Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: Workplaces filled with sick employees

A green house sits to the left of oil infrastructure in a neighborhood as a tanker truck arrives
A truck fills up with oil at a facility between homes in Wilmington on Wednesday. The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to ban new oil and gas wells and to phase out existing wells over a five-year period.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It is Saturday, Jan. 29.

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

8 million coronavirus cases. California has now surpassed 8 million cumulative coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The milestone, equivalent to roughly 1 out of every 5 residents having been infected at some point, comes amid growing signs that Omicron has finally peaked — but a new subtype raises questions.

Workplaces are filling up with sick employees. As Omicron knocked out swaths of the labor force, people in a variety of jobs — fast-food workers, grocery clerks, teachers — say they have been under immense pressure to work while sick or having tested positive for the virus.

A mandate for school children? California students would be required to be immunized against COVID-19 under a bill introduced Monday, offering backup to districts such as L.A. Unified that have struggled with their own mandates while igniting familiar backlash.


The return of COVID sick pay. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers reached an agreement Tuesday to again require employers to provide workers with up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave to recover from COVID-19 or care for a family member with the virus.

A California figure vows to run again. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seeking reelection to her San Francisco-area congressional seat, she said Tuesday, though she remained silent on whether she would seek to retain her position leading House Democrats.

And another decides to retire. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the Supreme Court’s 83-year-old liberal pragmatist and a California native, plans to retire this year, clearing the way for President Biden to make his first appointment to the high court.

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Cal State system indicates it will drop SAT and ACT requirements. The move, strongly indicated at a trustees meeting Wednesday, would align the nation’s largest four-year higher education system with the University of California. The news comes as the College Board announced a revamp of the SAT.

Los Angeles moves to end oil drilling in the city. The City Council voted unanimously to support a ban on new oil wells and ordered a study intended to help city officials determine how to phase out existing wells in the next two decades.


Four killed in Inglewood party shooting. Bullet holes and balloons are nearly all that remain of the horrors that unfolded on Park Avenue in Inglewood early Sunday, when a birthday party became the scene of the city’s worst act of violence in decades.

72 hours of unpaid work? ‘Unacceptable.’ When viewers watch the Super Bowl LVI halftime show, they’ll see hundreds of aspiring dancers, actors, singers and musicians in the performance. What they won’t see are the 72 hours performers spent over nine days in unpaid rehearsals, and the controversy surrounding why only some performers get paid.

Does L.A. want a billionaire mayor? It wouldn’t be a Los Angeles mayoral election without Rick Caruso flirting with a run for the city’s top job. Should he decide to enter the 2022 mayoral race before the Feb. 12 filing deadline, his candidacy and the prospect of a self-funded campaign would inject high drama.

Amid housing crunch, officials want Orange County to stay the way it is. The argument is about how many units of new housing each city should be required to accommodate. It is also about the essence of Orange County, which is becoming more racially diverse, more politically liberal — and more crowded.

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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

Cannabis social equity programs leave many entrepreneurs demoralized and depleted. Many cities and counties have yet to adopt programs to boost the chances of success for hopeful Black and Latino cannabis entrepreneurs. In places that have, those programs have been plagued by a lack of funding, shifting requirements and severe delays.


The pandemic pushed more families to home-school. Many are sticking with it. The reasons for doing so are diverse, complex and span socioeconomic and political spectrums. What these parents have in common is a desire to take control of their children’s education at a time when control feels elusive for so many people.

UCLA gymnastics stood united against racial injustice, then was ripped apart by it. After two gymnasts told The Times a teammate used a racial slur, which prompted a university response that some gymnasts of color found to be insufficient, the Bruins produced their worst team score in seven years. Some team members described a negative atmosphere and cracks within the famously joyful facade of one of the nation’s most visible and successful programs.

Are ills of the Arctic hitting California? Hundreds of migratory seabirds wash ashore. Over the last half-decade, scientists have documented unprecedented die-offs of birds, marine mammals and other creatures in the northern waters where fulmars breed each year. Researchers say the marine food web of the Arctic and sub-Arctic has been drastically altered, possibly because of climate change.

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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