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Plus: Tulare County breaks two COVID-19 records in one day, ‘endless’ wildfire season sets record
I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs … We’ll be taking a hiatus tomorrow and Friday but will be back on Monday, Dec. 28.
In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.
Safety concerns grow as some California tribal casinos remain open
A Riverside County restaurant owner, one of many forced to stop offering in-person dining this month due to stay-at-home orders, was surprised to see some of his regular customers enjoying a night out at a nearby tribal casino.
Since tribal gaming facilities are not subject to the state’s regional stay-at-home orders, most in California are keeping the doors of their restaurants, bars and gambling options open, even as limited data points to outbreaks at some casinos.
In San Diego County, more than 630 coronavirus cases have been tied to seven area casinos from late June to mid-December, according to a report published this week by KPBS. The report noted that linking a case with a casino means a person was there within two weeks of being diagnosed with coronavirus — not necessarily that the person contracted COVID-19 there or infected anyone else.
In Riverside County, officials have documented six separate outbreaks, of three or more cases each, at area casinos between June and November. Those outbreaks took place at six of the county’s 10 casinos, and include 57 associated cases. County officials said the total number of potential exposures that could be linked to casinos — not just outbreaks — was not available.
Employees of several tribal casinos told The Desert Sun they have qualms about working in large enclosed spaces with hundreds of patrons — but fear being unemployed and without health insurance. “It’s an incredibly stressful place to work,” one said. “Most of us feel we are just waiting for our turn to get the virus.”
“I think (casinos staying open) has the potential for a really negative impact and increasing cases in this pandemic,” said Juliet Morrison, a virologist at the University of California, Riverside.
COVID-19: Tulare County breaks two records in one day
Tulare County’s losing battle with COVID-19 metrics hit two grim milestones on Wednesday, breaking records for both the most reported deaths in one day and shattering the monthly death toll, according to Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency statistics.
With a record 13 newly reported deaths by the local health agency on Wednesday, 61 people have died from COVID-19 related causes in December. The previous high was in August. If the new infection rate continues at its current pace, Tulare County will see more than 12,000 new COVID-19 cases in December, which will more than double the previous monthly high of 5,200 new cases in July.
On Tuesday, frontline healthcare workers from Tulare County hospitals described a “nightmarish” situation at already crowded facilities.
“We absolutely cannot tolerate another surge. We don’t have space for them,” said Dr. Harjoth Malli, an intensive care physician at Kaweah Delta, at a Tuesday press conference.
California is closing in on 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.
‘Endless’ wildfire season sets record, more winds threaten power outages in SoCal
With another Santa Ana wind event forecast in Southern California over the next couple of days — and more planned power outages for beleaguered residents — 2020 is turning into the wildfire season that just. won’t. end.
Southern California Edison said it might shut off power to more than 130,000 homes and businesses in six counties on Wednesday and Thursday, Christmas Eve, because of the threat of wildfires. Winds will gust to 40 to 60 mph both days.
However, there is some hope for relief in the Southland as a Pacific storm approaching the area late Sunday into Monday could provide a decent soaking from Los Angeles to San Diego, according to AccuWeather.
While various parts of the nation have been hit hard by wildfires in 2020, California has been the epicenter of fire activity this year, accounting for 40% of the nation’s fire-destroyed areas. That’s more than 6,500 square miles, which is larger than the state of Connecticut.
Officials in Tahoe area seek help from Airbnb
Two counties in California — Placer and El Dorado — along with the town of Truckee are asking Airbnb’s help in halting Lake Tahoe-area short-term rentals that don’t jibe with the state’s stay-at-home order amid the continuing coronavirus surge.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustafson, El Dorado County Supervisor Sue Novasel and Truckee Town Manager Jennifer Callaway sent the rental service a letter Monday, asking it to inform owners and guests that had non-essential bookings through Jan. 1 that their reservations were in violation of the state’s order. It also requested that the company ask property owners to provide full refunds for canceled reservations and also help identify properties violating the stay-at-home order.
Callaway said Airbnb’s program director Adam Thongsavat responded the same day to say the company would begin preparing emails to all hosts in Placer and El Dorado County.
The rental company did not say how it would handle rentals booked for dates after Jan. 1.
Bite-sized news bits for easy consumption:
- Aboard the Voyage of the Damned, Plague Ship: Remember the Grand Princess cruise ship, the one at the very beginning of the pandemic that turned into a veritable petri dish of coronavirus infections and ended up in a holding pattern off the coast of San Francisco for days as officials tried to figure out what the heck to do? The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article with firsthand accounts of those “days of despair.”
- I suspect most of us are looking forward to many changes in the new year. (As one Brad Pitt-themed meme said: “The first rule of 2021 is you don’t talk about 2020.”) But among those highly anticipated changes, are you thinking about new traffic laws? The California Highway Patrol is. On Wednesday, it highlighted some of the new car and road mandates we need to be aware of, including a bill that exempts a person who rescues an endangered child from an unattended vehicle from liability for trespassing or car damage. Learn more at ktla.com.
- Actor Kirk Cameron, perhaps best known as Mike Seaver on the ABC sitcom “Growing Pains,” was under fire Wednesday after participating in his second COVID-19-protesting mask-free Christmas caroling event, reports people.com. Videos posted online showed dozens of attendees singing in close proximity at The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks. The mall later issued a statement calling the gathering “irresponsible,” while at a similar event last week, Cameron told followers that the group was “celebrating our God-given liberties” to gather.
That’s all for this week. We wish you a very safe, informed and happy holiday weekend!
In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: ktla.com, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle
As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and people who give back in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at [email protected]