Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Of masks and men

People wear masks to protect against the coronavirus while walking along the boardwalk in Venice Beach. A new rule, announced by Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday, now requires face masks for all outdoor activities.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, May 16.

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

Red again. Republican Mike Garcia claimed victory Wednesday in the race for an open congressional seat north of Los Angeles, the first time his party has flipped a California district from blue to red in more than 20 years. The special election was held after the resignation of Rep. Katie Hill, who in 2018 broke a decades-long GOP hold on the district.


Reopening and relaxing. This week, more than a dozen counties got state approval to reopen while more than 30 others lobbied to join them. Others are taking smaller steps: At least three Bay Area counties plan to ease their social distancing restrictions incrementally, while L.A. County has reopened beaches.

New approvals. California restaurants and shopping malls are among the next tier of businesses the state may allow to reopen, provided they meet state standards for testing and success at reducing cases of the coronavirus and follow state guidelines.

Troubling trends. Although some hope the worst of California’s coronavirus crisis has passed, there are signs that the pandemic in the Golden State has merely stabilized and that the worst may be yet to come. Experts say weekly COVID-19 deaths in California have hit a stubborn plateau.

Mask mandate. Los Angeles County residents must cover their faces whenever they go outside. The new policy, from which small children and those with certain disabilities are exempted, is a bid to control the spread of the virus, especially as residents begin to spend more time outside.

Keep staying home. As enthusiasm for reopening grows, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said stay-at-home orders would “with all certainty” be extended for the next three months, though she added later that even if they’re in place all summer, some restrictions will be “gradually relaxed” under a five-step plan.

Closures continue. Some institutions made clear they are not ready to reopen. California State University, the nation’s largest four-year college system, plans to cancel most in-person classes in the fall. Meanwhile, the 2020 Hollywood Bowl summer season was canceled.

Cancel your vacation. As Americans start planning summer vacations, health officials in California urged the public not to take leisure trips yet, including weekend trips, in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.

Churning away the anxiety. As quarantine days drag on, some people are getting deeper into the “Little House on the Prairie” lifestyle, partly as a form of self-reliance, partly to indulge nostalgia. And it’s no longer just sourdough starters and home gardens: Butter churns, washboards and candle-making are back.


Traffic deaths are up. After a brief dip, traffic deaths have surged to pre-coronavirus levels in L.A. Officials attribute the uptick to more speeding on streets with fewer cars and to more pedestrians leaving their homes.

Testing questions. In the push to reopen, businesses and companies are increasingly seeking antibody tests. But experts warn they’re unreliable and prone to profiteering by wellness clinics that offer them.

A pandemic-era budget. Gov. Gavin Newsom asked state lawmakers Thursday to sharply curtail spending on public schools and government services and appealed to the federal government for help to prevent additional cuts. His new budget proposes $19 billion less spending than his January one did, a stark reminder of how much has changed since.

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1. About 200 goats escape, roam the streets of east San Jose. NBC Bay Area

2. When “Valley Girl” (and Nicolas Cage) shook up Hollywood. New York Times

3. The 50 best contemporary novels under 200 pages. Lit Hub

4. A drone’s-eye view of L.A.’s longest drive-through lines. Eater LA


5. How to do the dishes faster. Los Angeles Times

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

An L.A. restaurant employee on the unheroic reality of being an “essential” worker during a pandemic: “Regulars who never tipped before the crisis have continued their practice of not tipping. … During a rainstorm, a customer called and asked that we bring her order out to the car. When I handed her the receipt, she wrote ‘0.00’ and signed her name with a flourish. She was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Wild Feminist.’” Eater

In the short annals of the Desert Valley Hospital’s COVID-19 unit, Janice Brown is a person of some distinction. She was the first patient at the hospital to test positive for the coronavirus and one of the first to be released. She spent weeks in the clear. But then tested positive again. Los Angeles Times

How pandemics end: An infectious outbreak can conclude in more ways than one, historians say. But for whom does it end, and who gets to decide? New York Times


Poem of the week: “To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall” by Kim Addonizio. A Litany

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.)