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LA County's Daily Coronavirus Numbers Are Finally Back Down To Pre-Surge Levels

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A woman receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine site in Long Beach. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Los Angeles County's COVID-19 metrics have dropped to some of their lowest levels in months. Officials reported fewer than 1,000 new, confirmed cases today, along with 32 deaths.

The county's daily test positivity rate is now just 3%. That's the lowest it has been since COVID-19 tests were made available to the general public.

And COVID-19 cases among health care workers are now at the lowest they've been since the pandemic began last year (largely because many health care workers have been vaccinated).

Courtesy L.A. County Dept of Public Health

County public health director Barbara Ferrer says all of this is proof that vaccinations are leading to significant decreases in new infections.

Ferrer says the numbers indicate that the worst of the winter surge is finally behind us:

"We’re thankfully returning to average daily case numbers that the levels we saw before the surge. These declines are real and we’re grateful for the choices made, and the work done by everyone, individuals and businesses that [are] making this possible."

She added that the decrease in all three main indicators (cases, hospitalizations and deaths) mean that we are moving in the right direction and, "We've not yet seen any increases due to gatherings that may have happened during the Super Bowl and Presidents Day weekend."

As the county opens up vaccine appointments to more essential workers today, including food and agricultural workers, Ferrer pleaded with anyone not in those groups, but still able to book a slot, to wait for their turn to come:

"Don't take away an appointment from an eligible worker, and please don't come to the vaccination sites, because you will need to be turned away."

L.A. County has administered nearly 2 million vaccine doses so far and more than 600,000 of them are second doses. About 6% of the county's adult population is now fully vaccinated although data shows that residents of affluent areas are getting vaccinated at higher rates.

You can see those numbers here:

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NUMBERS:

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It's Another Critically Dry Year After February Brings Little Rain

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A dead Joshua tree in Joshua Tree National Park. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The peak of California’s rainy season is supposed to run from December through February. Now that period's come to an end, we have a decent idea of where we’re at in terms of water across the state.

In short: It doesn’t look good for either the flammability of local landscapes or our big stores of water already stressed by previous dry years.

“It’s a critically dry year,” said Chris Orrock, public information officer with the California Department of Water Resources.

“We’re probably in one of the bottom ten driest years on record for the state,” he said.

California's been quite dry through the 2020-2021 rainy season, raising the likelihood of wildfires. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

The more rain that falls locally, the wetter our hills, and the longer we’re likely to stave off serious fire concerns. Those fire concerns haven’t really gone away, with elevated fire weather still a problem when strong Santa Ana’s roar through.

Look at the rain totals and you’ll see why. Downtown Los Angeles has received less than half of the rain it should've had by the end of February. And Ojai, a perennial fire concern, has only received about 25% of expected rainfall. Similar conditions are present through much of the region.

When it comes to water availability, it's the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, the Colorado River Basin, and our above-ground reservoirs that we should look at.

While the storm in late January brought with it a good dumping of snow, we’re still only at 61% of normal snowpack across the Sierra. The Central and Northern portions are doing a bit better than the Southern Sierra, which is dragging the overall average down.

As of last week the Metropolitan Water District said that the snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin – which melts, runs down the Colorado River and is fed to L.A. – is sitting at 87% of normal.

As for our reservoirs, while a wet 2019 replenished them and kept them topped up through a dry 2020, we’re now starting to see them drop.

Shasta, the largest federally managed reservoir is at only 68% of its historical average, while Oroville, the largest state run reservoir is at 55%.

The likelihood we’ll get enough precipitation to catch us up through March is thin with the next two weeks looking exceptionally dry.

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Comic-Con Goes Online-Only This July — But In-Person This November

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These people will not be able to gather together like this in July for Comic-Con this year. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Pop culture fans from around the world, including many Angelenos, make the annual pilgrimage to San Diego for Comic-Con International in July. That didn't happen in 2020 because of COVID-19. Now, it's officially not happening in-person this summer, either.

"While we are buoyed by the rollout of the vaccine and the growing number of individuals being inoculated, it appears that July will still be too early to safely hold an in-person event of the magnitude of Comic-Con," the organization said in a statement.

The event will be going online only and will be shortened from four to three days, July 23-25. It joins WonderCon, which is normally held in late March or early April in Anaheim, in canceling its in-person portion for the second year in a row. WonderCon is happening online, March 26-27.

San Diego Comic Convention, the organization that runs Comic-Con, said the reduced number of days is due, in part, to limited financial resources after postponing its two largest annual events.

But hope is not lost, true believers. The organization announced a new, three-day event set for this November in San Diego.

"We believe that launching a smaller, in-person event at a later time may be a safe alternative," the organization said in its statement.

Details about the new event are still being determined and those depend on the ongoing state of the pandemic. You can read the organization's full statement below:

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California Gov. Newsom Gives Vaccine, School Reopening Update

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Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday delivered an update on California's vaccination and school reopening efforts. That followed an announcement this morning that the state has allocated 25,000 vaccine doses over the next two weeks for Los Angeles school employees.

You can read highlights below and watch the full video above.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS AND VACCINATION NUMBERS

There have been 9.1 million vaccinations administered in California so far, with the positivity rate down to 2.3% based on 243,000 tests conducted in the most recent reporting period. There were 3,500 new cases of COVID-19 statewide yesterday. Both hospitalizations and ICU admissions are down 41.2% over the past two weeks.

The state expects seven additional counties to move into the red reopening tier starting Tuesday.

REOPENING SCHOOLS ACROSS CALIFORNIA

Newsom said the state will set aside at least 10 percent of the doses needed to vaccinate teachers throughout the state, a minimum of 75,000 doses statewide. Thursday and Friday are going to be educator-exclusive days at the FEMA-supported mass vaccination sites in the state, including in Southern California — any vaccine doses given out on those days don't come from the 75,000 allocated doses.

Newsom stressed the importance of not just racial and economic equity, but also gender equity in the distribution of the vaccine. He cited in particular single mothers who will be helped by schools reopening.

The state's school reopening plan, which costs $6.6 billion, has been agreed on by state legislative leaders, with a vote set for Thursday. That includes $2 billion for grants meant for in-person instruction. The state has set aside three months of free PPE for schools. The money can be used for ventilation, spacing and other issues related to health and safety.

The other $4.6 billion is meant to be used for reimagining the school year, such as dealing with learning loss, potentially extending the school year into the summer, and examining other options for readjusting how schools are dealing with pandemic reopening.

The state expects all TK-2 classrooms will be open within the next month, and it wants to see more going forward — that includes TK-6 grades opening in red tier counties along with a commitment to one grade in middle and high schools.

Those of greatest need will return first, including homeless children, foster children, those without internet or internet devices, English-as-a-second-language learners, and special needs children.

As negotiations continue, Newsom declined to comment on a number of questions about teachers unions, who have yet to agree to all of the state's reopening plans.

Newsom was joined by other state and local officials.

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LA’s Scooter Data Collection Does Not Violate Fourth Amendment, Federal Court Says

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A commuter rides an e-scooter on the sidewalk in Los Angeles in Aug. 2019. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and its Department of Transportation over the collection of location data for the thousands of electric scooters deployed across the city.

L.A. launched a pilot program in April 2019 to transform what was then scooter chaos into a manageable form of mobility. As part of that program, LADOT required scooter companies, including Bird, Lime and Lyft, to share real-time data for each scooter.

The city collects three key data points:

  • where the trip started
  • where the trip started ended
  • the route from start to end

The lawsuit was filed last June by the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a local law firm, on behalf of Justin Sanchez and Eric Alejo.

The plaintiffs, who took trips using the scooter fleets managed by LADOT, claimed the city was violating the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment and state privacy law by collecting geolocation data from the vehicles.

Central District of California Judge Dolly M. Gee disagreed and dismissed the lawsuit “with prejudice.” The judge said regulating a massive, novel transportation fleet “requires robust data,” and ruled that LADOT’s data-collection system “is not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”

“But even if it were a search, it would be an administrative search, not for law enforcement purposes, that is justified by its furtherance of legitimate government interests,” Gee wrote.

ACLU Foundation of Southern California officials had argued that in the wrong hands — which might include the government — the data could be weaponized against marginalized communities. The group provided this statement on Friday:

“We were of course disappointed by the decision in this lawsuit that we feel brought to light an ongoing threat to privacy. We are assessing our legal options going forward.”

LADOT officials also issued a statement to LAist on their legal victory:

“We appreciate the court's decision on this case. As we have continuously stated, cities need data in order to effectively manage the public right-of-way. The limited data we gather from private, for-profit companies allows us to enforce regulations that protect communities and ensure equitable access to all modes of transportation.”

You can read the full judgement here.

READ MORE ABOUT SCOOTERS IN SOCAL:

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Beutner: Governor Promises LAUSD 25,000 Vaccines -- Enough For All Elementary Employees

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L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Governor Gavin Newsom is setting aside 25,000 COVID-19 vaccines over the next two weeks for Los Angeles Unified school employees, according to the district’s superintendent, Austin Beutner.

The announcement comes one week after Beutner said that in order to “reopen preschool and elementary school classrooms,” LAUSD would need to vaccinate the 25,000 district employees who work in those schools.

“This is a game-changer,” Beutner said in his weekly video address today, thanking Newsom for “putting equity first”:

“This plan will allow us to complete — during the next two weeks — vaccinations for school staff who are already working at school sites, staff who are working with our youngest learners and those working with students with learning differences and disabilities.”

LAUSD is still negotiating with the district’s teachers union over reopening campuses. United Teachers Los Angeles leaders have made vaccines for all school staff a key condition for reopening schools.

But UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz has said that vaccines alone won’t be enough to reopen schools.

“We are moving in the right direction, but we are not there yet, folks,” said Myart-Cruz during a Facebook Live update last week. “We know our infection rates in many of our neighborhoods are still very high.”

Union leaders want the district to wait to reopen until L.A. County has exited the “purple” tier of the state’s monitoring system, which indicates widespread transmission of the virus. They’re also currently negotiating with LAUSD over the cleaning regimens and safety protocols that would be used once campuses reopen.

For now, in-person services for a small number of LAUSD students with special needs and for child care and althetic condition are set to begin later this week.

Beutner also announced that LAUSD’s in-house vaccination program is now open for appointments to all district employees who meet current eligibility guidelines. Employees can get shots at three school sites and at Hollywood Park in Inglewood.

READ MORE:

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Morning Brief: The One-Shot Vaccine, #OscarsSoWhite’s Legacy, And School Reopening

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An American flag waves over an intersection in downtown Los Angeles. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A. It’s March 1.

Over the weekend, the FDA approved Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine.

The vaccine, which was tested in the U.S., South America and South Africa, protects recipients against contracting the virus, and against the virus becoming severe if contracted. It doesn’t have the same rates of effectiveness as the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, but according to Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA's advisory panel, it’s “very effective” at inducing an immune response.

"This certainly provides protection against what you care about, which is hospitalization, ICU admission, and death,” he said. “It's virtually 100% effective at doing that."

Gov. Gavin Newsom said California could get up to 380,000 doses of the newly-approved vaccine this week. L.A. County will likely get one-quarter of whatever the state receives, according to Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, since it’s home to one-quarter of the state’s population.

Ferrer added that those additional shots will be a boon to the region’s plan to expand vaccine eligibility to teachers, school staff, child care providers, and more emergency service workers, which starts today.

"It couldn't come at a better time,” she said.

As of Friday, almost two million Angelenos have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Newsom announced last week that he expects the state’s supply to increase steadily week-by-week, which would trickle down to all 58 counties, including L.A.

That increase is coupled with a massive drop in cases in the area; as of late February, cases were down 90% from the post-holiday surge. When those numbers were announced, Ferrer made a point to emphasize that they were the result of deliberate, conscious actions taken by everyone in the community.

"This wasn't a miracle,” she said. “The significant drop in our case numbers reflects actions and choices taken by millions of residents, workers, and employers."

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


What Else You Need To Know Today

  • The union that represents 33,000 L.A.-based teachers and school staff is pushing back against the L.A. Unified School District’s attempt to reopen schools on April 9.
  • California’s landmark law to ban internet providers from slowing down or blocking access is going into effect.
  • Several California lawmakers are considering a bill that would limit sprawl in wildfire-prone areas.
  • Riverside County is seeing a drop in the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus.
  • The City of Santa Monica opened a new community park, which includes a brand new public art installation that explains the site's history as a once-thriving African American community.
  • The LAPD has launched a hate crime investigation after the Higashi Honganji Buddist Temple in Little Tokyo was vandalized.
  • Fred Segal, the innovative fashion retailer who sold an iconic California casual look, died Thursday in Santa Monica. He was 87.

Before You Go … The Creator Of #OscarsSoWhite Reflects On Her Legacy

April Reign, creator of the #OscarsSoWhite movement, poses for AFP during a photo session in Hollywood, California, on Feb. 1, 2020. An offhand tweet by Reign following the 2015 Oscar nominations announcement and her realization that all 20 actors were white went viral. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

In January 2015, activist April Reign created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite — calling out the awards ceremony for its lack of diversity. She unexpectedly launched a viral referendum on the disparities and inequities experienced by Blacks and other minorities in Hollywood.

Six years later, what's changed, what hasn't and where does Hollywood go from here? April Reign spoke with LAist about the legacy of her viral hashtag.


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