Good evening. I’m Kiera Feldman, and it’s Friday, May 21. Here’s the latest on what’s happening with the coronavirus, plus ways to spend your weekend and a look at some of the week’s best stories.
We’ve had June 15 marked on our calendars as the day California would reopen its economy, but we didn’t have many details about what exactly that would mean. That even goes for those of us who’ve been following things like it’s their j-o-b.
Well, everything just got a little less TBD. Officials on Friday unveiled eagerly anticipated guidelines for a world that will look nothing like the California of the last year-plus.
Businesses will be able to serve customers without any limits on capacity or requirements for physical distancing. People who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to wear masks in most situations.
The state isn’t considering an official “vaccine passport” system to verify immunization status, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary. But businesses and event organizers may decide on their own to require that customers prove they’ve either been vaccinated or recently tested negative for the coronavirus.
Big, crowded indoor events will have the most stringent rules under the new plan — organizers will need to verify that attendees have been vaccinated or recently tested negative if more than 5,000 people are there.
At outdoor events with more than 10,000 people, the state will recommend, but not require, the same verification. (People who haven’t been vaccinated or tested recently can still attend, as long as they wear a mask.)
If you’re like me and still a bit queasy at the thought of being around 10,000 other people, here’s some good news: The data about so-called “breakthrough infections” after vaccination are looking better and better.
In L.A. County, the chances of becoming infected after you’re vaccinated are exceedingly rare. Out of 3.3 million fully vaccinated people, only 933 later tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. That’s just 0.03%.
Among those breakthrough infections, 71 people had to be hospitalized, and 12 later died. Four of them had severely weakened immune systems, Ferrer noted.
“We now have mounting proof that these vaccines really work,” she said.
Table of Contents
By the numbers
California cases, deaths and vaccinations as of 6:12 p.m. Friday:
See the current status of California’s reopening, county by county, with our tracker.
What to read this weekend
Too blue for school
For communities hit hard by the pandemic, reopening schools involves far more than rearranging desks and opening windows. My colleague Melissa Gomez brings us this story of one school district that opted to stay closed for the remainder of the year because the trauma and loss from COVID-19 were too great.
“We can’t just pick up where we left off,” said Frances Esparza, the superintendent of El Rancho Unified School District serving Pico Rivera. “Some of the students in El Rancho lost a parent, a grandparent, and some even lost both in just a few days. The staff of El Rancho Unified have also suffered the losses of family, friends and coworkers.”
High school senior Hailey Moreno lost both her father and her grandmother to COVID-19. Even logging into Zoom classes can be an emotionally wrought experience, because that’s how she last spoke to her father.
“It’s hard. You see other kids your age ... you hear from them, and teachers, and it’s just, their lives seem so normal,” she said. “It’s not. Nothing is normal.”
Many students have needed counseling for anxiety, depression, grief and loss, and school aides and teachers will receive training to identify signs of trauma or mental health issues before summer school programs begin.
“We need to deal with what has happened,” Esparza said.
Guinea pigs for hire
Within the first few months of the pandemic, jobs dried up in South Korea’s restaurants, bars and supermarkets. So young people in need of cash there turned to a gig of last resort: enrolling in clinical trials, my colleague Victoria Kim reports.
Paying test subjects for the trouble and risk of swallowing, being injected with or bedaubed with drugs or other medical substances is accepted practice worldwide. In South Korea, though, clinical trials have become an easy hustle for college students, struggling freelancers and the unemployed.
“You lie there for two nights, three days and have your blood drawn, staring at your phone, and you make money,” said Jeong Hyung-jun, a physician who is policy chair of the Korean Federation of Medical Activist Groups for Health Rights.
But some see the clinical trials as exploitative in a society that has failed to create worthwhile employment. Kim Nam-hee, a clinical professor at the Seoul National University School of Law, said the studies raise ethical questions about whether subjects are truly free to withdraw if they feel unsafe.
“It’s taking advantage of the subject’s physical, economic vulnerability, for minimal compensation,” she said. “It’s the pharmaceutical companies that reap the benefits. Structurally, there is an ethical problem.”
Mission not yet accomplished
California is weeks away from returning to a largely pre-pandemic life, but the “mission accomplished” vibe overlooks the fact that people of color are still getting left behind, columnist Erika D. Smith reminds us. And once rules about masks, social distancing and capacity limits are relaxed or removed, the gap stands to grow further.
The reason: Nearly two-thirds of Black and Latino Californians still haven’t been vaccinated, and that’s not likely to change very much by June 1, said Dr. Amon Rodgers, an assistant professor at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in South Los Angeles.
“My concern is that the reopening happens before we get a higher rate of vaccinations in areas like Compton and South L.A.,” Rodgers said. “I don’t want this community to be left holding the bag and widening the disparity that we already have.”
Like much of California, L.A. County has plenty of vaccine doses. But some people, particularly those without internet access or vehicles, still have a hard time finding a place to get the jab, Smith writes. Plus, many Black and Latino residents of South L.A. don’t have a primary care physician.
“If you’ve never had access to care, you can’t have a one-on-one conversation with a healthcare provider to answer your questions,” explained Dr. Roberto Vargas of Charles R. Drew University.
Mixing up the menu
Across L.A., restaurants are reopening their dining rooms, but the experience isn’t necessarily the same as it was before. Many eateries have undertaken significant renovations to adhere to the rules of the yellow tier.
Marianna Caldwell, the sommelier and general manager of Cassia in Santa Monica, recalled the unsatisfying reopening last June, when the Southeast Asian restaurant had to close its doors just a week and a half after it reopened. This time around, the bar-like seafood station has been replaced with sleek, upholstered banquettes.
“We wanted to take our time and do it right so that we won’t have to shut back down again,” she said. “And I don’t think L.A.’s going to shut back down again.”
Restaurateurs’ philosophies about reopening vary as widely as the cuisines. While some appreciated the time the pandemic gave them to reconfigure their menus and decor, others thought long and hard about how to reopen safely without straying from their roots.
That was the case for Mark Echeverria, whose family owns Musso & Frank Grill.
“For Musso’s, being 102 years old, it wasn’t necessarily about us pivoting and trying to make something work; it was more about remaining unchanged,” he said.
Many American college students have spent the pandemic zooming into classes from their childhood bedrooms. International students stuck in their home countries have faced the added hardships of time zone differences that forced them to log on for midnight classes.
Now that the coronavirus is ebbing in the U.S., these students are eager to return to their stateside campuses. But huge barriers are in their way, my colleague Teresa Watanabe reports. International students are panicked that huge backlogs for visa requests, shuttered consulates and bureaucratic rules that limit access to the U.S. may derail their long-awaited return.
UC Berkeley student Ruhi Jha began her college career remotely from her home in New Delhi. Last month, she and her family members contracted — and survived — COVID-19. The experience was terrifying, but now she’s feeling anxious about whether she’ll be able to get to California in time for the fall term. Berkeley also requires students to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but trying to land an appointment for one in the world’s second most populous country amid a devastating outbreak so far has been frustrating and fruitless.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a stressful situation in my life,” she said. “There have been quite a few moments of tears, but you just have to stay positive and scrape through whatever life is showing you.”
What to do this weekend
Get outside. Try a hike from our list of the 50 best hikes in L.A. Or get inspiration from South L.A. and turn your yard into a microfarm. And next week, a total lunar eclipse is happening in the early hours of Wednesday, which would be a great time to head to the newly designated dark-sky community of Julian to see the “super flower blood moon.” Subscribe to The Wild for more on the outdoors.
Watch something great. Our weekend culture watch list includes “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Jurassic Park,” “Moana” and more at local theaters, pop-ups and drive-ins. And in his Indie Focus newsletter’s roundup of new movies, Mark Olsen recommends the French film “Spring Blossom.” Written, directed by and starring 19-year-old Suzanne Lindon, the film tells the story of a teenager who engages in a flirtatious, chaste relationship with a 35-year-old actor. Critics have raved about this coming-of-age narrative that reckons with the French culture of sexualizing teenage girls.
Eat something great. Feast on moles and other Oaxacan food in Koreatown at Guelaguetza, winner of the 2021 Gold Award from The Times. Or savor a 10-course tasting menu at Phenakite, named restaurant of the year by The Times. Bill Addison also recommends his favorite L.A. restaurants for outdoor dining in the latest issue of the Tasting Notes newsletter.
Go online. Here’s The Times’ guide to the internet for when you’re looking for information on self-care, feel like learning something new or interesting, or want to expand your entertainment horizons.
The pandemic in pictures
Members of USC‘s Class of 2020 finally got to wear their caps and gowns — one year after they graduated.
The university held 14 different commencement ceremonies over seven days to celebrate the classes of 2020 and 2021. A total of 21,000 students took part in the ceremonies, which were held outdoors at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time in 71 years.
Masked students sat eight feet apart on the field, while spectators were socially distanced in the stands. Photographer Al Seib brought back a series of shots that captured the elation of the collective celebration.
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