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Today’s Headlines: Biden to mobilize medical personnel, distribute emergency equipment in response to Omicron

A woman in a hospital bed touches hands with a friend at her side in protective gear
Becky Gonzalez, left, visits longtime friend Mary Lou Samora, a 71-year-old COVID-19 patient, at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on Friday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Hello, it’s Tuesday, Dec. 21, and here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:

TOP STORIES

President Biden prepares for Omicron’s impact

President Biden will announce Tuesday that he’s mobilizing military medical personnel and distributing emergency equipment in preparation for a wave of new infections caused by the Omicron variant, according to a senior administration official.

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Omicron is so contagious that it’s expected to cause more breakthrough cases, and it has surpassed the Delta variant as the leading cause of infection faster than expected. Nearly three-fourths of new cases last week were caused by Omicron, according to federal data released Monday.

In California, the number of those infected and hospitalized has crept up over the past two weeks. Over the last week, the state has reported an average of 7,082 new cases per day, up a little more than 5% from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times. Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by just under 10% over that same time period — hitting 3,523 on Sunday.

Meanwhile, state officials are trying to game how the highly infectious variant of the coronavirus will spread through the state and exactly what the response should be to the threat. Experts believe the Omicron surge could hit some parts of California much harder than others.

More top coronavirus headlines

  • Moderna said Monday that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine should offer protection against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
  • COVID-19 tests are in high demand with the winter surge. Here’s how to get them.
  • More holiday events in Los Angeles County have been canceled or postponed amid a burgeoning wave of COVID-19 cases tied to the Omicron variant.
  • Flying over the holidays? Here are tips for reducing your Omicron risk.
  • A judge has ruled against San Diego Unified’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, effectively saving thousands of unvaccinated students from being kicked out of in-person school and thousands of unvaccinated staff from being fired.

Stay up to date on variant developments, case counts and vaccine news with Coronavirus Today.

Latino political power is a big winner in a new congressional map

Latino voters would see a dramatic boost in political clout under new congressional and legislative districts approved Monday by the independent citizen panel charged with redrawing California’s political map.

Nearly one-third of the state’s 52 new congressional districts have a majority of Latino citizens of voting age under the new maps. That’s an increase of three districts over the current map, even as California lost a seat for the first time in its history because its population did not grow as fast as other states.

Latino civil rights advocates said the increase in political power — which probably will lead to an increase in the number of Latino representatives — was fitting since much of the state’s population growth over the past decade has taken place in their communities.

More politics

  • With his refusal to support a spending package, did Sen. Joe Manchin III just torpedo Biden’s effort to combat climate change? A broad array of Democratic lawmakers is vowing to fight on.
  • Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican American woman elected to Congress, will not seek reelection in her soon-to-be-redrawn Los Angeles district, she announced.

Sign up for our California Politics newsletter to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting and the latest action in Sacramento.

Layers of subcontracted services frustrate Medi-Cal patients

Many of the managed-care plans under Medi-Cal — California’s version of Medicaid, the program for people with low incomes — outsource responsibility for their patients to independent physician associations and, in many cases, to other health plans. The subcontracted plans also delegate to IPAs, physician networks that often hire outside management firms to handle medical authorizations and claims.

This multilayered, delegated care works in many instances and is common in managed-care Medi-Cal. But advocates, state regulators and even some health plan executives agree it is confusing and creates obstacles for many Medi-Cal patients, who tend to be poor and from minority communities, often face language barriers and have high rates of chronic illness.

Walmart is being sued for alleged dumping of hazardous waste

A lawsuit filed by the California attorney general and a dozen district attorneys alleges Walmart has dumped nearly 80 tons of hazardous waste, plus confidential customer information, in California landfills each year over the last five years. The lawsuit asks a judge to impose unspecified financial penalties against Walmart, which generated nearly $560 billion in revenue in fiscal 2021.

In a statement, a Walmart spokesperson called the lawsuit “unjustified” and said the company has been meeting the obligations of a 2010 court-supervised settlement to better manage how it disposes of waste. She added that Walmart is not aware of evidence behind the allegations that customer information has been disposed of improperly.

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PHOTO OF THE DAY

a group of people in military uniform sleep on a stone floor
A complicated year, captured in photos. Times photographer Kent Nishimura took this photo of members of the National Guard at the U.S. Capitol Building nearly a week after a pro-Trump insurrectionist mob breached the security of the building in January. It’s among more than 25,000 photographs Times photo editors culled in an attempt to recapture the year and visually represent the news. You can see the full collection here, and read how the photographers who took them captured these moments.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

How the battle over Reservation Ranch summoned a violent past. In a forgotten corner of coastal California, a collision of interests over the sale of a historic property strikes at the heart of an uncomfortable truth: California, like the great American West, was largely built on violence — violence to not just the land, but also the native people of the land.

A magnitude 6.2 quake struck near Eureka in Northern California. The quake struck at 12:10 p.m. about 37 miles from Eureka, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The National Weather Service’s Tsunami Warning Center said in a tweet that no tsunami was expected from the quake.

L.A.’s hip-hop community mourns the loss of Drakeo the Ruler. Without him, there is now a gaping hole in the fabric of his city’s music that’s larger than the pile of uchies — a.k.a. Benjamin Franklins, or $100 bills — he stands over on the cover of his breakthrough mixtape “So Cold I Do Em.”

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NATION-WORLD

Trump seeks to end N.Y. attorney general’s investigation. Former President Trump sued New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James on Monday, resorting to a familiar but seldom successful Trump strategy as he seeks to end a years-long civil investigation into his business practices.

Warning that extremism in the ranks is increasing, Pentagon officials have issued new rules. The new guidelines prohibit service members from actively engaging in extremist activities. They come nearly a year after some current and former service members participated in the riot at the U.S. Capitol, triggering a broad department review.

Ghislaine Maxwell jury begins deliberations after closings. They are tasked with considering whether Maxwell is a dangerous predator who recruited teens to be sexually abused by financier Jeffrey Epstein — as prosecutors put it — or the “innocent woman” a defense attorney described.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Chris Noth is axed from ‘Equalizer’ as a third woman alleges the actor sexually assaulted her. Noth was also dropped by his talent agency, A3 Artists Agency, which had signed him in October.

Trevor Noah’s malpractice lawsuit claims surgery made him ‘sore, lame and disabled’. The complaint also alleged that the 37-year-old comedian was confined to bed and home for a long period of time and underwent hospital and medical aid, treatment and attention for the ailment.

He was emotionally available. But also, vegan. When Los Angeles-based writer Diahann Reyes-Lane started dating her now-husband, she said her biggest question was, “What can we eat together?”

BUSINESS

Why home equity loans are a better option than credit cards. Home equity loans typically have fixed terms and rates, so you can borrow what you need and pay off the debt over time (often 15 to 20 years).

SPORTS

The NHL is shutting down starting Wednesday through Sunday. The shutdown comes amid an increase of positive COVID-19 tests results among players across the league. More than 15% of the league’s 700-plus players are in virus protocol, and the resulting schedule disruption almost certainly has doomed the possibility of Olympic participation.

How the gift of a 1963 baseball connected two Oxnard men. Buddy Salinas gifted a baseball signed by the 1963 Milwaukee Braves to a player from his hometown of Oxnard whose signature appears on the ball, Denny Lemaster.

Jared Dudley on how being a championship Lakers player helps him as a coach. To his chagrin, Dudley wasn’t asked back as a Lakers player, but as a Dallas Mavericks assistant, he recognizes his future is in coaching.

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OPINION

Look before you leap when it comes to holiday charitable donations. Too often, donors are filling the pockets of professional fundraisers rather than helping the needy or a worthy cause. The donation becomes a lump of coal, writes columnist George Skelton.

Slam the brakes on Tesla’s self-driving madness. Some Tesla owners have had the option to buy a $10,000 software upgrade to test what the company calls its “Full Self-Driving” package, but this “experiment” lacks oversight to ensure public safety. It’s time for state and federal regulators to step in, The Times’ editorial board writes.

2021 IN REVIEW

The 100 best songs of 2021. As normal came back into view in 2021 — then seemed to slip away again — great songs arrived from places we could predict and places we never thought to look. From Olivia Rodrigo to SZA, The Times’ music staff has picked their favorites of the year.

Four book reviewers on their favorite reads of the year. The range of their picks reveals a fruitful and diverse year of sweeping novels, hidden histories, searing essays and powerful biographies.

ONLY IN L.A.

A woman wearing a black ensemble stands before large, colorful paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama
A spectator gazes at “The Obama Portraits Tour” at LACMA. The show is open to the general public through Jan 2. “Barack Obama,” 2018, is by Kehinde Wiley; “Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama,” 2018, is by Amy Sherald.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Does it feel as if there are relatives in every room of the house? It may be time to take out-of-town visitors on an L.A. adventure. Among our 15 ideas that should help keep adult relatives occupied is a trip to the L.A. County Museum of Art and its “Black American Portraits” exhibition. About 140 paintings and photos created over two centuries include portraits of the Obamas that are normally housed at the Smithsonian. Or: Pop over to the Skirball and get your geek on with a “Star Trek” exhibition that has set pieces including the original series’ navigation console, a Borg costume, original scripts and storyboards, costumes and, of course, a tribble.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

An old-time fire truck sits in front of a burning hillside. Firefighters, mostly in street clothes, walk along a road.
Late December 1929: Firefighters walk below a hillside that’s ablaze in Griffith Park.
(Los Angeles Times)

Ninety-two years ago today, The Times included a front page article on a “fierce, wind-swept brush fire” in Griffith Park. The headline read: “One Killed and Many Hurt Before Weary Army Subdues Blaze.” The lead paragraph reported: “One dead, four seriously injured, a score less seriously injured from burns, approximately 1000 acres of beautiful park land denuded of water shed, 3000 exhausted fire fighters, thousands of dollars damage — These were the losses and casualties computed last night.”

We appreciate that you took the time to read Today’s Headlines! Comments or ideas? Feel free to drop us a note at headlines@latimes.com. — Elvia Limón and Laura Blasey


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