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Opinion: L.A.'s turn for a COVID-19 catastrophe

Medical staff treat a COVID-19 patient at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Medical staff tend to a COVID-19 patient whose blood oxygen level had dropped in the ICU at Loma Linda University Medical Center on Dec. 15.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. One year ago yesterday, the House voted to impeach President Trump. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

The surge in COVID-19 deaths, though ferocious and gut-wrenching, is happening right on schedule. Weeks ago, as it became clear that Southern California was losing control of its epidemic, daily deaths had not yet hit record levels. In fact, the distressing body count we’re seeing now reflects the level of viral spread from two or three weeks ago, when new cases in Los Angeles County were rising fast but still in the range of about 8,000-10,000 per day — far below the roughly 15,000 new daily diagnoses we’re seeing now.

So if the situation is desperate now, with Southern California hospitals’ intensive care units at 0% — yes, zero — availability (but hey, “essential” strip clubs can stay open), imagine the level of death, suffering and healthcare dysfunction that awaits us in a week or two, when a portion of today’s newly diagnosed become gravely ill and need care, and a portion of them die. I think it’s fair to warn you that the next two Opinion newsletters, landing in your inbox the day after Christmas and New Year’s Day, will have none of the holiday cheer for which you might hope.

Still, the future of this pandemic is not written in stone, and reading firsthand accounts can convince us of the dire need to follow the safety guidelines and help shorten this surge. In his recent op-ed article, emergency room physician Dr. Mark Morocco writes about COVID-19 patients crowding hospitals who tell of innocent and ill-advised Thanksgiving get-togethers that likely resulted in their infections and, in too many cases, needless deaths. Morocco implores the incoming Biden administration to set an example for everyone by staging something any president in a pandemic ought to brag about: an inauguration with the smallest crowd on record.

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Speaking personally for a moment, if I may: I hope you can all write me in two weeks and call me a COVID-19 alarmist. I want nothing more than to be wrong about all this, because I have a mother who works at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center as a nurse — our phone conversations over the last month have become more desperate and foreboding — and three public school children learning in front of a screen instead of in a classroom. Right now, I’d love to be as inaccurate as Trump’s poll numbers.

Thank you, Trump. The leader whose electoral defeat the editorial board heralded, and whose dangerous effort to undermine democracy it excoriated, deserves credit for Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s effort to bring COVID-19 vaccines into use at breakneck speed. Still, that gratitude comes with a major caveat: “That Trump simultaneously accelerated both the deadliness of this pandemic and its potential cure will be one of the many enduring contradictions of his presidency. For now, the takeaway is that the U.S. government — supporting scientists and experts, free of interference — can still do great things.” L.A. Times

But Trump’s presidency overall was still very much “not OK.” Those were the words famously used by Rep. Adam Schiff to describe a litany of offenses committed by Trump at a time when Republicans were busy mischaracterizing Robert Mueller’s report as exonerating the president. Columnist Virginia Heffernan writes: “Hearing Schiff reaffirm the existence of right and wrong indeed relieved, for a time, the relentless gaslighting of Trump times. It lifted the isolation felt by so many Americans watching Trump’s misconduct in horror.” L.A. Times

Recall Gray Davis — er, Gavin Newsom? The first effort to oust Gov. Newsom began two months after he was inaugurated in 2019 and quickly lost steam. Failed recall efforts are all too frequent, but we should be really scared about where the latest effort to remove the governor is headed. Its backers say they have gathered more than half the 1.5 million petition signatures needed to force an election — a worrying sign, says the editorial board. Newsom probably will not suffer the same fate as Gov. Davis in 2003, but a recall election would inflict tremendous damage on California. L.A. Times

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Will Americans ever elect a descendant of Black slaves to the presidency? Erin B. Logan begins her piece with this jarring anecdote: “When I told my high school religion teacher I wanted to be president, he encouraged me to pick a more realistic profession for a Black woman.” From there, she notes the differences between politicians like Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama — both the children of immigrants, both from cosmopolitan backgrounds — and young Black people like her who aspire to careers in politics but know that this nation still has not elected as its president or vice president anyone descended from slaves. L.A. Times

What Americans don’t know about Latino history could fill a museum. I’ve read plenty of shocking things in 2020, but Republican Sen. Mike Lee’s excuse for blocking the creation of a Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino was dumbfoundingly anachronistic: “The last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups.” As historian Stephen Pitti notes, thankfully almost everyone in Congress knows that Latino history in the United States has been chronically overlooked, and a new Smithsonian museum dedicated to rectifying that is exactly what the American people need. L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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