Newsletter: L.A.’s botched reopening

The downtown view from Griffith Observatory during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The downtown view from Griffith Observatory during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Aug. 13, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

How did Los Angeles County’s pandemic response go so wrong — from serving as an early national model, to a rushed reopening that set the stage for a major resurgence in the pandemic?

In a powerhouse investigation released Thursday, my colleagues Sandhya Kambhampati, Soumya Karlamangla, Jaclyn Cosgrove, Priya Krishnakumar and Maloy Moore dig into the question that so many Angelenos have been struggling to understand.

[Read the story: “How pressure to reopen drove Los Angeles County into a health crisis” in the Los Angeles Times]


They reviewed months of public statements and documents from L.A. officials to understand the factors at play. The timeline they built shows that after originally planning to reopen the economy by July, officials allowed thousands of businesses to unlock their doors in May. Local leaders seized the opportunity when Gov. Gavin Newsom loosened reopening criteria.

But the move came too fast. Officials initially planned for businesses to reopen in phases, but they didn’t leave enough time between reopenings to notice growing case counts. They also failed to provide clear messaging to the public that the coronavirus was still active, as people began to gather with family and friends, furthering the spread.

“Officials maintain that they did everything they could to try to contain the virus,” my colleagues write. “However, their choice to reopen erased much of the progress made by the initial lockdown, creating a public health disaster that claims more Angelenos every day.”

If you read one thing today, make it this story. Their painstaking recreation of the timeline — and what went wrong — will help you better understand the virus’ spread, and how carefully calibrated the public health response needs to be to keep the public safe while reopening.

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

California’s second surge of the coronavirus has resulted in a near doubling of weekly deaths since the spring — with almost 1,000 fatalities in the last week alone — and radically shifted the geography of the outbreak, a Times data analysis found. Suburban and agricultural areas that had been relatively spared during California’s first surge of the virus are now being ravaged. And urban areas such as Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area are reporting fatality numbers just as high, if not higher, than in the spring. Los Angeles Times


Joe Biden and Kamala Harris made their first appearance as the Democratic ticket on Wednesday: The traditional pageantry of such a major moment in a presidential campaign was jettisoned for a tightly controlled event, constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of cheering crowds and waving campaign signs, there were face masks and temperature checks, as the presumptive Democratic nominee and the California senator appeared as running mates for the first time at a high school in Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Del. Los Angeles Times


How white people used police to make L.A. one of the most segregated cities in America. This op-ed looks at the history of how Jim Crow-style residential segregation was once the norm in L.A., enforced by white communities, lending institutions, real estate agents and compliant police departments. Los Angeles Times

Across from City Hall, a protest encampment intends to serve as a “reminder” of the need for police reform. Protest occupations have launched in several U.S. cities this summer, aimed at reclaiming public spaces as demonstrations of how communities without police might work. Results have been mixed.Los Angeles Times

Randalee, left, braids the hair of a fellow camper at the Black Unity LA encampment across the street from City Hall
Randalee, left, braids the hair of a fellow camper at the Black Unity LA encampment across the street from City Hall in Grand Park on Aug. 3. The tomatoes in the foreground are part of the community garden at the camp.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The Mexican Consulate in L.A. has opened a new coronavirus testing center in an effort to better serve Latinos, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

Media mogul Sumner Redstone, whose empire included Viacom and CBS, has died at 97. His lasting imprint will be his role in accelerating media consolidation and his battles to build, then maintain, the empire he constructed over three decades. Los Angeles Times


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“The Trump administration wants to change the definition of a showerhead to let more water flow, addressing a pet peeve of the president who complains he isn’t getting wet enough.” Consumer and conservation groups have pushed back, saying the proposed loosening of a 28-year-old energy law that includes appliance standards is silly, unnecessary and wasteful, especially as the West bakes through a historic two-decade-long megadrought. Amid an ongoing once-in-a-century pandemic, the president of the United States spoke about his showerhead frustrations from the White House South Lawn in July, raising specific issues around how America’s substandard showerhead pressure might be affecting his hair. Associated Press

A revamped PPP coronavirus loan program is in the works. Will it help small businesses left out before? The Paycheck Protection Program stood out as an early success of the government’s pandemic relief effort, but it ended with a whimper and left billions of dollars unallocated when small businesses got spooked by the ever-changing rules. Los Angeles Times

Kamala Harris’ VP bid brings an outpouring of pride among Indian Americans, a growing force in Democratic politics: Ethnic solidarity with Kamala Harris, the daughter of an Indian immigrant, could draw votes and donations for the Democratic ticket. Los Angeles Times

GOP pollster Frank Luntz has a life-size recreation of the Oval Office in his California home. Well, technically, it’s a “78% replica,”and he said it cost him nearly a million dollars to build. (Luntz previously told the Hollywood Reporter that adding the Oval Office replica to his 14,000-square-foot California ranch home was actually done as a tribute to his late mother, who “always wanted me to be the first Jewish president.”) Squawk Box


An L.A. father whose tip exposed the college admissions scandal gets one year in prison. After the FBI unraveled financier Morrie Tobin’s stock scam, he told them about another fraud entirely: He was bribing a Yale soccer coach to endorse his daughter’s admission to the Ivy League school. That tip set the college admissions investigation into motion. Los Angeles Times



California paid a price for its mask shortage in dollars and lives: At least 15,800 essential workers would not have contracted COVID-19 if California had stockpiled enough masks and other protective equipment, while the state would have saved $93 million weekly on unemployment claims for out-of-work healthcare workers and avoided overpaying for supplies, according to a UC Berkeley Labor Center study released Wednesday. Los Angeles Times

A fast-moving brush fire was burning near Lake Hughes in northern Los Angeles County on Wednesday evening. Mandatory evacuations were ordered in the area. Los Angeles Times


More than 1,600 California households have been evicted since March 4. A loophole in the state eviction moratorium means hundreds have been forced from their homes after shelter-in-place orders were issued. Without clear state orders, sheriff departments decide whether to evict. CalMatters

In an 11th-hour reversal, San Jose teachers will be allowed to work from home. The district faced substantial backlash for an earlier decision forcing teachers into the classroom even without students there. Mercury News

Scofflaws crossing the seven state Bay Area bridges have racked up $16 million in unpaid tolls since the pandemic forced toll takers out of their booths and prompted an overnight switch to all-electronic toll collection. San Francisco Chronicle

Two Bakersfield doctors were featured in a viral video promoting hydroxychloroquine that was later banned from social media. One of the doctors had previously gained widespread attention in April when he and a business partner, both physicians and owners in a chain of urgent care clinics, said that the coronavirus was no more serious than the flu and that lockdowns weren’t necessary. Bakersfield Californian


A wild turkey that shut down an Oakland park is still on the loose. “He was relentless,” one victim posted on Nextdoor, which is filled with complaints and defenses of Gerald the turkey. East Bay Times

A poem to start your Thursday: “I Don’t Miss It” by Tracy K. Smith. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 87. San Diego: partly sunny, 80. San Francisco: sunny, 69. San Jose: partly sunny, 87. Fresno: partly sunny, 102. Sacramento: sunny, 102. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Katharine Lynne Wight:

When I turned 16 in 1962, I was ready to get a job. Luckily my neighbor in the Oakland hills was a buyer for Capwell’s department store in downtown Oakland. Every weekend and holidays my father would take me and pick me up. I happily worked in the Cards and Candy Department as a ‘Wrapper/Ringer.’ I learned courage there, as I had to quote the price of the gift wrapping to each customer. Not everyone was pleased, of course. I was so proud to be able to earn extra money all the way through college. My boyfriend would sometimes come pick me up after work, and we would drive across the Bay Bridge to dine at the Cathay House in San Francisco’s Chinatown!

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.