Newsletter: One virus, two pandemics

Maria Banderas, left, answers questions before a COVID-19 test at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South L.A.
Maria Banderas, left, answers questions from medical assistant Dolores Becerra before being tested for COVID-19 at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South L.A.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, May 29. I’m Christopher Goffard, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The coronavirus is hitting Los Angeles County’s less-affluent black and Latino communities in disproportionately high numbers, a surge that experts attribute to dense living conditions, health disparities and high-risk jobs.

Early in the outbreak, richer, predominantly white areas such as Brentwood and Bel-Air — where there was better access to test kits — reported some of the highest infection rates in the county.


Since mid-April, however, those rates have risen slowly in comparison with the increase in South and Central Los Angeles. In Pico-Union and Westlake in Central Los Angeles, and Vermont Square in South L.A., infection rates rank in the top 10 of the county’s more than 300 communities.

“If we’re not careful, and we don’t pay a lot of attention to this, the disproportionality could become even greater, even if you flatten the curve,” says L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

[Read “Coronavirus ravages poorer L.A. communities while slowing in wealthier ones, data show” in the Los Angeles Times]

In South Los Angeles, the pandemic has taken a harsh toll on black-run barber shops and salons, though some businesspeople are finding ways to work despite the mandated closures. Times staff writer Angel Jennings said she was recently visiting a cousin-in-law in the area when he walked in with a fresh haircut. “He said, ‘My guy is doing hair, but there’s a secret way you’ve got to get in,’” Jennings says. “He was describing to me this speakeasy-type way of getting into this barbershop, and I said, ‘I have to see this for myself.’”

The tip led her to Dondae Settles, who was forced to close his South L.A. barber shop but is now cutting hair twice a week at a shop where he makes custom T-shirts. “I had to do something” to pay the rent, Settles says. The shop is in a strip mall and appears closed, from the outside. Customers in the know head up a set of stairs, turn left at a pile of wood, and are admitted only after Settles peers through an opening to get a look.

Marquis Johnson has his face shaved by Dondae Settles.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

Other hairstylists are plying their trade clandestinely in L.A. County, which is one of 11 counties that failed to meet the governor’s requirements for reopening barbershops and salons. “What are you supposed to do? If that’s your only source of income, how do you eat?” says hairstylist Diamond Rose, who was forced to close the Mid-City salon she ran with her daughters. They now shuttle between short-term rentals with their supplies to avoid detection.

[Read “‘I had to do something’: Black barbers and stylists go underground as L.A. salons stay shut” in the Los Angeles Times]

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

A budget crisis looms. A sharp political and public policy rift emerged Thursday between Gov. Gavin Newsom and his fellow Democrats in the California Legislature over how to navigate the bleak economic road ahead after a state Senate panel rejected more than half of the spending cuts in the $203.3-billion proposed budget he unveiled two weeks ago. Los Angeles Times


Officials call for Huizar’s resignation. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez have called for embattled L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar to step down. Los Angeles Times

So does The Times Editorial Board. The board notes that Huizar is clearly “Councilman A,” at the heart of a federal corruption probe. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar is the subject of a federal investigation into corruption at City Hall.
14th District L.A. City Council member Jose Huizar.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Social media feud. President Trump signed an executive order targeting social media companies such as Twitter, accusing them of having “unchecked power” and escalating his feud with the popular digital platforms he relies on as a political bullhorn as he runs for reelection. Los Angeles Times

The president versus the sphinx. Columnist Virginia Heffernan on the clash between Trump and Twitter chief Executive Jack Dorsey. Los Angeles Times

What is Section 230? A look at the internet speech law that President Trump’s executive order attempts to alter. Los Angeles Times

Election prospects dim. After incendiary social media posts are unearthed, the GOP backs away from California congressional candidate Ted Howze. Modesto Bee


Between numbness and feeling. LZ Granderson reflects on George Floyd’s fatal encounter with police in Minneapolis. Los Angeles Times

And Hollywood reacts. Ava DuVernay, John Boyega and other celebrities condemn Floyd’s killing. Los Angeles Times


Defeat boredom. From creating your own film to alfresco dining, here are 70 things to do this summer. Los Angeles Times

He misses you already. After 30 years, Times humor columnist Chris Erskine says goodbye. Los Angeles Times

Theme parks prepare to reopen. But they need the state’s OK. San Diego Union-Tribune


Horror on Instagram. Inside “Arcana,” a narrative game based on a 1927 Los Angeles murder. Los Angeles Times

A stellar Season 2 of “Ramy.” Critic Lorraine Ali calls the new season of the Hulu comedy “stupid funny, then scary serious,” and “hyperspecific with wide appeal.” Los Angeles Times

“Space Force.” Robert Lloyd reviews the new Netflix comedy, starring Steve Carell. Los Angeles Times

Reality TV and cyberbullying. The untimely death of 22-year-old Hana Kimura, who appeared on the Netflix reality show “Terrace House,” casts a light on social-media abuse suffered by reality TV personalities. Los Angeles Times


The greening of Antarctica. Algae blooms on the frozen continent. SF Gate


Theater, with social distancing. The Broad Stage will open this fall for outdoor performances, starting with the opera “Birds in the Moon.” Los Angeles Times

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at


Los Angeles: mostly sunny, 74. San Diego: mostly sunny, 71. San Francisco: cloudy, 68. San Jose: partly cloudy, 80. Fresno: partly cloudy, 98. Sacramento: partly cloudy, 87. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Deborah Krass:

I grew up in Ventura and was miraculously accepted to Stanford as an undergraduate in the ’70s. The drive from my hometown to campus was only five hours and I usually hitched a ride home with another student for the holidays. Midway through my freshman year I got prescription eyeglasses for the first time. Wow, was I nearsighted! I’ll never forget how suddenly interesting, beautiful, and varied was familiar old Highway 101. From the Ventura beaches, to the winding San Andreas Pass, to the majestic oaks near San Luis Obispo, and the farms near Gilroy, 101 is still a gorgeous drive!

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.