Today’s Headlines: New indications that Omicron is on the wane in California

Hello, it’s Friday, Jan. 21, and before we turn to the top stories, we’d like to point out a guest byline and a poignant exclusive The Times has today. From John Stamos, we have the speech he gave at the memorial for friend and co-star Bob Saget. (It’s occasionally raunchy and frequently heartbreaking.)

An excerpt: “As legend goes, Bob and I didn’t really get along when we started ‘Full House.’ … [At that time], I was in my 20s and didn’t have a care in the world. Hell, my backyard was Disneyland. But life does what it does, and when things came crashing down, the last person on Earth I ever imagined would be my rock became just that.”

Now, on to the stories you shouldn’t miss today:

TOP STORIES

The rapid spread of the coronavirus appears to be decelerating

After weeks of an unprecedented spike in coronavirus cases, transmission rates are falling in California — growing evidence that the surge spawned by the highly infectious Omicron variant is flattening. In some parts of California, it appears that it’s even beginning to wane. Officials, however, warn that hospitals will continue to face significant challenges in the coming days and weeks, and that Californians need to keep their guard up.

Los Angeles schools, meanwhile, were cautiously optimistic after seeing coronavirus rates dip and attendance improve in their second week since returning from winter break.

More top coronavirus headlines

  • Testing has emerged as an essential tool for limiting Omicron’s spread. But over the last month, laboratories and manufacturers have struggled to keep up with the demand.
  • Child-care providers serving California’s low-income families are scrambling to purchase rapid tests while banking on the state to boost their supply, hoping more frequent testing can prevent closures.
  • More than 1,800 people have signed a petition calling on administrators at Stanford University to repeal their COVID-19 booster vaccine mandate for students.

Stay up to date on variant developments, case counts and vaccine news with Coronavirus Today.

Biden walks back his ‘minor incursion’ comment on Ukraine

The White House sought to clarify remarks by President Biden about the consequences of a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine that appeared to undermine weeks of intense U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at stopping an invasion of the former Soviet republic.

Officials in Kyiv reacted angrily to Biden’s comments at a news conference Wednesday in which he appeared to wobble on backing Ukraine if it were attacked by its larger neighbor. Biden told reporters Thursday he’d been “absolutely clear with President Putin. He has no misunderstanding. If any — any — assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion. … It would be met with severe and coordinated economic response.”

More politics

  • Vice President Kamala Harris plans to visit a San Bernardino fire station today to announce the federal government will provide California $600 million to help the state recover from a historically severe wildfire season while highlighting plans to spend $5 billion more to address the dangers posed by fires, an administration official said.
  • The House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection is asking Ivanka Trump to voluntarily cooperate with its investigation.
  • As Biden begins his second year in office, he has struggled to follow a familiar path for his legislative agenda and finds himself stuck with a divided Democratic Party.

Sign up for our California Politics newsletter to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting and the latest action in Sacramento.

An appeals court has ruled a case against the Church of Scientology can proceed

Four women who accused actor Danny Masterson of rape can move forward with a harassment lawsuit against the Church of Scientology, a California appeals court ruled Wednesday. The suit was filed by women who said they were stalked and harassed by agents of the church after they reported to police that they had been raped by Masterson — a Scientologist who has been criminally charged. The husband of one of the women is also a plaintiff.

The plaintiffs said agents of the Church of Scientology surveilled them, hacked their security systems, filmed them, chased them, killed or attempted to kill their pets, set fires outside their homes, and posted ads purporting to be from them soliciting anal sex from strangers. The church has denied any harassment.

‘A train at rest is a train at risk’

Amid the supply-chain congestion at local ports and elsewhere, trains sometimes sit idle, leaving them vulnerable to thieves in urban rail yards. In Lincoln Heights, a wave of thefts left debris strewn across Union Pacific tracks last week. Scavengers said they found items including Louis Vuitton bags and robot parts.

What’s being done to combat the thefts? UP employs its own police force. Budgetary issues, however, have meant as few as half a dozen officers patrol the region. The LAPD and other agencies have been helping, but “it’s like digging sand at the beach,” said one officer. “We are making an arrest and then we see a quarter of a mile down the track someone else taking merchandise.”

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CALIFORNIA

Burbank officials fear the bullet train will compromise airport safety and water supplies. Burbank officials sent letters and appeared at a rail authority meeting, calling on the state rail authority to delay approval of a segment from downtown Los Angeles to Burbank because of many unresolved effects.

As PG&E’s probation nears its end, a judge said the company was a “continuing menace.” State fire officials have blamed the company’s power lines for sparking some of California’s largest wildfires. PG&E said in a statement that it had become “a fundamentally safer company” over the course of its five-year felony probation, but a judge supervising the company disagreed in a scathing report.

The Cal State system added caste to its anti-discrimination policy in a groundbreaking decision. The policy change came after years of activism from Dalit students of South Asian descent and allies to bring an end to campus discrimination based on caste, the centuries-old social hierarchy that governed the lives of more than a quarter of a billion people worldwide.

A new lawsuit accuses a former Mater Dei coach of raping a student in the 1980s. In the suit filed against the high school and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, a woman alleged that a coach repeatedly sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.

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NATION-WORLD

The U.S. has dropped a case against an MIT professor accused of hiding his ties to China. The Justice Department said it could no longer meet its burden of proof at trial. Gang Chen was accused last year of concealing ties to Beijing while also collecting U.S. dollars for his nanotechnology research, but his lawyers have said he did nothing wrong.

A jury was picked for the federal trial of three Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s killing. The judge in the case stressed repeatedly that fellow Officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction on state murder charges and guilty plea to a federal civil rights violation should not influence the proceedings.

The first flights carrying fresh water and other aid finally arrived in Tonga. Planes were able to land after the Pacific nation’s main airport runway was cleared of ash left by a huge volcanic eruption. New Zealand and Australia each sent military transport planes that were carrying water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene supplies and communications equipment. The Australian plane also had a special sweeper to help keep the runway clear.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Hilarious and profound, the new “Fraggle Rock” is a thing of beauty. With substantial advances in puppetry and digital effects since the first series, which ran from 1983 to 1987, there are bigger sets, bigger crowds, bigger production numbers. It’s grand. Most important, “Back to the Rock” has humor and a message: We are all connected and must learn to listen. Can children’s programming change the world? It can certainly improve the world of the viewer during the space of watching it, writes critic Robert Lloyd.

Adele said she was “gutted” over postponing her Las Vegas residency. The singer announced the postponement one day before she was to open. A number of fans had already paid for travel and accommodations and pricey tickets. “We’ve been absolutely destroyed by delivery delays and COVID,” she said.

Rock star and actor Meat Loaf dies at 74. The singer born Marvin Lee Aday died Thursday. He was loved by millions for his “Bat Out of Hell” album and for such theatrical, dark-hearted anthems as “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” and “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”

What do 8-year-olds and Nancy Pelosi have in common? Their favorite pop star is Lin-Manuel Miranda. His songs for Disney’s “Encanto” have become 2022’s first widespread cultural phenomenon. Pair that with his acclaimed directing job on Netflix’s “Tick, Tick … Boom!” and it seems clear that Miranda has been anointed the spiritual leader of American musical theater.

BUSINESS

Netflix’s subscriber growth has slowed as streaming rivals challenge its market share. The streamer reported that it added 8.3 million subscribers in the fourth quarter, falling short of its initial forecast of 8.5 million. Last year, Netflix added 18 million subscribers, compared with 37 million in 2020.

Amazon plans to open a clothing store at the Americana mall in Glendale. It’s a first for the online behemoth and a fresh challenge for already struggling traditional retailers. The company says the store will sell women’s and men’s clothing as well as shoes and other accessories and shoppers will get personalized recommendations pushed to their phones as they browse.

SPORTS

UCLA men’s basketball finishes strong against Utah to avoid major upset. It was only in the final minutes that a game that had been tilting heavily the other way finally went in the Bruins’ favor, leading them to a 63-58 victory that allowed them to exhale.

Short-handed UCLA women’s basketball rumbles past sloppy USC. Even with as many players injured as available, short-handed UCLA cruised to a dominant 66-43 victory over rival USC on Thursday at Pauley Pavilion to win its fourth consecutive game in the series.

Rams star cornerback Jaylen Ramsey has faced Tom Brady before, in a game he’d prefer to forget. In the 2017 playoffs, Brady led the New England Patriots to victory over Ramsey’s Jacksonville Jaguars. But he gets another postseason shot at neutralizing the most successful quarterback in NFL history on Sunday, when the Rams play Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC divisional-round game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

Shame on the Lakers. Columnist Bill Plaschke writes that with a humiliating 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night at Crypto.com Arena, the Lakers confirmed their identity as a mediocre team with major problems caused by serious mismanagement, and there is no easy solution in sight.

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OPINION

Alex Padilla isn’t scared to push through a pro-immigrant agenda. He believes in the power of his story: a son of two Mexican immigrants — a short-order cook and a house cleaner — who became California’s first Latino U.S. senator, writes columnist Jean Guerrero.

More important than the question “How has Biden done?” is “How has the nation responded to the unprecedented attack on democracy?” The answer — “not well” — implicates Biden’s predecessor and the Republican Party, save for a few brave figures who are being purged for their patriotism, writes columnist Jackie Calmes.

YOUR WEEKEND

Tagliatelle bolognese from Crossroads Kitchen.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Eat something vegan. The Times has 24 vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Los Angeles you might come to love. For instance: Try the Beleaf Go Fish Fillet sandwich — meant to evoke McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish — at Beleaf in Stanton; or the vegan burritos, nacho boats and heaped-high tortas at Cena Vegan in Lincoln Heights; or the noodle dishes at Crossroads in Beverly Grove (see above); and don’t miss the dairy-free croissants, sweet molasses cookies and Danishes at Bakers Bench in Chinatown. But go early: They almost always sell out.

Have fun while working out. Here are 44 ideas. Since mixing it up keeps things fresh, there are aerial hoop sessions, wall-climbing and rebounding classes, plus new takes on traditional workouts such as running and swimming.

Plant plants. You can help the National Park Service restore an oak savanna in Cheeseboro Canyon by planting native plants to replace those burned during the 2018 Woolsey fire. More info at eventbrite.com. And here are 13 more plant and garden events in the L.A. area through February.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Avalanche dogs do what it would take “23 patrollers” to do — “lined up single file with probes pushing through the snow … [for] hours and hours and hours.” They find people buried in snow. They help search-and-rescue teams around the world. What kind of dog is needed? One that can stand the cold, is light enough and calm enough to ride on the shoulders of a patroller while skiing down a mountain, can ride on snowmobiles and toboggans — one who will “‘go nuts’ when it’s time to put on the vest and head into danger.” For Cache, a 2-year-old Dutch shepherd, it’s a game. “The game is: I’m going to go find a person buried in the snow,” says her owner. “[T]he reward is they’re going to find somebody and they’re going to play tug with me.” Washington Post

Are NFTs the ticket to your next great meal? Chef Brad Miller and restaurateur Luke Tabit have created the Rolls-Royce of smash burgers. But if you want to try it, you’ll have to get crypto-savvy as they join a growing number of restaurateurs and food companies experimenting with new technology to help market their brands. Los Angeles Times.

Planning the Holocaust took all of 90 minutes. Eighty years ago, 15 high-ranking Nazis met to map out the “final solution.” Minutes typed up from the 90-minute meeting included phrases like “evacuation,” “reduction” and “treatment” — and divided the task among government departments and their “pertinent specialists.” The Wannsee Conference protocol is “chilling,” said one scholar. “[Y]ou look at the list of countries and the number of Jews they planned to kill. Eleven million people they were going to go after. They had very big plans.” The anniversary of the conference comes as Holocaust survivors are dwindling and white supremacy is resurgent in Europe and the U.S. New York Times

ONLY IN L.A.

His gross fast-food TikToks went viral. But making a living from TikTok isn’t easy. Sam Pocker has achieved what some young people dream of: a life in L.A. making TikTok videos. It’s just not quite as glamorous as you’d expect.

First, there’s his style of content: gross-out videos that find him dumping ungodly amounts of sauces and flavorings atop hot dogs, hamburgers and more, for an effect that’s less appetizing than it is artistic. Then there’s the grind — and cost — of trying to stay relevant to the platform’s fickle content recommendation algorithm.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

A police officer looks on as five men and a boy jog by on a city street; two men are in street clothes.

May 6, 1979: President Carter, in a visit to L.A. two years into his presidency, takes an early morning run in El Sereno. Alongside him is his host Stephen Rodriguez and Rodriguez’s son Stephen Jr. Secret Service agents tag along.

(Jack Gaunt / Los Angeles Times)

Forty-five years ago today, Jimmy Carter — on his first day in office as president — pardoned many Vietnam War draft evaders. The following day, The Times reported in its Jan. 22, 1977, edition that around 10,000 people were affected by the pardon, including 1,800 who were fugitives (the majority of those had fled to Canada). Then-Press Secretary Jody Powell said the president was “well aware that the sum total of those who think we did not go far enough and those who think we went too far will probably exceed 50% of the population.”

We appreciate that you took the time to read Today’s Headlines! Comments or ideas? Feel free to drop us a note at [email protected] — Laura Blasey and Amy Hubbard

Eleanore Beatty

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