As the pandemic takes a turn for the worse, what you should expect in California

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is being prepared.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Dec. 22. I’m Justin Ray.

Again, things don’t look too good.

Public health officials fear that a wave of new infections will sweep through America during the winter. If they rise too much, they may affect the hospital system in a way not seen since the summer Delta surge.

People who are vaccinated and have received booster shots are still expected to be well protected against hospitalization and death, even against Omicron.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor on the pandemic, and other health experts say that with Omicron’s spread they expect more breakthrough infections among vaccinated people — meaning they are at a higher risk for coming down with mild symptoms and being contagious.


On Tuesday, President Biden outlined his new plan to address COVID-19: The administration will order 500 million at-home tests to ship free to Americans, dispatch 1,000 members of the military to support hospitals and set up new testing and vaccination sites.

But I wanted to know more about the potential local impact. What is going on in California, and what should Golden State residents watch for in the future?:

Speaking of the holidays, experts have recommendations for those who are thinking about traveling to see loved ones soon.

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.


We are hosting a class to teach you how to take control of your money. It will be taught by Jessica Roy, assistant editor on The Times’ Utility Journalism Team. She’s the host of the new newsletter, Totally Worth it, launching in January, about personal finances for regular people. The one-hour webinar will go through tips for how to spend less money and make a plan to pay off your debt. You will also be able to ask questions. You can buy tickets at the link. Eventbrite

Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll love our daily podcast “The Times,” hosted every weekday by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Go beyond the headlines. Download and listen on our App, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.



Latino voters would see a major boost in political clout under new congressional and legislative districts approved unanimously Monday by the independent citizen panel charged with redrawing the state’s political map. Nearly one-third of the state’s 52 new congressional districts would have a majority of Latino citizens of voting age under the new maps. That’s an increase of three districts even as California lost a seat for the first time in its history because its population did not grow as fast as those of other states. Although the panel, created by a voter initiative in 2008, does not take partisan balance into account in drawing district lines, the maps it produced all but guarantee that Democrats will retain super-majorities in the state Legislature and their current lopsided majority in California’s congressional delegation. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s chief of staff was arrested by Azusa Police on suspicion of public intoxication earlier this month. Joseph Iniguez, 36, was arrested shortly before midnight during a traffic stop on Dec. 11, according to L.A. County jail records. In an interview Tuesday morning, Iniguez said the arrest was unjust, claiming officers detained him as punishment for filming the encounter. “I decided to get out of the car, stand near the car, on the passenger side, and I began to record,” Iniguez said, adding that he was concerned because he did not believe Azusa Police employ dashboard or body-worn cameras. Calls to the Police Department seeking comment were not immediately returned on Tuesday. Los Angeles Times

Joseph Iniguez is pictured on Nov. 09, 2019, in Pasadena.
Joseph Iniguez, chief of staff for L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, was arrested this month on suspicion of public intoxication.
(Jesse Grant / Getty Images)

A third-grade teacher in Sacramento County has been arrested and accused of lewd and lascivious acts with multiple students over a period of nearly two years, the Sheriff’s Office said. Enrique Rodriguez Valladares, 53, taught at Bowling Green Chacon Language and Science Academy and is also a resident of Sacramento County. He faces eight counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor. In a written statement to KCRA-TV, Channel 3, Sacramento City Unified School District said it “remains horrified by the charges of this case and is committed to ensuring that any student who was victimized receives appropriate supportive services.” KCRA

Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Halliburton failed to stop a massive gas leak. Now it claims key evidence was stolen. When a ruptured well at Aliso Canyon started spewing toxic chemicals and heat-trapping methane gas, Southern California Gas Co. turned to another fossil-fuel giant to help stop the bleeding. It hired Boots & Coots, a company owned by the Houston oil services giant Halliburton. The company tried and failed six times to kill the faulty well. The leak lasted nearly four months. What went wrong? Many things — one of which was the Halliburton subsidiary’s failure to use computer modeling to design most of its attempts to kill the well, according to an independent analysis. But Boots & Coots recently began saying that it actually did run models — it just can’t be examined by investigators because the only copies were on a single computer that got stolen. Los Angeles Times


A lawsuit filed by the California attorney general and a dozen district attorneys alleges that Walmart has dumped nearly 80 tons of hazardous waste, plus confidential customer information, in California landfills each year over the last five years. The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, accuses the nation’s largest retailer of dumping lithium batteries, insecticide, aerosol cans, cleaning supplies, electronic waste, paint and LED lightbulbs as well as confidential customer information in landfills throughout the state from more than 300 Walmart stores. The lawsuit asks a judge to impose unspecified financial penalties against Walmart, which generated nearly $560 billion in revenue in fiscal 2021. In a statement, a Walmart spokesperson called the lawsuit “unjustified” and said the company has been meeting the obligations of a 2010 court-supervised settlement to better manage how it disposes of waste. Los Angeles Times

A customer pushes a shopping cart outside a Walmart store in Walpole, Mass., on Sept. 3, 2019.
A customer in Walpole, Mass., pushes a shopping cart outside a Walmart store in September 2019. The retailer has been sued for alleged dumping of hazardous waste in California landfills.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)


What I saw at the Theranos trial. The eight men and four women on the jury have begun deliberations in the fraud trial of former Theranos chief Elizabeth Holmes. Journalist Kari Paul has an interesting essay about being part of the press covering the proceedings. One person showed up with a sign reading “Holmes Balwani not guilty on all charges.” A gaggle of women with blond hair dressed like Holmes attended several days in support of the medical entrepreneur. But none of the sideshows fully pulled attention from the main event: “From jury selection, during which it seemed nearly impossible to find a single juror who had not at least heard of Theranos, to the final days of press chaos outside the courthouse, Holmes remains one of the most-watched women in Silicon Valley.” The Guardian

Low vaccine booster rates in California’s nursing homes alarm experts. In California, the beginning of the pandemic exposed staffing shortages and inadequate safety measures at nursing homes. Nearly two years later, some of the nation’s most vulnerable residents are again at risk. Based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the signs are ominous. In California, only 47.3% of nursing home residents have received their booster shot. “Where is the proactive, patient centered, public safety approach here?” asked Assemblyman Jim Wood, a Democrat from Santa Rosa who chairs the Assembly Health Committee. “Because I don’t feel it right now.” Capital and Main

Free online games

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


Los Angeles: Cloudy 67 San Diego: Cloudy 65 San Francisco: Rainy 57 San Jose: Rainy 59 Fresno: Rainy 55 Sacramento: Rainy 52. Here’s a video of a smiley puppy.



Today’s California memory is from John Hansen:

In 1978 Bay Area, my fifth-grade teacher was also an amateur pilot. He would occasionally take students up in his little plane. On a Saturday, a classmate and I took the bus and train to meet him. He picked us up then flew us on a short flight to the Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville. We had lunch, turned around and flew back. He let us steer for a few seconds. The two of us took the train back to the bus, then walked home. All this, on our own. Different times!

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