Newsletter: Can you see your friends yet?

Hikers wearing masks because of the coronavirus walk past the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, May 18, and here’s a quick look at the week ahead:

Monday is International Museum Day. Here are seven L.A. museums offering virtual tours, plus some of the best virtual exhibits from around the globe. Plus, a question for the times: Should museums and other arts groups draw on endowments to prevent layoffs? My colleague Deborah Vankin has an explainer on the topic and its complexities.

Also Monday: The World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization’s annual oversight convention, will begin. The conference, which is usually held in Geneva, will be conducted via teleconference for the first time.


And in California reopening news, curbside pickup at San Francisco retail stores will be allowed starting Monday. Here’s what you need to know about the expected changes.

Friday is Harvey Milk Day in California, as designated by the state Legislature in 2009. Milk, who was assassinated in 1978, was California’s first openly gay elected official and one of the first openly gay men to hold elected office in the United States. Friday would have marked his 90th birthday.

Congress will break for Memorial Day recess on Friday.

Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, begins on Saturday.

Before we get on to the day’s news, a question for Essential California readers: What ordinary thing do you miss most about life before the coronavirus? Tell us about it, and you might see your answer in a future newsletter.

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

Some Angelenos have loosened up their personal boundaries as they try to balance safety and mental health, with even some of the previously vigilant beginning to bend the rules around distancing. Think meeting up in a park, or sipping BYOB drinks in a backyard while positioned six feet away from one another. Los Angeles Times

So, can you see your friends? The short answer, as my colleague Jessica Roy writes, is “no, not right now.” The official health guidance here in L.A. County remains unequivocal: All gatherings should be avoided, and public health orders will “with all certainty” be extended through the end of July. In a recent piece, Jessica took a detailed look at what’s currently allowed, and what to expect in the near future. Los Angeles Times


[See also: “The ultimate guide to hanging out virtually with your friends” in the Los Angeles Times]

But some public health experts acknowledge that even rule followers are likely to experience quarantine fatigue and are looking for ways to “cheat” as safely as possible. So in a separate piece, science writer Deborah Netburn took a harm-reduction approach and spoke to an expert to help assess the risk of seven social activities that people are already engaging in. Los Angeles Times


A major explosion inside a burning building in downtown Los Angeles injured 12 first responders on Saturday evening. Several law enforcement sources said a criminal investigation is underway. Los Angeles Times

Thousands of homeless people living near freeways in Los Angeles County are in line to receive alternative shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic after a federal court judge ordered local authorities to find them housing. Los Angeles Times


[See also: “This federal judge is risking his life to save homeless people from the coronavirus” in the Los Angeles Times]

Forget the flashbulbs and red carpet. Hollywood held a virtual premiere and afterparty for its “Snowpiercer” adaptation. “A few hours before it began, TNT sent a package to attendees that included two rocks glasses, a leather flask, a box of chocolates, and ‘Snowpiercer, Vol. 1: The Escape,’ the graphic novel that inspired Bong Joon Ho’s apocalyptic film.” Vanity Fair

Director Lynn Shelton, who brought an independent spirit to film and TV, died at age 54. Shelton died Friday in Los Angeles as a result of a previously unidentified blood disorder. Los Angeles Times

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How many people are dying of coronavirus in Mexico? It’s hard to say. Los Angeles Times


President Trump has fired the State Department’s inspector general, an Obama administration appointee whose office was critical of alleged political bias in the agency’s management. The Friday ouster is the latest in a series of moves against independent executive-branch watchdogs who have found fault with the Trump administration. Los Angeles Times

Gov. Gavin Newsom appealed to a group of Native American tribes to reconsider plans to reopen their casinos in the coming days, warning that the pandemic poses a continuing threat to public health. (Federal law provides tribes that operate casinos with sovereignty that limits the ability of the state to dictate how they operate on Indian land.) Los Angeles Times



The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a sweeping and historic emptying of California’s overcrowded prisons and jails, as officials have dramatically lowered the number of people held in custody to avert deadly outbreaks. Los Angeles Times

The ACLU has filed a pair of class-action lawsuits on behalf of federal prisoners at Lompoc and Terminal Island, claiming officials mishandled coronavirus outbreaks at the facilities that have infected a combined total of 1,775 inmates, killing 10. Los Angeles Times


Many essential workers — cashiers, truck drivers, meat packers — are Latino. They can’t stay at home. And they’re being hit hard by the novel coronavirus in California and other parts of the United States, becoming infected and dying at disproportionately high rates relative to their share of the population. Los Angeles Times

A coronavirus vaccine by the year’s end is possible, but not something to “bank on,” a leading public health expert warned Sunday as the Trump administration continued to push for swift business reopenings in a bid to revive the battered U.S. economy. Los Angeles Times


A person who attended an in-person religious service in Butte County tested positive for the coronavirus, potentially exposing 180 other congregants to the virus. Gatherings of any size remain prohibited, even in counties that are reopening more quickly than the rest of California, but the organization that held the service chose to open its doors despite the rules. Los Angeles Times


A bowl of oranges for a bunch of basil? Strapped for cash, many are turning to bartering and sharing. Los Angeles Times

Alexandra Kacha, 33, tends to a frontyard garden in Highland Park. The vegetables and herbs from Kacha’s garden have attracted neighbors and Instagram followers armed with muffins, fruit and other food to trade.
Alexandra Kacha, 33, tends to a frontyard garden in Highland Park. The vegetables and herbs from Kacha’s garden have attracted neighbors and Instagram followers armed with muffins, fruit and other food items to trade.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

People from across California and outside the state have been driving hours to visit beauty salons in neighboring Sutter and Yuba counties, which have opened their parlors under local guidance despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order. Los Angeles Times


A new survey reveals the dire state of San Francisco restaurants during the shelter-in-place orders. Among the 73% of restaurants open for takeout, 60% are losing money by doing so. San Francisco Chronicle

San Luis Obispo County is running online ads telling potential visitors that “while we love having you visit, now is not the time.” The ad campaign primarily targets travelers in the San Joaquin Valley, the county’s strongest tourism market. San Luis Obispo Tribune

Half of Oakland students lack access to computers. Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey has pledged $10 million to “put a device in the hand of every single kid” in Oakland’s public schools. The Guardian

How the family behind the Guerneville Taco Truck has kept tradition alive through floods, fires and a pandemic. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat



Sacramento Public Library has launched a pilot program for the curbside pickup of books. Only two branch locations offer the service for now: Belle Cooledge Library in South Land Park and Sylvan Oaks Library in Citrus Heights. Sacramento Bee

Fifteen high-end gourmet pantry staples you can order online, with recommendations from food writer Ruth Reichl and a few wine suggestions from Jay McInerney. Town & Country

There is a virtual museum devoted to California’s state flag. In other news, did you know that the word “vexillology” means the study of flags? ABC 10

A poem to start your week: “Pantoum of the Great Depression” by Donald Justice. Washington Post


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Los Angeles: rain, 69. San Diego: rain, 71. San Francisco: sunny, 62. San Jose: rain, 67. Fresno: rain, 71. Sacramento: rain, 69. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Actress-comedian Tina Fey (May 18, 1970), Homeboy Industries founder Father Gregory Boyle (May 19, 1954), actor Mr. T (May 21, 1952), songwriter Bernie Taupin (May 22, 1950), writer Michael Chabon (May 24, 1963) and singer Bob Dylan (May 24, 1941).


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.