Essential California: Distorted smells after COVID-19

Small bottles of essential oils with handwritten labels (e.g. lemongrass, lavender, tea tree, etc.) and a woman's hands.
Mariana Castro-Salzman, 32, does smell training with essential oils at her home in Eagle Rock. For her, coffee smells like a burned tire, but worse.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Feb. 5, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

I can no longer smell cigarette smoke, feces or garlic. It’s not that the odors are gone entirely — I still smell something, but it’s an amorphous and earthy scent, indistinct from any particular thing.

One could argue that these were pretty lucky losses, as far as olfactory disappearances go. Though I do find myself obsessively checking the bottoms of my shoes every time I return from a walk.

Anosmia, or the complete loss of smell, has become one of the hallmark symptoms of COVID-19. Most people who recover from COVID-19 also recover their sense of smell and taste within weeks. But researchers estimate that long-term smell dysfunction affects about 10% of COVID patients.

I had COVID early last spring, and my sense of smell and taste began to return about a month after I first got sick. But not entirely.


Have you ever run a chunk of text through Google Translate a few times, before eventually translating it back to the original language? It’s a bit like that. A few smells are gone entirely. But far more appear as awkwardly translated versions of the originals, similar but not entirely right.

In a new story, my colleague Brittny Mejia writes about parosmia, the medical term for this distortion of smell, and the suddenly booming business of olfactory restoration.

[Read the story: “Months after contracting COVID-19, some will try anything to regain their sense of smell” in the Los Angeles Times]

Even before the pandemic hit, a small percentage of the population dealt with smell loss for a variety of reasons. But COVID has pushed the formerly niche issue into an unlikely spotlight. AbScent, a United Kingdom charity that helps those suffering smell loss or disorders, saw its membership jump from 1,500 in February 2020 to more than 40,000.

My smell distortions rank as little more than an annoyance, but the issue has been life-altering for some, leaving them perpetually nauseated and unable to partake in foods and activities they once enjoyed.

As Mejia reports, people dealing with smell dysfunction have scheduled medical appointments, joined support groups and spent months using smell kits to retrain their noses. Universities have launched studies on recovering smell after COVID-19, starting treatment trials using nasal rinses and essential oils.


Her whole story is fascinating, and delves beyond the science of errant smells to lyrically explore the emotional connections that people have to certain scents.

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

Jockeying over who gets the COVID-19 vaccine next: Teachers? Workers? The disabled? The sick? The state has launched a high-level task force to sort out logistics for how residents with disabilities and underlying health conditions will be prioritized next, state officials announced at Wednesday’s vaccine advisory committee meeting. The group spent significant time discussing how those residents will be factored into the state’s priority guidance — a recommendation that could come as early as Friday. Los Angeles Times

Johnson & Johnson has asked the FDA to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, setting up what is likely to be a fast-moving review process that could lead to millions more doses becoming available to step up a stumbling immunization drive. Bloomberg

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The radical anti-vaccine faction that shut down Dodger Stadium says it is not done: “Ignoring public health orders and the coronavirus deaths of 450,000 Americans, they are entering stores without masks, eating at restaurants that refuse to shut down, hosting curfew-breaking parties at the beach — and thinking of ways to go bigger.” Los Angeles Times

COVID-19 in L.A. County is finally on a sustained decline after catastrophic winter: The numbers of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are nosediving in Los Angeles County, but officials stress that the county is far from out of the woods. The figures remain well above their pre-surge levels. Los Angeles Times

Kids have returned to this Sherman Oaks elementary school, but they’re paid actors. The Los Angeles Unified School District is facing criticism from parents who question why child actors can film an Apple TV show on campus when high-needs students can’t return for in-person services. Los Angeles Daily News

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A fiercely divided House of Representatives stripped Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of both her committee assignments, an unprecedented punishment that Democrats said she had earned by spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories. Associated Press

Congresswoman Young Kim (CA-39) walks along a tunnel below the U.S. Capitol Building
Rep. Young Kim of Orange County, pictured at the Capitol on Jan. 3, was the only California Republican who voted in favor of removing Greene’s assignments.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

California lawmakers propose a slate of reforms for the state’s troubled unemployment agency: Californians would be able to get unemployment benefits by direct deposit under legislation introduced to hasten financial aid and cut fraud. Los Angeles Times

The people who wrote California’s draft ethnic studies curriculum have demanded their names be removed from the revised document. All 20 teachers and educators informed the state of their decision on Wednesday, stating that the current draft no longer reflected the work they put into the curriculum. Sacramento Bee


A former Maywood mayor and 10 others are charged in a bribery and corruption scandal: The charges are the latest step in a years-long probe into allegations that city leaders engaged in pay-to-play practices, misused public funds and twisted the tiny city’s purse strings for their own benefit. Los Angeles Times

A grocers organization is suing Oakland and Montebello over forced “hero pay” for workers: In lawsuits filed Wednesday, the California Grocers Assn. said the city ordinances are illegal because they single out large grocery companies and interfere in “the free play of economic forces.” Los Angeles Times


The digital divide: A look at the issues low-income families in Fresno face around distance learning and internet access. Fresno Bee

From Alabama to Wyoming, a writer traveled a divided nation by reading more than 60 books. Her California picks were Steph Cha’s “Your House Will Pay” and Lydia Kiesling’s “The Golden State.” Los Angeles Times

Always dreamed of owning your own town? For a cool $3 million, the tiny boom-and-bust town of Nipton in the Mojave Desert could be yours. LAist

The lifelong proprietress of Sonoma’s Union Hotel has died at 90. “Lucille Gonnella was a fixture at the Union Hotel, where she welcomed guests for decades after she inherited the business from her parents, Mary and Carlo Panizzera, after they died in the 1970s.” Santa Rosa Press Democrat

A poem to to start your Friday: “February” by Margaret Atwood. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: sunny, 70. San Diego: sunny, 64. San Francisco: sunny, 61. San Jose: sunny, 64. Fresno: more sun, 64. Sacramento: still sunny, 63.


Today’s California memory comes from Janet Griffin:

My mother Ruth was interested in real estate in an unusual way. She bought a couple of lots in Stanton and purchased houses that were condemned for the new freeway system going through Buena Park. A family from Oklahoma lived next door to us and they were house movers. A friendly lady banker in Buena Park loved my mom’s idea and financed the deal. Mom did all the painting and hired local kids and her grandson to help her finish the homes for rentals. My dad used to shake his head and say, “I hope your mother isn’t in over her head.” My mom, the entrepreneur.

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.