Essential California: Playgrounds reopen, to parents’ relief

A little girl on a swing
Sydney Beckman, 2, plays on a swing under “Caution” tape at Anderson Park in Redondo Beach on Nov. 30 after Los Angeles County shut down public playground equipment amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
(Hailey Branson-Potts / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 10, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The coronavirus situation in California grows increasingly dire by the day, but at least there is one small piece of good news this morning: Playgrounds are open again.

Following outcry from parents and some legislators, the state has reversed course on closing playgrounds as part of its regional stay-at-home order. Los Angeles County — which which had closed outdoor public playgrounds prior to the state’s order — will also follow the state’s lead and allow playgrounds to reopen.

[Read the story: “In a reversal, California and L.A. County say playgrounds can be open under COVID-19 restrictions” in the Los Angeles Times]


As my colleague Hailey Branson-Potts reported last week, L.A. County’s playground closures had infuriated and confounded many parents. Why, they asked, were outdoor playgrounds closed when indoor malls remained open and filled with shoppers? What made swing sets and monkey bars more dangerous than tennis courts, golf courses, beaches, skate parks and hiking trails, which all remained open? And after months of Zoom school and not seeing friends, hadn’t kids suffered enough?

[Read the story: “Angry parents won’t let officials slide over closed playgrounds, packed malls” in the Los Angeles Times]

It seems the loud protestations did not fall on deaf ears. On Wednesday morning, the state released updated guidelines that included an about-face on the playground rules. A representative for the state health department said in a statement that they had heard the concerns “about the lack of outdoor spaces for children if playgrounds remained closed,” and updated the rules based on that community input.

L.A. County announced it would be following suit later in the day. When asked about the new rules during an afternoon briefing, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted that the risks that applied before hadn’t gone away, and urged parents and caregivers to be “super careful” if they did choose to visit their local playground.

“We would strongly recommend you have a lot of hand sanitizer, because it’s really hard to clean playground equipment in between children playing on it,” Ferrer said. Face coverings will also be required at all times, and social distancing rules still apply, even on the jungle gym.

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


California hits a new single-day death record as cases and hospitalizations continue to soar: More Californians died of COVID-19 on Tuesday than any other day, the latest milestone in an accelerating pandemic that is infecting and hospitalizing residents at levels far eclipsing any seen before. Tuesday’s death toll, 219, edged out the previous single-day high of 214, which was recorded July 31. The death toll has been highest in Los Angeles, the state’s most populous county.

In a wrenchingly human moment, L.A. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer briefly choked up during a briefing on Wednesday afternoon. With a trendline of deaths displayed on the screen behind her, Ferrer appeared to fight back tears as she spoke about the more than 8,000 Angelenos who have died of COVID-19.

“Sorry,” the public health director said, shaking her head slightly as she struggled to regain her composure before continuing her sentence. “Over 8,000 people who were beloved members of their families are not coming back. And their deaths are an incalculable loss to their friends and their family, as well as our community,” she said, before moving on to the next slide. Los Angeles Times

Here’s how California plans to distribute the vaccine in coming weeks: California’s first shipment of vaccines will include 327,000 doses. It is expected to reach hospitals between Saturday and Tuesday, if the Pfizer vaccine is approved by the FDA this week as expected. Los Angeles Times

A stay-at-home order for the Sacramento region will take effect at 11:59 p.m. Thursday after hospital intensive care unit capacity dropped below a critical threshold Wednesday, California health officials said. Los Angeles Times

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Manhattan Beach finds an outdoor dining loophole: Though Los Angeles County has ordered restaurants to suspend outdoor dining through the holidays, the city of Manhattan Beach has implemented a plan to allow residents to continue using the space. The city has repurposed newly closed outdoor dining areas as “public seating areas” where people can sit and potentially dine out. Los Angeles Times

The 10 best L.A. albums of 2020: “Los Angeles musicians, as usual, stepped up when we needed them most, filling the sheer volume of unstructured time with organized, or joyfully disorganized, noise.” Los Angeles Times

Shaken studios. Empty theaters. What Hollywood lost during the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

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The House of Representatives passed a one-week spending bill to avert a government shutdown, buying time for COVID talks. The measure would give lawmakers more time to sort through the trouble they have created for themselves after months of futile negotiations. It is expected to pass the Senate. Los Angeles Times

The Justice Department’s investigation scrutinizing Hunter Biden’s taxes has been examining some of his Chinese business dealings, among other financial transactions, a person familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. Associated Press


Cannabis regulators may loosen California rules to help the struggling industry: The changes could include lifting the $5,000 limit on the amount of pot that can be carried by delivery vans. Los Angeles Times


Federal regulators have sued Facebook and are seeking to break up the company. The FTC said Facebook has engaged in “a systematic strategy” to eliminate its competition, including by purchasing up-and-coming rivals like Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. Los Angeles Times

End-of-life care has boomed in California. So has fraud targeting older Americans. Los Angeles Times


Workers for an East Bay parks district have been shooting feral cats. The district said the “out of control” cat colony threatened local wildlife, but animal rights activists are not happy. Mercury News


Lake Tahoe is shutting down to tourists on Friday: Vacation travel to the popular ski destination will be banned for at least three weeks due to a regional rise in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations. San Francisco Chronicle

Cal State announces plans for a fall 2021 reopening of its 23 campuses: The early announcement is aimed at helping students and families as they plan for next year — and as they decide whether to apply to Cal State, university leaders said. Los Angeles Times


A poem to start your Thursday: “Notes on the Spring Holidays, III, [Hanukkah]” by Charles Reznikoff.

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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 63. San Diego: partly sunny, 64. San Francisco: partly sunny, 59. San Jose: partly sunny, 63. Fresno: sunny, 64. Sacramento: sunny, 64. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from William C. Stewart:

The year was 1954 and I traveled from my Missouri home to California to visit some relatives. I found the state engulfed with uranium fever. My cousins and I acquired a Geiger counter and went off to the mountains. There was a $10,000 reward being offered for a commercial deposit of uranium. We prospected the entire Walker Basin with little luck — yes, we found some “hot” spots but nothing worthwhile. What amazed me was the fact that I could walk around a boulder with my Geiger counter that I doubted a human had ever seen and I would meet a woman with a Geiger counter. The hills were full of women prospecting, and after that reward. I don’t think a commercial deposit of uranium was ever found in California but we enjoyed searching.

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.