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Essential California: Settle in at home

Masks are sold in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, the same day California extended regional stay-at-home orders.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Dec. 30, and I’m Nita Lelyveld, writing from Los Angeles, as Julia Wick takes a few days off.

Much of California will have to remain under a strict stay-at-home order for now. Only rural Northern California is free of the most recent limitations on businesses and activities.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, on Tuesday extended those restrictions “for the time being” in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley. He said any decision to lift the restrictions will depend on projections of ICU availability four weeks into the future. Which means it’s unlikely they’ll be lifted any time soon.

[Read the story: “Stay-at-home order for much of California extended amid COVID-19 overload at hospitals” in the Los Angeles Times]

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Right now, Ghaly said in a briefing, projections show ICU availability “is not improving” in those two regions “and that demand will continue to exceed capacity.”

The Bay Area and the Greater Sacramento regions currently also are subject to the additional rules, which go into effect when the number of available intensive-care beds in a region falls below 15%.

Both the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California show 0% ICU-bed availability, according to the state formula. But as my colleagues Luke Money, Rong-Gong Lin II and Ryan Murphy explain, that formula is weighted to ensure that some emergency beds remain open for patients who don’t have the virus.

[See also: “What’s open and closed in SoCal as state renews stay-home rules” in the Los Angeles Times]

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Our recent numbers don’t exactly make continued restrictions a big surprise. On Monday, California tallied 66,`811 new coronavirus infections in a single day — a daily record that keeps being broken. And even though that tally is based on a backlog of reports from over the long Christmas weekend, officials expect travel over the winter holidays to produce another surge in the weeks to come.

That will mean more people with the virus will need to be hospitalized. And the state’s hospitals already are caring for more than 20,000 patients who have tested positive for the virus — another unenviable record.

In L.A. County, hospitals serving poor, nonwhite populations are being hit the hardest, according to a Times data analysis. Some hospitals have been so inundated that they’ve had to put patients in conference rooms and gift shops — and they’re still running out of space.

It’s not just beds that are in short supply, by the way. Having enough oxygen on hand for COVID-19 patients, and the means to store and distribute it, also is proving to be a dire problem.

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[Read the story: “Oxygen supply shortages bedevil hospitals already overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients” in the Los Angeles Times]

Meanwhile, Colorado has reported the first detected case in the United States of a variant of the coronavirus that has spread fast in the United Kingdom. L.A. County scientists have been testing samples here on the lookout for that potentially more contagious variant.

We are in a dire moment in the pandemic. Ghaly acknowledged in his briefing Tuesday that he knows how tired we are of what it demands of us. But he also stressed that a lot of what happens next remains in our hands.

“Much of what we’re dealing with is avoidable. Much of what we are seeing can be stopped if we collectively make decisions to stop it,” he said. “And those decisions are to wear our masks, to stay at home as much as we can at this critical time — and when we do go out to make sure that we keep physically distanced, that we don’t mix with anybody outside of our households for the time being and that we do as much as we can to keep our masks on.”

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

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

L.A. STORIES

Recent snowfalls are great for skiing, but be prepared for challenging drives to the slopes. Storms on Sunday and Monday dropped as much as 2 feet of snow at Southern California mountain resorts, but some recent drivers on the icy route to Mt. Baldy got stranded for more than five hours Monday night. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles’ battle over mask-wearing dates back more than a century. My fellow columnist Gustavo Arellano recounts how the city failed to enact a mandatory mask ban 102 years ago, during the pandemic of the so-called Spanish flu. This newspaper’s role wasn’t a proud one. Los Angeles Times

Oct. 24, 1918, photo in Los Angeles Times of the city’s draft board during a desertion hearing.
(Los Angeles Times archives)

Veterinarians and animal rescue workers say an L.A. activist exaggerated or fabricated horror stories about abused dogs. Marc Ching’s celebrity-backed Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation has raised millions of dollars in donations. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Democrats’ push for $2,000 stimulus checks. He says the Senate will “begin a process” to address the issue. Associated Press

There will be no lapse in jobless benefits, according to the Labor Department — despite President Trump’s delay in signing the program extension into law. Bloomberg

President Trump lashed out at House Republicans for voting to override his veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. If the Senate votes the same way, it will be the first veto override in Trump’s presidency. Associated Press

CRIME AND COURTS

The Justice Department has announced that it won’t bring federal criminal charges against two Cleveland police officers in the killing of Tamir Rice. The shooting of the 12-year-old in 2014 helped to galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement. Associated Press

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A smashed Breonna Taylor sculpture has been stolen. The artist who created the Oakland bust — and raised money to repair the recent vandalism — says the work has now disappeared. Los Angeles Times

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

We lost a godfather of California’s organic farming movement. Amigo Bob Cantisano, who called his North San Juan farm Heaven and Earth, was “a pollinating honeybee of knowledge,” said writer Michael Pollan. Los Angeles Times

A Christian singer’s plan to hold three days of New Year’s gatherings in the L.A. area raises concerns about “superspreaders.” The singer, who has defied health mandates before, plans stops on skid row and at a tent city in Echo Park. Los Angeles Times

A Beverly Hills restaurant is apologizing for the teasers it stuck into takeout orders for a speakeasy-themed New Year’s Eve dinner “inside” — at a time when in-person dining is banned because of the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA CULTURE

He traveled the world in search of inspiration for Disney theme park attractions. Imagineer Joe Rohde is retiring after four decades. Orange County Register

Sitting pretty, 2020 style. A showcase of some of the best portraits of culture creators taken by Times photographers. Most required meticulous planning, social distance and PPE. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 66. San Diego: partly cloudy, 66. San Francisco: cloudy, 53. San Jose: partly cloudy, 59. Fresno: partly cloudy, 54. Sacramento: cloudy, 56. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Tom Brown:

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I landed at LAX on Oct. 28, 1964, with a high school diploma, a strong back, and $250. I was 20 years old. Couldn’t get a job in the East where I lived, so my dad got me a job at an aerospace machine shop in South Gate for $1.95 an hour. Learned a trade, became a toolmaker, and I was on my way. Six months later, bought a new ’65 Chevy Impala and felt like I was the king of SoCal. Few years later I married, had two boys, bought a new house in Huntington Beach and we’re living the California Dream. Looking back, everything good that happened to me was because I landed in California back in ’64. It was the Golden State for me!

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.


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