Essential California Week in Review: Faltering on the front lines

Nurses gather to protest the lack of personal protective equipment at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 16, 2020.
Nurses gather to protest the lack of personal protective equipment on Thursday at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, April 18.

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

Front-line conditions worsen. Doctors and nurses are facing a growing pool of patients with a shrinking staff. Medical workers are falling ill from the virus in large but underreported numbers, including more than 175 at UCLA.

Makeshift equipment. With protective equipment still scarce and supplies long depleted, nurses at some of the hardest-hit facilities are fashioning their own gear from pillowcases, raincoats and trash bags. At other hospitals, staff are refusing to work without protective gear.

Scammers’ delight. In the most dire conditions, thieves and con men are thriving with false promises of badly needed masks, tests and other protective gear. A California union was among those swindled, prompting an investigation from the FBI.

Some unlikely helpers. As private businesses step in to fill the gaps, Santa Ana’s Suavecito has pivoted from hair pomade to hand sanitizer, and three dressmaking sisters are now sewing masks.

Old innovations become new. Researchers too are doing their best with what they have, including revisiting old vaccines that might aid in the fight against the virus.

Tough choices. With hospitals paralyzed by COVID-19 care, breast cancer patients are finding little room for their treatment. Surgeries have been delayed and treatments are being put on hold if patients can wait.

Lives lost. More than 1,000 people have died in California, leaving behind families, friends and local legacies big and small. These are some of their stories.

Light at the end. California officials are working with their Oregon and Washington counterparts on plans to lift restrictions and reopen their economies. Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined six conditions that must be met. There’s no timeline, though experts have an idea of what one might look like.

What history tells us. Pandemics past scarred the world long after they were over. Cholera led to sewer systems; smallpox felled empires. Where might the coronavirus fit in?

Those who saw this coming. Impeachment, presidential primaries, Kobe Bryant’s death — the major events of January and February now feel like a world away. But while many of us were distracted, the virus’ threat loomed for researchers, doctors and public health experts.

Who is “Developer C?” As a federal probe into Los Angeles City Hall corruption deepens, a Times analysis finds one downtown project — a 20-story residential tower planned for the corner of Hill Street and Olympic Boulevard — at the heart of the latest case.

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1. These chain restaurants are selling cost-effective family bundles and do-it-yourself kits. Orange County Register


2. When surfing gets banned, surfers get salty. What’s the real solution in Santa Cruz? Mercury News

3. Coyotes, bobcats and bears: Wildlife is reclaiming Yosemite National Park. Los Angeles Times

4. New signs suggest coronavirus was in California far earlier than anyone knew. Los Angeles Times

5. The Times’ new podcast, “Coronavirus in California: Stories From the Front Lines.” Los Angeles Times

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.)