Newsletter: Yes, you should still be afraid of the coronavirus

President Trump, maskless, in front of the White House
President Trump standing maskless in front of the White House on Monday night, just after being discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
(Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Oct. 6, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

President Trump was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday night, three days after traveling there by helicopter from the White House. The president, who announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 early Friday morning, is not “out of the woods yet,” according to his physician. He will continue treatment at the White House.

[Read the story: “Trump returns to White House, although doctors say he ‘may not entirely be out of the woods’” in the Los Angeles Times]

The president had announced his impending departure from Walter Reed earlier in the day by way of Twitter. In that same tweet, the president made clear that his own brush with the virus had done little to change his views about it.


[See also: “Even sick with COVID-19, Trump refuses to change tune on pandemic” in the Los Angeles Times]

“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” the president tweeted while actively battling the potentially lethal disease in question. “Don’t let it dominate your life.” That tweet was sent seven months into a once-in-a-century pandemic that has upended economies and snuffed out the lives of 210,000 Americans. Many of those people died alone, with their loved ones barred from their final moments.

It is difficult for anything to be shocking this far into our surreal year of inept bureaucrats and senseless death, where reality is doled out in equal parts tragedy and farce. And yet.

While not particularly surprising, there was still something shocking about the president of the United States continuing to so recklessly underplay the threat of the virus — even after it had seriously affected his own health — while receiving an extraordinary level of aggressive, experimental care available to virtually no one else in the country.

As my colleagues Noah Bierman and Eli Stokols report, the president’s advice rang alarms among health professionals, who pointed out that the disease remains deadly and is spiking in numerous states.

“It’s a hell of a message to send when everywhere you look around the world, indicators are showing that as we get into the fall we’re seeing more cases, just like scientists expected,” Ralph Catalano, a professor of public health at UC Berkeley, told them. “And to encourage people to put themselves at risk right now seems reckless and inhumane. How irresponsible can a president actually be?”

Here in California, more than 16,000 people have died because of the virus. After the deadly summer surge, the state has had some success in reining in the spread. But as my colleague Colleen Shalby reported late last week, even though daily case counts and hospitalizations have declined in recent weeks, officials have forecast an 89% increase in the latter by Oct. 25. After a surge in emergency room visits and a slight, but notable, increase in cases, the statewide projected transmission rate of the virus has risen. The virus threat is far from over, particularly as we move into fall and face a possible “twindemic” scenario as flu season begins.

[See also: “The pandemic’s toll: Lives lost in California” in the Los Angeles Times]

Californians have already faced the tragic repercussions of prematurely rushing back into normalcy: We saw record hospitalizations and fatalities this summer, after the reopening of the economy and a loosening of social behaviors in the late spring.

“We’ll continue to maintain our vigilance,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said when asked Monday about how the president’s diagnosis might affect the state’s approach to the pandemic. “We’ll continue not to send mixed messages as it relates to importance and the imperative of wearing masks or minimize the impact of this disease on people’s health and lives that are lost.”

Back on the East Coast, the president left Walter Reed just after 6:30 p.m. Monday in a televised departure that, as my D.C. colleagues note, “was timed to the evening newscasts, generating the type of wall-to-wall coverage Trump craves.”

He arrived back on the White House’s South Lawn shortly thereafter. After exiting Marine One, the president climbed stairs to a White House balcony where he removed his mask on live television. He left his mask off as he reentered one of the country’s most high-profile workplaces.

According the Washington Post, roughly 90 full-time staff members, including ushers, butlers, housekeepers, cooks and valets, work in the White House residence. The Post reports that those residence staff members are largely Black and Latino, and often elderly.

The toll of the White House outbreak continued to widen Monday, with White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and prominent Riverside pastor Greg Laurie among the newly announced positive cases. Laurie, who serves as pastor of the megachurch Harvest Christian Fellowship, attended the Sept. 26 event at the Rose Garden where Trump announced the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Two aides to McEnany have also tested positive.

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

Gov. Gavin Newsom names first openly gay justice to the state Supreme Court: Martin Jenkins, a 66-year-old Democrat, will become the first openly gay man on the California Supreme Court, and only the third Black man ever to serve on the state’s highest court. Los Angeles Times

Movie theaters are “at a crisis point” as the Regal shutdown dampens recovery hopes. Regal Cinemas parent company Cineworld dropped a bombshell over the weekend that the British exhibitor would temporarily close operations at all 536 of Regal’s U.S. theaters on Thursday. The decision puts 40,000 U.S. employees out of work. The move also sent a jolt through the exhibition community, prompting a Monday sell-off of theater stocks on Wall Street. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles County is not expected to move into a more permissive phase of relaxing coronavirus restrictions this week, public health officials announced Monday. Los Angeles Times

When the pandemic hit, a group of dancers from Jumbo’s Clown Room realized no one was coming to save them. So, the women of the East Hollywood strip club got creative. Los Angeles Times

Steelhead trout in the L.A. River? These experts envision a fish passage through downtown. Los Angeles Times

Two people standing in the concrete L.A. River bed
Wendy Katagi, left, and Isaac Brown of Stillwater Sciences, a consulting firm specializing in restoring rivers and flood plains, walk along the Los Angeles River flood channel.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Armenian protesters in L.A. decry “false equivalence” in media coverage of conflict: The conflict in a contested area in the Southern Caucasus has galvanized the Armenian community in Los Angeles, which is said to be home to more Armenians than any city other than the capital of Armenia. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “‘We hear you’: Officials gather at L.A. City Hall in solidarity with Armenian community” in the Los Angeles Times]

L.A. Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine announced that he would soon step down and that the paper was launching a search for a new top editor. Pearlstine, who celebrated his 78th birthday over the weekend, made the announcement Monday morning during a meeting with top editors and in a note to staff members. Los Angeles Times

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Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris will debate Wednesday separated by plexiglass shields, one of a handful of changes debate officials are making in response to concerns about COVID-19. Los Angeles Times


The Alameda County district attorney’s office is reopening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oscar Grant III, an unarmed Black man who was shot in the back by a BART police officer in 2009. San Francisco Chronicle

A judge has ruled that L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva exceeded his authority when he rehired a fired deputy as part of a settlement agreement that sparked a bitter legal fight between Los Angeles County’s top elected leaders. Los Angeles Times


The CDC says the coronavirus can spread through tiny airborne particles after all. The CDC acknowledged that the coronavirus can spread through microscopic respiratory particles known as aerosols that float in the air for minutes or even hours before being inhaled. Los Angeles Times

The August Complex fire has now burned 1 million acres, making it the first wildfire in California history to have destroyed such a vast swath of land. Los Angeles Times


A spate of shootings shook Sacramento over the weekend, leaving two children and one adult dead and several people injured, according to police reports. Los Angeles Times

Marin college students are teaching digital skills to underserved families struggling with Zoom school. The program was “born out of the apparent digital divide made clear at the start of the coronavirus crisis as many families struggled with distance learning.” Marin Independent Journal

A poem to start your Tuesday: “On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial” by Linda Pastan. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: sunny, 89. San Diego: cloudy, 84. San Francisco: partly sunny, 67. San Jose: partly sunny, 82. Fresno: sunny, 93. Sacramento: sunny, 91. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Taylor Ashbrook:

Circa 1980, before video, my jam was vintage movie theaters, watching old films commercial-free and unedited. My favorite was a small theater in the Los Feliz area where the projectionist usually missed at least one reel change. We assumed he drank. During one triple feature, the usual reel change miss occurred. The first attempted fix put the film in upside down. The second put in a reel from another movie. The third put in a reel we had already seen! The audience laughed a lot as we waited it out. The “good old days” were somehow so fun.

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.