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Today’s Headlines: Who’s next in the vaccine line?

People wait in line
People wait in line for a COVID-19 vaccine at a site started by the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health at the Ontario Convention Center.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

How to prioritize COVID-19 immunizations is becoming an increasingly fraught matter in California.

TOP STORIES

Who’s Next in the Vaccine Line?

There is growing hope that mass vaccination can finally turn the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic this year. But with vaccines still in short supply in California, officials are being forced to make tough calls about who should be given the next priority for the shots.

Focusing on older people, the disabled and others at higher risk of becoming critically ill from the coronavirus has the potential to save many lives. Reserving doses for essential workers would also help slow the spread of COVID-19. And moving educators to a higher position could make teachers willing to return to campus for in-person instruction.

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The state’s 60-member vaccine advisory committee has spent weeks discussing the matter, and labor unions, disability rights groups, teachers and others have all been making their cases.

During an advisory meeting Wednesday night, members from the smaller group responsible for drafting the state’s vaccine guidelines said that new recommendations would be presented to the state after meetings today among the working group and a new state task force.

The Perils of In-Court Appearances

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Despite the recent deaths of three court employees from COVID-19 and warnings that being inside with others can easily spread the virus, the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, the nation’s largest, is still holding in-person hearings, including eviction proceedings and trials.

In traffic courts, scores wait in hallways and courtrooms to contest months- or year-old speeding citations. In criminal courts, shackled defendants sit with masks drooping off their faces, and some lawyers remove their masks when addressing a judge. One judge even allowed a witness to testify without a mask.

Since March, L.A. County Superior Court has taken steps to significantly cut down foot traffic, and officials estimate 65% fewer people circulate in the system’s 38 courthouses than before the pandemic.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

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— The numbers of new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are nosediving in Los Angeles County. It’s welcome news after a catastrophic winter wave that pummeled the region. But the figures remain well above their pre-surge levels.

— The radical anti-vaccine faction that shut down Dodger Stadium is not done with its protests and isn’t alone. Across California, loosely connected activists are turning energy once directed at federal politics toward more local concerns.

Johnson & Johnson asked U.S. drug regulators to clear its experimental COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, setting up what is likely to be a fast-moving review process that could lead to millions more doses becoming available to step up a stumbling immunization drive.

— British scientists are starting a study to find out if different COVID-19 vaccines can be mixed and matched. The findings could provide better guidance on distribution if the same kind isn’t available for a patient’s second dose or if it’s not known what was given for the first shot.

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On the Foreign Policy Front

Will President Biden follow through on former President Trump’s plan to pull remaining troops from Afghanistan? The question has forced a vexing early debate within his national security team about whether ending America’s longest war will plunge the violence-plagued country deeper into chaos.

Trump, who negotiated a withdrawal timetable with the Taliban, left the final and most difficult step of actually ending the war to his successor. Though Biden has long favored shrinking the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, current and former national security officials warn that the departure of U.S. forces there could lead to a resurgence of Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, in his first major foreign policy speech since taking office, Biden promised to restore U.S. alliances around the world, announced an end to U.S. participation in offensive military operations in Yemen and stopped a sale of precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia, which Trump sought to execute in defiance of congressional opposition.

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More Politics

—A fiercely divided House tossed Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene off both her committees, an unprecedented punishment that Democrats said she had earned by spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories.

— House Democrats asked Trump to testify under oath for his Senate impeachment trial, challenging the former president to respond to their charge that he incited a violent mob to storm the Capitol. A Trump advisor said Trump won’t testify.

— The Pentagon is reviewing how to improve screening of military recruits to eliminate extremism in its ranks after the riot at the U.S. Capitol served as a “wake-up call” when members of the military were discovered to have participated, a defense official said.

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Smartmatic, the voting software company that Trump’s lawyers falsely accused of manipulating vote counts in the 2020 presidential election, has filed a $2.7-billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News and three of its on-air hosts who presented the disinformation on their programs.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Heavy rains soaked Los Angeles on Feb. 4, 1927. The Times reported the next day that more than 2.5 inches fell — a half-inch of which came over the course of 40 minutes — flooding streets and basements.

The water snarled traffic and prompted some drivers to flee their cars. In some places, the water swept abandoned vehicles together. It was not the first time or the last: Times photographers would capture the aftermath of plenty of storms in the 1920s.

Four people stand on top of 1920s cars in a flooded intersection
Feb. 4, 1927: Vehicles stalled at the intersection of West Vernon and 11th Avenue after rains left deep water.
(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA )
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YOUR WEEKEND

— Pandemic or no, there are still plenty of ways to learn about Black history in Southern California with virtual events and performances.

— What’s Super Bowl Sunday without nachos? Times cooking columnist Ben Mims has the best recipe for making your own.

SoCal Garden Calendar: Nine things for garden lovers to do this month.

— How to find the oddest birds in L.A. Hint: There’s an app for that.

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For more outdoorsy news, sign up for our free newsletter The Wild.

CALIFORNIA

Los Angeles County prosecutors announced bribery and corruption charges against the former mayor of Maywood and 10 others, the latest step in a years-long probe into allegations that city officials accepted campaign donations in exchange for city contracts, misused public funds and abused their power.

— State lawmakers have announced new bills to speed up the payment of jobless benefits and reduce fraud after a pair of scathing audits confirmed California’s troubled unemployment agency has been plagued by years of mismanagement.

— L.A. County’s annual homeless count has been canceled for 2021, marking the loss of a civic ritual. But for those who see sharp and timely data as a keystone in the fight against homelessness, the hiatus has created an opportunity to reimagine a process that is inherently blunt and slow.

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— The pandemic has slowed business, but restaurants in Orange County’s Little Saigon keep cooking — for free — as a network of volunteers distribute meals to nourish the needy.

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NATION-WORLD

— Desperation is mounting in Mexico as the country runs out of COVID-19 vaccines, a government registration website crashed for a third straight day and restaurant workers protested virus restrictions they say are driving them into poverty.

— A white Ohio police officer was indicted on a murder charge in the latest fallout from the December shooting death of 47-year-old Andre Hill, a Black man, the state’s attorney general said.

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Myanmar’s new military rulers have blocked access to Facebook amid rising resistance and calls for civil disobedience to protest the coup that ousted the elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Shanghai’s cinephiles once secretly loved Hollywood. Now Chinese films dominate its silver screens.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— The Screen Actors Guild awards released the 2021 nominations, an announcement that came with glitches but high praise for the late Chadwick Boseman. And just like the Golden Globes this week, there were a few snubs and surprises.

— The album “Tapestry” marked the beginning of an unlikely second act for Carole King, who at age 28 had left behind a career as a songwriter and moved to L.A. Betting on herself paid off — the album is still a classic, 50 years later.

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— Want to read Cicely Tyson’s memoir “Just as I Am”? You’ll have to wait — sales of the book, released two days before her death last week, have soared, with supply hardly keeping up with demand.

— Singer Morgan Wallen is facing the consequences for using a racial slur. But country music’s reckoning with racism awaits.

BUSINESS

Facial recognition software may help find Capitol rioters — but as tempting as it is now, expanding the technology could harm some communities in the long term, experts say.

— Global consulting firm McKinsey has agreed to pay $573 million in a settlement over its role in advising companies how to “supercharge” opioid sales amid a national overdose crisis.

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— A surge in viewing tempted CNN President Jeff Zucker to exit early this year while the network is on top. But Zucker told the Los Angeles Times he plans to stay with the WarnerMedia unit through 2021.

SPORTS

— Olympian Roger Kingdom, who is now the speed and conditioning coach for the Buccaneers, aims to get his team over the last hurdle for a Super Bowl title, as they play against the Chiefs on Sunday.

— Allegations of sexual harassment against Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway have prompted scrutiny of MLB hiring practices.

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OPINION

— The “disappearance” of Kyle Rittenhouse, accused of killing two demonstrators in Kenosha, Wis., exposes the absurdity of cash bail, The Times’ editorial board writes.

— California can learn a few things from Georgia about increasing youth voter turnout, write Laura W. Brill and Vicki C. Shapiro, leaders at an L.A.-based organization dedicated to high school voter registration and civic engagement.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Why is there no place for serious mental illness in campaigns to fight mental-health stigma? (Catapult)

— How a poetry collection masquerading as Buddhist scripture nearly duped the literary world. (Lit Hub)

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ONLY IN L.A.

Legendary Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda got all the attention. But look closely at photos and you will often see a gently smiling man behind him: Felipe Ruiz, Lasorda’s assistant for the last six years of his life. He ferried Lasorda to countless appearances and kept the line moving during endless autograph sessions, the unknown half of the Dodgers’ oddest of couples. Ruiz tells columnist Bill Plaschke about their friendship and his last moments with Lasorda.

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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