Essential California: A fourth wave?

The scene along Hollywood Boulevard
The bustling Saturday night scene along Hollywood Boulevard on March 20.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, March 30, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

On Monday, President Biden and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sounded alarm bells, amid signs that a potential new surge in coronavirus cases could lead to a deadly fourth wave of infections and deaths.

“We’re in a life-and-death race with a virus that is spreading quickly,” Biden said, announcing expanded federal efforts to vaccinate the country.

[Read the story: “Biden warns ‘we’re in a life-and-death race’ with COVID-19” in the Los Angeles Times]


CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters that she felt a sense of “impending doom” watching the steady rise of COVID-19 cases in the country this week, despite being so close to more vaccinations. New Jersey, New York and Michigan have some of the fastest-rising caseloads, but hospital admissions and deaths are also now on the rise nationwide, as my colleague Chris Megerian reports.

So what does all of this mean for California? The short answer is signs of a fourth wave have yet to surface here, at least for now. But the danger is far from over.

A global epicenter during the virus’ brutal third wave, California has been slower in its reopening compared with many other states.

Because of the state’s size, the number of new cases logged here over the last two weeks still ranks in the nation’s top 10 by state. But when population is taken into account, the breadth of California’s reversal in fortunes is clear: The number of new cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks in California is one of the lowest in the nation, second only to Hawaii, according to Times data.

Public health officials have been urging vigilance, particularly around gatherings and travel. My colleagues Luke Money and Hayley Smith report that public health officials are growing increasingly worried that the next seven days — spring break combined with Easter Sunday — could stymie California’s hard-won gains against the coronavirus.

[Read more: “On California’s beaches, some say ‘the pandemic is over’ as crowds return. Experts are worried” in the Los Angeles Times]

“We know the virus does not respect borders,” Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County public health director, said Saturday in a statement. Ferrer said local health officials “remain quite concerned with reports of rising cases of COVID and hospitalizations in a growing number of states.”

As my colleague Luke Money reports, Ferrer also told the county Board of Supervisors last week that over the course of the pandemic, the East Coast has often seen increases in cases before the West Coast, with rising L.A. County case numbers typically coming a few weeks after New York.

Please be careful out there and take precautions. The end is finally, gloriously in sight. But we still have to get there.

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

Will there be enough COVID-19 vaccine to go around as California dramatically expands eligibility? Not immediately. But officials are growing more optimistic that the scarcity that has caused so much frustration will soon morph into abundance — turbo-charging the inoculation campaign. Los Angeles Times

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LAUSD goes to great lengths to show schools are safe to reopen. But it’s a tough sell for many parents. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “Tracking school reopenings in California” in the Los Angeles Times]

They met in the DMs. Now they’ve sparked a movement to end racism in L.A. surf culture. Los Angeles Times

Two surfers
After being called a slur while surfing the north side of the Manhattan Beach Pier on Presidents Day, Justin “Brick” Howze and Gage Crismond organized a Peace Paddle that drew 200 surfers.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / For The Times)

Where to find the best taiyaki and bungeo-ppang in Los Angeles. I’m partial to the eminently Instagrammable taiyaki soft-serve ice cream cones at Somi Somi in Koreatown. LAist

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California’s election rules could make Newsom recall a wild ride: There is very little set in stone for a recall election in which voters could remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office beyond the ballot’s basic question of whether the governor should keep his job. Los Angeles Times


From the street to the courtroom: Unhoused Californians are suing for their right to stay put in the encampments they call home. Mercury News


Placer County’s main county-run vaccination center will be closed this Thursday and Friday for an anime event at the venue. A county spokesperson said the clinic has extended its hours this Monday through Wednesday into the evening to “maximize the volume” of doses administered this week, compensating for the closures. Sacramento Bee


A Black mom in Palmdale wanted help connecting her 12-year-old son to his online classes. Her son’s science teacher joined them on Zoom. But just when they thought the session had ended, they said they listened in disbelief as the sixth-grade teacher unleashed a lengthy racist rant, not knowing the family was still on the call. Los Angeles Times

California sleepaway camps will be open this summer. Here’s how parents are assessing the risks. San Francisco Chronicle

Cal State students have kept GPAs up during the pandemic, but troubling equity gaps persist. Los Angeles Times

“Woke California pays homage this week to another American hero with a complex legacy.” Columnist Gustavo Arellano considers the life of a three-dimensional hero, flaws and all, ahead of Cesar Chavez Day. Los Angeles Times

A poem to start your Tuesday: “Upper World” by Rae Armantrout.

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Los Angeles: sunny, 81. San Diego: meh, 68. San Francisco: sunny, 72. San Jose: sunny, 79. Fresno: sunny, 77. Sacramento: windy, 79.


Today’s California memory comes from Karina F. Moreno:

Senior year of high school, my friend Sam and I took a spontaneous spring break road trip from the Bay Area to Southern California. We loaded her dog Tule (as in Sacramento delta tule fog) into her jeep and headed south. Although there were beaches and college parties, the most memorable part of the trip was blasting Credence Clearwater Revival while descending the Grapevine into the town of Gorman and marveling at the orange and yellow hills blanketed with wildflowers. A sure sign of spring in California. To this day, every time the bursts of golden poppies make their way back, I think: “I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?”

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.