Disneyland’s new annual pass program could require advance reservations while allowing for some flexibility and spontaneity for passholders who want to pop in for an impromptu spin on Space Mountain, according to surveys by the Anaheim theme park.
Disneyland has begun surveying passholders by email to determine the most popular option combinations and price points for the new membership program that will replace the former annual pass program.
The surveys, along with extensive qualitative research, will offer consumer insights to help inform the development of future Disneyland membership offerings designed to deliver choice, flexibility and value, according to Disney officials.
Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and other California theme parks are unlikely to return to full operation until spring or summer under COVID-19 health and safety reopening guidelines issued by the state.
Disneyland cast a wide net with the surveys to determine what options and prices resonate with passholders. The DAPS Magic fan site has collected eight different membership packages from the Disneyland passholder surveys.
Membership prices in the surveys range from $399 to $1,399 — in line with 2019 prices for Disneyland annual passes. In 2020, the Southern California Select pass rose to $419 while the Signature Plus pass climbed to $1,449.
The surveys reveal some new options that differ from the former annual pass program.
All of the memberships presented in the surveys require advance reservations with passholders able to make 2, 4 or 6 reservations at a time — depending on the package. Reservation windows range from 60 to 90 to 120 days.
Several of the membership options in the surveys offer “blockout day tickets” that can be used on days when a passholder can’t access Disneyland or DCA due to the blockout calendar. Memberships offered 1 or 2 blockout day tickets — or none at all.
Another new option: “Anytime reservations” that can be used on short notice without an advance reservation. Memberships presented in the surveys offered 2, 4 or 6 anytime reservations — or none at all.
Also new: Dedicated entrances to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure just for passholders — although the option was not available with every membership in the surveys.
Discounts were available on Friends & Family tickets and for special events with some memberships. Discounts on food and merchandise ranged from 10% to 30% depending on the membership.
The Disneyland surveys appear to be tailored to individual passholders depending on their past annual pass purchases to determine what options and prices are most appealing.
For example, the MaxPass version of the popular FastPass system was included with a $599 membership, but not with a $1,399 pass in surveys posted to DAPS Magic. Similarly, the PhotoPass option was included with the $599 membership, but not with a $999 pass. Curiously, the dedicated passholder entrance was offered with several lower-priced passes, but not with some of the higher-priced options.
Parking prices in the surveys were all over the map — suggesting the perk could be used as an enticing incentive. Parking was included with a $399 pass, not included with an $1,199 pass, discounted 50% with a $599 pass and 20% off with a $999 pass.
The reservation requirements presented in the surveys suggest Disneyland is moving toward an annual pass replacement that looks like the $649 Flex pass — which required advance reservations to get into Disneyland and DCA on busy days.
The advance reservations with the new memberships could be temporary restraints required by state guidelines issued — or a long-term fix to the annual passholder program that has vexed Disneyland for decades.
Disneyland had little to no control over how many passholders showed up at the park on any given day under the old annual pass system. A permanent reservation system would wrestle back some of that control — while allowing for some spontaneity by passholders with the anytime reservations and blockout day tickets.
Disneyland has not said how the new membership program will work. The park could present a few select passes with escalating prices and options as it has done in the past. Or offer a personalized menu where passholders dynamically adjust the options they want at the price point that’s comfortable. We will have to wait to see how Disneyland’s new membership program balances access, perks and prices.
California is conducting an immense sociological experiment, testing whether reducing prison time for criminal acts will, in the long run, mean less crime.
Over the last decade, politicians and voters have lowered penalties for dozens of serious and minor crimes, reduced state prison populations by about 40% and adopted multiple programs to treat underlying conditions, such as drug use and lack of education, to deter offenders from committing new crimes.
It’s been a dramatic turnaround from previous decades, when the public demanded ever-tougher sentences and the state couldn’t build prisons fast enough to handle a tidal wave of new inmates, resulting in overcrowding so severe that federal judges intervened.
The change coincided with California’s equally dramatic political reorientation.
From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, a fear of crime, particularly violent crime, dominated the state’s political atmosphere, symbolized by the “three strikes and you’re out” law aimed at putting repeat felons behind bars for life.
Republicans adroitly capitalized to win elections by accusing Democratic rivals of being soft on crime. In 1986, voters overwhelmingly voted out three liberal state Supreme Court justices because of their capital punishment rulings.
Republican overreach, particularly a ballot measure targeting undocumented immigrants, and complex economic and sociological factors, such as the collapse of Southern California’s aerospace industry, began changing the state’s political climate in the late 1990s.
Within a decade, Democrats had achieved dominance at all levels and soon embraced what they called “criminal justice reform.”
Jerry Brown, who experienced the political impact of crime as governor in the late 1970s and 1980s and signed some of the lock-‘em-up bills, returned to the governorship in 2011. He was bent on reversing course, but cautiously didn’t make that intent public until he had won a fourth and final term in 2014.
Brown sponsored a 2016 ballot measure, Proposition 57, that swept away much of what he and other governors had wrought decades earlier, with political cover from federal judges who had ordered reductions in prison populations due to overcrowding.
Brown’s successor, Gavin Newsom, is continuing the experiment. Even though the death penalty is still law, Newsom has declared an execution moratorium. He also accelerated reductions in prison populations because of severe COVID-19 outbreaks and promised to close prisons.
Newsom’s proposed 2021-22 budget projects that the prison population, once as high as 170,000, will drop to 97,950 this year and continue declining thereafter.
Meanwhile, voters in San Francisco and Los Angeles have elected new district attorneys on platforms to minimize incarceration and maximize diversions into non-penal rehabilitation.
They are seeing some pushback. George Gascón, who had been San Francisco’s district attorney before shifting to Los Angeles, is even being sued by his own deputies, contending he is violating the law by ordering them to seek minimal sentences for crimes.
The bottom line question, of course, is whether the attitudinal change will, as advocates contend, reduce the system’s disproportionate impact on Black and Latino communities while also reducing the overall threat of crime.
Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, violent crime has been spiking upwards during the nearly year-long COVID-19 pandemic. This month, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore cited a sharp surge in homicides in his city to more than 300 in 2020 and 24 in the first two weeks of 2021.
In mid-January, the Los Angeles Times’ running tally of homicides counted 656 in Los Angeles County during the previous 12 months.
“It’s our shared responsibility to stop this senseless violence,” Moore said in his tweet.
If, however, it continues, will crime once again become a burning political issue?
CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary
A statement sent in a state business association’s letter to its members Sunday raised speculation that Gov. Gavin Newsom could lift the statewide stay-at-home order Monday that has been in effect since early last month.
According to a copy of the letter, California Restaurant Association members were told that “late this evening, senior officials in the Newsom administration informed us that the Governor will announce tomorrow that the stay-at-home order will be lifted in all regions of the state.”
The letter listed the Bay Area, Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley as under the order, with the Sacramento and Northern California regions not currently under any order. Some north state counties saw their restrictions lifted just before mid-month.
“Again, a formal announcement is expected tomorrow and we will send you further information as soon as it is available,” the letter closes. “For now, we thought you’d like to know the good news.”
BREAKING: I have obtained an email from the California Restaurant Association that says @GavinNewsom will be lifting the stay-at-home order for all regions across the state tomorrow. This includes the San Joaquin Valley Region that contains all Central Valley counties
A 21-year-old man died after his sports car crashed into the side of a building in Newport Beach late Saturday night, the Orange County coroner’s office said.
Zackary Topolewski-Jury died early Sunday morning in a Santa Ana hospital after he was transported from the scene of the crash, according to a coroner statement.
The crash occurred at 6904 West Coast Highway at around 11:10 p.m. Saturday. That’s when a silver Mustang traveling westbound suddenly smashed through a metal fence, then struck the front door of a cat shelter.
The front end of the Mustang was destroyed. The fence and front screen door of the shelter were also smashed, but the building did not sustain any other damage.
Newport Beach police said Topolewski-Jury was the only person in the car.
No information was available on how fast the Mustang was going. Police were still investigating the cause of the crash on Sunday.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) celebrates after intercepting a pass intended for Green Bay Packers’ Allen Lazard during the first half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Jones (33) fumbles after being hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Jordan Whitehead (33) during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Green Bay Packers’ Ka’dar Hollman (29) and Adrian Amos try to stop Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Rob Gronkowski during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Green Bay Packers’ Jamaal Williams (30) is upended by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Green Bay Packers’ Jamaal Williams pushes off Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Devin White during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Green Bay Packers’ Jaire Alexander (23) celebrates after intercepting a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Shaquil Barrett (58) celebrates with teammate Jason Pierre-Paul after sacking Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021.(AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) evades a tackle as he looks to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates with head coach Bruce Arians and teammates after their 31 to 26 win over the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a 29-yard touchdown pass to Buccaneers’ Scott Miller against the Green Bay Packers during the first half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Packer fans react during the first half of the NFC championship NFL football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Green Pay Packers fans react after losing the NFC championship NFL football game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. The Buccaneers defeated the Packers 31-26 to advance to the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Green Bay Packers’ Darnell Savage (26) puts pressure on Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady as he throws a pass intercepted by Green Bay Packers’ Jaire Alexander during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Green Bay Packers’ Jaire Alexander (23) celebrates after intercepting a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Cameron Brate (84) catches 8-yard touchdown pass against the Green Bay Packers during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Green Bay Packers’ Jaire Alexander (23) celebrates after intercepting a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Shaquil Barrett sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the first half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates in the final seconds of their 31 to 26 win over the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Devin White #45 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recovers a fumble in the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
A Packers fan wears a Lambeau Field hat before the NFC championship NFL football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Mike Evans #13 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers completes a reception for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers tries to avoid the tackle of Carlton Davis #24 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third quarter during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers’ Preston Smith watches as Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Marquez Valdes-Scantling #83 of the Green Bay Packers completes a reception against Sean Murphy-Bunting #23 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth quarter during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates their 31 to 26 win over the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tom Brady, along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ road magic, has them heading home to the Super Bowl, the first team to play in one on their home field.
Brady owns six Super Bowl rings with New England and now heads to his 10th NFL championship game with his new team.
With help from a stifling pass rush and a curious late call on fourth-and-goal by the Packers, Brady and the Bucs beat top-seeded Green Bay 31-26 for the NFC title Sunday.
“It’s great to get another road win, and now we got a home game,” said Brady, who went 20 of 36 for 280 yards with three touchdowns. “Who’d ever thought a home Super Bowl for us? But we did it.”
The Bucs (14-5) earned their franchise-record eighth consecutive road victory to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since their 2002 championship season.
They were helped by a strange decision by Packers coach Matt LaFleur with just over two minutes remaining and down by eight points. On fourth-and-goal, he elected to kick a field goal to get within five. Tampa Bay then ran out the clock on the Packers (14-4).
The Bucs will face either the Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7.
“We’re coming home,” said Bucs coach Bruce Arians, who will make his first trip to the Super Bowl as a head coach. “We’re coming home to win.”
Green Bay trailed 31-23 and had first-and-goal from the 8 in the last few minutes. But after Aaron Rodgers threw three straight incompletions, the Packers settled for Mason Crosby’s 26-yard field goal with 2:05 left.
The Packers had all three timeouts left and were hoping their defense could force a punt. The Bucs foiled that plan, draining the rest of the clock, helped by a pass interference penalty on Kevin King.
Led by Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combining for five sacks, Tampa Bay snapped Green Bay’s seven-game winning streak. The Packers lost in the NFC championship game for the fourth time in the last seven seasons. Green Bay hasn’t reached the Super Bowl since its 2010 championship season.
Rodgers went 33 of 48 for 346 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, but fell to 1-4 in conference championship games as a starting quarterback.
It’s been quite a ride for Brady and the Bucs. Brady moved to Tampa as a free agent and brought star tight end Rob Gronkowski out of retirement to join him. But with limited practice time with his new teammates because of coronavirus protocols, the Bucs didn’t get rolling until after their bye week.
Now look where they are.
Tampa Bay took command in the middle portion of the game.
Green Bay trailed 14-10 and had the ball just before halftime until Sean Murphy-Bunting picked off Rodgers at the Tampa Bay 49-yard line with 28 seconds remaining. After converting a fourth-and-4, Tampa Bay was at Green Bay’s 39 with 8 seconds remaining. The Bucs passed up a long field-goal attempt, and Brady found Scotty Miller down the left sideline for a 39-yard touchdown catch with just 1 second remaining.
“We didn’t come here to not take chances to win the game,” Arians said. “Love the play we had. Got a great matchup and got a TD. That was huge.”
The Bucs built a 28-10 lead early in the third quarter thanks to Brady’s three touchdown passes. Brady went 20 of 36 for 280 yards.
The Packers got the ball to start the second half, and Aaron Jones caught a short third-down pass. He took a huge hit from Jordan Whitehead that knocked the ball loose. Devin White recovered and ran 21 yards to the Green Bay 8.
One play later, Brady found a wide-open Cameron Brate to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-10.
The Packers rallied as Brady threw interceptions on three straight drives for just the second time in his career. Green Bay cut the lead to 28-23 late in the third quarter on Rodgers’ touchdown passes to Robert Tonyan and Davante Adams.
A storm forming to the north was expected to arrive in Southern California between late Sunday and early Monday, Jan. 25, dropping temperatures far below average, dumping rain, snow and hail, and likely snarling traffic in the region, meteorologists said.
Clouds parted Sunday after leaving more than a foot of fresh powder at Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood over the weekend and puddles across Southern California. Those will be replaced by another wet weather system expected to pass over the area Sunday night through Monday morning.
It will bring highs 20 degrees cooler than normal Monday, and snow at elevations as low as 2,000 feet in parts of Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego and Riverside Counties, with “significant amounts” projected to fall in Los Angeles County at elevations above 5,000 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
Traffic is already building. Be prepared for long wait times if heading to the mountains. Bring a full tank of gas and don’t forget your chains. pic.twitter.com/Dphhpm6zef
Piles of fresh snow will could potentially wreak havoc for motorists, especially along the 15 Freeway in the Cajon Pass, as well as the 5 Freeway over the Grapevine, meteorologists said. Travelers were advised to monitor traffic conditions and plan for possible closures. Drivers should be wary of rain or snow-slicked roads.
In Van Nuys, temperatures were projected to come down from 61 degrees on Sunday to 55 degrees on Monday. Monday’s highs were forecast at 57 degrees in Santa Ana, 52 degrees in Riverside, 49 degrees in Rancho Cucamonga.
The weather pattern at the start of the workweek will also deliver winds averaging 30-45 mph, with gusts moving as fast as 65 mph, to portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Monday afternoon should be the windiest period of the coming storm.
Meteorologists warned that extended exposure to cold and wind could be life-threatening. Los Angeles County, health officials issued a cold weather alert through Thursday for the mountains and Antelope Valley. Similar guidance will be in effect through Tuesday for the Santa Monica Mountains and the Santa Clarita Valley.
Our next storm remains on track to bring areas of heavy rain and snow, windy conditions, and cold temperatures over the next few days. Big impacts will be felt on the roads, especially the 8 and the 15 (Cajon Pass). Spread the word and stay safe out there! #cawxpic.twitter.com/CzwCcBs7HR
Cold air will contribute to an “unstable environment,” creating the potential for thunderstorms. All areas of Southern California may see rainfall by Monday. However, rainfall totals may prove to be modest, and there is only a mild possibility of flooding in the first half of the week, National Weather Service Meteorologist Adam Roser said.
The risk of deluge grows later in the week, when another, wetter storm was expected to drench Southern California beginning Wednesday and lasting until the weekend. That likely will douse most of the region with at least half an inch of rain, with some foothills and valleys in the Inland Empire, Los Angles County and Northern Orange County receiving between two and three inches, forecasters say.
People living in areas charred by the Bobcat, Ranch2 and Lakefires were advised to look for updates regarding flooding and mudslides.
After some fits and starts, the recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom appears to be gaining traction. Proponents say they have collected over 1 million signatures.
Media reports of a half-million dollar donation to the effort plus rumors of even more forthcoming are getting the attention of California’s political establishment. If the required 1.5 million valid signatures are submitted before the mid-March deadline and subsequently verified, a special election will be held and California voters will soon thereafter vote on the recall.
That is, unless the California Legislature pulls another fast one as it did in 2017, passing a last-minute change to the rules or the election calendar.
Any such attempt would be extremely unwise, with public confidence in government already low.
On the ballot, the recall question would be accompanied by a separate question of who would replace the incumbent if the recall passed. (In the October 2003 recall election of Gov. Gray Davis, a total of 135 candidates were on the ballot as replacement candidates, including pornographer Larry Flynt and former TV child star Gary Coleman).
Recalls are not easy and are fraught with many unknowns. They are expensive and the complicated politics of multiple replacement candidates, each seeking a plurality of votes, makes the state’s “jungle” primaries seem simple by comparison.
Polling is unreliable in such an environment, and there’s a Wild West atmosphere to the process. Nonetheless, recalls are a legitimate political remedy when the public loses confidence in an elected official. At least a million Californians have reached that point.
Irrespective of whether support for the recall is broad based or narrow among California voters, it is clear that the effort is being greatly assisted by Gov. Newsom himself.
Where to start? First, the gross mismanagement of the Employment Development Department has been breathtaking. While unemployed Californians have been given the run-around when they seek the benefits to which they are entitled, fraudsters have been allowed to rob the system of more than $8 billion, according to recent estimates.
Second, the state’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has been a disaster. Despite months of advanced notice, the lack of a coherent plan on distribution has put California near or at the bottom relative to other states in the percentage of vaccines that have been delivered to the Californians who are waiting for them.
Third, the ever shifting and arbitrary metrics that have prohibited the safe reopening of businesses and schools have caused unnecessary confusion in both the private and public sectors.
Fourth, property owners were profoundly and rightfully disappointed that the governor refused to consider suspension of costly penalties for delayed payments of property taxes, even as job losses mounted, housing providers struggled to pay their bills without rental income, and commercial property owners saw their tenants shut down by state orders.
Fifth, Newsom refused to consider a deferment of the scheduled minimum-wage increase while so many service and hospitality businesses were desperately trying to keep their employees working in compliance with the state’s limitations on their ability to operate.
Sixth, property owners were stunned to see his endorsement of Proposition 15, the most significant attack on Proposition 13 in its 42-year history. The $12-billion “split roll” initiative was defeated in November, notwithstanding his support.
Finally, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s personal behavior has revealed little sensitivity to the struggles of Californians who have been asked to make extraordinary sacrifices. The infamous dinner at the French Laundry restaurant is but one example of his perceived hypocrisy.
Citizens bristle when politicians say “do as I say, not as I do.”
It would be foolish to venture a prediction about the recall effort’s success or failure.
But the outcome may well be determined by the governor’s own actions if they continue to raise legitimate questions about his competence.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Who will be the Rams’ quarterback when training camp opens in six months?
We already had 10 offseason questions in mind for the Rams, but then coach Sean McVay added that new one, because of what he said and didn’t say about Jared Goff’s future.
So now the volume for this offseason’s questions goes to 11:
1. Goff: What did McVay have in mind after the playoff loss to Green Bay when he declined to say anything more enthusiastic about Goff than “yeah, he’s the quarterback,” and said he hopes to create more “competition” for starting jobs at all positions?
Have the Rams given up on Goff’s ability to win a Super Bowl? Will they bring in a veteran quarterback to compete with Goff? Seek a quarterback more mobile than Goff to expand McVay’s playbook? Try to move on from Goff, as hard as his big contract makes that? What is backup John Wolford’s future?
The next chapter in this mystery could come Tuesday, when general manager Les Snead is scheduled to hold his first offseason press session, and Goff questions could dominate.
2. Aaron Donald: Will the defensive tackle join Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt as the only three-time winners of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award when it’s announced Feb. 6?
Believe Donald when he says he’d just as soon have a Super Bowl ring.
3. Salary cap: How much tighter will the salary-cap squeeze get for the Rams, who already have less room to maneuver than most teams?
With NFL revenue down in the pandemic, the salary cap is projected to fall from $198.2 million in 2020 to $176 million in 2021, according to Overthecap.com.
4. Free agents to keep: With affordability an issue, who are the Rams determined to keep among their 13 unrestricted free agents when the signing period begins March 17?
Those free agents include safety (and captain) John Johnson, cornerback Troy Hill and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd from the league’s top-ranked defense, and center Austin Blythe, tight end Gerald Everett and wide receiver Josh Reynolds.
5. Free agents to sign: Which positions will they prioritize?
The answer depends a lot on the answer to No. 4, but we can guess McVay wants to add a deep threat to the receiving corps and a known quantity in a punt and kick returner.
6. Draft: Might the Rams draft a quarterback for the first time since taking Goff first overall five years ago? Having clicked with 2020 picks Cam Akers (running back), Van Jefferson (wide receiver) and Jordan Fuller (safety), what other positions need young talent? This answer might depend on the answers to Nos. 4 and 5.
The draft is April 29-March 1.
7. McVay’s focus: What will occupy most of the head coach’s attention this offseason?
It’s natural to picture McVay spending all day and night in the Ramcave inventing necessary gadgets for the offense, and preparing to be even more hands-on in offensive practice next season while new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris controls that side of things.
8. Defense: Speaking of Morris, what changes can he bring to the defense when improvement is scarcely an option?
If the secondary is shaken up in free agency, Morris will be well equipped to handle it, having coached defensive backs for much of his career.
9. Andrew Whitworth: Will the two-time All-Pro left tackle be back for a 16th NFL season, playing past his 40th birthday next December?
After the playoff loss at Green Bay, Whitworth sounded as if he’d like to keep going, but he said it depended on conversations with his family and Rams management. If not, Joe Noteboom is heir apparent. Bobby Evans is the other young tackle in waiting.
10. NFC West: Will the division champion Seahawks deal with their salary-cap issues, the Cardinals keep improving, and the 49ers get healthy?
If so, the Rams could be playing in the NFL’s best division in 2021, as they were expected to in 2020. (With the 49ers’ slide, the NFC West averaged 9 wins, second to the AFC North’s 9.5.)
11: COVID-19: The pandemic’s course will determine what events like the draft look like, whether official team workouts are held, and if there will be crowds next season at SoFi Stadium, the only NFL stadium that has yet to seat a fan.
Meanwhile, sit back and watch what should be an eventful Rams offseason.
Move over, Pfizer and Moderna. You won’t be the only games in town too much longer.
COVID-19 has existed for barely more than a year, but 64 vaccines are in clinical development and another 173 in preclinical development worldwide nonetheless, according to the World Health Organization. Dozens of hopefuls are in clinical trials in the U.S., including several by California researchers.
But the two inching closest to the finish line here — by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — could win emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as soon as this spring, which would instantly increase supply and deliver a much-needed jolt to the nation’s maddeningly sluggish mass vaccination campaign.
“In science, we often say we’re on the cusp of great things — but now, really, we’re on the cusp of great things,” said Bali Pulendran, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University.
“There’s a bubbling cauldron of vaccine ideas out there. It’s unprecedented. When have we ever seen so many candidates developed in such a short amount of time?” Pulendran said. “This virus has energized every dimension of vaccinology, and we should parlay some of that energy into transforming the field as we know it. We should talk not only about targeting cancer, HIV and influenza, but a whole host of other diseases for which we don’t yet have effective vaccines.”
The breakneck pace of scientific advancement over the past year — fueled by extraordinary cooperation between researchers worldwide, unprecedented financial investment from governments, and technology that harnesses the body’s own cellular factories to produce viral proteins, rather than manufacturing them in brick-and-mortar factories — promises an end to a deadly pandemic that has infected nearly 100 million people, killed more than 2 million and paralyzed much of the world.
On the near horizon: a COVID vaccine that can protect after just one shot, rather than two. Vaccines that can be stored in regular refrigerators rather than in expensive, ultra-cold freezers. Vaccines that employ a sci-fi smorgasbord of advanced technologies to do their work.
The efficacy of these up-and-comers, however, remains to be seen — will they be as good as Moderna and Pfizer, at a stunning 95% after two shots? It seems clear that many will eclipse the low 50% bar originally set by the FDA for emergency use authorization. A more serious threat, perhaps, is the mutating virus itself: Will it evolve to evade the snares these flotillas have laid to catch it?
Time will tell. Still, more vaccines mean less disease, and less disease means fewer deaths.
The near horizon
Essentially, all vaccines work the same way, by triggering the body’s immune system so it can recognize and fight the invading disease if and when it arrives. How that’s accomplished, though, differs from vaccine to vaccine.
While the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a single strand of delicate messenger RNA, wrapped in a fatty package, to deliver instructions to human cells on how to manufacture the virus’ spike protein, both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use adenoviruses, of the sort that cause runny noses and common colds, to deliver more rugged, double-stranded bits of coronavirus DNA to the same end.
Johnson & Johnson uses an adenovirus that’s been modified so it can enter cells, but can’t reproduce or cause illness. Some scientists worry that this might be less effective in people who’ve been exposed to similar adenoviruses, meaning the immune system would attack before the vaccine gets to do its work. AstraZeneca tries to work around this by using a modified adenovirus from chimpanzees, which the human immune system won’t recognize.
Both of these candidates are “non-replicating viral vector vaccines,” and there are 10 using this technology in trials worldwide, according to the WHO.
The single-dose COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos., the Belgium-based branch of behemoth Johnson & Johnson, is expected to release critical data from late-stage trials in the next week or two, with emergency use authorization coming as soon as March. Vastly simpler than the two-dose regimens, the candidate appears to work.
Epidemiologist and population health scientist Andrew Noymer at UC Irvine says the single-dose feature is “huge, absolutely huge.” He’s been watching with consternation as people who have received their first Pfizer and Moderna shots struggle to get appointments for the required second doses. “Two shots is more than twice as complicated as one,” he said.
Storage is vastly simpler as well. Rather than having to be frozen at very low or sub-arctic temperatures, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine can be kept in refrigerators for months. And the company’s sheer size could go a long way toward easing supply strangleholds: Johnson & Johnson has said it hopes to manufacture a billion doses by the end of the year.
AstraZeneca’s version, meanwhile, is more cumbersome, requiring two shots spaced four weeks apart. But storage is similarly simple, requiring just refrigeration rather than freezing. And while it already has emergency approval in the United Kingdom — and has been injected into arms for weeks — its path forward in the U.S. is a bit more fraught.
There were errors in AstraZeneca’s late-stage trials that the FDA frowns upon. Researchers mistakenly gave some participants just a half-dose for the first shot, and this mistake actually turned out to provide far more protection than did two full doses. The error — a half-dose, followed by a full dose — proved 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19, while two full doses were just 62 percent effective.
The FDA wants more data before considering emergency use authorization for its use here, but that could happen as soon as April. The company hopes to produce up to 3 billion doses globally this year.
The farther horizon
Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong is in the early phases of testing a nonreplicating viral vector vaccine, developed by his NantKwest Inc./ImmunityBio companies, at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.
Another California candidate, by City of Hope in Duarte, is moving out of first phase trials as well. Arcturus Therapeutics of San Diego is in second phase trials with its RNA-based vaccine. Novavax, based in Maryland, is in late-stage clinical trials and well, and dozens of other vaccine candidates are moving forward in China, Russia, Italy, Germany, Japan, the U.K., Israel and several other nations.
“My personal favorite candidate is the Indian vaccine Covaxin, which is still being tested and may be co-developed in the USA with the biotech company Ocugen,” said Egest J. Pone, project scientist in UC Irvine’s Vaccine Research & Development Center. It’s a traditional, whole, inactivated coronavirus, supplemented with common immune-response boosters.
Scientists are poring over vital variables to understand how the different vaccines perform: What is the strength of the antibody response after the first vaccine? After the second? Is a boost necessary for some and not others? Does response wane over time? Which vaccines are more durable? If a person was already exposed to the novel coronavirus, does it impact a vaccine’s efficacy, durability or side effects?
“We’re starting to collect data of that kind now,” said Philip L. Felgner, director of UC Irvine’s Vaccine Research and Development Center and Protein Microarray Laboratory and Training Facility.
At UC Irvine’s Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Immunology, director Lbachir BenMohamed is pushing the next frontier — a preemptive, “pan-coronavirus” vaccine designed to squash everything from COVID-19 to the common cold. It’s being tested in mice, with hopes of starting clinical trials in people this year.
“In the past 20 years, there have been several deadly coronaviruses, and there’s no reason to think there won’t be another in the coming years — 2025? 2028? 2030?” BenMohamed said. “The only unknown is how bad it will be. We must learn lessons from what’s happened in 2020.”
By mapping the proteins common to a variety of human and animal coronaviruses — and designing a vaccine to combat them — a pandemic could be stopped before it even starts. His lab targets the virus’ spike protein as well as about 10 others.
At Stanford, Pulendran is working on novel ways to take the guesswork out of vaccine trials altogether.
“It can take years to develop a vaccine, and most of that time is spent on testing in humans to see if it induces immunity,” he said. “What if there was some way you could tell very quickly — in smaller phase 1 trials of 50 or 100 people — whether it’s likely to work or not? You wouldn’t have to wait a year to know the likelihood of long-term responses. You could predict it in a few days.”
Pulendran’s lab is using immune-monitoring methods to do just that. By taking blood from vaccine trial volunteers, peering deeply at the genetic changes that occur — or don’t occur — in their cells, it’s possible to use computational analysis to predict how they’ll respond over time. “I feel that sort of thing is going to play an increasingly important role in testing vaccines in humans,” he said.
Again, all this means more vaccines, and more vaccines mean less disease, and less disease means less death. But that’s just part of the bigger picture, said Richard Carpiano, a public health scientist and medical sociologist at UC Riverside.
“We will still need to address supply chain and coordination issues that exist, from manufacturers all the way to the local level where the vaccines are being administered,” he said. “New vaccines will be an important asset for achieving vaccination goals, but will not be an automatic fix to the problems we have been currently experiencing with rollout.”