Today’s Headlines: Rise in child COVID hospitalizations in N.Y. and cases nationwide spark concerns

Passengers in the arrival deck at Los Angeles International Airport.
Passengers wait for shuttles at Los Angeles International Airport last week.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Hello, it’s Monday, Dec. 27, and here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:


Healthcare workers worry about what’s coming

A jump in child COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York is being seen as a warning to get more children vaccinated in California and elsewhere as the Omicron variant continues to surge. Officials described pediatric admissions quadrupling in New York City in recent weeks. California officials said they are monitoring the rise in child hospitalizations.

On Sunday, Los Angeles County reported nearly 9,000 new coronavirus cases and seven related deaths. By contrast, on Monday, officials reported 3,258 new cases. The uptick in infections is happening across much of the state and nation.


This year’s number of COVID hospitalizations has undeniably not been as bleak as last winter. But with the holidays and Omicron, healthcare workers worry about what’s coming. At the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center on Wednesday morning, every single one of the ICU COVID patients was unvaccinated.

“It is a wake-up call for those still remaining unvaccinated, or those who have not yet gotten their boosters who are eligible to do so,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, an epidemiologist and infectious-diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

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

Desmond Tutu dies at 90


Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his impassioned campaign against apartheid in South Africa while Nelson Mandela languished in prison, died early Sunday. Tutu died of cancer at a care center in Cape Town.

A moral beacon in a deeply troubled land, the impish priest in the purple cassock stood for decades as an inspiring symbol of courage, dignity and hope in a nation that at times seemed doomed to civil war. His fervent pleas for peace and racial justice, along with his irrepressible sense of humor, were a constant balm to a country on the edge.

What you need to know about California’s new composting law

Senate Bill 1383 requires all residents and businesses to separate “green” waste from other trash. Included in the definition of organic waste are leftover food and kitchen scraps.

The program will be rolled out gradually for homes and businesses in the coming months, with the actual startup date varying based on your home or business location. Fines can be levied for failing to separate organic refuse from other trash. But those charges aren’t scheduled to begin until 2024. CalRecycle, the state agency overseeing the change, has lots of information about the new requirements on its website.

Residents and businesspeople should check with their local governments and waste haulers to find out the specific rules for their communities.

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

South L.A.’s battle to stay ahead of the mental health turnstile

In South Los Angeles and surrounding areas such as Compton, mental disorders mostly go untreated until they have caused irreparable damage. Many of them are inextricably tied to other calamities that befall people in L.A.’s poorest neighborhoods at disproportionate rates. Behavioral health practitioners fear the pandemic has accelerated this spiral in a way they will be coping with for years and decades to come.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Medi-Cal began covering care for mild to moderate mental health conditions in 2013, but access to care has remained low in low-income areas of color. Mental health in South L.A. has been so neglected it is still largely uncharted terrain. One of the biggest obstacles to care is the overall lack of outreach to Black and Latino communities to remove the stigma from mental healthcare.

As Western states pledge to take less water from the Colorado River, tribes seek a bigger role

When officials from California, Arizona and Nevada signed a deal this month to take less water from the shrinking Colorado River, a large portion of the water savings came through agreements with two Native tribes. Indigenous leaders have also been invited by the Biden administration to play a key role in future negotiations on coping with shortages.

The rising involvement of tribes in discussions about managing the West’s scarce water supplies marks a dramatic turn in a century-long history of being left on the sidelines. But tribal leaders say more needs to be done to rectify the long-term injustices faced by Native communities that lack water access for homes and farms.

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Ahmad Abdul Qader walks along the Sirwan River
Ahmad Abdul Qader, a soldier, walks along the slow-flowing Sirwan River on the border with Iran near Halabja, Iraq.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Iraqi farmers quit as climate change and politics dry up a once-fertile land. Another year of crippling drought and of competition with equally parched neighbors means there isn’t enough water to go around. Turkey and Iran have activated dams and tunnels to divert water from tributaries of the Tigris and Euphrates, leaving downstream Iraq — which relies on the two rivers’ largesse for 60% of its freshwater resources — with an acute shortage.

LAPD tactics are under scrutiny after an officer fatally shot a girl in a Burlington dressing room. The violence has also brought scrutiny about the tactics used by the responding officers and whether there were ways to de-escalate the situation without opening fire or at least not putting Valentina Orellana-Peralta in harm’s way.

Why do L.A. sheriff’s deputies stop and search so many bicyclists? Insiders cite culture and training. Bike riders, sources said, are easy targets for a deputy on patrol, who can legally make a stop if a cyclist is violating any one of many minor infractions, such as riding without a reflector or riding on the sidewalk in many parts of the county.


Santa Monica seeks to make amends for its racist past. Starting in January, the city will offer affordable housing to those forced out in the late 1950s when the city bulldozed Belmar Triangle to build the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It is an attempt to recognize the harm done to largely Black communities during the post-World War II era of freeway building and urban renewal.

Paper records and steel vaults: Can California water rights enter the digital age? This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved $33 million as part of a surplus budget to modernize California’s water rights information system. It’s the latest effort in an uneven regulatory history that has sought to make water use in the state more transparent.

Conservationists create a vast home on the eco-range for wildlife north of L.A. Some conservationists view the preserve as a critical component of a future network of protected lands extending from Canada to Mexico that would be “rewilded” with reintroduced species to mimic the biodiversity of pre-Columbian America.

A California-based oil company was identified as the source of the latest sheen off the Orange County coast. The size of the sheen has yet to be determined. Divers plan to visit the affected area Tuesday to inspect the pipeline once the weather improves, officials said. Samples were collected Wednesday as part of the investigation.

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Taliban-run government dissolves Afghan election commissions. Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Taliban-run government, called them “unnecessary institutes for the current situation in Afghanistan.” He said if there is a need for the commissions in the future, the Taliban government can revive them.

An Indian village braces for a New Year’s tribute to the downtrodden. Each New Year’s Day, tens of thousands of people travel to Koregaon Bhima to visit a war memorial that has become a sacred monument to the country’s oppressed castes. But things haven’t been the same since 2018, when a mob attacked the pilgrims and those who welcomed them.

A hacking slugfest between Iran and its foes sparks fears of a wider cyberwar. A longtime campaign of military cyberattacks between Iran and its adversaries, including the U.S. and Israel, is shifting to include civilian targets.


Joan Didion died Thursday from complications of Parkinson’s disease. She was 87. The author bridged the worlds of Hollywood, journalism and literature in a career that arced most brilliantly in the realms of social criticism and memoir.

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ is the first movie of the pandemic to cross $1 billion. Next weekend, “Spider-Man” is all but guaranteed to continue its box-office reign into 2022 as zero new films are slated to open in wide release.

John Mulaney and Olivia Munn are ‘very in love’ with their newborn baby. On Friday, the comedian and the actor shared sweet images of their newborn baby, fast asleep in a powder-blue beanie and soft blanket. The infant was born Nov. 24, according to reports from Page Six and People magazine.

Issa Rae on the music business: ‘It’s an abusive industry ... it needs to start over.’ Rae recently spoke about “Insecure’s” musical legacy, her impressions of the record industry — and which song was robbed of a major nomination for next month’s Grammy Awards.


Meet the people bringing us answers on the big bang, and their 13,000-pound helper. The James Webb Space Telescope launched Christmas Day. It is a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has observed distant stars and galaxies for more than 30 years. A cadre of thousands of aerospace workers have devoted a huge part of their careers to this singular mission.

What to do with that end-of-year pile of receipts? Make (a little) money off it. To be sure, you won’t earn anywhere near as much as you spent. But the spending is done and the effort to claim rewards with receipt-sharing apps is minimal. So, why not?

A beginner’s guide to cryptocurrency. The hype surrounding cryptocurrencies may be inescapable, but that doesn’t mean people understand how they work or why some of their values have gyrated so wildly.


The Rams clinch a playoff spot with their 30-23 win over the Vikings. They play the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday in Baltimore and conclude the season with a game against the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium.

The ugly side to China hosting the Olympics has taken center stage. What happens now? Beijing seemed like the right Olympic choice to most people at the time the country was awarded the 2022 Games, but claims of genocide and the strange case of Peng Shuai have led to diplomatic boycotts against China.

A mother’s deft touch helps UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson navigate the haters. A cauldron of negativity has burbled since Thompson-Robinson made his college debut more than three years ago. Thompson-Robinson said his mother’s best advice has been to stay his giggly, goofy, sometimes introverted self, no matter what’s being said around him.

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After the 2021 tumult, here’s what it will take to protect American democracy. The critical political work is at the state and local level, where the clearest threats to our democratic system appear at present. This means getting involved with local politics, because showing up to vote every four years is hardly enough for ordinary citizens.

Californians overwhelmingly supported legalizing marijuana. Why is it still a mess? The promise of Proposition 64 remains largely unfulfilled five years after passage. California is an example of how not to legalize marijuana.


The year of recovery and renewal: A 2021 timeline. With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, life in 2021 returned to something resembling normal. But there were also plenty of events to remind us that true normal still remains a way off.

How Taylor Swift reclaimed 2012 to win 2021. As the year draws to a close, this year’s biggest sellers are almost certain to be Adele’s latest, “30,” followed by … Taylor Swift’s “Red.”


The Watts Towers
The Watts Towers aren’t officially open for their centennial, having been closed for restoration since 2017.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A hundred years ago, a 40ish-year-old Italian immigrant laborer named Sabato Rodia began filling his three-sided yard with rebar, concrete, wire mesh, broken Fiesta ware and Bauer ceramics, cast-off Malibu and Batchelder tiles, stray shells and bottles. He called the project “Nuestro Pueblo” (which translates to “our town” in English).

By the end of 1921, his towers were well underway to become one of Los Angeles’ most admired and least understood landmarks.

They have been closed for restoration since 2017, but people still come to marvel at Rodia’s work. The fences around the lot are low, the towers soar nearly 100 feet high, and there’s more to see than the structures themselves.


Twenty-eight men in Santa suits.
Twenty-eight members of the Sears, Roebuck Santa Claus school in 1976 get some final tips before they begin a four-week stint as St. Nick.
(John Malmin / Los Angeles Times)

For the 1976 holiday season, nearly three dozen Santa Claus candidates gathered for a two-hour class at the Sears Roebuck and Co. regional headquarters in Alhambra.

The Times reported that the students learned Santa Claus history and instructions to tell children the reindeer were parked on the roof and not in the parking lot. The Santas earned about $2.50 to $3 an hour that holiday season.

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