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Newsletter: The COVID-19 watch list grows

Strollers hit the Venice Boardwalk on Sunday.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, July 6, and here’s a quick look at the week ahead.

On Wednesday, President Trump will host Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the White House. This will be their first face-to-face meeting since the Mexican president took office.

On Thursday, Disneyland will begin its phased reopening with the reopening of the Downtown Disney shopping district. Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure were both previously slated to reopen July 17 after a nearly four-month coronavirus shutdown, but the reopening of the theme parks was postponed indefinitely late last month amid rising California COVID-19 cases and employee pushback about park safety.

Also Thursday: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley will testify before the House Armed Services Committee about the military’s role in responding to protests triggered by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody. Per the Hill, Esper and Milley’s testimony made it on the books only “after a bitter back-and-forth between committee Democrats and Pentagon officials on scheduling the hearing.”

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

The California coronavirus outlook worsened over the holiday weekend, as infection rates and hospitalizations continued to rise. More counties were added Sunday to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 watch list, which is now at its highest level since the pandemic began. Contra Costa, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and rural Colusa, northwest of Sacramento, joined the list of counties being monitored for their rising case counts and increasing hospitalizations, bringing the number to 24. Marin County was added to the list Friday; Monterey and San Diego counties joined Thursday. Los Angeles Times

As California enters another fire season, the state is severely short on firefighters because the COVID-19 pandemic has depleted the ranks of inmate crews. Inmate firefighters — who risk their lives in grueling conditions for $2 to $5 a day, plus $1 per hour when they’re working on a fire — make up 43% of the state firefighting force. Twelve of the state’s 43 inmate fire camps were put on lockdown last week because of a massive outbreak at a prison in Lassen County that serves as the training center for fire crews, and fewer than half of the state’s 77 inmate crews will be available to fight a wildfire in the north of the state until the lockdown lifts. Sacramento Bee

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[See also: “California faces a perilous fire season as coronavirus threatens firefighters” in the Los Angeles Times]

L.A. STORIES

L.A.'s extreme fireworks brought terrible air quality and record calls for fire service. With officials canceling Fourth of July fireworks displays because of COVID-19, many residents in Los Angeles County decided to put on their own shows — leading to spikes in both air pollution and calls for emergency services. Los Angeles Times

Fireworks over North Hollywood, as seen from Burbank on Saturday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Some say USC must “reckon with its history of white supremacy” in its namesake sites. As protests over the police killing of George Floyd raged across the nation, USC removed the name of one of its most influential leaders from a landmark building on campus. Los Angeles Times

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Should a former Black church in Venice be turned into a mansion for a white family? Jay Penske, who owns Rolling Stone and Variety, hopes to build a mansion on the site of the First Baptist Church of Venice in the historically Black Oakwood neighborhood. Los Angeles Times

The LAPD responds to a million 911 calls a year, but relatively few for violent crimes. Although armed with weapons and the unique authority to use force, police often are sent to resolve problems that should not require their coercive powers. Family fights, episodes of mental illness, complaints of loud parties and dogs running loose are all part of the job. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Trump’s views — bleak about the U.S., rosy about the coronavirus — put Republicans on the spot. GOP lawmakers and Trump surrogates tread carefully after he spent the Fourth of July weekend denigrating the racial-justice movement and playing down the deadly pandemic. Los Angeles Times

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Kimberly Guilfoyle, girlfriend of President Trump’s oldest son and the ex-wife of Gov. Newsom, tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. Her boyfriend, Donald Trump Jr., tested negative but is self-isolating as a precaution. The couple was in South Dakota, where the president gave a speech Friday at Mount Rushmore. Los Angeles Times

Some California cities will now fine residents who don’t follow mask rules. In West Hollywood, the citations will cost $300 for a first offense. In Santa Monica, first-time offenders will be charged $100, and the third offense will cost $500. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Hate incidents directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are exploding this year, according to advocates pushing for Gov. Newsom to boost funding for programs fighting bias and add a cultural representative to his new COVID-19 task force. Supporters and organizers of Stop AAPI Hate have documented 832 incidents across the Golden State in the last three months, with assaults and verbal tirades “becoming the norm” since the pandemic started, instigated by people following the inflammatory rhetoric of the nation’s highest-profile leader, they say. Los Angeles Times

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

A California megadrought? Not if you look at precipitation. Climate change is increasing California’s wet-to-dry extremes, but average precipitation is not declining. Los Angeles Times

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Big surf and high tide hit Orange County’s Balboa Peninsula with flooding. This thin spit of land is all that stands between the ocean and the bay — the first line of defense for the rest of the Newport Beach coast. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

California woos in-state travelers with safety campaigns. “Californians starved for travel aren’t welcome in New York and can’t even land in Europe because of the surging coronavirus outbreak in their home state, so they are being wooed by local tourism boards promising safe and clean lodging, dining and sightseeing in a bid to boost their devastated economies.” Associated Press

“Independence for whom?” The Bay Area marked the Fourth of July with protests, parades and at-home firework shows. Mercury News

As workplaces reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to hear from readers. Have you been called back to your workplace after being unemployed or working from home? What are your concerns? Share them here. Los Angeles Times

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Worried about maintaining physical distancing on Metrolink? The commuter rail system has launched an online tool that lets users check recent ridership levels of the train they plan to ride and confirm that they will have the ability to maintain safe distances from others. Pasadena Star-News

These Southern California locals have volunteered to be infected with the coronavirus to hasten vaccine development. “There’s always going to be a risk with any medical procedure,” said a 23-year-old software engineer from Pasadena who signed up to be a “human challenge trial” volunteer. “But I’m more able to weather this than a lot of people. I’d rather it be me than someone else.” Orange County Register

A poem to start your week: “Why Log Truck Drivers Rise Earlier Than Students of Zen” by Gary Snyder. Ronnow Poetry

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 89. San Diego: sunny, 78. San Francisco: windy, 67. San Jose: sunny, 78. Fresno: sunny, 100. Sacramento: sunny, 93. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

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

Rep. Judy Chu (July 7, 1953), basketball player Lisa Leslie (July 7, 1972), chef Wolfgang Puck (July 8, 1949), painter David Hockney (July 9, 1937), Rep. Tom McClintock (July 10, 1956) and Google CEO Sundar Pichai (July 12, 1972).

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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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.


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