Today’s Headlines: Omicron’s impact on poor communities of color in L.A.

Dr. Faraiba Faqeerzada examines 2-year-old Benjamin Salazar at South Central Family Health Center in Los Angeles.
Dr. Faraiba Faqeerzada examines 2-year-old Benjamin Salazar at South Central Family Health Center in Los Angeles. The center is in a neighborhood with the highest Omicron case rates in the county.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

By Elvia Limón, Laura Blasey and Amy Hubbard

Hello, it’s Wednesday, Feb. 2. Happy Groundhog Day! Will we have six more weeks of winter? We’ll soon find out. But we do know, according to California officials, that a third dry year is possible unless more rain and snow arrive soon.

January was one of the driest months in recent memory. Parts of the Sierra Nevada that recorded more than 300% of average precipitation in December saw as little as 0%. Unfortunately, the weeks ahead look dry. If only a groundhog could change that parched prediction.


Now, on to everything else you need to know for today.


Omicron’s impact on poor communities of color

The Omicron wave took a familiar, grim path as it rapidly spread across Los Angeles County over the last two months. At first, it appeared the variant might spread equally throughout the county, but then it took a hard turn toward lower-income communities of color that had already suffered the most throughout the pandemic.

Though Omicron is proving to be generally milder than earlier strains of the coronavirus, essential workers, people who live in dense or multigenerational housing and those with underlying health issues remain the most at risk. While those with greater access to vaccines, transportation or work-from-home options are not immune to Omicron, their outcomes continue to be much better.

More top coronavirus headlines:

  • The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is defending its mask-wearing order, which is being criticized after Gov. Gavin Newsom and the mayors of L.A. and San Francisco were photographed without face coverings at SoFi Stadium.
  • As with vaccines, equity has become an issue with COVID-19 medicines, as states, counties and health departments try to allocate limited supplies.
  • The World Health Organization says overuse of gloves, “moon suits” and the use of billions of masks and vaccination syringes to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus have spurred a huge glut of healthcare waste worldwide.

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


A troubled educator’s threats of mass violence at UCLA

UCLA leadership notified students early Tuesday that in-person classes had been canceled hours after discovering an 800-page screed in which post-doctoral philosophy student Matthew Harris threatened to unleash mass violence at UCLA and an unidentified “schoolyard,” authorities said. Harris was found in Colorado and arrested on unspecified state charges.

While UCLA students and staff expressed relief, some chastised the university for taking so long to specify the nature of the potential threat and to clarify how students should respond. They also noted the uneven nature of UCLA’s response, with the dean of the department of dentistry telling students to report to in-person classes Tuesday, despite the university’s admonition to stay home.

California AG to review sheriff’s ‘politically motivated’ cases

California’s attorney general will review several investigations conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department amid allegations by county officials that Sheriff Alex Villanueva is abusing his power by investigating his critics.

In a letter last month, Los Angeles County Counsel Rodrigo Castro-Silva urged Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta to take control of the “intimidating, politically motivated investigations initiated or threatened” by Villanueva.


It’s unclear what the reviews will entail or whether the attorney general will resolve the cases by filing criminal charges or closing them.

As the Beijing Olympics begin, exiled Uyghurs fight for oppressed families

Five years since China’s campaign of mass incarceration, cultural erasure and coercive labor began, most Uyghurs abroad remain cut off from their families. Many kept quiet through the first years of the camps, afraid that contacting their loved ones would draw fresh persecution. But Uyghur exiles have since grown bolder.

Now, as the world’s gaze turns to Beijing for the Winter Olympics, Uyghurs — along with Tibetans, Hong Kongers and Chinese human rights advocates — are urging governments to boycott the games and athletes to speak out against the Communist Party.

More politics:

  • President Biden has met with two key senators in the Oval Office as the White House sought to build congressional support for his eventual Supreme Court nominee.
  • As elected officials and candidates prepare for the midterm elections, new financial reports show California members of Congress continue to rake in millions of dollars.
  • Rep. Karen Bass raised nearly $2 million after launching her campaign in the fall to become Los Angeles’ next mayor, demonstrating an early base of support as she far outpaced her rivals in the crowded field.

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


A flutter of magical hope on the Central Coast

In any year, the overwintering of monarch butterflies on the California Coast is a phenomenon. But this one comes after two years when the butterflies had all but disappeared.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation said in late January that community scientists had reported 247,000 overwintering butterflies in the 2021 Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. There were fewer than 2,000 the year before. The data made clear what many have been noting since October: The monarchs are back, even if it’s far from the millions that arrived as recently as the ’80s.

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A man is reflected in a window through which a container ship is seen.
Capt. Mike Johnson is reflected in the wheelhouse of the tugboat Delta Teresa. He was helping bring a container ship into the Port of Long Beach. ICYMI: Times writer Thomas Curwen and Allen J. Schaben teamed in December on a great article on “the humble tugboat’s crucial role in easing a global crisis.”
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)


Hate crimes in L.A. and other U.S. cities jump to levels not seen in decades. Data gathered by the Center for Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino show there were 615 hate crimes reported to police in Los Angeles in 2021 — the third-highest annual total in any U.S. city since the 1970s.


Could the L.A. River dry up? Fears grow as cities work to recycle more wastewater. A thriving river habitat is sustained by treated wastewater. But as climate change stokes drought, cities are increasingly looking to recycle that water even before it reaches the river’s graffiti-marred concrete, setting up a battle between environmentalists and wastewater recycling advocates.

Economic segregation in schools has worsened, study says. The segregation of young students from low-income families — brought on by climbing Latino enrollments and the departure of white and middle-class families — is contributing to widening achievement gaps along economic and racial lines, a new study has concluded.

A conversation with Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong. Essential California’s Justin Ray spoke with Armstrong for a new series on California police chiefs of color. They discussed violence in the city, social media scandal and how people sometimes treat him, a Black man, when they don’t recognize him as the police chief.

San Francisco apologizes for racism against Chinese Americans. In the wake of a rising number of anti-Asian hate crimes throughout California and the nation, San Francisco on Tuesday became the latest California city to apologize for its history of racist and discriminatory acts and policies against Chinese Americans.

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Putin offers more talks with the West as Ukraine tensions remain high. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the U.S. and its allies have ignored Russia’s top security demands but added that Moscow remains open to more talks.


A ‘silent strike’ greets the first anniversary of Myanmar’s military coup. Opponents of military rule marked the anniversary of the army’s seizure of power with a nationwide strike Tuesday to show their strength and solidarity amid concern about what has become an increasingly violent contest for power.

Mexico’s remittances surged 27% in 2021. The country’s central bank says the money migrants sent home to their relatives grew to about $51.6 billion for the year. That is a record, set despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and would surpass almost all other sources of Mexico’s foreign income.


They thought they were getting a home makeover. It turned into a fiasco. As part of a new TV show for Magnolia Network, the cable venture launched by Chip and Joanna Gaines, Andy and Candis Meredith promised they could fix up a kitchen within a few weeks for $20,000. The job took five months.

Why more musicians haven’t joined Neil Young’s Spotify boycott over Joe Rogan. The real chart-toppers who could truly shake things up — such as Taylor Swift and the Weeknd — haven’t gone anywhere. A stew of political hesitancies, music ownership complications and business incentives make the decision difficult.

They waited two years to get back on the road. Then came Omicron. The veteran L.A. indie-rock band Best Coast said they were “devastated” to cancel their tour for a third time. But in the absence of clear-cut guidance from government or industry, artists are more or less on their own to decide if performing is safe right now.


Tesla issues a recall after ‘Full Self-Driving’ software allows cars to run stop signs. The “rolling stop” feature allows vehicles to go through intersections with all-way stop signs at up to 5.6 miles per hour. The company agreed to the recall after two meetings with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


SeaWorld is looking to acquire the owner of Knott’s Berry Farm and more than a dozen other parks. Cedar Fair, which owns the amusement parks, has confirmed that it had received what it described as a nonbinding proposal from SeaWorld, which owns 12 parks, including the San Diego marine park.


From the first Super Bowl to the latest, it’s been ‘one hell of a ride’ for Al Michaels. The sports broadcaster attended the first Super Bowl at the Coliseum as a fan. On Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium, he will call the game for the 11th time.

Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady has announced his retirement. At age 44, he retires as the league’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. Brady’s 76.9 career winning percentage ranks first in the Super Bowl era among quarterbacks with at least 75 starts.

Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams finally commits to USC, following Lincoln Riley. Williams, a former top recruit and the undisputed top passer in a rollicking college transfer market, has left Oklahoma to join Riley in Los Angeles, giving the Trojans’ new coach a familiar star quarterback to build around as he ushers in a new era at USC.

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OK, Justice Department, you have plenty of evidence to indict Trump now. Combined with what we already knew, former President Trump’s statement Sunday night leaves no doubt that his intent on Jan. 6 had been to overturn the results of the election he lost, writes columnist Harry Litman.



A red Victorian house overlooks a slate patio with a blood-red swimming pool
Built in 1896, the dramatic Victorian spans three stories with turrets and period-style spaces.
(Jim Bartsch)

A blood-red swimming pool? Sure, why not. Even in Windsor Square, a neighborhood filled to the brim with some of the city’s finest pre-World War II architecture, tattoo artist Kat Von D’s three-story Victorian stands alone. She just listed it for $15 million.

The gothic haunt was built in 1896 by Isaac Newton Van Nuys, a businessman who owned much of the San Fernando Valley in the 19th century. In 1915, his son, J. Benton Van Nuys, had the home moved to its current spot in Windsor Square. Von D restored the place to its original style and added a few dramatic touches of her own.


Feb. 3, 1964: A sign from "J. Groundhog."

One hundred thirty-five years ago today, the first Groundhog Day was observed in Punxsutawney, Penn. The tradition wasn’t mentioned in the pages of The Times until Feb. 11, 1899, with the blurb: “Groundhog Day back East appears to have passed without a sight of the varmint, on account of his inability to find sunshine enough lying around loose to cast a shadow.”

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