Important California: Distorted smells after COVID-19


Good morning and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, February 5th, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.


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I can no longer smell cigarette smoke, feces, or garlic. It’s not that the smells are completely gone – I still smell something, but it’s an amorphous and earthy smell that isn’t indistinct from any particular thing.

It could be argued that these were rather fortunate losses in terms of olfactory disappearance. Though every time I come back from a walk I obsessively check the bottom of my shoes.

Anosmia, or complete loss of smell, has become one of the typical symptoms of COVID-19. Most people who recover from COVID-19 also restore their senses of smell and taste within weeks. However, the researchers estimate that around 10% of COVID patients are affected by a long-term odor disorder.

I had COVID early last spring and my sense of smell and taste returned about a month after my first illness. But not quite.

Have you ever executed a block of text on Google Translate a few times before finally translating it back into the original language? It’s a little like that. A few smells are gone completely. But far more appear than awkwardly translated versions of the originals, similar but not entirely correct.

In a new story my colleague Brittny Mejia writes about parosmia, the medical term for this odor distortion and the suddenly booming business of olfactory restoration.

[Read the story: “Months after contracting COVID-19, some will try anything to regain their sense of smell” in the Los Angeles Times]

Even before the pandemic, a small percentage of the population was concerned with odor loss for a variety of reasons. But COVID has put the earlier niche issue in an unlikely spotlight. AbScent, a UK charity that helps odor loss or odor disorders, saw its membership grow from 1,500 in February 2020 to over 40,000.

My distorted smells are little more than a nuisance, but the problem has made some life changing such that they constantly feel sick and unable to partake in the foods and activities they once enjoyed.

As Mejia reports, people dealing with odor disorders have made medical appointments, joined support groups, and used scent kits for months to retrain their noses. Universities have started studies on odor restoration after COVID-19 and have started treatment trials with nasal washes and essential oils.

Her whole story is fascinating and goes beyond the science of odor nuisance to lyrically explore the emotional connections people have with certain scents.

And now this is happening across California:

Jockeying About Who Will Get The COVID-19 Vaccine Next: Teachers? Manpower? The disabled? The sick? The state has set up a high-level task force to manage the logistics for prioritizing residents with disabilities and underlying health conditions, state officials said at the vaccine advisory council meeting on Wednesday. The group spent a lot of time discussing how these residents will be included in the state’s priority guidelines – a recommendation that could come as early as Friday. Los Angeles times

Johnson & Johnson has asked the FDA to clear their COVID-19 vaccine for emergency purposes in order to put in place a likely fast-paced review process that could result in millions more doses becoming available to fuel a stumbling vaccination campaign. Bloomberg

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of articles you can access without signing up.


The radical anti-vaccine faction that shut down Dodger Stadium says it will not do it: “They ignore public health regulations and the coronavirus deaths of 450,000 Americans and go into shops without a mask, eat in restaurants that refusing to close and throwing curfew parties on the beach – and thinking about how to get bigger. “Los Angeles times

COVID-19 in LA County is finally on a sustained decline after a disastrous winter: Los Angeles County’s new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are falling, but officials stress the county is far from the forest. The numbers remain well above their pre-rise levels. Los Angeles times

Kids have returned to this Sherman Oaks Elementary School, but they are paid actors. The Los Angeles Unified School District has come under fire from parents wondering why child actors can film an Apple TV show on campus when high-need students can’t return to personal service. Los Angeles Daily News


A deeply divided House of Representatives robbed MP Marjorie Taylor Greene of her two committee duties, an unprecedented punishment Democrats claim to have earned by spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories. Associated Press

Congresswoman Young Kim (CA-39) walks through a tunnel below the US Capitol Building

Orange County Rep. Young Kim, pictured at the Capitol on Jan. 3, was the only California Republican to vote to cancel Greene’s mandates.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

California lawmakers are proposing a reform list for the troubled state labor office: Californians could receive unemployment benefits through direct deposit under laws introduced to expedite financial aid and reduce fraud. Los Angeles times

The people who wrote California’s draft ethnic studies curriculum have requested that their names be removed from the revised document. All 20 teachers and educators posted on Wednesday the status of their decision and found that the current draft no longer reflected the work they had included in the curriculum. Sacramento Bee


A former mayor of Maywood and ten others are charged in a bribery and corruption scandal: The indictment marks the final step in a year-long investigation into allegations that city leaders engaged in pay-to-play practices, misused public funds and distorted tiny cities have purse chains for their own benefit. Los Angeles times

A food organization is suing Oakland and Montebello for forced “hero payment” for workers: In lawsuits filed on Wednesday, California Grocers Assn. The city ordinances are illegal because they single out large food companies and interfere in the “free play of economic forces”. Los Angeles times


The Digital Divide: A look at the problems faced by low-income families in Fresno with distance learning and internet access. Fresno bee

From Alabama to Wyoming, a writer toured a divided nation reading more than 60 books. Her California favorites were Steph Cha’s “Your House Will Pay” and Lydia Kiesling’s “The Golden State”. Los Angeles times

Always dreamed of owning your own city? For a cool $ 3 million, tiny boom-and-bust town of Nipton in the Mojave Desert could be yours. LAist

The lifelong owner of Sonomas Union Hotel has died at the age of 90. “Lucille Gonnella was an integral part of the Union Hotel, welcoming guests for decades after inheriting the business from parents Mary and Carlo Panizzera after they died in the 1970s. ”Santa Rosa Press Democrat

A poem to start your Friday: “February” by Margaret Atwood. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: sunny, 70th San Diego: sunny, 64th San Francisco: sunny, 61st San Jose: sunny, 64th Fresno: more sun, 64th Sacramento: still sunny, 63rd


Today’s California memory is from Janet Griffin:

My mother, Ruth, had an unusual interest in real estate. She bought some land in Stanton and bought houses condemned to the new highway system through Buena Park. An Oklahoma family lived next to us and they were moving companies. A friendly banker in Buena Park loved my mom’s idea and funded the deal. Mom painted everything and hired local children and her grandchildren to help get the houses ready for rental. My father always shook his head and said, “I hope your mother is not over her head.” My mother, the entrepreneur.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas, and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.