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We Answered Almost 3,000 Audience Questions in 2021. Here’s What We Learned

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In 2021 we answered almost 3,000 questions from Southern Californians. Those questions give us a window into yet another upside-down year of the pandemic, highlighting what kept you up at night as you navigated vaccinations, new COVID-19 variants, economic hardship and new leaders.

We don’t just answer your individual questions — we also pay close attention to the themes in the questions we get. Those themes point us to topics others also are likely to have questions. And we use that information to assign and write stories and guides that help others navigate the same challenges and curiosities.

Why do we do this? Well, we strongly believe that you deserve local news that helps you make sense of Southern California – and you know better than anyone what can help you do that. Your questions give us essential information about how we can better serve you.

As we reflect on the year that was, looking back at the questions you asked are also a great way to point us to some of the biggest events of the year.

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How To Ask
  • If you’re not sure what we mean by answering community members’ questions, search for the purple “Ask a question” button on most pages on our website (including at the bottom of this one) or the LAist homepage. Today we’re focusing on all the questions we’ve gotten through that form or via text message since Jan. 1, 2021.

What You Wanted To Know

It’s probably no surprise that vaccines dominated question-asking all year long, especially in the first couple months of the year. We had more than 1,400 questions about the vaccine alone just weeks into 2021. Vaccine queries made up about 75% of all the questions we received, followed by questions about COVID-19 and unemployment assistance.

In early January we heard from a lot of people people over 65, health care workers, and other groups who were among the very first eligible to be vaccinated. At that point, questions about vaccine safety, efficacy, and eligibility were answered many places online, including our vaccine guide, but information about how to get the vaccine was still hard to come by.

Most of the early to mid-January questions were about how to get that first dose and came from or for people who were first in line. [Editor’s note: Some of the questions below have been lightly edited for clarity or to remove personal information.]

  • What site can I use to get an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot in Orange County, CA? I am 65 or older. It is confusing to know where to get an appointment today, 1-14-2021.
  • What dates can 65 years old and above register for a vaccine in LA county? Which site can I [use to] make an appointment? If a person does not have email, can I help to register with my email address as a way of communication?
  • How can I be scheduled for vaccination? I am an IHSS provider for my disabled child.
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Toward the end of January, confusion about how to get the second dose started to dominate your questions to us. Glitchy appointment systems and confusing instructions drove hundreds of Southern Californians to use our question form to ask for specific answers.

Anxiety About Missing Your Second Shot

There was a lot of anxiety about missing that crucial window to get a second dose as people waited for emails confirming second-dose appointments and struggled to get clear instructions about what to do next. One reader wrote in, “I have gone from the exhilaration of locating a first appointment to the chaos of how to secure a second dose.” Some just could not make an appointment in the overloaded vaccine registration system. They were panicking that they would literally “miss their shot.” These questions offer a snapshot of the confusion and panic.

  • I got my second dose confirmation email with the date to go, and a link to pick a time of day. The link takes me to a page which says no appointments available. I called the county vaccine line- they said they don't know whether I have an appointment or not.     
  • My second appointment was not automatically scheduled. I can't find an appointment for my second shot. What steps should I take to ensure I don't miss my window?        
  • Received a date for 2nd shot but need to sign up for a time. Haven't received an email and it is getting close to the date for second shot. What website can I do this?

The need was so great that reporter Carla Javier tackled a guide just about how to get the second dose, which remained one of our most-read stories for weeks and prompted many grateful notes from readers.

By mid-March, the big question was what to do if you got your first dose at one location, but wanted to get your second dose at another. About a third of those question askers had gotten their first dose out of state and needed to get their second in California. Some had driven far for their first and wondered if there was a way to get their second dose closer to home. Some were just curious if they could go to a different county, or perplexed when their first site seemed to be closed.

A Pressing Need For Financial Help 

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As more and more Southern Californians got their second doses, vaccine questions dropped significantly. In April, for the first time since the pandemic began, questions about unemployment assistance overtook vaccines.

  • I opened my file with [California Economic Development Department] on Dec. 6, 2020. I was unable to complete my application for [unemployment] because I was not able to verify my own identity. I got my app submitted finally, 04/14/2021. EDD told me to file a request to backdate claim, help. 
  • How do I reapply for my EDD benefits if I have not worked in a full year [due] to covid related issues? The job that I was working for a year ago is my last employer and the questions they are asking I am having a hard time answering.  
  • I was laid off 3/15/20 due to COVID-19. I am now asked to reapply but during that time of unemployment I had two small jobs (w-2) and a couple freelance as I waited for my original job to become available. What do I put as my last employer? 

We answered as many of these questions ourselves as we could, and for the more complex situations, connected folks to experts at the Worker’s Rights’ Center. These questions helped inform updates to our extensive guide to financial assistance during the pandemic.

The next thing to drive a surge in questions was the June 30 expiration of the rent moratorium, which offered eviction protections to tenants who fell behind on rent during the pandemic. Southern Californians wrote in with questions about whether it was likely the moratorium would be extended and what to do if renters still couldn’t pay when the moratorium ended:

  • Renters evictions, will the [moratorium] continue? If not, what can I do to not be evicted?
  • “Will the Eviction Moratorium deadline of June 30, 2021, be extended? I sure hope so, as I am still unemployed. I've been seeking employment and have been unsuccessful, as I believe many others are seeking employment, too.”

Later that month the moratorium was extended to Sept. 30. The questions we received in June, before the extension, helped us produce a guide to navigating the end of the moratorium when it finally ended on Sept. 30.

Getting Ready For A Disaster

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That said, the biggest source of questions in June came from a virtual event. Our newsroom and the Los Angeles Times hosted the online event “LOCAL MATTERS: How To Survive The Big One,” triggering more than two dozen questions about how to prepare for a major earthquake.

  • “Thinking of earthquake preparedness... If we no longer have a landline phone, is there anything we can do to prepare in case the cell phone system goes down -- short of bringing back the landline?”
  • “Given the current drought, extreme heat, and high likelihood of wildfires, what safety precautions should one take in the unlikely event of an earthquake occurring concurrently with a fire?”
  • “Where is the best place to store all of the supplies? How much should stay in the trunk of your car?”

Our podcast of the same name is a great place to start if you want advice on how to prepare. And if you’d rather read your tips, LAist’s Survival Guide has you covered from prepping for major quakes to rental insurance and a reality check on how safe L.A.’s high rises really are.

Making Ends Meet And The Recall

In July, questions about rent and financial aid continued as people navigated the rent moratorium extension, changes to the stimulus program, and new economic legislation. First California expanded its Golden State stimulus program to include middle-class families, then the state legislature approved a statewide guaranteed income program, opening up the possibility for cities across the state to pilot universal basic income programs. Southern Californians asked us for help figuring out whether they qualified for the universal basic income program and where their stimulus checks were.

  • How do I obtain an application for the universal basic income, the guaranteed income program?
  • Did the rule/mandate pass that would enable citizens to be waived for past due LADWP & SoCal gas bills because of COVID?
  • Will every senior qualify [for the guaranteed income program]?
  • How to find out if your stimulus check was mailed?

And as the September gubernatorial recall election approached, questions about that caught up to vaccines. We created a Voter Game Plan for the recall and shared several stories to help folks understand the process and what could happen.

  • How can I confirm how my vote was cast as I voted?
  • I did a mail-in ballot. How do I confirm that my information was not changed? I voted to take Newsom out of office and I also voted for Larry Elder.
  • I forgot to write my address on my ballot. Will my vote count?
  • Can I put Gavin Newsom as a write-in candidate on my recall ballot? If he receives more write-in votes than anyone else would he retain the office?

Back To Vaccines

Around the same time, COVID-19 vaccine boosters became more widely available and vaccinations became more widely required. The focus of vaccine questions shifted to mix-and-match boosters, acquiring or updating digital vaccination cards, and assessing breakthrough case risk as people started to do things indoors and in–person again.

  • How do you correct an incorrectly recorded birthday on your digital vaccination card? The Healthcare worker probably hit a wrong key and didn't notice, now the birthday on my paper card does not match the digital record. Who do you contact?
  • Do I need to be vaccinated in order to go to the LA Forum to see the Eagles band on Oct. 19th?
  • Cómo puedo agregar la vacuna de refuerzo a mi digital card? (How can I add a booster shot to my digital card?) 
  • Should a person who has gotten a single J&J shot get the original shot of the Moderna vaccine, or the 1/2 dose of Moderna being given as a booster to people who've had two shots?

Our Changing Justice System

December marked Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s first year in office and he spoke live with our criminal justice reporter Frank Stoltze in a virtual event open to everyone.

As Stoltze wrote in his look back, 2021 saw Gascón’s office become “ground zero for the national movement to end mass incarceration and address racial disparities in the criminal justice system.” Senior investigative reporter Aaron Mendelson’s review of millions of cases found that Gascón declined to charge more than 38,000 misdemeanor charges, challenging longstanding ideals about public safety.

We invited Southern Californians to share their questions for Gascón. You replied with questions about increasing crime, recent smash-and-grab robberies, internal corruption, and long-term solutions to reduce crime. The questions indicate unease about some of Gascón’s reforms and confusion about what the changes mean for those affected by the criminal justice system.

  • Have you considered changing course on some of your goals now that there has been significant push back from the community? 
  • Honduras has ¼ of our incarceration rate yet 40 times our homicide rate. Approximately 60% of violent crime in Los Angeles County is unsolved. Please define “Mass Incarceration”. Put a number on it, at what number do we stop? 
  • We have tried several times in person and through email to speak with you about several cases of harsh sentencing. How can the community get a monthly meeting with you and DA management to discuss help with specific cases? 

Finishing The Year And Looking Ahead

The very end of 2021 brought us the omicron variant and a new slew of questions about vaccine efficacy, boosters, and how to travel and gather safely for the holidays.

As we head into a new year, we’re ready to keep serving as Los Angeles’s help desk. Any time you see that purple “Ask a question” button, you can click on it to get the info you need. You’ll always find one of those buttons on the LAist.com homepage and in many of our stories.

What questions do you have about Southern California?