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Newsletter: The reopening roller coaster

Aerial view of Six Flags Magic Mountain, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic
An aerial view of Six Flags Magic Mountain, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, July 16, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

It’s been three days since Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California would be largely closing again amid a continuing surge in coronavirus cases across the state, with more stringent closures applicable to the watch-list counties where roughly 80% of Californians reside.

Unlike what transpired in March, we are not (yet) back in full lockdown mode. Newsom has described the state’s continual reopening process as akin to a dimmer switch that can toggle up and down in the space between the on or off position.

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The rapid shifts between a little more light and further darkness have created a sense of whiplash for many Californians. We stayed home, suffered job losses or uncertainty, and struggled to pivot as the rules adjusted and a bit of normalcy returned. Now, we find ourselves seemingly plunged back in time to the panic of late March and April, with narrowed lives and ever louder alarm bells ringing in every direction.

If you aren’t already familiar with it, the analogy of “the hammer and the dance” might be helpful for wrapping your head around our ever-shifting situation. The phrase, which was coined in a viral post by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and further entered the vernacular when it was discussed in an April episode of “The Daily” podcast, offers another way of framing that toggling dimmer switch that Newsom keeps referencing.

We’ve already seen the hammer — it came down hard in late March, when aggressive action was taken to all but shutter the state of California. And we are now well into the dance, a delicate, imperfect quickstep of tightened and loosened restrictions that began when stay-at-home orders first eased in mid-May. We twirl in, and then out, and back again, urgently hoping that our improvised choreography can outpace the need for another all-encompassing blow of the hammer sending us back into total lockdown.

It’s a roller coaster ride with no end in sight. And, much like the catchphrase used by a recently reopened Japanese theme park that banned yelling on rides to minimize the potential spread of virus droplets, we are all screaming in our hearts.

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But the chaos has been particularly acute for those who work in industries affected by the closures. Small-business owners are contending with how to possibly stay afloat, as their workers face further layoffs and furloughs after months of financial uncertainty.

That pain is being felt across California, as evidenced by a slew of reports in local papers around the state.

In Stockton, a local barbershop owner characterized Monday’s announcement as a “gut punch.” Speaking to the Stockton Record, Village Barbershop owner Bobby Paige described the great lengths his small business had gone to keep employees and customers safe, including hiring a special company to sanitize the shop weekly. San Joaquin County, where Stockton is located, is one of the many California counties subject to more stringent regulations because of its position on the state watch list, including the closure of hair salons and barbershops.

“We did it right and got closed because others didn’t do it right,” Paige told the paper. “Some people won’t survive a second time.”

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In Santa Clara County, hair salons and barbershops had just been allowed to reopen for the first time since March on Monday, meaning many had been back in business for mere hours when the governor made his announcement.

“It was exciting, exciting, we get to open, then boom — just devastating,” Laure Chicoine, the owner of the Nirvana Aveda Concept Salon in Los Gatos, told the Mercury News.

Catherine DuBay, the manager of the Montecito Heights Health Club in Sonoma County, told a Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reporter that it felt as if she was playing a game of “red light, green light.” Along with shifting to outdoor operations starting Monday, the health club would soon have to consider laying off fitness instructors, some of whom had already lost their jobs once and then been brought back over the course of the pandemic. “It’s very difficult as a manager because not only are you making decisions and trying to scramble, but it’s so abrupt and last-minute.”

In Pasadena, Cameron’s Seafood owner Pete Gallanis was one of the (relatively) lucky ones. His restaurant has an existing parking lot, which he plans to convert to an outdoor dining space. But Gallanis’ potential shot at keeping his business alive just underscores how real estate may equal devastating fate for many others. He told the Pasadena Star-News how he fears for his competitors that don’t have private parking lots and aren’t on one of the streets Pasadena will close to vehicles, saying that “it puts the absolute worst scenario right in front of them.”

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

With the first day of school just weeks away, California campuses should be prepared to offer distance learning instead of in-person instruction if coronavirus conditions don’t improve, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Wednesday. Though decisions around opening are ultimately made at the local level, Thurmond said the safety of students, staff and instructors needs to be the top priority. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

The wild, true story of the heartthrob prince of Qatar and his time at USC: When a Qatari sheikh came to live in L.A., an entire economy sprouted to meet his wishes. “His highness doesn’t like to hear no,” one advisor told a professor. Los Angeles Times

The coronavirus surge has pushed Los Angeles County’s busiest hospital to the verge of capacity, according to the chief medical officer at L.A. County + USC Medical Center. Los Angeles Daily News

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The 2021 Rose Parade is canceled for first time in 75 years. Parade officials initially hoped they’d be able to hold the parade safely, but after weeks of assessment, it became clear such a feat would be impossible. Los Angeles Times

The 2020 Cal Poly Universities Rose Parade float "Aquatic Aspirations"
A float makes its way through Pasadena on Jan. 1 during the 2020 Rose Parade.
(Tom Zasadzinski)

LA Pride is leaving West Hollywood after four decades in the city. The annual parade and festival will be moved in 2021 after more than four decades in the iconic gay-friendly city. A new location has not yet been announced. Los Angeles Times

Are you still a genius if your agent hasn’t reminded you of it recently while one to two assistants listen in on the call? It’s a question that many Hollywood writers have probably pondered since last spring, when a standoff between their union and the agencies forced them to fire their representation en masse. But UTA writer clients won’t have to wonder anymore: The Writers Guild of America has reached a deal with the agency, meaning UTA-repped writers can re-sign with their agents. The agreement marks a significant victory for the WGA in its yearlong fight with the agencies, as well as a potential tipping point in the long-running clash. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

President Trump fired his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, on Wednesday night. Parscale will remain in the campaign, resuming his 2016 role running digital operations. Los Angeles Times

Kamala Harris made her mark on the campaign trail confronting Joe Biden during the first Democratic presidential debate. The splashy attack was a defining moment for Harris’ campaign, but it has also complicated her hopes of landing on the ticket as Biden’s running mate. The former vice president appears — at least publicly — to have forgiven his former rival, but sources say many in his circle continue to nurse hard feelings. (Biden has said he will announce his pick sometime around Aug. 1, for those betting on the Veepstakes from home.) Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s chief of staff is being reassigned after facing criticism for recent social media posts in which he said Andres Guardado, the 18-year-old who was fatally shot in the back by a deputy in Gardena last month, “chose his fate.” Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

San Francisco’s director of public health said Wednesday that the rate of transmission of the coronavirus continued to climb in the Bay Area and the city would not move forward with reopening. Los Angeles Times

Farmworkers account for 7% of the nearly 5,000 positive coronavirus cases in Ventura County after an outbreak at a farmworkers housing complex. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

A massive Twitter hack resulted in tweets about a bitcoin scam from high-profile accounts, including those of Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. This might be a good time to make sure you have two-factor authentication turned on for your social media accounts. Los Angeles Times

A global pandemic and record-breaking heat haven’t stopped travelers from escaping to the desert. An influx of travelers heading to the Coachella Valley are fueling an unexpected boost in summer demand for vacation rentals. Desert Sun

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A poem to start your Thursday: “In Memorium Mae Noblitt” by A.R. Ammons. Poetry Foundation

Free online games

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

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: partly sunny, 80. San Diego: partly sunny, 75. San Francisco: sunny, 66. San Jose: partly sunny, 84. Fresno: sunny, 102. Sacramento: sunny, 93. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Nils Peterson:

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When we moved to our suburban Campbell house, after having lived five years halfway up a mountain out in the countryside almost in a wilderness area. Sleepless my first night, I saw the light from the local supermarket reflected in the night sky and remarked the next morning that instead of a clear night sky we had the lights of “dark satanic Safeway.” We called it that for the next 50 years. “I’m going down to ‘dark satanic Safeway’ and get a quart of milk.

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.


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