I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, bringing you the latest news of the goings-on here in the Golden State.
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First lady visits Delano alongside Newsom
First lady Jill Biden landed at Meadows Airport in Bakersfield on Wednesday afternoon and made her way to Delano, a farming community of 52,000 people in northern Kern County, along with California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife, first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. (If the term “first partner” is new to you, you’re not alone.)
In a speech on the grounds of The Forty Acres monument, Biden honored the memory of civil rights and labor leader César Chávez, praised the contributions of essential workers, stressed the importance of the COVID-19 vaccination drive and advocated for her husband’s immigration reform proposals.
Since the pandemic started in March 2020, 106,155 people in Kern County have been infected with COVID-19 and 1,247 have died. According to data from the California Department of Health, 8,500 people from Delano have been infected with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
“As millions of Americans were isolated at home, we depended on those who kept going in to work, every single day,” Biden said. “Without the farmworkers who kept harvesting our food, or the factory workers who packaged it, the grocery store clerks who stocked shelves, no one would have made it through this year.”
If you’re not familiar with The Forty Acres, it was the headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America, the country’s first permanent agricultural labor union. It was there that Chávez held his first public fast, which brought national attention to the farmworkers movement. Read more at nps.gov.
Will failed Johnson & Johnson vaccine batch affect California?
A batch of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine failed quality standards and has been rendered unusable, the drug giant said late Wednesday. Johnson & Johnson didn’t say how many doses were lost, and it wasn’t clear how the problem would impact future deliveries.
What does this mean for California? The state is expanding vaccine eligibility on Thursday, opening up appointments to all residents age 50 and older, largely because it had been expecting a greater supply of vaccine.
“Maintaining the highest standards during vaccine production to ensure safe and effective vaccines is a paramount concern,” a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health said in an email to The Desert Sun. “We are working with the federal government to learn more about potential impacts.”
As for what caused the batch to fail, a vaccine ingredient made by Emergent BioSolutions — one of about 10 companies Johnson & Johnson is using to speed up the manufacturing of its recently approved vaccine — did not meet quality standards, J&J said.
Man charged in deadly US-Mexico border crash
A U.S. resident has been charged in connection with the smuggling operation that led to 13 deaths after a semi-truck slammed into an SUV packed with 25 people — many of them Mexican and Guatemalan nationals — on March 2 in Imperial County, near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Jose Cruz Noguez, of Mexicali, Mexico, was arrested Monday night as he crossed into the U.S. from Mexico, according to an FBI announcement. Cruz, 47, is a legal permanent resident in the United States who has spent time in San Jose, officials said.
The SUV, driven by a 28-year-old resident of Mexico, entered the intersection directly before a big rig smashed into the side of the SUV. The crash occurred in Holtville, about 10 miles east of El Centro. The driver and 12 passengers packed into the SUV died.
Cruz has been charged with conspiracy to bring migrants to the U.S. causing serious bodily injury and bringing them in without presentation for financial gain, according to officials.
“Cramming dozens of people into eight-passenger vehicles and driving recklessly to avoid detection shows an utter disregard for human life,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman in a statement. “We will find and prosecute smugglers who use these methods and cause such tragic and avoidable deaths.”
Study: Desert Sun Opinion page experiment curbed polarization
Here’s an interesting story from our local newsroom here in Palm Springs: In summer 2019, The Desert Sun’s Opinion pages took a “vacation” from discussing national politics.
Executive Editor Julie Makinen (who also writes this newsletter from time to time) was inspired by the work of three university researchers who published a study finding that the ongoing extinction of local newspapers across the country contributed to political polarization.
As an experiment, Makinen, along with then-Opinion Editor Al Franco, decided that for the month of July 2019, the paper’s Opinion section would only cover news in the Greater Palm Springs area or elsewhere in California. They wondered if such a focus shift would have any impact.
Interestingly enough, the above-mentioned researchers heard about the experiment and decided to study it. And on Wednesday, Cambridge University Press published a book about The Desert Sun’s summer vacation from national politics. Their fascinating conclusion? Read about it here.
California redwood tree falls on car, kills parents of 5
A 175-foot-tall California redwood tree fell on a car, killing the parents of five children as they drove along a scenic highway on the state’s northern coast.
As reported by sfgate.com on Monday, Jessica and Jake Woodruff were taking the drive to celebrate her 45th birthday when the tree fell on March 25.
It’s not clear why the tree fell, California Highway Patrol Officer Brandy Gonzalez told sfgate.com. “This is a very forested area,” he said. “We have trees everywhere. It’s in the middle of the redwoods. It’s just old growth and we have no idea why the tree fell. It was Mother Nature.”
A GoFundMe page was set up to support the family, who live in the city of Yreka. As of Wednesday, more than $240,000 had been raised.
“This was a shocking and unexpected event, and the tragedy of this accident makes it difficult to accept as real,” the page said. “These five children are now left without parents and are facing a lifetime of expenses.”
In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today Network newsrooms. Also contributing: nps.gov, sfgate.com. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow with the latest headlines.
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 email@example.com.