Newsletter: Looking for the helpers near and far

Eugene Cayetano caps bottles of hand sanitizers at the Santa Ana factory of Suavecito, which usually manufactures pomade and Chicano hipster fashion.
Eugene Cayetano caps bottles of hand sanitizer at the Santa Ana factory of Suavecito, which usually manufactures pomade and Chicano hipster fashion.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, April 14. I’m Esmeralda Bermudez, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

In times of crisis, people often say to look for the helpers, for some glimmer of goodness to keep yourself afloat.

The task might seem impossible these days, given the state of our economy, our shuttered world, our overwhelming sense of loss.

But out in the wilderness, Mother Nature, hard at work, might just offer some relief.

At Yosemite National Park, coyotes, bobcats and bears are reclaiming the valley as tourists are prohibited from entering, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


This spring, you might feel as if you’ve been transported to another time, a previous era inside the state’s most popular park, my colleague Susanne Rust writes.

The air was crystal-clear — not a hint of diesel or exhaust tainted the sweet, spring breeze. And the valley was nearly silent, except for the rushing waters of the Merced River and the wind blowing through the ponderosa pines.

It’s a breathtaking scene to imagine as millions of us statewide weather this pandemic from home, some listening to podcasts and baking up a storm to relieve the stress; others, out of work, counting the days until the promised stimulus check arrives in the mail.

On Saturday, the IRS announced in a tweet that the process of distributing the $1,200 checks had begun.

This week also brought a few more positive notes for Californians.

Drivers, who aren’t much driving nowadays, can expect to get a partial refund on at least two months’ worth of insurance premiums. Less activity and commuting due to the pandemic have meant lower risk, said the state insurance commissioner’s office.

Also, officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that no student will get an F on their spring report card. The no-fail policy takes into account family hardships that are likely to limit students’ ability to learn in the district, where 80% of them come from low-income families.

On the front lines, doctors and researchers are doing all they can to make a difference. Some are testing decades-old vaccines. Others are confronting the nation’s shortages of critical medical supplies, turning their ingenuity to finding solutions. One team at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City scavenged tubes and electronics and successfully converted a $1,500 sleep therapy device into a full-blown ventilator, capable of substituting for the $50,000 machine on many patients. A Chatsworth-based toy company is looking to produce two types of masks.


Out in Orange County, three guys have also found a way to help their city, Santa Ana. The makers of the hair pomade called Suavecito are now making hand sanitizer. Thousands of bottles — to sell and to donate.

“They’re looked up to here in Santa Ana,” Jeff Jensen, owner of Chapter One: the modern local, told writer Gustavo Arellano. “These guys, they’re worldwide but they’re focused on what’s the most important thing right now — putting stuff in the hands of people who need it.”

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


Polls suggests that 95% of the public supports stay-at-home measures — at least for now — even as the restrictions have devastated the economy. Los Angeles Times

The latest flareup between between L.A. County’s sheriff and supervisors continues a long-running power struggle. But it comes as state, local and federal officials face intense scrutiny over their handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Los Angeles Times

They’re the future of Hollywood diversity, but coronavirus has their careers on hold. Now these annual talent show participants face an uncertain future in an industry that even in the best of times has traditionally underrepresented women, people of color, queer and disabled people. Los Angeles Times

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Millions of taxpaying immigrants won’t get stimulus checks. Those who do not have legal status in the U.S. but who work here and pay taxes would not benefit from the $2.2-trillion package that Congress approved to offer help during the coronavirus pandemic. Los Angeles Times

San Joaquin Valley farmworkers fear working — and not working — amid the coronavirus. Undocumented farmworkers, who make up about half the total farm labor force according to some federal estimates, are expected to face the toughest time adjusting to the coronavirus economy. Fresno Bee


California, Oregon and Washington will work together on a plan to lift coronavirus restrictions. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he intends to provide details today on California’s strategy to begin to walk back his stay-at-home order and allow businesses to resume. Los Angeles Times

What might that plan look like? Reopening California could mean masks, telecommuting and social distancing at restaurants. Los Angeles Times

L.A. voters lack confidence in President Trump’s coronavirus performance and give Newsom and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti high marks, a new poll finds. Los Angeles Times

Inspired by Bernie Sanders, a legion of young progressives have set out to run for local, state and federal positions to advocate for issues the senator helped bring into the mainstream conversation during his 2016 and 2020 presidential bids. Los Angeles Times

Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president. The move marked a major step toward unifying the Democratic Party in its drive to defeat Trump and sharply reduced the risk that Democrats will be as weakened by intraparty tensions as they were four years ago. Los Angeles Times


Fake cures, scams, phony medications and price gouging: Predators prey during coronavirus. They range from purveyors of unorthodox medical treatments to sophisticated Medicare scammers, identity thieves and fraudsters who are soliciting investment in coronavirus treatments that don’t exist or aren’t recognized by government scientists. Los Angeles Times

San Francisco authorities have shut down an underground nightclub. More than 150 people packed into an illegal club during two days of secret partying before authorities shut it down. Los Angeles Times

Four hundred and twenty-eight walked out of the Fresno County jail in releases related to coronavirus. The sheriff implored citizens not to ignore crimes because of concerns that the offenders would not be arrested. “Eventually the offenders ... will be held accountable,” she said. Fresno Bee


Eighty-nine percent of L.A. nursing homes with coronavirus outbreaks have a history of infection problems, according to a Times analysis. While infection control deficiencies are the most common violations, homes that have struggled with the guidelines in the recent past are dominating the list of facilities with outbreaks in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles Times

A custody assistant at Men’s Central Jail is on life support and 11 inmates have tested positive at L.A. County jails. “We’re just praying and rooting for him that he can pull through,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday. Los Angeles Times

Bay Area women are turning to midwives and home birth during the pandemic. San Francisco Chronicle

Joshua trees are being recommended for endangered species listing in California. The Southwest’s weird, beloved, iconic plant took a big step toward heightened legal protection with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recommendation. Desert Sun

A Joshua tree frames the vast landscape.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)


In 2015, Bill Gates predicted an epidemic would kill millions. “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war — not missiles but microbes,” he said at the time. Los Angeles Times

The coronavirus crisis has forced Burning Man to move from the desert to online. Event planners will “lean into” the extravaganza’s previously announced “multiverse” theme by re-creating its desert culture in cyberspace. Los Angeles Times

Matt Holzman, longtime KCRW host and producer, has died at 56. The intrepid producer behind several of KCRW’s popular programs died of stage 4 metastatic cancer. Los Angeles Times

These chain restaurants are selling cost-effective family bundles and do-it-yourself kits. Here is a sampling of what entrees and sides are out there. Orange County Register

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Los Angeles: sunny, 78. San Diego: cloudy, 70. San Francisco: sunny, 69. San Jose: sunny, 76. Fresno: sunny, 77. Sacramento: sunny, 78. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Rudy Ruiz:

In the winter of 1948, I came to live with a maiden aunt who lived in Los Angeles. It was my first visit to California. I had never been out of the state of Texas before. That first morning I stepped out of the eight-unit Courts that was her home in Lincoln Heights east of downtown L.A. and saw the snow-covered peak of Mount Wilson, as vivid today as it was 72 years ago. This memory stands out in a life fully lived.

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.