In California: COVID hospitalizations down 93% from early January peak

Plus: A post-vaccine FAQ, a woman is arrested for allegedly starting 2018 Delta Fire, and thousands of California inmates to go free.  

I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, wishing you a very safe, happy and informed Cinco de Mayo.

Informed? Yes. Many Americans think this fifth day in May celebrates Independence Day in Mexico, but it actually commemorates the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. While not a major holiday in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo has become a popular commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage here in the United States, particularly in areas with large Mexican-American populations. To learn more, head on over to USA TODAY.

And for the record, Mexican Independence Day is celebrated Sept. 16.

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Let’s get started with some good news.

COVID-19 hospitalizations drop to March 2020 levels

JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio, Calif. (Photo: Taya Gray/The Desert Sun)

In a dramatic shift, the Los Angeles Times reports that California’s COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are the lowest since the pandemic began.

Over the last three months, COVID-19 has quickly receded across the state. As a result, hospitals are finally getting some relief.

According to data reviewed by The Times, as of Monday the number of people reported hospitalized due to COVID-19 statewide was 1,608. Previously, the lowest number reported by state officials was 1,617 cases on March 30, 2020.

Monday’s number accounts for a 93% drop in statewide hospitalizations since the Jan. 6 peak, when 21,936 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.

On Sunday, L.A. County posted its lowest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations — 386. In San Francisco, only 15 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, according to state-provided figures.

“Hospitalizations are at the lowest levels of the pandemic since we’ve been measuring,” San Francisco Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax told the San Francisco Health Commission on Tuesday. “After 15 months of this pandemic, we are in a much better place.”

CVS offering walk-in, same-day vaccines

CVS Pharmacy (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Still trying to get a vaccine appointment? CVS Health announced Wednesday it is accepting walk-ins appointments for COVID-19 vaccines at pharmacy locations across the country, including more than 1,000 locations here in the Golden State.

No appointments are necessary. But same-day scheduling, including appointments as soon as one hour from booking, is available at And the company’s COVID-19 vaccine scheduler is updated throughout the day to account for same-day cancelations.

CVS Health is vaccinating in more than 8,300 stores across 49 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., as of Wednesday. To date, it has administered more than 17 million COVID-19 vaccine doses through its participation in the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program and Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, the company said.

For more information, to schedule an appointment or — in case you’re curious about random things, as I am — to figure out which of the 50 states is not offering vaccinations at CVS, visit

Should I still get tested for COVID-19? A post-vaccine FAQ

Vaccine illustration (Photo: sorbetto, Getty Images)

So, you received a COVID-19 vaccine. You may have questions: “Do I really need to get another dose?” or “Should I still be getting tested for COVID-19?” or “Do I still need to wear a mask outside?”

As state guidelines change and California plans to fully reopen its economy next month, many are wondering what they still should be doing to protect themselves against COVID-19.

Ema Sasic, a writer for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, reached out to Michael Osur, assistant director and chief health strategist for Riverside University Health System – Public Health, to answer some of these questions.

Here’s a few key takeaways:

  • You are considered fully protected 14 days after the second dose (Moderna/Pfizer) or 14 days after the Johnson & Johnson one-doser.
  • Even after full vaccination, you should consider getting tested if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you are showing symptoms.
  • You should still wear a mask if you are inside with people not fully immunized. If you are outside, you do not need to wear a mask unless you are with a large crowd.

Read the full article here.

Thousands of California inmates to go free in coming months, years

Correctional Training Facility prison inmates listen intently as murder victim survivors share their stories. (Photo: Chelcey Adami)

A new state rule took effect Saturday that will result in the release of thousands of California inmates.

Proposition 57 — passed by voters in 2016 — allows the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to offer inmates Good Conduct Credits.

Under the new rule, the credits earned by inmates — including those convicted of violent crimes — will shorten sentences by one-third instead of the one-fifth that had been in place. That includes nearly 20,000 inmates who are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole. People sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole are not eligible to earn credits.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation submitted regulations to increase the rate of Good Conduct Credits for public comment. The change was also approved in the 2020-21 state budget. However, the regulations are still subject to final approval and the public can still give input.

In 2006, California’s prison population reached an all-time high — 160,000. A court order was issued demanding the state work to decrease that number. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court backed federal judges’ requirement that the state reduce its prison crowding.

Corrections officials say the goal is to reward inmates who better themselves while critics say the move will endanger the public.

DA: Shasta County woman arrested for starting 2018 Delta Fire

A big rig on Interstate 5 passes on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018 a wall of flames from the Delta Fire. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service)

Meanwhile, in Northern California, a woman in Shasta County has been arrested and accused of setting the 2018 Delta Fire, which destroyed about 20 homes and burned more than 63,000 acres, officials announced Wednesday. 

Cynthia Ann LeRoux, 57, has been charged with 20 felony arson counts in connection to the Delta Fire and two smaller fires. Among the charges are two for arson causing great bodily injury to two truck drivers who had been passing through the Delta Fire area.

And finally…. road tripping

Are you fully vaxxed and ready to cautiously break out of your COVID-19 funk? If you’re eager to go somewhere but remain hesitant, keep in mind there is plenty to do without getting on a plane.

Highway 1 and the dramatic Big Creek Bridge (circa 1937) on the Big Sur Coast. (Photo: Courtesy of Tim Viall)

Consider a road trip along California’s gorgeous coast. Tim Viall, writing for the Stockton Record, recounts in lush detail a camping vacation he recently enjoyed. No camper? No worries. The Golden State is just as beautiful by car.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: Los Angeles Times. 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 protected]

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