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Restaurants Have Reopened, But LA County Is Still Seeing 200 COVID Deaths A Day

County health officer Dr. Muntu Davis says overall case numbers are down, though the current numbers are much higher than they were before the winter holiday surge. (LA County Department of Public Health)

As outdoor dining returns to Los Angeles County after a more than two month hiatus, health officials are reporting yet another deadly day for COVID-19.

An additional 228 people have died, and over 7,000 new cases were confirmed today.

With the exception of Monday, when officials ran into reporting delays, at least 200 people have died of COVID-19 every day this week in L.A. County.

County health officer Dr. Muntu Davis says overall case numbers are down, though the current numbers are much higher than they were before the winter holiday surge:

"Nobody wants to see this number going back up, in terms of our cases, our hospitalizations, and even our deaths, so we can't relax. If we don't take precautions, in two weeks, we're going to see cases rise again."

Meanwhile, even as deaths continue to rise, the number of hospitalizations has been steadily falling this week.

There are now about 5,800 COVID-19 patients receiving care in local hospitals, a nearly 12% decrease since Monday.



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LA Hospitals Still Don’t Have Enough Oxygen Canisters To Send Patients Home

FILE PHOTO: Oxygen Tanks ready to go inside the VA Hospital's Mobile Isolation Unit. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

COVID-19 patients who recover enough to go home from the hospital often need supplemental oxygen. Their lungs are damaged from the disease; without the help, they often can’t breathe. But with thousands of recovering COVID-19 patients in L.A., oxygen companies are having a hard time keeping up.

"If I have five patients that could go home on oxygen, I’m finding I can’t get them out of the hospital because we can’t find home oxygen companies that have access to oxygen," said Kevan Metcalf is the CEO at Memorial Hospital of Gardena.

"And so that clogs up the hospital for the patients that are presenting to the emergency room on the front end," he said.

Metcalf recently added 14 beds to the hospital auditorium to take care of more patients.

That means patients who could normally return home with supplemental oxygen, are being kept in the hospital for days. Metcalf says they don't have a choice.

"If they run out, they could go south really fast and they could die. They need a constant supply," he said.

A state Office of Emergency Management's press release said patients who have recovered from COVID-19 must return their home oxygen units and canisters, and encouraged businesses who use bulk oxygen or nitrogen to conserve, writing:

"We need as much capacity devoted to our medical community now as we possibly can. It’s not just the molecules themselves, but also the trucking capacity, the cylinders, the equipment. Every bit that can help free up capacity for our hospitals helps."

There are now about 5,800 COVID-19 patients receiving care in hospitals throughout L.A. County, well over normal capacity.


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Coachella, Stagecoach Music Fests Are Officially Cancelled

Festival-goers are seen during the 2019 Coachella Festival, the last time it actually happened pre-pandemic. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images) (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been processed using digital filters.)

It's official.

The Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, which were planned for April in Indio, have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Riverside County Public Health Director, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, made the announcement today. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2020 was originally scheduled for last April. It got moved to October and then pushed, again, to this April.

Stagecoach, its country music counterpart, faced the same back-and-forth.

Even though both festivals have been cancelled, it's unclear if there are plans to still hold them at some point this year at the Empire Polo Club -- where they're usually held -- and if any of the scheduled acts will perform.

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LA Nears Threshold To Reopen Schools But LAUSD Teachers Union Says It's Too Soon

A padlock on a gate at Micheltorena Street Elementary School in Silver Lake. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)

The L.A. County Health Department says that local elementary schools could be eligible to reopen in-person instruction within a matter of weeks. Teacher groups say that timeline isn’t feasible.

Cecily Myart-Cruz, President of United Teachers L.A., the teacher’s union for L.A. Unified, says as long as the county is in the purple tier, the state’s highest-risk category, students should not be on campus.

“We want to be back in schools with our babies,” Myart-Cruz said. “At this present time, it’s just not safe. Infection rates are high.”

The county’s prediction is based on a threshold for reopening schools in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Safe Schools For All proposal. Under that plan, districts are encouraged to bring younger students back to campus if COVID-19 rates drop to 25 positive cases or lower per 100,000 county residents. Currently, L.A. County is recording a daily rate of 48.2 new positive cases per 100,000 residents.

On Wednesday, Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the L.A. City Council that threshold could be reached in two to three weeks.

“People are playing by the rules and the holidays are over,” Ferrer said. “It will not be long...if we stay on the course we’re on.”

Regardless, Myart-Cruz says LAUSD district won’t have the infrastructure set up in time to protect teachers, students and their families. Vaccinations have rolled out slowly in the county, she says, and teachers haven’t been prioritized.

“There’s a lot of pieces in this puzzle,” Myart-Cruz said. “We’re not going to accept the blame for why we aren’t in [school] buildings right now. Lawmakers, elected officials are the ones the fingers should be pointing at.”

Meanwhile, UTLA is still in the midst of bargaining with LAUSD over a reopening safety plan for specialized small-group instruction. Once that’s finished, the union and district hope to release a general reopening plan.

The California Teachers Association shares largely the same concerns as UTLA. President E. Toby Boyd says it might hypothetically be feasible to reopen elementary schools for small-group instruction, but only once testing, contact tracing, cleaning, ventilation and distancing protocols are in place.

“There have to be multi-layered safety measures,” Boyd said. “Most of the schools have not been able to do all the things that are required.”

If LAUSD does open campuses, the district could be eligible to receive millions of dollars from the state. Superintendent Austin Beutner will apply for that funding by submitting a draft reopening plan, but it’s unclear if it will be approved without the union’s sign-off.

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We're Asking Black Angelenos, New And LA-Born, To Share Their Experiences

Activists raise their fists in solidarity at the All Black Lives Matter Solidarity March on June 14, 2020 in Los Angeles. (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

The theme of our Black History Month coverage this year is, “What does it mean to be Black in L.A.?”

We want to hear from our community. Recount a personal experience, tell us a story or just share your thoughts. We’ve also asked several of our Black staffers to reflect on this and contribute to the project. We’ll begin publishing these reflections Feb. 1 through the end of the month.


The first installment of our The 8 Percent project began exploring the inextricable ties between L.A. and its Black residents — how Black migration, community and culture have shaped and changed L.A. For Black History Month, we’re homing in on a more specific experience — yours. Tell us: What does it mean to you to be Black in L.A.?

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Race in LA: A Chicana's Ongoing Journey To Leave White Supremacy Behind

Sam Varela in New York in 2014. (Photo by Mindy Tucker)

As a light-skinned Mexican American in the entertainment industry, Sam Varela was aware of her privilege. She often felt "like I 'made the cut’ due to my white skin” when getting hired.

Lately, she’s been thinking about how it all connects to white supremacy.

In light of the protests for racial justice in L.A. and around the U.S. this summer, Varela began digging around online as she tried to dissect her "white Mexican American" identity and how she fits into the power dynamics of skin color. She writes for Race in LA:

I started to understand and come to terms with my white skin as representative of the actual genetic whiteness within my heritage due to colonialism, generational rape, and my ancestors using their proximity to whiteness for safety.

But I still didn't understand what my whiteness meant to me.

Eventually, I learned more about the concept of colorism, and about the unspoken power that my skin has, regardless of my heritage.

Varela, who works in comedy, hopes she can use her privilege to further support underrepresented performers.



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With Students Stuck At Home, A School Garden Is Sharing Its Harvest With Families In Need

Seeds to Plate Executive Director Paula Sirola runs the gardening program at Mark Twain Middle School.  (Aaron Schrank/LAist)

The pandemic has left most L.A. classrooms and school facilities deserted since March. That includes a half-acre learning garden at Mark Twain Middle School in Venice.

Students who used to plant, weed and harvest the plot have been stuck at home, but the garden is still producing fruit and vegetables.

So, garden staff have shifted focus from educating and feeding students to producing food for neighbors in need, partnering with a nearby food drive.


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Morning Brief: Rent Forgiveness

Protestors line up in front of the Banc of California Stadium demanding a freeze on rent during the pandemic. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A.

Many Angelenos and Californians have faced severe financial hardship over the past year, resulting in hundreds of thousands of individuals and families living in fear that they could be kicked out of their homes at any moment.

State and local lawmakers have tried to intervene with eviction moratoriums, but they’ve been short-lived, overlapping and confusing. California’s latest legislative move, reports my colleague Aaron Schrank, was, as of yesterday, to extend their existing moratorium through the end of June — but with some significant caveats.

In order to qualify for eviction protection, tenants still have to pay either 25% of their rent each month, or 25% of all overdue rent by June 30 in one lump sum.

A rent subsidy program was also put in place by the state yesterday, through which landlords can opt to be reimbursed for 80% of their tenants’ rent, as long as the landlord agrees to forgive the other 20%.

But landlords can choose not to participate in that program, in which case the state will still subsidize 25% of the tenants’ rent, and the tenant will be on the hook for the remaining 75% in June, or face possible eviction.

Does this all sound confusing? That’s because it is. Incredibly so. And many tenants agree. After all, yesterday’s vote comes after nearly a year of rushed, complicated lawmaking around the question of rent relief.

Last spring, L.A. landlords were prohibited from initiating eviction proceedings. At that time, it wasn’t clear how long coronavirus closures would last. The city launched a rent relief program in June, and promptly received more than 220,000 applications — although the program was only designed to help 50,000 households.

Then, in September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a statewide moratorium on evictions, which would expire in Feb. 2021 — the same moratorium that state lawmakers voted yesterday to extend.

This doesn’t even take into account the county’s actions, or the pushback from landlords. In other words, it’s a wildly difficult time to be a renter in California, and while some elected officials seem to want to help, they don’t seem to understand the confusion caused by various governing bodies.

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:

The vaccine rollout in L.A. has left much to be desired. Here’s a look behind the strategy, and why it’s been so bad. (LAist)

Kobe Bryant’s legacy will live forever. (L.A. Watts Times)

Black Lives Matter-L.A. activist Fahren James is suing the LAPD for assault over injuries she allegedly received while peacefully protesting. (L.A. Sentinel)

At least 18 secret gangs have proliferated in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department over the past 50 years, some of which have encouraged violence against residents. (LAist)

Vivian Escalante is fighting to save Boyle Heights’ historical buildings and legacy. (The Eastsider)

An essential guide to L.A.’s mom-and-pop burger joints. (L.A. Taco)

Hollywood’s tour bus companies, the ones that drive double-decker vehicles through the hills and surrounding areas, have been decimated by the pandemic. (L.A. Business Journal)

Poet Amanda Gorman, 22, journeyed from growing up in a low-income part of L.A. to reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at President Biden’s inauguration. Here’s her story. (LAist)

The hot dog vendor who worked the downtown L.A. Trump rally on Jan, 6, Don Efrain Gonzalez, became known for his iconic hustle overnight. Here’s his story. (Los Angeleno)

Nursing professor and artist Ali Tayyeb is creating sculptures and other works to impress the importance of the community taking care of health care workers. (San Fernando Valley Sun)

We took a deep dive into the gorgeous array of outerwear on display at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. (LAist)

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

Life does begin after coffee. (Bruno Emmanuelle/Unsplash)

There are plenty of coronavirus-approved activities to enjoy from the safety of your home:

Listen to Flying Lotus live from Brooklyn. Laugh along with some of comedy's biggest stars to benefit the SF Sketchfest. Learn about the accidental discovery of coffee. Watch a troupe try to perform Who Framed Roger Rabbit? from memory. View a psychological thriller about a couple trapped in a hotel. Toast the birthday of actress Marion Davies, a star of the silent era of movies and beyond. And more.

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