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How The Times’ COVID-19 tracker outran predictions

Bicyclists and a runner wear masks as they enjoy the boardwalk at Santa Monica Beach on Friday.
The CDC issued new COVID-19 guidelines on Thursday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Aug. 15. I’m data and graphics reporter Aida Ylanan.

Four days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its COVID-19 guidelines, signaling a future in which the virus will “no longer severely [disrupt] our daily lives,” I’m reminded of a time long ago when the world thought this news would come a lot sooner.

In months, to be exact. That was how long we expected the Los Angeles Times coronavirus tracker to run, before cycles of shutdowns and reopenings made it clear that the virus had staying power.

Two years, five months and two days later, the tracker counts on.

In its early days, the tracker was a true feat of coordination. Each day — several times a day, actually — members of the L.A. Times data and graphics department worked with other data journalists in California to report new coronavirus cases. Weekend grocery trips, nightly dinners and walks around the block were rescheduled in order to be home, parked in front of a monitor and clicking through 61 government websites to record the cases and deaths reported by public health departments around the state.

With changes in data reporting and the handy automation of certain tasks, producing the tracker has gotten easier.

But the early mornings and late nights spent among spreadsheets, the protracted debates about which data visualizations worked best, the sometimes fruitless searches for what data were and weren’t yet available brought some order, and maybe even comfort, during a pandemic we knew little about and whose mysteries remain.

Although perhaps the most prominent, the coronavirus tracker is one of many tracking tools the L.A. Times offers its readers.

The McKinney and Six Rivers fires rage on in Northern California. Our wildfire tracker, updated daily, will show you wildfire evacuation zones across the state.

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Water districts throughout California have different use restrictions; find your district’s guidelines and monitor state reservoir capacities with our drought tracker.

The police killings database has recorded the names of the 21 individuals who have been killed by law enforcement in Los Angeles County in 2022.

Our work continues.

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.

L.A. stories

Anne Heche sits in a chair, looking left, and holding a pink rose
Actor Anne Heche in 2010.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Anne Heche appreciation: Times film critic Justin Chang reviews the “Volcano” and “Wag the Dog” actor’s most memorable performances. She has died after crashing her car into a Mar Vista home on Aug. 5. “The movies themselves didn’t always know what to do with Heche,” Chang wrote. “So it was thrilling to encounter the ones that did.” Los Angeles Times

Homeless camp in L.A. gets demolished: The encampment, built in a vacant 10-acre lot in Watts, was home to many, including Juan Luis Gonzalez-Castillo, the subject of a Times report that explained how decades of failed investments by the city led to the giant camp. Los Angeles Times

Meet Hiccups the Clown: East L.A.’s Hiccups the Clown, a nurse by day and Dodgers super-fan, has fed unhoused people on skid row for nearly a decade. Through his “Hiccups Pizza Project,” he and other volunteers distribute pizza, bottled water, clothes and other goods on the last Sunday of every month. L.A. Taco

Education

Six USC fraternities disaffiliate: After campus administrators imposed strict party rules following allegations of sexual abuse and drugging at fraternity houses, six USC fraternities on Friday formally disaffiliated from the university. Administrators warned of “serious ramifications,” including loss of access to health and safety resources offered by campus officials. Los Angeles Times

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.

Politics and government

What the Inflation Reduction Act might mean for you: With the nearly $700-billion package set to become law, utility journalists Jessica Roy and Jon Healey examine how the Inflation Reduction Act might affect Californians, including healthcare, climate and taxes. Los Angeles Times

Crime and courts

Kelsie Matthews looks up as she sits on her couch with her dog in the foreground. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Kelsie Mathews’ case is one of many in recent years in which LAPD officers accused of serious misconduct have been spared punishment by department disciplinary boards.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

LAPD’s secretive discipline system: Kelsie Matthews accused her former boyfriend, an LAPD officer, of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior with other women and arrestees. Chief Michel Moore recommended the officer for termination. But a Times investigation reveals that the assault finding was quietly overturned by a department disciplinary board, which in recent years has spared officers accused of serious misconduct. Los Angeles Times

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Health and the environment

An assortment of vegetables and other ingredients from a meal delivery kit. (Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)
Food safety officials recommend checking the temperature of perishable items from meal delivery kits.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

The “Wild West” of meal kits: When hundreds of people reported gastrointestinal problems after eating a lentil dish from the subscription company Daily Harvest, the outbreak revealed something few consumers may know about the $15-billion meal-delivery industry: Most companies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Investigative reporter Laura J. Nelson also shares tips on how to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from meal kits. Los Angeles Times

Hot, dry conditions heat Northern California forests ... : The battle to contain wildfires in forests in the northern part of the state continues amid blistering temperatures. Los Angeles Times

... and heavy rainfall hits the desert: A deluge over the weekend hit Southern California’s mountain and deserts, trapping seven hikers near Forest Falls who were rescued Saturday by a San Bernardino County sheriff’s search-and-rescue team. The downpours came just over a week after “unprecedented” rain flooded and shut down Death Valley National Park. Los Angeles Times

California culture

Forging a new trail: An ambitious infrastructure project called the Lost Sierra Route aims to connect remote mountain towns in California’s northern Sierra. Locals hope that increased tourism will boost the economy — but some fear it could bring rising housing costs and other woes. Los Angeles Times

A former mob enforcer writes his memoir: Michael DiVicino, a former L.A. mob enforcer and subject of a 1996 Times article under his moniker “Hollywood Mike,” has written a book about his decades in prison. Now based in Las Vegas, DiVicino self-published a collection of letters titled “Dear Joey: Letters From Prison” about his work as a mentor to younger inmates. Las Vegas Review-Journal

Orange County, here we cooooome: Lifestyle and features writer Jessica Benda compiled a list of 47 things to do beyond Disneyland. Los Angeles Times

Free online games

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

California almanac

Los Angeles: sunny skies, 86. San Diego: more sunshine, 79. San Francisco: morning clouds, 73. San Jose: mostly sunny, 87. Fresno: hot and sunny, 105. Sacramento: hot and sunny, 103.

And finally

Today’s California memory is from Dana Fakhreddine:

Summertime always involved a trip south to stay with my grandfather, my jiddo, and aunt in their apartment in Anaheim. Here is where I got in touch with my Lebanese heritage, far and away from my rural hometown. The soundscape is so memorable to me — parakeets chirping on the balcony, whirring fans, the screen door opening and closing with new visits, the rhythmic Adhan on cassette, the elote man whistling in the alleyway. If we were lucky, the ice cream truck would make a pit stop in the neighborhood and signal a break from the heat. What a symphony!

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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