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Basketball roundup: Brooklyn Shamblin, Omamoke Okah are 1-2 punch for Oaks Christian girls


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WESTLAKE VILLAGE – It was a shaky first half for Brooklyn Shamblin. The Oaks Christian guard had three turnovers in the first quarter and picked up three fouls before halftime.

It would be fair to say the blunders are because of growing pains just seven games into the girls’ basketball season. Shamblin is just a freshman, after all. But here’s the difference.

Not one time did Shamblin’s attitude change. No complaining to the refs. No sulking. As Shamblin sat the bench in foul trouble, she was cheering her team on as they raced out to a 20-point lead in the first half before fending off Viewpoint in a 51-44 home victory Thursday night.

“She’s a composed player for as young as she is,” Oaks Christian coach Kristy Hopkins said. “She knows how to handle herself in certain situations.”

Shamblin finished with a team-high 16 points, including 11 in the second half, to keep the Lions unbeaten this season at 6-0. Junior Omamoke Okah had 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Faith O’Daniel – another freshman – added 10 points (with three 3s).

Oaks Christian is in CIF Southern Section Division 3-A, so knocking off Division 1 Viewpoint (4-3) will raise some eyebrows.

“That was our toughest test mentally,” Hopkins said. “But not physically, we’ve had some other tests that were a little more physical.”

Okah was the anchor in the first half, as Oaks Christian led 31-11 at one point late in the second quarter. But Viewpoint’s Karlee White and Kayla Keshmeshian rallied to bring the score within 47-42 in the game’s final minute before Shamblin hit a tough baseline floater to balloon the lead back to seven to keep the Patriots at bay.

White (25 points) and Keshmeshian (17) combined for 42 of the team’s 44 points.

At this rate, Oaks Christian will continue to get better, and it could land them a spot on the CIF’s Open Division watchlist in early January. When asked about the possibility of being an Open Division team, Hopkins laughed and said, “No way, we’re not physical enough.”

We’ll see. Okah is a dominant 6-foot-3 center that is certainly good enough for the Open Division after playing on the same EYBL team with Sierra Canyon’s Juju Wakins over the summer.

BOYS BASKETBALL SCORES

Sierra Canyon 93, Beverly Hills 64: Amari Bailey led the way with 23 and seven assists. Kijani Wright added 17.

Taft 58, Narbonne 51: Keyon Kensie and Isaiah Lewis each had 16 for the Toreadors (5-1)

Village Christian 68, Westchester 32: Immanuel Taylor had 13 points, and Thomas Luczak added 15.

Heritage Christian 68, Crescenta Valley 49: Barrington Hargress poured in 33 points with five 3-pointers.

Westlake 60, San Marcos 58: Kayden Elsokary scored 12 points, Marcus Lesser and River Ortiz each had 11 for the Warriors (4-2).

Northridge Academy 75, Triumph Charter 26: Freshman Kenyon Alexander had 30 points and 11 steals in the win.

Crespi 59, Buena 35: Mason Dorsey led the Celts (8-2) with 16 points and Roman Stewart pitched in 12 (all 3s).

Chaminade 59, Royal 46: Caden Cantwell led the Eagles (6-2) with 13 points.

GIRLS BASKETBALL SCORES

Westlake 66, Chaminade 54: Mariah Elohim led the Warriors with 24 points.

Harvard-Westlake 63, Birmingham 47

Los Angeles leaders urge public not to fear shopping amid recent smash-and-grab attacks

Seeking to quell growing public concern amid a surge in “smash-and grab” robberies, authorities in Los Angeles announced Thursday that 14 people have been arrested in connection with 11 such robberies from North Hollywood to South Los Angeles in recent weeks.

The suspects all have been released, either due to their age, posting bail or zero bail policies, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said when he joined Los Angeles city leaders and FBI officials near City Hall to discuss the recent “smash-and-grab” robberies throughout the region.

  • Local store owners and officials listen as LAPD Chief Michel Moore speaks during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies, and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • LAPD Chief Michel Moore speaks during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies, and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • LAPD Chief Michel Moore speaks during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies, and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks as the LAPD Chief Michel Moore, right, listens during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies, and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti right, looks on as LAPD Chief Michel Moore speaks during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies, and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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Moore, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Kristi Johnson, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, also gathered to discuss the safety measures the public can take to prevent future attacks on Southern California’s business community.

The press conference Thursday came on the heels of 11 robberies and the arrests of 14 individuals who are believed to be connected to the thefts that received an extensive amount of recent media coverage, Moore explained from the lectern.

At least three of the arrests were announced previously, all involving the smash-and-grab robbery by a mob of at least 20 people at the Nordstrom store at The Grove, the upscale shopping center in the Fairfax district, on Nov. 22.

Two suspects were arrested following a similar robbery that occurred at a cellular phone warehouse in North Hollywood on Nov. 21 where more than $100,000 worth of property was stolen, Moore said. In total, six burglaries, four robberies and one grand theft took place between Nov. 18 and Sunday.

Several suspects worked in tandem to steal from various stores, sometimes employing force and intimidation to overwhelm employees during the crimes, Moore said. It’s not currently known if any of the robberies are connected.

Southern California is not alone in the situation, though, according to the chief, who highlighted how cities throughout California have experienced a rash of attempted robberies since the start of November.

“What’s striking in that small number of crimes was the amount of property that was stolen,” Moore said. In total, more than $338,000 dollars of goods had been stolen and $40,000 in property damage had been dealt in the attacks on The Grove, the Westfield Topanga Mall the Beverly Center and other popular retail areas

And while all who have been arrested by LAPD in connection with the events are now out of custody, Moore said, the county’s no-bail system hasn’t deterred LAPD from chasing further leads and instituting new tactics to address the situation.

“We’re not allowing or tolerating this type of bold and reckless actions,” Moore said, promising those involved will face consequences for their actions.

“The message again to the bad guys is we will find you, we will arrest you, and we will prosecute you,” Garcetti added before Johnson was introduced.

Kristi Koons Johnson, Assistant Director in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office for the FBI speaks as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, center, and LAPD Chief Michel Moore, right, looks on ] during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies, and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Like Garcetti, Johnson encouraged businesses and local residents to not fear heading out to go shopping.

“This disturbing trend cannot continue and we will do everything in our power,” Johnson said, to ensure the LAPD is supported in their efforts to apprehend individuals in the community who look to exploit others.

“We have had success in prosecuting these types of crimes on the federal level in the past,” Johnson said, explaining officials intend to do the same now and are offering reward money that leads to arrest.

Anybody with information is encouraged to contact 1-877-ASK-LAPD, according to Johnson.

Garcetti commended the work of Johnson and Moore in providing their employees with tools to track down the small population of Angelenos responsible for the attacks because, he said, the impact on the larger population cannot be understated.

  • City Wide areas with reported smash and grabs during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies, and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Pictures of recent smash and grabs during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies, and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Pictures of recent smash and grabs during a news conference to announce arrests in connection with recent smash-and-grab robberies, and to provide safety measures and prevention tips at the LAPD Headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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“I understand how unsettling it can be to pick up the newspaper or to turn on the TV to hear the descriptions or watch the videos,” Garcetti said, advising the public that, despite the string of robberies and recent killing of Jacqueline Avant during a Beverly Hills home invasion, crime statistics indicate Angelenos are  probably in the safest decade of our lifetimes.”

“I’m always careful when I say that because it means nothing if you’re a member of the Avant family or a member of a family that was attacked today,” Garcetti said. “We never want to dismiss that, but we also don’t want it blow up where everybody thinks that suddenly we’re seeing statistics that are way beyond what they actual numbers are.”

Garcetti recognized the situation is “not something we’ve seen too often.” No matter, he encouraged the public to rest easy knowing officers will be out in the streets ensuring that it’s safe for families to frequent shopping areas.

“So then,” he added, “you can enjoy a holiday season.”

Senate passes stopgap funding bill, avoiding shutdown

By KEVIN FREKING and LISA MASCARO

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate passed a stopgap spending bill Thursday that avoids a short-term shutdown and funds the federal government through Feb. 18 after leaders defused a partisan standoff over federal vaccine mandates. The measure now goes to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

Earlier in the day, congressional leaders announced they had finally reached an agreement to keep the government running for 11 more weeks, generally at current spending levels, while adding $7 billion to aid Afghanistan evacuees.

Once the House voted to approve the measure, senators soon announced an agreement that would allow them to vote on it quickly.

“I am glad that in the end, cooler heads prevailed. The government will stay open and I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 69-28.

The Democratic-led House passed the measure by a 221-212 vote. The Republican leadership urged members to vote no; the lone GOP vote for the bill came from Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

Lawmakers bemoaned the short-term fix and blamed the opposing party for the lack of progress on this year’s spending bills. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the measure would, however, allow for negotiations on a package covering the full budget year through September.

“Make no mistake, a vote against this continuing resolution is a vote to shut government down,” DeLauro said during the House debate.

Before the votes, Biden said he had spoken with Senate leaders and he played down fears of a shutdown.

“There is a plan in place unless somebody decides to be totally erratic, and I don’t think that will happen,” Biden said.

Some Republicans opposed to Biden’s vaccine rules wanted Congress to take a hard stand against the mandated shots for workers at larger businesses, even if that meant shutting down federal offices over the weekend by blocking a request that would expedite a final vote on the spending bill.

It was just the latest instance of the brinkmanship around government funding that has triggered several costly shutdowns and partial closures over the past two decades. The longest shutdown in history happened under President Donald Trump — 35 days stretching into January 2019, when Democrats refused to approve money for his U.S-Mexico border wall. Both parties agree the stoppages are irresponsible, yet few deadlines pass without a late scramble to avoid them.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Democrats knew last month that several Republicans would use all means at their disposal to oppose legislation that funds or allows the enforcement of the employer vaccine mandate. He blamed Schumer for not negotiating and for ignoring their position.

If the choice is between “suspending nonessential functions” or standing idle while Americans lose their ability to work, “I’ll stand with American workers every time,” Lee said.

Lee and Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., authored an amendment that prohibited federal dollars being spent to implement and enforce a series of vaccine mandates put in place by the Biden administration. The amendment went down to defeat with 48 yes votes and 50 no votes. But having the vote opened the door to taking up the full spending bill immediately.

Lee said millions were being forced to choose between an unwanted medical procedure and losing their job.

“Their jobs are being threatened by their own government,” Lee said.

“Let’s give employers certainty and employees peace of mind that they will still have a job this new year,” Marshall urged before the vote.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., countered that the federal government should be using every tool to keep Americans safe and that is why the Biden administration has taken steps to urge employers to make sure their workers are fully vaccinated or test negative before they come to the workplace.

“No one wants to go to work and be worried they might come home to their family with a deadly virus,” Murray said.

The White House sees the vaccinations as the quickest way to end a pandemic that has killed more than 780,000 people in the United States and is still evolving, as seen Wednesday with the country’s first detected case of a troubling new variant.

Courts have knocked back against the mandates, including a ruling this week blocking enforcement of a requirement for some health care workers.

For some Republicans, the court cases and lawmakers’ fears about a potentially disruptive shutdown were factors against engaging in a high-stakes shutdown.

“One of the things I’m a little concerned about is: Why would we make ourselves the object of public attention by creating the specter of a government shutdown?” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a GOP leader.

The administration has pursued vaccine requirements for several groups of workers, but the effort is facing legal setbacks.

A federal judge this week blocked the administration from enforcing a vaccine mandate on thousands of health care workers in 10 states. Earlier, a federal appeals court temporarily halted the OSHA requirement affecting employers with 100 or more workers.

The administration has also put in place policies requiring millions of federal employees and federal contractors, including military troops, to be fully vaccinated. Those efforts are also under challenge.

Polling from The Associated Press shows Americans are divided over Biden’s effort to vaccinate workers, with Democrats overwhelmingly for it while most Republicans are against.

Some Republicans prefer an effort from Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., to vote to reject the administration’s mandates in a congressional review action expected next week, separate from the funding fight.

Separately, some health care providers protested the stopgap spending measure. Hospitals say it does nothing to shield them from Medicare payment cuts scheduled to go into effect amid uncertainty about the new omicron variant.

_____

Associated Press staff writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

State rests case at Smollett trial after star witnesses

By DON BABWIN and SARA BURNETT

CHICAGO (AP) — The state rested its case at Jussie Smollett’s trial Thursday after key testimony from two brothers who said the former “Empire” actor plotted a racist and anti-gay attack on himself in downtown Chicago and paid them to carry it out.

After a three-day presentation of evidence, special prosecutor Dan Webb told the presiding judge Thursday evening that the prosecution was done. The defense began its case immediately, calling, among others, an emergency room physician who saw Smollett after the purported attack.

Judge James Linn told jurors there would be no testimony Friday, saying he expected they would begin deliberations no later than Tuesday.

The physician, Dr. Robert Turelli, testified he treated Smollett after he went to a hospital early on Jan. 29, 2019, telling Turelli he’d been attacked, punched and kicked. Turelli said Smollett had some bruises and scratches but no serious injuries.

Before the state rested Thursday, Smollett’s lawyer worked to discredit the brothers’ accounts, suggesting they attacked Smollett because they didn’t like him, and tried to get him to pay them each $1 million not to testify that he staged the assault.

Defense attorney Shay Allen suggested the brothers were motivated to accuse Smollett of staging the hoax because they disliked the performer — who is gay and Black — and then saw an opportunity to make money.

Olabingo Osundairo’s testimony echoed the account his brother, Abimbola Osundairo, gave on the witness stand a day earlier, including that Smollett wanted the brothers to douse him with gasoline and put a noose around his neck, and that Smollett gave them a $100 bill to buy the supplies and paid them with a $3,500 check.

Olabingo Osundairo said Smollett told him he received hate mail at the TV studio in Chicago “and he had this crazy idea of having two MAGA supporters attack him,” an apparent reference to then-President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” Osundairo believed the plan was to publicize the attack on social media, not to involve police, he said.

They opted to pour bleach on Smollett, Osundairo said, because he wasn’t comfortable using gasoline. He said Smollett wanted his brother to do the punching, and that it should look like he fought back.

Osundairo also addressed the defense contention that the brothers were driven by homophobia. He testified that he has nothing against gays and the jury was shown a photo of the siblings taking part in Chicago’s 2015 gay pride parade dressed as trojan warriors.

Smollett, 39, is charged with six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack on Jan. 29, 2019 — one count for each time he gave a report — to three different officers. The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is convicted he likely would be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

Olabingo Osundairo also denied a white person was involved, or that he and his brother even wore masks or makeup to make it appear they were white. In statements that were widely ridiculed because the brothers are Black, Smollett had said he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers.

During cross examination, Allen asked Abimbola Osundairo, who worked as a stand-in on the Chicago set of “Empire,” if he tried to get a $5,000-per-week job as Smollett’s security and if after he was questioned by police and released he told Smollett he and his brother wouldn’t testify at his trial if they were each paid $1 million. Osundairo responded “No sir” to both.

In follow-up questioning by Webb, Osundairo said he never thought Smollett would go to the police to report the fake attack as a real hate crime. He said Smollett told him that he wanted to use it to generate media attention, and that he has never lied to Chicago police.

Olabingo Osundairo told jurors he talked to police without a promise of immunity or under any sort of favorable deal. He added: “It was simply just to get the truth out of what happened that night.”

Smollett’s legal team needs to cast doubt on the brothers’ damaging testimony, but it isn’t easy. Abimbola Osundairo stuck with his story during cross-examination, while also denying he had a sexual relationship with Smollett or that he asked the actor to hire him. And much of what the Osundairos have told jurors about that night appears to be corroborated by video and other evidence.

Smollett’s legal team asked Olabingo Osundairo about a previous felony conviction, which he testified was in 2012, for aggravated battery. As a convicted felon he cannot legally possess a firearm, but police found several guns when they searched their home after the alleged attack. Both brothers said the guns belonged to Abimbola Osundairo.

The defense said the brothers lied about Smollett staging the attack to get out of trouble for possessing the firearms and heroin that was also found in the home.

Abimbola Osundairo, an aspiring actor, said he and his brother agreed to their roles in the fake attack because he felt indebted to Smollett for helping him with his acting career.

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Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case. ___

Associated Press writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.

Rams’ Sean McVay must reverse another late-season decline

THOUSAND OAKS — It’s a bad thing that can only happen to a good coach.

He starts the season with a playbook bursting with innovation. He gets his players to follow the X’s and O’s to a T. His team roars to a fast start and becomes the talk of the league.

But then he pays the price for all that attention as opponents rise to the challenge of figuring out how to stop him.

That might be part of what’s going wrong for Sean McVay, whose Rams started this season 7-1 but are 0-3 since then heading into Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at SoFi Stadium.

If so, it fits a pattern that has seen McVay’s teams experience drop-offs in production in the second half of the season in four of his five years as the Rams’ coach and offensive play-caller.

A good coach can’t be a great coach until he corrects that problem.

“Those are things that we certainly look at,” McVay said this week when asked about the pattern. “Give credit to the (opposing) defenses. They do a nice job.

“I’ve got to do a better job, especially in (these) particular parts of the season, of helping us be more efficient offensively.”

Analytics point to declines in the Rams’ offense from the first half to the second half of the season almost every year in the McVay era. But you don’t have to look farther than the scoreboard to see the results.

Since 2017, the Rams have gone 31-9 in the first eight games of the season and only 19-16 in the rest of those regular seasons. (Against the point spread, they’ve fallen from 23-16-1 early in seasons to 17-17-1 late.)

The offense’s share of the blame gets the most attention, given the high expectations created by McVay’s reputation for offensive innovation, and especially this year with quarterback Matthew Stafford brought in to expand the passing game.

The Rams’ winless November only hardened the perception that opponents have adjusted to their offense faster than they’ve adjusted to the adjustments.

That perception was born in 2018. The 11-1 Rams ran into the Chicago Bears’ Vic Fangio-run defense and lost, 15-6, then lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 30-23, the next week. They got to the Super Bowl but lost, 13-3, against a New England Patriots scheme that borrowed from the one the Bears used.

The Eagles had beaten the Rams the previous December too. Two weeks ago, former Eagles assistant coach and analytics specialist Ryan Paganetti tweeted that “we had a really good idea of exactly what they were going to do.”

There might have been other factors in 2018. The losses to the Bears and Eagles came shortly after the Rams lost wide receiver Cooper Kupp to a knee injury. Now the NFL’s leading receiver, Kupp said the problem isn’t coaching adjustments.

“I think that’s a fair assumption to make from an analytics view. I don’t know that it’s incredibly accurate,” Kupp said Thursday. “I don’t look at the analytics of things. I look at the film. We’ve just got to do a better job of executing.”

Urban Meyer, in his first year as coach of the Jaguars (2-9) after winning two national championships with Florida and one with Ohio State, faced the same problems in his college heyday.

“If we’re leading the league in college football or the Big Ten in offense, it’s not going to last long unless we keep adapting,” Meyer said Tuesday in a conference call with Rams beat writers.

“That’s part of the job” for any coach, Meyer said.

The trend shows up in Stafford’s numbers, which have fallen off from games 1-3 (129.8 passer rating, 10.0 yards per pass, 3 touchdowns, 0.3 interceptions, 1 sack per game) to games 4-8 (111.8, 8.6, 2.6, 0.6, 0.8) to games 9-11 (77.5, 6.6, 1.7, 1.7, 3).

Opponents are playing more “two-deep shell” coverage to take away deep passes. Stafford isn’t afraid to take deep shots when available, as he did on 79- and 54-yard touchdown strikes to Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr. in the 36-28 loss to the Packers last weekend. But, he said, “when defenses (are) forcing you to take the underneath stuff, I want to make sure I do that as well.”

With the Rams’ ground game staggering to 24th in the league, McVay indicated this week he’s looking at using “higher-percentage plays in the pass game” to respond to different defensive schemes and the three-game run of costly turnovers.

The Rams coaches’ challenge in ending the three-game slide is complicated by having to instantly replace injured wide receiver Robert Woods with Beckham.

But it’s the challenge of the second half of this season, as it was in McVay’s first four.

Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons head coach, has faced it from both sides of the line of scrimmage.

“(If) anybody’s hot, people catch up,” Morris said. “Somebody gets a game plan and it works. When you can emulate some of those game plans, if you can execute the plan, you have a better chance of getting (so) you can dictate terms.

“Obviously, in our game, injuries happen. Changes have to be made. You’ve got to constantly evolve.

“You either get better, or you get worse.”

NOTES

Beckham (hip) sat out practice Thursday after being listed as limited on Wednesday. Running back Darrell Henderson (thigh) and cornerback David Long (ill) remained out. Receiver Ben Skowronek (back) returned to full participation.

‘tick, tick…BOOM!’ is a sound ‘Louder than Words’ for LA students starring in Netflix video

Los Angeles County High School for the Arts students rose to a major challenge from Netflix to produce a musical video of the song “Louder than Words,” the last of a dozen in the recently released “tick, tick…BOOM!” film directed by award-winning actor and director Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame.

And the 57 students and school staff overseeing them did it all in just under two weeks. A major accomplishment given they would normally have months to pull off a large-scale production like that.

Miranda’s film adaptation is based on the musical of the same name that never made it to Broadway.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

It’s the story about the late Jonathan Larson, an American composer and playwright, who created the musical and the protagonist.

It is a biographical retelling of Larson’s struggles breaking into the theatre industry, navigating his love life and experiencing the early onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which later inspired the musical “Rent,” his most famous play, a work credited with reinvigorating Broadway and the American music theater  when it first hit the boards in 1996.

Jonathan Larson (AP file photo)

Larson died in 1996 at the age of 35.

The song, “Louder than Words,” brings an end to the characters and storylines focusing on inequality, injustice, creativity and ambition.

The streaming company approached five schools nationwide, which produced individual videos that were compiled into one now featured on Netflix Film Club YouTube and other platforms.

Drew McClellan, chair of the cinematic arts department at the high school situated on the campus of Cal State LA, reached out to two of his top students, Benji Tucker and Vivian Wolfson, to lead the project.

“Benji and Vivian wrote the script in 24 hours,” McClellan said. “We had broad conceptual strokes (Netflix) wanted to achieve. Benji and Vivian came up with the script and from there gathered the student crew, put the cinematic faculty around them to support them.”

The duo slipped into the roles of co-producers, co-writers and co-directors.

“We wanted to create a video that we knew would be able to stand alone and Netflix could use however they saw fit and I think they used it beautiful(ly),” McClellan said. “The fact Benji and Vivian were able to turn the script around within 24 hours not only does that (highlight) their talent and work ethic, but I think they had a lot of good practice throughout the pandemic in terms of working under tight deadlines.”

Students lost a year-plus of on-set experience due to the deadly coronavirus.

For some, this nearly 6-minute video challenge was the first time they collaborated with peers in person and actually experienced being on a film set.

The crew and cast were masked for the entire shoot, except when the actors were on screen being filmed.

Students had just under two weeks once receiving the assignment in mid-October to delivering the final cut.

This is the first time the school, one of the top premier visual and performing arts high schools in the nation, worked with Netflix or any other production companies on this scale.

Andrew Garfield attends Netflix’s “tick, tick…BOOM!” New York premiere at Schoenfeld Theater on November 15, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)

“We have done collaborative projects with certain individuals who are already established in the industry, but for Netflix to come out and ask us to do something, we were honored and I think students rose to the challenge,” McClellan said. “Netflix’s contribution was the opportunity and inspiration and thinking highly enough of us to want us to be part of this special project. That was all we needed to put the battery in our back and make a splash with our submission.”

Wolfson, a 17-year-old senior from Los Angeles, had a short window of time to show off the skills she learned in the previous three years.

The team, led by her and Tucker, had one weekend to write, budget, schedule, gather the crew and cast and anything else that goes into pre-production.

“We wrote musicals in the past, so we took a lot of time to work on the visual story by going back and watching musicals that we love, which includes “Rent” (Jonathan’s Larson’s Broadway musical hit),” Wolfson said. “We felt really lucky to honor (him) in this project. It was a huge challenge. Usually, we spend months doing pre-production for a project of this scale and we only had one week to do it but everyone was super collaborative and all of our faculty was really ready to help us.  We got to use all of our department’s resources … and brought in a recent graduate to be the director of photography … overall there was really a joyful air on set.”

Upper students showed under classmates the ropes. A recent graduate was brought in to fill the e directory of photography role.

There were students who never touched a professional camera light before and by the end of the day they were setting up sets like professionals.

Tucker, an 18-year-old senior in the cinematic arts program from Tarzana, said the Netflix challenge was a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on the students’ work coming out of 20 pandemic months.

“It was a (way) to feel things were getting back to normal, and we could work as a team again,” Tucker said.

He said while the experience was challenging, it was also educational.

“I (now) understand that’s how real film directors like can work with such a large crew,” Tucker said. “And all of the actors. We had so many extras on set, as well, it was just insane.”

The cast and crew, from left, Vivian Wolfson, 17, Benji Tucker, 18, Randy Damas, 18, Sam Karpinski, 17, Liana Bartolome, 16, Leilani Patao, 18, Pascal Connolly, 15, and Elton McCrudden, 15, of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Louder Than Words” High School Edition, a piece for “tick, tick…Boom!” pose at LACHSA in Los Angeles on Tuesday, November 30, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Tucker said the crew didn’t meet Miranda in person, but some of the main actors in his film sent kudos via a video.

Leilani Patao, an 18-year-old senior who lives in Los Angeles, was one of the four main singers in the quartet. She spent six hours in the studio one day recording vocals and about 15 hours on set.

“Honestly, it was such a blast to be able to collaborate with such talented peers of mine at this school and it was so fast pace,” Patao said. “It meant a lot to be a part of representing our school to Netflix. It meant a lot to be able to show what I have been able to do for the past four years. It was honestly a giant honor.”

While the theme of the song, “Louder than Words,” is about growing up in the time of AIDS/HIV crisis, the Los Angeles students took a more modern approach.

“We took the stance … of mental health and the crisis there and how everyone is dealing with their own crises in their own way,” Patao said. “What I took away most is, especially at my school, a lot of people care about each other more than we realized. Most of all, I’m not alone, (know) everything I do has an impact and actions speak louder than words … and not only (do) I have such a great support system with my close friends, but also here at school with my creativity.”

Pascal Connolly, a 15-year-old sophomore from Los Angeles, was a grip and worked beside the director of photography to set up the dolly track and pushed it where it needed to be.

“It was really cool to be by the camera and the (directory of photography) and learn how they operate the camera and like how camera movement works,” Connolly said.

He not only learned about the camera, but how it works technically and how to set up shots and be organized.

Because of the pandemic, this was his first chance to be on a set doing real-world, hands-on work.

“It was really exciting because obviously my freshman year I didn’t really have a chance to like get my hands on the really nice equipment or be on set with anybody,” Connolly said. “So, it was a big learning experience and I learned not only a lot of stuff about camera work, but how a set works in general.”

Elton McCrudden, a 15-year-old sophomore from Los Angeles, filled the role of a key grip, which means he worked closely with the camera and electrical departments moving things around as directed.

“(The key grip) is not only important on set, but (is there to) achieve the scene our directors were going for,” McCrudden said. “For example, lighting; we would plan out the lighting. It was so much fun and working with Netflix, it was like a dream come true.”

All of the students agreed that while they were “technically” working, it didn’t feel that way since they were doing what we were passionate about: creating and making art.

Oregon, Utah meet again with Pac-12 title at stake

By ANNE M. PETERSON AP Sports Writer

Just 13 days after Utah knocked Oregon out of contention for a College Football Playoff berth, the two teams meet again to decide the Pac-12 Conference champion.

The winner of Friday night’s game in Las Vegas will be going to the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Don’t expect any wholesale changes for the No. 14 Utes (No. 17 CFP) just because it’s a title game against a recent opponent, Coach Kyle Whittingham said. More likely Utah will stick with what worked this season, especially when it comes to preparation and mechanics.

“Not a lot of things have changed with either team in eight days or nine days, but really, it’s the execution, the energy and that type of stuff that’s more critical than any minor schematic adjustments that you make,” Whittingham said.

The Utes have had an emotionally tumultuous season.

Utah started the season 1-2, losing in its third game to San Diego State. The Utes won their next game, the conference opener against Washington State, before tragedy struck: defensive back Aaron Lowe was shot and killed at a party in Salt Lake City.

The team rallied, winning all but one of its remaining games – including the 38-7 victory at home over the then-No. 3 Ducks on Nov. 20. The Utes concluded the regular season last Friday with a 28-13 victory over Colorado.

The Utes (9-3, 8-1) have appeared in the Pac-12 title game three times, but have never won the title. Utah has also never played in the Rose Bowl.

Oregon (10-2, 7-2) is playing in its third consecutive Pac-12 championship game. The Ducks have won the last two titles – including a 37-15 victory over Utah in the 2019 game. No team has won three straight since the league expanded before the 2011 season.

While Oregon, now ranked No. 10 in both the AP poll and the CFP rankings, largely knows what to expect from Utah, the fact that it’s a championship will bring with it greater urgency.

“There is always retention, but it is a brand new game with coaches that are working on both sides because everybody wants it, right? Everybody wants it and wants it bad,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “So there’s always going to be something extra, right? There’s going to be a wrinkle. There’s going to be an adjustment. There’s going to be a different look.”

But mostly the Ducks want to make sure that very recent history doesn’t repeat itself against the Utes.

“We know what we want to do. We know what the task is. We know what’s at stake. We’re ready to go,” safety Verone McKinley said. “We didn’t like how the outcome was last time. So we’re ready to go. Part 2.”

THE QUARTERBACKS

Oregon’s Anthony Brown Jr. leads the Pac-12 with an average of 264.8 yards of total offense per game, with 16 touchdown passes and nine TD runs. Against Utah, he threw for 231 yards and a touchdown but was held to just 8 yards rushing.

Utah’s Cameron Rising is equally mobile with 17 touchdown passes and five rushing scores. He has thrown only three interceptions this season.

STICKING WITH IT

Whittingham addressed chatter that he might retire at the end of the season, particularly if the Utes win the Pac-12 title and clinch the program’s first Rose Bowl berth.

Whittingham, in his 17th season with the Utes, shot down the rumors.

“I’m not even contemplating that right now,” he said.

OH BROTHER

The title game will feature brothers on opposite sides: Oregon’s Noah Sewell and Utah’s Nephi Sewell.

Noah, a linebacker, was injured in Oregon’s 38-29 victory over Oregon State last weekend but should be available for the game. Nephi also plays at linebacker for the Utes.

The pair are the younger brothers of Penei Sewell, who played for the Ducks and is now an offensive tackle for the Detroit Lions. Another of the talented Sewell brothers, Gabe, played at Nevada.

THE LAST TIME

Tavion Thomas ran for 94 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon less than two weeks ago as the Utes clinched the Pac-12 South and secured their spot in the championship game.

Rising threw for 178 yards and top target Brant Kuithe piled up 118 yards on five catches.

Brown threw for 231 yards and the lone touchdown for Oregon, which trailed 28-0 at the half. Oregon rushed for only 63 yards and had just 294 yards of offense.

PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Who: No. 10 Oregon (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12, No. 10 CFP) vs. No. 14 Utah (9-3, 8-1, No. 17)

When: Friday, 5 p.m. PT

Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas

TV: ABC (Ch. 7)

Line: Utah by 2½, according to FanDuel Sportsbook

Series record: Oregon leads 23-11

KEY MATCHUP

Oregon running back Travis Dye vs. Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd: Dye is one of the most dynamic running backs in the conference, ranking second in the Pac-12 with 16 TDs, including 13 in the past seven games. Lloyd is one of the top defensive players in the country with 22 tackles for loss. That’s second in the nation to Will Anderson’s 28 for Alabama.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Oregon: Quarterback Anthony Brown leads the Pac-12 with 264.8 yards of total offense per game with 16 TD passes, four INTs and nine TD runs. Brown struggled in the first meeting against Utah, completing only 48.6% of his passes for 231 yards and being held to 8 yards rushing.

Utah: Quarterback Cam Rising has 17 TD passes and only three INTs this season and helped turn the Utes season around when he took over as the starter after a 1-2 start. Rising has also rushed for 346 yards and five TDs and has helped the Utes lead the Pac-12 in scoring in conference games.

FACTS & FIGURES

The Utes’ victory two weeks ago was their third win in eight meetings with Oregon since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. … The Ducks won the only previous conference title meeting, 37-15, in 2019. … Utah has won five consecutive games. … Oregon is 4-0 on Pac-12 title games. … The Utes are first in the Pac-12 and 13th nationally in rushing offense with 218.2 yards per game and have gotten 100-yard games from Tavion Thomas, TJ Pledger and Micah Bernard. … Oregon is 47 for 74 (63.5%) on third down over the last six games. … Ducks defensive back Verone McKinley III is tied for the national lead with five INTs this season.

San Diego State hosts Utah State in Mountain West title game

By BERNIE WILSON AP Sports Writer

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego State football team has to make one more trip to Carson, this time to host the Mountain West Conference championship game Saturday against Utah State in their temporary home at a soccer pitch.

Win and the 19th-ranked Aztecs (11-1 overall, 7-1 MWC) will gladly make a final drive up interstates 5/405 later this month, because the MWC title includes a berth in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl at $5 billion SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Dec. 18.

The Aztecs haven’t played in San Diego since 2019. Due to the pandemic affecting the 2020 schedule, the school decided to move up demolition of 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium earlier than originally planned to help expedite construction of 35,000-seat Aztec Stadium. It will open in time for the 2022 season as the first part of a campus expansion in Mission Valley.

So the Aztecs have made the 232-mile round trip to Dignity Health Sports Park, the 27,000-seat home of the MLS’ L.A. Galaxy, for home games since last season. Crowds were sparse early this season, due to the drive and late kickoff times, but attendance picked up for last Friday’s 27-16 victory over Boise State, which kicked off at 9 a.m. PST.

“When you looked up in those stands, it was a much more, I want to say packed crowd, but fan-friendly crowd,” Coach Brady Hoke said. “From that point that was fun. Our guys have done a great job preparing, knowing that this is how it is. They can’t do anything about it but just go out and play the best football we can.”

SDSU, which is 6-1 in Carson this season and 9-2 over two seasons, is trying for its first MWC championship since winning consecutive titles in 2015-16 under Coach Rocky Long. Utah State (9-3, 6-2) lost to Fresno State in its only championship game appearance, in 2013.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Aggies are a program-record 6-0 on the road this season and relish their underdog status, particularly after feeling they were snubbed when the all-conference teams were named.

“There are a lot of well-deserving guys that aren’t on the list. It’s kind of been the environment we’ve felt like we’ve been in all season,” first-year coach Blake Anderson said. “Nobody expected anything from us when the season started. … This is a very chip-on-your-shoulder, blue-collar group of dudes and this is something I think they’ll welcome. There’ll be a chip on their shoulder going into Saturday, which is exactly where I want it to be.”

THUNDER LEG

Punter/placekicker Matt Araiza, the MWC Special Teams Player of the Year, remains the Aztecs’ most potent threat after repeatedly forcing opponents into bad field position with booming punts. Araiza, a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, leads the nation in punt average at 51.5 yards and is on pace to break the FBS record of 50.98. The junior from San Diego has an NCAA-record 38 punts that have traveled at least 50 yards, an NCAA-record 18 punts that have gone 60 yards and 36 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Araiza also handles kickoffs and PATS/field goals.

QB MATCHUP

Utah State junior quarterback Logan Bonner is coming off a big performance in a 35-10 win against New Mexico when he tied the school record with five touchdown passes and threw for 306 yards. He has 3,236 yards and 32 TDs this season, against 10 interceptions. The Aztecs are expected to start Jordon Brookshire, who came off the bench late in the first half to help rally the Aztecs to 24 consecutive points against BSU. Brookshire passed for 192 yards and one touchdown, and also ran for a score after Lucas Johnson went out with a knee injury.

WIN 22

The Aztecs are aiming for the 22nd conference championship in school history. “I think there’s a group of guys who want to have a legacy and part of that legacy is winning championships,” Hoke said. “It’s something that we talk about every day. When I enter a room, and when Coach Long used to enter a room, there were a couple of things you asked the team, and it has always been win, and it’s win 22.”

HISTORY

Utah State is 5-63 all-time against teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 poll but has won four of its last 13 meetings against Top 25 teams. The highest-ranked team the Aggies have beaten was No. 18 BYU in 2014. Their last win against an AP Top 25 team was against No. 21 Boise State in 2015.

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Who: Utah State (9-3, 6-2 Mountain West) at No. 19 San Diego State (11-1, 7-1, No. 19 CFP)

When: Saturday, Noon PT

Where: Dignity Health Sports Park

TV: Fox (Ch. 11)

Line: San Diego by 6½, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: San Diego State leads 13-2

RECENT HISTORY

The Aztecs have won 11 of the last 12 meetings, including 38-7 in Logan in 2020. SDSU is trying for its first MWC championship since winning consecutive titles in 2015-16. Utah State lost to Fresno State in its only championship game appearance, in 2013.

KEY MATCHUP

San Diego State punter/placekicker Matt Araiza against the Utah State special teams. The junior with the powerful left leg remains the Aztecs’ most potent threat after repeatedly forcing opponents into bad field position with booming punts. Araiza, a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, leads FBS in punt average at 51.5 yards and is on pace to break the FBS record of 50.98. He has an NCAA-record 38 punts that have traveled at least 50 yards, an NCAA-record 18 punts that have gone 60 yards and 36 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Utah State: Junior quarterback Logan Bonner tied the school record with five touchdown passes in a 35-10 win against New Mexico. He threw for 306 yards in that game, giving him 3,236 yards and 32 TDs this season, against 10 interceptions.

San Diego State: Senior quarterback Jordon Brookshire is expected to start after coming off the bench late in the first half to help rally the Aztecs to 24 consecutive points in a 27-16 win against Boise State last Friday. Brookshire passed for 192 yards and a touchdown after Lucas Johnson went out with a knee injury.

FACTS & FIGURES

After playing most of their games late at night, and then hosting Boise State at 9 a.m. last week, the Aztecs get a much more traditional kickoff time. … The Aztecs are 9-2 in Carson, including 6-1 this year. … Utah State is 6-0 on the road for the first time in school history. Utah State is 5-63 all-time against teams ranked in The Associated Press poll, but has won four of its last 13 meetings against Top 25 teams. … The Aztecs have allowed more than 21 points just twice this season, and once was in an overtime game.

Jan. 6 committee has interviewed 250 people so far

By Mary Clare Jalonick | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection has interviewed about 250 people so far, its chairman said Thursday, a staggering pace over just five months as lawmakers work to compile the most comprehensive account yet of the violent attack and plan to hold public hearings next year.

Members and staff have conducted the interviews in private, and most witnesses have appeared voluntarily. The committee has subpoenaed more than 40 people, and lawmakers say that only two have defied outright their demands, so far. The investigation began in late July.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in an interview that the committee has deposed a wide range of people, from members of former President Donald Trump’s administration and White House to election officials in crucial swing states such as Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania who were pressured by the former president and his allies as he pushed false claims of election fraud.

Looking ahead to next year, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the vice chairwoman, said the committee anticipates it will hold “multiple weeks of public hearings, setting out for the American people in vivid color exactly what happened every minute of the day on January 6th, here at the Capitol and at the White House, and what led to that violent attack.”

Lawmakers are moving to finish before the 2022 elections, viewing their work as a crucial corrective to the growing tendency among Republicans and others to play down the siege by Trump’s supporters. The violent mob echoed Trump’s false claims that he won the election, beating police as they broke in and sending lawmakers running for their lives when they interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

The seven Democrats and two Republicans on the committee argue that no less than democracy is at stake as Trump considers a second run for office and as many Americans still believe his false claims of widespread fraud in the election, even though they have been rejected by courts and election officials across the country.

“History is watching,” Cheney told her fellow lawmakers at a hearing Tuesday as she discussed the committee’s plans.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, another member of the panel, said that “exposing all the malefactors and bloodshed that went on here is really important,” especially as some people still believe Trump’s baseless claims.

The hearings, Schiff said, will “tell the whole story of security at the Capitol, the intelligence leading up to the attacks — or lack of intelligence — the role of social media, the former president’s role, the role of those around him and tell it in a narrative fashion so the public follows exactly what’s going on.”

Thompson and Cheney disclosed the number of private interviews and the plan for hearings next year at a House hearing on contempt charges against Jeffrey Clark, a former Department of Justice official who championed Trump’s efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 election.

The Jan. 6 committee voted to recommend charges against Clark on Wednesday but has scheduled a second deposition with Clark for Saturday. The lawmakers say they will determine afterward whether to move ahead with the contempt charges.

The lawmakers presented their case on Clark in anticipation of a floor vote on contempt if he does not answer questions Saturday. Clark appeared for a deposition last month but refused to be interviewed, citing Trump’s legal efforts to block the committee’s investigation.

Clark’s lawyer now says he wants to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Thompson said the lawyer had offered “no specific basis for that assertion.” Thompson said he viewed it as a “last-ditch attempt to delay the Select Committee’s proceedings” but said members would hear him out. The committee wants Clark to plead the Fifth Amendment on a question-by-question basis, unlike his first deposition when he and his lawyer abruptly left.

If the committee decides after the deposition that Clark is still in defiance of the subpoena, the House could vote on contempt charges as soon as next week. The Justice Department would then decide whether to prosecute.

The department has made clear it is willing to pursue the committee’s contempt charges, indicting longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon last month on two counts of criminal contempt.

According to an October report by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which interviewed several of Clark’s colleagues, Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department culminated in a dramatic White House meeting at which the president ruminated about elevating Clark to attorney general. Trump did not do so after several aides threatened to resign.

The Senate report said Clark personally met with Trump and unsuccessfully pushed his then-supervisors, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, to publicly announce that the department was investigating election fraud and direct certain state legislatures to appoint new electors. Rosen and Donoghue have also been interviewed by the Jan. 6 committee.

Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” on the morning of the riot, has sued to block the committee’s work and has attempted to assert executive privilege over documents and interviews, arguing that his private conversations and actions at the time should be shielded from public view.

In a transcript released this week of Clark’s aborted Nov. 5 interview, committee members and staff tried to persuade Clark to answer questions. But Clark’s lawyer, Harry MacDougald, said during the interview that Clark was protected not only by Trump’s assertions of executive privilege but also by several other privileges MacDougald claimed Clark should be afforded.

The committee rejected those arguments, and MacDougald and Clark walked out of the interview after around 90 minutes of discussions.

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who sits on the committee, said the panel will assess whether Clark’s answers on Saturday meet their standards of compliance.

“If he thinks that he’s just going to be able to wave a magic wand with the Fifth Amendment the way he tried to wave a magic wand before with executive privilege, it’s not going to work,” Raskin said.

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

LA County confirms 1st COVID-19 case of Omicron variant

Southern California has its first confirmed case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Los Angeles County public health officials confirmed Thursday evening, Dec. 2, a day after the country’s first case was confirmed in San Francisco.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a Thursday statement that the individual returned to the area after traveling to South Africa, via London, on Nov. 22. The infection, health authorities said, was most likely travel-related.

The new variant, which has sent scientists scrambling to assess its severity, has been confirmed in about two dozen countries so far, but was first identified in South Africa. The LA County case came the same day as several others in the U.S., first in Minnesota and then in Hawaii and Colorado — and five in the New York City area.

The circumstances of those cases seemed to suggest the variant has begun spreading.

The San Francisco, Minnesota and Los Angeles County cases are all believed to be travel related, with both of the California patients having recently traveled to South Africa; the San Francisco patient returned from South Africa the day the LA County one traveled there. The Minnesota person had traveled to New York recently.

While much remains unknown about this variant, it may spread more easily than others, including the Delta variant — the coronavirus mutation that preceded Omicron — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization has listed it as a variant of concern.

“CDC has been actively monitoring and preparing for this variant,” the federal health agency said in a statement after the Minnesota case was confirmed. “CDC has expanded its capacity for genomic sequencing over the past nine months and we have more tools to fight the variant than we had at this time last year.”

The CDC’s statement referred, in part, to the vaccines that are now available.

The Minnesota and California people who tested positive for the Omicron variant were all vaccinated.

The Los Angeles County resident who tested positive for the Omicron variant was fully vaccinated — the people from San Francisco and Minnesota were also vaccinated — and was self-isolating, health officials said. The person’s symptoms are improving without medical care.

A small number of close contacts have also been identified and all have tested negative and had no symptoms so far, officials reported.

“Throughout the pandemic we have always known there would be more mutation, resulting in the possibility of a more dangerous variant than the Delta variant,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s Department of Public Health.

“While we can’t know for certain the impact of Omicron at this time,” she added, “the good news is that we already know how to reduce transmission and slow spread using both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions.”

She again urged people to get vaccinated or boosted, and tested if they feel sick or have been in close contact with others who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Ferrer also reminded people to wear masks indoors and at large outdoor events.

Holiday travelers make their way through Terminal 7 at LAX on Thursday, November 18, 2021.(Photo by Axel Koester, Contributing Photographer)

Spurred by omicron concerns, a new rapid-testing site will open Friday at Los Angeles International Airport. It will offer free — but voluntary — COVID tests for arriving international passengers.

“We’ll be messaging the need for international travelers to comply with the federal quarantine and testing guidance, and any travelers that do test positive will be required, of course, to isolate, and their close contacts will need to quarantine,” Ferrer said.

The COVID testing at the Tom Bradley International Terminal will be offered strictly on a voluntary basis, because there is no federal requirement for inbound passengers to be tested.

“The federal government is highly recommending that people get tested,” Ferrer said. “We will have our health workers out there, as well, talking to people, making sure they understand the importance of testing. We are using a rapid antigen test there, so people will be able to get their results before they leave the airport.

While health officials have long said getting inoculated against the virus is the best way to end the pandemic, they have also said masking plays a key role in stopping the spread.

Each time a variant has popped up — and even at the pandemic’s onset — health officials have differentiated between those who caught COVID-19 while traveling and those who contracted it because of community spread, which is the greater concern.

That is potentially something to keep an eye on, since Omicron appears, at least so far, to spread quickly.

In South Africa, new coronavirus cases nearly doubled in a single day, to almost 8,600, authorities reported Wednesday, and the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said Omicron had overtaken the Delta variant among samples now being analyzed at the genetic level.

The Delta variant continues to comprise the vast majority of cases in the U.S.

On Nov. 26, President Joe Biden announced new travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other nations.

On Thursday, Biden announced several actions to protect the country from the coronavirus, particularly the recent variants, during the winter. Those include increasing the availability of booster shots at pharmacies, creating a new public awareness campaign — and giving boosters to 100 million eligible adults.

“The President’s medical team continues to believe that existing vaccines will provide some level of protection against severe illness from Omicron, and individuals who have gotten boosters have even stronger protection,” Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-⁠19 Response coordinator, said in a Monday statement. “As such, we urge all adults to get their booster shots and to get themselves and their kids vaccinated, if they haven’t already.

“We will remain steadfast in our fight against this virus,” he added.

The San Francisco and Minnesota patients each had mild symptoms and, like their Los Angeles counterpart, were improving.

But because of the uncertainty over Omicron’s severity, exactly how easily it can spread from person to person, and whether it can evade the vaccines — and if so, to what degree — scientists and world leaders have not yet been able to say what the variant means as the globe approaches the two-year anniversary of the pandemic.

“Any declaration of what will or will not happen with this variant,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious- disease expert, said on Wednesday, “I think it is too early to say.”

City News Service and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This story is breaking and will be updated.


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