L.A. County reinstates mask rules. Why? It’s complicated

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, July 19. I’m Justin…

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, July 19. I’m Justin Ray. I’m back after spending a week in New York City to celebrate my 32nd birthday with friends and overpriced Hell’s Kitchen drinks.

Over the past year, there have been many unexpected moments during the pandemic. But the one that tops my list took place on Jan. 30. That day, Dodger Stadium’s mass COVID-19 vaccination site was temporarily shut down when about 50 protesters gathered at the entrance. For a time, hundreds of motorists were blocked from getting shots. One of them was a dentist, who told The Times: “This is completely wrong. … I am taking a big risk being around patients.”

It was particularly shocking because, while I can understand initial vaccine hesitancy, to actively prevent others from getting inoculated is appalling. Responsible people were trying to protect themselves and their communities, while protesters were attempting to remove that protection, which would help the virus spread. It was a scenario I suspected would play out in the future: The actions of a few people would have an outsize effect on the whole community.

On Saturday, L.A. County health officials once again required all residents regardless of their vaccination status to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. A recent story we published about the return of the mandate summed it up well: “Vaccinated people are, in essence, being asked to make a sacrifice to help slow coronavirus spread among the unvaccinated.”

The news might be understandably frustrating. It has only been a month since the state reopened, and we’re already returning some past restrictions. As of this newsletter’s publishing, 59.9% of California residents have received at least one dose, about 23.4 million people.

How did we end up here? Well, some Americans have opted not to inoculate themselves despite the overflowing supply of vaccines and mounting evidence that vaccinated people are protected against the Delta variant. Vaccination centers in California have shuttered because of a dramatic drop in appointments. This has caused Gov. Gavin Newsom to hold flashy cash giveaways to ramp up vaccinations.

If financial reasons aren’t enough to motivate, perhaps the incentive to stay alive is. Los Angeles County is now recording more than 10,000 coronavirus cases a week — a pace not seen since March. That means L.A. County has surpassed the threshold to have “high” community transmission of disease, the worst tier as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

L.A. County public health officials reported on Sunday that there were 1,635 new coronavirus cases and four COVID-related deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 24,583. There were 507 people hospitalized with COVID-19. The rise in the county and elsewhere in the state has caused 11 counties — home to more than half of Californians — to urge masking up in indoor settings regardless of vaccination status.

Some public figures and politicians have been quiet about getting shots. Fox TV host Tucker Carlson has not disclosed if he has been vaccinated, and former President Trump was vaccinated in secret. In Sacramento, 12 legislators surveyed by The Times refused to say whether they were vaccinated or not, and 11 of them are Republicans.

But it is also worth mentioning that for some, not getting vaccinated is more complicated. The lowest vaccination rates in California are among Black and Latino people. This can be attributed to, among other issues, inequitable vaccine distribution early in the pandemic, the inability to take time off work, and lack of access to vaccination sites due to transportation. There is also deep suspicion of the government’s motives after historic discrimination from government-run public health programs.

For some residents, it hasn’t been as easy to obtain one of the three vaccines. But others are deciding not to, putting themselves and the community needlessly at risk. Until more people get their shots, we may continue to face life yo-yoing in and out of restrictions.

Further reading:

— What more can we do? Columnist Steve Lopez has some great thoughts about how we can convince more residents to get their COVID-19 shots. He also has some tough words for legislators: “If you have educated yourself on the virus and the vaccine, yet chosen not to get vaccinated, I have to question your suitability for public office.”

— Reporters Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money explore whether the new mask mandate makes sense. They note that while infections and serious COVID-19 illness are still only a fraction of what was seen over the fall and winter, daily coronavirus cases are now six times what they were on June 15, when California fully reopened, and COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled since then.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Men charged in alleged scheme to attack Democratic headquarters. Two Northern California militia members have been charged in a plot to blow up the state Democratic headquarters in Sacramento, according to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday. Ian Benjamin Rogers, 45, of Napa and Jarrod Copeland, 37, of Vallejo, allegedly unhappy with the outcome of the November presidential election, plotted the attack in the hopes of sparking a “movement” of broader violence. In January 2021, Rogers allegedly messaged Copeland, “I want to blow up a democrat building bad.” Copeland replied in agreement, according to the indictment. Rogers and Copeland are both charged with conspiracy to destroy by fire or explosive a building used or in affecting interstate commerce. Rogers is charged with additional weapons violations. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

Police in riot gear shoot beanbag rounds, order crowd to disperse. Protests outside a Koreatown spa over transgender rights Saturday prompted a large police response and resulted in more than a dozen arrests. Videos posted to social media show police in riot gear shooting beanbag rounds and 40-millimeter hard-foam projectiles at protesters. A reporter who was covering the protest wrote on Twitter that she was chased and thrown to the ground. Los Angeles Times

Why are Black children removed from homes at a high rate? Seven percent of children in L.A. County are Black, while 24% of those removed from their homes from last April to this March were Black, according to the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services. Twenty percent of children in the county are white, with 12% of those removed. How do we fix this disparity? The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted last week to support a pilot project that tests “blind removal,” first tried in Nassau County, N.Y. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

The recall campaign against California Gov. Gavin Newsom came into clear focus, though there doesn’t appear to be a lot of energy around it. State elections officials announced late Saturday that 41 candidates had filed valid paperwork and met other requisites to appear on the recall ballot to replace Newsom, kicking off the final phase of campaigning before the Sept. 14 election. It’s a far cry from the 2003 recall election of then-Gov. Gray Davis, a media spectacle where 135 candidates appeared on the ballot. Secretary of State Shirley Weber will release a certified list of names that will appear on the ballot on Wednesday. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying two men who are wanted in the fatal shooting of a Glassell Park Rite Aid employee. The worker, Miguel Penaloza, confronted the suspects who grabbed two cases of beer without paying. Friends say Penaloza had just given his two weeks’ notice because he allegedly did not feel safe. Rite Aid said, “We are shocked and saddened by the killing.” CBS Los Angeles

Alleged underground casino. Oakland police said they seized eight guns and drugs including methamphetamine and heroin worth about $76,000 from an illegal casino. Officers also took $21,000 in cash and 18 gaming machines from the site. Police say public tips helped them make the bust. Mercury News

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

A series of wildfires has ravaged huge swaths of drought-dried vegetation in Northern California. In Plumas County, the massive Sugar fire, the first megafire in California this year, had burned more than 105,000 acres by Sunday morning and was 73% contained, officials said. Another fire, burning south of Lake Tahoe near the California-Nevada border, has grown to more than 18,000 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service. In Butte County, the Dixie fire, which began burning Wednesday, had charred more than 15,000 acres by Sunday morning. Los Angeles Times

Smoke envelops trees as the Sugar fire burns

Smoke envelops trees as the Sugar fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex, burns in Doyle, Calif., on July 9.

(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Palm Springs got the most rain it has seen in nearly six months. The region saw early morning thunderstorms Sunday, causing 0.08 inches of rain to fall between about 3 and 6 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. The last time Palm Springs recorded that much rain was on Jan. 29 with 0.11 inches. It has rained 19 times there so far this year. Palm Springs Desert Sun

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Oh so warm, 84. San Diego: Grab a beer and cool off, 81. San Francisco: Overcast, 67. San Jose: Cloudy, 81. Fresno: Cook bacon on your roof, 104. Sacramento: Sunny, 97.

AND FINALLY

This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in Southern California:

Mark Sinclair, aka actor Vin Diesel, turned 54 on July 18. “Good filmmaking is having the ability to pivot because that’s the true nature of making movies,” he told us in a recent interview after the release of “F9,” the latest movie in the “Fast & Furious” franchise. Robin Williams was born on July 21, 1951. The comedian would have been 70. Here’s a tribute to the many characters he played on the silver screen.

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