Newsletter: Essential California Week in Review: ‘No end date’ on COVID-19

Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a lectern in a warehouse with pallets of cardboard boxes behind him
Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils the next phase of California’s pandemic response during a Thursday news conference in the UPS Healthcare warehouse in Fontana, filled with boxes of personal protective equipment.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Saturday, Feb. 19.

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

California’s cautious blueprint as COVID-19 wanes. Warning that “there is no end date,” Gov. Gavin Newsom was circumspect when he announced California’s plans to monitor and respond to COVID-19 indefinitely. While the governor lifted most statewide restrictions and rules, L.A. County’s indoor mask mandate remained in place — but a top health official said it would likely be lifted by the end of March.

The state’s indoor mask mandate for K-12 schools remains. A top official expressed optimism that the rule could be altered by the end of the month. L.A. Unified, meanwhile, said it will lift its outdoor mask rule starting next week. It’s the first time students will be allowed to remove their masks outdoors on campus since in-person schooling resumed 10 months ago.

It’s been 1,200 years since the West has had a drought this bad. Researchers who examined major droughts in the area back to the year 800 found this to be the driest 22-year stretch on record. They said it’s being intensified by climate change.


$25 million was claimed in a jobless scam operated out of California prisons. Although scammers actually netted about $5 million, the intended haul was record-breaking, authorities said. And yet it’s just a fraction of the more than $20 billion in unemployment benefits that authorities believe has been stolen since March 2020 as the state approved fraudulent payments in the names of death row inmates and even U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

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UC Berkeley may be forced to cut enrollment for its incoming freshman class by a third. A recent court order to freeze enrollment could mean 3,050 fewer seats for the fall 2022 class, the university said, plus $57 million in lost tuition. Newsom has urged the state Supreme Court to halt the order.

Prices at the pump hit record highs in L.A. and Orange counties. Even in California, which usually has the most expensive gas in the nation, prices are raising eyebrows. The main cause is an increase in crude prices amid geopolitical tensions between Russia and Ukraine. (That electric-car-charging network can’t come soon enough.)

Suge Knight’s attorney is permanently barred from practicing law. Matthew Fletcher was charged with conspiring to bribe witnesses to lie on behalf of the gangsta rap mogul after he ran over a man with his pickup truck in January 2015 and was charged with murder. Fletcher pleaded guilty to conspiracy and perjury charges and was barred for life from practicing law.

San Francisco police used rape victims’ DNA to try to “incriminate” them, the D.A. says. Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin said Monday that police used a database with DNA collected from victims of rape and sexual assault to connect some of them to crimes, a practice he called “legally and ethically wrong.” The allegations have prompted a national outcry among law enforcement, legal experts, lawmakers and advocates.


A statewide crackdown on human trafficking resulted in nearly 500 arrests. 34 people suspected of trafficking or exploiting sex workers were arrested, along with 201 people who were allegedly caught trying to buy sex, said L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Meanwhile, more than 80 sex workers were helped. He didn’t account for the remaining arrests.

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ICYMI, here are this week’s great reads

The ceiling leaks when it rains. The floor is a little uneven. The lights don’t always work. And termites are chewing their way through the cracked walls. But never mind all of that. This low-slung, mural-covered building on Degnan Boulevard in the heart of Leimert Park is valuable. So valuable that it and the land on which it sits could help determine the future of Black Los Angeles. Columnist Erika D. Smith follows the ups and downs of a group of Black business owners: Can they save the heart of Leimert Park from gentrification?

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso’s real estate empire poses possible conflicts of interest. He has a plan. Caruso — a billionaire developer who has never run for public office — has said that he will put his company, which owns and operates billions of dollars’ worth of commercial properties in Southern California, into a blind trust and allow others to take the helm if he achieves office at the end of the year. A series of recent corruption scandals have put increased scrutiny on the relationship between developers and L.A. City Hall. For all the latest on the local election season, sign up for the L.A. on the Record newsletter below:

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


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