Newsletter: In pandemic, fear is constant for workers

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, July 24. I’m Esmeralda Bermudez, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Four months into the pandemic, rules change by the day.

For some, that’s meant scrolling through news headlines that constantly shift from the comfort of home.

For others, that’s meant making swift calls that involve choosing between paying the bills or risking one’s health.

Across California, thousands of workers who are being called back to workplaces are afraid of returning.

School teachers. Lawyers. Housekeepers. Parking attendants.

Hotel workers protest for their safety downtown on July 8 in Los Angeles
Hotel workers protest for their safety in front of the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown on July 8 in Los Angeles.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Many have been on a roller coaster ride in recent weeks as California has closed and opened and closed again.

Some workers have called on their unions for help or filed official complaints, concerned that their employer is not sufficiently protecting them. Others have protested in the streets. One group of Los Angeles County employees submitted an anonymous letter to the media to make the case that several people working at the county’s Hall of Administration are “young employees that are going to bars and restaurants and are at higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus.”


The uncertainty has left many with a mix of anger, confusion and fear.

“People I work with are frightened,” said William Hayes, a deputy public defender classified as an essential worker. “It’s a kind of madness that we’re opening up just as hospitalizations and deaths are spiking.”

[Read “Workers fear returning to work. Many are resisting the call” in the Los Angeles Times]

On Wednesday, California recorded the most coronavirus-related deaths in a single day amid a spike in infections that has pushed the state’s cumulative case count to the highest in the nation.

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


In East L.A., neighborhood legends used to make their names playing baseball. Next to the Catholic Church, barrio baseball was both the centerpiece and the heartbeat of their community. Los Angeles Times

Mookie Betts showed his range in the Dodgers’ 8-1 victory over the Giants. The Dodgers’ 60-game sprint began like most of their games under normal circumstances over the last seven years: with a win over a division rival. Los Angeles Times

“I don’t believe it”: Huntington Beach is a symbol of mask resistance as doubters abound. Los Angeles Times

She dreamed of a Black-owned bookstore in Inglewood. Now, she’s going to run one — a permanent space where young Black girls, women, femmes and gender-nonconforming people never have to search for stories that represent them because they will be front and center. Los Angeles Times

The apartment was ready in February. Four months later, the homeless man moved in. One homeless man’s four-month wait for an apartment, while it lay vacant, reflects a persistent failing of L.A.'s countywide system to get homeless people into housing — an especially critical need during the coronavirus pandemic. Los Angeles Times

Protect eloteros. Communities are arming street vendors with pepper spray to defend themselves against the recent uptick in violence and harassment against them around Los Angeles County. L.A. Taco

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California still doesn’t have a plan to bring back clean energy jobs lost to COVID-19. There’s been lots more talk than action about using government stimulus funds to create clean energy jobs rather than propping up fossil fuel companies whose business model is fueling the climate crisis. Los Angeles Times

Sacramento nail salon owners rebel against operating outdoors. They say working outside, in a dusty and windy environment, could pose significant health hazards to themselves and their customers. Sacramento Bee


Prop. 65 warnings are everywhere. But what are they really protecting you from? It’s nearly impossible to tell whether to put down a product bearing a Proposition 65 warning and choose one without it — either one may present high risk, low risk or no risk. The profusion of warnings has subverted California’s landmark consumer safety law, leaving shoppers over-warned, under-informed and potentially unprotected, a Times investigation has found. Los Angeles Times

LAPD begins cost cutting. With significant reductions in the force looming, every unit is under a microscope — and must prove its worth. “Show your relevance,” the chief recalled saying during a recent meeting with officers from the Metropolitan Division. Los Angeles Times

California GOP leaders to consider ousting two anti-Trump Republicans. Conservative members of the party plan to submit a resolution arguing that they’ve violated party bylaws and should be stripped of their status as delegates to California Republican Party functions. Los Angeles Times

Trump repeals rule meant to integrate neighborhoods, further stoking racial divisions in campaign. His administration on Thursday targeted an Obama-era affordable housing regulation, the latest in a series of appeals to white voters’ fears of crime and declining property values. Los Angeles Times


FBI links killing of California lawyer to suspect in deadly attack on New Jersey judge’s family. In the two killings separated by nearly 3,000 miles, the gunman came dressed as a deliveryman. Los Angeles Times

Huntington Beach police identify oldest Jane Doe in Orange County. Anita Louise Piteau, who was raped and had her throat slashed in 1968, is identified through familial DNA, as was her alleged killer. Orange County Register


California failed to test some of the most regular nursing home visitors — inspectors. Health officials have barred visits to nursing homes by outsiders and required COVID-19 testing of facility residents and employees, but they have not provided comprehensive testing to their own inspectors who regularly visit the homes. Los Angeles Times

More masks, gear as California becomes the state with the most COVID-19 cases. Officials are redoubling efforts to secure protective gear and are preparing to expand the number of available hospital beds to handle a surge in patients. Los Angeles Times

The Trump administration is sued by California and 19 other states over new water rules. States allege that new federal rules undermine their ability to protect rivers, lakes and streams within their borders. Los Angeles Times

Rising COVID-19 outbreak spreads to 31 residents and employees at Ventura nursing home. The outbreak involves at least 21 of the about 170 residents and 10 staff members at the nursing home. Ventura County Star


Bay Area students choose a gap year over a remote or unpredictable college experience. Many students, wary of the virus forcing schools to pivot to distance learning, are choosing to delay the start of their college careers — even though the pandemic also has curtailed traditional gap-year adventures, such as international travel, and made jobs harder to land. Los Angeles Times

California is short 1 million laptops and hot spots for kids as it prepares online school. To solve that problem, California needs to procure more than 700,000 computers and more than 300,000 WiFi hot spots, according to the most recent results from the California Department of Education’s school district survey. Fresno Bee

L.A. County could use parks and libraries as learning sites amid school closures. “In the middle of this worsening pandemic, distance learning is our safest option right now, but this is untenable for parents who can’t work from home and some of our most vulnerable families,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. Los Angeles Times


Goodbye, guy on a horse. A new wave of monument design is changing how we honor history. We are at a moment when monuments across the country and beyond these shores are coming down, some through official means and many others through the direct actions of protesters. Los Angeles Times

L.A. mayor calls on artists to design and spread the message: Wear a mask. Posters chosen for the city’s coronavirus website can be downloaded for free, and Mayor Eric Garcetti is encouraging local businesses and residents to display them. Los Angeles Times

Comic-Con is San Diego’s hottest ticket. How the city is mourning its loss. This week, on the preview day of what would have been the 51st edition of San Diego Comic-Con, the bars surrounding the downtown convention center were empty, the restaurants mostly deserted, and the sidewalks devoid of the usual throngs of people dressed as their favorite characters. Los Angeles Times

Movie theaters are still shut down — and with them, the full power of challenging cinema. In mid-March, growing concern over the virus’ spread forced theaters to close — a necessary measure that further limited the impact of an art-house movie, and many others, that were destined for limited impact to begin with. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 77. San Diego: partly sunny, 73. San Francisco: partly sunny, 68. San Jose: partly sunny, 79. Fresno: sunny, 95 . Sacramento: sunny, 89. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Becci Rogers:

When I was a little girl in the 1960s, we occasionally drove from our home in the Central Valley to Monterey, where my grandparents lived. I was always excited to see the ocean, but my happiness soared when we started smelling the strong fragrance of eucalyptus. Entering the thick stand of trees on Highway 101 near Aromas was my signal that we were getting close. That’s when my dad would tell me to look for koalas in the trees. Never saw one, but I still check closely when driving through there nowadays — and remember my dad teasing me about koalas!

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.