I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, with the latest California news on this Wednesday.
In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.
California offers COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and over
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that California is allowing residents 65 and older to get coronavirus vaccines, effective immediately.
The move puts seniors in line along with emergency workers, teachers, childcare providers and food and agriculture workers even as counties complain they already don’t have enough doses to go around.
“There is no higher priority than efficiently and equitably distributing these vaccines as quickly as possible to those who face the gravest consequences,” Newsom said. “To those not yet eligible for vaccines, your turn is coming. We are doing everything we can to bring more vaccine into the state.”
Health care workers and those in nursing homes and congregate living facilities can continue to be vaccinated; state officials are simply expanding the program to include those 65 and up because they are at the greatest risk of being hospitalized and dying.
According to Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health and the state’s Public Health Officer, “prioritizing individuals age 65 and older will reduce hospitalizations and save lives.”
California reported another 589 deaths Wednesday, bringing the total to 31,102. It also recorded 33,751 new infections, some of which will likely lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.
Several other states were already allowing seniors access to the vaccine, including Floridians who are 65 and older and residents age 75 and up in New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi.
Celebrities criticized in impeachment hearing
At Wednesday’s impeachment hearings at the Capitol, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) accused celebrities Robert De Niro, Madonna and Kathy Griffin of “fomenting the violence ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
Buck railed against Democrats, whom he blamed for last week’s deadly uprising, and to make his point, he recounted violent anti-Trump statements made by celebrities.
“[T]he socialists in Hollywood joined their allies in Congress,” the conservative politician said on the House floor. “Robert De Niro said he wanted to punch the president in the face. Madonna thought about blowing up the White House. Kathy Lee Griffin [sic] held up a likeness of the president’s beheaded head, and nothing was said by my colleagues at that point in time.”
Buck recounted comments made by De Niro in 2016 in unused footage for a #VoteYourFuture ad: “It makes me so angry that this country has gotten to this point that this fool, this bozo, has wound up where he has,” the actor said. “He talks about how he’d like to punch people in the face? Well, I’d like to punch him in the face.”
In 2017, shortly after Trump took office, Madonna said she had thought “an awful lot about blowing up the White House,” but knew that it wouldn’t change anything. She later said the comment was “taken wildly out of context.”
That same year, Griffin was photographed by Tyler Shields holding a beheaded likeness of Trump, a move that caused a number of celebrities, sponsors and networks to distance themselves from her socially and professionally.
Griffin’s response to the accusation via Twitter suggested she was thrilled to be mentioned in the same sentence as the pop icon, while representatives for De Niro and Madonna did not comment.
On a random personal note: I’ve been writing professionally for more than 25 years, and never have I seen or used the word “foment” more than I have in the past two weeks.
Unemployment fraud in California is 4 times worse than originally reported
Last month, Bank of America revealed that $2 billion had been paid out in fraudulent unemployment claims by California’s Employment Development Division (EDD).
But abc7.com reports that Robert Lapsley of the California Business Roundtable says that number isn’t even close. He says of the $106 billion in benefits the EDD paid out in 2020, about $8.5 billion went to fraudulent claims.
According to Lapsley, California mishandled the pandemic early on and didn’t do enough to prevent fraud. Conversely, he says, the state of Pennsylvania should be commended for cracking down early on fraud by working with other states to identify new fraud methods before they got out of control in their state.
State officials in Pennsylvania, however, say their problems mirror California’s.
“Just when we were feeling like we had a handle on it, the fraud epidemic started,” said Jerry Oleksiak, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry.
Here in California, the state says it has managed to cut the number of fraudulent claims by 30%.
Oakland salutes Kamala Harris with virtual inauguration ball
The City of Oakland is clearly proud of Kamala Harris, the native who is set to be sworn in as the 49th vice president of the United States on Jan. 20. The city is planning a big celebration to commemorate her victory during the city’s Commemorative Virtual Inauguration Ball.
The Mercury News reports that “Oakland Salutes,” presented by the Oakland Symphony, will run at 3 p.m. on Jan. 17 and will also be available on demand.
“We are all so proud to have an Oakland, California, native as the 49th vice president,” said the program’s curator, Oakland Symphony music director Michael Morgan. “The Oakland Symphony has brought together so many members of the Oakland arts community to celebrate this landmark occasion, and we are so excited for people around this country and around the world to learn more about her hometown and its citizens.”
In addition to the Oakland Symphony and Symphony Chorus, the program is scheduled to feature performances by the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, Jazz Mafia, pianist Tammy L. Hall, singer Tiffany Austin, Oakland Ballet dancer Ashley Thopiah and many more.
Sacramento Zoo to reopen Friday
On Tuesday, the Sacramento area had its stay-at-home order lifted. On Wednesday, abc10.com reported that the Sacramento Zoo will reopen to the public on Friday.
Guests are being asked to purchase their tickets in advance, reserve a time to visit and read and adhere to the zoo’s COVID-19 guidelines, which include wearing an appropriate face covering at all times and maintaining a six-foot distance between your group and others.
Tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
Cat feared perished in 2018 Montecito mudslides is found alive
In super happy animal news, Patches, a calico cat thought to have died along with her guardian in the 2018 Montecito mudslides, has been found alive, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Patches had been missing since Jan. 9, 2018, when rain devastated the hillsides of Montecito, killing 23 people, including her guardian, Josie Gower.
Last month, she was brought into the Animal Shelter Assistance Program in Santa Barbara County as a stray; her identity was revealed by her microchip and she was reunited with Gower’s partner, Norm Borgatello, on New Year’s Eve.
“Though we don’t know exactly what she’s been doing with her life for the past three years, we can see that both Patches and Norm are thrilled to be reunited,” the shelter said in a Facebook post.
That’s all for this glorious Wednesday. Look for more California headlines in your inbox tomorrow.
In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: abc7.com, Los Angeles Times, The Mercury News.
As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and people who give back in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.