In California: COVID-19 keeps killing people, many are farmworkers


There are more than 880,000 coronavirus cases in California and more than 8 million cases nationwide. In Southern California, some of the most vulnerable are our farmworkers. Plus: State revenue is up, severe weather expected back in the Bay, social media execs are under fire and a little something to cheer you up. 

Hi, I’m Maria Sestito, senior issues reporter for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, and today is “the deadliest day in October.” If it also happens to be your birthday, I’m sorry. (Mine was Sunday.)

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.  

The deadliest day in October 

It’s because of COVID-19, of course.

Though California’s coronavirus infections and hospitalizations were steady for about a month, the state reported its highest daily death toll since the summer today, according to the Sacramento Bee.

State health officials reported 162 new COVID-19 deaths, the most in a day since Sept. 15. The highest one-day of 219 came on July 31.

Compared with two weeks ago, California is averaging about 6% fewer deaths and about 2.5% fewer cases, but deaths started to rise this week, reports the Mercury News. 

Bay Area counties, including Santa Clara, Solano and Napa, are among those seeing an increase in cases — and the region’s daily average has swelled by 10% in the past week. Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties reported declines. 

Nationally, there were more fatalities from COVID-19 reported Wednesday — 1,170 in total — than any day since Sept. 15, according to data collected by the New York Times. According to the Times, daily deaths nationwide are up nearly 10% in the past two weeks, while transmission has soared: 33% more cases per day, on average, Wednesday than two weeks ago.

Among the dead — California farmworkers

In a beautiful and emotional six-part series, a team at USA TOD outlines how Latino farmworkers have been discriminated against and literally “worked to death.” 

Imperial County, which is 85% Hispanic, has consistently had one of the highest death rates in the United States, at a time when Latinos are one of the hardest-hit ethnic groups in the pandemic, according to data compiled by USA TODAY.

It is one of the poorest and unhealthiest places in California, with high rates of unemployment and child poverty. Nearly a quarter of families depend on federal assistance for food. 

An excerpt from that story:

At Frye Chapel and Mortuary in Brawley, white vans darted in and out of the parking lot one after another, day after day, delivering bodies. In July, they brought 130 – three times the normal monthly number. 

Workers brought refrigerated storage units to hold the bodies, parking them behind the one-story building surrounded by palm trees.

In her 33 years in the business, Sheila Kruger, the facility’s manager, had never seen anything like it. The mortuary, one of two serving Imperial County, was overrun. 

“We were just feeling panic,” she said. “We were just keeping our head above water.”

Concerned with staff safety, each body was fitted with a mask and then slid into a body bag until embalming, Kruger said. She said her heart broke each time she had to tell family members they couldn’t have services, and even had to deny a family’s request for an outdoor viewing in a parking lot. 

When too many family members of the deceased tried to come into the funeral home to discuss arrangements, she started locking the door.

Can I see them? they would ask. 

Again and again, the answer was no. 

Risky weather back in the Bay Area

Severe weather conditions and possible outages are expected in the Bay Area early next week, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. warned that power outages intended to prevent fires are possible across the region Sunday through Tuesday. 

“This will likely be strongest & most widespread offshore wind event of season, & is reminiscent of extreme events in 2019 & 2017,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain wrote on Twitter. “Hardest-hit areas appear to be west slopes of Sierra Nevada (gusts of 70+mph) & SF Bay Area (widespread gusts 40-50mph; higher in hills).”

GOP pushes social media execs on alleged censorship

Accusations of censorship against Facebook and Twitter from GOP Republicans accelerated Thursday as senators threatened chief executives with subpoenas, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

With Democrats boycotting the hearing, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted to authorize the legal orders if Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey did not agree to testify voluntarily.

The committee wants to hear from them about “the suppression and/or censorship of two news articles from the New York Post,” according to the subpoena document. Senators also want information from the executives about their companies’ policies for moderating content “that may interfere” with federal elections.

The accusations follow actions by the social media giants last week that sought to limit the sharing of a political story from New York Post targeting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. 

State tax revenue higher than expected

From July through September, California collected $8.7 billion more in tax revenue than anticipated, reports the Sacramento Bee. The bump is related to federal aid that came in the form of one-time $1,200 checks for individuals and weekly $600 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments for people who lost jobs due to the outbreak.

Part of the revenue is also from taxes on 2019 income when, the newspaper says, “the economy was booming.”

Though the numbers are a positive sign, Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said they should be viewed with some caution.

“Certainly it’s good to see that revenues are coming in well ahead of where we projected,” he said. “But we have to view it in the context of everything else that’s out there.”

Masked bandits hit up the bank

I tried really hard today to find something especially cute to end this on — and I found it. 

Masked bandits broke into a bank this week and left their muddy prints behind on a nearby tree. The bandits were seen by a customer using an ATM in Redwood City. 

“It’s not every day an animal organization gets called to deal with a bank break in, but since the bank robbers were masked bandits of the wildlife kind, we were indeed the appropriate responders,” said Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA communications manager Buffy Martin Tarbox.

The bandits were two raccoons. You can watch the video on ABC 7.

And, no, they did not make off with any cash, sources say. 

In California is a roundup of news from across USA TODAY Network newsrooms. Also contributing: San Francisco Chronicle, The Mercury News, ABC 7, the Sacramento Bee, and the L.A. Times.

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