Today’s Headlines: BA.5 starts the clock ticking on a mask mandate in L.A. County

Some commuters wear masks at Union Station on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
California is suffering through another intense coronavirus wave, fueled by the stunning proliferation of the BA.5 subvariant.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

By Laura Blasey and Amy Hubbard

Hello, it’s Friday, July 15, and here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:


The clock is now ticking on a mask mandate in L.A. County

Sustained jumps in cases and hospitalizations fueled by the hyper-infectious BA.5 subvariant pushed Los Angeles County into the high COVID-19 community level Thursday, a shift that could trigger a new public indoor mask mandate by the end of this month unless conditions improve. Two more such weeks and a new masking order would be issued starting July 29. That outcome, officials say, is much more likely than the county falling back into a lower level.


Local health officials in other parts of the state have not indicated they’re considering a new mask order, and some have said they don’t anticipate implementing new orders more stringent than those required by the state.

More on the coronavirus

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

A GOP congressman with an anti-LGBTQ past is trying to win over gay Palm Springs voters

Ken Calvert has held on to his seat in Congress for 30 years, in part by opposing gay rights. Now that he’s running for reelection against a gay rival in a district that includes one of the largest concentrations of LGBTQ voters in America, Calvert says his views have changed.


Whether it’s principle or opportunism, Calvert’s change of heart seems a necessary shift in a race that has grown far more competitive as a result of the redrawing of California’s congressional boundaries. Party registration in the new Riverside County district, which includes Palm Springs and surrounding communities, is about even. Calvert’s opponent for reelection? Democrat Will Rollins, a former federal prosecutor who worked on Jan. 6 insurrection cases and who campaigns with his partner, Paolo Benvenuto.

More politics

  • President Biden would not commit to confronting the leaders of Saudi Arabia later this week over the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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On a brutal summer day, one California town ran out of water. Then the fire came.

The San Joaquin Valley’s water well problems stem from a complex mix of infrastructure failure, contamination and record-dry conditions.

In East Orosi, the water went off on a Tuesday afternoon. A temporary fix allowed the water to run sporadically on Wednesday, but by then, a family had lost their home to a fire they had no water to fight.

Russian missiles killed at least 23 people in central Ukraine, officials say

More than 100 more were wounded, Ukrainian authorities said, in an attack that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called “an open act of terrorism” against civilians in locations without military value.

Zelensky suggested the attack on Vinnytsia, about 170 miles southwest of the capital of Kyiv, was deliberately aimed at civilians. The strike happened as government officials from about 40 countries met in the Hague to discuss coordinating investigations and prosecutions of potential war crimes committed in Ukraine.

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A man suspected of plotting a mass shooting at UC Irvine is behind bars again — for now. In January 2020, Sebastian Dumbrava was arrested after police found a trove of ammunition, large-capacity magazines and the parts to build an AR-15 in his bedroom. Orange County prosecutors believed he intended to shoot up the UC Irvine campus. He was released from prison after seven months. Now he is behind bars again, facing new charges. Prosecutors are convinced that he still intends to commit a mass shooting at his alma mater.

Wild Rivers has returned to Irvine after 11 years, with a promise to conserve water. Southern Californians are set to see triple-digit temperatures as a heat wave sweeps into the weekend. No one could be blamed for wanting to cool off in a pool or swish down a water slide. The newly constructed 20-acre Wild Rivers is nearly twice the size of its earlier iteration, but it reemerges in a drier California. The optics aren’t great, but the park promises that its water is filtered and reused.

Starbucks says these L.A. stores are too unsafe to operate. Not everyone buys that. Although many customers and workers said they understood safety concerns around the six stores — given the worsening homelessness crisis and an uptick in crime — some questioned the decision and the supposed reasoning. Other Starbucks stores sit no more than half a mile away from each outpost slated to close.

California went big on rooftop solar. It created an environmental danger in the process. California has been a pioneer in pushing for rooftop solar power, but many panels are at the end of their 25-year life cycle and winding up in landfills, where they can contaminate groundwater. In Europe, a recently enacted regulation places responsibility on producers for supporting their products through responsible end-of-life disposal. Similar legislation has been attempted in several U.S. states.

1 million pills with fentanyl were seized by DEA agents in Inglewood in a record-breaking bust. The drugs — the largest bust of fentanyl pills in the state — were found after agents served a search warrant July 5 at an Inglewood home that investigators believed was a stash house used by a trafficking organization linked to the Sinaloa cartel.

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Ivana Trump, first wife of former President Trump, has died at age 73. The family did not say when she died or give a cause of death. The Trumps were a publicity power couple in New York in the 1980s and ‘90s before their equally public, and messy, divorce.

With Roe overruled, can red states disregard FDA rules on abortion pills? The federal-versus-state dispute has set the stage for another legal battle that could shape the rights of women in about half the nation. A first case testing the issue is pending in Mississippi.

The Buffalo supermarket that was the site of a May 14 mass shooting is set to reopen. Ten Black people were killed by a white gunman at the Tops Friendly Markets store. It’s set to reopen to the public Friday, two months after the attack. A moment of silence and prayer were held Thursday to honor the victims, employees and community affected by the tragedy.

Palestinians feel increasingly disillusioned by President Biden’s approach. For decades, Middle East diplomacy has usually revolved around the Palestinian demand for statehood and how to obtain it. Yet in Biden’s four-day trip this week to Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia, his only meeting with a Palestinian government leader is seen as little more than a courtesy call.


To grasp the “dramatic collapse” of Victoria’s Secret, a new doc looks to Jeffrey Epstein. The Hulu series charts the rise and fall of the brand and the self-made Midwestern billionaire behind it, portraying a corporate culture that was infected with the same misogyny it peddled to the masses.

A book-to-film pioneer brought “Where the Crawdads Sing” to the big screen. The production is unique in a way that may not be obvious: It’s the inaugural release from Elizabeth Gabler’s 3000 Pictures. Gabler, an omnivorous reader, is perhaps the leading champion of the book-to-film pipeline and helped establish it decades ago.

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is the perfect escape from a summer of franchise movies. Reviewer Katie Walsh writes that we could all use a little escapism right now, especially when the escapism in question is as exceedingly pleasant as Anthony Fabian’s new film. The luminous Lesley Manville stars as a cleaning lady from London who takes a trip to Paris to see about a frock. It’s not just any frock — it’s haute couture from the House of Christian Dior, the kind of dress that can change a life, and in this case, changes many.


Elon Musk said not one self-driving Tesla had ever crashed. But regulators already knew of eight. Musk has long asserted that Tesla’s automated driving software is safer than anything a human driver can achieve. But at the time he made some public comments, dozens of drivers had already filed safety complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What $700,000 buys in seven areas around Los Angeles. Don’t look now, but Southern California’s hot housing market might be cooling off. Sales are down, inventory is up and some properties are even getting price cuts — including a few featured in this article. The roundup includes a 98-year-old home in Highland Park, recently remodeled, with new hardwood floors and farmhouse doors.


Editorial: Legal pot needs better warning labels. State officials — and the cannabis industry itself — have an interest in making California’s legal pot marketplace as safe as possible. They must not dismiss the research on marijuana’s mental health risks as reefer-madness-style hysteria.

Commentary: We’re in a crowded universe, but Earth is still precious. The glittering detail seen in the first images of the distant and early universe from the James Webb Space Telescope is all contained in an area of the sky as small as a grain of sand held at arm’s length. For some, the takeaway from these new glimpses into deep space might be that Earth is small and inconsequential. Not for me, writes Tony Barboza.

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Baseball’s cathedral: At 60, Dodger Stadium has never looked better. Indeed, although many venues could be called one of baseball’s spiritual homes, Dodger Stadium is near the top of the list. And this week, it will be under the sport’s biggest spotlight once again as it hosts Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game for the first time since 1980. Columnist Bill Plaschke, meanwhile, writes that for fans, the experience is great once you get to your seat — just heaven! Everything else (the gridlock traffic, the lack of parking, the dirty bathrooms) can be lousy.

On U.S. soil, Ukraine’s athletes bring a message: “We protect our country on the track.” In a wounded country, Ukrainian officials and athletes believe there is power in claiming territory, whether around battered cities or atop a track and field awards podium. Starting today, the world’s outdoor track and field championships are being held in the U.S. for the first time, at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field. “If we win, if our sportsmen can do the interview, can bring up a flag, it’s a good position,” said the acting president of Ukraine’s track and field federation, from the front lines in Ukraine. “It will be a big emotional signal for all of the world.”

A look inside the British Open’s unique tent city. The most affordable accommodations at the Open sit right next to the most expensive. Some 2,400 people are staying in a tent village behind the Old Course Hotel & Spa. The 770 cozy nylon domiciles are a well-struck six-iron from the 17th green. To foster a love of golf among the next generation, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews allows adults ages 16 to 24 stay for free.


Plumeria blooms in Tallac Knoll at the Los Angeles County Arboretum.
(Matt Pawlik)

Celebrate Plumeria Day at the L.A. County Aboretum and Botanic Garden. The Wild writer Matt Pawlik includes the activity among his seven outdoorsy things to do this week. The day includes a guided walk through Tallac Knoll, a dense grove of blooming plumerias, expert talks and a plant sale, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for children ages 5 to 12.

Add some excitement to a watermelon. Then eat it. Sure, every summer you might find one or two that are supremely juicy and sweet and crisp. But more often than not, the watermelons Ben Mims gets his hands on are ... a little mealy. His proposal: Dress up your melon with salt, sugar and some spice to bring out the flavor. He makes a traditional tahini sauce spiked with a few slices of jalapeño and lots of lemon juice and garlic, plus mint and pistachios. Get the recipe here, and check out Cooking, Ben’s free newsletter.


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The old dogs who found a new best friend. An estimated 23 million American households adopted dogs during the pandemic, but they were for the most part young and fluffy. Writer Susan Orlean profiles a man who prefers older, less Instagram-able canines. He shares his Colorado home with “a ten-pack of last-chance creatures,” but it’s not charity — he argues that senior dogs make the best companions and finds caring for them to be life-affirming, despite the grief that can come at the end. The pictures alone are worth the click for this story. The New Yorker

Enter the dragon boat. “Like so many of us during the pandemic, I didn’t have a work problem. I had a life problem,” writes Times Washington bureau chief Kimbriell Kelly. She’d been leading the 30-person Washington, D.C., staff coverage of the Jan. 6 insurrection, the inauguration of President Biden, a worldwide pandemic and the ongoing election challenge by the outgoing President Trump. In a search for peace she returned to a pastime she’d given up years ago, one that would push her to strive for a spot on her team as they headed for the Worlds. Los Angeles Times

Big Soda’s addiction to new plastic is jeopardizing climate progress. The three biggest soft drink companies in the world — Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Keurig Dr. Pepper — dumped 121 million tons of heat-trapping carbon emissions into the atmosphere in 2020. That’s a climate footprint larger than that of Belgium. They swear they’ll make improvements. But first they will have to solve a problem they helped to create: the dismal rate of recycling in the U.S. Bloomberg

The “Where the Crawdads Sing” author is wanted for questioning in a killing. As a film adaptation of Delia Owens’ 2018 novel opens in theaters, a light is being shone on her “tumultuous history as a conservationist in the south-central African nation of Zambia, where she is currently wanted for questioning in a 1995 murder case,” writes The Times’ Sonaiya Kelley. The attention stems from a pair of articles, one of them recent, by the editor of the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote that Owens, her now-ex-husband, Mark Owens, and Mark’s son Christopher were suspected by Zambian authorities of being involved in the killing of an alleged poacher along with possible other criminal activities. The Atlantic


A beach covered with people sitting beneath umbrellas and congregating in the water.
1934: No port — but a popular beach — in Santa Monica.
(Los Angeles Times)

One hundred forty-seven years ago today, on July 15, 1875, lots in Santa Monica first went up for sale. The lots sold for $75 and $500, according to the city.

The day’s auctioneer stirred up bidders with an eloquent speech: “At one o’clock we will sell at public outcry to the highest bidder the Pacific Ocean, draped with a western sky of scarlet and gold; we will sell a bay filled with white winged ships; we will sell a southern horizon, rimmed with a choice collection of purple mountains carved in castles and turrets and domes; we will sell a frostless, bracing, warm yet unlangured air braided in and out with sunshine and odored with the breath of flowers.”

Fired-up investors believed in the early years they would make their fortunes as soon as Santa Monica became a busy seaport. Last year, The Times’ Patt Morrison wrote of the seven-year-long Great Free Harbor battle: San Pedro vs. Santa Monica. California titan Collis P. Huntington wanted the port so badly in Santa Monica that, from his property, he built “an almost comically long pier out into Santa Monica Bay: 4,700 feet, which he called, upping the grandiosity factor, ‘Port Los Angeles.’ It also went by the Long Wharf and the Mile-Long Pier, and it ran cargo and passengers, to show that it could be done.” In a nutshell: Huntington lost.

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