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Today’s Headlines: Will going ‘mask-free’ move the needle?

Two masked women stroll on a sidewalk
Two women walk along South Catalina Avenue in the Riviera Village shopping area of Redondo Beach on May 14.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

For the vaccinated in California, the prospect of not having to wear a mask is coming. Will it push skeptics to get their shots?

TOP STORIES

Will Going ‘Mask-Free’ Move the Needle?

It’s never been easier to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Clinics are plentiful and increasingly mobile — and so many doses are available that California is even offering cash prizes of more than a million dollars in hopes of enticing holdouts. And at a national level, President Biden is dangling everything from sports tickets to free beer.

But with the state now less than two weeks away from fully reopening, one more incentive is on the horizon: freedom from wearing a mask.

As the coronavirus fades, there is a growing belief among even the most cautious health experts that it’s fine for those who are fully vaccinated to shed their face coverings almost entirely — though it’s still essential for the uninoculated to adhere to mask-wearing and physical distancing rules.

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The advice, officials say, is based on science. But there’s a practical byproduct too as some of those who have been reluctant to roll up their sleeves might leap at the chance to return to something more closely resembling pre-pandemic normal life.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Scientists have found clues that the world’s leading COVID-19 vaccines offer lasting protection that could diminish the need for frequent booster shots.

— In the penultimate weekly update of the California’s COVID-19 reopening road map, four more counties — Marin, Monterey, San Benito and Ventura — moved into the least restrictive yellow tier.

— California’s strict public health measures during the pandemic protected its economy, setting the stage for a “euphoric” rebound in the state even faster than nationwide, UCLA economists reported.

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

A Reassessment of Capital Punishment

For decades, California’s highest court has left it up to individual jurors to decide whether certain circumstances increase the severity of a crime and thereby warrant the death penalty in murder cases that qualify for the ultimate punishment.

On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on a possible change to that long-standing practice, which could potentially overturn hundreds of death penalty sentences in California.

At issue is how juries review “aggravating” factors — such as whether a crime was gang-related or involved multiple victims. Defense lawyers in the case argued that to ensure equal application of the death penalty, state law and the state Constitution require juries to be unanimous in their reasoning on each factor.

A Political Earthquake in Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief political rival has formally declared that he had put together a governing coalition with sufficient parliamentary backing to dislodge Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader.

The news amounted to a political earthquake in Israel, where the 71-year-old prime minister has been a commanding political presence for a generation. The new government will not take effect until later this month, which could mean a tense transition for the country.

Political critics have expressed fears that Netanyahu, who has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies in recent years, could seek to derail somehow what would ordinarily be a ceremonial handover of power to his successor.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On this date in 1969, Bunnie Burns was evicted from her eighth-floor room in the condemned Northern Hotel on Bunker Hill. Since April 26 of that year, Burns — the only resident of the 180-room hotel — had refused to open the door to her eighth-floor room to anybody. The slender, 120-pound woman — a resident of the 56-year-old hotel since 1952 — said God had told her to stay in her room because it was “the seat of my beautiful ministry here.”

June 3, 1969: Bunnie Burns in her eighth-floor room in the condemned Northern Hotel on Bunker Hill.
June 3, 1969: Bunnie Burns in her eighth-floor room in the condemned Northern Hotel on Bunker Hill shortly before she left with two sheriff’s deputies.
(Frank Q. Brown / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

— A judge this week rejected a resentencing request by a Palmdale woman who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of her 8-year-old-son, Gabriel Fernandez, who died after months of beatings, starvation and torture.

— Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, convicted in a City Hall corruption case last year, has begun serving his 14-month sentence at the U.S. penitentiary in Tucson.

— Since the news broke that he might be President Biden’s pick for U.S. ambassador to India, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has waved off the reports, calling them speculative. But when pressed, Garcetti offered a glimpse into his thinking on a possible early departure.

— At Backyard Squabbles, an underground, pop-up fight club born in the pandemic, two fighters, Black Blade and Big Cheese, face off. Los Angeles Times staff photographer Jason Armond chronicles the action.

New podcast

From Christopher Goffard, the Los Angeles Times reporter and host behind the hit podcasts “Dirty John” and “Detective Trapp,” comes an eight-episode true crime podcast, “The Trials of Frank Carson.” Listen and subscribe here.


NATION-WORLD

— Biden met privately in the Oval Office with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the Republicans’ lead negotiator on infrastructure legislation. The two sides looked to make progress toward a bipartisan deal but still have a long way to go.

— Former Rep. Katie Hill has been ordered to pay about $220,000 in attorneys’ fees to a British tabloid and two conservative journalists she sued in her unsuccessful revenge porn lawsuit.

— Nicaraguan police raided the home of Cristiana Chamorro, a potential presidential candidate and daughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, one day after formally filing money laundering charges against the journalist.

— A Hong Kong museum commemorating China’s deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square has closed — just three days after opening.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Neil Gaiman’s revered comic book series “The Sandman” from the ’80s and ’90s is finally being made into a television series for Netflix. The comic was a genre-busting, gender-bending horror-ish fantasia that didn’t care about convention. So when self-proclaimed fans objected to the show casting nonbinary and Black actors, how did they think Gaiman would react?

TikTok stars like Bella Poarch and Addison Rae can turn random songs into hits. Pop critic Mikael Wood writes that the next step is making hits themselves, but are the songs any good?

— How the Peacock comedy “Girls5eva” keeps those vocals sounding 2 good.

— When she first auditioned for the role of Rebecca Welton on “Ted Lasso,” Hannah Waddingham was convinced she wouldn’t get it. She’s glad she did.

BUSINESS

— California and other states struggled to provide expanded unemployment benefits during the pandemic, a Labor Department watchdog confirmed, in the most comprehensive examination to date of how states did.

Amazon said that it will stop testing job-seekers for marijuana. The company, the second-largest private employer in the U.S., is making the change as more states legalize cannabis.

SPORTS

Bob Levy grew up in El Salvador but discovered surfing in California, and he vividly remembers the day he returned to his homeland and hit the beach with a stiff, 10-foot surfboard under his arm.

— Hall of Fame racehorse trainer Bob Baffert was suspended for two years by Churchill Downs. The announcement came hours after Baffert’s attorney confirmed the split sample of this year’s conditional Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, also came back with a medication positive.

— The Clippers couldn’t contain Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and lost Game 5 — and control of their NBA playoff series.

Cody Bellinger hit a grand slam and had six RBIs in an 11-run first inning as the Dodgers routed the Cardinals.

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

OPINION

— Is the COVID-19 pandemic the result of an accidental release of a dangerous virus? There’s value in understanding its origins — but that won’t change the U.S.’ grave failures, The Times’ editorial board writes.

Netanyahu’s political obituary has been written and rewritten. This time, though, his position is especially dire. Columnist Nicholas Goldberg asks, “But will he really go?”

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— The NFL says it will halt the use of “race-norming” — which assumed Black players started with lower cognitive functioning — in a $1-billion settlement of brain injury claims. The practice had made it harder for Black players to qualify. (Associated Press)

Crime rates have emerged as a major talking point in the pandemic, one distorted through partisan claims. How well can you separate fact from fiction? (New York Times)

ONLY IN L.A.

Take it from 91-year-old theme park designer Rolly Crump: Sometimes the best theme park rides are built on lots of beer, probably even more marijuana and large purchases of pantyhose. Enter Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair, a trippy new ride at Knott’s Berry Farm that draws from Crump’s old work and is just as wacky as the original.

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


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