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Today’s Headlines: A crucial pandemic (and presidential) moment

President Biden
President Biden removes his mask before speaking during an event to mark International Women’s Day at the White House.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

With new rules for vaccinated Americans and a relief plan pending congressional approval, President Biden has reached a turning point in the pandemic.

TOP STORIES

A Crucial Pandemic (and Presidential) Moment

Less than two months after taking office, President Biden has reached a pivotal week at the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdowns. It’s a moment that could shape the rest of his tenure in the White House.

Once Congress gives final approval by midweek, Biden will sign his $1.9-trillion plan to extend relief for most Americans and small businesses. He’s continuing to press people to follow coronavirus restrictions, an increasingly difficult challenge as some Republican-led states lift their rules.

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And with vaccinations picking up, his administration has provided a glimpse of normality that awaits, releasing guidelines on how inoculated Americans can begin mingling safely indoors without masks or distancing.

For Biden, who has staked his presidency on ending the pandemic and restoring the economy, a wrong turn could cost him public backing and hurt Democrats during the 2022 midterm elections. But so far, 70% of Americans approve of the job that he is doing on the pandemic, according to a recent poll from the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs at the University of Chicago.

On Thursday, Biden will deliver a prime-time address marking one year since large areas of the country began locking down to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

More From Washington

— The White House announced a temporary protected status decree that could allow tens of thousands of Venezuelans who fled their homeland to remain in the United States with legal standing.

— Biden has ordered his administration to review Trump administration rules around campus sexual assaults that bolstered the rights of the accused and narrowed the scope of cases colleges must address.

— Who are Biden’s Cabinet members and nominees? Here they are at a glance.

Unsettled State

Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver his annual State of the State address today in an unusual setting — Dodger Stadium.

His staff said the venue recognizes the enormity of what’s been lost — the baseball park holds about the same number of people as those who have died in California of COVID-19 — and the promise of what lies ahead with new guidelines allowing limited in-person attendance at sporting events and amusement parks.

But, as Times Sacramento bureau chief John Myers writes, Newsom is grappling not only with a deadly pandemic but also the biggest threat of his political career. On Wednesday, some of the governor’s fiercest critics plan to submit the final batch of signatures on petitions seeking his removal from office in a recall election.

For more news and analysis, sign up for our Essential Politics newsletter, sent to your inbox three days a week.

Two COVID-19 Approaches

Much support of the recall effort appears to stem from frustration over Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, with California enacting myriad restrictions. Republicans have pointed to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ more laissez-faire approach, even though it’s been decried by public health experts.

For much of the last year, it seemed that California’s response had led to a dramatically lower death rate. Florida had a cumulative COVID-19 death rate as much as 84% higher than California’s in the fall last year. But the winter surge slammed California, and that gap narrowed to 11%.

Experts say turning the complex breakdown of the pandemic into a blue-versus-red political showdown is unwise and deceptive, as each state has it own unique vulnerabilities and assets.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

L.A., Orange and San Bernardino counties could be poised to unlock parts of their economies as soon as this week if state benchmarks are met. The guidelines were recently rewritten.

— The Los Angeles Unified School District is aiming to reopen middle and high schools in late April under a timetable announced by Supt. Austin Beutner.

— In search of warmer weather and wide-open spaces, snowbirds flock south and west each winter. Their presence is normally welcome in small towns, but this year, they’ve sparked disputes about vaccine priorities.

Dear Billy ...

In 2019, California State University campuses launched text message “chatbots” as a way to help students stay on track to graduate. The bots send reminders about deadlines and tips on financial aid, as well as answer questions that the students might be afraid to ask in person.

But after just about everyone was sent home last spring at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bots have evolved into more of a friend, receiving students’ expressions of loneliness, despair and worry for themselves and their families.

Here’s how Billy at Cal Poly Pomona has become a virtual shoulder to cry on.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On March 7, 1924, a bridge over the Arroyo Seco collapsed “with a terrific roar.” The crash drew not only first responders but also new scrutiny of Los Angeles’ aging bridges.

According to The Times, the 25-year-old bridge was made of wood and steel, and built before cars and trucks were widespread. The bridge had been used for pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Photos from the scene showed a vehicle amid the wreckage, though The Times reported the cause of the collapse was unclear. A man was killed and a woman and her daughter were injured.

The incident led to the closure of similar bridges and hastened plans to replace others.

pieces of a collapsed bridge and a crumpled car lie in water
March 7, 1924: Remains of Avenue 26 Bridge, spanning the Arroyo Seco, after it collapsed, killing one man. This photo appeared in the March 8, 1924, Los Angeles Times.
(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)

CALIFORNIA

— Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s executive team is full of hires that have drawn praise from reformers and progressives but suspicion from critics.

Derick Almena, the master tenant of the Ghost Ship warehouse, which caught fire during a music event, killing 36 people, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Because he received credit for time spent behind bars while awaiting trial and for good behavior, he will spend the next 1½ years at home with an ankle monitor.

— In a win for Vanessa Bryant, a judge has ruled that L.A. County sheriff’s deputies who are accused of sharing unauthorized photos of the site of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant, their daughter and seven others can be named.

— After a dry winter, visitors to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park this spring won’t get to enjoy a wildflower “super bloom,” but a rainstorm last week has raised hopes for a late-season burst of color.

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NATION-WORLD

As hundreds of protesters chanted outside a heavily fortified Minneapolis courthouse, jury selection began in the trial of the first police officer charged in the killing of George Floyd.

— Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri will not seek another term in the U.S. Senate, he said in a surprise announcement. He is the fifth Republican senator to decide against another run.

— Volatile protests engulfed Mexico’s capital as police clashed with thousands of feminist activists calling for an end to what they say is a crisis of violence against women.

— In Britain, royalists expressed polite dismay, while Britain’s notorious tabloids were livid after Prince Harry and Meghan described racism, a lack of support in the royal family and relentless attacks from the press in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

— After receiving criticism, Pope Francis said that he weighed the risks of a visit to Iraq during the COVID-19 pandemic and felt God would look out for the Iraqis who might be exposed to the coronavirus during his high-profile trip.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Chloé Zhao, who was the first Asian woman and the second woman ever to win a Golden Globe for best director, is facing a backlash in China, the country of her birth.

— Actress Sophia Loren and Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima will be honored by the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures at its gala leading up to the museum’s Sept. 30 opening.

Carla Wallenda, a member of the Flying Wallendas high-wire act and the last surviving child of the famed troupe’s founder, has died. She was 85.

— It turns out the folks behind “Space Jam: A New Legacy” made the decision to exclude Pepé Le Pew from the upcoming movie long before a New York Times columnist declared the animated French skunk to be a normalizer of rape culture.

BUSINESS

— The pandemic threatens to strike Social Security’s disability program and its beneficiaries in multiple ways that play into the system’s weaknesses and its target population’s vulnerabilities, columnist Michael Hiltzik writes.

— Spec developer Nile Niami’s 100,000-square-foot mega-mansion in Bel-Air, which he had hoped to sell for $500 million, could be foreclosed upon if a loan is not repaid.

SPORTS

— A rise in hate crimes toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to send an email to the entire organization decrying the wave of bullying and violence as “cowardice.”

— Former Times sports editor Bill Dwyre looks back at Ali vs. Frazier and 50 years since “The Fight of the Century.”

Free online games

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

OPINION

— Sexual misconduct at the Metropolitan Water District hints at deeper problems, The Times’ editorial board writes.

— A year ago, we asked you to share tales from the pandemic. Here’s what some of you told us.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— An anti-human trafficking organization raked in donations, media appearances and law enforcement partnerships with stories of elaborate international rescue missions. Activists and people who worked with the group say its work abroad harms more than it helps. (Vice)

— Hot take: The best bagels right now are made in California. (New York Times)

ONLY IN L.A.

You’ll find L.A. artist Francisco Palomares’ work selling for thousands of dollars in galleries. So why did he decide to sell paintings from a fruit cart in downtown L.A. for $39.99? The idea began when he worked as a gallery attendant at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

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


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