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LA's Coronavirus Mortality Rate May Have Peaked, Health Officials Say

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Health officials in Los Angeles County say that while the average number of COVID-19 deaths is still "uncomfortably" high, the average mortality rate may have peaked.

That comes as the county reported 256 additional deaths today, along with over 5,000 new confirmed cases.

While daily deaths have been relatively high, other metrics, like hospitalizations and new cases, have steadily fallen in recent weeks.

That's because COVID-19 deaths tend to lag behind other indicators.

County public health director Barbara Ferrer also issued another warning today against holding Super Bowl parties this Sunday, saying they have the potential to derail the recovery:

"Given the likelihood that there are more infectious variants circulating in our community, let's not take any chances with our own health, and the health of others, by creating easy opportunities for the virus to spread."

Ferrer also confirmed a third case of the coronavirus variant, first identified in the United Kingdom. That strain is much more contagious than the one that is currently dominating in the U.S.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NUMBERS:

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A Major SoCal Pediatrician's Group Calls For The Immediate Reopening Of Schools Here

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The empty halls of Hollywood High photographed Sept. 8, 2020. (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

A group of Southern California pediatricians is calling for schools to immediately reopen campuses. The chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics includes 1,500 doctors from counties including Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino.

In a statement today, the group said prolonged school closures, "accelerate educational inequities and the negative impacts on the emotional and mental health of all students."

The doctors say research shows school attendance does not increase viral transmission in the community.

But UCLA epidemiologist Timothy Brewer told our newsroom’s public affairs show, AirTalk, which airs on 89.3, that the evidence is not so clear cut.

"There are jurisdictions like British Columbia, for example, that essentially never took their kids out of school and were able to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. And then there are examples, for example, in Israel, when they reopened the schools and had a series of outbreaks."

L.A. Unified superintendent Austin Beutner and the teachers' union are calling for teachers and staff to be vaccinated before schools reopen, but the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today that vaccinating teachers isn't a prerequisite for safely resuming in-person instruction.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a news conference today that he agreed with the CDC guidance.

"I believe we can safely reopen public schools to in person instruction with the appropriate level of safety and support and accountability terms of enforcing the rules of the road," he said. "And we are committed and resolved to doing that in partnership with the legislature."

There is no question that the school shutdown — and the shift to online distance learning — has disproportionately affected low-income students and students of color. Tony Thurmond, the state's superintendent for public instruction, has shared this startling statistic: almost one-fifth of California's students still can't participate in distance-learning due to lack of computers and internet access.

Read the pediatrician's letter:

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LA Gets One Step Closer To Pandemic Hero Pay For Grocery Store Workers

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An employee scans items behind a protective shield at a grocery store in in Little Tokyo. Chava Sanchez/ LAist

The Los Angeles City Council is closer to adopting a "hero pay" ordinance that would give some employees in large grocery and drug stores an extra $5 per hour during the pandemic.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to direct the city attorney's office to create a draft of the ordinance.

The City of Long Beach already adopted a similar, $4 per hour increase. In response, supermarket chain Kroger said it would close two of its stores in the city.

Asked if there could be similar closures in L.A., Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz told our newsroom's public affairs show, AirTalk, that it's possible:

"Honestly, I think if there are market closures, it will just be out of spite on behalf of the market chains. I don't think it's because they'll struggle to survive because they pay their employees an extra $5 an hour. I mean a checker, a stocker, did not take this job to work $17 an hour, with the expectation that they'd be risking their lives."

Trader Joe's announced it would raise its workers' pay by an additional $2 an hour, starting Feb. 1. That's on top of a similar $2 an hour bump the company began offering last year.

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH KORETZ HERE:

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First Tiny Home Community Opens In LA, With 75 Beds For Unhoused Angelenos

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The Chandler Street tiny home community in North Hollywood (Courtesy Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley)

L.A. County's first "tiny home community" for people needing shelter welcomed its first residents on Monday.

The Chandler Street Tiny Home Village in North Hollywood was built, funded, and developed by the city of Los Angeles, in partnership with Councilman Paul Krekorian; its operated by a non-profit organization called Hope of the Valley.

The "village" has 40 homes and 75 beds. Each tiny home is 64-square-feet, with heating and air-conditioning, two beds, windows, a small desk, and a locking front door.

Ken Craft, Hope of the Valley founder and CEO, says the locking door is what sets the tiny home model apart from traditional shelters:

"It gives people a real sense of independence and security. To me, it allows all people -- but especially women -- to take a deep breath, regroup, and start living again, instead of just surviving."

Residents will also have access to onsite meals, WiFi, showers, mental health/housing support, job training/placement, and a small dog run.

The pallet shelter structures are made by a Seattle-based company. Craft says they are both inexpensive and easy to assemble. He says they're also a great fit for this kind of housing set-up because they're standalone structures, each placed six-feet apart, which allows some privacy and independence for residents.


UPDATE: There has been some sharp criticism of the overall cost of the project. As an L.A. Times editorial noted late last year:

But it turns out, they’re not so cheap — at least not in Los Angeles, where a soon-to-open village of 39 tiny homes on an empty city lot in North Hollywood cost a stunning $5.2 million to set up. By contrast, the city of Riverside set up a village of 30 tiny homes last year for a total cost of about $514,000.


The interior of one of the tiny homes. Each has two beds. (Courtesy Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley)

The two-bed set up allows couples to be together, or a parent and adult-child. (The community is only for adults.) Sometimes a parent needs to be with an adult child with special needs, for instance.

There's also an emphasis on security. The complex has video surveillance, a nine-foot fence surrounding the property, and a single, guarded entry point.

To qualify, individuals must be homeless and live within a three-mile radius of the site. The organization has an outreach and engagment team that's familiar with the area and the unhoused people who live there. They conduct interviews to determine vulnerability and need. "Then, based upon a numerical system that that we use in the homeless services world, that was developed by LHASA, we determine who's most vulnerable," Craft exlplains. The property is already full and has a waitlist.

Hope of the Valley also plans to open another tiny home village in North Hollywood, with 103 homes (200 beds total). The organization operates nine shelters in the area, each of them slightly different.

"We all know we need to get people off the street," says Craft, describing the homes as interim housing. The idea behind the project is to provide unhoused Angelenos with a safe, warm place to sleep, while the organization helps them find a more permanent solution through job training and other support.

Case managers work with residents to prepare them for the job market — making sure they have a state-ID and social security card, figuring out how much income they need to afford a permanent home, and working around disabilities and immigration status. Craft says typically they are able to find permanent housing for residents within four-to-six months — although the coronavirus pandemic has made the process a bit longer.

"I believe in a housing-first model, where we would move everybody into a home and apartment, permanent housing," Craft explains. "The problem is that it's not available. And so in an area like Los Angeles, if we're going to sit and wait until affordable housing is built, the homeless problem is going to keep growing. We have to be able to get people off the streets and get them into interim housing, while we're addressing the issue of affordable and permanent housing."

Craft says that despite the passage of Measure HHH, there's been a lot of pushback against building affordable housing in some communities. Meanwhile, homlessness in L.A. is increasing. The tiny home community is meant to be a temporary solution to that much bigger, longterm problem.

"Homelessness last year increased by 13% in the county, and we've got one permanent supportive housing project open?," Craft says. "We just lost ground, and we are not getting people off the streets. So we need interim housing."

The rescue says it costs about $3,000 to build each tiny home (but note higher total costs, as reported by the L.A. Times above). Donors can donate to "sponsor" one via the organizations' website. Sponsor plaques with donor names appear on the exterior of each home.

Here's what the space looks like:

Ken Craft, Hope of the Valley founder and CEO, takes a selfie at the tiny home village. (Courtesy Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley)
Outdoor tables at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village (Courtesy Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley)
A resident naps at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village (Courtesy Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley)
The Chandler Street Tiny Home Village (Courtesy Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley)
The Chandler Street Tiny Home Village (Courtesy Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley)
The Chandler Street Tiny Home Village (Courtesy Fonda Rosing/Hope of the Valley)

Correction: A previous version of this story said the tiny home village was built by Hope of the Valley, in partnership with L.A. Councilman Paul Krekorian. The tiny home village was in fact built, funded and developed by the city of Los Angeles.

LAist regrets the error.

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CA Partners With FEMA To Open New Vaccination Site At Cal State LA

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom delivering an update on COVID-19 this morning. Watch the full press conference above or check out the main points below.

THE TAKEAWAY

Newsom is announcing two pilot vaccination sites in California:

  • California State University, Los Angeles
  • Oakland-Alameda Coliseum

According to a news release, those sites are among the Biden administration's efforts to "establish 100 vaccination sites nationwide in the federal administration’s first 100 days. The sites will be co-run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of California through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES)."

Newsom said in the release:

“In the fight against COVID-19, partnership is key, especially when it comes to reaching Californians in underserved areas. These new sites will help us get available supply to some of the California communities most in need.”

State officials said new sites "will be paired with two mobile vaccination clinics which can be deployed to multiple locations to amplify and provide distribution to areas that otherwise lack sufficient support."

L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said Cal State L.A's mobile units "will allow us to go into communities that are hard pressed, that may have mobility issues, either lack of transportation or what have you, where we can go out to congregate settings, or even government project housing like Centro Maravilla, Ramona Gardens, some of these projects that have thousands of people that may not have access to Cal State L.A."

Newsom said the goal is distribute a minimum of 6,000 doses a day and scale up from there.

He explained why these locations were chosen first for California:

"Equity is the call of this moment. The reason this site was chosen was the framework of making sure that communities that are often left behind, are not left behind. They're prioritized."

Yesterday California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state is working with local partners to collect data on how many people have been vaccinated so far in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. He said the state would release that data, but didn't specify when.

The plan is to have the sites up and running by Feb. 16. To register for vaccine appointments (the release notes: "in the coming days") visit the state’s MyTurn scheduling system.

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On Being Black In LA: Erasure Of The Black Community That Once Was

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Students walk by a new Shepard Fairey mural of Dr. Maya Angelou at the entrance of the South L.A. high school that bears her name. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

The theme of LAist's Black History Month coverage this year is: “What does it mean to be Black in L.A.?” We'll publish reponses from community members and staff throughout the month. Add your voice to the conversation below.

Yesterday, a woman who grew up in the San Fernando Valley shared her experiences with code switching. Today, we share the first of several responses from our own Black staff members.

Velincia Ellis has been a financial analyst with KPCC since 1996, and in public radio for 25 years. Just as she's observed changes in the media landscape, she's seen her South L.A. neighborhood and Black community change, and most devastatingly, disappear. She writes, "What happened? Where did my people go?"


"I am a homegrown South L.A. resident. A long time ago, being Black in my community meant togetherness, happiness, joy, prosperity, and love for one another. It also meant some hardships and despair. I saw crack cocaine invade our way of life. It tore families apart with no hope for recovery. I saw numerous gangs kill us for no other reason than to be accepted in a gang.

"Moving forward now.

"I see Black families still struggling after the Rodney King riots. I've seen buildings burned to the ground and rebuilt, but not by us — Black folks.

"I see older Blacks losing their homes to death or foreclosure and resold to non-Blacks. And, I wonder: What happened? Where did my people go?

"While there are some community-based organizations that represent Black and Brown (I belong to one), on the whole, I feel like there is no meaningful representation for Black-owned businesses or drivers for our economic growth. But for “others” in my community, there is representation and prosperity, even.

"When I go to department stores, grocery stores, etc. I don't see myself, my people, and it’s so disheartening. Where are we?

"Yet, I still hope for a better future for our brothers and sisters still working toward that American Dream, for that nostalgic iconography of apple pie and hot dogs. When I was growing up, I didn't have an American Dream to strive for. I just had hope."

Velincia, South L.A.


MORE ON BEING BLACK IN LA

MORE FROM RACE IN LA

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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Golden Globe Nominations: As Befuddling As Ever

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Regina King received a Golden Globe nomination for directing "One Night In Miami." (Patti Perret/Amazon Studios)

It’s one thing to wake up early to witness a spectacular sunrise. It’s quite another to arise before dawn to take in the nutty Golden Globe nominations.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Globes, is a small fringe organization of some 80-odd foreign journalists, about 1% the size of the voting bloc for the Academy Awards. Yet its awards ceremony has become a TV hit, largely because of all the celebrities who attend.

The logistics for this year’s pandemic-era show, to be held on Feb. 28, remain murky, which, as is often the case, was also true of some of the nominations.

Music was nominated by the HFPA for best musical or comedy, even though it was widely panned and criticized for casting neurotypical actors as autistic characters. At the same time, Tahar Ramin from the little-known The Mauritanian was selected for best actor in a drama. Glenn Close, whose over-the-top performance in Hillbilly Elegy was singled out unfavorably by several critics, was nominated for best supporting actress.

The Globe voters did do a few things right. For the first time in the awards show’s checkered history, three women were shortlisted for best director: Chloe Zhao from Nomadland, Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman and Regina King for One Night in Miami.

Because the HFPA makes multiple nominations in two movie categories -- drama and musical or comedy -- it can cast a wider net, which yielded nomination for a number of non-white performers.

A year after the Oscars nominated only one non-white performer for an acting role (Cynhtia Erivo from Harriet), the HFPA nominated multiple Black actors including Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Daniel Kaluuya for Judas and the Black Messiah, Andra Day from The United States vs Billie, and Leslie Odom, Jr. for One Night in Miami.

Besides its nomination for filmmaker Zhao, “Nomadland” received multiple nominations, including best drama. But Spike Lee's well-received “Da Five Bloods” did not score picks that were anticipated. And owing to the Globe rules, “Minari,” one of the past year’s best-reviewed releases, was ineligible for best drama; instead, it will compete in the best foreign language category, as was the case with last year’s best picture winner, “Parasite.”

Netflix received the most nominations of any company, with 42 total selections, thanks to the movies The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Mank as well as two popular series, The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit.

Click here for a full list of the nominees.

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Ask LAist: How Do I Volunteer At A Vaccination Site?

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LAFD employees discuss the set up of the vaccination site at Dodger Stadium. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

We’re answering your questions about COVID-19 vaccines here in Southern California.

LAist reader Andrew Mueth lives in Echo Park, pretty close to the big City of Los Angeles-run vaccination site at Dodger Stadium.

He’s been looking for ways to help his community more, and he noticed the long lines of cars. So, he wrote in and asked:

Is there a way for people without medical training to volunteer at vaccination sites? E.g. help with check-in, directing traffic, etc. The only info I can find is for people with medical backgrounds to actually administer the shots, but I feel like they might need help beyond that.

I reached out to the folks that run vaccination sites in Southern California and found some options for people wanting to support the vaccination efforts.

UPDATE, March 9, 2021: In March, the governor’s office announced a new, centralized way for both medical and “general support” volunteers to sign up. The website is MyTurnVolunteer.ca.gov. You can browse open shifts or – if there aren’t any – you can opt-in for notifications when more volunteer opportunities open up.

CITY OF LOS ANGELES

An organization called CORE (short for Community Organized Relief Effort) is partnering with the city and the fire department to run vaccination sites like the one at Dodger Stadium.

A CORE spokesperson told us you can visit their website to sign up for volunteer opportunities.

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES

The County of Los Angeles has a whole page dedicated to staffing its megapods (short for points of distribution) at Pomona Fairplex, The Forum, CSU Northridge, the Los Angeles County Office of Education in Downey, and Six Flags Magic Mountain.

A county spokesperson told me that more than 5,000 people signed up to volunteer in a “non-clinical” role. Those positions include things like directing traffic, setting up and moving supplies around, checking in folks with appointments, and observing those who have been vaccinated.

As of the time we posted this article, all the volunteers slots were full, and the sites do not accept “walk-in” volunteers. But the county encourages potential volunteers to keep checking back, because as the supply of vaccines changes, the number of volunteers needed will change too.

ORANGE COUNTY

Orange County officials are directing potential volunteers to the nonprofit “OneOC.

There, you can “pre-register” to volunteer at one of the points of distribution. Even if you’re not a medical professional, you can still help out with directing traffic, registration, and entering data.

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

READ OUR ONGOING COVERAGE OF THE COVID-19 VACCINE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:

Morning Brief: The Stress Of Systemic Racism Is Killing Black Mothers And Babies

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A mural on the walls of the courtyard at Kindred Space LA. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A.

Among the myriad issues highlighted in 2020 was America’s profound inequities in medical care. Last year’s focus was, of course, largely on the coronavirus, but the disparities permeate all realms of wellness – including pregnancy and newborn care.

In L.A. County, Black mothers are four times more likely than other women to die of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, and Black infants are three times more likely than white or Asian infants to die before they turn one. Organizations such as Kindred Space LA, a birthing center in the Hyde Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles, aim to chip away at those disparities.

Owned and operated by midwives Kimberly Durdin and Allegra Hill, the space opened last year with the goal of providing comprehensive, holistic care for Black families.

"We have literally pledged our lives, at this moment, to be a part of the solution," said Durdin.

The need for services such as these can’t be overstated. The reasons for Black mothers’ and babies’ comparatively poor outcomes are vast and varied, ranging from inequitable distribution of information to poor air quality in primarily Black neighborhoods.

But as we’ve reported in the past, the primary reason for Black families’ high maternal and infant mortality is the lifelong stress caused by systemic racism.

For Black women, non-binary people or people who are transgender, that discrimination — and its accompanying stress — is compounded by their gender, as well as the hyper-vigilance required to be constantly braced for a racist or sexist comment.

The physiological effects are straightforward: When human beings experience stress, the body releases stress hormones. Under ideal circumstances, they should ebb and flow. But if outside factors cause them to be released steadily — or, say, over the course of a lifetime — they can lead to significant medical problems.

In pregnant people, an excess of stress hormones can cause premature delivery — complications of which are the primary cause of death for Black babies.

In 2018, the county’s Department of Public Health set a goal of reducing the disparity between outcomes for Black families and white families by 30%, but it’s not immediately clear how far they’ve gone towards achieving that.

What is clear, though, is that something has to change — and it’s women such as Durdin and Hill who are leading the charge.

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


What Else You Need To Know Today

  • Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego, is testing whether a Republican can win statewide office in California again with his 2022 bid for governor.
  • The latest entry in our Black in L.A. series centers on the story of a San Fernando Valley native’s experiences with code-switching, from her Catholic prep school to interactions with inner-city kids, and how that duality still affects her.
  • Disability rights advocates in California are voicing their concerns about the state's decision to move to an age-based vaccination system.
  • Community land trusts are non-profit organizations that scoop up affordable housing before it gets into the hands of speculators — and they’re gaining popularity in L.A.
  • A scathing report blames a widespread COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin, which ultimately killed 29 people, on mistakes by prison health officials.
  • L.A. District Attorney George Gascón is fighting his own staff in court, defending his new policies aimed at reducing mass incarceration and ending racial disparities in the justice system.
  • Retired LASD detective Gil Carrillo talks about tracking down and capturing the so-called Night Stalker.

Before You Go … Cupid In The Age Of Covid: LAist's Valentine's Day Gift Guide For The Pandemic Era

Valentine's Day is coming! (Photo collage by Giuliana Mayo)

It's been a year. Living in isolation (or spending way too much time around the same people), wearing nothing but soft clothes, binge-watching Ted Lasso (just us? cool...) and stress-baking. As we head toward a sad milestone — our first Valentine's Day in quarantine — we're trying to figure out, like everyone else, how do we celebrate love under lockdown? Vaccines!

Failing that, there's food.

From heart-shaped pizzas and boozy chocolate bombs to DIY cocktail kits and lavish spreads, we've got something for anyone who's searching for cupid amid the coronavirus. So amp up the romance for your sweetie — or spend a delicious day on your own and celebrate this manufactured Hallmark holiday with some of L.A.'s tastiest treats.


Help Us Cover Your Community

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The news cycle moves fast. Some stories don't pan out. Others get added. Consider this today's first draft, and check LAist.com for updates on these stories and more. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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