Category Archives: California

They’re trapped, and the killer virus knows where to find them in California

Los Angeles Times reports on huge numbers in our nursing homes and prisons

Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-San Pedro) speaks during a news conference after touring the federal penitentiary at Terminal Island to inquire about the high number of COVID-19 cases among inmates and prison staff. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times, by Steve Lopez, May 13 2020

There are two places in California where, as the pandemic rages, you do not want to be.

Prisons and elder care facilities.

An astounding 49% of all COVID-19 deaths in California were linked to elder care facilities as of last week, with more than 1,200 cases, along with hundreds more infected patients and employees.

Meanwhile, 886 inmates at the federal prison in Lompoc (almost 70%) have been infected with the virus; 396 infections, including five deaths, were reported at the state prison in Chino; and there have been 709 infections and seven deaths at Terminal Island federal pen in San Pedro.

Family members protested at the San Pedro facility last week and Congresswoman Nanette Barragán, who represents the area, told the Times’ Richard Winton she felt the warden was not doing enough to protect inmates with medical conditions. She said she reported the situation to Trump administration health official Dr. Anthony Fauci, who “seemed a little alarmed.”

I think he might want to be a lot alarmed.

Tiffani Fortney’s father was at Terminal Island serving a 26-month sentence for tax-related crimes, and she was biting her nails at her home in Arizona. Her dad had diabetes and heart issues that made him a sitting duck in the tight confines of a communal setting.

“It was hell,” she said about trying to get information on her father’s welfare. “I talked to him on Easter and he told me one person there had the virus and they were separating everybody.… He told me he’d call in a few days and he never did.”

Unbeknown to Fortney, her father, 70-year-old Scott Douglas Cutting of Apple Valley, got sick. Very sick. And Fortney said she did not learn until the end of last month that her father had been hospitalized in mid-April with COVID-19 symptoms.

“I tried calling the prison but couldn’t get answers. I left a message sometimes, but other times I couldn’t even get to the message thing,” she said.

On May 1, the federal public defender’s office filed an emergency application for the release of medical records and for prison compliance with family notification policies. According to the filing, Fortney’s brother Scott was informed on April 29 that their father had been hospitalized and intubated. The next day, Fortney got a call from a prison staff member saying her father was “not doing well.”

Fortney told me she and her brother were able to speak to him by phone and say goodbye, thanks to the “amazing staff” at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance. On Saturday, May 9, Cutting became the seventh inmate to die of COVID-19 while serving time at the aptly named Terminal Island.

“No one deserves to die like that,” Fortney said. “I don’t care if they’re criminals or not.”

A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons declined my request for an interview, but sent a long list of steps taken since the pandemic began.

“We are deeply concerned for the health and welfare of those inmates who are entrusted to our care, and for our staff, their families, and the communities we live and work in,” said the spokesperson, adding that the bureau is doing “everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities.”

Across the country, thousands of prisoners have been released early to stem the spread of the virus to inmates and jail staff, and in L.A. County some jail inmates are even suspected of trying to infect themselves with the virus thinking that might get them sprung early.

Civil rights attorneys and relatives of inmates have argued for broader release of elderly or sick inmates, and for more testing and protective measures. But despite support from public health experts, that’s not an easily winnable argument given resistance from top federal officials, says Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel.

“The responsibility is mistakenly placed on the officials who run these facilities, but it’s the government that is defending” the status quo, said Rosenbaum. “It is punitive and it is a means of saying these are subhuman individuals and what happens to them and their communities does not matter.”

That same societal judgment has been made about those living in some elder care facilities, which is one reason they’ve become such deathtraps.

“People are really shocked that this has happened, but I’m not surprised,” said Charlene Harrington, 78, an emeritus UC San Francisco nursing professor who has spent decades fighting for stricter nursing home regulations and more oversight. “Even before the virus hit, three-fourths of nursing homes didn’t have adequate staffing and did not meet what we would consider to be reasonable standards.”

You’d think that with the virus being particularly deadly for older people, Harrington said, nursing facilities would have gotten a higher priority when it came to testing and doling out protective equipment for staff.

Part of the problem, she says, is a shift in the nursing home industry as independently owned mom and pop operations have given way to big chains and private equity investors.

“They squeeze out every cent that they can,” Harrington said, paying “the lowest possible wages,” often to minorities and immigrants, usually with no healthcare insurance and no sick leave. That raises the possibility of employees reporting to work when they’re sick, or getting sick at work and then infecting friends and relatives outside the facility.

So why can’t a civilized society do a more humane job of caring for grandma and grandpa?

As we’ve been reminded in recent weeks, some people seem to think old folks — especially those already warehoused —are expendable. But the more accurate answer involves money and politics.

The nursing homes wield tremendous influence over policymakers. And even though taxpayers cover the majority of the cost of care through Medicare and Medicaid, Harrington said, “nursing homes have gotten away with minimal enforcement for over 20 or 30 years, so they were ripe for disaster.”

And Harrington said that just as with the other COVID-19 hot-spots — jails and prisons — we can’t be entirely sure what’s going on behind closed doors. For nursing homes, she said, there’s an incentive for under-playing the number of cases to families that are now barred from visiting facilities.

In fact, one source directed me to discrepancies between what one L.A. County nursing facility has acknowledged about COVID-19 infections and deaths among patients and staff, and the much larger numbers listed on the L.A. County Health Department website.

This virus doesn’t play fair. It goes after the trapped, the poor and the elderly, and the mounting list of casualties is unacceptable.

If you know an inmate or prison staffer who got sick or died, or if you know an elder care facility patient or employee who got sick or died, I’d like to hear your story.

Who is reporting on COVID-19 in California meat packing plants?

By Roger Straw, May 8, 2020

Are the midwestern superclusters coming our way anytime soon?

File image of meat processing plant (KOIN)

Meat Packing Plants

I did a little digging on meat packing plants in California…  Here’s a Google map of meat our packing plants.

I didn’t spend much time looking into plants nearest to the Bay Area as yet.  I ran out of time because my eye was caught by recent headlines about one CA plant – Central Valley Meat Company in Hanford CA (Kings County).  On May 7, the Associated Press reported that At least 138 employees contracted COVID-19 at California meat packaging plant.

HANFORD, Calif. (AP) — At least 138 employees at a meat packing plant in central California have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Reports say several employees at the Central Valley Meat Company in Hanford first tested positive for the virus more than a week ago.

Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon said the meat packing plant now accounts for nearly two-thirds of the coronavirus cases in the rural county. The company employs about 900 workers at two plants in Hanford and Vernon and continues to operate.

Company officials say they are following CDC guidelines to keep their employees safe.

The Kings County website is not sharing any information on locations of outbreaks, but most of the cases are clearly related to Central Valley Meat, located in Hanford.  See the charts below (from the Kings Co. website on May 8, and note how the Kings curve is shooting out of sight!The Central Valley Meat website gives no information on the infection. But the website displays the following message as a delayed overlay to the front page, all but ordering employees to show up.

Central Valley Meat    In light of the Coronavirus pandemic and the new statewide “shelter in place” order from California’s governor, we want to remind all Central Valley Meat Company employees as well as our customers and consuming public that Central Valley Meat Company is considered an “essential business”. Because Central Valley Meat is an important component of the food supply chain all employees are asked to report to work for their normal shift and times. We are also hiring additional workers and we encourage those seeking work to apply at

National context and background

MSNBC’S Lawrence O’Donnell reports on meat packers, prisons and nursing homes…

California journalists and reporters need to better investigate the COVID-19 effects in our meat packing plants, prisons and nursing homes.

Rush to reopen California economy is a mistake

The risk is the kind of second-wave surge that killed thousands in the Bay Area during the 1918 Spanish influenza

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that he will open up book stores, clothing stores, toy stores and florists for curb-side pickup. (By Area News Group File Photo)
By Mercury News & East Bay Times Editorial Boards, May 5, 2020

This is no time to go back to business as usual.

The intense longing for a return to normalcy in California and other states is understandable. But the rush to reopen businesses is premature and ignores the warnings of health experts and the basic science of the novel coronavirus.

The risk is the kind of second-wave surge that killed thousands in the Bay Area during the 1918 Spanish influenza. Indeed, a draft government report forecasts sharp increases in COVID-19 cases and deaths nationally beginning around May 14.

Yet Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that the next stage in reopening California’s economy will take place Friday. The governor said that he will allow book stores, clothing stores, toy stores, florists and other businesses to reopen for curbside pick-up. Associated manufacturers that support those retail stores will also be allowed to resume production. Some counties in more rural areas will be allowed to decide whether to reopen restaurants that have made accommodations for social-distancing dining.

Newsom’s gamble is similar to one Bay Area county health officials made last week in allowing construction projects to resume. It threatens the lives of workers and their families, neighbors and acquaintances. The economy will eventually bounce back. But lost lives can never be recovered.

The governor said the state was ready to move into “Phase 2” of the reopening process because it is on schedule with six different criteria: stability of hospitalizations, personal protective equipment inventory, health care surge capacity, testing capacity, contact tracing capability and public health guidance in place.

But California’s contact tracing capability is almost non-existent. Its testing capacity is at 25,000 tests per day in a state with a population of nearly 40 million people. That is equal to 62.5 tests per 100,000 people. Estimates by Harvard University researchers indicate that the minimum number of tests should be 152 per 100,000 people, meaning California is only doing 41% percent of the minimum.

It is absolutely essential that store owners and manufacturers follow the state’s new orders to ensure employee and customer safety. The failure to do so could result in a surge of hospitalizations, setting California back months in its recovery.

California isn’t the only state risking opening for business too soon. Governors in nearly a dozen states, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are going well beyond Newsom’s orders.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp opened up movie theaters Monday after allowing hair salons, massage parlors and bowling alleys to resume business last week. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told department stores and retailers that they could start allowing shoppers in their businesses. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee allowed restaurants, retail outlets and gyms to reopen last week. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine will allow general offices to open next week, along with retail businesses.

The moves threaten the governors’ credibility and residents’ confidence in their leadership.

In California, the decisions on when to open businesses should be based on science — not hope and a prayer.

COVID-19 – California will exceed 50,000 positive cases and 2,000 deaths today or tomorrow

By Roger Straw, April 30, 2020

California’s COVID-19 Statewide Update page shows a chart plotting the past month’s day-to-day numbers on new confirmed cases and deaths, an excellent resource for understanding where we stand in the midst of the pandemic.  Yesterday’s increase of 1,469 positive cases would suggest that California will exceed the 50,000 mark in cases sometime today or tomorrow.  We will surely top 2,000 deaths today.

Here is from today’s report:

How are COVID-19 cases progressing?

Data as of April 29, 2020 at 11:00 am.

There were 1,469 new confirmed cases Tuesday. The total number of deaths is 1,887, an increase of 78 from Monday.

Other charts show:

  • How COVID-19 cases are progressing in each county
  • Gender and ethnicity of those infected with COVID-19
  • Numbers on the current state of testing
  • Numbers on the current state of hospitalizations
  • Hospitalizations by county

Solano County’s COVID-19 Dashboard gives similar data.