Essential California: As coronavirus cases grow, so does loneliness

A city sign alerts visitors to the Manhattan Beach pier that face coverings are required.
With annual holiday decorations on display, a city sign alerts visitors to the Manhattan Beach pier that face coverings are required.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. Your guide today is Colleen Shalby, filling in for Julia Wick. It’s Monday, Dec. 28, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

We have entered the final week of 2020. As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout offers hope, the virus’ path of destruction continues.

The stark reality is that 2.1 million Californians, and counting, have tested positive for the coronavirus. In each instance, the diagnosis sentences a person to a weeks-long isolation, away from family, friends and roommates. Some suffer alone, in a hospital room. Others are able to return to their living spaces. But even then, home can become a haven and a confine.

For one couple, the infection arrived on the heels of a traumatic pregnancy loss. Alyssa Fetters awoke her fiancé one November morning in severe pain. A ruptured ectopic pregnancy sent her into emergency surgery for internal bleeding. When she was safely out, she learned that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. She was rushed to the COVID-19 wing, where her emotional and physical recovery in isolation began.


“It would have been our first child,” Fetters, 36, told me recently.

Once home, the couple’s time to process their loss would have to wait.

Fetters’ fiancé, Mark Fitzgerald, tended to his partner in gloves and mask, keeping contact limited until her isolation period was over and they were able to embrace for the first time in weeks.

“In the grand scheme of things, we’re really lucky. We’re both still working, we’re both still in our home,” Fetters said. “But it was horrible — I wouldn’t want it to happen again.”

[Read “A pregnancy loss, a coronavirus diagnosis and a recovery in isolation” in the Los Angeles Times]

The coronavirus has taken the lives of thousands in California and has upended millions more. Some have faced the unknown while secluded inside nursing homes.

“Did my daughter forget about me?” a woman residing in the Kingston Healthcare Center nursing facility in Bakersfield asked her nurse. “Does she know I’m here?”

Crystal Teal, a licensed vocational nurse, recently recounted that May day to my colleague Joe Mozingo. In the wing where she worked, every single one of the 61 residents had COVID-19. Visitors were no longer allowed — an absence felt deeply.


At a Redondo Beach assisted living facility, 85-year-old Len Maisch has escaped the coronavirus. But the loss of his wife at the facility, and time spent grieving in solitude, has been overwhelming.

Eventually, he hired a caretaker for three days, six hours a day, to simply sit in a chair and be there. He couldn’t bear to be without any company, he told my colleague Anita Chabria.

Kat Yi holds an iPad up to Eduardo Rojas, 50, inside the ICU
Registered nurse Kat Yi holds an iPad up to Eduardo Rojas, 50, so that his wife, Angelica, can see him inside the ICU at Providence St. Jude Medical Center on Christmas Day.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

On Christmas Day, the pandemic’s vast toll of suffering was visible throughout an intensive care unit in Orange County. But no patient was ever alone — a dedicated force of healthcare workers gave up their holiday to care for those fighting for life.

Reporter Brittny Mejia and photographer Francine Orr documented the scene. In a break room, nurses called their families at home.

“Merry Christmas, I love you guys,” a registered nurse told his mom over video chat. On a nearby bulletin board, a sign read, “There is hope even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”

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

A holiday surge in coronavirus cases may result in extended stay-at-home orders for Southern California and other areas. The order was supposed to end Monday, but officials in the region said it will probably last much longer as the surge continues to push hospitals to the breaking point. Los Angeles Times

Stay-at-home orders are expected to be extended in the Bay Area for another three weeks as coronavirus cases continue to surge. SF Gate

Virginia Ellis, a trailblazing journalist whose government accountability reporting spanned four decades and culminated in award-winning Los Angeles Times reporting on secret diversions of public funds into the political operations of California’s insurance commissioner and led to his resignation, died Thursday. She was 77. Los Angeles Times

You wouldn’t know it from looking at her, but Marjorie Leach belongs to one of the most exclusive clubs around, women and men whose mere existence warrants breathless headlines across the globe. Dues are high, membership requirements stiff: You must be at least 100 years old. And you must have survived COVID-19. Los Angeles Times

Asking the powerful, tough questions is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of journalism. At the Los Angeles Times, it is a priority. Here’s a look back at some of our investigations from 2020. Los Angeles Times

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


Los Angeles County health officials are warning of a possible surge in COVID-19 cases after family gatherings and out-of-town trips during the holidays, despite pandemic guidelines that asked the public to stay home. Los Angeles Times

Tens of thousands of travelers are expected to pass through Los Angeles International Airport this week, amid an alarming surge in coronavirus cases. Los Angeles Times

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Under intense bipartisan pressure, President Trump signed a sweeping coronavirus relief and spending bill after days-long drama over whether he would allow millions of Americans to endure a devastating cut to unemployment benefits and force a chaotic shutdown of the federal government in the final weeks of his administration. Los Angeles Times

Through the purchase of obituaries, Americans are increasingly turning their private grief into public calls for action, as the COVID-19 death toll grows by thousands each day. Los Angeles Times


Climate anxiety and other mental health struggles are rampant among California’s young generation, according to experts who warn that young Californians are growing up in the shadow of looming catastrophe — and dealing with the emotional and psychological fallout that comes with it. Los Angeles Times

The first considerable storm of the season is hitting Southern California, bringing rain and snow ahead of the new year. Los Angeles Times


Khennedi Meeks is sharing her story after resisting coming forward for months to tell the world, beyond family and friends or the occasional stranger who asked, that she was the woman on one knee in an epic Black Lives Matter protest photo. Mercury News

In true pop-up-art fashion, a nearly 7-foot-tall monolith made of gingerbread mysteriously appeared on a San Francisco hilltop on Christmas Day and collapsed the next day. Associated Press

A Bay area casino was set to have a private party for 4,000 attendees — a group that included casino VIPs and platinum-tier rewards club members. The party was canceled after widespread criticism. Press Democrat

About two years ago, the William Land Park Golf Course that opened in 1924 was on the financial brink. Then the pandemic hit, bringing a surge in golf activity to the Sacramento course and the surrounding region. Sacramento Bee

A poem to start your Monday: “I dwell in possibility” by Emily Dickinson. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: rainy, 55. San Diego: rainy, 59. San Francisco: partly cloudy, 55. San Jose: partly cloudy, 57. Fresno: partly cloudy, 54. Sacramento: partly cloudy, 55. More weather is here.


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

USC Annenberg School Dean Willow Bay (Dec. 28, 1963), Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax (Dec. 30, 1935), Nobel laureate and UC Berkeley cell biology professor Randy Schekman (Dec. 30, 1948), golf pro Tiger Woods (Dec. 30, 1975) Lakers star LeBron James (Dec. 30, 1984), Snap Chairman Michael Lynton (Jan. 1, 1960) and Rep. Katie Porter (Jan. 3, 1974).

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.