Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Mask mandate returns as Omicron rises

People wearing masks stand in line at an airport ticket counter
Travelers wait in a line to check in at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX this month.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Dec. 18.

Here’s a look at the top stories of the last week

‘A perfect storm’ for Delta, Omicron, but perhaps some hope? The rapid growth of Omicron is prompting officials to warn that hospitals could easily become overwhelmed. Still, scientists say there are intriguing and cautious signs that with Omicron, the coronavirus could be taking a turn for the milder.

The mask mandate is back as Omicron rises. California ordered a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces that went into effect Wednesday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks California as having a high level of transmission of the virus.

L.A. school board delays student vaccine mandate. The board agreed Tuesday to delay enforcement from Jan. 10 to fall 2022, citing concerns over disrupting learning and the monumental task of transferring 28,000 students who had not complied into independent study.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti finally gets his hearing. The mayor testified Tuesday before a Senate panel weighing his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to India. Pressed about sexual harassment claims against a former aide in his office, he told lawmakers he never witnessed the alleged misconduct.


‘Storm of the season’ dumps record-breaking rainfall and snow. The most significant storm of the season arrived in Southern California on Tuesday with a wallop — snarling traffic, delivering gusty winds and dropping a steady deluge across the region.

The storm also lowered fire risk and marked the likely end of fire season. As the season progressed, authorities described instance after instance of extreme fire behavior, though Southern California was spared the worst. Still, the region’s relative good fortune is not likely to last forever.

With 2022 ahead, Gov. Gavin Newsom has the public stage to himself. After the recall effort, Newsom’s prospects of gliding into a second term in 2022 appear as golden as the $23 million he has socked away. But he probably will have to navigate around a few land mines.

California lawmakers prepare to protect abortion access. Lawmakers are preparing measures to expand access for those who live both in and out of the state, focusing first on resurrecting a bill that would eliminate costly copays for services.

Fewer people moving to California, more leaving during the pandemic. A new study released Wednesday highlights two trends that signal that population loss due to domestic migration has more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic.

These doctors sexually abused patients, then got their licenses back. The Medical Board of California reinstated more than half of all sex abusers who sought to get their licenses back, a rate significantly higher than for doctors who lost their licenses for all other reasons, a Times review of board data found.

More oil found as charges filed in the last oil spill. A sheen in the Pacific Ocean near Huntington Beach was identified as oil Thursday. Meanwhile, a federal grand jury charged three companies with criminal negligence in connection with the major oil spill that tarred the Orange County coast in early October.

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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Goodbye gas stoves? It’s a clash of the kitchens. There’s a multimillion-dollar battle over the way Americans cook, one that pits the fossil fuel industry against a California-led movement aimed at turning off the natural gas spigots to slow climate change.

Retailers say theft is at crisis levels. The numbers say otherwise. Although some retail and law enforcement lobbyists cite eye-popping figures, there is reason to doubt the problem is anywhere near as large or widespread as they say. The best estimates available put losses at around 7 cents per $100 of sales on average.

A frenzy of well drilling by California farmers leaves taps running dry. In the San Joaquin Valley, one of the nation’s most productive farming regions, domestic wells are drying up at an alarming pace as a frenzy of new well construction and heavy agricultural pumping sends the underground water supply to new lows during one of the most severe droughts on record.

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Today’s week-in-review newsletter was curated by Laura Blasey. Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to

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