Essential California Week in Review: ‘Getting crushed’

A man in a lab coat places trays of COVID-19 vaccine into a freezer at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center
David Cheng, director of in-patient pharmacy, places trays of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine into a freezer Monday at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center.
(Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Dec. 19.

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

Vaccines arrive. California’s healthcare workers on Monday got the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial. More hope came Friday, when regulators authorized the emergency use of a vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health.

‘We are getting crushed.’ But to temper the optimism, officials added a reminder that the vaccine won’t slow the current wave, and it could be a while before the general public gets the shots. On Friday, an official warned that Los Angeles County is on the verge of becoming the epicenter of the pandemic, as the healthcare system is being pushed to its breaking point.

Who goes first? Agonizing decisions are underway to determine who will get priority access to the vaccines. First responders, farmworkers and educators would be next under recommendations from a state advisory committee. But that hasn’t stopped the wealthy from angling for early access or prevented protests by some Stanford doctors denied the shots.


The ICU crunch. As ICU availability in Southern California hits 0%, hospitals in the Central Valley are finding themselves crushed under a massive wave of hospitalizations, with too little staff. The state is getting creative to make up the difference, turning to overseas facilities for additional staff and opening field hospitals.

No-fail policy. Citing pandemic hardships, Los Angeles school officials Monday deferred any failing grades from this semester until at least Jan. 29, giving students additional time to avoid receiving an F.

It’s official. The electoral college Monday formalized the victory voters gave to Joe Biden weeks ago — with the California delegation’s 55 votes clinching it.

Garcetti is staying put. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday that he plans to remain mayor. He had been widely seen as a contender to join the Biden administration and lead a Cabinet agency, perhaps transportation or housing, until other nominees were selected this week.

Rejecting complaints. Police agencies across the state upheld just 49 racial profiling complaints from 2016 to 2019, less than 2% of the roughly 3,500 allegations filed, a Times analysis of California Department of Justice statistics found.

Toxic air. Vapors from oil and other fluids seep into planes with alarming frequency across all airlines, at times creating chaos and confusion, a Times investigation has found. Such fume events were reported to NASA 362 times from January 2018 to December 2019, and a recent study suggests that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Staying home for the holidays. For many Mexican and Central American families, Christmas means tamales. But businesses say they’re getting smaller orders, suggesting people are setting aside their traditional large parties.

He’s still coming to town. A socially distant St. Nick comes in many forms, among them face-shield Santa, drive-by Santa, Plexiglas Santa and, inevitably, $750-an-hour Zoom Santa.

Enjoying this newsletter?

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a Times subscriber.

1. How the COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer compare head to head. Los Angeles Times

2. Yosemite’s Ahwahnee hosted a massive Thanksgiving feast. Unmasked guests had workers appalled. SFGate

3. Jonathan Gold’s favorite latke recipe. Los Angeles Times


4. The legal titan and the “Real Housewife”: The rise and fall of Tom Girardi and Erika Jayne. Los Angeles Times

5. “The Guest House” by Rumi. The Poetry Exchange

ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

She stalked her daughter’s killers across Mexico, one by one. Armed with a handgun, a fake ID and disguises, Miriam Rodríguez was a one-woman detective squad, defying a system where criminal impunity often prevails. New York Times

“Like a thief in the night.” How COVID-19 rampaged through one family. Los Angeles Times

A short story by the late Bay Area writer Anthony Veasna So: “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts.” New Yorker

Poem of the week: “Love After Love” by Derek Walcott. All Poetry

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.)