Newsletter: Our state of adaptability

Brenda Mendez, left, and her son David sell masks along Prairie Avenue in Hawthorne.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, April 9. I’m Christopher Goffard, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

As the coronavirus continues to wipe out livelihoods, with myriad industries frozen and millions of Californians now estimated to be out of work, some are finding novel ways to pay the bills until the crisis passes, or to repurpose their expertise in the fight against the virus.

Today’s Column One feature tells the story of a Redondo Beach family that has found an entrepreneurial niche in street-level mask sales. Brenda Mendez made shrimp fajitas at a mariscos restaurant until COVID-19 forced it to close. Her 15-year-old son, David, was in school. Now they’re hawking $5 masks — acquired in bulk from an acquaintance who sews them — at an intersection in Hawthorne.

“She said, ‘I need to find something to pay the bills, the stress was killing me, I couldn’t just be home doing nothing,’” said Brittny Mejia, who wrote the article. “I don’t think this would have been her first pick. I don’t know that street vending would be at the top of the list.”


[Read the story “She lost her job because of coronavirus. Now she and her son sell masks on a street corner” in the Los Angeles Times]

Mejia found the story through photographer Gary Coronado, who came across the mother-son pair last week. Mejia, who had been reporting from home for weeks, observed them as they worked and visited their home, taking notes on her phone. “There are so many people right now who have no way of paying bills,” said Mejia, who has previously written about housekeepers who have seen their hours slashed as a consequence of the coronavirus. “It was a clear example of people trying to adapt to that. This is the first story I found where people have found a way to make this work.”

Elsewhere, some businesses are sending their specialized equipment into battle. Over at the Marina del Rey-based KAA Design, the big 3-D printers are used to produce architectural models in projects for the firm’s clients, which include A-list celebrities. Now they’re busy turning out masks for distribution to the Keck Hospital of USC and other hospitals. Once printed, the masks are outfitted with HEPA filters and straps.

The firm’s president, Grant Kirkpatrick, is on the board of the USC architecture school, which has a volunteer network (by the latest count) of some 200 people, with some 200 3-D printers. Said Kirkpatrick: “It just seemed like a no-brainer to switch gears and keep people healthy.” A leader of the volunteer network is Alvin Huang, director of graduate architecture at USC, who said he had already enlisted “an army” of architects in the effort. The story is told by Times arts and culture writer Deborah Vankin, who quotes Huang as saying: “Architects have 3-D printers and know how to use them.”

[Read the story “From Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ house to N95-like masks: Architects join the COVID-19 fight” in the Los Angeles Times]

Up at UC Berkeley, a team of doctors and engineers is working to jury-rig sleep apnea machines as ventilators for COVID-19 patients. And a Santa Rosa cannabis business is shifting to the production of hand sanitizer.


Times columnist Mary McNamara, meanwhile, muses on the challenges of parenting in the age of Zoom meetings and the “universal coronavirus-mandated stay-at-home office,” and how the “BBC Dad” is now a widely resonant archetype.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


A new UCLA poll finds pervasive anxiety about COVID-19 among Angelenos, with 78% of polled L.A. County residents saying they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the virus infecting them or a family member. Economic anxieties are also sky-high. “People view this as an existential threat,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, the retired L.A. County supervisor who oversaw the poll. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County reported 29 new corornavirus deaths, bringing the county total to 198. But in a state where the death toll is more than 450, there is cause for hope, such as signs of a slowing growth rate in parts of the Bay Area. Los Angeles Times

Flattening the curve: California has not seen death on the scale of hot spots like New York or Italy, but officials caution Californians not to expect virus-curbing restrictions to be lifted soon — probably not for weeks or months. Los Angeles Times

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to lend 500 state-owned ventilators to New York and other coronavirus hot spots outside California has caught some local officials in his own state off guard as they scramble to acquire the much-needed medical equipment, particularly in Riverside County. Los Angeles Times


In Riverside, county officials say that nearly 100 residents of the Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center will be relocated for their safety because 13 employees failed to appear for work Tuesday and Wednesday. The facility had seen an outbreak of COVID-19 among among patients and employees. Los Angeles Times

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Battered by losses to former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called it quits in his quest for the Democratic nomination, but declares victory in “the ideological struggle.” Los Angeles Times

In El Salvador, where homicides have dropped, much-feared street gangs are enforcing social-distancing rules with the threat of violence. Los Angeles Times


No snow day: Residents in the Southern California mountains awoke to a blanket of fresh snowfall, but it was off limits because of stay-at-home restrictions. Los Angeles Times

Mountain High ski lifts and slopes are closed. As a post on Mountain High’s website put it, “If it weren’t for the coronavirus, we’d be experiencing the best spring in years.”
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)


At the SoFi stadium development in Inglewood, soon-to-be home for the Rams and Chargers, a second construction worker has tested positive for COVID-19. Los Angeles Times

The sports world wants to go back to work. “Yet with every day,” writes columnist Bill Plaschke, “its solutions for a return sound sillier, and its false hope does more damage.” Los Angeles Times


The Los Angeles Philharmonic is canceling the remainder of its 2019-20 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall, announcing layoffs. Los Angeles Times

In L.A.’s Orthodox Jewish community, concern is spreading about “secret prayer gatherings” during Passover and the Sabbath. dot.L.A.

A look at the “homespun humanism” of John Prine, and the late musician’s essential tracks. San Diego Union-Tribune

In the Berkeley Marina, a family homeschools on a fishing boat. San Francisco Chronicle


Los Angeles: rainy, 56. San Diego: showers, 62. San Francisco: cloudy, 63. San Jose: cloudy, 56. Fresno: scattered showers, 62. Sacramento: partly cloudy, 65. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Thomas Cox:

I moved to Claremont in 1978 to attend college. During my sophomore year, some friends and I had an outdoor party in a local orange grove. I will never forget the sweet, intoxicating scent of the orange blossoms, the soft, silvery light of the moon and the serene, sylvan atmosphere. The nighttime aesthetics and atmosphere of Southern California orange groves had an almost magical, mesmerizing quality. Later, I thought of the big orange groves depicted in the movie “Chinatown.” I can only imagine what California orange grove parties must have been like in the 1930s and 1940s.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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.