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Today’s Headlines: ‘Not Just Another Number’

Two women embrace in front of a casket
Iris Martinez, right, with a friend at the casket of her 60-year-old father, Rafael Martinez, after his death from COVID-19 last summer in Los Angeles.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

More than half a million people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19. Hope is in sight, but devastation remains.

TOP STORIES

‘Not Just Another Number’

COVID-19 deaths in the United States have officially surpassed 500,000 — a toll that is hard to fathom. It’s as if all the people in a city the size of Atlanta or Sacramento simply vanished. The number is greater than the combined U.S. battlefield deaths in both world wars and Vietnam.

“You see that number, and it’s not just another number,” said Bettina Gonzales, 39, whose 61-year-old father, David Gonzales, a football and basketball coach in Harlingen, Texas, died in August. “It’s a lot of tragedy that goes behind that number.”

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Recorded COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. account for about one-fifth of the world’s nearly 2.5 million known fatalities from the disease, twice as many as in Brazil, the next hardest-hit country. California alone accounts for almost 50,000 deaths, about 10% of the country’s total. Nearly 20,000 of those were in Los Angeles County, where about 1 in every 500 people has died.

On Monday evening, President Biden urged the nation to honor the dead by observing public health measures to help bring an end to the pandemic.

“The people we lost were extraordinary. They spanned generations. Born in America, immigrated to America. But just like that, so many of them took their last breath alone in America,” he said in remarks at the White House. “We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic.”

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A Rocky Vaccine Rollout

Though there has been promising news on COVID-19 vaccines, the rollout of them in California has left much to be desired.

The state is failing to provide crucial information about COVID-19 vaccine supply levels to local officials, complicating efforts to schedule appointments and contributing to temporary closures of vaccination sites. Officials running local vaccination programs in multiple counties say they are not being told how many doses they will receive over the next three weeks, which is key data they need to keep vaccination sites open and running smoothly.

Meanwhile, a California program intended to improve COVID-19 vaccine availability to people in hard-hit communities of color is being misused by members of the wealthier, work-from-home set in Los Angeles who are grabbing appointments reserved for residents of underserved Black and Latino areas.

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More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— As Gov. Gavin Newsom touted Long Beach as a model for reopening schools throughout California, Los Angeles schools readied a long-awaited COVID-tracking app that will be key to keeping students and staff safe when campuses reopen. For some parents rallying on the Westside, that’s not happening soon enough.

— Despite a sharp decline in coronavirus cases and continued success with COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci said it’s possible masks could be needed until 2022 to fully cut off the virus.

— The pandemic has delayed medical appointments, screenings and exams for women across Southern California. But OB-GYNs are sounding the alarm about the ramifications of letting wellness fall by the wayside.

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For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

No Shield for Trump

The Supreme Court has cleared the way for New York prosecutors to obtain eight years of financial records from the accountants and bankers of former President Trump as part of a criminal fraud and tax investigation involving him and the Trump Organization.

Trump faces possible criminal and civil charges on several fronts, but the New York investigation of his business dealings has moved further than any of the other inquiries.

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Without a comment or dissent, the justices issued a one-line order saying they had denied Trump’s request to block enforcement of subpoenas from the grand jury in New York. The order did nothing to resolve the mystery of why the justices waited for four months before acting; it’s possible they wanted to wait until his term as president had ended.

More Politics

— The court also dealt a postelection defeat to Republican officials in Pennsylvania by refusing to hear their appeal of state court rulings that allowed for the counting of mail ballots that were sent by election day but arrived up to three days later.

— California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra today faces the first of two hearings this week on his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary, with Republicans mobilizing to characterize Becerra’s policy positions as extreme.

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Merrick Garland appeared headed to easy confirmation as attorney general after a hearing during which he promised to aggressively investigate the U.S. Capitol attack, boost enforcement of civil rights laws and enact other major changes.

— Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) has no shortage of critics, who condemn his spread of conspiracy theories and inflammatory views. Among them: most of his nine siblings, some of whom are trying to get him removed from office.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

In February 1957, Los Angeles began a major vaccination drive, aiming to inoculate 300,000 children against polio.

Health officials used 13 elementary schools as sites for distributing the shot developed by Jonas Salk. There were also plans to distribute the vaccine in more than 500 public and parochial schools, according to The Times.

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A second oral vaccine was distributed in some places, and together, the two vaccines nearly eliminated the disease.

A boy peeks through his hands at a syringe held by a nurse
Feb. 25, 1957: Manuel Reyes, 7, peeks apprehensively between fingers at the needle just before getting his polio shot at Castelar Street School as two girls await their turn.
(Garry Watson / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

— Californians who qualify for a $600 state stimulus payment could see the money arrive as soon as a month after filing their tax returns under a $7.6-billion COVID-19 economic relief package approved by the state Legislature.

— Those in the state who appeal denied unemployment benefit claims are facing significant delays in having their cases addressed, waiting an average of 92 days for assistance. It’s another setback for the state’s struggling unemployment system.

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— Every California governor in modern history has faced recall attempts to oust them from office, but the effort aimed at Gov. Gavin Newsom appears to be gaining momentum. Here’s what to know.

— After protests erupted over George Floyd’s death, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would slash $250 million from city departments and put the money toward Black communities and other communities of color. He delivered, but the reaction has been mixed.

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NATION-WORLD

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of the Mexican drug kingpin known as El Chapo, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. She faces charges of participating in a broad conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana into the U.S.

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New Jersey is finally officially legalizing marijuana, now that Gov. Phil Murphy has signed legislation creating a recreational pot marketplace months after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to legalize it.

Virginia lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that will end capital punishment in the state, which has executed more people in its long history than any other.

— The Italian ambassador to Congo, an Italian carabinieri police officer and their Congolese driver were killed during an attack on a United Nations convoy.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— Here are our Oscar predictions for director and screenplay. Get ready for some historic firsts.

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— The French electronic duo known as Daft Punk announced they will retire. Revisit their greatest hits from three decades of music.

YouTube is significantly expanding its original kids programming this year as it looks to grow its audience in the growing global market for family entertainment.

Former President Obama and Bruce Springsteen are teaming up for a new Spotify podcast that will explore issues including race, fatherhood and divisions in the country.

BUSINESS

Southern California home prices and sales jumped by double digits in January from a year earlier, as prospective buyers rushed to take advantage of rock-bottom mortgage rates.

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— Blame Texas’ crisis on human decisions, not natural disasters, columnist Michael Hiltzik writes. The state long ago opted to deregulate electricity — and even after a deep freeze led to widespread power generation failures a decade ago, the state ignored the warning signs.

SPORTS

— Major League Baseball is slightly deadening the ball this season amid a six-year surge of home runs. Not surprisingly, pitchers and managers welcome the move.

High school sports are coming back in California. What will that look like? Columnist Eric Sondheimer has the answers.

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OPINION

Australia is trying to save local journalism from Facebook, The Times’ editorial board writes. Will the U.S. be next?

— L.A. has a long history of homelessness, but the city is still failing to learn important lessons that could help, write UCLA’s Marques Vestal and Andrew Klein.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Why we can’t make COVID-19 vaccine doses any faster, even with so much effort behind it. (ProPublica)

— The issue of conservatorships goes far deeper than Britney Spears, and the #FreeBritney movement could have a lasting effect for the disability community. (Bitch Media)

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ONLY IN L.A.

As we near one year since the spread of COVID-19 first forced Los Angeles to shut down, we want to know how our readers’ relationship with Los Angeles has changed during the pandemic. What have you learned? How has your neighborhood changed? And what are you most looking forward to doing in L.A. when things are somewhat more normal?

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


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