Good evening. I’m Thuc Nhi Nguyen, and it’s Thursday, May 6. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.
With this newsletter, we’ve followed the pandemic through its twists and turns for more than a year. I’m grateful to you, dear reader, for trusting us to guide you through this unprecedented time.
But the scope of the pandemic can’t be fully captured in a daily dispatch to your inbox. So Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) is calling in backup.
Inspired by a late-night epiphany and Times column by David Kipen, the congressman drafted a bill to create a modern-day Federal Writers Project. Like the original FWP during the Great Depression, the new version is aimed at documenting the pandemic’s impact on American life and honoring victims of COVID-19 while employing writers and academics to create a national archive, my colleague Dorany Pineda reports.
The bill, titled the 21st Century Federal Writers’ Project, was introduced Thursday. The project would administer $60 million to nonprofits, libraries, news outlets and communications unions via the Department of Labor, Lieu’s office said.
Lieu is optimistic about the bill’s prospects. He believes it will garner bipartisan support because it’s not only about getting more people back to work, but also about documenting stories while the pandemic is fresh in people’s minds.
Even if the bill advances, a lot would have to happen for it to become law. A House committee would research and tweak it before it could be sent to the House floor, further changed and voted on before being sent to the Senate. With a divided Senate, the chances of it passing — barring a larger Democratic takeover or a demolition of the filibuster — aren’t good.
Kipen, a former literature director of the National Endowment for the Arts, was struck with the idea as the pandemic started taking hold last year. He was thinking about his friends who had died of COVID-19, creative writing students who had internships and jobs canceled, and small-town newspapers that had laid off reporters in droves.
“Then it hit me: America has been up this creek before,” Kipen recalled in an email. “And one way we saved ourselves was with the Federal Writers Project.”
His idea has been gaining support. David Shribman and Bill Knight wrote op-eds for the Boston Globe and the Canton Daily Ledger, respectively, arguing in favor of a revived program. The Progressive Democrats of America became the first major organization to publicly support a new FWP.
“In terms of size of the whole federal budget, we’re not talking about a lot of money here, but that money can really go very far in making a huge and positive social impact,” said Alan Minsky, executive director of the Washington-based PAC. “And it won’t be a small amount of money to the people in the communities that it helps.”
The New Deal-era FWP employed more than 6,000 people nationwide, providing work for writers, historians, librarians, editors and teachers. Ralph Ellison, one of several prominent authors who got their first writing gigs through the program, celebrated the project’s ability to bring visibility to overlooked Americans.
“You couldn’t find the truth about my background or my history” before the writers project, Ellison said to an audience at the New York Public Library in the 1960s. “You could not find the truth about other ethnic groups.”
Kipen said a new FWP could “help reintroduce a divided country to itself” and lead to “greater social cohesion” — two things that could help heal the ideological rifts that have only deepened during the pandemic.
“Our goal will be to pass a bill that reassures Americans — writers and nonwriters alike — that their country values their stories,” he said.
By the numbers
California cases, deaths and vaccinations as of 5:28 p.m. Thursday:
With about one-third of Californians fully vaccinated, the state is shifting its vaccination campaign plan in hopes of boosting numbers faster, my colleague Rong-Gong Lin II reports. That means fewer resources at mass vaccination sites and more focus on getting shots to small-scale locations like mobile vaccine clinics, pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
With demand at large sites dwindling, Orange County will close sites at the Anaheim Convention Center, OC Fair & Event Center, Soka University and Santa Ana College on June 6. Those closures will follow similar decisions to stop operations at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum and Dodger Stadium.
Officials knew vaccine demand would drop after an initial wave of eager beavers and are now taking a “hyperlocal” approach, said Dr. Tomás Aragón, the director of the California Department of Public Health and state health officer.
For example, researchers have found that the vast majority of Latinos are willing to get vaccinated, but lack of easy access and reliable information is hindering the process.
Aragón pointed to priests in San Francisco’s heavily Latino Mission District who ask people at Mass if they have been vaccinated. For those who haven’t but are interested, a team of public health staffers is on hand to set up appointments.
San Francisco has one of the best vaccination rates in the state, with 65% of residents having received at least one shot. The county entered the yellow tier this week.
Monterey County could make the same jump next week, and the move would come just as the area’s famous Monterey Bay Aquarium starts to welcome back the general public, my colleague Lila Seidman reports.
The aquarium will reopen to the public on May 15, following a trial period open to just members. Even though visitors were limited because of social distancing and capacity restrictions, animals took notice of new faces.
Otters and penguins in particular were eager to interact with people, said Cynthia Vernon, the aquarium’s chief operating officer. Birds in the aviary are less tolerant of visitors after having free rein for months. The fish have just kept swimming either way.
For an institution that lost about $55 million in revenue last year, all signs of visitors are a good thing. It costs about $1 million weekly to operate the facility, including caring for the animals, officials said. Most of the aquarium’s revenue comes from ticket sales.
Other reopenings are still on hold. The California State Fair and Food Festival will be postponed so that the Sacramento site can be used for the state’s vaccination campaign through September. A “slimmed down” version of the state fair, which usually runs in July, could happen later, organizers said.
In Los Angeles, the LA Pride parade will be held virtually for the second straight year. This year’s parade would have fallen on June 13, two days before California officials expect to fully reopen the state’s economy amid declining coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. But unsure of how a large-scale event would fit into the changing pandemic landscape, organizers opted to cancel it.
In lieu of its parade and festival, Christopher Street West, the nonprofit that produces LA Pride, will host a concert with TikTok that will livestream on the app June 10. There will also be a television special on KABC-TV at 9 p.m. on June 12.
See the latest on California’s coronavirus closures and reopenings, and the metrics that inform them, with our tracker.
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Around the nation and the world
One of the things we’ve looked forward to after rolling up our sleeves has been traveling again. With the full protection of a vaccine, hopping on a flight seems like a safe proposition as long as you’re wearing your mask.
Now that last condition is causing chaos for some travelers.
Americans are still flying 40% less than they were before the pandemic, but the number of airline passengers behaving badly has skyrocketed amid mask requirements, my colleague Hugo Martín reports.
Delta Air Lines has amassed a 1,200-person no-fly list of passengers who refused to wear a mask or became unruly. In September, that list had only 270 people. Frontier Airlines, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines have reported similar increases.
While getting kicked off of flights, passengers have thrown food, hit flight attendants and forced planes to return to the gate. When their fits are over, travelers could have police officers and heavy penalties waiting — up to $35,000 for violating the Federal Aviation Administration’s zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers, plus $250 to $1,500 in fines for not wearing a mask on a commercial flight per federal requirements.
With the pandemic surging globally, some medical professionals want to offer their expertise overseas even though travel to countries with large outbreaks like India has been limited. Still, doctors are finding ways to help.
Expanding telemedicine is one of the many ways that India’s diaspora is helping the country amid an explosion of COVID-19 cases and deaths. People of Indian descent around the world are donating money, delivering oxygen equipment and setting up information sessions in hopes of beating back the outbreak.
The American Assn. of Physicians of Indian Origin responded to pleas from Indian consulate officials with more than $2 million in a single week. A fundraiser from the American India Foundation pulled in $20 million in just a week.
It’s not just large groups delivering donations. Volunteers at three Hindu temples in Britain raised more than $830,000 through a stationary bike-riding fundraiser. Hemant Patel, a hotel developer from Miami, sent out an appeal for aid on WhatsApp and brought in more than $300,000. Sunil Tolani, chief executive of a hotel and real estate company in California, said he donated $300,000 and lobbied the Biden administration to step up its support.
Last week, the United States started delivering treatments, rapid virus tests and oxygen to India, along with materials the country needs to boost production of COVID-19 vaccines. India is a key vaccine supplier for dozens of developing countries but has almost entirely halted its exports in order to tame its own coronavirus crisis. That has left many countries without vaccine access.
The Biden administration will try to increase global vaccine equity by waiving intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines, allowing more nations to produce the shots without legal consequences, my colleague Emily Baumgaertner reports. The proposal has been stalled by the U.S. and European Union at the World Trade Organization.
The director-general of the World Health Organization called it a “historic decision,” but it’s just a small step toward accelerating vaccine rollouts. Manufacturers around the world must also receive the proper technology and training to be able to produce the vaccines properly.
The vaccines are prized for their ability to reduce the risk of getting COVID-19, but scientists suspect the vaccines may also prevent coronavirus infections. Two new studies in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. bolster their case, my colleague Karen Kaplan reports.
Both studies compared coronavirus infection rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated people who worked at a single medical center, one in the U.S. and another in Israel. And in both cases, getting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was associated with a significantly lower risk of testing positive for an infection.
In the U.S. study, healthcare workers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., who’d had at least one dose of the vaccine were 79% less likely than their unvaccinated co-workers to become infected with the coronavirus. The apparent protection was more powerful in people who got both doses of the vaccine and had time for that second dose to kick in — they were 90% less likely than their unvaccinated counterparts to become infected.
In Israel, people who were fully vaccinated were 97% less likely than their unvaccinated peers to develop a coronavirus infection with disease symptoms. Even among those who were only partially vaccinated, the risk of a symptomatic infection was 89% lower.
What’s more, people who were fully vaccinated were 86% less likely to develop an asymptomatic infection. The results suggest that COVID-19 vaccines have the potential to greatly reduce the threat posed by silent spreaders.
Your questions answered
Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: Will the COVID-19 vaccines affect my period?
This question is prompted by reports from people who say they’ve experienced irregular menstruation after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Scientists are looking into the issue, but they don’t see the potential link as a reason to turn down a dose.
“The benefits of taking the vaccine certainly way outweigh putting up with one heavy period, if indeed they’re related,” said Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a gynecologist and a professor at the Yale University School of Medicine.
Because vaccines are designed to activate your immune system, and the uterine lining that is shed during menstruation contains immune cells, a link could be possible, said Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician and gynecologist in the San Francisco area. But additional research is needed to know for sure because changes in menstruation could also be due to stress, diet and exercise habits.
One important thing to know is that there’s no evidence that any vaccines — including COVID-19 vaccines — affect fertility, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
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