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LA County Is Ready To Try Resuming Jury Trials

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Published

Jury trials in L.A. County stopped back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now the Superior Court says with increased cleaning and social distancing precautions, it’s ready to bring people back into courtrooms.

Today was supposed to be the first jury trial in months. Court staff required masks and limited the room to 25 people. Potential jurors will be brought into court in groups of 15; the first batch was spread out across the courtroom.

But the trial was delayed because the defendant is in a county jail dorm that was quarantined due to a possible COVID-19 exposure.

The quarantine was later lifted, so the court says it will try again to start the trial on Thursday.

Outside court, Sabine Azemar said her hand stayed down when the judge asked her and the others in the jury pool if they were scared of serving. She said:

"They did have like plexiglass on the tables or desks where the lawyers were sitting."

Even as the court says it can safely resume jury trials, some still panic at finding a jury summons in their mailbox.

Amber Carvaly in Highland Park got one, and obtained a postponement.

"I was pretty desperate to delay that to a time where I didn't think that I was going to get sick and die for going in to serve the community," Carvaly said.

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Cal State Fullerton Severs Ties With Its Biggest Donor Over Alleged Unethical Requests

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(Matthew Gush/Flickr)

Cal State Fullerton said it’s severed ties with its biggest donor, Steven Mihaylo, a college alum who runs a telecommunications company based in Tempe, Arizona.

In 2004, Mihaylo gave the university over $4 million to build its new business school. Three years later he promised $30 million, Cal State Fullerton’s biggest donation to date. The university named the building and business school after Mihaylo and put up a statue of him.

On Wednesday, in a press release, the university said Mihaylo would only release $22 million of the donation if the university bought equipment from his company and hired Republican professors.

Cal State Fullerton President Fram Virjee said he told Mihaylo that would be unethical and possibly illegal.

Mihaylo denied that he requested the purchase from his company, and said he withheld the donation because the university promised to defend conservative views like his and was stifling free speech.

In the meantime, Cal State Fullerton has removed Mihaylo’s statue and name from the business school, but kept his name on the building.

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Mayor Garcetti: 'What We're Doing Is Working.' LA's Hospitalization Numbers Drop To All-Time Low

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in his Tuesday evening media briefing that the number of patients who are currently hospitalized in L.A. County with complications from COVID-19 are at an all time low since the pandemic began, signaling that the city is "headed in the right direction" in the fight against the virus.

Hospitalization rates are the lowest they've been since April 4, the earliest data the county has made available.

"Today 1,168 Angelenos -- still a very large number -- are in the hospital," Garcetti said, "but it is 1,000 fewer patients compared to five weeks ago."

(LA County Dept of Public Health)

The mayor added that the infection rate is still below one (.92), which means the spread of the virus is relatively contained. He said that number means we should be seeing caseloads decrease in the coming weeks.

The goal right now, he explained, is to have fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period, which would take L.A. County off the state's watch list, so we can move into the next stages of reopening.

"To put that in perspective, we still need to cut that to about half the number of cases we have today, and sustain that for two weeks to achieve the goal that I know we all share," he said.

The mayor empahsized that even with this good news, we can't let our guard down:

"The data shows us that what we're doing is working, what you're doing is having an effect...[but] we're not out of the woods. COVID-19 is still here and it's still extremely dangerous, so we need to keep following those protocols."

Garcetti also praised the decision by the Lakers to protest racial inequality by refusing to play:

"They walked off the court, and they issued a clear demand — the same call heard from Kenosha to Minneapolis, Louisville to right here in Los Angeles — that we confront our history, that we commit to ending the legacy of racial injustice in America. Not in a month. Not in a year, not next season, but right now."

PROMISES TO MAKE L.A. DIGITAL

The mayor announced tonight that he is issuing an executive order to make city services completely contactless and digital "wherever possible."

Residents will be able to create a sign-in that allows them to do things like pay water bills and arrange contactless pick up at the public library.

A task force has been gathered to develop this system, so stay tuned.

PARTY HOUSE UPDATE

Garcetti said the illegal party situation is improving, thanks to his policy to shut off water and power to party throwers who have repeatedly violated the city's ordinance prohibiting large gatherings.

"There have been many fewer large parties. We count these things, and most that we hear about are now, with one visit from the police, breaking up," he said. "Airbnb shut down 30 homes that were being used for parties in Los Angeles; we had 13 complaints last week and none of them are as egregious as the ones we saw a couple weeks ago."

He said overall he feels that the message has been received.

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Detectives Investigating Another Deadly Shooting At An LA Party House

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The view from a hillside L.A. neighborhood. (Sebastien via Unsplash)

The LAPD is investigating a deadly shooting that happened overnight at a party at a short-term rental house in the wealthy Beverly Crest neighborhood.

According to the LAPD, West Los Angeles officers responded to a call of a shooting in the 2200 block of San Ysidro Drive around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The department said a party with about 25-30 people in attendance "resulted in a shooting leaving one man dead and another seriously injured."

The fatal shooting marks the second time someone has been killed at a so-called party house in that neighborhood this month.

"It’s extremely troubling," said Ellen Evans, vice president of operations with the Bel Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council. "People are afraid, people are annoyed at the fact that it’s not been stopped."

"The proliferation of it has become out of control, especially now during the pandemic because of the bars being closed," Anastasia Mann, president of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, told us earlier this month.

An existing county order that prohibits gatherings during the pandemic hasn’t prevented house parties from proliferating in hillside neighborhoods.

For years, residents have bristled at rental or Airbnb spots that become makeshift nightclubs.

There is a party house ordinance already on the books that imposes thousands of dollars in fines for violations. And the City Attorney’s office says it’s reviewing several party house cases submitted by the LAPD.

Earlier this month, Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the utilities shut off at one party house several TikTok stars were calling home.

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COVID-19 Rates Are Down in LA, But Health Officials Are Worried About Labor Day Weekend

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Palisades Park in Santa Monica. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Things are (finally) looking up in the local fight against COVID-19.

Despite another day of new infections (1,600 reported) and deaths (58 in the past 24 hours), the community infection rate in L.A. County has dropped, meaning every positive case is infecting fewer people.

The case rate has stayed below 200 cases per 100,000 residents, a key indicator of how well the county is controlling the spread of the virus. That number has stayed in check over the past two days, but it needs to drop to fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 residents to come off the state watch list.

Doing so could potentially allow more businesses to reopen, and some schools to conduct in-person learning.

But the good news isn't a free pass to see friends and family without proper precautions.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer says we'll backslide if people relax mask wearing or physical distancing, especially over yet another holiday weekend.

"Let's acknowledge that Labor Day is a celebration of workers," Ferrer said today in her media briefing, "and the best way to keep workers safe is to stop transmitting this virus."

The public health department is trying to avoid a surge in cases like we saw after Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

It "would not be a good idea" to move foward with reopening plans until we get past the holiday weekend "with people acting appropriately," Ferrer said.

the Public Health Department and officials from surrounding cities are considering closing beaches and trails in anticipation of the holiday, she added.

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Villanueva Responds To Criticism About Deputies Not Wearing Masks

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Sheriff Alex Villanueva (L.A. Sheriff's Department)

L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva responded today to criticism that many of his deputies aren't wearing masks, saying it's "not easy," given all the gear they wear and carry as they respond to incidents in the heat of summer.

Inspector General Max Hunstman sent the Board of Supervisors a letter in which he chastised the Sheriff's Department for the many instances in which deputies have been seen or videotaped unmasked.

"It's our concern too, the use of the masks," Villanueva said during an online question-and-answer session today. "Deputies have been responding to fires, civil unrest and murder scenes ... in this extreme heat, there's a lot of concern about wearing the masks in addition to all the other restrictive gear the deputies are wearing."

Villanueva went on:

"Between the vests, the 15-pound belts, helmets, shields, all these things, the physical exertion in the field, not easy. But they need to wear them whenever they can, that means when they're contacting civilians [and] citizens, when they're in buildings, they need to throw those masks on, and we're working hard to enforce that."

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Officials Are Not Chill About The Community Fridges Popping Up Around LA

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Day Hernandez stands in front of the community fridge she helped start in Boyle Heights, outside Mexican restaurant Milpa Grille. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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On a hot Tuesday afternoon, Day Hernandez places cans of vegetables and beans, bags of chips, protein bars and other dry goods on a wooden shelf. This wouldn't be remarkable except for one thing. The shelf sits on a Lincoln Heights sidewalk, next to a refrigerator where anyone can stop and grab something to eat -- for free. As she tapes guidelines to the side of the fridge ("Clean items before entering into fridge," "Respect the space") a mother and her son pause to admire the mural on the front. Set against blooming flowers, a blue sky and pink clouds, a message reads, "Everybody eats."

"Are you hungry?" Hernandez asks in Spanish. "Take what you need. Everything is free here."

The boy grabs a Rice Krispie treat and smiles at his mom. Welcome to the Lincoln Heights Community Fridge. It's one of more than a dozen such fridges that have sprung up around Los Angeles since July, part of Southern California's homegrown response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dry goods are available next to the community fridge in front of Milpa Grille in Boyle Heights. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Hernandez, who grew up in Boyle Heights, spent the first few months of quarantine buying groceries for her neighbors. Then, her friend Ismael Salazar showed her the nascent Los Angeles fridge network on Instagram. They teamed up, found a free refrigerator on Facebook Marketplace and set it up in Boyle Heights, outside Mexican restaurant Milpa Grille. Now, she spends enough time maintaining both fridges, it's almost a part-time job.

"It makes the community feel united," she says. "All I want is to make sure that families in Boyle Heights don't have to worry about eating."

This scene plays out again and again as people who walk along North Broadway notice the fridge outside eclectic arts venue HM157, housed in a historic Victorian mansion. Each time passersby stop to peek inside, Hernandez assures them the food is free and available at any time to anyone who is hungry.

These community fridges aren't operated by local officials. They're organized and overseen by residents who clean, stock and benefit from them. But this alternative ecosystem of community aid exists in a legal gray area, one where citations and health codes have sometimes hindered community nourishment.

Residents in East Hollywood pick out free food at a community fridge on Santa Monica Blvd. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

BRINGING FOOD ACCESS TO THE STREETS -- LITERALLY

As communities fight food insecurity and try to reduce waste during the coronavirus pandemic, neighborhood fridges have become a symbol of resistance. Started in February by New York City-based anarchist collective A New World in Our Hearts, networks of community fridges have popped up around the United States in Oakland, Houston, Nashville and Milwaukee, among other cities.

The premise is simple. Find a used or donated fridge and connect with a local business or residence to provide a power source. Then, allow anyone to donate food -- from farmers' markets, grocery stores, their kitchens, their gardens -- or take what they want.

A Boyle Heights resident collects food from the community fridge in front of Milpa Grille. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

In July, Los Angeles Community Fridges, which describes itself as "a non-hierarchical group of people involved in mutual aid and food justice," began setting up fridges around greater L.A. Today, Los Angeles County has 14 community fridges, stretching from Arlington Heights to Leimert Park. The now 100-member strong group is looking to expand into the San Fernando Valley and the Inland Empire.

"We're slowing down a bit now," says Becca Chairin, who has been making graphics for the group since July. "We want to make sure that the fridges we do have aren't abandoned. We want them to be sustainable and really part of the community."

Los Angeles Community Fridges maintains this map of active fridges. (Screengrab)

Today's community fridges draw inspiration from Black-led initiatives such as the Black Panther breakfast programs of the 1960s. While fridges, free pantries and community vending machines won't solve systemic food insecurity, they offer no-strings-attached access to fresh food. It's a radical departure from traditional food assistance. This is community aid governed by the people and the streets.

Children prepare bags of food to be distributed through at the Black Panther Community Survival Conference in Oakland, California. March 1972. (© Stephen Shames/National Museum of African American History and Culture/Smithsonian Institution)

Marina Vergara, who has worked in food distribution for more than a decade, knew the coronavirus pandemic had caused food insecurity to skyrocket, so she decided to broaden food access by taking it streetside.

"There's food insecurity everywhere and it's largely unseen. It plagues everyone, the housed and unhoused. Documented and undocumented," Vergara says.

Days after she heard about L.A. Community Fridges, she helped establish the first such fridge in Los Angeles. It is located in Mid-City, outside Reach For The Top LA, a nonprofit transitional housing and addiction treatment center, where she volunteers.

Vergara partnered with farmers' markets, restaurants and bakeries to rescue food she says would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.

After that, she connected with Joshua Mock, who owns Little Amsterdam Coffee, to set up a second Mid-City fridge. Organizers at L.A. Community Fridge soon began fielding dozens of messages from people who wanted to set up fridges outside their businesses -- florists, clothing boutiques, smoke shops, grocery stores.

So far, the fridges have been a hit. They're overflowing with bushels of fresh greens and boxes of to-go meals donated by community members and companies such as Everytable. People have also donated extra supplies such as face masks, diapers and hand sanitizer.

A community fridge in Mid-City Los Angeles. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

In Boyle Heights, the fridge outside Milpa Grille, on Cesar Chavez Avenue, has become a community project. Most mornings, Hernandez comes by to discard food that has gone bad. She says she often sees older residents tending to the fridge or restocking it with vegetables and fruit from the nearby urban farm on Mott Street. Moments like these make Hernandez swell with pride, seeing her neighbors take ownership of the project.

"We thought somebody was going to be upset when we put the fridges up," Hernandez says. She had worried that people might not embrace the fridge or, worse, that their actions would lead law enforcement to drop the hammer. "It's so instilled in us to be afraid of trying it out."

While residents in this section of Boyle Heights have welcomed the experiment, community fridges in other neighborhoods have sparked concerns about safety and hygiene.

The Compton community fridge that was set up by Kani Webb, before it was vandalized and shut down. (Courtesy of Kani Webb)

PULLING THE PLUG

In Compton, the city's sole community fridge lasted less than two weeks.

Kani Webb, the founder of Peace of Mind, first rolled it onto the sidewalk in front of his community art space on Compton Boulevard on July 27. He had spent a week finding a fridge, painting it and coordinating with L.A. Community Fridges.

A day later, Webb says a family friend who works as an inspector for the Compton Fire Department told him the fridge was violating Compton city health codes. The following day, his aunt asked him to remove the fridge, citing these concerns, but Webb waited to hear from officials. He was eager to provide another healthy food option to his neighbors, particularly those experiencing homelessness.

Webb had not yet seen the letter, from Compton's code enforcement division, sitting in his mailbox. It outlined two alleged violations of property maintenance and electrical codes. One declares abandoned equipment a nuisance. The other cites a city regulation that says all electrical and extension cords in public spaces where they could be "subject to physical damage" must be removed.

"It seems like the communities that need it most are the ones that are Black and brown -- and they can't have it," Webb says.

Both pages of the letter Kani Webb received from the city of Compton's code enforcement division, shortly after he installed a community fridge on the sidewalk in front of his art space on Compton Blvd. on July 27, 2020. (Courtesy of Kani Webb)

On August 1, Luis Hernandez, the Battalion Chief and Arson Investigator for Compton's Fire Department, contacted Webb and told him he could continue to operate the fridge as long as it had a safety latch. Webb thought it was an odd request but he went to a hardware store, bought a latch and installed it on the door of a fridge.

Unfortunately, using a latch conflicts with another regulation. California's rarely invoked Penal Code 402b, which dates to 1970, declares it a misdemeanor to abandon a refrigerator without removing its doors or latching mechanisms. This code, along with the Refrigerator Safety Act of 1956, was passed after several incidents in which children died after accidentally locking themselves inside old refrigerators.

Compton Fire Department Chief Ronerick DeKeith Simpson tells LAist that their team handled the fridge as a "safety issue." Simpson said the department had previously dealt with calls about children getting stuck in refrigerators and latches were necessary to stop that. LAist also reached out to the Compton City's Manager office for comment but they did not respond.

The fridge was handled by three departments separately and it does not appear they communicated with one another. However, in early August, Compton Mayor Aja Brown commented on an Instagram post by Compton Rising, the organization that partnered with Peace of Mind, saying she was eager to keep the fridge operational. She wrote that according to a report from the city manager, the fridge was cited "because it was outside of the property's gate and unattended."

With a latch secured, the fridge was back in business -- but only for three days. On August 4, Webb noticed someone had vandalized the doors and inner shelves of the fridge with spray paint, contaminating the food. Someone had also broken the safety latch and cut the extension cord.

A bookshelf full of bread and snacks next to the community fridge in Lincoln Heights. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Frustrated that his brief effort had caused so much turmoil, Webb says, "Me and my family have our suspicions that it was the city but obviously we have no proof." He says neither his family nor his neighbors saw anything.

Webb says the fridge remains on the sidewalk, abandoned with a broken latch. It's technically violating the city's code but he hasn't received any additional complaints from officials.

While other organizers are talking about establishing a second Compton fridge, Webb is wary. "That took a lot of my energy," he says.

Instead, he's working with four local pantries to turn Peace of Mind into a food distribution space. He hopes by the end of August, he'll be able to supply enough food for 200 units in his neighborhood.

Compton is the third community fridge in Los Angeles County to be cited for health and safety. In Long Beach, the fridge outside clothing store PlayNice was closed a week after it opened in mid-July. It has since transitioned into a curbside pantry for dry goods. The Highland Park fridge was closed on August 24 after similar citations from the city. These incidents highlight the simmering tensions between food-based mutual aid efforts and city officials.

The inside of the community fridge in East Hollywood is stocked with fresh vegetables. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

BREAKING THE CODE

Most local laws are designed to regulate property and businesses, which are registered with or, in some cases, owned by the city. Community fridges, which technically don't belong to anyone, throw a wrench into the system.

Ernst Oehninger, who co-founded community fridge network Freedge at UC Davis, says part of the struggle with community-regulated food spaces is managing the concerns of authorities and residents.

"None of the food codes were made for food-sharing. They're made for businesses and restaurants," Oehninger says.

The community fridge in Lincoln Heights sits outside of an old, Victorian-style house. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

In 2014, he fought Yolo County authorities who wouldn't allow the Davis community fridge to stock fresh produce. After a year of filing petitions and lobbying at city council meetings, he won. In the last five years, he and his two Freedge co-founders, along with dozens of volunteers, have helped establish 10 community fridges around the U.S.

Although Oehninger's confrontation with officials strengthened his faith in mutual aid and community-based solutions, he acknowledges their limitations.

"We are trying to address food insecurity and food waste. Fridges don't solve those problems. They reduce them a bit but they don't address the root causes... The best thing, however, is that it brings people together to talk about those bigger issues. It's a conversation starter," Oehninger says.

Community fridges, like this one in East Hollywood, have been popping up across the city to provide assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Inspired by the sudden focus on community fridges, he has tracked the emergence of nearly 70 community fridges since February. He believes the combination of heightened food insecurity and racial justice uprisings have sparked a new interest in food activism.

"If you look at all the fridges coming up, almost all of them in New York and Los Angeles are run by Black and Latinx folks," Oehninger says. "I wonder, how much does white supremacy stop fridges from happening?"

Community fridges offer food to anyone at any hour, so people like the Lincoln Heights grandmother can fill the pouch under her walker with canned goods for her family -- and come back for seconds without question.

The inside of the Lincoln Heights community fridge stocked with pastries, veggies, fruits and pre-made meals, (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

WE LOVE TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS

Some California Students Who Fare Terribly In Distance Learning Could Return To Campuses 

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A worker at Burbank Middle School in L.A. Unified demonstrates steps to keep school facilities clean. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

California public schools have been given the okay to invite small groups of the most at-risk students to return to campuses for in-person instruction — even in counties still on the state’s coronavirus watchlist.

But the California Department of Public Health’s new guidance is not meant to pave the way for a reopening of schools.

The new rules aim to provide students who’ve fared terribly in distance learning — especially special education students and English learners — with access to services that are best delivered in-person.

Tony Thurmond, the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, said some school districts had already taken steps toward bringing these students back in small groups:

They were calling them child care pods or technology pods. So this new guidance does create the ability, if a school district says they need to have small groups of students … to be able to come back to school. But it’s very thoughtful in saying, keep those numbers small.

State officials advise schools to prioritize students with learning disabilities for these small groups, but they also give local officials flexibility to determine which students to invite.

“In addition,” an official FAQ reads, “English learners, students at higher risk of further learning loss or not participating in distance learning, students at risk of abuse or neglect, foster youth and students experiencing homelessness may also be prioritized.”

If schools do invite these small groups back, they’d have to abide by a number of rules:

  • Students should be grouped in cohorts of no more than 14 children and two supervising adults.
  • Adults that aren’t part of the cohort may provide “specialized services” — such as speech or occupational therapy — to students in one-on-one settings.
  • Cohorts should not mix — i.e., kids shouldn’t play together on the school playground.
  • No campus should exceed more than 25% of normal capacity.

GO DEEPER:

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Get Informed – Black Breastfeeding Week (Virtual) Events

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Ericka Davis with her baby at a CinnaMoms event during Black Breastfeeding Week 2017. (Belen Rediet/WIC)

For eight years now, the Black Breastfeeding movement has highlighted breastfeeding as one tool to help reverse the disparate health outcomes Black moms and babies experience.

In L.A. County, Black babies are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies, and Black mothers are three times more likely than other women to die during childbirth.

And the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t made giving birth or raising a family any easier.

The good news is that there are people here dedicated to making information about breastfeeding, pregnancy and birth available wherever you are.

It’s Black Breastfeeding Week, and there are a number of local events planned in connection with the nationwide campaign.

Here are some of the virtual events planned:

Wednesday, Aug. 26 5-6:30 p.m.

Black Breastfeeding Week VirtualiTEA

A panel discussion about breastfeeding support in the Black community featuring feathers and elders. Free, register here. (hosted by the South Los Angeles/South Bay African American Infant and Maternal Mortality Community Action Team and Breastfeed LA)

Thursday, Aug. 27 10-10:30 a.m.

Breastfeeding Tips

A conversation with lactation educator and registered nurse Jadah Parks Chatterjee. Free, there’s a link to the Zoom chat here. (Hosted by Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital)

Thursday, Aug. 27 2:30-4 p.m.

Are you and your baby getting enough?

A breastfeeding Zoom support circle. Free, register ahead of time here or text "Cinna27" to 91997. (Hosted by CinnaMoms)

Friday, Aug. 28 11-11:30 a.m.

Breastfeeding Mommy Chat

A conversation with mom Lafecia Bruce. Free, there’s a link to the Zoom chat here. (Hosted by Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital)

Friday, Aug. 28 2:30-4 p.m.

Black Breastfeeding Peer Counselors Circle

A gathering for WIC peer counselors to talk about their work, experiences and goals. Free, but registration is required ahead of time here.

Monday, Aug. 31, 10 -11:30 a.m.

Chocolate Milk Documentary Screening & Discussion

The film explores the racial divide in breastfeeding through the stories of three African American women. Free, register here by Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 5 p.m. to get a link to watch the documentary from home ahead of time and then join the discussion Monday (Hosted by the Antelope Valley Breastfeeding Coalition and the Antelope Valley African American Infant and Maternal Mortality Community Action Team)

Monday, Aug. 31, 12-12:30 p.m.

Breastfeeding Support

Q&A with lactation specialist Lydia O. Boyd. Free, there’s a link to the Zoom chat here. (Hosted by Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital)

Don’t want to wait? Here’s an event that already happened and are available to watch right now:

Doula Support and Breastfeeding

A conversation with doulas Michelle Sanders and Khefri Riley and lactation educator Asaiah Harville. (Hosted by Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital)

Cinnamoms and Breastfeeding

Cinnamoms is a series of breastfeeding support groups based at L.A.-area WIC Centers. Learn more from health equity manager Toncé Jackson. (Hosted by Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital)

Did we miss something? Have an idea for a story? Get in touch with reporter Mariana Dale.

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California Makes Deal To Double Coronavirus Testing, Get Results In 1-2 Days

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Gov. Gavin Newsom today delivered an update on California's response to coronavirus and wildfires, including announcing a new deal to improve coronavirus testing. You can read highlights below or watch the full press conference above.

NEW REOPENING GUIDELINES

New guidelines for reopening different economic sectors will be announced Friday, Newsom said. There are more announcements planned for Friday as well, he added.

"It is about time for us to now move into a new phase," Newsom said. This reopening will be more proscribed than what's been seen in the past, he said. There will be timelines, scope, and expectations announced Friday.

NEW CORONAVIRUS TESTING PARTNERSHIP

The governor announced a new coronavirus testing partnership with PerkinElmer, which he said will help get test results faster. The plan is to build a new lab in California with a full supply chain of all necessary test ingredients.

The demand for testing will likely increase as we approach flu season, Newsom said. The lab will add an additional 150,000 diagnostic tests per day, with guaranteed turnaround of 24-48 hours. Getting those tests back faster will also help the state make decisions in real time. When it takes 10-12 days to process a test, the tests are "quite useless," Newsom said.

Newsom said he didn't agree with the CDC's new guidance saying that people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 may not need to be tested if they aren't exhibiting symptoms. He added that this will not influence California's policies when it comes to testing, as the state will continue to listen to experts.

The state will look to build its capacity as part of this contract over the next 8-10 weeks, Newsom said. These tests will alow for what Newsom described as a sustainable reopening.

The state is currently conducting an average of 100,000 tests per day, with an average turn-around of up to seven days. Newsom said that the heat and wildfires have brought down the testing from its peak above 132,000 per day.

The average cost of a diagnostic test is $150 to $200, he added. With the new lab, the cost comes down to:

  • $47.99 each with 40,000 tests
  • $37.78 each when 100,000 tests are being done
  • $30.78 when the state hits 150,000 tests

The contract will cost the state $100 million initially, with a maximum cost of $1.4 billion, according to the Newsom administration. The goal: tens of thousands of new tests processing per day by November, with full capacity by March.

The state will make this partnership's contract public, Newsom said. It includes protections for the state. These include options for the state to opt out if PerkinElmer can't provide the latest technology, as well as guarantees that they will get the best price (including an option to opt out if the federal government introduces a plan to reduce testing costs), and the option to opt out if there are effective therapeutics or a cure for COVID-19. There are also upgrades for other types of tests, including flu, genomics, and pooled testing.

The partnership will drive down testing costs, improve reliability, provide a guaranteed turnaround time, protect essential workers and other at-risk groups, provide insurance against the flu season "twindemic," and break supply chain logjams, Newsom said. He added that this is what the federal government should have done a long time ago.

"If you are fiscally conservative, then you should be demanding the federal government use its marketing power to drive down the cost of tests," Newsom said.

The state will be responsible for logistics and billing. PerkinElmer has worked in the state for decades, Newsom said, and is well known for a genetic test for newborns.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

There were 6,004 new cases Tuesday, with an average of 5,753 cases per day over the past week. The positivity rate over the past week is 5.8%, while the two-week positivity rate is 6.1%. COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions are both continuing to drop — a 17% decrease in hospitalizations and an 18% decrease in ICU admissions over the past two weeks.

The number of counties on the monitoring list has dropped to 34 counties. Amador and Glenn were removed, while Tehama was added to the list.

WILDFIRES UPDATE

There are 700 fires burning around the state, with 1.3 million acres burned. In the past 24 hours, there have been 423 lightning strikes and 50 new fires overnight — though those fires have all been suppressed as of today before noon, according to Newsom. There have been seven known deaths, with more likely to be discovered, and at least 1,690 structures destroyed. Significantly more destroyed structures are expected to be identified in the days to come.

California is continuing to deploy every possible resource to fight the wildfires, Newsom said. He described it as a historic wildfire season with more than 15,000 firefighters and 2,400 engines in use. Firefighters have come to help from as far as Kansas and Montana.

There are 3,889 evacuees in shelters statewide. Due to COVID-19, the state is aiming to put people in non-congregate shelters — 3,041 of those are in 124 hotels, helping to avoid mixing. There are 848 people in 14 shelters that are congregate environments, with more mixing of people.

The Moc Fire has burned 2,800 acres, with 60% contained as of today. Newsom said that the firefighters involved deserve credit for their heroism in battling this fire.

The SCU Fire is 25% contained, with 365,000 acres burned, Newsom said. The governor said he'd flown over the fire and seen flames as high as 10 stories. The August Fire is at 17% containment with 197,000 acres burned.

The LNU Fire is 33% contained with 357,000 acres burned. The CZU Fire in the Santa Cruz is now at 19% containment and 80,000 acres burned. Newsom noted that there has never been a fire of this size in that area, and said that it is an example of the effects of climate change.

The Sheep Fire is now at 3% containment and 29,000 acres burned. The governor also highlighted the SQF (previously Castle) Fire, which is at 0% containment with 18,000 acres burned. The state is pulling more resources from Southern California, as the Lake Fire is more under control.

The state has distributed 1.3 million N95 masks throughout the state due to the wildfires' impact on air quality, Newsom said.

When asked about his ex-wife Kimberly Guilfoyle speaking at the Republic National Convention and her negative comments about California, Newsom declined to comment.

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LAUSD Explores Expanding Child Care 

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Chava Sanchez/LAist

With child care unavailable for many families during the pandemic, the Los Angeles Unified School District is exploring what it can do to ease the burden that many caregivers shoulder while juggling their own jobs and students’ distance learning.

The district’s board voted 7-0 on Tuesday to investigate what it would take to extend on-campus child care to student families, a service that will soon be available for staff.

Board member Nick Melvoin’s resolution calls on Superintendent Austin Beuter to gather information about:

  • The capacity to provide child care with current staffing;
  • How to prioritize serving foster and homeless youth, the children of essential worker parents, English language learners, and students with disabilities;
  • Safely expanding space for child care, including for students in early education programs;
  • Providing extra academic support for students in on-campus child care.

The resolution requires Beutner to report back to the board at its Sept. 15 meeting.

The district will get a sense of what it’s like to have kids back on campus next Monday, when about 3,000 children of LAUSD staff will return to 235 school sites for on-site supervision. Beutner said that alone is the largest child care effort in L.A. County since the start of the pandemic — although it will still fall short of demand.

“The intent is to provide support for families to the maximum extent that we can," Beutner said, "but I hope this isn't misconstrued or misinterpreted by the public to expect a program of scale that we would need to be able to offer in the next few days or weeks."

LAUSD students started the school year off-campus. The district could adopt a hybrid school schedule later this fall where students rotate on- and off-campus that would also include child care at the estimated cost of $10 to $20 million.

Some smaller districts have already started to offer child care services for families in the community — the Glendale Unified School District is offering free on-campus child care and South Pasadena Unified has daycare for a fee.

Several people voiced support for the resolution during public comment.

“Thank you for listening to the concerns parents have expressed to you, our board members, at previous meetings,” said Sharnell Blevins with the parent advocacy group Speak Up. “Overseeing our kids' distance learning while working full-time without any child care help remains one of the most difficult issues we parents face.”

Any child care in L.A. County has to follow guidelines from the Public Health Department, which include limiting groups of kids to 12 and daily screenings for fever and respiratory illness.

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READ MORE ABOUT CHILD CARE DURING THE PANDEMIC:

Morning Briefing: When A Police Shooting Hits Close To Home

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Published
A sign at a May 30 protest reads "Care Not Cops." (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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On August 15, 32-year-old Anthony McClain, who is Black, was shot and killed by a police officer in Pasadena after the car in which he was a passenger was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. His death inspired protests in the area, especially after video evidence showed that he was shot in the back.

Reflecting on McClain’s death, KPCC producer Austin Cross examines the similarities between himself and McClain. In addition to also being a 32-year-old Black man, Austin’s place of employment – the KPCC/LAist newsroom – is on the same street, 2.5 miles from where McClain was shot.

“In a routine traffic stop, I'd expect no special treatment from an approaching officer. A black guy is a black guy in a darkened car on a Saturday night ... [McClain and I] shared geography, race and age. In the ever-growing list of young men who have died at the hands of law enforcement, it's not uncommon for me to share at least one trait. Two? Unlikely. Three? Never. One hell of a coincidence.”

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, August 26

Community fridges, a form of hyperlocal food aid, have become more popular than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. They're organized and overseen by residents who clean, stock and benefit from them. But this alternative ecosystem of community aid exists in a legal gray area, reports LAist contributor Lillian Kalish – one where citations and health codes have sometimes hindered community nourishment.

Jury trials haven’t resumed yet in L.A. County, but they could next month. Emily Elena Dugdale reports that the Superior Court is holding one trial with a jury as a beta test, which will start this morning.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

Money (And The Census) Matters: Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia has announced plans to give money — no strings attached — to a select group of city residents, under a universal basic income plan. Census workers deployed in L.A. County have just five weeks left to tally a very hard-to-count region.

Government Officials Speak Out: Gov. Gavin Newsom threw his support behind George Gascón in the race for District Attorney of L.A. County over incumbent Jackie Lacey. The Inspector General took the Sheriff's Department to task over deputies not wearing masks.

Some Jazzy L.A. History: The history of Club Alabam, the center of the jazz world in Los Angeles in the 1930s and '40s, includes tales about its fascinating, slippery owner Curtis Mosby, as well as greats such as Billie Holiday, Johnny Otis, Clora Bryant and Gerald Wilson.

First Person: KPCC producer Austin Cross reflects on the too-close-to-home killing of Anthony McClain – who, like Cross, was a 32-year-old Black man – and who was shot dead by a police officer 2.5 miles down the same street as the KPCC/LAist newsroom.


Photo Of The Day

At a candlelight vigil at The Laugh Factory, attendees demanded justice for Elijah McClain on the one year anniversary of his death.

(Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

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This post has been updated to reflect changes in what's coming up for today.


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