Newsletter: A wave of coronavirus success, but what comes next?

A masked dinner crowd gathers at West & Mel Food Co. on Western Avenue in Los Angeles.
A masked dinner crowd gathers at West & Mel Food Co. on Western Avenue in Los Angeles. The building houses commercial kitchens providing orders for delivery services and for takeout.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Sept. 18, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

A few days ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state was “turning the corner” in its coronavirus fight, with multiple metrics now “lower than what we’ve seen in a number of months.”

In a new story, my colleague health reporter Soumya Karlamangla looked at the state’s recent wave of success in beating back the virus. “In recent weeks, as much of the state’s attention has turned to devastating wildfires, significant gains have been made against COVID-19,” she writes. But there are also fears about what comes next. Will we see that progress slip away, as we move into fall and many businesses push for a faster reopening timeline as conditions improve?


[Read the story: “California is turning the corner on the coronavirus. Will it last?” in the Los Angeles Times]

I spoke to Soumya about what things look like right now, whether California has learned from its mistakes, and what lies ahead. Here’s what she had to say.

What kind of progress have we seen?

Almost every single metric — I think it actually is every metric — has gotten better. Hospitalizations are really low. The number of people in the hospital hasn’t been this low since early April. The positivity rate, which is the percentage of people testing positive, is below four, which is super low. The case numbers and the number of deaths every day have come down a lot since July, which is great. And they keep dropping.

As parts of the state move further in reopening, do you think local and state officials have learned from what went wrong last time?

Yes. I think they’re really embarrassed, honestly. Because California became a cautionary tale to other people. And up until its reopening, California had been a lesson for people in a different way. We were the gold standard. But we completely screwed up. And so now Newsom, I think, is like, “Oh crap, we have to come up with a better way to do this.” And his solution is that he has a much tighter rein on the whole situation.

For example, during the first go-round, L.A. County never met the criteria that had originally been set by Newsom in late April when he released his first reopening plan. But they just kept asking for exemptions, and the state granted them.

Now, Newsom has a totally different approach, which is very simple: Here’s the criteria. If you don’t meet the criteria, you don’t get to move forward.

What are the biggest challenges as we head into the fall?

Other than the reopenings, it’s the unknown of what’s going to happen with flu and if there’s going to be any connection to colder weather or changes in weather. Obviously, we can still have all sorts of outdoor activities in L.A. even in the winter, so that should make things a little bit better for us.

But there are a lot of unknowns with the flu. I don’t know how the flu would get a foothold to start circulating if everyone’s indoors all the time, but it is possible. And then we don’t know how those two viruses will interact in the world or in our bodies.

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

More L.A. County reopenings could come in October if the COVID-19 dip continues. “If we don’t see a surge in cases and hospitalizations associated with activities over Labor Day, and we continue to reduce our rate of community transmission over the weeks ahead, we could enter Tier 2, which is less restrictive, sometime in October,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s Department of Public Health, said. Los Angeles Times

How disaster relief has adapted to two horrors: Wildfires and coronavirus. There are no longer massive shelters in California where the coronavirus could spread among traumatized people running for their lives; the state prohibits large gatherings. That means no dining halls. No in-person counseling, no hugs, no tissues to dry tears. As wildfires rage in the West and hurricanes pummel the Gulf Coast, disaster aid has been forced to evolve, for better or for worse. Los Angeles Times

A firefighter was killed battling the El Dorado fire. Few details were available about the death Friday morning. The fire broke out Sept. 7 near Yucaipa after a smoke-emitting pyrotechnic device was used at a gender-reveal party. It has since burned nearly 20,000 acres. Los Angeles Times

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Two Los Angeles County supervisors joined with several members of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission in calling on Sheriff Alex Villanueva to resign, citing his tense relationship with the Board of Supervisors and his resistance to oversight of the department. Los Angeles Times

Evacuations were ordered in parts of Antelope Valley: More than a week after it started burning through the Angeles National Forest, the Bobcat fire opened a new dangerous front as it barreled toward homes in the Antelope Valley on Thursday, prompting new evacuations and further straining exhausted firefighters. Los Angeles Times

From limo drivers to red carpet photographers, the Emmys are usually an economic boon for L.A. But with the 2020 edition going virtual, many in the broader awards show orbit have lost work. Los Angeles Times

Photographer Alex Berliner has been a fixture for decades on awards night
Photographer Alex Berliner has been a fixture for decades on awards night, whether shooting celebs on the red carpet or inside at all of the after-parties. But this Emmy night will be different as Berliner will be sitting at home with nothing to do since the show will be broadcast virtually.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Plus, everything you need to know about the (unpredictable, virtual, at-home, pandemic-era) Emmys happening Sunday: Here’s The Times’ complete guide to the 2020 Emmys, from our expert predictions in the major categories to what you can expect from the virtual ceremony. Los Angeles Times

“You know that old saying: If a millionaire Marxist promises you free rent for life, get it in writing.” For decades, a parade of progressive nonprofits was given office space in buildings owned by a leftist Greek immigrant who had made a fortune in real estate. But their benefactor died in 2018, and his son is looking to expel the tenants. Los Angeles Times

A little smoked pastrami to ring in 5781? The chef behind a popular pastrami pop-up is starting a delivery-only Jewish deli, featuring the aforementioned smoked pastrami, as well as matzo ball soup and meats by the pound. Eater LA

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Coronavirus cases leap in an outbreak at an ICE detention center in Adelanto. More than 5,800 people in ICE custody have tested positive for the coronavirus nationwide, according to the agency. Los Angeles Times


Empty trucks, falsified records: How Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s changes at the Postal Service brought chaos. Los Angeles Times

University of California regents have banned the use of quotas based on race and gender in admissions, hiring and contracting — underscoring their intent to limit how they would restore affirmative action if state voters approve its use again. Los Angeles Times

California workers will get stronger family leave protections under a new state law: Newsom signed a bill giving millions of California workers at smaller businesses job protections that will allow them to take time off to bond with a new child or care for a sick family member. Los Angeles Times

UC national labs suspended diversity training after a Trump administration order. “The Department of Energy has asked all the national labs, which are funded by taxpayer dollars, to suspend their diversity, equity, and inclusion training programs,” Lab Director Mike Witherell told employees Friday in a memo acquired by the Chronicle. San Francisco Chronicle


A growing number of small towns are going to court against Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ to argue these companies need to pay their fair share of revenue as a utility fee. “The nature of this legal battle has cities and streamers discussing in court the operations of digital video delivery in detail — for instance, how a company like Netflix moves data and where it maintains its local servers.” The Hollywood Reporter


DIY air filters can be safe, simple and inexpensive. Here’s how to make one. Los Angeles Times


Fifty-two years ago, Thelonious Monk played a Northern California high school. A recording of the event gathered dust for five decades, but now everyone can hear it. New York Times

Purportedly created by three Mexican American sisters, the cannabis company La Chingona aimed to fill the void of weed products catered to Latino customers. But it turns out the Del Rosario sisters were fictional and the company is owned by mostly non-Latino men. Los Angeles Times

Are Jews who play baseball on the High Holy Days really subject to the “Koufax Curse”? With Talmudic intensity, a writer studies a half-century of records tracking 36 Jewish players to examine how often they played on some part of the holy day, how they performed, and how their teams performed. The Forward

If you can make it here [without a 14-day quarantine], you can make it anywhere. New York has removed California from its list of quarantined states, which means that travelers from California now can head east without facing a required 14-day quarantine. The same also goes for New Jersey and Connecticut. Los Angeles Times

“Canning jars right now are about as hard to find as a two-dollar bill” in Eureka, where tuna (and tuna canning) season is well underway. An “epic” offshore bonanza has been going full tilt since Sept. 8, though winds may soon end the bounty of highly fishable days. Eureka Times-Standard

A poem to start your Friday: “Orkney / This Life” Andrew Greig. Scottish Poetry Library

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 91. San Diego: sunny, 84. San Francisco: partly sunny, 69. San Jose: partly sunny, 73. Fresno: partly sunny, 92. Sacramento: partly sunny, 80. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Bonnie Olson O’Neil:

The Bean Hut may not sound like a hot spot today, but that Anaheim drive-in restaurant was the place to go in the 1950s. Teens from L.A. to Carlsbad and every city in between could be found there, especially on weekends. Vanilla Cokes, crisp French fries, and bean tostadas were favorites. The food was delivered on a tray that was attached to one’s car window. Guys went to the Bean Hut to show off their “hot” cars and their dates liked to go to be seen with them. Couples often went to see a movie at a drive-in theater close by, before or after stopping for a quick meal at the Bean Hut.

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.