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That Odd Sound You've Been Hearing? Precipitation (AKA Rain And Snow)

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Our canine friend Buddy enjoys the snow in Lake Arrowhead. (Gina Pollack/LAist)

Just as we were lamenting a dry start to our rainy season in Southern California, we finally got a bit of wetness right before the new year.

Besides some really exciting thunder and lightning, the last day actually brought a decent amount of rain to some spots in Southern California.

For instance, the mountains above Santa Barbara saw more than three inches. But most places only saw an inch or two, still leaving us behind average in L.A.

At times the rainfall was strong enough to cause some minor debris flows in place like Malibu.

But there’s no indication that we should be worried about major mudslides, even in our burn areas.

The rain should die down by tonight as the storm continues to move south and east towards Arizona, and then it’s right back to dry winter conditions through the rest of this week.

Some scenes from the rain captured today by LAist photojournalist Chava Sanchez:

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Vaccines Are Arriving At Nursing Homes In LA County

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A pharmacist at UCI Health Center preps a COVID-19 vaccine. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Nursing homes in most of L.A. County have started distributing the COVID-19 vaccine directly to staff and residents, instead of relying on a federally organized program that will administer the doses through a partnership with CVS and Walgreens.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health — excluding the cities of Pasadena and Long Beach — opted out of the federal program, citing a desire to work on a faster schedule.

“People are anxious to get the vaccinations going, clearly,” said Deborah Pacyna with the California Association of Health Facilities. Founded in 1950, the non-profit trade association represents skilled-nursing facilities and intermediate-care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities.

As of this weekend, 1,748 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had been administered at 59 skilled nursing facilities in the county, said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a press conference today. Unlike the Pfizer version, the Moderna vaccine does not need to be kept at ultracold temperatures and can remain refrigerated for nearly a month.

Still, Pacyna said, some providers have been so busy treating the surge of new COVID patients that it’s been a challenge to free up staff for vaccine administration.

“Everybody’s really busy with patient care right now, dealing with outbreaks, keeping COVID out of the buildings," Pacyna said. “Now they are tasked with making sure they’re administering the vaccine appropriately.”

It’s been a tradeoff between the flexibility of working independently from pharmacies and the extra work of organizing vaccinations, Pacyna said.

According to Ferrer, vaccine distribution began in skilled nursing facilities just before Christmas and will accelerate over the next two weeks.

The federal program with CVS and Walgreens rolls out in other parts of California today, including Pasadena, starting with nursing home staff. The federal distribution program will serve other long-term care facilities in the county starting in early January.

There have been more than 23,000 COVID-19 cases at nursing homes in L.A. County over the course of the pandemic, according to county officials, and more than 2,300 residents have died. Thousands of staff have been infected, and 78 nursing home staff members have passed away from the virus.

READ MORE ABOUT COVID-19 VACCINES:

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LA County Breaks Coronavirus Hospitalization Record Again, Several Hospitals Go Into Internal Disaster Mode

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Doctors in ICU at the LAC +USC Medical Center. (Photo Courtesy LAC+USC Medical Center)

L.A. County is still facing record numbers of coronavirus numbers, with one person dying every 10 minutes from COVID-19 complications.

"More people than ever are dying," County Supervisor Hilda Solis said today in a press briefing. "148 people died of COVID-19 on Christmas Eve alone. These are figures that can't be normalized, and they're hard for me to comprehend."

HOSPITAL EMERGENCY

Currently, 6,914 people are hospitalized with COVID-19; 20% of them are in the ICU. That's the highest number of people hospitalized with the virus in L.A. County since the pandemic began.

From Nov. 9 to Dec. 26, daily hospitalizations for patients with COVID-19 increased by 674%.

Hospitals are now treating patients in spaces such as conference rooms or gift shops, L.A. County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. That caused at least five hospitals in the county to go into internal disaster mode on Sunday, a designation in which the hospital closes to incoming emergency vehicle traffic, including ambulances.

Becuase of staffing shortages, the county hospital system has been unable to bring in more traveling nurses, which is what they would normally do in a situation like this. Instead, the county has deployed a high number of outpatient nurses to work in inpatient units and in emergency departments.

The vast majority of non-essential surgeries and procedures have been postponed, Ferrer said.

"It's one thing to have a surge when the staff are well, when they're rested, when the number of patients is steady," Ferrer said. "It is a very, very different and infinitely more dangerous situation to have hospitals experiencing a surge when the staff are exhausted. They're stretched thin, and they're already caring for more patients than they can safely handle."

Courtesy LA County Deptartment of Public Health

DEATHS AND CASE COUNTS ARE ALSO ON THE RISE

The county is now averaging about 13,000 cases per day, with 13,661 reported today.

Ferrer said the rate of community transmission remains extraordinarily high. (It has now risen to 15%; for context, that rate was 4% on Nov. 1.) She said these numbers continue to impact the healthcare system.

At least 73 people in L.A. County died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. Ferrer said an additional 432 people died over the weekend — a number that "reflects the delayed reporting associated with the Spectrum outage, and the holiday." The county is in the final stages of confirming that number.

The total number of deaths in L.A. County now stands at 9,555, close to breaking the 10,000 barrier.

"We're continuing to experience the alarming surge in new cases," Ferrer said. "From November 1st, which is when this current surge began, through December 22nd, the daily number of cases increased by 965%."

ANOTHER PLEA TO AVOID GATHERING OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSEHOLD THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

We still don't know the effects of holiday gatherings — we'll have to wait two-to-three weeks for the data due to the virus' incubation period and, because of that, Solis said the worst could be yet to come.

"The situation we're currently facing is very alarming. And frankly, the alarm was pulled over a month ago, but people did not heed that warning," said Solis, adding that she understands people are frustrated and want to see their families right now, but doing that safely is nearly impossible, especially when testing isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card:

"After a gathering, it doesn't mean that you're off the hook. These rapid COVID-19 tests that so many people are relying on are not always accurate, yet still people are gathering in each other's homes, traveling by plane and by car ... thinking that this crisis is something that isn't going to impact them ... a COVID test might clear you for a flight, but it doesn't clear you of getting infected and bringing the virus back to other people in your household."

Solis added that car travel isn't safe either, if you're with passengers outside your immediate household:

"The Automobile Club of California forecasted that 5.7 million Southern Californians traveled by car from December 23 through January 3. That means, frankly, at this point, that we really have to make some dramatic changes if we're going to bring this virus down."

Ferrer echoed Solis: "What we learned from Thanksgiving applies now. Mingling with people outside of your immediate household is one of the leading causes for the current surge. All it takes is one unfortunate encounter with an individual with COVID-19 for you to become infected. And sadly, for you to go on and infect many others."

The state is advising a self-quarantine of 10 days after traveling, in addition to monitoring yourself for any symptoms of illness for the full 14 days of the virus' incubation period.

Solis said the county is looking into enforcement if the public continues to not heed warnings. She said county officials are also looking into the effect of retail being open at 20% capacity.

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WATCH: Southern California Stay-At-Home Order Likely To Be Extended, Newsom Says

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The stay-at-home order for Southern California will likely be extended based on the lack of regional intensive care unit capacity, but that decision won't be made until Tuesday, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Newsom made the announcement while delivering an update on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. You can watch the video above or read highlights below.

The governor noted that the decision is based on four-week ICU projections. The latest data for Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley will be reported Tuesday.

That said, ICU capacity in those regions is effectively zero, Newsom said, making the extension of the stay-at-home order almost certain.

Statewide, there are 4,228 COVID-19 patients in ICUs. Other parts of the state, including the Bay Area, have more than the 15% minimum ICU capacity needed to avoid a stay-at-home order. But Southern California, and in particular Los Angeles County, continues to be hit hard.

LA COUNTY HOSPITALIZATIONS

L.A. County has been seeing 12,000 to 15,000 cases a day over the past few weeks, part of a surge that was widely expected to follow the long Thanksgiving holiday.

The sheer volume of cases is taking a toll on hospitals, which are spending an increasing amount of time just trying to keep up with diversions, Newsom said. A diversion is when a hospital cannot take an incoming patient and must send an ambulance to another part of the county or the region instead.

On Saturday, 96% of L.A. County hospitals were on diversion, compared with 33% before the surge. On average, Newsom said, a hospital in L.A. County spent 16 hours a day on diversions, which means emergency room care is being slowed for everyone, not just coronavirus patients.

VACCINE DISTRIBUTION

Newsom noted a new federal pharmacy partnership with Walgreens and CVS has started, allowing vaccination of the most vulnerable Californians in two phases.

The first phase will focus on skilled nursing facilities using the Pfizer vaccine. The second phase will focus on assisted living facilities, residential care and other long-term care locations, Newsom said.

The pharmacy partnership excludes Los Angeles County, which has developed its own strategy for vaccine distribution.

By end of this week, Newsom said the state expects to receive 904,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine, along with 858,000 Pfizer doses.

That makes nearly 1.8 million doses, shy of the 2.1 million that Newsom said were expected, though not by much.

In total, 261,672 total vaccines had been administered as of Saturday.

WHO GETS VACCINATED NEXT?

The state is still working on its draft distribution plan. By Wednesday, Newsom said the state will likely approve Phase 1b guidelines, which include high-risk individuals in highly impacted areas, in two tiers:

Tier 1:

  • people who are 75 and over
  • workers in education, child care, food supply and agriculture

Tier 2:

  • people 65 and over with underlying medical conditions
  • workers in transportation, logistics, commercial sectors, critical manufacturing, high-risk incarcerated individuals and the unhoused

The next phase, Phase 1c, is still being considered and is up for discussion on Wednesday. This phase could include:

  • people 16-64 with underlying medical conditions
  • workers in water, waste management, defense, energy, community service providers, IT, financial services, and others

FEDERAL CORONAVIRUS RELIEF

Newsom noted that the federal stimulus package, which President Trump signed this weekend, could translate to some relief for residents and businesses.

Here's some of what we can expect:

  • $600 for qualifying individuals
  • $600 per child for eligible families
  • $300 per week extra in unemployment
  • SNAP (formerly the food stamp program) benefits increased by 15% for six months
  • $25 billion in rental assistance
  • Expansion of the Pandemic EBT program to help families of students who receive free and reduced price lunches
  • Extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to March 14
  • Restarting of the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses
  • Extension of payroll tax credits for paid sick and family leave through March 2021

OVERALL LOOK AT CALIFORNIA'S NUMBERS:

Here's a look at longer-term trends in the state. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose California or any county in the state that interests you. These numbers are current as of Sunday, Dec. 27:

FOR MORE ON COVID-19 IN CALIFORNIA:

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LA County Reports More Than 26K New COVID-19 Cases, 49 Deaths Over Weekend

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A man, left, arrives at a coronavirus testing site without wearing a facemask in Los Angeles on Dec. 16, 2020. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Los Angeles County recorded more than 26,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, as well as 49 confirmed deaths.

That death count is an undercount, health officials noted, due to the typical delay in weekend reporting, plus an internet outage on Christmas Day.

The daily positivity rate remains above 17% and daily hospitalizations increased about 19% over the past seven days.

Since the onset of the local pandemic, L.A. County health officials have recorded 719,833 cases. More than 9,400 people have died.

Public health officials reported more than 6,800 people were hospitalized on Sunday, 20% of them in the ICU. The Southern California region has been reporting 0% availability of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients. The number reported Sunday marked a 1,000 person increase in hospital patients from a week ago today.

OVERALL LOOK AT LA COUNTY NUMBERS:

Here's a look at longer-term trends in the county. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose L.A. County or any other California county that interests you. These numbers are current as of Sunday, Dec. 27:

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California Child Cares Are Closing At An ‘Alarming Rate.’ A Newly Formed Union Is Pushing For Emergency COVID-19 Relief

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Children arrive at an L.A. family child care provider. (Courtesy Jackie Jackson)

California’s new child care provider union faces an unprecedented challenge: negotiating a labor contract while stemming a surge of pandemic-caused coronavirus closures.

Providers who care for kids from low-income families in their homes through California's subsidy program voted this summer to unionize after almost two decades of organizing.

“Our approach is twofold,” said Child Care Providers United Chair Max Arias. “Stabilizing the industry, and thinking a little ahead at what's needed from now, until the time that we return to whatever would be considered COVID-free.”

More than 2,000 home child care providers across the state have permanently closed since the start of the pandemic. Thousands more shut down temporarily.

Many providers were already in a vulnerable place to begin with. In L.A. County, the average pay for home child care providers is $11.73 an hour. Almost half of early educators here participate in a public assistance program.

“A lot of what you earn in it is based on the ability of families to pay, and if you're serving low- and lower-income families, and you don't have public money, then you're going to be making less,” said Marcy Whitebook, director emerita of UC Berkeley's Center For the Study of Child Care Employment.

California is one of a dozen states where providers have collective bargaining rights.

“What they've asked for in other states is essentially a seat at the table to make suggestions to the state that would benefit the children and the parents,” said Dario Valles, a teaching fellow at Columbia University who completed a doctoral dissertation about California caregivers.

READ THE FULL STORY:


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Early Trouble For New DA Gascon's Reform Push

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DA George Gascón. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times © 2020)

L.A.'s newly-elected District Attorney George Gascón instituted a sweeping series of reforms on his first day in office, and he's discovering that some judges and prosecutors are resisting at least one of them.

They're unhappy about Gascón's decree that deputy DA's shall no longer seek sentencing enhancements, which can add many years to a prison sentence for things like using a gun, being an identified gang member, or committing a third strike felony.

We spoke to several deputy DA's who oppose the new policy. Only one would go on the record.

"I have to represent to the judge that I believe dismissing the enhancements and allegations are in the interest of justice," said veteran Deputy DA Richard Ceballos. "I don't believe that."

It's unclear how many of the county's 1,000 prosecutors and more than 400 judges are resisting the policy change.

For judges, this is a "sea change," said Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson.

"We have to remember that judges have been imposing harsh sentences with enhancements for decades now," she said. "They are going to take a close look at what's being requested."

READ OUR FULL REPORT ON THE RESISTANCE TO THE DA'S NEW POLICY:

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How Smog Could Be Making Our Forest Fires Worse

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Dead trees in the Sierra Nevada have become a wildfire issue. (Courtesy USDA Forest Service Region 5)

Back in 1953, high up in the San Bernardino Mountains, foresters noticed something strange. The needles of ponderosa pines were yellowing and dropping, growth was slowing, and some were dying. They called the condition "X-disease" at the time, but soon figured out that it had to do with Southern California's notoriously toxic air.

In the decades since then, we've made big strides in tackling our air pollution problems, but both Southern and Central California still regularly violate federal air quality standards for ozone, roughly a third of the year.

So, it should come as no surprise that trees in some of our favorite places -- from the San Bernardino mountains to the southwestern part of the Sierra Nevada -- are still getting sick. Being made more vulnerable to life ending conditions, including those brought on by climate change. And in turn, becoming fuel for fires.

READ OUR FULL STORY:

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Morning Brief: 2020 Politics — The Year In Review

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State Senator Holly Mitchell meeting with supporters at her election night watch party the evening of California's 2020 Primary Elections on March 3rd 2020. Shot by Annie Lesser for LAist/KPCC Annie Lesser for LAist/Annie Lesser for LAist/KPCC

This week, we’ll be looking back at our coverage of 2020, one of the strangest, most difficult years through which many of us have ever lived. Reporting on it was hard, and at times painful. But amid the tragedy of the coronavirus, there were some bright spots. We’ll start by looking at L.A.’s biggest political stories of the year.

2020 was a year unlike any other. The past 51 weeks brought a contentious presidential election amid the coronavirus pandemic, and a breakthrough moment for social justice protests. Meanwhile, the virus’ economic fallout decimated state and local government budgets.

In Los Angeles County, voter turnout rose to roughly 76%, nearly equaling the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. From the District Attorney’s office to Measure J and the City Council, progressive campaigns had a great year in L.A.

The big questions going forward: How will Los Angeles resolve a historic financial crisis without laying off hundreds of workers? And will elected leaders fulfill promises to overhaul policing, and invest in supportive services instead of law enforcement in disadvantaged communities? A new group of progressive City Councilmembers will undoubtedly play a role.


2020 Politics: Year In Review

Is LA County Heading For A Confusing March 3 Primary? Voters Face This Gauntlet Of Changes
Leading up to the primary elections on March 3, voters in L.A. County struggled to navigate a gauntlet of changes to how they cast their ballots, including new locations and technology. (
Read the story)

The Scramble To Fix Los Angeles Voting Before November (And What Went Wrong)
Officials were right to be concerned; L.A. County’s new voting system was supposed to make elections more accessible, but instead, many voters in the primaries faced long wait times — sometimes in excess of three hours — caused by technical problems that marred the system's debut. (Read the story)

How Political Campaigns Are Happening In The Age of Coronavirus
The pandemic meant that even in the most competitive races, candidates couldn’t have in-person contact with volunteers, donors or potential voters. So, they had to get creative. (
Read the story)

George Floyd's Death Is One Of Many Reasons LA Activists Are Pushing For A 'People's Budget'
A coalition of community groups and activists helmed by Black Lives Matter-L.A. pushed for deep cuts in funding for the Los Angeles Police Department in favor of investment in social workers, housing, public transportation, health care and other services. (Read the story)

City Council Votes To Slash LAPD Budget By $150 Million
In response to protests that saw hundreds of thousands of Angelenos take to the streets, demanding justice for Black people killed at the hands of police following the death of George Floyd, the L.A. City Council cut $150 million from the Los Angeles Police Department's $1.8 billion operating budget. The vote also included plans to reinvest the funds in marginalized communities. (Read the story)

How Nithya Raman And Other Progressive Campaigns Beat The LA Establishment — And What's Next
The November election brought historic wins for L.A.’s most progressive, who were victorious in races for the L.A. County
Board of Supervisors, City Council and District Attorney's office. Voters also adopted a ballot measure to amend the county charter and shift funds from the budget — including the sheriff's department — to community programs and jail diversion. (Read the story)

Four Lessons From The Southern California House Seats Republicans Reclaimed In 2020
After a Blue Wave hit SoCal in 2018, Republicans this year celebrated victories in four seats — and across the country, the GOP pulled off surprise gains in a year when Democrats were predicted to expand their House majority. (
Read the story)

LA's Alex Padilla Appointed US Senator. First Latino To Represent California In Senate
After months of speculation about a successor to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — and pressure from a handful of activist groups — Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed his longtime political ally, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, to represent California in the U.S. Senate. (
Read the story)

The FBI's Sweeping LA City Hall Corruption Investigation
While still a sitting member of the L.A. City Council, Jose Huizar was arrested by federal agents, later facing a 34-count indictment. Allegations against Huizar included the acceptance of bribes in the form of villas in Las Vegas, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, escort services, payments to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit, trips on private jets and more. The ongoing investigation soon swept up more city hall employees, as well as major national and international developers. (
Read the story)

Garcetti Issues Rare Veto, Rejecting City Council's Plan For Spending Money Cut From LAPD Budget
Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the L.A. City Council’s plan to distribute $88.8 million to a range of projects does “not meet the demands of the moment or the call of history.” He said the council should go back to the drawing board and prioritize investing in solutions for racial justice, income inequality, jobs in vulnerable communities and more. (
Read the story)


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