Coronavirus Today: ‘COVID, COVID, pandemic, COVID’

Good evening. I’m Amina Khan, a science reporter here at the L.A. Times, and I’ll

Good evening. I’m Amina Khan, a science reporter here at the L.A. Times, and I’ll be filling you in on all the essential coronavirus news as we continue to make our way through the pandemic. It’s Thursday, Oct. 22. Here’s what’s happening within California and beyond.

“COVID, COVID, pandemic, COVID, COVID, COVID.”

That’s the only thing the media want to talk about, President Trump groused at a rally this week in Prescott, Ariz. “People are tired of COVID,” he said.

The disease has sickened about 8.4 million Americans — including the president himself — and killed about 223,000 of them. And the pandemic is far from over.

But of all the issues facing the president, COVID-19 is the one he seems most determined to avoid, according to our Washington bureau chief, David Lauter. Trump’s reticence may be a reflection that within the information bubble that surrounds him and his core supporters, the conventional wisdom is that “the pandemic has passed its peak and was never as bad as the media said,” Lauter writes.

Unfortunately for Trump, two-thirds of Americans don’t agree with his view that the threat posed by the coronavirus has been exaggerated, and more than 60% say the country could be doing more to control the outbreak.

In that environment, the White House’s handling of the pandemic was all but certain to take center stage in Thursday night’s presidential debate between Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Indeed, it was the very first topic raised by moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News.

“We’re about to go into a dark winter, a dark winter,” Biden warned. “And he has no clear plan and there’s no prospect that there’s going to be a vaccine available for the majority of the American people before the middle of next year.”

Trump responded by touting his efforts to reopen the country. “We’re learning to live with it,” the president said. “We have no choice. We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement…. People can’t do that.”

Those widely divergent views will make it all the more difficult for Trump to persuade voters to cast their ballots for him, regardless of the outcome of the second and final presidential debate, Lauter writes.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:00 p.m. PDT Thursday:

More than 889,500 confirmed cases and more than 17,200 deaths.

Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

See the current status of California’s reopening, county by county, with our tracker.

A map of California showing what tiers counties have been assigned under the reopening plan based on local coronavirus risk.
A breakdown of the four tiers of California counties and what can reopen in each, based on how widespread the virus is.

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Across California

If you live in Los Angeles County and need to escape the confines of your home, see a little greenery and soak in some scenery, you’re in luck. Officials say they will relax restrictions on some businesses even as the county remains stuck in Tier 1, the most restrictive of the four tiers.

If all goes as planned, family entertainment centers will be able to open outdoors, and customers at wineries and breweries will no longer be required to make reservations. These moves would bring the county’s standards in line with state guidelines. They should also give residents an opportunity for recreation and relief while bringing more workers back to their jobs, said Kathryn Barger, chair of the county’s Board of Supervisors.

State officials announced this week that personal care services, including massage, hair removal and tattoo parlors, would be allowed to resume modified indoor operations, regardless of their county’s tier status. Barbershops and hair and nail salons were previously cleared for modified reopenings.

While these steps back toward normalcy sound like welcome news for some Southland residents, many continue to struggle. Reporter Stephanie Lai talked to workers and business owners in Huntington Beach who have fought to make ends meet as tourist dollars dried up.

In many cases, the customers who did show up were locals who resisted wearing masks. That forced proprietors to walk a fine line between ensuring their personal safety and keeping their businesses afloat.

“It’s not easy. I want to feel protected, but I also don’t want to offend my customers,” said the owner of Mangiamo Gelato. “Everything is just too political now.”

So far, California appears to have largely escaped a third wave of coronavirus infections that has washed over other regions. The Golden State was conspicuously absent from the list of 42 states that saw their hospitalizations rise last week; indeed, hospitalizations here have fallen for 12 weeks straight.

Up north, Yolo County has taken steps to avoid exactly that kind of backsliding: A health order issued Wednesday said that gatherings and celebrations there must be capped at 16 people and limited to two hours. (Ideally, authorities added, people would not congregate at all.) The county is in Tier 2, and officials are trying to keep it from falling back into Tier 1.

In L.A. County, parents of students struggling with online learning could be in for some relief: County officials say they will make it easier for elementary schools to reopen for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade. Schools will no longer be required to procure a letter of support from employee unions when applying for a waiver that would allow them to reopen.

While this decision could potentially allow thousands of children back into classrooms, it may raise concerns from teachers and other school employees about possible exposure risks.

L.A. County also announced it would allow schools to bring up to 25% of their students with special needs back to campus at the same time. The decision applies to students in need of in-person services, such as those learning English or those with disabilities.

According to a survey released Wednesday, 3 out of 4 parents of LAUSD students with disabilities say their children are not making enough progress this fall and are losing ground on emotional and academic skills.

Schools remain largely closed and won’t be allowed to reopen until a county has been in Tier 2 for at least two weeks — and that designation is at least several weeks away, education reporter Howard Blume writes. That’s been frustrating for L.A. parents who have watched schools reopen in other counties, including Ventura, Orange and San Diego.

LAUSD schools are increasingly offering in-person tutoring, officials said. So far, across the 460,000-student district, some 500 teachers are working with roughly 1,000 students.

Resources

— For general safety, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (here’s a super-fun how-to video). Stop touching your face, and keep your phone clean. Practice social distancing, maintaining a six-foot radius of personal space in public. And wear a mask if you leave home. Here’s how to do it right.
— Watch for symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic before going there.
— Need a COVID-19 test? Here’s how to receive a free test if you’re in L.A. County. And here’s a map of testing sites across California.
— Here’s how to care for someone with COVID-19, from monitoring their symptoms to preventing the virus’ spread.
— If your job has been affected by the pandemic, here’s how to file for unemployment.
— Here are some free resources for restaurant workers and entertainment industry professionals having trouble making ends meet.
— Advice for helping kids navigate pandemic life includes being honest about uncertainties, acknowledging their feelings and sticking to a routine. Here’s guidance from the CDC.
— In need of mental health services? Here are resources for coping during the crisis from the CDC and the L.A. County Department of Mental Health. L.A. County residents can also call (800) 854-7771 or text “LA” to 741741.
— For domestic violence victims, the pandemic can pose a “worst-case scenario,” advocates say. If you or someone you know is experiencing such abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or L.A. County’s hotline at 1-800-978-3600. Here are more ways to get help.

Around the nation and the world

As health workers continue to fight to save lives, they’re also struggling to account for the true number of deaths due to COVID-19. Officials fear that many deaths due to the disease have been overlooked and attributed instead to heart disease and other chronic conditions.

That’s a big problem. Getting a grasp on the true figures is crucial because that information can be used to better understand and fight this disease, officials told my colleague Melody Petersen. Now, public health officials are trying to more accurately document these COVID-19 deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance in April to help doctors provide clearer information on death certificates, but doctors still have to make difficult choices when filling them out, including those instances in which they don’t have an official COVID-19 diagnosis and must use their best judgment.

The good news is that such guidance might actually serve as a template to better track all kinds of other disease vectors that remain largely unseen among the nation’s death records, including drug-resistant bacteria and other pathogens.

Officials also want to get a handle on the deaths caused by the pandemic itself, rather than the virus specifically — such as suicides, overdoses or heart attacks that could ultimately result from pandemic-related stress.

There’s another way the pandemic may bring lasting change in our society, Dr. Amy Faith Ho, an emergency physician in Dallas, writes in an op-ed: universal healthcare.

Since the outbreak began, Congress passed several pieces of legislation that required some employers to pay sick leave, broadened unemployment eligibility, earmarked $2 billion for free coronavirus testing for the uninsured, and provided up to $100 billion more to treat those uninsured patients.

“Remarkably, six months into universal ‘COVIDcare,’ there have been no constitutional challenges, no ‘death panels’ and no political theater or doomsaying about it,” Ho writes.

Once the pandemic is over, Americans will be in more trouble than ever, and in greater need of a system of universal healthcare than they were before the pandemic, Ho says. Nearly every other developed nation has implemented some form of it, she adds. You can read her full case here.

Across the Atlantic, Spain has hit a grim milestone, becoming the first country in Western Europe to record more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus infections. Altogether, more than 34,000 people have died of the disease there, though experts say that the real figure may be far higher.

France isn’t too far behind, with more than 930,000 cases reported so far. Outside of Western Europe, Russia has logged more than 1.4 million cases. All those numbers are dwarfed by the U.S., which leads the international pack with more than 8 million known cases of the coronavirus.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Anne Sirota of Northridge, who asks: What is the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 when getting medical tests that require close contact, such as blood draws, mammograms and eye checks?

“Most medical facilities are safer than other public areas due to new protocols that ensure the safety of patients and staff,” said Dr. Armand Dorian, chief medical officer of USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. He ticked off a list that included mask-wearing, social distancing in waiting rooms, frequent sanitizing and spacing out appointments to avoid crowding.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UCSF, agreed.

“For getting immunizations, things like that, I would reassure them that it should be fine for the brief time they’re going to be there,” he said.

He advised prospective patients to look for “the four Ws”: mask-wearing, watching your distance, washing your hands and wind (i.e., good ventilation, the kind you’d have in a hospital-grade facility).

Dorian added that it didn’t hurt to check beforehand that your medical facility meets those requirements.

“You should also consider that the risks of not getting a procedure or diagnostic test could be worse than the risk of potentially being exposed to COVID-19,” he said.

He also reminded everyone to wear masks in public spaces.

“Not only does it reduce the risk that you may infect others, but there is some research to suggest that mask-wearing may protect you from contracting severe COVID-19 or reducing your exposure to the virus if you do come in contact with someone who is infected,” he said.

Our reporters covering the coronavirus outbreak want to hear from you. Email us your questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them. You can find more answers in our Frequently Asked Questions roundup and in our reopening tracker.

For the most up-to-date coronavirus coverage from The Times over the weekend, visit our homepage and our Health section, sign up for our breaking news alerts, and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.

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