In California: Disneyland to reopen Friday; some state residents struggle to get a COVID vaccine

Plus: Long Beach book drive leads to false story about Kamala Harris, another police video draws fire, and will California adults be able to add parents to health insurance plans?

I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, wishing you a happy hump day during this final week in April. Here are some of the latest headlines from here in the Golden State.

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Disneyland to reopen Friday; masks, temperature checks required

Sleeping Beauty Castle in the heart of Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, reawakens during a special live streamed moment welcoming cast members back to the Disneyland Resort, April 26, 2021. Disneyland Resort theme parks will reopen to guests Friday, April 30, 2021. (Photo: Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort)

Have you been holding your breath until you can once again visit Disneyland? If so, the wait is almost over.

The gates to the “Happiest Place on Earth” and California Adventure will open again on Friday morning for the first time in 412 days — the longest closure for the amusement park in its 65-year history. 

Most of Disneyland’s popular rides and attractions are expected to be open when guests return, including Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

But strolling down Buena Vista Street in California Adventure and Main Street USA in Disneyland will be different than before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of all California theme parks in March 2020.

Most notably, everyone — cast members and guests 2 years and older — must wear masks, even if vaccinated. And signage and markings on the ground will remind all to keep their distance from those not within their households. (Which means if you’ve been longing for a hug from Mickey or Minnie, you’re out of luck; all you’ll get is a wave.)

At least there won’t be the sort of crowds one normally expects; the parks are opening at about 25% of capacity.

For more detailed information, including park hours, schedules, rides and wait times, dining reservations and food orders, download the Disneyland app or visit disneyland.disney.go.com.

Why are some Californians struggling to get a COVID vaccine?

 (Photo: Getty Images)

We hear plenty of stories of excess coronavirus vaccines and unfilled appointments, but why are some Golden State residents still finding it difficult to get one?

Marlies Mokhtarzadeh said she was turned away from a pharmacy offering the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine by a clerk who told her she had to make an appointment online. Unfortunately, that was not an option for the 80-year-old, who had also tried repeatedly to get an appointment through a toll-free telephone number.

“I’m trying to find somebody that will give me the shot,” she said. “They have it at the Walgreens in Millbrae, and I don’t know why they won’t give me the shot.”

One Bay Area doctor has been authorized to inoculate patients against COVID-19 since late February but has been unable to get vaccines from San Mateo County or Blue Shield. When he called the former to ask why, he was told he needed to speak to the latter. A spokesman for Blue Shield told him they are working to expand providers who want to administer the vaccine.

Meanwhile, California is said to be in far better shape, vaccine-wise, than it was weeks ago when scoring an appointment was cause for celebration. Today, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego and other populous counties are advertising that anyone can walk in for a shot.   

Will California adults be able to add parents to health insurance plans?

In this May 31, 2017 file photo, then-state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, now the California Insurance Commissioner, speaks at a Capitol news conference in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP)

California could become the only state to let adult children add their parents as dependents to their health insurance plans, according to a policy proposal aimed at increasing insurance coverage among low-income people living in the country illegally who aren’t eligible for government-funded coverage.

A proposal in the state Legislature authored by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago passed its first committee hearing on Tuesday. If it becomes law, California would be the only state that allows this, according to the state Department of Insurance.

“When we were young, our parents were there for us and took care of us,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, who supports the proposal. “Now we can take care of them when they need it the most.”

Business groups, however, say adding lots of older people to their large group insurance plans will just drive up their already skyrocketing premium costs. Employer premiums would increase between $200 million and $800 million per year, depending on how many people sign up. The result, they say, would be higher health care costs for everyone.

Long Beach book drive leads to false story about Kamala Harris

Vice President Kamala Harris on March 26, 2021, in New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo: Mark Mirko/AP)

When the City of Long Beach announced its plans to temporarily turn its convention center into housing for up to 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, officials launched a book drive in order to have reading material on hand. Someone donated Vice President Kamala Harris’ 2019 book for children, “Superheroes Are Everywhere.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that the book was placed on a cot and photographed, which led The New York Post to run a front-page story erroneously reporting that federal officials had purposely included the book as part of their “welcome kits” for the children.

Republicans and conservatives expressed their disapproval. “The Biden administration’s weakness caused a surge of illegal immigration,” tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “Now they’re forcing taxpayers to buy Kamala Harris’s book to give to those illegal immigrants?”

However, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services told The Times Wednesday that no books were included in welcome kits: “No taxpayer dollars were used to purchase Vice President Harris’ book,” said Zhan Caplan.

After fact-checking by the Washington Post, the New York paper reportedly deleted and then amended its story.

Meanwhile, Laura Italiano, the reporter whose byline was on the article, tweeted Tuesday that she had resigned from the publication after being “ordered” to write the story.

Bodycam video shows police pinning California man for more than 5 minutes before his death

Police officers are pictured attempting to take Mario Gonzalez, 26, into custody in Alameda, California, last week. The video goes on to show officers pinning Gonzalez to the ground during the arrest that ended in his death. (Photo: Alameda Police Department via AP)

In a scenario that seems eerily familiar, police in the Northern California city of Alameda released bodycam footage late Tuesday showing officers pinning a man to the ground for more than five minutes during an April 19 arrest.

The man, Mario Gonzalez, 26, stopped breathing during the event and died. A police statement said he had a medical emergency after officers tried to handcuff him. His family says he was killed by police who used excessive force.

In the video from two officers’ body cameras, one officer appears to put a knee on Gonzalez’ back and leaves it there for about four minutes as Gonzalez gasps for air, saying “I didn’t do nothing, OK?”

Officers repeatedly asked him for his full name and birthdate, but Gonzalez seemed dazed, possibly intoxicated, as he struggled to answer questions.

Shortly before Gonzalez stopped breathing, one officer asked the other: “Think we can roll him on his side?” but the other answers, “I don’t want to lose what I got, man.”

Gonzalez left a 4-year-old son and was the main caretaker of his 22-year-old brother, who has autism, his family said.

The official cause of death is under investigation.

Elvis Presley and actress Ann-Margret shown in an MGM Studios-supplied publicity photo for the 1964 film, "Viva Las Vegas." (Photo: AP)

And last but certainly not least, a big happy birthday goes out to actress and singer Ann-Margret, who turns 80 today. The Swedish-born two-time Academy Award nominee who has called California home since the early 1960s, starred in such classic films as “Viva Las Vegas” with Elvis Presley, “Bye Bye Birdie” with Dick Van Dyke and “Tommy” with The Who. As they say in Swedish (via Google Translate), “Grattis på födelsedagen!”

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: Los Angeles Times, Santa Ynez Valley News. 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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