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The COVID death that caused the internet to explode

Kelly Ernby in an undated photo
Kelly Ernby in an undated photo
(Times Community News)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Jan. 10. I’m Justin Ray.

Before last week, Kelly Ernby wasn’t a prominent name on the national stage. But the former Orange County GOP Assembly candidate’s death from COVID complications, at 46, became a much-discussed topic on social media. Her passing was reported by the Guardian, Fox News and other national outlets.

Many internet users engaged in a morbid schadenfreude, pointing out that Ernby, a deputy district attorney, wasn’t vaccinated and was an outspoken critic of vaccine mandates.

Some of Ernby’s friends have been outraged by the online criticism, saying her stance against mandatory vaccine rules was just a small part of who she was. The Times published an article that explores her career as a respected prosecutor who specialized in consumer protection and environmental enforcement.

But social media users have latched on to that singular part of her life. Opinion columnist Nicholas Goldberg wrote about the situation: “When Ernby died, I felt no desire to gloat. And when I saw cruel comments on social media, I merely felt tired, exhausted, depressed.”

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Prominent QAnon promoter/anti-vaxxer dies

Last week, it was reported that a leading QAnon promoter who spoke out against vaccines had also passed away. The Daily Beast reported that Cirsten Weldon, who encouraged her tens of thousands of followers across right-wing social media networks to not get vaccinated, died of COVID earlier this month.

Weldon — who went by CirstenW online — had many supporters, including Roseanne Barr, who appeared in a livestream with her.

“The vaccines kill. Don’t get it,” she says to people waiting in line to get vaccinated in a video she posted to her social media channels, The Beast reported. “This is how gullible these idiots are. They’re all getting vaccines.”

In her last video, posted on Dec. 28, she coughs frequently and says she’s exhausted. Her health is visibly deteriorating. The Beast reports that Weldon died after being hospitalized in Camarillo.

Meanwhile, the pandemic isn’t showing signs of slowing down. Los Angeles County reached another daily record of coronavirus cases as health officials reported on Sunday more than 45,000 people tested positive for the virus. Orange County has reported its third COVID-19 death of a child younger than 5.

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

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L.A. STORIES

A longtime educator with experience overseeing high school athletic programs will take the helm of Mater Dei High School amid ongoing controversy over an alleged hazing scandal involving its storied football program. Michael Brennan will start at the Orange County private school on Feb. 1, Diocese of Orange officials said Friday. He has been president of St. Anthony High School in Long Beach since last year. The news comes less than a week after the abrupt resignation of the school’s former president, Father Walter E. Jenkins, who started at Mater Dei in July. Los Angeles Times

A tiny home transforms this Santa Monica backyard into a WFH retreat. “We felt it would be awkward to add on to the house.” Los Angeles Times

An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) located at a Santa Monica home.
An innovative Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) for Santa Monica homeowners Michael Solomon and Naomi Lieberman.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

California legislators ponder helping workers sick with coronavirus. COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant, are surging in the new year. That means that workers will become sick and affect businesses in the state. That will be an issue because California has no current law providing workers with anything beyond three days of paid sick leave. Even under reduced quarantine recommendations, that’s nowhere near enough to protect employees who get sick or are exposed to the virus. Here are some options for legislators in California. Capital and Main

The mayor of a city in Fresno County is facing calls for resignation after he was arrested and accused of domestic violence. First-term Sanger Mayor Eli Ontiveros, 44, was booked into Fresno County Jail after being arrested Dec. 22, but was released that afternoon on a $25,000 bond, according to police. The alleged incident in question happened at Ontiveros’ Sanger home, but the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office took over the investigation to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest, according to sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti. Ontiveros has not addressed the incident publicly, and did not respond to an inquiry from The Times. Fresno Bee

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

Police believe a serial arsonist is to blame for a series of mysterious car fires in Mira Mesa. San Diego police are investigating a series of blazes that have torched vehicles in the community since Dec. 21. In the time since then, 33 vehicles have been damaged or destroyed in eight fires, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage. No arrests have been made. “Whoever they are, when they do these types of things, do they do it for fun or do they understand that they are hurting people?” said one victim. FOX 5

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Coronavirus infection rates have shot up to 13.5% among students and staff in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a nearly tenfold rise since before winter break, as officials said Friday they are moving forward to safely open classrooms for in-person learning on Tuesday. Los Angeles Times

Amid a worsening Omicron surge, UCLA and UC Riverside Friday joined four other University of California campuses in announcing that they are extending remote instruction to the end of January, while UC Berkeley announced a delay for the first time. A number of national public health experts have speculated that the winter surge will peak sometime in January. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Why composting is California’s climate change fight. A new law requires the state to dramatically expand its composting abilities and shrink the amount of waste sent to landfills by 2025. San Francisco Chronicle reporters explain in the paper’s daily podcast why composting is so important. The long and short of it is that when you throw away organic material like an apple core in a black trash bin, it decomposes differently and emits methane which is bad for the atmosphere. If you compost it, it will release less gas. Not only that, but a farmer can use it to put down on crops. San Francisco Chronicle

California’s K-12 students experienced significant academic setbacks during the 2020-21 school year of mainly remote learning, showing growing achievement gaps, lagging progress in math and English, increased chronic absenteeism and a slight decline in the statewide graduation rate, according to data released Friday by the California Department of Education. The data provide the most comprehensive picture yet of how California students have fared during the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

A student participates in remote learning.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Cloudy 66 San Diego: Overcast 65 San Francisco: 56 San Jose: 63 Fresno: 57 Sacramento: 55. I laughed so hard watching this.

AND FINALLY

If you recall, I asked readers for music they listen to when they want some nostalgia in their lives. Here is a response from Carol Warren:

My ultimate nostalgia piece is “Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procul Harum. I hear the first notes and I am 17 again, attending a summer school program in England, which was heady stuff for an Appalachian girl. I see my Twiggy haircut and very short, colorful paisley print skirt reflected in the windows as I walk by the shops on Carnaby Street. The sights, the people, what it FELT like in 1967 London come flooding back. And that’s the nostalgia, right -- the “how it felt,” the joy of being young in such an amazing time.

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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