that Universal can release films online after just 17 days in theaters; before, that number was at least 75 days.

• Sigh … meanwhile, in Minnesota, a rodeo took place over the weekend. The organizer said there’d be “no spectators,” but invited people to show up to protest “government overreach.” Thousands of people—many of them not wearing masks—did.

• From the Independent: We’ve posted an interesting commentary piece from local PR guru David Perry, in which he asks people to stop calling for a complete shutdown—because those of us who are less privileged can’t “shut down.”

The stock value for Eastman Kodak—a company that has struggled in recent years, because film really isn’t a thing anymore—has gone bonkers, after the feds gave Kodak a Defense Production Act loan of $765 million to start making drug ingredients.

• From the “What in the Ever-Loving $&%# Is Going On?!” files: Random people in at least 28 states have received seeds in the mail, apparently from China … and nobody knows why. If you get them, contact the state, and DON’T PLANT THEM; investigators are trying to figure out whether these seeds are harmful. Man, 2020 just won’t quit.

• Whoever had “Madonna Posts Discredited Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory” on their 2020 Bingo card … step up and claim your prize!

Finally, a bit of … possible local news: Is the Riviera Palm Springs about to become the latest Margaritaville? Hmm.

That’s the day’s news. Wash your hands! Wear a mask. Be kind. If you’re able to send us a few bucks to help fund this Daily Digest and the other things the Independent does, please click here. The digest will be back Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

As July comes to an end to make way for August … I am tired.

I am tired of this damned pandemic. Of not being able to hug my friends. Of seeing so many people struggle. Of not being able to play softball with my teammates. Of watching my business limp along financially. Of not being able to travel to see family. Of not being able to enjoy the world I took for granted back in February.

Yeah. I’m really tired.

I say this not to complain—because I know I am one of the blessed ones. I live in a place where I am comfortable and safe. Because I have an amazing husband whose work has (knock on wood) been stable, the bills are paid, and I have food in the refrigerator. No, I say this because I know a lot of you out there can relate.

And you know what? Even though I am tired, and I am not feeling optimistic, I know, logically, that better times are coming.

First: We’re learning more about how to deal with this damned virus. Treatments for the virus are getting better. Professional sports are back—yes, without spectators, but this is an improvement over the bleakness of late March and April. All the early vaccine trials that we’ve heard about have gone well. One way or another, we will eventually defeat SARS-CoV-2, just like we’ve beaten every other pox on humanity that’s come our way over the centuries.

Second: Despite all the pain and fear and isolation at home, good people continue to do great things in this community. Various recent Independent stories prove that: You can read about an elder-law attorney fighting the good fight. About activists working to get out the vote in November. About the medical world, at long last, acknowledging that racism is a public-health issue. About a young future leader eventually heading off to Stanford University—and pledging to come back to the Coachella Valley for her career, because she wants to make it a better place. About restaurants feeding seniors in need. About local musicians continuing to create. About the McCallum Theatre finding a way to give their Open Call talent-competition finalists their moment in the spotlight, despite the pandemic. About passionate local theater artists coming to together to find a way forward, even though nobody knows when we’ll be able to gather in auditoriums again.

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

These are dark and scary times, and a whole lot of people are hurting. A whole lot of us are tired. But there’s a lot of good out there—and better times are coming. Really.

As always, thanks for reading—and be sure to pick up the August 2020 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, hitting streets this week.

Published in Editor's Note

Our gardener, Jose, came over today.

"How is your family?" my husband and I casually asked. His visage changed.

"My brother and his wife died last week of COVID, in Mexico."

Speaking with Jose (who rushed over to help us with a totally trivial gardening matter) brought me to tears; in fact, I had to go inside. Jose's family has worked on what is now our home for more than 30 years; frankly, this piece of real estate is more "theirs" than "ours." So, so many working-class families are on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. That's why I have so little patience—actually, NO patience—with generally white, work-at-home people (like me) who say, "Oh! We need to shut down until there's a vaccine!"

Get a clue, people. COVID is a part of our world now, and people who think everyone can "shelter in place" and "Zoom" into the "new normal" are living in a fantasy world. We need to be SMART. We need to be CAREFUL. We need to support those who live and work in the public realm to keep us all ALIVE and LIVING.

Just over the border, Mexico is feeling COVID—big time—and that means that the families of their immigrant brethren here in the United States are suffering. Today was heart-breaking. Wearing a mask and going out to eat at a restaurant or shop in a small business isn’t that hard. Stop pretending that we can "internet" this pandemic into submission. That is the definition of white privilege.

We're all in this together—but some of us are "more" in this than others. Get out of your digital bubble. Shop. Be careful. Support your local small businesses and restaurants—smartly—and stop calling for "shutting down" forever. Many people in working-class communities don't have that option.

The next time you ask to "shelter in place" forever, please realize that the people whose labor allows you to "shelter" cannot.

David Perry is a public-relations consultant and author of the new novel Upon This Rock. He and his husband, Alfredo Casuso, live in Palm Springs; www.davidperry.com.

Published in Community Voices

Could the Independent have about 90 seconds of your time?

We have developed six-question survey asking questions about this Daily Digest. All responses are anonymous; please click here to take it.

A little background: I started the Daily Digest when the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit full force (on March 13, to be exact). The goal was for it to be sent each weekday, offering up vetted, reliable links to news about the pandemic. The response was overwhelmingly positive (and I thank you for that).

In late May, following the death of George Floyd, the Daily Digest also started including links relevant to the Black Lives Matter protests. Today, the digest is primarily focused on COVID-19, with occasional links to other matters of importance to you, our readers.

Several weeks ago, we cut the frequency of the Daily Digest to three days per week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). We did so for two reasons. First: The open rate for these Daily Digests had decreased ever so slightly, and I feared y’all were suffering from news fatigue. Second: Frankly, I needed a break. Each of Daily Digest takes, on average, about two hours of my time, meaning the digest had added 10 hours to my work week. By going down to three days a week, I was able to reclaim four hours of my time per week for either personal matters or other work.

So … as we head into August, it’s time to re-evaluate things. The Daily Digest isn’t going anywhere; we’re just trying to figure out what to include in it, and how often you want it to appear in your inbox (and at CVIndependent.com).

That survey, again, can be found here. Thanks for your time, and for helping us figure out how best we can serve you, our amazing and talented readers.

Today’s links:

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: The vast majority of California’s schools will not be reopening this fall—at least to start. As a result, parents are scrambling. Key quote: “Millions of working parents … need to wade through constantly evolving scenarios about the school year ahead, weighing the twin stressors of how prolonged campus closures will affect their childrens’ learning and mental well-being, as well as their own livelihoods.”

This just in from the city of Palm Springs: “In an effort to flatten the spread of COVID-19 and minimize large gatherings, the city of Palm Springs today issued a new supplementary order that requires restaurants, bars, wineries, distilleries and breweries to close from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. The temporary order goes into effect at noon on Friday, July 31, and will remain until the COVID-19 emergency is abated. Guests already in the facilities at 10 p.m. may be allowed by the operator to remain until 11 p.m. Only staff needed to close, open or clean can be in such facilities between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.” Interesting.

• A sliver of good news: The COVID-19 hotspot messes that are Arizona, Texas and Florida are indeed sill messes—but there are signs of improvement.

• And a sliver of hope: The final-stage, large-scale study of a promising SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is officially under way

Alas, globally, the coronavirus news is not good, as nations in Asia, Europe and elsewhere are issuing new restrictions and closures because of outbreaks. (However, it should be noted that these outbreaks would be mere nits here in the U.S.). Sigh.

• Google says its employees will be working from home for another year. Yes. Another whole year.

• Sinclair Media—a conservative-owned company that has 294 stations nationwide—was going to run a segment over the weekend featuring whackadoo “Plandemic” conspiracy theorist Judy Mikovits claiming Dr. Anthony Fauci himself created SARS-CoV-2. However, thank goodness, the company had a change of heart.

• In my post-print-deadline haze, I forgot to mention last week that I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, along with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr, and expert Dr. Laura Rush. Check it out! 

The New York Times takes a look at current state of antibody testing, and more or less concludes that we’re doing it wrong.

• Related-ish: Riverside County today released the results of an antibody study—and almost 6 percent of the people tested had the antibodies. That means less that less than a third of the COVID-19 cases in the county have been reported, if true.

The Washington Post takes a heartbreaking look at some of the chaos that’s unfolded in California’s prisons as a result of the coronavirus. Key quote: “Before the pandemic, women at (the California Institution for Women) were allowed out of their cells for 23 hours a day. They worked and participated in professional training or personal development programs. That ended in mid-March, along with family visits. Women say they now often spend 23 hours locked in their cells, with little information on how long the latest lockdown measures will last or when they’ll be able to exercise outside, call their families or even be allowed to shower.”

The Major League Baseball season could be in jeopardy, as the Miami Marlins team is in the midst of an outbreak, affecting 11 players and two coaches. As of now, only three games, total, have been postponed—but needless to say, this is not good.

• It turns out FEMA has been sending expired and faulty personal protective equipment to nursing homes across the country. What in the heck? 

The Save Our Stages bill has been introduced in Congress; it would offer a lifeline to independent performance venues across the country. Rolling Stone recently spoke to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, one of the sponsors of the bill.

• Our friends at The Conversation examine the various lawsuits filed against the Trump administration because he’s sending mysterious federal law enforcement into various cities, foremost Portland.

A study of Microsoft employees newly working from home revealed some fascinating things. Key quote: “One overarching result of being stuck at home—at work—is that the working day has become longer. ‘People were 'on' four more hours a week, on average,’ say the researchers.”

• Finally, let’s conclude with this humorous call to change our vocabulary because of the pandemic, including the introduction of terms like “Zoom Tourism” into our vernacular.

That’s the news for the day. Please, if you’re able, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, to help us continue providing quality local journalism, for free, to all. Stay safe; wear a mask; and, as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

They worry about who will care for the children and how far their education will slide.

They anxiously await details on what distance learning will actually look like this fall—hopeful but skeptical that there will be more structure and support than there was during the spring crisis.

They’re furiously networking on Facebook and Nextdoor in the tens of thousands to form learning pods or arrange child care. They’ve placed a huge number of calls to local tutoring services in search of help. Some wonder who will watch their child—let alone supervise online classes—while they work essential jobs.

Parents of more than 5.9 million California K-12 children are scrambling to adapt to a new reality without schools where they can send their children. Ninety six percent of the state’s total enrollment is in one of the 37 counties—including Riverside County—currently on the state’s watch list. Many students still do not have computers and or reliable internet access, and research has increasingly shown the inequitable toll distance learning took on disadvantaged students who lacked opportunities to meaningfully engage.

Many teachers and parents remain worried that physically reopening schools while coronavirus cases surge in most of the state will endanger educators and students and further spread the virus. Schools, which spent weeks devising plans for socially distant classrooms, still lack financial support from the federal government they say they need to safely reopen. Last week, as coronavirus cases continued to rise in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled new requirements that effectively shut the door for most schools to begin school with in-person instruction until their respective counties stabilize infections and hospitalizations.

Now, millions of working parents, like Rebecca Hill in Chico, need to wade through constantly evolving scenarios about the school year ahead, weighing the twin stressors of how prolonged campus closures will affect their childrens’ learning and mental well-being, as well as their own livelihoods.

Hill’s son and daughter will start second-grade and kindergarten in less than a month under distance learning after Butte County landed this week on the state’s COVID-19 watch list, which now governs whether local public and private schools can physically reopen for in-person instruction.

But Hill, 38, is also back at work as a code inspector in neighboring Yuba County, where she spends her days scoping out buildings, nuisance calls and illegal marijuana grows in the rural northern county.

A few weeks ago, Hill and her husband debated whether to opt for morning or afternoon in-person classes under proposed hybrid scheduling—an anxiety-inducing prospect since her husband is immuno-compromised and receives dialysis three days a week. After their district said last week that it would start the year online, the question became whether to enroll full-time in an online school offered by the district, which Hill is leaning toward to minimize chances that her husband will get sick if and when schools do re-open in person. Homeschooling might be an option if they had the time.

One thing is for sure.

“We definitely don’t have the ability for me to not work,” said Hill, the family breadwinner.


Unanswered Questions

In Los Angeles, Tunette Powell’s three sons will begin the new year under distance learning, but details so far remain sparse, three weeks before schools begin instruction, adding stress to how she and her husband, an essential worker, will balance work and co-teaching their kids.

As it did when it initially closed schools in mid-March, Los Angeles Unified, a massive district of 600,000 students, created a ripple effect across the state when it said July 13 that it would begin the year with full-time distance learning, citing surging cases in the county.

Superintendent Austin Beutner and school leaders across California have told families that distance-learning programs will be more rigorous and robust than what schools offered this spring. New statewide standards for distance learning will attempt to hold schools accountable, and students will be graded for their work.

A recent survey by Speak Up, a Los Angeles-based parent advocacy group, found wide disparities in the amount of live instruction Black and Latino students received this spring compared with their white peers. Many were dissatisfied with how little live, or synchronous, instruction their students received, and the group has called on the district to gather input from parents over how to improve distance learning.

Several critical questions remain unanswered for Powell and other parents as the first day of school draws closer.

What will the school day look like? Will there be a consistent start time every day to plan her workday around? How much face time will her kids get with their teachers, and will her 11-year-old receive more live interaction than the weekly, one-hour check-ins the student received spring? Will the district distribute newer devices to replace the outdated ones that resulted in several technical headaches last spring? Will there be support for Powell’s kindergartner and other young students not yet adept at using technology to learn?

“I don’t know any of that. I know none of that. It worries me,” said Powell, interim director of UCLA’s Parent Project, a think tank aiming to improve parent engagement in schools.

Powell’s oldest son, the 11-year-old entering sixth-grade, is not enthusiastic about continuing distance learning. She’s especially worried about her youngest son, a 5-year-old who will start kindergarten at Baldwin Hills Elementary. Many academics believe younger students should be among the most prioritized groups for getting into physical classrooms once it’s reasonably safe to do so, arguing that elementary students stand the most to lose from being away from classrooms.

“He knows he’s going to a new school,” Powell said, “but I don’t think he’s fully grasped that going to a new school is going to happen in his room, so that’s been difficult.”


DIY Education

With schools across the country planning for distance learning starts, parent interest in arranging “learning pods,” in which small groups of students are taught by a tutor or teacher, has grown.

Shannon Mulligan, owner of Marin Tutors, has seen that spontaneous interest firsthand.

“As soon as Gov. Newsom announced schools weren’t going to open, my phone rang every day, all day, for four days in a row,” Mulligan said, with parents inquiring about teachers or tutors willing to participate in a learning pod.

The pod concept has attracted everyone from working-class moms holding down full-time jobs looking for tutors to help guide their students during distance learning, to a dad looking to secure a teacher for more than 60 hours a month to teach curriculum supplementing what his kids learn online.

Mulligan’s tutoring company, which also works with the county to offer services for foster youth, charges hourly rates that vary depending on educators’ experience. Individual rates for parents go down as students are added to the pod, with a cap of five kids. Once inside a pod, everyone wears masks outside, socially distanced.

Traffic on Mulligan’s website has increased by 75 percent since Newsom’s July 17 announcement. She said many calls come from parents with incoming kindergartners wary of how the tots will fare learning remotely.

“So many (parents) said to me when they called, ‘I didn’t want to have this happen, but I’m forced to homeschool now,’” Mulligan said.


Insufficient Support

Comprehensive current data on how working parents are adapting to school closures remains elusive. It’s unclear how many parents statewide have been laid off, had work hours reduced or quit their jobs and filed for unemployment, since neither the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics or the California Employment Development Department include parental status in monthly job reports. That’s especially true for essential workers, who in California are disproportionately Black and Latino and have experienced higher infection rates, since policy analysts usually rely on longer-term Census surveys to gauge economic status.

“I don’t know if we do know a lot about those families, to be honest,” said Kristin Schumacher, a senior policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center, who is also juggling her 6-year-old’s Zoom classes while she works remotely. “The reality is a lot of families are really scrambling under impossible situations to make this work.”

In Santa Cruz County, Erendira Guerrero and her team at Encompass Community Services are trying to help fill the gaps for parents who work at farms, grocery stores, cleaning services and medical offices with remote versions of their Head Start and Papás program for fathers. Wellness check-ins are now done by phone or video chat, and more than 600 care packages have been distributed with diapers, toys and learning aids like puppets, bubbles and songs in English and Spanish.

Still, the pandemic has exposed major holes in systems like unemployment, rent assistance and health care, especially for undocumented families.

“A big part of our program’s work is focused on connecting parents with resources in the community to support their needs,” Guerrero said. “Some of our families are just not as comfortable sharing their needs over the phone or video.”

Existing regulations offer limited protection for working parents considering requesting time off or other alternatives to juggle school and jobs. For companies with 25 or more employees, California workers are guaranteed five days of job protection for emergencies under the Family School Partnership Act. The California Family Rights Act allows workers at companies with 50 or more employees to take 12 weeks off for a new child or family illness. In March, the federal government enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to extend 12 weeks off for school conflicts, but it only applies to companies with 500 or fewer employees and excludes industries including health-care providers.

For many families, that leaves “no great options,” said Katherine Wutchiett, senior staff attorney for San Francisco advocacy group Legal Aid at Work.

“We always recommend talking with your employer, seeing if there’s something that you can work out with them,” Wutchiett said. But outside those limited exceptions, “At the end of the day, if the employer says you have to be at work and they cannot be at work … there isn’t any legal obligation on their employer’s part to continue holding their job.”

Education policy advocate and former teacher Elliot Haspel floated the idea of a “Parent Protection Program,” modeled off forgivable loans made to businesses under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but the prospect of major reform is uncertain. A bill from Santa Barbara Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson, SB 1383, would expand state requirements for employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid family leave and was approved by the state Senate, but still requires sign off in the Assembly. Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s plan for universal child care, introduced this week, could help, but is months away at best.

In the meantime, remote schools offer a prime example of the state’s increasingly polarized economy.

Some employees of deep-pocketed companies, especially in the tech industry, are offered company-funded online tools, additional paid time off or flexible schedules. Many essential workers have no recourse. The toll on women’s employment and the gender-wage gap, kids’ educational attainment and costs for businesses seeing employees leave the workforce are just the beginning.

“What economists don’t consider often enough is the economic cost of duress,” said Tracey Grose, founding principal of Bay Area business consultancy Next Curve Strategy, who herself helped supervise Zoom classes for the children of two working neighbors in the fall. “When a family is stressed out trying to keep a roof over their heads, they cannot be the best parents they can be.”

Felecia Przybyla, a Sacramento County mom, is trying to answer long-term questions on short deadlines before classes resume. She works remotely for a company out of state while her husband reports to his job with the county, leaving her to juggle her own work calls and her three elementary-age childrens’ need for instruction and technology help. While she doesn’t want to rely on the state, Przybyla has considered leaving her job to focus on school and file for unemployment, with expanded aid available to contractors like her.

So far, she’s held off.

“We’re hoping to buy a house in the next six months, and I need to have a job,” Przybyla said. “I don’t want to give that up, either, and I don’t think I should have to be put in a position to decide between a job that provides for our family and my kids’ schooling.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

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