Essential California Week in Review: A vaccine at the end of the tunnel

Drivers line up for coronavirus testing Wednesday at Long Beach City College.
Drivers line up for coronavirus testing Wednesday at Long Beach City College in Long Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Dec. 12.

Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week:

A vaccine is here. On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, clearing the way for widespread immunizations to begin and opening a new front in America’s battle against the pandemic.

Vaccine distribution. More than 300,000 doses are expected to arrive in California within a few days, and by the end of the year, the state expects to have administered the first dose to more than 2 million people. But health officials will still need to build trust in the hardest-hit communities, where some Latinos remain wary, in order for enough people to get the shots.

Record cases and full hospitals. New coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths broke records in L.A. County several times over this week. Although Southern California and the Central Valley are by far the state’s biggest contributors of total deaths, counties across the state have said their ICU beds are dwindling or completely full.

Escalating restrictions. Much of the state began the week under new stay-at-home orders. Further restrictions followed, including a hard closure of L.A. County’s public schools and a stay-at-home order for the Sacramento region.

Pushback and reversal. New safety rules were met with pushback in Orange County, in L.A. County’s restaurant industry, from parents and beyond. State and local health officials responded by walking back a ban on playgrounds, but a court decision on L.A.’s dining ban was mixed.

A lost last chance. The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a longshot and highly unusual lawsuit backed by President Trump that urged the justices to overturn the election result by nullifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in four key states. The ruling makes clear that the voters in each state — not unelected judges — decide who is elected president.

New legislative session. The new two-year session of the California Legislature began Monday as legislators took the oath of office and quickly compiled an urgent to-do list to address the impact of the pandemic.

Another California opening. President-elect Joe Biden has nominated California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra to be the next Health and Human Services secretary, a historic choice that would make the former Los Angeles congressman the first Latino to hold the office. It also means another position for Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill.


Cheap rent, nice views. It’s a coveted perk for state parks employees: For just a few hundred dollars a month, they can live in government-owned homes in some of California’s most sought-after locations. But current and former employees allege that state property is being used for the benefit of some favored staff members, according to a Times investigation.

A new prosecutorial plan. On his first day in office after unseating incumbent Jackie Lacey, L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón embarked Monday on a plan to reimagine criminal prosecutions in the county. Among the sweeping policy changes he announced is an end to cash bail.

End-of-life care — and fraud — has boomed. Older people in California are becoming unwitting recruits for unscrupulous providers who bill Medicare for hospice services and equipment for “terminally ill” patients who aren’t dying.

Air quality ups and downs. The year began with Los Angeles enjoying a 21-day stretch of smog-free days, a silver lining to a deadly pandemic. But it didn’t last, and 2020 will instead go down as one of Southern California’s smoggiest in decades. Experts say this year’s drop in global emissions similarly won’t last.

L.A.’s storied Magic Castle shaken. In interviews with The Times, 12 people accused management, staff, performers and academy members of a variety of abuses, including sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination.

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1. Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group, crashed a holiday toy drive in Placerville. Sacramento Bee

2. “He’s radioactive”: Inside Johnny Depp’s self-mad implosion. The Hollywood Reporter

3. California’s new stay-at-home order: What you need to know, from supermarkets to playgrounds. Los Angeles Times


4. What Hollywood Boulevard looks like when COVID-19 drives the tourists away. Los Angeles Times

5. “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. Library of Congress

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

En route to join her husband on a Fairbanks military base, a woman and her two children were stranded in western Canada. A stranger drove them 1,000 miles to Alaska. New York Times

“Choosing to honor the intimate, private voice.” The text of Louise Glück’s 2020 Nobel lecture, accepting the Nobel Prize in literature. New York Review of Books

Some experts say a harm-reduction approach to public health — educating people how to mitigate risk in their activities — would be more effective than all-or-nothing pleas to abstain from contact with other people. Los Angeles Times

Poem of the week: “Night Walk” by Franz Wright. Poem-a-Day


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. (And a giant thanks to the legendary Laura Blasey for all her help on the Saturday edition.)