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Essential California: The COVID-19 testing site and the ‘She’s All That’ remake

A coronavirus testing center at Union Station that had been set to close for a movie shoot was open Tuesday morning.
A coronavirus testing center at Union Station that had been set to close for a movie shoot was open and accepting appointments Tuesday morning. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the change of course in a tweet just after midnight after the closure was publicized by a homeless advocacy group.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Dec. 2, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Phillip Kim had done the responsible thing and rushed to get a coronavirus testing appointment when he started feeling sick.

He originally tried to get tested Sunday at Dodger Stadium. But after spending more than an hour in line, he gave up and figured he could wait for a Tuesday appointment at Union Station.

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That’s why he was “fairly livid” Monday afternoon when — less than 24 hours before his scheduled appointment — he received an email informing him that the testing site was canceling all of Tuesday’s appointments “due to an event being held at this location.”

What kind of event could possibly be being held during the worst crescendo of a pandemic, as public health officials desperately scramble to shore up the hospital system ahead of a further onslaught of patients?

“They’re closing a testing site during the peak of the highest COVID numbers in L.A.?” Kim remembers thinking. “It just seemed kind of irresponsible and in line with why we were protesting the city’s handling of things in general.”

Kim is active with the Koreatown-based homeless outreach and advocacy group Ktown for All, which has joined Black Lives Matter-L.A. and other groups in recent daily protests outside L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home.

Fairly livid would turn to very livid when Kim learned of the reason for the closure. After Kim shared a screenshot of the email with other members of Ktown for All, the activists did a little sleuthing and quickly discovered that the event in question was a film shoot.

Hundreds of coronavirus testing appointments at a transit hub were being canceled to accommodate filming of a gender-swapped remake of “She’s All That” starring a TikTok personality. Yes, that is a real sentence and not satire.

The outrage came fast and hot after Ktown for All shared the cancellation email on Twitter early Monday evening. Even in an entertainment capital, where the locals are largely inured to the hassles of navigating around film sets, the decision to close the testing site was staggering to many. Ktown for All’s tweet went viral. Deadline confirmed the story a few hours later, and other outlets soon followed, as the collective fury mounted on the internet.

Just after midnight Tuesday morning, the mayor announced via tweet that the decision had been reversed. The 504 Angelenos who’d been scheduled for tests at the Union Station kiosk could proceed as planned.

[Read the story: “After outcry, L.A. reinstates COVID-19 testing upended by Union Station film shoot” in the Los Angeles Times]

But questions remain about how the decision to prioritize production of “He’s All That” over coronavirus testing was made in the first place.

A spokesperson for the office that issues film permits told my colleagues that “FilmLA did not, and never would, seek the closure of a city-operated COVID-19 testing center to accommodate filming.” A representative from Miramax, the studio releasing the film, told the New York Times that they had also made no such request.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office told my colleagues that Union Station’s property management company had notified the mayor’s office Monday afternoon that the testing kiosk would need to be closed, and that they began making efforts to reopen it as soon as the matter was brought to their attention.

The vice president of the company that handles property and facility management for Union Station told my colleagues that the cancellation was the result of a misunderstanding: “This was an unfortunate mix-up between everyone involved in making these tests possible, including the station, Curative and government officials, which led to the mistaken cancellation of today’s tests, which we’re happy to report was corrected last night.”

The “mix-up” in question was certainly unfortunate. Particularly because it embodies the conflicting signals and muddled messaging that have hampered state and local pandemic responses as of late.

“If they’re prioritizing ‘He’s All That’ over people getting tested and knowing whether they’re vectors or not, that doesn’t send any message other than we’re open for business, right?” said Kim, who was able to get his Union Station coronavirus test after all on Tuesday morning. “It doesn’t say anything about ‘be safe’ ... To me, it shows who gets to do what they want and who doesn’t.”

People are angry about the temporary cancellation at the testing site for the same reason they’re angry about public officials flouting the rules, or a county supervisor dining at an outdoor restaurant hours after calling the activity dangerous and voting to uphold a county ban on outdoor dining. (The ban had not yet gone into effect when she had her meal.)

The outlook for the weeks and months ahead, particularly here in Los Angeles County, is brutally dark. Tuesday’s Los Angeles case numbers shattered the single-day record, confirming the most dire forecasts about infections spreading ferociously as the holiday season gets underway. The need to reduce transmission has never been more critical, at a time when people are exhausted by quarantine rules that sometimes feel arbitrary.

If you want people to really hear the alarm bells being sounded, you’d better make sure they’re all playing the same sound at the same time. The stakes are too high for any conflicting noise coming from the people in charge.

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

California got $1.3 billion in wildfire relief, but victims have received nothing. Disaster-affected homeowners and renters have yet to receive a penny of the federal aid the state received to rebuild after the 2017 wine country wildfires, the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County and other disasters from those years. The cause: years-long federal and state bureaucratic delays. As a result, renters are going without permanent housing, while homeowners are unable to cobble together enough money to rebuild their homes. Los Angeles Times

San Francisco is poised to tighten restrictions as coronavirus cases surge: San Francisco this week will announce more rollbacks to its reopening plan, including a possible quarantine order for travelers and reduced indoor capacity at businesses, as the coronavirus continues to pummel the state, city officials said Tuesday. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

The San Fernando Valley’s Latino communities have been hit staggeringly hard by the pandemic. Five of the 25 L.A. County communities with the highest infection rates are in the northeast San Fernando Valley — in areas that are home to large numbers of “essential” workers at prime risk of infection and have high rates of crowded housing. Los Angeles Times

COVID-19 victims are included in a Day of the Dead memorial
COVID-19 victims are included in a Day of the Dead memorial last month at the office of L.A. City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez at Pacoima City Hall.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Actors sue SAG-AFTRA’s health plan: The lawsuit was sparked by a series of changes made to the health plan this summer, which the lawsuit alleges will make it harder for thousands of actors and performers to retain their medical insurance. Los Angeles Times

“We created spaces of joy.” How Black Panamanians built a small but significant community in Los Angeles. Boom California

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IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

The Los Angeles Times filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, seeking records on abuse claims at U.S. immigration detention centers. The lawsuit followed a recent Times investigation that uncovered hundreds of allegations by detainees in California of violence and abuse, few of which resulted in criminal charges. Los Angeles Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has apologized for attending an in-person Thanksgiving gathering that brought together eight people from five households. In a statement, Liccardo said he regretted gathering in defiance of state rules and, apparently, his own advice to the public on the issue. San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Mayor London Breed dined at the French Laundry the night after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s now-infamous dinner at the restaurant. Attending the birthday dinner of a San Francisco socialite, Breed’s party of eight dined “in the same kind of partially enclosed room with a ceiling and chandelier as Newsom did — making it more of an indoor dining experience than an outdoor one.” The dinner may not have technically violated the rules, but the optics are less than great. San Francisco Chronicle

CRIME AND COURTS

Boat fire captain indicted: The captain of the Conception, the dive boat that caught fire last year off the coast of Santa Barbara, killing 34 people on board, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter. Los Angeles Times

A new lawsuit alleges that the state has failed to provide a free and equal education to all students during the pandemic, violating the state Constitution and discriminating against Black, Latino and low-income families. Los Angeles Times

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Leaders in the central San Joaquin Valley are pushing for farmworkers to be among the first recipients of a COVID-19 vaccination. The region’s farming workforce has gotten sicker at higher rates, and many farmworkers face barriers to receiving medical treatment and healthcare services. Fresno Bee

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Untethered from the office, some L.A. and Orange County tenants are flocking to the Inland Empire. “We’ve lessened the relationship between where people live and where they work. So many … are taking advantage of the opportunity to save on housing costs.” Los Angeles Daily News

A poem to start your Wednesday: “Thirsting” by Alicia Ostriker. Poets.org

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: partly sunny, 77. San Diego: sunny, 73. San Francisco: partly sunny, 61. San Jose: partly sunny, 64. Fresno: sunny, 64. Sacramento: sunny, 63. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Jim Hamra:

In 1950, I was a senior at North Hollywood High School when I took a public speaking class. As part of that, I crafted a speech for a citywide oratorical contest. That got me through several stages and eventually to the Los Angeles finals, which I won. However, the hallmark of the time was when all 3,000 fellow students gathered at the football field for an assembly that included me giving my marvelous speech. As I was solemnly orating about the United Nations, the crowd was fidgety and really not terribly interested in my wonderful opinions. And then, a small dog appeared, began sniffing the ground and finally got to the podium. That caught the attention of the audience. Especially when the animal lifted his leg and let go right on the podium. There was a roar from the crowd as you might imagine. And when it subsided, I remarked, “As I was saying!” That brought down the house, and for the rest of the speech there was complete attention, followed by wild applause at the end.

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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