Our Founders have a combined age of 147 years, but there’s not a bit of truth to the rumor that we covered the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Still, Newsmakers is hard-pressed to come up with many events in our lifetimes -- JFK's assassination and 9/11 come to mind -- that so suddenly and so dramatically changed ... everything.
Mr. Cranky Pants must confess bemused delight, however, at learning that personal behavior which previously got him labeled a grumpy solitary misanthrope now qualifies as socially responsible communitarianism. Here are eight quick takeaways from our first seven days in self-distancing, self-quarantining, self-imposed isolation.
1-Tyler runs the numbers. Here’s hoping that Santa Barbara residents in the COVID-19 crisis uphold their civic reputation of self-sacrificing citizenship, earned via our above-and-beyond compliance with conservation targets during the recent drought. Because the alternative is too scary to contemplate.
Tyler Hayden did some noodling after Friday’s warning by Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county Public Health Officer, that 85 percent of residents could become infected, absent widespread observance of stay-at-home and other social distancing orders -- with five percent of those requiring critical care: that’s 19,000 people who would need serious treatment, Tyler noted -- in a county with a total of 907 hospital beds, only 62 of which are of the ICU variety. Yikes.
2-Josh scoops on schools. Josh Molina was first to report on SB Unified's letter to parents, which outlines plans for online learning for students locked out of school, via a new Learning at Home web page, along with a crucial commitment by Cox to provide temporary free Wi-Fi to families who lack it.
In the letter, outgoing Superintendent Cary Matsuoka suggested schools might reopen around May 1, a puzzling assertion, which probably owes more to his knack for hedging and shading the truth than to real world facts, given Governor Gavin Newsom’s sweeping statement last week that, “I don’t think the schools are going to open again.” Hopefully, the shutdown won't delay the school board's recruitment and hiring of a new supe by June.
3-Press clips. In highlighting such important SB stories, we send out a periodic reminder to support local journalism, not a lucrative undertaking in the best of times, at least in recent years, but which is hurting now, as advertising naturally declines amid the economic nosedive that the pandemic triggered.
As ink-on-dead-tree romantics, we have a special soft spot for the Independent's print edition, which is increasingly reliant on subscriptions (sign up here, plenty of free parking) as weekly papers across the country currently face "total annihilation" while the paper's small staff labors 23 hours a day to cover this metastasizing story. We also hope you'll join us in remunerating other quality local journalism organizations, by ponying up for Noozhawk, getting a subscription to Edhat and supporting the good work of nonprofit TV Santa Barbara.
4-Say it ain't so... Alas, we must sadly add "Newsmakers TV" to the list of blockbuster shows forced to cancel because of the coronavirus (not only "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" but “The Bold the Beautiful” and “The Young and the Restless” too) as TVSB has been forced to shut down much of its operation.
Newsmakers further regrets the delay in announcing the winners and publishing the results in our 2020 California Primary Election Pool, due to pandemic-induced holdups in final ballot counting (the Bill Weld-Joe Walsh race for second place in the Republican presidential primary remains too close to call), as Prince Gavin this week gave county election officials a 21-day extension, which means we should see final finals in late April.
5-What me worry? A fascinating new public opinion survey by Pew Research demonstrates the life-and-death stakes of political polarization by measuring popular attitudes and beliefs about multiple aspects of the pandemic, based on the media sources that poll respondents rely on for news.
One small, but telling finding: Nearly one-third of those who get their information from Fox News believe the coronavirus was “developed intentionally in a lab,” a wingnut theory propounded by some of Trump’s congressional allies, while just slightly more than one-third believe it came about naturally. This compares to two-thirds of MSNBC viewers who say it came about naturally, with 10 percent of those who watch the Rachel Maddow network saying it was developed in a lab and weaponized. Fake news, indeed.
6-Water's rising. If you've seen or read a story about bidet sales soaring amid the epidemic, know that Rolling Stone deserves full credit for the global scoop on this one, after obtaining an interview with a high-powered, highly placed, um, bathroom fixtures executive, who disclosed that “Orders for manual bidet seats have increased to five times more than the monthly average, while entry-level electronic bidet seats increased by three times the monthly average,” spiking what already was a recent upsurge in bidet sales.
We don’t claim to get the whole buy-a-millenium-worth-of-bathroom-tissue hoarder crowd, but were pleased to learn that the pandemic is good for at least somebody's bottom line.
7-Pot prosperity. Business is also booming for the cannabis industry, both politically and economically: Kyle Kazan, CEO of the California cannabis company Glass House Group (SB's ubiquitous Graham Farrar is President) told Politico’s Mona Zhang that pot sales have increased 4.1 percent overall in the last week, including a 24 percent rise in deliveries in L.A. and a 50 percent spike in Santa Barbara.
No small wonder, witness Melinda Burns’ report on the Board of Supervisors riding roughshod over those concerned about the county's takeover by the cannabis industry and tossing restrictions the Planning Commission imposed on a big grower in the valley -- clear evidence that in the wake of Das Williams’ defeat of Laura Capps for First District Supervisor, the World’s Least Deliberative Body is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the weed growers consortium.
8-Operatic solace. We leave you with a snippet of good news arising from the pandemic. New York’s Metropolitan Opera has begun offering nightly, free stream encore performances from its “Live in HD” series, beginning at 4:30 pm PDT and available for 20 hours after.
The series began on Monday with Bizet’s “Carmen,” starring Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna: “We’d like to provide some grand opera solace to opera lovers in these extraordinarily difficult times,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. No word yet if "A Feast in Time of Plague" will be performed.
P.S. Public Health officials announced four more confirmed cases this afternoon.
Update: Five more cases confirmed on Sunday March 22 for a total of 18 in the county, per Noozhawk.
Images: Confucious (slideplayer.com); Dr. Henning Ansorg (Cottagehealth.org); Cary Matsuoka (Paul Wellman); Indy logo; Newsmakers 2-13-20 (J.P. Montalvo); Photo illustration (Daily Beast); Courtesy photo; Roll 'em and smoke 'em; Score for "A Feast in Time of Plague" by Cesar Cui, based on the play by Alexander Pushkin (musicaneo.com).