Air quality agency allows for more cremations in Orange County

Officials with the South Coast Air Quality Management District said on Monday, Jan. 25, it has lifted restrictions on the number of cremations allowed in Orange County as officials try to address a backlog of cremations.

Limitations were previously suspended in Los Angeles County and the order is being extended there.

The order signed Monday by Wayne Nastri, executive officer of South Coast Air Quality Management District, comes as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency confirm the growing backlog of cremation cases within each county constitutes a threat to public health.

As of Jan. 15, there are more than 2,700 bodies being stored at hospitals and coroner’s offices. The order is effective immediately and expires on Feb. 4.

There are 14 permitted crematoriums in Orange County.

The additional emissions that would be emitted are not expected to have a significant impact on regional air quality, Nahal Mogharabi, spokesperson for the district, said. “Although there will be a temporary increase in emissions during the short period of the emergency order, the expected air toxic impacts resulting from increased activity at these facilities are relatively small.”

To qualify, a cremation facility must be reaching or exceeding its limits. Before getting started, the crematorium must send an email notification to the air quality agency.

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Coronavirus: Newsom may lift statewide stay-at-home order Monday

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

— Mederios Babb (@mederiosbabb) January 25, 2021

 

No official word on any change came from the governor’s office late Sunday, but local and regional health departments could still impose orders advising closure of businesses.

Although state case counts have trended downward recently, the coronavirus has continued to leave a lethal mark, with the state passing 3 million cases last week and vaccine access running up against supply limits and distribution constraints.

Contact George Kelly at 408-859-5180.

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A new year after a tumultuous one: What’s your net wealth now?

Many of us are relieved that 2020 is over and we are beginning a new year.

Last year was not a year that any of us would have wished for. The firestorm arrived in March when the whispers of COVID-19 became a reality. Our rug was pulled out from under us, and life quickly changed. The stock market fell, unemployment levels climbed and anxiety became an emotion we felt daily. In the end, the year was full of highs and lows. The markets recovered, some businesses failed while others thrived, all while we quarantined. In some manner or another, life was different.

This year, we may have the same resolutions as in the past — such as losing weight, exercising or eating healthier. Or our normal resolutions may feel frivolous because our needs have significantly changed. Our goals may be much direr this year, such as finding a job or putting food on the table for our family.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum, as we enter the new year, take a bit of time to review your finances.

Do you know your net worth?

Whether your net worth is high or low, you should understand what it is. Without understanding where you are now financially, how do you plan for your future? Calculating your net worth sounds complicated, but for most people, it’s not. Make a list of your assets (what you own). Then, subtract the liabilities from the assets (what you owe) to determine your net worth. If you have never done this, use this year’s net worth statement as a benchmark going forward. Every January, compare your statement of net worth to those of prior years.

Is your net worth growing or decreasing? Understand why it has changed. Are you saving more, has your debt increased or was the stock market up or down?

Create a budget

Do you know where you’re spending money? Most people know their mortgage and car payments, but fewer pay attention to the amounts they spend on food, Instacart or online purchases, especially if they are using a credit card.

Budgeting will help you understand how you’re spending. Track all expenses for a minimum of 30 days or, better yet, the entire year. Write out monthly expenses first, then add up any additional spending. After you’ve tracked expenses for a month, think about the following:

— Where can you reduce spending? If your income has decreased and there’s a monthly shortfall, examine which expenses can be eliminated or minimized.

— Are you using credit cards monthly because you’re short on cash? If so, does the card come with a low interest rate? Do not avoid looking at the statement to understand the rate and your options.

— How can you eliminate outstanding debt?

— Are you maximizing your annual contribution and employer match in your retirement plan?

— How much will you need to save to maintain the same standard of living in retirement?

— Are you saving enough to meet goals?

Plan for big-ticket items

Are you planning on moving, buying a car, replacing your roof or paying for college tuition in the future? Do you know how much this expense will cost, and have you thought about how to pay for it? If the money is not readily available in the savings account, pencil out a timeline, break the expense down to a monthly cost and plug the expense into your budget.

To avoid accumulating unwanted debt, what changes in your spending can you make now to save for this goal?

Prepare for the unexpected

As we were reminded in 2020, life can change unexpectedly and fast. Are you prepared for a job loss, illness, disability, natural disaster or lawsuit? Insurance and savings can protect you against unforeseen events.

— Do you have an emergency fund with at least six months (or more) of expenses in a savings or money market account?

— Are you adequately insured to meet your risk?

— Do you have a disaster plan in place and supplies readily available if an unexpected natural disaster occurs?

If you are tech-savvy, consider storing inventories and important documents on a portable hard drive. It’s also a good idea to retain copies of birth certificates, passports, wills, trust documents, records of home improvements, and insurance policies in a small, secure evacuation box (the fireproof, waterproof kind you can lock is best) that can be grabbed in a hurry in the event of an evacuation.

Protect your estate

Without proper beneficiary designations, a trust, a will, and other basic documents, the fate of your assets or minor children may be decided by attorneys and tax agencies. Probate fees, taxes and attorneys’ fees can erode your estate and delay the distribution of the assets when heirs may need them the most. If estate planning documents are not in place, schedule a meeting this year with an attorney who specializes in estate planning.

As we enter a new year and ponder the outcome of 2021, the unknowns are many. While our future may be uncertain, understanding where we stand financially provides the opportunity to make sound financial decisions, not emotional ones. While we cannot control our future, we can control our actions, understand where we stand financially, and make sound financial decisions based on that knowledge.

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UFC 257: Dustin Poirier knocks out Conor McGregor in 2nd round

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Dustin Poirier punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (L-R) Conor McGregor of Ireland punches Dustin Poirier in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, Dustin Poirier reacts after his knockout victory over Conor McGregor of Ireland in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Joanne Calderwood of Scotland punches Jessica Eye in a flyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Michael Chandler punches Dan Hooker of New Zealand in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Amanda Ribas of Brazil punches Marina Rodriguez of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Andrew Sanchez punches Makhmud Muradov of Uzbekistan in a middleweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Arman Tsarukyan of Armenia punches Matt Frevola in a lightweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Khalil Rountree kicks Marcin Prachnio of Poland in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Sara McMann punches Julianna Pena in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

  • In this handout image provided by the UFC, (R-L) Amir Albazi of Iraq punches Zhalgas Zhumagulov of Kazakhstan in a flyweight fight during the UFC 257 event inside Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Dustin Poirier stopped Conor McGregor with a flurry of punches midway through the second round Sunday (late Saturday night PST), avenging his loss to the Irish superstar with a knockout victory at UFC 257.

Poirier (26-7) caught McGregor with a series of shots to the head before buckling his knees with two left hands. Poirier then sent McGregor to the canvas with a short right hand and finished it swiftly, setting off stunned excitement among the few thousand screaming fans allowed inside the Etihad Arena on Yas Island.

In his first fight in a year, McGregor (22-5) had a strong first round before he was stopped by punches for the first time in his mixed martial arts career.

McGregor, whose previous four losses all came by submission, stayed on the canvas for several moments afterward, gathering himself after his second loss in three fights since 2016.

“You know, it’s hard to overcome inactivity over long periods of time,” said McGregor, who hadn’t fought since beating Donald Cerrone last January. “I just wasn’t as comfortable as I needed to be, but Dustin is some fighter. If you put in the time, you’re going to get cozy in here. I have to dust it off and come back, and that’s what I will do. … I’ll take my licks, but I’m gutted.”

McGregor and Poirier met for the first time in September 2014 as featherweights, and McGregor won by knockout in just 106 seconds during his incredible early-career success. McGregor became the featherweight champion 15 months later, while Poirier rebuilt his career with just one loss in his next 11 fights.

With a second chance to derail McGregor while boosting his own hopes of regaining the lightweight title, Poirier didn’t miss.

Sporting a shaved head and a beard, McGregor pushed the action early against Poirier, who landed an early takedown before getting backed against the cage for stretches of the first round. In the second, Poirier bothered McGregor with leg kicks before throwing the punches that ended it.

In the co-main event at UFC 257, three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler made a stunning UFC debut with a violent knockout of New Zealand’s Dan Hooker midway through the first round.

Chandler could be the next matchup for Poirier in a fight for the lightweight title apparently vacated by long-reigning 155-pound champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, who announced his retirement after his final victory last fall.

UFC President Dana White so far has been unable to persuade Nurmagomedov to go back on his vow to his mother to quit the sport after his father’s death, not even for a wildly lucrative rematch with McGregor, who repeatedly vowed to fight on after this loss to Poirier.

McGregor has not fought regularly in recent years, but his popularity was undiminished: UFC 257 is expected to be one of the most popular pay-per-view events in the promotion’s history, according to White, and distribution problems in the U.S. early in the PPV portion of the card led fans to bombard social media and ESPN with complaints.

Chandler’s long-anticipated UFC arrival was worth the wait for his 27th professional fight in a career that began in 2009.

After a deliberate start, Chandler (22-5) jabbed to the body as he lunged forward and caught Hooker with a left hand to the face that crumpled his opponent. Chandler finished a dazed Hooker with punches on the ground before climbing atop the cage and doing a full standing backflip into the octagon from atop the fence.

And Chandler was still fired up in his post-fight interview, calling the bout “the greatest moment of my professional life.”

“Conor McGregor! Surprise, surprise, there’s a new king in the lightweight division,” Chandler added. “Dustin Poirier, your time is coming. And Khabib, if you ever do see fit to grace us with your presence back here in the UFC octagon in your quest for 30 (victories), you know you’ve got to beat somebody, so beat me — if you can!”

Marina Rodriguez opened the pay-per-view portion of UFC 257 by upsetting fellow Brazilian strawweight contender Amanda Ribas. Rodriguez got a second-round stoppage with a flurry of punches and a knee in the opening minute.

UFC 257 concluded a run of three shows in eight days with a few thousand fans allowed inside the promotion’s coronavirus bubble in the Middle East. The promotion hadn’t held shows with fans since before the pandemic began last March.

The UFC returns to Las Vegas in two weeks for another run of shows at the fan-free Apex gym on its corporate campus.

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Ducks work overtime, earn a point, but fall to Avalanche

  • Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog (92) celebrates after scoring against the Anaheim Ducks in overtime of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) vies for the puck against Colorado Avalanche forwards Mikko Rantanen (96) and Nathan MacKinnon (29) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche players, including Samuel Girard (49) and J.T. Compher, celebrate a goal against Anaheim Ducks during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) and Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon (29) vie for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) stops a shot in front of Colorado Avalanche forwards Nazem Kadri (91) and Valeri Nichushkin (13) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen, left, and Ducks forward Carter Rowney chase the puck during the first period of Friday’s game at Honda Center. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche forwards Tyson Jost (17) controls the puck as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) defends against Anaheim Ducks defenseman Jacob Larsson (32) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Anaheim Ducks forward Carter Rowney (24) falls over Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen (96) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen (96) controls the puck while defended by Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm (47) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf (15) works between Colorado Avalanche forwards Valeri Nichushkin (13) and Gabriel Landeskog (92) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Calvert (11) gets caught between an official and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Jacob Larsson (32) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) blocks a shot as Devon Toews (7) defends against Anaheim Ducks forward Max Jones (49) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Anaheim Ducks forward Max Jones (49) works against Colorado Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews (7) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) stops a shot by Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf (15) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Calvert (11) controls the puck next to Anaheim Ducks forward Max Jones (49) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) and forward Nathan MacKinnon (29) defend as Anaheim Ducks forward Derek Grant (38) shoots during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri (91) falls as he chases the puck in front of Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf (15) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard (49) works with the puck next to Anaheim Ducks forward Maxime Comtois (53) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Anaheim Ducks’ Adam Henrique (14) celebrates Jakob Silfverberg (33) after scoring against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog celebrates after scoring against Anaheim Ducks in overtime of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

  • Colorado Avalanche players celebrate after an overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks in an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

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ANAHEIM — The man atop the Ducks’ most-wanted list remained in trade limbo on Friday.

No, not top prospect Trevor Zegras. He continued to hone his craft with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

The Ducks were said to be among the most aggressive teams pursuing a deal for Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Columbus Blue Jackets, increasing their offer for the 22-year-old center. The Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets reportedly were the other teams in the mix.

A deal was expected to be completed by the end of the weekend.

No question, the Ducks could have used all of Dubois’ many skills with the puck as they struggled to score again during a 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Honda Center. The goal-starved Ducks’ overall play was vastly improved over their first four games of the season.

But they didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard and they fell to 1-2-2.

The Ducks have only eight goals in five games.

Gabriel Landeskog scored 1:38 into OT to lift the Avalanche (3-2-0), chasing down his own rebound and slipping the puck into the net from near the right goal post. Ducks goalie John Gibson made a spectacular initial save, but couldn’t reset himself in time to stop the second bid.

“That’s the best game we’ve played,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “I thought our guys played hard. We had lots of chances to score. We had lots of looks at their net. Some guys who maybe hadn’t had a lot of attempts on net, a lot of shots, woke up.”

The Ducks rallied from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to force the game to OT and earn a point.

They wanted the second one, too.

“It’s so disappointing not to get the points when you play well like that,” said Eakins, who was every bit as encouraged by his team’s play Friday as he was upset about it after Wednesday’s loss to the Minnesota Wild. “We’ll let it hurt for a little bit, but we are going to take some good out of this game.”

Mikko Rantanen gave the Avalanche a 2-1 lead at 6:20 of the third period, chipping home a centering pass from rookie defenseman Bowen Byram. Adam Henrique then answered for the Ducks 1:22 later, set up by Danton Heinen for his first goal of the season.

Gibson then saved Nathan MacKinnon’s penalty shot 47 seconds later to preserve the 2-2 tie at 8:31 of the third. Defenseman Hampus Lindholm was whistled for covering the puck with his hand while it was in the crease during a goalmouth scramble.

“That’s a dangerous player (MacKinnon) and ‘Gibby’ handled it like it was nothing,” Eakins said of Gibson, who made 29 saves in his return to the net after sitting out Wednesday. “That’s a massive save at an absolutely critical part of the game. But that’s what ‘Gibby’ brings.”

Jakob Silfverberg nearly produced the tying goal, after Joonas Donskoi scored a power-play goal to put Colorado ahead 1-0 only 2:56 into the game. Philipp Grubauer denied Silfverberg’s initial try with a toe save and then sprawled to deflect the rebound attempt and keep it out of the net.

Silfverberg was one of the names Eakins named after the Ducks’ listless 3-2 loss to the Wild on Wednesday. In fact, Silfverberg was benched for several shifts in the second period, along with linemates Henrique and Heinen as Eakins tried to jump-start his team.

On

Friday, Eakins started fourth-line grinders Nicolas Deslauriers, Derek Grant and Carter Rowney, not to send a message to his more gifted skaters and playmakers but simply to get the Ducks off to a better start than in their first four games of the season.

It didn’t work.

Lindholm was penalized for holding 59 seconds into the opening period, and Donskoi made the Ducks pay with a shot from the lower portion of the right faceoff circle that ricocheted off the right goal post and past Gibson for Colorado’s 10th power-play goal in 22 chances this season.

Lindholm redeemed himself with a wicked shot off Grubauer’s outstretched glove 47 seconds into the second period, tying the score 1-1 by converting from the left wing after a clever pass from Rickard Rakell. Ryan Getzlaf also assisted, moving him within seven of 700 for his career.

“We definitely had some steps moving in the right direction, I think, but if you want to be a winning team you have to win these types of games, too,” Lindholm said. “It’s a long season and we’ve only played five games. If we can keep taking strides like we’ve been doing, it’s going to be a fun year.”

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California sees suspicious surge in coronavirus unemployment claims for gig workers

By ADAM BEAM | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — California is reporting a surge in coronavirus unemployment claims last week for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed — the category of benefits blamed for much of the state’s fraudulent payments.

The state last week received more than 110,800 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims, an increase of more than 77,00 from the week before. It was so large it accounted for more than a quarter of all such claims nationally, according to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The claims fall under a program Congress approved last year to give unemployment benefits to people during the pandemic who are usually ineligible to receive them. The program has helped a lot of people who are self-employed weather economic shutdowns from the virus. But its broad eligibility requirements have made it a target of criminals seeking easy paydays.

State officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have repeatedly blamed the unemployment benefits program for the self employed as the source of much of the state’s fraud. Last year, the state acknowledged it paid $400 million in fraudulent benefits in the names of 20,000 prison inmates. An analysis of 345,000 frozen accounts last year by Bank of America estimated the state paid at least $2 billion in fraudulent claims.

And Blake Hall, founder and CEO of ID.me, told the Los Angeles Times last week that at least 10% of all claims submitted before the state put in new safeguards in October may have been fraudulent — which could result in nearly $10 billion in fraudulent payments.

The number of unemployment claims for contractors and gig workers fell significantly after the state imposed new safeguards, until Thursday when a massive increase was reported.

Loree Levy, deputy director of public affairs for the Employment Development Department, said state officials expected that increase after Congress approved an extension of benefits as part of a coronavirus relief package in December.

Levy said it took a few weeks for the state to implement the additional 11 weeks of benefits that Congress approved, causing a delay for some new claims during that period. Plus, she said another round of business restrictions in December because of a surge of coronavirus hospitalizations likely increased the number of people filing for new claims.

But Michael Bernick, a former EDD director who is now an attorney with the Duane Morris law firm, said the numbers “make no sense” because the increase the state reported was all for new claims, not existing claims.

Most independent contractors in California that have been impacted by the pandemic should already have filed their claims in the previous nine months, he said. Their benefits would be extended under the new congressional aid package, but those benefits should not have shown up as new claims.

“These numbers suggest that the identify-theft rings from throughout the world have not halted efforts, and fraud remains a main issue,” Bernick said.

The state has been overwhelmed with unemployment claims since March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order that shuttered many businesses. The state has processed more than 19 million claims and paid out more than $113 billion in benefits.

About 4 million of those claims claims and $43 billion of those payments payments fall under the program for independent contractors.

California was flooded with claims in the early days of the pandemic after Newsom imposed stay-at-home orders in mid-March that closed most businesses. The department managed to resolve most of a backlog that peaked last year at 1.6 million claims. But the pile has grown again and now stands at more than 800,000 people.

Newsom imposed a new stay-at-home order on much of the state in December after a surge in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Newsom extended those orders in many regions this month. But he lifted the order for the counties in and around the state capital.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a frequent critic of Newsom’s handling of the state’s unemployment claims, said he his office has been inundated with calls from constituents in recent weeks seeking help obtaining unemployment benefits, an indication that many have again lost their jobs because of the lingering restrictions on businesses.

Patterson said he suspects the increase in claims is likely a mix of fraudulent and legitimate claims, noting state officials have not been able to tell the difference. Last month, the state froze an additional 1.4 million claims because of fraud suspicions, prompting an outcry from people who say their legitimate benefits were halted.

“Legitimate people are being denied and we can’t really get a handle by how much fraud is still out there,” he said. “The fraudsters are still attacking the system and getting paid and those who should be getting paid are finding it more and more difficult.”

The safeguards the department has put in place have made it much harder for people to file fraudulent claims, said El Dorado District Attorney Vern Pierson, president of the California District Attorneys Association and one of many prosecutors investigating fraudulent unemployment claims statewide.

Pierson said he believes the spike in claims is likely related to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and accompanying business restrictions that have hurt the economy.

But no system is foolproof, he said.

“Criminals are still trying to defeat the system,” Pierson said. “It can be defeated.”

The state has not said how many fraudulent claims it has paid. State Auditor Elaine Howle is scheduled to release two audits of the department next week.

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‘A lot of us are going to have PTSD.’ Fatigue, burnout, exhaustion plague hospital staffs during COVID surge

When Ruth Godde hooks up her patients to a ventilator at Antelope Valley Hospital, sometimes they grab her arm and ask if they are going to make it.

“You can’t with assurance say ‘yes’ to them, but you don’t want them to be more stressed than they already are, so we say, ‘We’re doing this to save you,’ ” she said. “But you realize as you’re incubating them the chances are they might not make it. In several instances, they don’t.”

As the COVID case count surges across Southern California, medical workers report burnout, fatigue and exhaustion as they scramble to save their patients’ lives.

“It’s exhausting mentally,” Godde said, adding that during her 12-hour shifts she has only one opportunity to eat or drink. She often cries in her car on the way home.

Every minute 10 people test positive for coronavirus in Los Angeles County. Every six minutes someone dies from the virus, officials say. Some ambulances circle for hours until a bed is free at hospitals. And some mortuaries are so full, they refuse to take on more bodies.

Los Angeles County, in the meantime, has approached the grim milestone of 1 million coronavirus cases, with more than 13,930 fatalities.

Death takes heavy toll

That has taken a merciless toll on medical workers.

On some days, nurse Michele Younkin from St. Jude Medical Center’s COVID-19 unit in Fullerton sees multiple deaths, she said, and rarely makes it through a shift without crying or comforting other nurses.

“I hold every patient that I lost … I hold them in my heart,” she said, as her voice cracked. “I can picture every single one, and I will probably never forget them.

“It’s emotionally taxing on our floor,” she added, “because we have so many deaths.”


In this July 31, 2020, file photo, Romelia Navarro, 64, holds the hand of her dying husband, Antonio, as nurse Michele Younkin injects the patient with a solution in his final moments in a COVID-19 unit at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

For Dr. Thomas Yadegar, a pulmonologist and medical director of the intensive care unit at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center, it’s been a long 10 months since the pandemic began raging. When he walks into the hospital, he knows the first few minutes there will be “one emergency after another” until the end of his 20-hour shift.

“No matter how many hours I put in, no matter how hard I work, it just seems like at the end of the day, there are another 10, 15, 20 patients that need my attention,” he said, “and it’s heartbreaking because I know that I’m not able to give them everything that they deserve.”

Every single day, depending on the caseload, Yadegar typically cares for about 35 patients, but there are days when he is responsible for up to 80. He can’t remember the last time he slept more than three hours at a time. These days, Yadegar said, he sees more deaths in a day than he did in a month before the post-Thanksgiving surge.

Within mere weeks in early December, he said, the hospital was functioning smoothly with a small number of coronavirus patients, and then the COVID patient volume kept doubling, overwhelming the staff.

“I had to expand our ICU and, even with increased capacity, 90% of patients in our ICUs were COVID-19 patients,” Yadegar said. “Every single floor is now filled with COVID-19 patients and over 80% of our acute care are devoted to COVID-19 patients.” The hospital had to cancel any kind of elective and semi-elective surgeries so it could focus on treating patients infected with the virus.

Keeping families connected

At the nursing station at UC Irvine in Orange County, meanwhile, the phone is ringing nonstop as family members seek updates on the conditions of their loved ones, said Angela Mayfield, a registered nurse in a medical-surgical unit during a recent virtual protest hosted by California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.


Registered nurses Robin Gooding, left, and Johanna Ortiz treat a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

“Nurses have worked short-staffed for many months while the work at the bedside remains physically and emotionally exhausting. The patients’ conditions are declining and the pressure on the bedside nurse can be overwhelming,” she said.

Registered nurse Robin Gooding at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills said nurses are “working really hard” providing emotional support to patients who often are not allowed to see family members.

“It’s kind of puts a burden on the stuff because you have to become a family member to patients,” she said, adding that the staff often feels “responsible for making sure those patients are passing comfortably.”

Patients in the hallways

Another nurse from UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center said during the same protest her emergency department is so crowded that patients are moved to the hallway, putting both patients and staff at risk for exposure.

Nurses describe similar experiences at other hospitals, citing exhaustion and burnout amid dealing with the overload of patients, the shortage of gowns and broken equipment.

Valerie Ewald, a registered nurse at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, said she was offered “decontaminated masks,” that not only smelled bad but also had broken straps, making her wonder whether they offer sufficient protection.

In a statement, UCLA Health spokesman said that the hospital has “sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment and follows CDC guidelines regarding quality.”

“The safety and well-being of UCLA Health nurses, our other health care workers and our patients is our overriding priority at all times,” Enrique Rivero said. “We understand the anxiety created by the high volume of COVID-19 patients and associated workload, and we value our staff’s dedication to safe, high-quality, compassionate patient care.”

Higher nurse-patient ratios

It doesn’t help that the state recently allowed hospitals to adjust their nurse-to-patient ratios. New rules adopted during the pandemic allow hospitals to ask ICU nurses to care for three patients instead of two while emergency room and telemetry nurses might be required to take care of six instead of four patients.

Hospitals say they are so overloaded with high numbers of coronavirus patients, they simply don’t have enough medical personnel to respond to the crisis.

But asking nurses to take care of more patients will overwhelm already exhausted medical staff and weaken their ability to provide quality care, workers say.

“We are working to exhaustion, sweating and dehydrated from the long hours of wearing the personal protective equipment that we need to keep safe,” Mayfield said. “Our patients are struggling to breathe and stay alive.”

On a recent afternoon, Godde stopped another nurse at Antelope Valley Hospital, a mother of a newborn, who’s still breastfeeding, to remind her to go pump.

“She’s been leaking for a couple of hours and … you can tell she isn’t even aware of it because we’re all running around,” she said. “It breaks your heart.”

Quality care suffering

One Godde colleague at Antelope Valley, intensive care unit nurse Cindy Gillison, said she deals with “the sickest of the sick” on a daily basis. Medical staffing, meanwhile, is stretched so thin, she added, they can’t provide the quality care their patients need.

“These patients are dying alone,” she said, adding that there’s nowhere for the staff to put the bodies. Two refrigerated semi-trucks parked in the hospital’s parking lot are holding bodies. “There’s a tremendous amount of crying. It’s devastating.”


Before her 12-hour shift, nurse Cindy Gillison poses on Jan. 13 outside Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, where she is caring for more patients since the state allowed hospitals to relax nurse-to-patient ratios amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the last few months, she has seen “a mass exodus” of nurses to bigger hospitals that offer bonuses and higher pay. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Once the pandemic is over, “a lot of us are going to have PTSD,” said the single mother of three. “It’s like a war zone. … We’re in the wrong place at the wrong time all the time.”

Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris said FEMA and Samaritan’s Purse, the faith-based disaster relief organization, have provided about 60 medical personnel to Antelope Valley Hospital to relieve the workload.

Still, like many other medical workers, Gillison braces herself for another surge following New Year’s Eve. “It’s scary to think what’s going to happen after four weeks, when the New Year’s surge comes,” she said.

The most frustrating part of the latest surge? It was preventable, medical workers say.

In the beginning of the pandemic, said Yadegar from Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center, health care workers sensed support from the general public, but in recent weeks that support has “dissipated.” That, he said, has been “truly demoralizing and has taken everything away from us.”

As he drives home after his 20-hour shift, he watches how people are “living their lives as if nothing is happening.”

“If the general public … could see the misery, the pain and the anguish that we deal with on a daily basis,” he said, “they would not want to go to the grocery store, let alone get together or go to parties or travel.”

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Adrian Kempe helps Kings rally past Avalanche for first win

  • Kings center Gabriel Vilardi falls next to Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves during the third period of Thursday’s game at Staples Center. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Colorado Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) scores against Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Colorado Avalanche players celebrate after a goal by right wing Mikko Rantanen (96) against the Kings during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon shoots and scores during the first period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Kings on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) defends against Kings center Anze Kopitar (11) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher, left, and Kings center Michael Amadio (10) fight during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kings center Gabriel Vilardi (13) scores against Colorado Avalanche goaltender Hunter Miska (32) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • The puck shot by Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, not seen, flies past Colorado Avalanche goaltender Hunter Miska (32) for a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • The Kings celebrate a goal by defenseman Drew Doughty (8) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Colorado Avalanche goaltender Hunter Miska (32) dives to catch the puck during the second period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Kings on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) blocks a shot by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves, center, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. Kings’ Olli Maatta (6) defends. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kings center Trevor Moore (12) and center Blake Lizotte (46) defend against Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Colorado Avalanche goaltender Hunter Miska blocks a shot by Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (8) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kings right wing Adrian Kempe, second from right, celebrates with center Anze Kopitar (11) after scoring a goal during the third period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kings players celebrate after right wing Adrian Kempe (9) scored a goal during the third period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. Colorado Avalanche goaltender Hunter Miska is at left. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kings right wing Dustin Brown (23) trips Colorado Avalanche left wing Brandon Saad (20) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. Brown was penalized for tripping. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick makes a save during the second period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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The Kings earned their first victory of the season Thursday with a 4-2 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche at Staples Center.

The game saw them rebound from a 2-0 deficit and turn in a domineering effort in the second half of a meeting with the Stanley Cup favorite.

After three one-goal losses to start the season, including two in which the Kings were up by two going into the third period, Coach Todd McLellan was pleased that his team was able to pull one out.

“It wasn’t a Picasso but we don’t need perfection right now,” McLellan said. “It was a happy night at the end, but it was stressful throughout.”

Defenseman Drew Doughty and forward Gabe Vilardi both scored power-play goals for the Kings (1-1-2). Winger Adrian Kempe, who skated on the top line, scored the game-winner and center Blake Lizotte added an empty-net goal. Center Anze Kopitar contributed two assists. Jonathan Quick returned to his net and made 24 of 26 saves on his 35th birthday.

Center Nathan MacKinnon and right winger Mikko Rantanen scored for the Avalanche (2-2-0). Hunter Miska made his first career start in net and stopped 23 shots while allowing three goals.

Though the Kings began the game aggressively and drew a penalty, they gave up the game’s first goal soon after their power play. MacKinnon took the puck to the net for a backhand shot. That generated a rebound for Rantanen, who pushed the puck home for his third goal of the season and his second in as many games against the Kings.

The Kings have surrendered the first goal in each of their four games in 2021.

Just under seven minutes into the first period, Jeff Carter sent Andreas Athanasiou into the offensive zone with speed, where he left a drop pass for Lizotte. Lizotte’s shot was the second Kings attempt to hit the post in the first seven minutes Thursday.

The next goal also went to Colorado, when MacKinnon fired a laser to the far side for a power-play goal with 45 seconds left in the opening period. It was perhaps the only significant blemish on the Kings’ penalty killers, who along with Quick helped shift momentum in the Kings’ favor as the game continued.

The Kings got on the board during an extended five-on-three power play. Miska beat back some sustained pressure, but the Kings regrouped. Kopitar’s pass from the goal line to the high slot found Doughty with a clear shooting angle. Doughty’s blast – his first goal of the season – halved the Avs’ lead.

“Having extended five-on-three time is big, and nowadays you’ve got to score or else you’re behind,” Kopitar said.

Kopitar played in career game No. 1,077, all of them with the Kings. That mark tied him with team president and former left wing Luc Robitaille for the third-most in team history. They trail only Dave Taylor (1,111), who drafted Kopitar as the Kings’ general manager, and Kopitar’s teammate Dustin Brown.

“We’ve played together for the better part of 15 years and he’s like a brother to me,” Kopitar said of Brown. “To be able to have him alongside is very special to me, and hopefully we can keep this thing rolling.”

The second power-play unit also converted for the Kings, knotting the score at two. A decisive pass to Vilardi at the right-wing wall allowed him to skate into the faceoff circle and let fly with a rising wrist shot from a sharp angle that banked off Miska’s mask and into the net.

The Kings trailed in shots on goal 17-7 but were tied at 23 midway through the third period as they carried the play later in the game.

“We just kept going. We just kept playing. We got down early and then we just kept battling. We had lots of penalties but other than that we played good five-on-five and the (power play) came up big,” Vilardi said.

The Kings took a lead in shots and goals simultaneously with a hair under four minutes remaining.

Kopitar received the puck down low and spun away from the net to sweep the puck to Kempe for a redirection that gave the Kings their first lead. It was Kempe’s second goal in his last two games, and if not for two scoring changes he might have ended up with a goal in each of his first four outings.

Kopitar said he knew Kempe was in front and tried to fool the defense by turning away from the net. He backhanded the puck to Kempe, who had boxed out his defender in a way that would have made Dennis Rodman proud.

Colorado pulled its goalie with more than two minutes to play and applied pressure six-on-five. Left wing Gabriel Landeskog dinged the post from point-blank range in Colorado’s best chance late in the game.

Doughty and Mikey Anderson, a pairing the Kings might deploy more frequently, were caught on the ice for a shift of more than two minutes as time wound down. But the Kings were no worse for wear as they forced a turnover and Lizotte lofted the puck into the open net to secure the 4-2 victory.

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Coronavirus: California passed 3 million cases, 34,000 deaths on Jan. 19

California’s case count has hit the 3 million milestone.

According to data gleaned from local public health departments across the state, there were 57,307 new cases and 700 new deaths reported from Tuesday, Jan. 19.

And, of the 3.2 million vaccinations distributed throughout the state, 1.39 million have been administered, tracking showed.

 

California regions and ICU capacity for Jan. 19

As ICU capacity dwindles in Southern California the percentages in this graphic have been adjusted by state public health officials to represent the high levels of COVID-19 patients among all ICU patients. More actual beds may be available.

Vaccines administered as of Jan. 17

The California Department of Public Health site shows a total of 3,226,775 vaccine doses, which includes the first and second dose, have been shipped to local health departments and health care systems as of Jan. 17.

The totals of vaccines administered across six different regions are in the maps below. As of Jan. 17, a total of 1,393,224 vaccine doses have been administered statewide.That’s up 609,748 from the Jan. 11 report. The state cautions that the numbers do not represent true day-to-day change as reporting may be delayed.

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Indian village cheers for Kamal Harris before swearing-in as US Vice President

By RISHI LEKHI and AIJAZ RAHI | The Associated Press

THULASENDRAPURAM, India — People in a tiny Indian village surrounded by rice paddies flocked to a Hindu temple, burst crackers and uttered prayers Wednesday hours before its descendant, Kamala Harris, takes her oath of office to become the U.S. vice president.

Groups of women in bright saris and men wearing white dhotis thronged the temple with sweets and flowers, offering special prayers for Harris’ success.

“We are feeling very proud that an Indian is being elected as the vice president of America,” said Anukampa Madhavasimhan, a teacher.

The ceremony in Thulasendrapuram, where Harris’ maternal grandfather was born about 350 kilometers (215 miles) from the southern coastal city of Chennai, saw the idol of Hindu deity Ayyanar, a form of Lord Shiva, washed with milk and decked with flowers by the priest. Shortly after, the village reverberated with a boom of firecrackers as people held up posters of Harris and clapped their hands.

Harris is set to make history as the first woman, first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent to hold the vice presidency. What makes her achievement special in this village is her Indian heritage.

Harris’ grandfather was born in Thulasendrapuram more than 100 years ago. Many decades later, he moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state. Harris’ late mother was also born in India, before moving to the U.S. to study at the University of California. She married a Jamaican man, and they named their daughter Kamala, a Sanskrit word for “lotus flower.”

In several speeches, Harris has often spoken about her roots and how she was guided by the values of her Indian-born grandfather and mother.

So when Joe Biden and Harris triumphed in the U.S. election last November, Thulasendrapuram became the center of attention in entire India. Local politicians flocked to the village and young children carrying placards with photos of Harris ran along the dusty roads.

Then and now, villagers set off firecrackers and distributed sweets and flowers as a religious offering.

Posters and banners of Harris from November still adorn walls in the village and many hope she ascends to the presidency in 2024. Biden has skirted questions about whether he will seek reelection or retire.

“For the next four years, if she supports India, she will be the president,” said G Manikandan, who has followed Harris politically and whose shop proudly displays a wall calendar with pictures of Biden and Harris.

On Tuesday, an organization that promotes vegetarianism sent food packets for the village children as gifts to celebrate Harris’ success.

In the capital New Delhi, there has been both excitement — and some concern — over Harris’ ascend to the vice presidency.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invested in President Donald Trump, who visited India in February last year. Modi’s many Hindu nationalist supporters also were upset with Harris when she expressed concern about Kashmir, the disputed Muslim-majority region whose statehood India’s government revoked last year.

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