‘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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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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California board urges bias reviews of police social media


SACRAMENTO — California police agencies should routinely review officers’ social media, cellphones and computers for racist, bigoted or other offensive content that contributes to disproportionate police stops of Black people, a state advisory board said Monday.

The controversial recommendation comes from community and law enforcement representatives who analyzed nearly 4 million vehicle and pedestrian stops by California’s 15 largest law enforcement agencies in 2019.

The Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board report was unveiled amid calls to defund police and promises from state lawmakers to renew efforts to strip badges from bad officers, make more police misconduct records public, and allow community groups to handle mental health and drug calls where police powers may not be needed.

People who were perceived as Black were more than twice as likely to be stopped as their percentage of the population would suggest, the board said in its fourth annual report.

Black people also had the highest proportion of their stops (21%) for reasonable suspicion, while the most common reason for stops of people of all races was traffic violations. Black people were searched at 2.5 times the rate of people perceived as white.

And the odds were 1.45 times greater that someone perceived as Black had force used against them during a traffic stop compared to someone perceived as white. The odds were 1.18 times greater for people perceived as Latino.

Reform efforts have often focused on increasing training to make officers aware of how their implicit, or unconscious, bias may affect their interactions. Starting this year, a new law also requires agencies to screen job applicants for implicit and explicit biases.

“Unchecked explicit bias may lead to some of the stop data disparities we have observed,” the board said.

Explicitly racist or bigoted social media posts by some law enforcement officers appear to be a widespread problem nationwide, it said, citing a study by the Plain View Project that examined the Facebook accounts of 2,900 active and 600 retired officers in eight departments across the country.

In California, current and former San Jose Police Department officers were found to have shared racist Facebook posts. Other agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and San Francisco Police Department, have been involved in similar issues.

The board recommended that agencies review employees’ social media posts and routinely check officers’ department-issued cellphones and computers to make sure they aren’t showing racist or other problematic behavior.

Betty Williams, president the NAACP’s Sacramento Branch, said the recommendation doesn’t go far enough and should also include officers’ personal cellphones.

Police departments “demand fair and impartial police services for the communities they serve,” responded Chief Eric Nuñez, president of the California Police Chiefs Association. But he said checking officers’ cellphones, computers and social media accounts “would require a significant additional funding source, time and legal issues that have not been properly identified or researched at this point.”

The disproportionate numbers could be driven by demographics, not racism, the Los Angeles Police Protective League board of directors said in a statement.

“What these numbers don’t tell is that in Los Angeles, 70% of violent crime victims are either Black or Hispanic and that 81% of the reported violent crime suspects are either Black or Hispanic,” the league said.

Both the league and the state sheriffs’ association said the broader issue of racial bias must be addressed across society, not just law enforcement.

“Law enforcement agencies across California have embraced change, participated in training, and engaged their local communities on this topic and we will continue to do so,” said Kings County Sheriff David Robinson, president of the sheriffs’ association.

“We’ve done all of the reformist things,” countered Cat Brooks, executive director of Justice Teams Network and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project. “We’ve done trainings, we’ve done body cameras, we’ve done police commissions, we’ve hired from the community. All of these things to tinker around the edges of this very large problem, but really what we’ve been doing is putting Band-Aids on gunshot wounds.”

She said the report’s findings show the need for a “complete transformation” from an emphasis on police and prisons to one focused on addressing root community causes such as hunger and homelessness.

The report’s data is little changed from a year ago when stops involving the state’s eight largest agencies were studied for the second half of 2018, before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police killings of primarily Black and Latino men sparked nationwide protests and reform efforts last year.

It shows “there is significant work to be done to prevent further disparities in who is stopped, how they are treated when stopped, and the outcomes of those stops,” the board said.

Black people make up 7% of the population but were involved in 16% of California stops in 2019. Those perceived to be of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent accounted for 5% of stops and 2% of the population.

Whites and Latinos were one to two percentage points less likely to be stopped than their proportion of the population would indicate, while those of Asian background account for 12% of the population and just 6% of stops.

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43 employees at Kaiser medical center in San Jose test positive for COVID-19

SAN JOSE — Some 43 employees at the Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center Emergency Department tested positive for COVID-19 between Dec. 27 and Jan. 1, according to a senior official at the hospital.

“We will ensure that every affected staff member receives the care and support they need,” Irene Chavez, a senior vice president for Kaiser Permanente, said in a statement. “Using our infection prevention protocols, we are investigating the outbreak and using contact tracing to personally notify and test any staff or patients who were exposed during this time period based on (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and public health guidelines.”

Chavez said the hospital is moving quickly to test all emergency department employees and physicians for COVID-19.  Employees confirmed to have COVID-19 or suspected of having the virus due to symptoms will not come to work, she said.

The Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center remains open, officials said Saturday.


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Winter storm warnings in place for Southern California mountains

With the season’s  first storm arriving late Sunday, winter storm warnings were issued for mountain areas of Southern California effective through Monday evening.

Now that rain is starting to come onshore, let’s take a look at those expected rain and snowfall totals through Monday. Generally 0.5-1″ or so of rain (locally 1-2 inches in the coastal slopes) is expected. 6-12 inches of snow above 5000 feet, mainly in LA Co. #CAwx #LArain pic.twitter.com/VclLk9f0Oa

— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) December 28, 2020

Up to a foot of snow was expected in L.A. County mountains, excluding the Santa Monica Range.

“Travel could be very difficult, including the Interstate 5 Corridor where the snow level is expected to lower to 4,000 feet, which would affect the top of the Tejon Grade with snow accumulations of one to two inches along with icy conditions,” the National Weather Service said in its warning.

The San Bernardino County mountains were expected to see snow above around 4,000 to 5,000 feet.

“Heavy snow and strong winds expected. Plan on difficult travel conditions, including during the morning and evening commutes Monday. Tree branches could fall as well. Total snow accumulations of 6 to 12 inches, with very localized amounts up to 20 inches, are expected,” the National Weather Service said in its warning for San Bernardino County mountain communities including Crestline, Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear City, Big Bear Lake, Running Springs and Wrightwood.

The Riverside County mountains, including in the Idyllwild area, generally could see up to eight inches of snow, the NWS said.

Please heed the advice of The CHP if planning any travel across the #SoCal Mountains through Tuesday! #CAwx https://t.co/DWP6svUIbE

— NWS San Diego (@NWSSanDiego) December 27, 2020

At lower elevations, one half to one inch of rain was expected in Los Angeles County. The NWS said the Riverside and Santa Ana areas may see a quarter to a half inch.

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Shooting at Illinois bowling alley leaves 3 dead, 3 injured

ROCKFORD, Ill. — A gunman opened fire inside an Illinois bowling alley, killing three people and injuring three others Saturday night in what authorities believe was a random attack.

A 37-year-old male suspect was in custody after the shooting at Don Carter Lanes, Rockford police said in a social media  post.

Two of those who were shot were teenagers, police Chief Dan O’Shea said during a news conference.

O’Shea did not immediately release additional information about the victims. He described the scene as contained and said he did not think any officers fired their weapons while apprehending the suspected gunman.

Rockford is about 80 miles northwest of Chicago.

Mayor Tom McNamara released a statement saying he was “angered and saddened” about the shooting.

“My thoughts are with the families of those who lost loved ones,” McNamara said. “I’m also thinking of those who were injured and my hopes are with them for a quick and full recovery.”

The Rockford Register Star reported that 2020 has been the city’s deadliest year for homicides, according to records that date back to 1965. Thirty-five people have been killed in the city this year, breaking the previous record of 31 in 1996.

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Whicker: Lakers get into the spirit of this cut-and-dried Christmas

Next time the NBA fills up Christmas Day with basketball, make sure batteries are included on both sides.

The Lakers could have played in their stockings and won this one over Dallas. Their 138-115 victory followed Miami’s 13-point stroll past New Orleans, Milwaukee’s 39-point embarrassment of Golden State, and Brooklyn’s ominous 28-point waltz in Boston.

It’s not unusual to have Christmas games serve as background music instead of actual dramatics, and it wouldn’t be bad, either, if this were a year when the family could gather ‘round. Although the players aspire to get network exposure, they’re as protective of their special days as anybody else. When one team falls behind, it’s easier to punt its best effort to a more secular occasion.

But you can’t blame the NBA for playing as many games as it can whenever it can, seeing what might be awaiting as the winter deepens. On Friday, the Lakers just had fun matching up their new ornaments.

This was the Lakers’ highest-scoring performance since Dec. 8 of last year, when Anthony Davis put 50 points and they throttled Minnesota 142-125. They certainly weren’t offensively challenged in their championship season, but they can score far easier in their half-court offense with Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder in the crew, especially if Kyle Kuzma keeps looking this good.

Harrell, Schröder and Kuzma shot 23 for 35 against the Mavericks, and Harrell’s five offensive rebounds helped the Lakers outscore Dallas 35-0 on second-chance opportunities, which hasn’t happened in the NBA since such records were kept.

Their strong push meant Davis could work fewer than 31 minutes and LeBron James fewer than 32, a rest they earned after a strong first quarter.

“Five or six guys are able to come in and get you 20,” Kuzma said. “We’ve got guys ready to come in and take a game over.”

It might be the closest thing to a shadow starting lineup since 1984, when Pat Riley often began games with Bob McAdoo, Jamaal Wilkes, Michael Cooper and Mitch Kupchak sitting beside him. Here, the Laker reserves scored 55 points and sank 10 of 16 3-point shots.

Nobody actually wants to see the Lakers experiment with this, but if James or Davis had to miss extended time, couldn’t they still finish high in the West? One would assume Jalen Horton-Tucker, among others, would eat up those available minutes, and we’ve barely seen the tip of Wesley Matthews’ game in this 1-1 start.

“I can see, with this team, that I can go into the lane and put pressure on the other team,” said Schröder, who left no doubt that he would be thrilled to sign a contract extension “as long as it’s fair for both sides.

“When I do that, nobody is really helping,” Schroder added. “Everybody else on the court draws a lot of attention.”

The Mavericks (0-2) got 27 points and seven rebounds from Luka Doncic, but they needed more, or at least needed him to do it differently. Coach Frank Vogel had Schröder guard Doncic much of the time and then called in bigger helpmates when the shot clock began dwindling.

Doncic was only 7 for 16 in the first three quarters, and Vogel was pleased the Lakers kept him from digging in at the 3-point line. He went 2 for 4 from deep, and had only four rebounds.

“You try not to overhelp and open up the 3-point game for all their guys,” Vogel said. Add the Mavericks’ 13-for-32 shooting on longballs, and those are winning numbers against the preseason favorite for league Most Valuable Player.

“I guarded Luka quite a bit when I was in Oklahoma City,” Schröder said. “We did a great job of putting him under pressure in the beginning, although we slipped a little bit later.

“I gotta play defense because it gets me into my offense. I think it’s 60, 70 percent of my game. If I play 94 feet with energy, my teammates can see that we’re all into it. That’s what I’ve done my whole career.”

Harrell is also doing the same things that earned him the league’s top Sixth Man award last year, an honor for which Schröder contended as well.

“The only thing to say about him (Harrell) is that he catches everything and he scores everything,” Vogel said, smiling. “We’re trying to give our depth enough reps, and trying to manage LeBron, but it started tonight with LeBron and AD playing at a high level.”

As they know each other better, the Lakers probably will give you lots of nights like this, lots of games that get wrapped up earlier than your gifts probably were.

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Congress approves $900B COVID-19 relief bill, sending to Trump


WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Monday night that would finally deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Lawmakers tacked on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill and thousands of pages of other end-of-session business in a massive bundle of bipartisan legislation as Capitol Hill prepared to close the books on the year. The bill goes to President Donald Trump for his signature, which is expected in the coming days.

The relief package, unveiled Monday afternoon, sped through the House and Senate in a matter of hours. The Senate cleared the massive package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved the COVID-19 package by another lopsided vote, 359-53. The six Republican senators voting against the bill were Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rick Scott of Florida, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas.

The tallies were a bipartisan coda to months of partisanship and politicking as lawmakers wrangled over the relief question, a logjam that broke after President-elect Joe Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with top Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked.

The bill combines coronavirus-fighting funds with financial relief for individuals and businesses. It would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants, and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

The 5,593-page legislation — by far the longest bill ever — came together Sunday after months of battling, posturing and postelection negotiating that reined in a number of Democratic demands as the end of the congressional session approached. Biden was eager for a deal to deliver long-awaited help to suffering people and a boost to the economy, even though it was less than half the size that Democrats wanted in the fall.

“This deal is not everything I want — not by a long shot,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a longstanding voice in the party’s old-school liberal wing. “The choice before us is simple. It’s about whether we help families or not. It’s about whether we help small businesses and restaurants or not. It’s about whether we boost (food stamp) benefits and strengthen anti-hunger programs or not. And whether we help those dealing with a job loss or not. To me, this is not a tough call.”

The Senate, meanwhile, was also on track to pass a one-week stopgap spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight and give Trump time to sign the sweeping legislation.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a key negotiator, said on CNBC Monday morning that the direct payments would begin arriving in bank accounts next week.

Democrats promised more aid to come once Biden takes office, but Republicans were signaling a wait-and-see approach.

The measure would fund the government through September, wrapping a year’s worth of action on annual spending bills into a single package that never saw Senate committee or floor debate.

The legislation followed a tortured path. Democrats played hardball up until Election Day, amid accusations that they wanted to deny Trump a victory that might help him prevail. Democrats denied that, but their demands indeed became more realistic after Trump’s loss and as Biden made it clear that half a loaf was better than none.

The final bill bore ample resemblance to a $1 trillion package put together by Senate Republican leaders in July, a proposal that at the time was scoffed at by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as way too little.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took a victory lap after blocking far more ambitious legislation from reaching the Senate floor. He said the pragmatic approach of Biden was key.

“The president-elect suggesting that we needed to do something now was helpful in moving both Pelosi and Schumer into a better place,” McConnell told The Associated Press. “My view about what comes next is let’s take a look at it. Happy to evaluate that based upon the needs that we confront in February and March.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, D-Calif., came to the Senate to cast her vote for the bill. “The American people need relief and I want to be able to do what I can to help them,” she said.

On direct payments, the bill provides $600 to individuals making up to $75,000 per year and $1,200 to couples making up to $150,000, with payments phased out for higher incomes. An additional $600 payment will be made per dependent child, similar to the last round of relief payments in the spring.

“I expect we’ll get the money out by the beginning of next week — $2,400 for a family of four,” Mnuchin said. “So much needed relief just in time for the holidays.”

The $300 per week bonus jobless benefit was half the supplemental federal unemployment benefit provided under the $1.8 billion CARES Act in March. That more generous benefit and would be limited to 11 weeks instead of 16 weeks. The direct $600 stimulus payment was also half the March payment.

The CARES Act was credited with keeping the economy from falling off a cliff during widespread lockdowns in the spring, but Republicans controlling the Senate cited debt concerns in pushing against Democratic demands.

“Anyone who thinks this bill is enough hasn’t heard the desperation in the voices of their constituents, has not looked into the eyes of the small-business owner on the brink of ruin,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, a lifelong New Yorker who pushed hard for money helping his city’s transit systems, renters, theaters and restaurants.

Progress came after a bipartisan group of pragmatists and moderates devised a $908 billion plan that built a middle-ground position that the top four leaders of Congress — the GOP and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate — used as the basis for their talks. The lawmakers urged leaders on both sides to back off of hardline positions.

“At times we felt like we were in the wilderness because people on all sides of the aisle didn’t want to give, in order to give the other side a win,” said freshman Rep. Elssa Slotkin, D-Mich. “And it was gross to watch, frankly.”

Republicans were most intent on reviving the Paycheck Protection Program with $284 billion, which would cover a second round of PPP grants to especially hard-hit businesses. Democrats won set-asides for low-income and minority communities.

The sweeping bill also contains $25 billion in rental assistance, $15 billion for theaters and other live venues, $82 billion for local schools, colleges and universities, and $10 billion for child care.

The governmentwide appropriations bill was likely to provide a last $1.4 billion installment for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall as a condition of winning his signature. The Pentagon would receive $696 billion. Democrats and Senate Republicans prevailed in a bid to use bookkeeping maneuvers to squeeze $12.5 billion more for domestic programs into the legislation.

The bill was an engine to carry much of Capitol Hill’s unfinished business, including an almost 400-page water resources bill that targets $10 billion for 46 Army Corps of Engineers flood control, environmental and coastal protection projects. Another addition would extend a batch of soon-to-expire tax breaks, such as one for craft brewers, wineries and distillers.

It also would carry numerous clean-energy provisions sought by Democrats with fossil fuel incentives favored by Republicans, $7 billion to increase access to broadband, $4 billion to help other nations vaccinate their people, $14 billion for cash-starved transit systems, $1 billion for Amtrak and $2 billion for airports and concessionaires. Food stamp benefits would temporarily be increased by 15%.

The Senate Historical Office said the previous record for the length of legislation was the 2,847-page tax reform bill of 1986 — about one-half the size of Monday’s behemoth.

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Canelo Alvarez, nearing his peak, brings down another mountain

The bigger Canelo Alvarez’s opponents are, the harder they fall, although Callum Smith might have found it easier..

Smith walked into the ring in San Antonio Saturday night and peered down at Canelo, as if he were walking a little brother to school. Smith was at least six inches taller, and his wingspan was seven and a half inches longer.

All it meant was that there was more of Smith to hit, and Canelo spent most of 12 rounds compressing every rib and trimming every limb. Smith finished the fight, a decision that smoothed his ego but will make the rest of his body rebel on Sunday morning.

✅ WBC Super Middleweight Champion
✅ WBA Super Middleweight Champion
✅ Ring Magazine Super Middleweight Champion#CaneloSmith #TheP4PKingIsBack@CANELOTEAM pic.twitter.com/dQjrwXWcQZ

— Canelo Alvarez (@Canelo) December 20, 2020

The decision was simple, as is the identity of the best boxer in the world. Canelo won the fight 11-1 on two cards, 9-3 on the other. He thus won the WBA and WBC super-middleweight championships, at 168 pounds, and has now won title fights in four divisions. He has a vast array of opponents and no real challengers.

“I don’t run from anybody,” Canelo said. “I just showed I fought against the best. Now we go for more.”

Smith was the most credentialed 168-pounder in the world. The Liverpudlian (cq) came into this fight 27-0 and was known as a hyperactive jabber and a willing trade of power shots. It was the fourth time in Canelo’s past eight fights that he has met an unbeaten opponent.

After measuring the giant and adjusting his slingshot, Canelo went Braveheart beginning in Round 3. You could have given Smith Round 6 because he finally found ways of answering, but the night got uglier as it went on.

Canelo dominated Callum Smith 🔥#CaneloSmith

(via @DAZNBoxing)pic.twitter.com/wxQFwCj6pH

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 20, 2020

Smith couldn’t orchestrate the night by using his jab, because it was having little effect, and he was a sitting giraffe for Canelo’s hurtful body shots and uppercuts, with either hand. Smith did get to the finish line, but his nose was bloodied and his face swollen, and he was holding his arm awkwardly, as rumors flew that he had detached a bicep somewhere along the way.

Canelo goes to 54-1-1 and said he wanted to gather the other two belts at 1168. That would set up matches with Caleb Plant and Billy Joe Saunders, both of whom are unbeaten.

If you’re talking physical equality, the best 168-pound showdown could be with David Benavidez, but Benavidez has surrendered a super-middle belt twice, for PED use and also for missing weight.

There are also possibilities at light-heavyweight, where Canelo beat Sergey Kovalev in the fall of 2019. He would find Artur Beterbiev there, and maybe Gilberto Ramirez. Neither of them has lost.

The real danger could be at middleweight (160), where Jermall Charlo could possibly stun-gun him with his right hand. However, Canelo no longer has to starve himself to get credible fights. “I don’t want to fight with a scale,” he said.

What no one should want to see, at least no one with an ounce with mercy in the soul, is the third summit meeting between Canelo and 38-year-old Gennady Golovkin.

It was too hard to get them in the ring in the first place, and then they wound up with a draw in a fight Golovkin probably won, before Canelo took a majority decision in the rematch.

Along the way Golovkin mocked Canelo’s positive drug test and Canelo simmered over the assumption that he needed Golovkin more than vice versa. When Golovkin joined Canelo in signing a contract with DAZN, the streaming service, a third act seemed inevitable.

Since then Golovkin has atrophied. He was breathtakingly fortunate to get past Sergey Derevyanchenko in October of 2019.  He didn’t fight again until Friday night, when he floored Kamil Szeremeta four times in seven rounds and got the TKO in between rounds. Szeremeta was immobile and relatively skill-challenged, but he rose from the canvas four times, indicating Golovkin has lost his intimidating fastball.

Both Canelo and Golovkin are helplessly indignant whenever they’re asked about the rivalry, but Golovkin would be putting his reputation and molecular composition in jeopardy. Canelo is incalculably better, and certainly scarier, than he was in the first GGG fight.

Smith, remarkably, was able to speak with perspective about the storm that had consumed him.

“He was the better man tonight,” Smith said. “He’s just smart. He holds his ground, and then he sets little traps. Before you know it, he has closed the ground on you.

“His jab was very good for a shorter guy, and his defense was very good. He’s hard to hit clean. I’ve reached the top of the mountain and then I got knocked off it tonight. I’m devastated, but he’s a great fighter.”

Nine years ago Alvarez won his first real belt, at 154 pounds over Matthew Hatton at the Honda Center. Along the way he has beaten Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, Erislandy Lara and Daniel Jacobs, in addition to Golovkin, Kovalev and Smith. It’s true that most of those champions were on the back nine of their careers, but Canelo still hadn’t gotten his merit badge when he took his only loss, a majority decision to the shrewd Floyd Mayweather in 2013, before Canelo fully knew himself.

The critics who thought Canelo was too strategic are speaking in whispers now, rendered audible by historians who look for his rightful place. Fortunately for the serious boxing fan, Canelo does, too.


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Alexander: Against a better team, USC runs out of comebacks

This was not Arizona State, or Arizona, or UCLA that USC was playing on Friday night. This was a battle-tested program that USC faced in the Pac-12 championship game, an Oregon team that certainly heard all that talk about not belonging here and resolved to shove it in their critics’ faces.

So this was not another of those miracle comebacks that Clay Helton’s team kept pulling off in 2020, because this was too good an opponent to fall behind by two touchdowns and hope to rally – especially with a Ducks’ defensive front that kept Kedon Slovis under duress all night and by the end had sent him to the X-ray room to have his shoulder examined.

Oregon is a hurdle that much of the Pac-12, not just USC, finds difficult to surmount in December. The Ducks have played in four of the conference’s 10 championship games and won all four, with Friday night’s 31-24 victory in the Coliseum their second in a row. And they seem to be a team that has handled the uncertainty and adversity of Pandemic Football well.

They won’t rank among Oregon’s best teams, not after back-to-back losses to Oregon State and Cal as well as barely escaping at home against a UCLA club that was better than anticipated. But they were the best team the Trojans had faced this season, by far, and have now beaten USC in four of their past five meetings.

This wasn’t nearly of the same magnitude as Oregon’s 56-24 wipeout last November at the Coliseum (which, among other things, helped convince Chargers general manager Tom Telesco that quarterback Justin Herbert was the real deal.) But there remains a good degree of separation between the Oregon and USC programs, even beyond the fact that Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal just received a six-year contract extension. A vocal segment of USC fans, of course, would prefer a buyout of Helton’s contract, which runs through 2023.

USC was fun to watch during this truncated season, no doubt. The Trojans (5-1) showed grit, determination, and a willingness to believe right down to the end every week. It was impressive that Slovis had the ball in his hands on Friday with a chance to pull off yet another miracle on the final play after USC had fallen behind 14-0 less than eight minutes into the game and trailed 31-17 with 10 minutes left.

Especially since he spent all night trying to escape Oregon’s pass rush. The Ducks (4-2) sacked him three times, and two of them were from players who got away – Kayvon Thibodeaux, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore from Oaks Christian, had one sack and two other tackles for loss, and sophomore linebacker Andrew Faoliu from Mater Dei also got him once. Beyond that, Slovis spent most of the night throwing on the run and was intercepted three times.

“That’s a talented front and we know what Kayvon can do, and I thought he got tremendous jump off the ball,” Helton said. “They flushed Kedon out of the pocket, got him off his spot a bunch. I did think Kedon did a nice job of keeping his eyes up and downfield and creating a lot after being flushed. But credit to them.”

But really, as entertaining as they were all season, the Trojans were far from great. The cavalcade of errors and self-inflicted wounds that helped beat them Friday night –  turnovers, penalties, poor blocking and too many missed tackles – are just as much a part of the résumé as that grit and determination. Wasting a great defensive play with an unnecessary personal foul, as Isaiah Pola-Mao did early in the third quarter, or the roughing-the-punter penalty by Talanoa Hufanga that kept an eventual Oregon scoring drive alive … these are the sorts of undisciplined things that Helton’s critics point to when they complain that the Trojans aren’t coached well enough.

As we’ve said before, this season amounted to a free pass for Helton from a job security standpoint. Had this been a full season, with fans filling the Coliseum and no worries about COVID-19 tests or canceled games or anything beyond the usual demands of the USC fan base, he might be on the clock as we speak.

Not even those inspiring comebacks quieted the critics. You can still find them on social media regularly, and they make occasional appearances in the columnist’s inbox.

The coach knows the drill, certainly.

“You know, we’re judged on championships here,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this place. That’s the expectation. That’s the standard. That’s what we fight for. That’s why our hearts are broken in that locker room, because that’s the only thing we will accept as a team, is a championship.

“And the fact of the matter is, we’re really close, but obviously we didn’t get it done tonight and that’s the next step.”

Like it or not, Trojans fans, this season earned Helton another year, and another chance.

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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