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Vaccines Are Behind LA County's Decrease In COVID-19 Cases

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Los Angeles County health officials say progress on the vaccination effort is likely pushing down overall case numbers.

According to the latest data compiled from last week, nearly two million county residents have received one dose, and plans are now underway to significantly expand the number of doses administered each week.

As vaccinations continue to ramp up, however, officials also warn that the county's transmission rate, known as its "R" value, is slowly increasing. Dr. Christina Ghaly, who heads the county's Health and Human Services Department, says their estimates have been steadily creeping up for the past two-to-three weeks:

"Time will tell what this really means, and we don't have sufficient information yet to know if this will result in an uptick in infections, but we all need to remain vigilant."

It's not clear whether the rise in transmission rate is due to people's behavior, or because of the prevalence of more contagious strains of the virus, such as the two California variants ... though Dr. Ghaly says the timeline for the increase does not coincide with the decision to relax restrictions on some businesses.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NUMBERS:

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More LA Sheriff’s Officials Accused of Misconduct in ‘Banditos’ Deputy Gang Lawsuit

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East L.A. Sheriff's Station (Frank Stoltze/LAist)

Forty-seven Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officials were added Monday as named defendants in a lawsuit alleging the existence of a “criminal gang” of deputies called the Banditos at the department’s East L.A. Station.

The new defendants represent a significant expansion of the civil rights and workplace harassment lawsuit that was first filed two years ago, and previously named only four former deputies and Los Angeles County. It was filed on behalf of eight deputies who accused a group of colleagues of being members of a “gang” that violated the civil rights of deputies who did not support them with a campaign of harassment and physical attacks.

The new defendants include two commanders, three captains, two lieutenants and 41 deputies, according to plaintiff’s attorney Vincent Miller. Thirty-one of these allegedly are themselves Banditos, associates, or prospects for the gang, he said. Twenty-four are currently stationed in East L.A. The FBI opened an investigation into that and other alleged cliques within the department.

The new court filing does not attach specific allegations to each new defendant. Instead, the defendants face the allegations previously laid out in the lawsuit. Those allegations accused the Banditos and their associates of harassing fellow deputies who don’t support them, creating a hostile workplace, and planting evidence.

The lawsuit claims the department is "permeated by criminal gang culture" beyond the Banditos. Those who are not Banditos allegedly fail to stop them, according to Miller, or engage in covering up their wrongdoing.

“You’ve got people who rigged internal affairs bureau investigations,” Miller told LAist. “You’ve got people who were put in leadership positions who were basically there to hide and minimize and cover up the extent of the deputy gang problem.”

One of the new named defendants is Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s chief of security, and another is his driver, according to Miller.

The sheriff’s department declined to comment on the allegations.

Instead, it issued this statement: “Sheriff Alex Villanueva was the first sheriff in the history of LASD to implement a strict policy prohibiting cliques and sub-cultures, and he has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to transparency and accountability.”

In August, Villanueva announced a “zero tolerance policy on deputy cliques/subgroups engaging in misconduct,” according to the statement.

A spokesperson for the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which represents some of the defendants, declined to comment until he saw the new court documents.

L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents East L.A., said in an emailed statement: "It is shameful to learn that the number of deputy gang members, specifically from the Banditos, have increased and now include those who have enabled and hid their misconduct. This should be emblematic that policies that allegedly ban deputies from joining gangs will not fix this problem.”

Solis added that these deputies "cause havoc and harm" and only traumatize the community instead of helping and serving it. She said it's time the department “take the elimination of deputy gang membership seriously.”

The expanded lawsuit comes amid increasing scrutiny of how Villanueva, who began his career at the East L.A. Station, has addressed the longstanding problem of deputy subgroups. Some of these goups have been accused of violence and harassment of both residents and colleagues. They’ve been called "gangs" because they wear matching tattoos, operate in secrecy, and have initiation rituals.

The Bandito tattoo is a skeleton with a giant mustache wearing a sombrero with a bandolier and pistol.

A report by Loyola Law School found 18 deputy gangs that have operated within the department. Its author Professor Sean Kennedy said at least seven remain active.

This story has been updated.

SEE MORE OF OUR COVERAGE ON LA'S DEPUTY GANGS:

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Amoeba Records Reopens April 1. Here's What To Expect

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A rendering of the new location for Amoeba Music at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Argyle Ave. Amoeba.com

If your pandemic has had a disturbing lack of vinyl and other physical media, we have good news: Amoeba Music (aka Amoeba Records) is opening its new location for music diehards next week -- Thursday, April 1.

Sadly, if you missed out on a chance to say goodbye to the old location, you're out of luck. Instead, you’ll find the store at its new location at 6200 Hollywood Blvd. (At the corner of Argyle Ave.)

The store is luring visitors with free opening day posters and commemorative silk-screened shirts. The opening day line is set to form on Argyle. There's even a special line on Hollywood Blvd. for customers with 10 or more items they're looking to sell or trade.

The store notes that it is following public health and safety guidelines, including social distancing and mandatory face coverings. They're also offering customers who want to limit their time in public to hold items at the register for 24 hours, though you will still be required to wait in line to enter when you come to make your purchase.

Plexiglass shields are set up around the registers and the info desk, and there are directional signs to keep foot traffic appropriately spaced. They're also asking visitors not to bring in large bags or backpacks, as the pandemic means they won't be doing a bag check — but smaller bags will be visually inspected when you exit.

Amoeba Music, a Hollywood landmark, closed and set up a GoFundMe account to help reopen in another location amid the COVID- 19 pandemic. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

If you want to sell or trade something, you can drop it off at the buy counter, but you won't be allowed to stay there while the store assesses your item.

And it's in Hollywood, so... parking. The new location is part of the Hollywood & Argyle "El Centro" complex, with a parking garage where you'll get 75 minutes of validation if you make a purchase. There are also parking meters on surrounding streets, along with several public lots nearby. The new location is directly across from the Hollywood & Vine stop on the Metro.

We're pretty sure this isn't an April Fools' prank. If you go, tell us if that turns out to be the case.

The new store will be open daily, 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. for the moment. But the music lives 24 hours a day, man.

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Man Yells Racial Slurs At 'Stop Asian Hate' Rally

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Screenshot of a video posted to Instagram shows a man yelling racial obscenities at marchers. (via Michael Ade)

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department is investigating a hate incident at a "Stop Asian Hate" rally in Diamond Bar on Sunday. Investigators say a man drove past the group and yelled racial obscenities.

The incident was captured on several videos that were posted on Instagram:

Members of the rally were stopped at a crosswalk at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Diamond Bar Boulevard when the suspect drove through a red light and yelled racial slurs including "Fuck China" at the group.

Investigators say the male suspect's license plate was captured on video and they are working to identify him.

The case is being investigated as a "hate incident" rather than a "hate crime" because there was no injury or property damage.

The Sheriff's Department's Walnut, Diamond Bar station is asking anyone with information to call them at 909-595-2264.

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Cal State Tightens Its Cybersecurity After Data Hacks At Multiple Campuses

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A sign posted outside California State University, Northridge, where data was hacked last year. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Hackers stole personal data at two Cal State campuses last year. California State University, San Marcos said in November that only names, titles, and email addresses of students and employees were obtained, while Cal State Northridge said similar data was stolen when hackers attacked a firm hired by the university to store data. That firm ended up paying a ransom.

California State University officials said that to "protect against disclosing sensitive or vulnerable information" it would not disclose if other campuses were hit with similar cyberattacks.

CSU's board of trustees is set to discuss cybersecurity improvements at its meeting on Tuesday. They'll consider hiring a firm that can find cybersecurity gap and advise campuses on how to close them.

"We regularly review and update our data security efforts and work continuously to make student data safe," CSU Chief Information Officer Michael Berman said in an email. "We know that potential attackers continue to find new ways to compromise our systems, notwithstanding changes we make to our security posture.”

The university system says it expects more than 80% of its employees and 61% of students will sign on to two-factor authentication by the end of March 2021. The CSU system hopes all of its students and employees switch to this more secure sign-in method by the end of the year.

Cal Poly Pomona has set an April 8 deadline for students and employees to sign up for two-factor authentication.

READ MORE:

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LA's Homeless Population Became Eligible For The COVID Vaccine Last Week — And Infections Are Already Down

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76-year-old Ray Carrington receives his first dose of the Moderna vaccine. (Zoie Matthew/LAist)

It has been only a week since individuals experiencing homelessness became eligible for vaccination in Los Angeles County and officials are already reporting a sharp decline in infections among the unhoused population — from 620 per week in late December 2020 to 58 this past week.

L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis says that the county is working to make sure unhoused individuals don't slip through the cracks:

"The Department of Health services has providers that go out into the field and go to shelters as well as go to encampments to do assessments and provide some healthcare services... and that will continue."

The question of when L.A.'s homeless population would become eligible for the vaccine and why it hadn't happened sooner has been an ongoing issue.

Homeless individuals who contract COVID-19 in L.A. County are 50% more likely to die than those in the general population, reports the L.A. Times. Nationally that number is 30%.

The drop in cases among people experiencing homelessness mirrors an overall decline in coronavirus cases. Following a major surge in November and December 2020, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations have dropped countywide since early this year.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NUMBERS:

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Some LAUSD Campuses Will Reopen Early, But Most Parents Hesitant To Send Students Back

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Inside an L.A. Unified School District classroom at Walgrove Avenue Elementary in Venice that's been prepared for students' return to campus in April. (Kyle Stokes/KPCC/LAist)

A relative handful of Los Angeles Unified School District campuses will begin reopening earlier than expected, during the week of April 12, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced Monday.

But as LAUSD surveys families, Beutner said, a pattern is emerging: most parents are reluctant to send their students back to schools — especially in neighborhoods where COVID-19 vaccines are scarce. Here’s what Beutner said Monday morning:

"The impact of the virus together with the lack of access to vaccinations is having a direct impact on the willingness of families to send their children back to schools."

HOW MANY PARENTS ARE SENDING THEIR KIDS BACK?

So far, about three-fifths of LAUSD’s families have informed the district of their decision as to whether to return to campus. Among those who responded, less than half say their students will return.

However, if a parent does not respond to a survey, LAUSD assumes their child will remain in distance learning mode. That means — if current trends hold — that the majority of students do not plan on returning to campus:

  • Parents of just 33% of LAUSD’s elementary students have indicated they plan to send their kids back.
  • If the parent survey closed right now, just 21% of LAUSD’s middle schoolers would be returning in person.
  • Around 14% of LAUSD’s high schoolers plan to return. (These last two figures certainly reflect some frustration among middle- and high schoolers and their famiies with the reopening plan for secondary campuses.)

Hoping that increased vaccine access will convince more families to send children back, Beutner announced the district will host two new vaccination sites for families of school-aged kids. St. John’s Well Child and Family Center will provide shots at Lincoln High School in East L.A. and at Washington Preparatory High School in South L.A.

LAUSD has already opened up its own vaccination clinics for school district employees.

WHEN WILL LAUSD SCHOOLS REOPEN?

Most LAUSD preschools and elementary campuses will reopen the week of April 19 — but today, Beutner said that 50 elementary schools and 10 early education centers will reopen the week of April 12.

On those campuses, kindergarteners and first graders will return on April 13. They’ll be followed by second and third graders on April 14, and remaining fourth and fifth graders on April 15.

Middle- and high school campuses are tentatively scheduled to reopen at the end of April.

ALSO OF NOTE…

As expected, United Teachers Los Angeles members voted to approve the union's agreement with LAUSD that paved the way for a return to campuses. Roughly 60 percent of UTLA's members cast ballots; nearly 90% favored adopting the agreement.

GO DEEPER:

UPDATES: This story was updated at 11:30 a.m. with results of the UTLA vote. This story was updated a second time at 4:15 p.m. with updated results from LAUSD's return-to-campus survey.

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In The San Gabriel Valley, Two Vigils Honor Atlanta Victims

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Attendees at the San Gabriel vigil Saturday night. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Hundreds of people from across Southern California attended two vigils for the victims of the Atlanta shootings — one in Alhambra, the other in San Gabriel.

The tragedy elicited different responses at the vigils, with the San Gabriel event organized by elected officials and drawing an older immigrant crowd in which many viewed law enforcement as an effective crime deterrent.

The Alhambra vigil was a grassroots effort, with mostly teens and people in their 20s in attendance. They made abundantly clear in their speeches that solidarity across communities of color -- not criminal justice -- was the best way to fight hate and dismantle white supremacy.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE:

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Morning Brief: Anti-Racism Vigils, An In-Person Oscars, And The Orange Tier

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A mural depicting various scenes of hip-hop in downtown Los Angeles (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Good morning, L.A. It’s March 22.

On Saturday evening, two groups held vigils in the San Gabriel Valley to protest violence and racism directed at the Asian community. While the events had, at their core, the same goals, my colleague Josie Huang reports that they had significantly different approaches.

One event was held at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse and organized by San Gabriel’s vice-mayor. Featuring a lineup of elected officials, it focused on stopping violence, working with police, and encouraging the Asian community to “give more.”

"If you have given to your local community, give more," said Arcadia councilmember Paul Cheng. "If you have purchased PPE for your local schools, do it again."

Meanwhile, the nearby event in Alhambra was initiated by one young woman on social media. Attendees skewed younger and emphasized solidarity with Black and Brown communities. One speaker addressed nearby law enforcement directly:

"For the police listening over there, we would like you to leave," she said. "Our community does not welcome you."

The vigils came on the heels of the murder of eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women. The tragedy left L.A.’s Asian community shaken, as incidents targeting members of the community have been on the rise for at least a year, fueled by racist rhetoric from local and national politicians.

In the San Gabriel Valley, where a number of cities are majority Asian, these attacks have left many residents afraid and angry.

But as evidenced by Saturday night’s events, many are now pushing back. Betty Hang, the 22-year-old who organized the Alhambra event, told Josie she could no longer be silent.

"I couldn't wait anymore," Hang said. "I'm not somebody who will be submissive and quiet. I refuse that stereotype. I refuse to be put in a box."

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

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What Else You Need To Know Today


Before You Go … The Oscars Will Be Held In Person

The Academy celebrates its Oscar nominees all week long with a series of screenings and discussions. (Aaron Poole / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

A lot of Hollywood awards shows, such as the Emmys, have been virtual this year. But the Academy Awards are having none of it; in an email to nominees, they announced that the event will be held in person at Downtown L.A’s Union Station — with no exceptions.

“We are going to great lengths to provide a safe and enjoyable evening for all of you in person, as well as for all the millions of film fans around the world,” the email said, “and we feel the virtual thing will diminish those efforts.”


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