In CA: Some communities are beginning to reopen, just in time for Memorial Day

Rebecca Plevin, USA TODAY

From Palm Springs, I’m Desert Sun immigration reporter Rebecca Plevin with the news you need to kick off this holiday weekend.

But first, while many in the state are focused on reopening the economy, California’s physicians, nurses and medical staff continue working in extraordinary times.

Desert Sun reporter Nicole Hayden and photojournalist Vickie Connor went inside the coronavirus unit at Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage. They report that a day in the life of the COVID-19 unit “not only presents daily challenges in addressing rapidly changing patient care, but also in coping with the heaviness of the frontlines versus how the rest of the world is experiencing the pandemic.”

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'Freedom' to gamble again

A large billboard advertises the reopening of the Agua Caliente Resort Casino and Spa in Rancho Mirage, May 22, 2020.

Here in Riverside County, which has been approved for accelerated reopening, six casinos in or near the Coachella Valley opened their doors today to guests who were eager to gamble on slot machines and play card games, despite a request from Gov. Gavin Newsom to stay closed.

Newsom sent a letter to California tribes on May 15 urging them not to reopen their gaming facilities. But tribes are sovereign nations and don’t have to follow local or state stay-at-home orders. Several popular casinos in the San Diego area opened earlier this week.

Casinos are considered higher-risk workplaces because of the volume of people they attract and fall under Stage 3 of the governor’s reopening plan.

Desert Sun reporters Risa Johnson and Andrew John visited some of the casinos that opened today. They report that when the doors to Spotlight 29 Casino near Coachella opened at 10 a.m., after a closure that has lasted more than two months, someone from the crowd yelled, “Freedom!”

Newsom: Tulare County reopening 'breaks my heart'

Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his plan for the gradual reopening of California businesses during a news conference at the Display California store in Sacramento, Calif. Newsom on Wednesday.

Leaders in Tulare County, meanwhile, have opted to progress to Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan against the advice of health officials — a decision that has sparked the ire of Newsom and leaders in the Tulare County cities of Tulare, Visalia, Porterville and Farmersville, reports Joshua Yeager for the Visalia Times-Delta.

“I’m deeply sensitive and have deep admiration and respect for the elected officials of Tulare County,” Newsom said Friday during a press conference. “I want them to know I understand their deep desire that I share (to) reopen every aspect of the economy and go back to normalcy that we had just 100 days ago.”

Still, he said, it “breaks my heart” that Tulare County is reopening and that as a result, loved ones “will lose their lives” who otherwise wouldn’t.

Earlier in the week, Newsom listed Tulare and Kings counties, both in the agricultural Central Valley, as two of five counties that should remain closed as a result of the pandemic. He pointed to severe outbreaks at nursing homes and meatpacking facilities as obstacles preventing the bi-county region from restarting much of its economy.

Safe ways to celebrate Memorial Day

A large crane displays an American flag above the start route of the 22nd annual Tour de Palm Springs in downtown Palm Springs, Calif., on Saturday, February 8, 2020.

Most public Memorial Day gatherings have been canceled this year. But there are other ways to pay tribute to the nation's fallen soldiers, according to Frank Bell, director of the Palm Springs Air Museum.

"There's the opportunity to fly flags, show your patriotism through social media or in other ways," Bell said.

Here are other ways to spend the Memorial Day weekend, while following health recommendations.

If you live in Central California: Grab a Tulare County Fair snack. The Fair Food Drive-Thru, presented by 9 Iron Bar & Grill, is open this weekend, Friday through Sunday. Local favorites include barbecue turkey legs, caramel and candy apples, corn dogs and cotton candy.

If you live in Southern California: Camp in Joshua Tree National Park. The popular desert park reopened this week. Family camping is permitted but group camping sites remain closed. Health officials say camping should be kept within the family. But if two households decide to camp together, they should practice social distancing measures and not share food, utensils or plates. Face coverings don’t necessarily need to be worn, but should be handy.

If you live in Northern California: Go kayaking in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Many of the popular attractions in the 42,000-acre park near Redding have been closed during the pandemic. Kayak rentals are now available at Brandy Creek Beach and boat rentals are available at the Oak Bottom Marina.

Meet the Desert Sun

Mariachi Nuevo Amanecer performs while walking through a neighborhood in Mecca, Calif. to spread joy to those at home during the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, May 17, 2020.

The Desert Sun covers the Coachella Valley, a nine-city region in the Southern California desert, for the USA TODAY Network. Staff in this small-but-mighty newsroom pride themselves on punching above their weight, consistently producing hard-hitting investigations and compelling photos and videos, as well as fun and engaging content for the community.

Since March, the paper’s editors, reporters, photojournalists and digital producers have approached their beats through the lens of the pandemic. Here’s some of the standout work our team has produced this week:

Health reporter Nicole Hayden and environment reporter Mark Olalde reported that most California counties are falling short on testing and contact tracing — two key tools for limiting coronavirus spread as some activity and business close restrictions are lifted.

Business reporter Melissa Daniels reported that taco trucks have become an “unexpected oasis” for hungry essential workers on the road during the coronavirus pandemic. The food trucks are participating in a Caltrans program that helps truckers and other travelers stay fed when many other dining options are shuttered.

Visual journalist Vickie Connor produced this delightful video featuring Mariachi Nuevo Amanecer performing in the Eastern Coachella Valley. Watch to the end to see how the music sparked joy in a neighborhood in Mecca.

That's it for me. In California and Arlene Martinez will return on Tuesday. Have a safe and peaceful Memorial Day weekend. 

In California is a roundup of news from across USA TODAY Network newsrooms. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California starts reopening for Memorial Day