Essential California: The San Joaquin Valley’s hospital crisis

A man opening a gate that says "Jesus Saves"
The Rev. Wayne Richardson is chief executive of Stockton’s Gospel Center Rescue Mission, which is housing 11 homeless COVID-19 patients.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Dec. 14, and here’s a quick look at the week ahead.

On Monday, the electoral college will meet to certify presidential election results. All 50 states have already certified their votes for the election, awarding President-elect Joe Biden well over the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency.

[See also: “What’s in store when the electoral college meets” from the Associated Press]

Also Monday: COVID-19 vaccinations will begin in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration on Friday granted an emergency use authorization for a vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech.


[Read more: “California vaccinations could start Monday, but it won’t slow COVID-19 crisis imperiling hospitals” in the Los Angeles Times]

Still Monday: Early voting begins in the Georgia Senate runoffs. The twin runoff races — which conclude Jan. 5, 2021 — will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.

On Thursday, the FDA’s outside vaccine advisory committee will meet to review data on Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and make its recommendation on approving it for emergency use.

Thursday is also the eighth night of Hanukkah. If you need a little cooking inspiration, here’s a recipe for the late, great Jonathan Gold’s favorite latkes.

The NBA preseason concludes on Saturday.

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

Nowhere in California is the hospital crisis from COVID-19 worse than in the San Joaquin Valley, where intensive care bed capacity hit 0% this weekend. Here is a look inside the fragile medical system, where exhausted staff, working long hours seven days a week, rarely take off their protective gear because the entire area is the “dirty zone.” The region still faces deep skepticism about wearing masks and taking other precautions. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “ICU capacity explained: What to know about a key coronavirus metric in California” in the Los Angeles Times]


How long until the COVID-19 vaccine gets to the general public? Many details are still being worked out, and how the vaccine will be distributed across California will depend on state and federal guidance. But experts say it will probably be spring, and possibly summer or even fall, before the vaccine is available to healthy people who are not essential workers or in other high-risk groups. Los Angeles Times

For years, California police agencies have rejected almost every racial profiling complaint they received: From 2016 to 2019, California law enforcement agencies rejected more than 98% of the racial profiling complaints they received from the public. Los Angeles Times

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With L.A. courts paralyzed by COVID-19, public defenders say caseloads are “unconscionable.” Some said they were so overworked they could not provide effective counsel to their clients; others feared for their health amid what they consider to be lax court safety protocols. Los Angeles Times

A close-up look at how hard it is to keep a little family restaurant going in a pandemic: Eric Tjahyadi and his family have poured everything into Bone Kettle, a small Pasadena restaurant specializing in Southeast Asian fare. Los Angeles Times

A masked restaurant employee peels a decal sticker off an exterior window
Joe Delgado, an employee at Pasadena’s Bone Kettle, removes a “We’re open for dine-in” decal from the front window of the restaurant as state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions forbid outdoor dining.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“Wealthy insiders operate a favor mill in constant motion, harvested year after year, often over generations.” Will public shaming deter the 1% from trying to cut the line for the coronavirus vaccine? Air Mail

Where to see holiday lights in the L.A. area, including quite a few drive-through shows. Los Angeles Times

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More eligible Californians voted in November’s election than any time since 1952. More than one in every 10 ballots in the nation was cast by a Californian. Los Angeles Times

California will probably need a new state attorney general. Here’s what Gov. Gavin Newsom will consider. Los Angeles Times

Newsom unveiled a lobbying ban for his paid political advisors, after weeks of critiques over his close ties to consultants who also work for corporate clients and other influential interests at the state Capitol. San Francisco Chronicle


Sacramento’s police force is larger than it’s been in years, amid a national debate over reducing police department funding. Sacramento Bee

A coded cypher from the Zodiac killer has been deciphered, 51 years after it was mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle by the serial killer. Los Angeles Times


Foster Farms is facing scrutiny for new clusters of coronavirus infections at its facilities in California’s Central Valley, which follow a deadly, months-long outbreak this year at the poultry producer. Los Angeles Times


Fleeing restrictions in the rest of the region, Bay Area residents swarm into San Mateo County. Outdoor dining, barbershops and nail salons remain open in the county, unlike other parts of the region. Mercury News

With restaurants hurting, there’s less leftover cooking oil to make biofuels. Production plants for biofuels, which California promotes as greener than ordinary diesel or gasoline, often rely on restaurants, factories and other sources that regularly generate used cooking grease. San Francisco Chronicle

“I won’t go into an Albertsons in Carpinteria.... But I’ll come here.” Unwelcome in other countries, Americans are fleeing lockdowns and flocking to Mexico. Travel from the U.S. appears to have contributed to an uptick in coronavirus cases and deaths in many tourism hot spots. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your week: “Keats in California” by Philip Levine. Ronnow Poetry

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Los Angeles: sunny, 68. San Diego: partly sunny, 63. San Francisco: sunny, 55. San Jose: sunny, 57. Fresno: partly sunny, 55. Sacramento: partly sunny, 55. More weather is here.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Tennis player Stan Smith (Dec. 14, 1946), onetime king of Hollywood Mike Ovitz (Dec. 14, 1946), L.A. City Councilman Curren Price (Dec. 16, 1950), former Rep. Steve Knight (Dec. 17, 1966), director Steven Spielberg (Dec. 18, 1946) and singer Billie Eilish (Dec. 18, 2001).

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.