California Sun

Good morning. It's Friday, Dec. 17.

Medical experts warn of an impending Omicron wave.
Arrests made in overdose deaths of L.A. model and architect.
And a roundup of the best California books of 2021.



A flight crew from Air China arrived in hazmat suits at Los Angeles International Airport on Dec. 3.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

In West Sacramento, the region's first known Omicron outbreak hit a high school.

At UC San Diego, researchers said Omicron likely already makes up 20% of new cases.

And in Los Angeles County, officials on Thursday confirmed 12 new Omicron cases, with 30 in total.

As reports of the Omicron variant mounted Thursday, medical experts in California said a wave of infections was all but assured. As of Thursday, there were more than 300 Omicron cases confirmed nationally, and at least 49 in California. Health officials said while the variant appears to pose less risk of severe disease, its rapid spread threatened to overwhelm hospitals. Statewide, the number of hospitalizations is now the highest in more than a month. Dr. David Pride, an infectious disease specialist in San Diego, warned against a false sense of security. “I can say with fairly high confidence that we are already in the midst of a surge," he said. S.D. Union-Tribune | L.A. Times | Mercury News

The Atlantic's Ed Yong, whose coronavirus coverage earned a Pulitzer, on Omicron: "The variant poses a much greater threat at the societal level than the individual one."


On Wednesday, an L.A. Times investigation revealed that the Medical Board of California reinstated 10 physicians who had lost their licenses for sexual misconduct. Two of those doctors abused teenaged girls. Another, a Bakersfield internist, reported his accuser to immigration officials in a bid to prevent her from testifying, records showed. Legislators are now demanding drastic reforms. “That’s evil, pure evil,” said state Sen. Melissa Hurtado on Thursday. “The board is severely broken.” L.A. Times


A resident removed a downed branch in Nevada City on Tuesday.

Elias Funez/The Union via A.P.

While hydrologists say this week's atmospheric river only nudged up the state’s water reservoir levels, it did wonders for the snowpack. On Dec. 10, before the storm, the Sierra snowpack was 19% of the historical average. As of Thursday, the figure was 97%. And the great thing about California's snowpack: It essentially acts as the state's largest water storage facility, replenishing depleted rivers and reservoirs after the winter.

See latest levels for major reservoirs and Sierra snowpack.


On this week's California Sun Podcast, host Jeff Schechtman talked with Susan Handy, a professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis. California leaders have big plans for billions of dollars in federal infrastructure spending. But Handy has concerns. "Highways — it really comes down to that," she said. "If you expand highways, you're effectively reducing the price of driving. And what do people do when the price of something goes down? They tend to consume more of it."


It's best-of-the-year-list season. The California Sun combed through roughly a dozen lists for best books of 2021 at places like Lit Hub and Goodreads and noted those that intersect with California. A few that got multiple mentions:

"Afterparties" by Anthony Veasna So

So died of a drug overdose last year at 28, making his debut novel about Cambodian American life in Stockton a bittersweet testament to his talent. The New York Review of Books: "The stories are great fun to read — brimming over with life and energy and comic insight and deep feeling.”
"Let Me Tell You What I Mean" by Joan Didion

This slim volume collected 12 previously published essays by the Sacramento writer. The New York Times: "Didion’s pen is like a periscope onto the creative mind — and, as this collection demonstrates, it always has been.”
Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This summer hit takes place over the course of one day in 1983 as the four children of a pop singer throw a wild end-of-summer party. The Washington Post: "Reid’s sense of pacing is sublime as she introduces and dispenses with a revolving door of characters to approximate the chaos of a rager where sloshed A-listers couple up in the closets and waiters pass trays of cocaine."

Other mentions:
Damnation Spring” by Ash Davidson
"Something New Under the Sun" by Alexandra Kleeman
The Contrarian” by Max Chafkin
This Is Your Mind on Plants” by Michael Pollan


Northern California


San Francisco this week became the first city in the country to require paid sick leave for cleaners, nannies, gardeners, and other domestic workers. The legislation allows workers employed by multiple households to earn slivers of sick leave from each employer and then consolidate them. Employers must pay into the fund. “I think these people have been taking care of people in San Francisco for a long time, and it’s about time we care for them,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. S.F. Chronicle | A.P.


One suspect was in custody and a manhunt was underway for a second after a California Highway Patrol officer was shot Thursday in Turlock, the authorities said. Officers cordoned off 10 blocks of the Central Valley city and told residents to stay indoors. CHP officers had been conducting an investigation when they came under gunfire, officials said. The wounded officer was expected to be OK. Turlock Journal | CBS13


Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, arrived at court in San Jose in August.

Nic Coury/A.P.

"Holmes grips a plastic cup of unappetizing green juice. Her first of the day, it is made from spinach, parsley, wheatgrass, and celery. Later she'll switch to cucumber. A vegan, she long ago dropped coffee in favor of these juices, which, she finds, are better able to propel her through her 16-hour days and seven-day weeks."

A gauzy 5,500-profile of Elizabeth Holmes by Fortune magazine in 2014 helped propel the Theranos founder to business stardom. It could now help send her to prison, after prosecutors forced Holmes to acknowledge falsehoods in the article. Washington Post


Southern California


Joseph Awaida, Raihan Dakhil, and Omar Awaida.

On Halloween night in 2019, Carlo Navarro, 20, was swigging Jack Daniel’s behind the wheel when his SUV jumped a curb at 70 mph and plowed into a young family out trick-or-treating. Joseph Awaida, an aspiring pediatrician; Raihan Dakhil, a dedicated social worker; and their cheerful boy Omar, 3, all died. Compounding the senselessness of the tragedy was the story of how Navarro obtained the Jack Daniel’s: from a liquor store clerk known for selling to underage customers. Long Beach Post


Christy Giles, left, and Hilda Marcela Cabrales Arzola.

Los Angeles detectives arrested three men in the deaths of a young model and an architect who were dumped at two hospitals suffering from drug overdoses, officials said. According to police, Christy Giles, 24, was dropped off on Nov. 13 by men wearing masks in a Toyota Prius without license plates. Hilda Marcela Cabrales Arzola, 26, was left at another hospital a short time later. Both died. Reports said the accused men worked in Hollywood. New York Post | L.A. Times


Ben Frable/Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The lovely creature pictured above is an exceedingly rare Pacific footballfish found on the shores of Encinitas last Friday. A species of anglerfish, its unique features are adapted to deep waters beyond the sun’s reach, including a bioluminescent lure used to attract prey. Just 31 collected specimens are known to exist, yet three have washed up on California beaches in the last year. “It is very strange, and it’s the talk of the town among us California ichthyologists,” said Bill Ludt, an ichthyologist. L.A. Times


In case you missed it


Five items that got big views over the past week:

Scientists recently stumbled upon a beautiful and terrifying jelly more than half a mile below the surface of the Monterey Bay. The MBARI deep sea rover captured 4K video. YouTube (~1 min)
Passengers on Amtrak's legendary California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago are known to leave their books untouched in their luggage. They can't peel themselves away from the scenery. In 2019, the photographer John Peltier set out to document the journey. 👉
Curbed published a list of its 20 most-read stories of 2021. Coming in at No. 6 was a spirited defense of UC Santa Barbara's widely denounced plan for a massive windowless dorm.
A lone gray wolf whose epic journey through California thrilled wildlife lovers was found dead near a roadway in Kern County last month. The New Yorker's Susan Orlean wrote an obituary for the young male known as OR-93, who walked 935 miles on a doomed quest for love.
There's a road in Southern California that plays the "William Tell Overture" when driven over at 55 mph. Known as The Musical Road, it was created in Lancaster with strategically spaced rumble strips that make tires sing the notes popularized in the theme to "The Lone Ranger." Have a listen. 👉 YouTube (~1 min)

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The California Sun is written by Mike McPhate, a former California correspondent for the New York Times.

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