|Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 31. I’m Nita Lelyveld, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, California’s COVID-19 death toll topped 25,000. The Times confirmed it by doing a county-by-county tally. The state also set a new one-day record of 442 fatalities. Think of it as adding up to one person dying of the disease every 3 minutes.
L.A. County was home to more than half those logged daily deaths: 242. On Tuesday, the county also crossed a grim threshold of 10,000 coronavirus deaths.
Here in L.A., we are bearing the brunt of the pandemic — and the pressure points are becoming frighteningly evident.
Paramedics and EMTs are having to leave some severely sick people at home rather than transporting them to overburdened hospitals.
Funeral homes and mortuaries report being at capacity and having to turn some bodies away. They describe it as heartbreaking, to have to add to the grief of those already grieving.
In Boyle Heights, Jennifer Bagues is the general manager of the small Felipe Bagues Mortuary, started by her great-grandfather. Lately, she said, some families are returning to bury a second loved one felled by the virus. This weekend, she said, she has scheduled her fifth service since the pandemic began for a husband and wife who both died of COVID-19 .
[Read the story “Bodies pile up, patient care falters as COVID-19 devastates L.A. County hospitals” in the Los Angeles Times]
So far, according to our data team, more than 300,000 adults in California have received vaccinations. But that’s only about 1% of our adult population.
And some California healthcare workers are refusing to take the vaccine, even though they have priority access. A frequent concern is that the vaccine is so new.
[Read more here: “Your questions about COVID-19 vaccines answered” in the Los Angeles Times]
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced today that the new, potentially more contagious variant of the virus that has been tearing through the United Kingdom has made its first appearance in our state — in Southern California. San Diego County officials later announced that they had confirmed the case in a 30-year-old man with no travel history who tested positive after having symptoms Sunday. They don’t expect this to be an isolated case.
The numbers we hear every day are so big, sometimes it’s hard to remember that each one represents a once-living, breathing, loved person lost — until such loss comes close to home. My colleague Hailey Branson-Potts has written a very personal story about how that changes you. I hope you’ll read it.
Please be as safe out there as you can. Avoid gatherings outside your own household. Wear a mask and keep your physical distance from others. Wash your hands frequently. Who doesn’t know the drill?
We can’t make this go away in a flash with a new year. But now more than ever, we all need to do our part.
And now, a quick programming note — this newsletter will be off Friday and Saturday for the holiday and back in your inbox Monday morning. Here’s what’s happening across California:
Gov. Gavin Newsom offers $2 billion in financial incentives to reopen some elementary school classrooms. The aim is to encourage some in-person learning as early as mid-February, starting with the youngest students and those with special instructional needs. The money would fund safety measures including testing for students, teachers and staff — and parents could opt to keep their children at home. Los Angeles Times
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Some L.A. teachers are spending their winter breaks trying to keep their students from failing. It’s tough when they can’t reach them and when they know many students face huge challenges at home. Los Angeles Times
Dozens of evangelical Christians and activists skirmished in the streets of skid row Wednesday night. Evangelical Christian singer Sean Feucht and his followers arrived for a homeless outreach event, but protesters tried to block Feucht, who has staged largely maskless concerts nationwide to protest COVID-19 restrictions on religious worship. Los Angeles Times
A maskless Meghan Rachelle Marks, center, at evangelist Christian singer Sean Feucht’s outreach in skid row in Los Angeles on Wednesday. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Need ideas for celebrating the first day of 2021 safely? Perhaps a sunrise hike? A little skiing? A garden stroll? Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
The GOP-led Senate rejected a vote on President Trump’s push for $2,000 COVID checks. The roadblock by GOP senators appears insurmountable. Associated Press
The Census Bureau plans to announce that it will miss a key deadline for handing in numbers used to divvy up congressional seats. That could mess up President Trump’s plan to exclude from the count people who are in the country illegally. Associated Press
Questions linger over Newsom’s friendship with a lobbyist who threw the French Laundry party. Los Angeles Times
CRIME AND COURTS
L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón faces his biggest pushback yet from his staff. The union representing the county’s deputy district attorneys has sued him over his so-called special directives ordering them — in certain categories of cases — not to seek sentence-lengthening enhancements. Los Angeles Times
The discussion of a “backdoor offer” extended to a murder defendant is also raising tensions in the district attorney’s office. Los Angeles Times
A Hidden Hills woman faces murder charges for running over two boys in Westlake Village in September and then fleeing the scene of the crash. Los Angeles Times
The Sacramento County district attorney has released an online book of the stories from survivors and community members who lived through the terrors of the Golden State Killer. In August, Joseph DeAngelo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. San Francisco Chronicle
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Public health experts mull how to get vaccines quickly to those in hard-hit communities of color. But the focus is on equity, not race. Los Angeles Times
Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island,” has died of COVID-19 at 82. The former beauty queen was in an L.A. assisted-living facility. Los Angeles Times
[Read Times TV critic Robert Lloyd’s appreciation of Dawn Wells here: “In just three seasons of ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ Dawn Wells left a lasting mark” in the Los Angeles Times]
Columnist Mary McNamara tells the film industry to stop predicting its own demise. Los Angeles Times
The final new “Jeopardy!” episodes hosted by Alex Trebek will air next week — with highlights that promise to be memorable. San Diego Union-Tribune
Los Angeles: sunny, 64. San Diego: sunny, 63. San Francisco: partly cloudy, 56. San Jose: partly cloudy, 58. Fresno: partly cloudy, 54. Sacramento: mostly cloudy, 59. More weather is here.
Today’s California memory comes from Mort Saltzman:
In the summer of 1961 I was assigned to shepherd three divers from Acapulco, Mexico, who were hired by Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica to dive several times daily into a massive deep pool of water from 100-plus feet above. It was a glorious summer for the amusement park, which closed in 1967. My Spanish and their English were sketchy, but we were all young and laughed together frequently. They loved to party, and I had a tough time keeping up with them. I will never forget the Spanish word they taught me. Clavadista. It means diver.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.