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Most LA County Adults Could Be Vaccinated By This Summer — If We Double The Pace

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A healthcare worker at UCI Health Center is vaccinated against COVID-19. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Health officials say there are some promising trends in Los Angeles County's latest COVID-19 numbers.

The county recorded more than 9,000 new cases, but the latest seven-day average is 30% lower than last week's. The positivity rate has dropped to 12.7%, a nearly 40% drop from three weeks ago. And the number of hospitalizations dropped for the second day in a row, to just over 7,000 patients.

The death rate remains high; the county reported another 256 new fatalities.

Hospital admissions for those with COVID-19 have been steadily declining since peaking at over 8,000 patients at the beginning of the month, but officials stressed that the overall number of cases and deaths remain alarmingly high.

Meanwhile, the county is still lagging on the vaccine rollout, since many doses coming in for next week and beyond need to be put aside for people's second shots. That will mean fewer doses for people lining up to get their first shot.

Dr. Paul Simon, the chief science officer for the L.A. County Department of Public Health, says if the county's allotment goes up to half a million doses each week, about 75% of the county's adult population could be immunized by mid-summer.

"However, if the flow of doses into the county remains at the current level of approximately 150,000 doses per week, the vaccination effort will likely extend well into 2022."

The entire state of California currently receives between 300,000 and 500,000 doses a week from the federal government. Those vaccines are then parceled out to local health departments.

So far, fewer than 5% of people in L.A. County's Phase 1A group have received both shots to fully inoculate them against COVID-19.

OVERALL LOOK AT THE NUMBERS:

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California’s Unemployment Rate Is Rising Again For The First Time Since April 

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(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

As California’s COVID-19 cases surged in December — forcing many businesses to close — the state’s unemployment rate rose to 9%, according to a new report released today.

The jobs report from California’s Employment Development Department represents the first monthly increase in statewide unemployment since the pandemic’s initial peak in April 2020.

“We were hoping that we'd be adding jobs and clawing our way out of the hole with respect to adding jobs that have been lost,” said Beacon Economics researcher Taner Osman. “Losing jobs at this stage clearly is not a positive sign in the short term.”

Employers across the state cut 52,200 jobs last month, backsliding on slow but steady gains since late spring.

The leisure and hospitality industry took the biggest hit, with restaurant and hotel workers again laid off in droves as public health orders cancelled in-person dining and travelers stayed home.

The worsening employment outlook comes at a time when jobless Californians have been struggling to secure unemployment benefits. The state’s number of backlogged claims keeps growing, and 1.4 million Californians have had their benefits suspended due to anti-fraud efforts.

In December, 1.5 million fewer Californians had a job compared with pre-pandemic employment levels. The state has only regained 44% of the jobs lost in the early stages of the pandemic.

Osman said it’s unlikely that next month’s report will see much of an improvement, but a quicker vaccine rollout could significantly boost recovery in months to come.

“The labor market trajectory going out into 2021 is going to be tethered to how well we're able to contain the spread of the virus,” he said.

READ MORE:

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Using Helicopters Instead Of Drones Gives ‘Night Stalker’ Those ‘80s Vibes

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Richard Ramirez ("The Night Stalker") in episode 4 “Manhunt” of Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer. (Courtesy Netflix)

The Netflix Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer docuseries has many of the trademarks of your standard prestige limited series, with beautifully shot interviews, archival photos, and intimate stories to bring the true crime to life. But one way they made it feel like the time period was avoiding the use of drones, the modern tool of choice for dramatic city landscapes.

“Typically, in all these doc series and features, what everybody does is, ‘Hey, let’s use drones for the aerials,’” director Tiller Russell told LAist. “Because they’re cheap, and they’re effective, and they’re beautiful.”

Russell’s happy to use drones in his work as well, but he didn’t think it was the right choice for this series.

“We came to the idea early on, if you were shooting this in 1985, what would it look like? You would actually have legitimate helicopter aerials,” Russell said.

They used vintage camera lenses, along with a loose camera gimbal to give it the feel of what those shots on the nightly news of the time might look like. It keeps the footage closer to the archival shots that are also used, helping to evoke the way it felt to watch the story of the Night Stalker’s crimes on TV news of the time.

READ THE FULL STORY:

Long Lines For Vaccinations At Dodger Stadium May Be Getting Shorter

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Dodger Stadium COVID-19 Vaccination site on Jan. 19. L.A. buildings are illuminated amber red to support the Biden Inaugural Committee's COVID-19 Memorial. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Dodger fans are used to long delays getting out of the parking lot. But this week, the wait times at Dodger Stadium were for vaccinations. Some residents in the newly eligible 65 and older age group said they waited anywhere from one to five hours to get their shot, depending on the day and time of their appointment.

So what slowed everything down? One issue: On Wednesday, wait times were particularly slow, in part because fewer nursing students showed up to help staff than expected. City officials said some had safety concerns about working on Inauguration Day.

Another factor: officials said that on Wednesday, many seniors showed up without an appointment.

David Ortiz is with the Los Angeles City Fire Department, which is helping operate the site. He said the problem is the site accepts patients by appointment only, but a lot of folks didn't realize that, and were confused when the 65+ announcement was first made on Monday:

"Obviously, there was some confusion. We tried to accommodate as many of these elderly people as we could. And it just became a hindrance. Today [Thursday] we're trying to streamline our efforts and abide by appointments only."

Bob Gumer in Echo Park called into our newsroom's public affairs show, AirTalk, while he was in line at Dodger Stadium Thursday. An hour past his appointment time, he still wasn't able to see the front of the line.

"I'm not sure how long I have more to wait," he said.

By Friday, it seemed that wait times had started to decrease. Silver Lake resident Roberta Richardson and her husband had an 8:50 a.m. appointment, but arrived early at 8 a.m. and were checked in. She said they were done and out by 10 a.m. – and they waited a bit longer than the suggested 15 minutes after getting the shot, due to a history of allergic reactions to medication.

"It was much emptier when we left," she said.

Many seniors are calling their friends to ask for advice on which times of day have the shortest waits. "A friend yesterday said it took her one hour," Richardson said.

There were 8,000 coronavirus vaccination appointments scheduled yesterday (Thursday) at the stadium. The city's goal is to vaccinate 12,000 people a day at the site, but officials say more doses and staff are still needed.

Pasadena officals said they were also having issues with seniors arriving without appointments, which was slowing down the queue.

L.A. County health director Barbara Ferrer told LAist/KPCC that it is quite important that residents have an appointment before showing up for the vaccine.

"It's super hard at a site, to be able to manage lots of people coming without their appointments," she said. "So while we understand appointments are scarce, best to wait until you have an appointment and not to just show up at the sites without them. Unfortunately, lots of people get turned away becasue they don't have appointments and that's always so sad, for everone involved."

Ferrer said by the end of this week, wait times at all five vaccination super sites, decreased "significantly." Now, at all five locations run by county, she says wait times should be under an hour and "at certain times of the day, it's less than 30 minutes."

She added that building an operation this large from scratch is always a challenging process, with a lot of issues "that constantly need to be worked out."

L.A. County health officials apologized this week for the appointment website crashing – and for not having enough appointments available due to limited vaccine doses.

Some LAist readers have reported being able to sign up for an appointment at Dodger Stadium via Carbon Health.

READ MORE ABOUT LOCAL VACCINE DISTRIBUTION:

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LA County Sheriff's Dept. Is Under State Investigation For Possible ‘Unconstitutional Policing’

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

California’s Department of Justice has launched a wide-ranging civil rights investigation into “credible reports” of excessive force, retaliation, and other misconduct at the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, including reported incidents involving management, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today.

“This is a pattern or practice investigation,” he told a news conference. “It’s aimed at identifying and addressing potential systemic violations of the rights of the people of L.A. County.”

While declining to comment on the specifics of the allegations, Becerra said the state decided to investigate after a “thorough review” of “credible information, reports [and] evidence.”

Besides looking into whether the department has engaged in "unconstitutional policing," the investigation “also comes in response to the absence of sustained and comprehensive oversight” of the department, the DOJ said in a news release.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva has frequently clashed with the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and the County Board of Supervisors over accountability and oversight.

He has also come under fire from critics for rehiring deputies who had been fired for misconduct, for deactivating disciplinary proceedings against deputies accused of using excessive force, and for tolerating secret deputy cliques, some of which have been accused of violence. The department is also facing lawsuits alleging deputies used excessive force against protesters during last year's George Floyd demonstrations.

Becerra said officer shootings are beyond the scope of the inquiry, since it is a civil investigation. He didn’t comment on what steps might be taken if the DOJ determines there has been wrongdoing, although similar investigations into other California police departments have led to legal settlements to change certain practices.

Noting that the Sheriff’s Department is the largest in the nation, Becerra called on it to be “transparent, accountable and to cooperate with our investigation.”

In an emailed statement, Villanueva welcomed the inquiry:

“As Sheriff, I look forward to this non-criminal ‘pattern and practice’ investigation. Our Department may finally have an impartial, objective assessment of our operations, and recommendations on any areas we can improve our service to the community."

President Biden has nominated Becerra to head up the Department of Health and Human Services. The Attorney General said his office will continue with the investigation after his departure.

The DOJ is requesting anyone with information relevant to the investigation to contact its Civil Rights Enforcement Section at Police-Practices@doj.ca.gov.

READ OUR FULL REPORT ON THE STATE'S INVESTIGATION:

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Race in LA: Claiming My Dignity On A San Fernando Valley Street

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Sybil Azur with her flyers, the day of her encounter with the suspicious dog owner. (Courtesy of Sybil Azur)

While out distributing flyers for an election in her neighborhood, Sybil Azur was approached by a woman pushing a dog in a tiny pink stroller. The suspicious neighbor asked as Azur stood on the street: "Are you waiting for someone?"

Azur's instinctive response was to explain herself with "a river of qualifiers" and even make light conversation about the dog. As she writes for Race in LA, what she really meant was, I'm just like you. There's nothing to see here.

And she asked herself, would she have gotten this probing question if she were white? Azur writes:

What is most disturbing to me is that I answered so swiftly, so masterfully, code-switching to the whitest version of myself to prove that I had a right to be there, revealing just how colonized even the most enlightened of us are.

The encounter left her angry -- and determined to assert her dignity as a Black woman in her own space.

What I should have said was just "No."

READ THE FULL ESSAY:

MORE FROM OUR RACE IN LA SERIES

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Sheriff Maintains He's Released All The Inmates He Safely Can In Fighting COVID-19

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Sheriff Villanueva at the Dec. 17, 2020 Civilian Oversight Commission meeting. (Facebook Live screenshot)

In a rare appearance before the Civilian Oversight Commission on Thursday, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he's released all the jail inmates he safely can in the fight against COVID-19.

There are currently 56 positive cases among a jail population of nearly 15,000, the sheriff told the panel.

Commissioners asked Villanueva what he’s doing to provide early release to more of those still awaiting trial.

He maintained the department has already released everyone it can, including those charged with low-level offenses who are medically vulnerable.

“It can’t be just based solely on what their medical condition [and] vulnerability is,” Villanueva said. “We have to factor in, what is a threat to the community?”

When inmates do leave the system, the sheriff’s department is not giving them a COVID-19 test on their way out the door.

“Individuals are released when their sentence is expired or at the order of the court, or charges are dropped, etc., and so that can’t be predicated on testing and holding them before we release them,” said Assistant Sheriff Bruce Chase.

Some medical experts worry releasing incarcerated people without a test can lead to further spread of the virus.

More than 4,000 people in the jails have tested positive since the pandemic began. So far, 12 inmates with COVID-19 have died.

This was only the second Civilian Oversight Commission meeting Villanueva has attended since July, 2019.

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California Adds Beds To Help LA’s Overburdened Hospitals Fight COVID-19

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A health care worker in the Mobile Isolation Unit at the VA hospital in Westwood. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

To help overstretched hospitals pull back from the brink of a systemwide meltdown, he state is adding beds at one L.A. hospital and reopening another local facility that had closed a few years ago. The moves will add 263 beds to the region.

The California Department of Public Health and the Office of Emergency Management have teamed up to add regular beds and ICU beds at Pacifica Hospital of the Valley in Sun Valley. They’re also reopening Pacific Gardens Medical Center in Hawaiian Gardens, which shut its doors in Jan. 2017.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Cathy Chidester, director of the L.A. County Emergency Management Services Agency.

“They can be a regional resource to transfer some of these patients to offload hospitals that are very, very stressed right now,” she said.

L.A.’s hospitals have been stressed since the largest surge of the pandemic began in November, and only recently started to edge downward.

The situation became so dire in December and early January that administrators warned of the imminent implementation of “crisis care,” where only patients more likely to live would receive treatment.

READ OUR FULL STORY ON HOW LA’S HOSPITALS AVOIDED ‘CRISIS CARE’:

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Rain And Colder Temps Start Today And Two More Storms Are Coming Soon

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FILE: Raindrops on Abbot Kinney. (Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash)

A cold front is rolling in, bringing cooler temperatures and scattered showers today and Saturday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Rich Thompson says to plan for some light rain, starting this afternoon to evening.

"Most areas should receive, when it's said and done Saturday night/Sunday morning, under a quarter inch, and probably even a lot less than that. But definitely, it'll be just cooler, some light showers about the area."

Meteorologist Kurt Kaplan, who is also with the NWS, says a second system will bring more rain and snow Sunday and Monday.

"That will be kind of cold actually so we're looking for maybe a quarter inch to three quarters of an inch," Kaplan said. "We will also see three to seven inches of snow in the mountains above 4,000 feet."

Kaplan says the snow level may drop as low as 2,000 feet Sunday night.

"So even areas like Santa Clarita in the foothills could see some light snow accumulations up in the Antelope Valley up in the foothills as well," he said.

But the biggest winter storm will be a third system, arriving Wednesday and Thursday. Forecasters expect one to two inches of rain in the coast and valleys and possibly two to four inches of snow as low as 4,000 feet.

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Morning Brief: LA’s Slow Vaccine Rollout Is On Par With Rest Of US

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A dose of the Pfizer BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at UCI Health Center in Orange. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A.

It seems like officials’ attempt to contain the coronavirus has been one blunder after another, on the part of the city, county, state and nation. Mistakes at the highest level of government have been well-documented, and in L.A. County we’ve seen everything from conflicting stay-at-home orders to faulty tests to utter disregard for local mandates.

Now, the vaccine rollout is starting to look like yet another poorly handled event, at least so far.

Local health officials initially declined to provide the vaccine to residents ages 65 and older, despite a recommendation to do so from the state, then reversed that decision within days. But officials’ position may be beside the point; regardless of eligibility, L.A. simply doesn't have enough doses to reach that many people yet.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, L.A. County’s beleaguered public health director, Barbara Ferrer, explained that the shortage of vaccines is due in part to the county’s effort to reserve their supply for second doses. Next week, for instance, L.A. will receive 143,900 new doses. Of those, 106,000 are already spoken for.

"This is what I mean by a serious supply problem," Ferrer said.

L.A.’s inability to vaccinate residents as quickly as planned is in keeping with the rest of the country. Federal officials initially hoped to reach 20 million people with a first dose before the end of last year, but only 15 million Americans have received that shot so far.

As fingers are pointed in every direction over who’s to blame for that discrepancy, President Joe Biden has revealed a plan to speed up vaccinations and slow the spread of the virus through stricter mask and quarantine requirements.

Biden called his plan a “full-scale wartime effort.”

Meanwhile, L.A. and other parts of SoCal are working to open mass vaccination sites. Dodger Stadium has been converted from offering testing to offering the vaccine, and the Long Beach Convention Center parking lot — known locally as the “Elephant Lot” — has reopened to provide innoculations. Pasadena is asking officials to do the same with the Rose Bowl.

Here’s how to keep tabs on when you’re eligible for the vaccine, and how to (attempt to) make an appointment.

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


What Else You Need To Know Today


Weekend Reads

There's a lot going on in the world right now, and it’s hard enough to keep up with our day-to-day lives, let alone to stay current on the news. But if you have some time this weekend, here’s what you may have missed:

Millions of Californians lost work and filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. Here’s how to get the most from your benefits. (LAist)

Some of the Manson family members are still around — here’s who they are, and what they’re doing now. (LAist)

As part of our Race in L.A. series, guest contributor Esther Lira recalls the day police stormed her home, looking for one of her brothers. (LAist)

A fruit vendor from East L.A. describes how he’s carrying on after being beaten and robbed while selling his produce. (L.A. Taco)

Silver Lake’s Chuy’s Pretzels is owned by a street artist-turned-baker. (The Eastsider)

LAUSD Board member Dr. George McKenna considers what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would say about America if he were alive today. (L.A. Sentinel)

Advocates for immigrant rights see hope with the Biden Administration, but want him to go further than he is. (Capital & Main)


Before You Go … Here’s What To Do This Weekend

A man walks past an image of the Mona Lisa amid street art covering building exteriors in the Arts District near downtown Los Angeles in 2013. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

You made it through another week! Time to … sit at home, not see anyone in person, and try to find things to do from your couch or a very safe distance.

Fortunately, we have some ideas. In this weekend’s best pandemic-approved events, you can learn about the carrier pigeons of Catalina Island, watch Mads Mikkelsen get drunk, catch screenings of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Evil Dead, tour L.A. mysteries and graffiti art sites, and more.


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