Essential California Week in Review: Two steps forward, one back

Fr. Joe O'Neill gives Mass during the coronavirus pandemic at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena on April 5, 2020. Normally, the church would be filled with parishioners on Palm Sunday. The church says more than 10,000 visitors tuned into their livestreamed Masses.
Father Joe O’Neill gives Mass on April 5 at Holy Family Church in South Pasadena. Normally, the church would be filled with parishioners on Palm Sunday.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, May 30.

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

Churches are reopening. After weeks of pressure and even a legal challenge, the state took the first step toward allowing churches to reopen with a set of guidelines. Among other precautions, attendance is capped at 25%, and offering plates can’t be passed.


But some want more. Orange County’s megachurches want the state to go even further. County supervisors on Tuesday declared religious services “essential” and expressed concerns that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to reopen places of worship is still too constraining.

Haircuts are coming back. Newsom announced Tuesday that counties could begin to reopen hair salons and barbershops, marking a transition to the third stage of a plan to ease his stay-at-home order. L.A. County joined their ranks Friday.

L.A. gets the green light. After trailing behind other counties, L.A. County sought permission to reopen restaurants for in-person dining. The state granted that permission Friday, along with permission to resume service at salons and barbershops.

What’s next? On Wednesday, Newsom said his administration will release guidelines for allowing gyms, yoga studios and other fitness facilities to reopen. And to-go alcohol is here to stay.

COVID-19 cases are still mounting. The number of infections in California passed 100,000 Wednesday, marking a grim milestone. Poor black and Latino communities in L.A. are getting hit the hardest as infections drop in wealthier white communities, leaving people of color much more likely to die.

Strong warnings. A key architect of the nation’s first coronavirus shelter-in-place order is criticizing California’s increasingly fast pace of lifting stay-at-home restrictions, saying it poses a “very serious risk.”

Demanding answers. Vulnerable workers are still getting sick. Alarmed by a rising number of infections among meatpacking workers in Vernon, L.A. County supervisors gave local health officials and plant operators one week to review worker safety protocols. Separate safety concerns are mounting among Amazon workers.

Silent spreaders. Health officials’ greatest concern is those who have no symptoms. They say if many people who get the virus don’t show symptoms and yet are infectious, the disease could spread invisibly.


Illegal parties. With nightclubs closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, short-term rental homes in the Hollywood Hills have become hot spots for illicit parties. Police say they’re cracking down.

More corruption. For years, George Esparza was one of Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar’s closest aides. On Wednesday, the former staffer agreed to plead guilty in the ongoing federal investigation at City Hall. He also revealed that a Chinese billionaire helped Huizar settle a sexual harassment suit.

Animal rights investigation. Activist Marc Ching was a Hollywood darling for fighting the dog meat trade. But butchers say he staged killings. He denies it.

From Minneapolis to L.A. Protests spread nationwide, including in downtown Los Angeles, days after George Floyd, a black man, begged for help while he died under the knee of a white police officer Monday in Minneapolis. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday.


Unfamiliar allies. Condemnation of the killing from police chiefs around the country has highlighted the impact of criminal justice reform movements. LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the footage of Floyd’s death tarnished others who wear a badge, and L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva bluntly criticized Chauvin’s actions.

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This week’s most-clicked stories in Essential California

1. No-knead, can’t-fail bread anyone can bake. Berkeleyside

2. Surge of coronavirus cases in Santa Cruz tied to family gatherings. San Francisco Chronicle


3. “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William E. Stafford. Poetry Foundation

4. “Losses” by Randall Jarrell. Poem of the Day

5. “Untitled” by James Baldwin. Poetry Foundation

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

After 18 years behind bars, an innocent man savors quarantine. Kevin Harrington had been serving a life sentence for murder when a judge exonerated him, making him a free man walking out in a deeply changed world. Los Angeles Times


“How did I meet Larry? He called me a murderer and an incompetent idiot on the front page of the San Francisco Examiner magazine.” Dr. Anthony Fauci recalls some of his fondest memories of his longtime friend and former nemesis AIDS activist Larry Kramer, who died Wednesday. New York Times

George Floyd, Central Park and the familiar terror they inspire: An incredibly powerful essay from Times sports and culture columnist LZ Granderson. Los Angeles Times

From the archives: “It is not for us to cool it.” Read James Baldwin’s landmark Q&A on race in America, as published in Esquire’s July 1968 issue. Esquire

Poem of the week: from “Citizen, VI [I knew whatever was in front of me was happening]” by Claudia Rankine.


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.)