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Essential California: Freedom, fears and free stuff

People on Venice Beach
Edward Talbert and Destinie Moffet of Los Angeles enjoy a walk on the boardwalk in Venice Beach on a sunny day.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s June 15. I’m Justin Ray.

Today is a historic day for the state as California reopens its economy, abandoning many COVID-19 restrictions. Californians who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 can stop wearing face masks in most situations, unless a business or venue opts to keep masks mandatory. Restaurants and bars can return to full capacity.

For the record:

2:54 p.m. June 15, 2021A previous version of this newsletter stated that only vaccinated Californians could obtain a free topping, or equivalent side serving, of Queso Blanco at Chipotle. All Californians can receive it regardless of their vaccination status.

To prepare everyone for the big moment, I’ve broken up the newsletter into three sections: the encouraging news in California’s handling of the coronavirus, the free stuff you can get if you’re vaccinated, and what could go wrong.

The new back-to-normal, normal

While the idea of reopening can be daunting, Californians in particular have many reasons to be confident in our readiness. The state has one of the highest rates of vaccination in America; according to the latest numbers, 56% of residents of all ages — and 72% of adults — have had at least one dose of vaccine.

Our daily coronavirus case rate, deaths and hospitalizations are the lowest they’ve been since the first few weeks of the pandemic more than 14 months ago. Health officials say they don’t expect to see the state face another surge like the ones experienced earlier, according to a report by Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money. A bonus is that there’s evidence that current vaccines are effective against known COVID variants.

Meanwhile, the California safety board will vote on a proposal this week that would permit most fully vaccinated workers in many workplaces to remove masks and end social distancing. The proposal would also end requirements for partitions. If approved, the proposal could go into effect as early as June 28.

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Vaccine deals and free stuff

Gov. Gavin Newsom has been making headlines with his massive vaccine lottery drawings. If you’ve been vaccinated, there are other ways you can get a reward. Here are some offers you may want to catch:

— Mmm! If you bring your vaccination card into a Krispy Kreme, they will give you a free glazed doughnut. The company said on social media the promotion runs through the end of 2021, so you have time.

— Today only: Taco Bell announced that restaurants will give out a free seasoned beef Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco to California customers who show their vaccination cards. It is at select locations, so the company recommends checking local restaurants before getting in line to get your taco.

— Newsom announced sports-related vaccine deals: The Los Angeles Clippers will hand fans a 15% discount at their online store. The Golden State Warriors are offering a 20% discount at the Warriors Shop in the Chase Center. And the Team LA Store at STAPLES Center will offer a 15% discount. All three deals will run through June 20.

Also of note: Now through July 4, Uber is offering four free rides (up to $25 off each) per person to help people get vaccinated. Lyft is also offering people getting shots two free rides (up to $15 each). And Chipotle is giving all Californians a free topping, or equivalent side serving, of Queso Blanco with the purchase of any full-priced entrée item today. Again, this is at participating Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants, so call ahead.

You can find other offers here.

Is this a bad idea?

While reopening has been deemed low risk for those who are vaccinated, concern remains for those who aren’t. Unvaccinated residents may be able to avoid infection in the summer, but the autumn and winter present a higher risk. (Related: Alpha and Delta variants of the coronavirus could also be a problem. We explore the differences between the viruses here).

Another issue has to do with racial disparities in vaccinations. In Los Angeles County, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has highlighted how the youngest eligible Black and Latino residents are behind in getting vaccines. Among adults under age 30, just 25% of Black and 39% of Latino residents have received at least one shot. In comparison, 55% of white, 54% of Native American and 72% of Asian American residents have achieved at least partial vaccination.

Lower vaccination rates also persist in some counties. While the statewide average of at least partially vaccinated Californians is 56%, lower numbers can be found in Riverside (45%); San Bernardino (42%); Merced (39%); Tulare and Kern (38%); and Kings (31%). Other Northern counties such as Siskiyou (40%), Shasta (36%), Yuba (34%), Tehama (30%) and Lassen (21%) also have lower rates.

The Times has a full breakdown about how the reopening will affect restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, bars, amusement parks and more.

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.

SOCAL STORIES

FBI raids home of L.A.-based actor. The FBI last week raided the home of a Los Angeles-based actor who authorities say was among a group of right-wing protesters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. About 20 agents armed and outfitted in tactical gear raided the North Hollywood home. Los Angeles Times

A baffling Irvine mystery. A husband told authorities his wife and 12-year-old stepdaughter were missing — kidnapped from their apartment, he claimed — but he had waited more than a week to report it. The fishy story made the husband become the top suspect in the disappearances. But after hours of interviews and a parallel investigation by the FBI, authorities have come up with an unexpected explanation. Los Angeles Times

Sweltering heat in SoCal. If you live in Southern California, I don’t need to tell you there’s a heat wave. The worst of the high temperatures are expected Tuesday and Wednesday. To avoid danger, officials suggest drinking plenty of fluids, staying in the shade and not leaving children or pets unattended in vehicles. Los Angeles Times

Aerial view of Newport Beach
A photo captures an aerial view of Newport Beach earlier this year.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Is that an alien? This month, the public will see a report from military and intelligence officials that has UFO-enthusiasts buzzing. It will address UAPs — unidentified aerial phenomena — encountered by U.S. Navy pilots, as well as other unexplained, unidentifiable objects. Reports from major news outlets say the forthcoming report doesn’t conclude aliens exist, but it also doesn’t rule out extraterrestrials. KQED interviewed three experts about the story, and about life on other planets. KQED

Guns and rulings. Gov. Newsom called the federal judge who tossed out California’s assault weapons ban “a wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Assn.” But columnist George Skelton argues that San Diego-based U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez “may be on solid ground concerning a basic point: that what we call assault weapons have become so commonplace they now are protected by the 2nd Amendment.” Los Angeles Times

A pilot universal basic income program for farmworkers. A Fresno-area politician is hoping to get the state to provide aid to San Joaquin Valley farmworkers. State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) sent a letter to Newsom asking the state to help “displaced, underemployed or unemployed farmworkers.” The letter also urges Newsom to provide Supplemental Guaranteed Income for the farmworkers harmed by reduced hours, unemployment and displacement during the drought. Fresno Bee

CRIME AND COURTS

Pastor charged with stealing thousands. Prosecutors say a prominent pastor in Long Beach embezzled more than $100,000 from a disabled veteran who, his family says, disappeared almost 20 years ago. A trail of letters and searches for online records led family members to finding their missing loved one, and the discovery of squalid living conditions. Long Beach Post

Nine vintage guitars recovered. Police in Santa Cruz recently recovered $225,000 in stolen vintage guitars connected to a $2-million burglary. The original heist took place in 2020 when musical equipment and personal belongings were taken from a storage unit in Marina del Rey. But no arrests have been made, “as it remains unclear how the stolen property came into the possession of subjects associated to the searches,” an officer said. San Francisco Chronicle

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CALIFORNIA CULTURE

An Oakland elementary school is home to a new playground remodeled by NBA star Steph Curry and his wife, Ayesha. Their foundation, Eat. Learn. Play.; the Oakland Unified School District; the CarMax Foundation; and KABOOM! collaborated to remodel the play space. It comes with a new multisport court, garden and murals. CNN

While you were in quarantine, a major new art museum rose in Orange County. While many of us sheltered in place, the new Orange County Museum of Art building was taking shape. The $93-million building by Morphosis Architects is about three-quarters complete. Renderings of the Costa Mesa institution feature a futuristic atrium and sunny grand staircase. Los Angeles Times

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Sunny, 92. San Diego: Mostly cloudy, 82. San Francisco: Cloudy, 72. San Jose: Sunny, 80. Fresno: Sunny, 94. Sacramento: Sunny, 91.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from John Durant:

Growing up in Santa Monica in the early 1960s, my brother Chris and I shared a room on the north side of a big John Byers house on the Coast Highway. Our days were spent in the water, surfing and counting down the dwindling stash of summer days. We were in a constant state of sunburn, blistered and sandy for weeks on end. On hot nights with all the upstairs windows open, we could hear the occasional big motorcycle downshifting as it slowed for the light at the bottom of the California Street incline. If you listened you could hear the bike take off, running through the gears north toward Chautauqua Canyon — and if the night was still, the sound echoed off the palisades as the rider opened it up, flying toward Sunset Boulevard. It was the most optimistic sound I’d ever heard and I’ve carried it with me all my life.

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 to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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