Essential California Week in Review: Big surge, little relief

A city worker cleans nearly empty Hollywood streets on Thursday, March 26, 2020.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, March 28.

Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week:

Coronavirus cases spike. By Thursday, the United States had surpassed Italy and China as the country with the most confirmed coronavirus cases, becoming the pandemic’s epicenter. The virus is exploding nationwide, including in California, where cases surged past 4,000.


So do unemployment claims. More than 1 million Californians have applied for unemployment benefits this month due to layoffs or reduced hours, officials say. It’s an unprecedented spike that requires emergency action to handle it all.

And rumors swirl. Despite claims on social media, the Los Angeles Police Department said its officers were not stopping people for violating the city’s strict Safer at Home restrictions.

Equipment grows scarce. A severe shortage of protective gear prompted Los Angeles County officials to advise doctors and nurses to reuse face masks and wear expired ones.

So do hospital beds. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he believes California will need 50,000 hospital beds for coronavirus patients, a significant increase from the 20,000 beds his administration had forecast the week before. The problem? The state doesn’t have that many. Temporary beds and plans to create new treatment centers are in the works.


Tests for sale. Testing remains scarce for most, but not all. Some doctors had been offering coronavirus tests for $250 or more to wealthy patients who bought them whether or not they had symptoms. The state medical board is now investigating.

Homeowners get help. Several major banks and other financial institutions agreed to delay foreclosures and provide mortgage relief to California homeowners who can’t make their monthly payments.

What about renters? Renters and landlords were left out as state and federal officials negotiated mortgage relief, leaving cities like L.A. to enact their own eviction bans and leaving newly jobless tenants scared. On Friday, the governor issued a temporary statewide eviction ban for those affected by the pandemic. They still must eventually pay all their rent.

An L.A. staple suffers. Taco trucks, a beloved symbol of the city, were spared as officials shut down restaurants. But now customers are dwindling, and some establishments are being pushed into survival mode. Other restaurants are banding together to seek aid.


More closures. L.A. put new restrictions on parks, hiking trails and, as of Friday, beaches. Outdoor recreation has surged in popularity, but city officials say the crowds pose a health risk.

PG&E’s plea. Pacific Gas & Electric has pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the 2018 Camp fire in the Northern California town of Paradise as part of a settlement with prosecutors. But the plea’s implications for other utilities isn’t clear.

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1. Fifty life skills you can learn online — for free! — during self-quarantine. Los Angeles Times


2. Fact-checking Devin Nunes on the coronavirus pandemic. Visalia Times-Delta

3. Thousands of parked rental cars cram lots in Palm Springs as tourists and snowbirds leave. Desert Sun

4. Coyotes are being seen on the empty streets of San Francisco. SFGate

5. How do you become infected with the coronavirus? Los Angeles Times


ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

The quinceañera is another youthful casualty of the coronavirus. “If Ashley Soltero had turned 15 in any other year, her quinceañera would have been much, much different. She wouldn’t have waited to announce the May 2 date to her friends, her escorts — chambelánes — wouldn’t have been nervous about coming to dance practice, and her mother wouldn’t have been laid off in the midst of paying off Ashley’s $2,500 charro-style dress.” Los Angeles Times

Coronavirus threatens an already strained maternal health system. No visitors. Induced labor. Converted delivery wards. Tens of thousands of women across the country are giving birth in unprecedented circumstances. New York Times

A doctor’s plea: “Stop yelling out the window. Just give doctors the masks you’re hoarding.” New York Times

Poem of the week: “Nothing Twice” by Wislawa Szymborska.


Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes. (And a giant thanks to the legendary Laura Blasey for all her help on the Saturday edition.)