Down ballot: As of this writing, presidential vote counting drags on in battleground states, with momentum swinging strongly in Joe Biden’s direction. But Election Day is about more than just the presidency. Voters in some states were weighed in on issues affecting all aspects of life: Florida voters made their state the eighth to mandate a $15 minimum wage by 2026, Sam Bloch reports for The Counter. In Arizona, voters agreed to raise taxes on incomes above $250,000 from 4.5 percent to 8 percent, with the money earmarked for increasing teacher salaries, which many hope will address chronic teacher shortages in the state’s public education system. Abortion rights were on the ballot in two states, Abigail Abrams reports for Time: In Colorado, voters rejected a proposal to ban abortions at 22 weeks except to save the life of the mother; in Louisiana, on the other hand, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution stating that it does not guarantee the right to abortion or to funding for abortions. And Mississippi voted to elect statewide officials by popular vote, replacing a system that required candidates to win both the popular vote and a majority of Mississippi House districts, which was put in place to dilute the Black vote, Ashton Pittman writes for the Mississippi Free Press.

  • Also: California voters approved a ballot measure that allows companies like Uber, Lyft and Doordash to classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees, creating an exemption in state law that lets the companies skirt pay and benefit protections provided to regular employees, Melissa Daniels writes in The Desert Sun in Palm Springs. It’s a big win for the companies, which spent some $200 million to get it to pass, but a blow to labor unions and progressive groups who say these companies take advantage of workers. The measure did include some limited protections for gig workers, including an earnings guarantee of 120% of the minimum wage, contributions toward a health care plan beginning at 15 hours of work a week and accident insurance. Drivers were divided on the issue, with many opposing the measure but others preferring the flexibility of part-time work as contractors.

###

New record: Just because the election has bumped it off the metaphorical front page doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. The U.S. yesterday reported a record 121,000 new coronavirus infections, only a day after exceeding 100,000 new infections in one day for the first time, according to The New York Times. “This virus doesn’t care if we voted for Donald Trump, doesn’t care if we voted for Joe Biden,” Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio told his constituents this week, just before the state surpassed its own record. “It’s coming after all of us.” More than 9.6 million people have been infected with the virus in the U.S. and over 235,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

  • Also: More than 250,000 cases have been reported at U.S. colleges and universities, The New York Times reports, with more than 38,000 new cases recorded in the last two weeks.

Warped senses: A number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus are not just reporting a loss of smell or of taste, but also distorted smell and taste, or parosmia, Allyson Chiu writes for The Washington Post. The result is that some things that used to smell and taste good to people suddenly smell and taste awful: wine and coffee like gasoline; meat like decay. Some people find things take on a “fecal-like” odor. Facebook groups for people suffering from smell loss or distortions have thousands of members. One survey found that up to 7 percent of coronavirus-positive patients could have these symptoms.

###

Back to work: While the unemployment rate continues to drop, falling from 7.9 to 6.9 percent in September,  job gains are slowing and the number of long-term unemployed people continues to grow, according to The New York Times. The country has seen 11 million jobs return but is still 11 million down from before the pandemic. Meanwhile, the number of people who have been without work for 27 weeks or more grew to 3.6 million in October, an increase of 1.2 million. Many of the job gains have been in retail and service sectors, but rising Covid cases could threaten those jobs again as temperatures around the country go down and people spend more time indoors.

###

Prepared to pounce: With Covid-related eviction bans soon to expire around the country, some apartment companies are preparing eviction notices for tenants who are behind on their rent, reports The Washington Post. One of these landlords is Westminster Management, part owned by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser. In Maryland, which adopted a state eviction moratorium to go along with the federal one, Westminster has sent letters to tenants in the Baltimore area threatening to seek legal fees and has also filed eviction notices in court, a first step toward evictions.  A lawyer for Kushner Companies, which owns Westminster, told The Post that the company has honored the terms of eviction bans ”and will faithfully continue to do so.” Separately, Westminster is battling a lawsuit by the Maryland attorney general contending that the company has wrongfully charged certain tenant fees and illegally claimed security deposits.

###

Tropical storms: What was Hurricane Eta and is now a vast tropical rainstorm has killed at least 57 people in Central America and aid organizations warn that the heavy rain will bring more flooding and mudslides, leading to a humanitarian disaster, the Associated Press reports. In the Guatemalan town of San Cristobal Verapaz, a rain-soaked mountainside slid off and buried many homes, killing at least 25 people; a number of smaller mudslides around the country have also been fatal. Some of those affected blamed a government that did little to warn them about the storm. “We rescued my brothers, all the family from a balcony, a three-story building,” a resident of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, said. “How is it possible that a government has done nothing to warn people.” The storm could be strengthening and reforming before moving over Cuba and the state of Florida this weekend or early next week, Joe Mario Pedersen and David Harris report for the Orlando Sentinel. If Eta makes landfall in the U.S., CBS reports, it would be the 12th named storm to make landfall this season, a record. If it regains hurricane strength, it would set a new record for the most hurricanes making landfall in the U.S.

###

California homes covered: For at least a year, California has barred insurance companies from dropping homeowners in parts of the state affected by wildfires, a move affecting some 2.1 million households, Joseph Serna reports for the Los Angeles Times. It’s a sign of the enormous financial strain wildfires exacerbated by climate change are putting on families, local communities and their economies, and on the insurance industry. Some residents in fire-prone areas have seen premiums jump by hundreds of percent a year, while others forego insurance entirely because of the steep rates.

FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.

Do you like this column? Your support means a lot! Your tax-deductible donation in any amount will advance our mission of delivering strong watchdog reporting in the public interest.