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Coronavirus updates: Social distancing will be with us through summer, White House official says

The Los Angeles Times will provide around-the-clock updates on COVID-19 from across Southern California and around the world.

Coronavirus updates for April 23 are here

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Column: In the coronavirus crisis, California isn’t under one-party rule, it’s under one-man rule

California no longer has one-party rule in Sacramento. It now has one-man rule.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has told everyone who doesn’t have an “essential” job to stay home and protect themselves and others from the coronavirus. If they must venture out, he lectured, stay six feet from anyone.

Legislating officially is an essential job, but it’s hard to perform without cozying up to colleagues. And when meeting in their majestic chambers, lawmakers must sit close to seatmates.

So the Legislature did the healthy thing. It submitted to Newsom’s decree and is essentially staying home for seven weeks. Legislators are mostly staying out of the state Capitol anyway.

“It’s been kind of an eerie ghost town in there,” says Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood).

But power abhors a vacuum. With the legislative and judicial branches basically shut down because of the virus, the executive has seized almost complete control over state government. And many legislators are smarting.

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Over 1 million Australians download virus app

Australian officials are pleased that more than 1 million people have downloaded an app designed to accelerate contact tracing for coronavirus despite some privacy concerns.

Within 12 hours of the Australian-developed COVIDsafe app becoming available late Sunday, 1.13 million of Australia’s 26 million population had downloaded it onto their smart phones.

Chief Health Officer Damian Murphy said Monday he was “really excited” by the app’s early popularity.

Government officials intend to rush legislation through Parliament to outlaw use of collected data for purposes other than tracing people who might have COVID-19. Officials have also promised to release the app’s source code within two weeks so that independent analysts can better understand how to works and its privacy implications.

The government says at least 40% of the Australian population needs to take up the technology based on Singapore’s TraceTogether app for it to be effective.

If users of COVIDsafe are diagnosed with the virus, they can upload the app’s encrypted data logs which identify other users who have been in close proximity for 15 minutes or more in the previous three week.

The government hopes the app will enable Australia to safely reopen the economy by enabling health officials to quickly identify and contain new outbreaks. Australia will resume non-urgent surgeries this week for the first time since March 27 as confidence grows that hospitals won’t be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.

Australia has recorded 6,720 cases of the virus, 83 patients have died and 27 remained critically ill in hospitals on ventilators on Monday.

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A pastor and protester clashed over coronavirus restrictions. One was arrested

Rev. Tony Spell
Rev. Tony Spell leaves his home in suburban Baton Rouge, La., where he has been held under house arrest, and walks with members of his congregation to Life Tabernacle church next door.
(Judah Spell)

They are the pastor and the protester — both native sons of Louisiana, both products of religious households, both self-proclaimed fighters for their constitutional rights.

And for weeks, they have faced off at a Pentecostal church that has defied coronavirus restrictions even as members became infected and one died.

One of the men was arrested and jailed. The other walked away. Both claimed victory.

The dispute about constitutional rights and restrictions to protect public health is likely to play out across the country as more states ease lockdowns this month. With the pastor and the protester, the conflict progressed publicly in this suburb just outside the state capital, winning both men passionate defenders and detractors.

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L.A. County reports 18 new coronavirus deaths, says poor people are three times more likely to die

Los Angeles County public health officials on Sunday reported 18 additional COVID-19 deaths and 440 new cases of the coronavirus. Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported two new deaths and 10 additional cases, bringing the county’s total to 915 deaths and 19,538 cases.

“The most difficult part of the COVID-19 pandemic is losing people to the virus,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “To all of you who have lost loved ones, we are deeply sorry.”

Of those who most recently died, 13 were older than 65, four were 41 to 65, and one was 18 to 40, officials said. Fifteen had underlying health conditions.

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Spain’s kids celebrate freedom from 44-day lockdown

BARCELONA, Spain — After six weeks cooped up with her 3-year-old twins, Susana Sabaté was finally able to release her energy-filled boys onto Spain’s sunny streets.

On Sunday, Spain’s government lifted a home-confinement rule for children under 14 years old after 44 days, ending one of the most restrictive measures of its national lockdown. The coronavirus outbreak has claimed more than 22,000 lives in the European country. Even Italy, with more deaths than Spain, has not kept its youngsters completely secluded.

“This is wonderful! I can’t believe it has been six weeks,” the 44-year-old Sabaté said in Barcelona. “My boys are very active. Today when they saw the front door and we gave them their scooters, they were thrilled.”

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Census delay could put off new voting districts, primaries

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The U.S. Census Bureau needs more time to wrap up the once-a-decade count because of the coronavirus, opening the possibility of delays in drawing new legislative districts that could help determine what political party is in power, what laws pass or fail and whether communities of color get a voice in their states.

The number of people counted and their demographics guide how voting districts for the U.S. House and state legislatures are redrawn every 10 years. The monthslong delay in census data could make a divisive process more complicated, potentially forcing lawmakers into costly special sessions to complete the work or postponing some primary elections.

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Governors say they’ll ease virus restrictions, with an abundance of caution

A pair of U.S. governors on Sunday outlined plans to ease stay-at-home orders in the days and weeks ahead but cautioned constituents that the coronavirus remained a threat in their communities.

“What matters a lot more than the date that the stay-at-home ends is what we do going forward, and how we have an ongoing, sustainable way — psychologically, economically and from the health perspective — to have the social distancing we need,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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What we could learn from the coronavirus outbreak on aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt

Sailors depart the Theodore Roosevelt on April 10.
(Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Liaghat/U.S. Navy)

SAN DIEGO — An investigation by the Navy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into the outbreak of the coronavirus on board the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt could yield data valuable not just to the military, but also to the greater scientific community in the race to better understand the virus, the Navy says.

The Roosevelt has been tied up in Guam for the last month as the virus spread throughout its crew.

More than 17% of the ship’s 4,845 sailors have tested positive for the coronavirus — 856 sailors. There are still a handful of results outstanding, the Navy said Friday.

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Dr. Fauci gets his wish as Brad Pitt plays him in ‘SNL’ cold open

“Saturday Night Live” aired its second at-home episode Saturday night, kicking off the remotely produced show with a cold open featuring Brad Pitt as Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In a CNN interview earlier this month, Fauci jokingly requested Pitt to portray him on “SNL,” which returned to television with its first at-home episode two weeks ago. Donning a wig, glasses and a Brooklyn accent, Pitt as Fauci pointed out the misinformation President Trump had spread about the coronavirus and offered his own clarifications.

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Dutch teens home after coronavirus forced unexpected Atlantic crossing

Dutch teenagers aboard the Wylde Swan cheer their arrival in the Netherlands.
Dutch teenagers aboard the Wylde Swan cheer their arrival in the Netherlands on Sunday.
(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)

HARLINGEN, Netherlands — Greeted by relieved parents, pet dogs, flares and a cloud of orange smoke, a group of 25 Dutch high school students with very little sailing experience ended a trans-Atlantic voyage Sunday that was forced on them by coronavirus restrictions.

The children, ages 14 to 17, watched over by 12 experienced crew members and three teachers, were on an educational cruise of the Caribbean when the pandemic forced them to radically change their plans for returning home in March.

Instead of flying back from Cuba as originally planned, the crew and students stocked up on supplies and warm clothes and set sail for the northern Dutch port of Harlingen, a five-week voyage of about 4,350 miles, on board the 200-foot top sail schooner Wylde Swan. They monitored their health along the way to make sure nobody was infected with the coronavirus.

As they arrived home, the students hung up a self-made banner saying “Bucket List” with ticks in boxes for Atlantic Ocean crossing, mid-ocean swim and surviving the so-called Bermuda Triangle.

The teens hugged and chanted one another’s names as they walked off the ship and into the arms of their families, who drove their cars alongside the yacht one by one to adhere to social-distancing rules.

Floor Hurkmans, 17, said there was no social distancing aboard the Swan.

“At home you just have some moments for yourself,” she said, but on the boat, you eat, sleep and are “just doing everything” together, “so you can’t really just relax.”

But her mom, Renee Scholtemeijer, predicted her daughter would miss life on the open sea once she encountered coronavirus containment measures in the Netherlands. It’s boring, she said: “I think that after two days she’ll want to go back on the boat.”

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What has to happen before front-line medical workers enter their own homes

Nurse Erin Jenkins arrives at home after her shift at UCSD Health in San Diego.
Nurse Erin Jenkins arrives at home after her shift at UCSD Health in San Diego on April 18.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

SAN DIEGO — Critical care nurse Erin Jenkins starts her COVID-19 catharsis in the locker room at UC San Diego Medical Center.

It is not enough to simply head home after 12-hour shifts working in the presence of the virus responsible for the global pandemic. Hard work is necessary to gain the kind of physical and emotional space needed for front-line workers to feel safe walking through their own front doors.

Changing into a fresh set of scrubs starts the ritual. Then it’s time for the scrub down. Everything — ID badge, shoes, smartphone screen — gets a swipe with an alcohol wipe as does every door handle on her path to the outside world.

Already sanitized, her work shoes nonetheless get special covers before they enter her vehicle, and they stay outside once Jenkins makes it home. Everything that was cleaned at the hospital gets cleaned again at the back door. Only then does it feel safe to move quickly through the house, touching nothing, and slip her clothes into the washing machine.

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Pentagon focusing on most vital personnel for virus testing

With limited supplies of coronavirus tests available, the Pentagon is focusing first on testing those performing duties deemed most vital to national security. Atop the list are the men and women who operate the nation’s nuclear forces, some counterterrorism forces, and the crew of a soon-to-deploy aircraft carrier.

Defense leaders hope to increase testing from the current rate of about 7,000 a day to 60,000 by June. This will enable them to test those showing symptoms as well as those who do not.

The current tight supply forced the Pentagon to take a phased approach, which includes testing sailors aboard the USS Nimitz, the Bremerton, Washington-based Navy carrier next in line to head to the Pacific. Officials hope to avoid a repeat of problems that plagued the virus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt. On Friday the Navy disclosed a virus outbreak aboard another ship at sea, the USS Kidd.

Despite President Donald Trump’s assertion that testing capacity is not an issue in the United States, Pentagon officials don’t expect to have enough tests for all service members until sometime this summer.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently approved the tiered approach. It expands the Pentagon’s practice of testing mainly those who show symptoms of the virus to eventually testing everyone. Many virus carriers show no symptoms but can be contagious, as was discovered aboard the Roosevelt.

The aim is to allocate testing materials to protect what the military considers its most important missions, while not depleting supplies for high-risk groups in the civilian population, including the elderly at nursing homes and health care professionals on the front lines of battling the virus.

The first tier of U.S. troops are being tested this month, followed in May and June by the second-highest priority group: forces in combat zones such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Next will be those abroad outside of war zones, like troops in Europe and aboard ships at sea, as well as those returning to the United States from overseas deployments.

Last in line: the remainder of the force.

Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the first three groups could be fully tested by June. By then the Pentagon hopes to reach its goal of being able to conduct 60,000 tests per day. To complete testing of the entire force will take “into the summer,” he said without being specific.

Hyten said that testing under this tiered approach started to step up in mid-April, and that it included a plan to fully test the crew of the Nimitz. The complications that come with trying to test for coronavirus aboard a ship while it’s already underway were made clear with the Roosevelt, which pulled into port at Guam in late March after discovering its first infections. It wasn’t able to test 100% of the crew until a few days ago.

Beyond its desire to limit the spread of the virus, the Pentagon views testing and associated measures such as isolating and quarantining troops as tools to keep the force viable and to ensure it can perform its central function: to defend the nation. At least 3,900 members of the military had tested positive, including more than 850 from the Roosevelt.

Military members, being fitter and younger than the general U.S. population, are thought to be less vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. So far only two military members have died from it.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The military’s staggered approach to testing is necessary, officials said, because of limited supplies and incomplete knowledge about the virus.

“It is a supply issue right now, which is causing us not to be able to go down the full spectrum of all of the forces,” Hyten said. “So we’ll have to -- that’s why we came up with the tiered approach.”

Keeping coronavirus out of the nuclear force has been a high priority from the earliest days of this crisis. There are several reasons for that, including the Pentagon’s view that operating those forces 24/7 is central to deterring an attack on the United States. Also, there are limited numbers of military personnel certified to perform those missions, which include controlling Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles from cramped underground modules and operating nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines.

Since early in the outbreak crisis, Minuteman 3 launch officers have been operating in the missile fields for 14 days at a time, an extraordinary arrangement for personnel who for years had done 24-hour shifts and then returned to base.

Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, said Wednesday there are no COVID-positive cases in the nuclear force. That’s a “no fail” mission, he said, that will have to work around the virus indefinitely.

Other first-tier forces, Goldfein said, are elements of the new Space Force, including those who operate Global Positioning System navigation satellites as well as the satellites that would provide early warning of a missile attack on the United States or its allies.

The Air Force and the other services are prioritizing testing in their own ranks, he said, “to make sure that as test kits become available, we’re able to put them where they are most needed.”

Goldfein said the military understands that the limited national supply of test kits means it cannot have all that it would like.

“One of the top priorities right now across the nation is nursing homes,” he said. “I would not want to take tests away from that top national priority for my younger and healthier force. As tests become available, we’ve tiered them out and we know where we need to put them.”

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First oil prices went negative. Now the shale oil industry is going to shut down

Negative oil prices, ships dawdling off California ports with unwanted cargoes, and traders getting creative about where to stash oil. The next chapter in the oil crisis is now inevitable: Large sections of the petroleum industry are about to start shutting down.

The economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak have ripped through the oil industry in dramatic phases. First it destroyed demand as stay-at-home restrictions shut factories and kept drivers at home. Then storage started filling up and traders resorted to oceangoing tankers to store crude in the hope of better prices ahead.

Now shipping prices are surging to stratospheric levels as the industry runs out of tankers — a sign of just how distorted the market has become.

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No more bodies on the streets. But coronavirus batters Ecuador with disproportionate force

QUITO, Ecuador — The grisly scenes of bodies left on the streets of the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil seemed dystopian even in the era of coronavirus.

“This peaceful city received a bomb from the air, like Hiroshima,” Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri told a TV interviewer last week.

The shocking images that went viral in March and April proved a warning about the virus’ capacity to collapse fragile healthcare and mortuary systems, especially in developing nations. But even as such ghoulish scenes have faded, the specter of Guayaquil — which some refer to as the Latin American Wuhan — looms ominously over a region where infections are not expected to peak until coming weeks in many countries as ill-prepared as Ecuador.

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Protesters, Trump want businesses open; White House virus coordinator sounds note of caution

Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator
Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks at a March 31 news briefing on the virus.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Social distancing will need to continue through the summer months, White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx said Sunday, even as some states began moving to ease shutdown guidelines.

The governors of states that are beginning to reopen some businesses defended their decisions on Sunday, but their counterparts from other states as well as public-health experts warned that abandoning stay-at-home guidelines too soon could trigger a painful resurgence of the virus.

Although President Trump has said he will leave it up to governors how soon to allow businesses to reopen, he also has made clear his support for protesters in a handful of states who have demanded a speedy end to restrictions meant to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Vice President Mike Pence also spurred hopes for a revival of business activity, predicting last week that the pandemic would be “behind us” by Memorial Day weekend.

Appearing on “Meet the Press,” Birx did not directly address that prediction but said any public and business activity would have to be coupled with physical separation between individuals.

“Social distancing will be with us through the summer,” Birx said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases.”

Other public health experts, including Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, expressed skepticism about Pence’s timeline.

“I don’t think it’s likely that we will be at that position by Memorial Day,” Inglesby said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” citing rising rates of infection in about half of the country.

Meanwhile, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned that Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, for one, was moving too fast in giving the go-ahead for some businesses to reopen.

“Georgia’s certainly jumping the gun I think, getting started too early relative to where they are in their epidemic,” Gottlieb said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

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Boris Johnson, back from sick leave, faces growing divisions in U.K. over virus

Boris Johnson is shown in London just a few days before being hospitalized on April 6 with COVID-19.
(Pippa Fowles / 10 Downing St.)

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, returning to work after recovering from a coronavirus infection that put him in intensive care, faces growing criticism over the deaths and disruption the virus has caused.

Johnson’s office said he would be back at his desk in 10 Downing St. on Monday, two weeks after he was released from a London hospital. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has been standing in for the prime minister, said Sunday that Johnson — the only world leader to be diagnosed with the coronavirus — was “raring to go.”

While Johnson convalesced, Britain’s coronavirus death toll has mounted, with 413 more virus-related deaths announced Sunday.

Britain has recorded 20,732 deaths among people hospitalized with COVID-19, the fifth country in the world to surpass 20,000 deaths. Thousands more are thought to have died in nursing homes.

Opposition politicians say Britain’s death toll could have been lower if Johnson’s Conservative government had imposed a nationwide lockdown sooner. But they are also demanding to know when and how the government will ease the restrictions that were imposed March 23 and run to at least May 7.

Some people and businesses are growing impatient with the restrictions, which have brought much of the economy and daily life to a halt. Road traffic has begun to creep up after plummeting when the lockdown first was imposed, and some businesses have begun to reopen after implementing social-distancing measures.

“Decisions need to be taken quicker and communication with the public needs to be clearer,” opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said in a letter to Johnson.

But Johnson’s government, facing criticism for being too slow to impose the lockdown, appears in no hurry to end it. Raab said there would be no dramatic sudden change to the restrictions.

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Many flock to open beaches in Orange and Ventura counties

A surfer catches a wave off Newport Beach on Saturday,
A surfer catches a wave off Newport Beach on Saturday, joining some of the thousands visiting California beaches amid stay-at-home and social-distancing orders.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

On the first warm weekend of spring, the beach in Santa Monica was deserted — an apocalyptic emptiness unimaginable just a few months ago.

Down the coast in Huntington Beach, the novel coronavirus pandemic seemed far away. Colorful umbrellas and bikini-clad sunbathers dotted the sand.

As temperatures soared into the upper 80s in some parts of the region on Saturday, crossing county lines was like entering different worlds. Some beaches in Orange and Ventura counties were open even as the coronavirus crisis continued, with scores of new cases and fatalities daily.

Despite orders from state and local officials to stay home except for necessary errands and to exercise in one’s own neighborhood, people flocked to the beaches.

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Building dense cities was California’s cure for the housing crisis. Then came the coronavirus

Westlake is L.A.'s second-most-dense area.
The Westlake District of Los Angeles has the second-highest population density in the city.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

For more than a decade, California lawmakers have pushed with increasing urgency to build more housing near transit stops and job centers. Density, they’ve reasoned, is the best way to control the exploding cost of living and reduce residents’ reliance on carbon-spewing vehicles in a state best known for its sprawling suburbs.

But now density has a new foe: the coronavirus.

Skeptics of greater urbanization say the pandemic has proved that they were right all along, pointing to orders from public health officials to use social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. Even some ardent urbanists worry that the speed with which the virus devastated packed neighborhoods could lead to a backlash against cities.

New York City, the nation’s densest major city, is a hotbed of the outbreak in the United States with more than 150,000 confirmed cases and 11,100 deaths.

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3 arrested at California beach protest against stay-at-home order

Three people protesting California’s stay-at-home order Saturday in an Encinitas protest were arrested on suspicion of violating San Diego County health orders, marking the latest in a series of rallies along the coast.

About 75 to 100 people gathered near the San Diego County beach to express their disaffection with ongoing stay-at-home orders that also limit access to public parks and beaches.

Several participants were said to have ventured past police tape onto the sand. Three attendees refused to comply with multiple verbal warnings and were arrested, the department said. Others marched without incident toward Swami’s Beach Park and dispersed around noon.

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Isolation and boredom of staying at home can be harmful in their own way, doctors say

Dr. Steven Siegel, 55, a psychiatrist and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Studies with the Keck School of Medicine at USC, takes a break from working at home to spend time with his dog Philly.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Dr. Steven Siegel wakes every morning at 5, feeds his dogs, makes a fresh cup of coffee and begins exercising. By 7:30 a.m., he’s had breakfast, a shower, has dressed and is at work in his office.

Never mind that office is just a spare bedroom in his Glendale home. Routine, Siegel says, is the best way to combat the monotony and stress of the coronavirus stay-home restrictions, now stretching into its sixth week.

“We do have more control over this than may otherwise be apparent,” argued Siegel, a psychiatrist with Keck Medicine of USC and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Whatever your routine is, do it. Then go to work, even if that means that the kitchen counter becomes your desk between the hours of 8 and 5.

“You can’t control the rest of the world but you can control what you do. I have no power over when COVID ends as an individual, but I have a lot of power about how I respond to this.”

Concerns about the coronavirus infecting us or our loved ones has fueled anxiety and fear, but the isolation and boredom of sheltering at home can be harmful in their own way. And the psychological harm of the stay-at-home restrictions is harder to measure and likely to last longer, driving up the rate of domestic violence, depression and other mental conditions.

“That is a reality,” said Ellen Bradley-Windell, a licensed clinical social worker and co-founder and director of the Valencia Relationship Institute. “We’re already seeing the fallout with families being home, kids be quarantined and home schooling.

“So I’m concerned about suicide, people with social isolation, that people are living by themselves. I’m also concerned about the delayed response with family conflict, marital conflict and behavioral issues with kids.”

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Could a ‘controlled avalanche’ stop the coronavirus faster, and with fewer deaths?

Could a “controlled avalanche” of deliberate coronavirus infections end this pandemic faster, and with fewer deaths?

In Israel, a country with just a single ski resort, a team of researchers argues that borrowing a trick from alpine mountaineers might be the best way for some countries to fast-forward the outbreak to its logical conclusion: the public health ideal of “herd immunity.”

The strategy would mimic the effects of a vaccination campaign by encouraging a majority of a population to become infected with the coronavirus and recover. But embedded within are a plethora of practical, political and ethical dilemmas, experts warn.

Political leaders will face the allegation that they’re sacrificing lives to shore up their economies. Healthcare workers and first responders could be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Low-income workers, already burdened by poorer health, would feel pressured to become infected so they could return to work.

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L.A. County reports 48 new COVID-19 deaths and more than 600 additional cases

Los Angeles County reported 48 new deaths and 607 additional cases of COVID-19 on Saturday. Long Beach, which has its own health department, reported 26 new cases, bringing the county total to 895 deaths and more than 19,100 cases.

“This past week in L.A. County, we doubled the number of deaths from COVID-19 and diagnosed more than 7,000 new cases,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, said in a statement.

Of the people who most recently died, 37 were older than 65, and nine were ages 41-65, officials said. Thirty-eight had underlying health conditions.

“Because we are still seeing a significant increase in new cases and deaths, we ask that you continue to stay home as much as possible,” Ferrer said.

After appearing to level off for a time, the number of COVID-19 cases reported by the county has risen at a rapid clip over the past week.

Some of that is due to increased testing, as well as the clearing of a backlog of pending test results, officials said.

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How I broke my VR skepticism and found emotional escape during coronavirus sheltering

Illustration for an April 23, 2020 story by Todd Martens about Virtual Reality. Credit: Jiaqi Wang / For The Times
(Jiaqi Wang / For The Times)

All it took to make me a believer of virtual reality was for reality to break.

This was the thought I had after about 45 minutes inside my VR headset on a Monday afternoon. I had barely moved. A forest surrounded me. A bird sat perched on a tree branch. My hand held a video game controller. But what I saw was a futuristic airbrush, a laser-like paint sprayer that looked like a prop from a 1940s sci-fi film.

A touch of a button and I could color the world. The bird before me was purple. Then it was pink. Then blue. Then pink again. I shot the feathered creature with random color as if I were Flora, Fauna and Merryweather all in one, toying with the chroma of the universe as if I alone possessed the power of the fairy godmothers of “Sleeping Beauty.”

Soon the alarm on my smartphone sounded. This was my cue to remove the VR headset and flip on the radio to listen to another sobering address from Mayor Eric Garcetti. I sat and stared as L.A.'s mayor spoke, my eyes tracing a scratch on my coffee table. Illuminated by the late afternoon sun, the wear had long escaped my vision. Having spent the day in a heightened version of reality, I was suddenly more attuned to my very real, very dusty surroundings. The enchanted world of “Color Space” seemed very far away.

During the first few weeks under stay-at-home orders, I tried to get re-acquainted with my apartment. When I’d chase my cat and lie around with her, I pretended to view furniture as she might, as blocky skyscrapers.

I was trying to turn my home into a playing field, and that helped (and is still helping) ease my anxiety. But I must be honest with myself. I am not in a good place emotionally. I view everything that lies outside my door — be it the mailbox on the first floor of my 12-story apartment complex or the recycling bins at the end of the hall — as places to fear.

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A Los Angeles artist gives her neighbors a walk-by gallery

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The mask-clad dog walkers stop and look. So do the kids on bikes. And the joggers. And the couples out for a stroll with a glass of wine.

In a leafy Sherman Oaks neighborhood, a little red easel by the curb, with a new watercolor painting every day, has provided something much needed as the formless days of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders stretch into weeks: something to look forward to.

Every morning, artist Kathryn Pitt sets out a new piece by her driveway, then goes back inside. It’s contactless art in the age of social distance. She calls it the Passers By Gallery.

“So many more people are walking by these days,” said, Pitt, 47. “They’re cycling, they’re jogging. Family units are out and people are strolling. ... I just thought this was something I could do to make people a little bit happy in these times.”

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Gaza factories roar back to life to make protective wear

FLE - In this Monday, March 30, 2020 file photo, Palestinians make protective overalls meant to shield people from the coronavirus, to be exported to Israel, at a local factory, in Gaza City. For the first time in years, some sewing factories in the Gaza Strip are back to working at full capacity — producing masks, gloves and protective gowns, some of which are bound for Israel.(AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

For the first time in years, sewing factories in the Gaza Strip are back to working at full capacity — producing masks, gloves and protective gowns, some of which are bound for Israel.

It’s a rare economic lifeline in the coastal territory, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas militant group seized power from rival Palestinian forces in the strip in 2007. The blockade, and three wars between Hamas and Israel, have devastated the local economy, with unemployment hovering around 50%.

But the sudden opportunity also shows how Gaza’s economy is at the mercy of those enforcing the blockade — and how depressed wages have become. Workers earn as little as $8 a day.

So far, Gaza appears to have been largely spared from the coronavirus pandemic, with only 17 cases detected, all within quarantine facilities set up for those returning from abroad. Many still fear an outbreak in the impoverished territory, which is home to 2 million people and where the health care system has been battered by years of conflict. But for now, authorities are cautiously allowing most businesses to stay open.

Rizq al-Madhoun, owner of the Bahaa garment company, said he has produced more than 1 million masks in the past three weeks, “all for the Israeli market.”

Gaza may not have the advanced machinery seen in other places, but he said residents’ sewing skills are unmatched. “Gaza workers are distinguished in handiwork and they are better than workers in China or Turkey,” he said.

Another factory, Unipal 2000, is able to employ 800 workers across two shifts to produce protective equipment around the clock.

Both factories import fabric and other materials from customers in Israel and then produce items like masks, gloves and surgical gowns. Unipal makes about 150,000 pieces a day, and demand is high as countries around the world grapple with shortages.

Asked about doing business with Israeli customers, both factory owners said they did not want to discuss politics and framed their work in terms of business and humanitarian needs.

“Despite the siege in Gaza, we export these masks and protective clothes to the whole world without exception,” Bashir Bawab, the owner of Unipal 2000, said. “We feel we are doing a humanitarian duty.”

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Senior official cited by Trump on coronavirus and temperature is the subject of an investigation

President Trump talks with William Bryan, head of science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, as he speaks about the coronavirus Thursday in Washington.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The senior Department of Homeland Security official who was thrust into the spotlight by President Trump to describe the effects of temperature on the coronavirus has been the subject of misconduct allegations for his previous government work.

A Department of Energy Inspector General investigation was still pending Friday based on evidence submitted by a whistle-blower that William Bryan abused his government position with energy consulting work in Ukraine.

It’s unclear if Trump was aware of that investigation when he called on Bryan at his daily briefing Thursday to explain DHS research that prompted a presidential riff on the potential to cure the virus with disinfectant and kill it with sunlight.

Bryan has been acting undersecretary for the DHS Science and Technology Directorate since May 2017. Before that, he was president of ValueBridge International’s Energy Group, a consulting firm in Virginia, following previous work with the Department of Energy.

Trump nominated him to be the undersecretary of the directorate, which is tasked with developing technology for the components of DHS. But days after his Senate hearing in August, a government whistle-blower and his attorneys received a letter from the Office of the Special Counsel that information they provided about Bryan showed a “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing.”

The letter, first reported by the Hill newspaper in September, said the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative agency, had referred the matter to the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General, which opened an investigation.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press, said the IG would conduct an investigation to see if his allegations could be substantiated and would inform Congress and the president.

The allegations against Bryan, which were reported by the New York Times in October 2018, center on his time as a senior advisor in the Office of International Affairs in 2016. He was designated a “special government employee,” which allowed him to do limited private sector work.

The whistle-blower, Robert Ivy, alleged that Bryan used his DOE position to develop his business interests with ValueBridge, including by providing money to foreign officials with the goal of influencing their actions and improperly sharing proprietary information.

The allegations reference players who featured prominently in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The complaint, which was also obtained by AP, describes Bryan’s dealings with Rinat Akhmetov, the Ukrainian energy oligarch who hired Paul Manafort as an advisor years before Manafort became chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign. According to the complaint, Bryan denied ever interacting with Manafort, who was convicted in Mueller’s Russia investigation related to Manafort’s work in Ukraine — though they did stay at the same Hyatt Hotel in Kyiv on one occasion recounted by the whistle-blower.

It says Bryan, as the head of an Energy Department team that traveled to Ukraine with the goal of stabilizing the country’s energy security, aligned himself with Akhmetov, became “ensnared in Ukraine’s high-stakes power rivalries” and cashed in “personally on the cowboy capitalism that has driven so much of the former Soviet Union.”

Ivy, a former DOE official who now works in the private sector, and his attorney said Friday that they provided information to the IG investigation but have not received any notice of a conclusion. Both expressed surprise that Bryan, who has a military background but is not a scientist, was called upon by the Trump to discuss the research.

“Bill Bryan should not be in that position in the first place,” said John Tye, Ivy’s attorney and the founder and CEO of Whistleblower Aid. “The U.S. government found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing by him on both the corruption and security violation matters.”

The Department of Energy referred questions about the investigation, which remains open, to its Inspector General’s office, which did not respond to a request for information. DHS also did not respond to questions or make Bryan available for an interview.

Bryan presides over an organization that has had its budget cut by the Trump administration, despite the prominent role the president gave it during his briefing to discuss how work done at an agency lab in Maryland showed the virus breaking down when exposed to light and humidity.

Under the final year of President Obama, the agency had a budget of $841 million, more than half of which was for research and development. The Trump administration cut that to around $583 million in its first budget to fund other priorities. It proposed restoring some of that this year and raising it to $643 million.

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Around the world, countries take steps toward easing lockdown orders

Grocery shops are seen open during lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Prayagraj, India, on Saturday.
Grocery shops are seen open during lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Prayagraj, India, on Saturday.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A tentative easing around the world of coronavirus lockdowns gathered pace Saturday with the reopening in India of neighborhood stores that many of the country’s 1.3 billion people rely on for everything from cold drinks to mobile phone data cards.

The relaxation of the super-strict Indian lockdown came with major caveats. It did not apply to hundreds of quarantined towns and other hot spots that have been hit hardest by the outbreak that has killed at least 775 people in India and terrified its multitudes of poor who live hand-to-mouth in slum conditions too crowded for social distancing.

Shopping malls also remained closed across the country. Still, for families that run small stores, being able to earn again brought relief.

“This is a good decision,” said Amit Sharma, an architect. “We have to open a few things and let the economy start moving. The poor people should have some source of income. This virus is going to be a long-term problem.”

Last week, India also allowed manufacturing and farming activities to resume in rural areas to ease the economic plight of millions of daily wage-earners left without work by the country’s lockdown imposed March 24. India’s stay-home restrictions have allowed people out of their homes only to buy food, medicine or other essentials.

Elsewhere in Asia, authorities Saturday reported no new deaths for the 10th straight day in China, where the virus originated.

And South Korea reported just 10 fresh cases, the eighth day in a row its daily jump came below 20. There were no new deaths for the second straight day.

In Sri Lanka, however, the lockdown was tightened, not eased, confirming a pattern of one-step-forward, one-step-back also seen elsewhere as countries battle the pandemic, trying to juggle public health against the health of shutdown economies.

Sri Lanka had partially lifted a month-long curfew during daytime hours in more than two thirds of the country. But it reimposed a 24-hour lockdown countrywide after a surge Friday of 46 new infections, the highest increase in a day on the Indian Ocean island. The new curfew remains in effect until Monday.

The global death toll climbed Saturday toward 200,000, according to a tally compiled by Johns Hopkins University from government figures. The actual death toll is believed to be far higher.

Pope Francis appealed to people to pray for funeral home workers, saying: “What they do is so heavy and sad. They really feel the pain of this pandemic.”

Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska also began loosening lockdown orders on their pandemic-wounded businesses, even as the confirmed U.S. death toll from the coronavirus soared past 50,000 and despite warnings from health experts that such steps may be coming too early.

In Europe, Belgium sketched out plans for a progressive lockdown relaxation, starting May 4 with the resumption of nonessential treatment in hospitals and the reopening of textile and sewing shops so people can make face masks. Bars and restaurants would be allowed to start reopening June 8, although Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes also cautioned that a surge in infections could alter the timeline and that “nothing is set in stone.”

Kids in Spain will get their first fresh air in weeks on Sunday when a total ban on letting them outside is relaxed. After 44 days indoors, they’ll be allowed to take one toy or scooter with them but not play together for the adult-supervised one-hour excursions no farther than 0.6 mile from home.

Italy announced Saturday that free protective masks will be distributed to nursing homes, police, public officials and transport workers, preparing for the return to work of millions of Italians when lockdown restrictions are eased from May 4.

Britain was still holding off on changes to its lockdown as the coronavirus-related death toll in hospitals was on target to surge past 20,000. It’s the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, each of which has reported more than 20,000 deaths.

In France, the government is preparing to gingerly ease one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns on May 11. The health minister detailed plans Saturday to scale up testing to help contain any new flare-ups.

Testing shortages are a critical problem elsewhere, too, including in Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation, which is veering closer to becoming a pandemic hot spot.

Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and four other major cities warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse or already overwhelmed. In Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon, officials said a cemetery has been forced to dig mass graves because there have been so many deaths. Workers have been burying 100 corpses a day — triple the pre-coronavirus average.

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Italy to ease lockdown restrictions on May 4

Italy will start distributing free protective masks to nursing homes, many of which have been devastated by coronavirus infections and deaths.

Domenico Arcuri, the government’s commissioner for the pandemic, says doing so is a “gesture of solidarity and nearness and support to these places ever more at the epicenter of this great crisis.”

Arcuri says free masks also will be distributed to public officials, transport workers and police. Millions of Italians will be allowed to return to workplaces starting on May 4, when lockdown restrictions will be considerably eased.

Italy, with some 26,000 reported deaths, most of them of elderly persons, has Europe’s highest toll from COVID-19. In Lombardy, Italy’s most stricken region, prosecutors are investigating about two dozen homes, including one in Milan where some 200 residents died.

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Assemblywoman with mask donation is turned away from San Diego immigration detention center

SAN DIEGO — Staff at Otay Mesa Detention Center did not allow Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to donate masks to help protect detainees from the COVID-19 outbreak when she showed up at the facility’s gate Friday.

Gonzalez, whose district includes the detention center, joined with several immigrant rights organizations to gather about 1,000 masks to give to detainees who said they weren’t receiving adequate protection from the novel coronavirus.

“It’s rare that I feel so powerless to change something in my community and my district,” said Gonzalez (D-San Diego).

“These are human beings,” she said. “We don’t have mass deaths, but we know where this is going.”

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Coronavirus and disinfectant: Why you shouldn’t ingest it

At a White House briefing Thursday, President Trump speculated about whether doctors might try to put disinfectants in the human body to combat the coronavirus, perhaps by an injection.

Scientists had an emphatic response to that idea: Absolutely not.

“The idea of injecting something into yourself — if that doesn’t sound like a patently bad idea to start with, I don’t know how else to describe it,” said Bill Carroll, a chemist at Indiana University.

It is never a good idea to put such chemicals into your body. Do not do it. You can end up sick or dead, and whether or not you survive, the experience will be extremely painful, experts say.

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Brazil becoming a coronavirus outbreak center as hospitals are on the verge of collapse

RIO DE JANEIRO — Cases of COVID-19 are overwhelming hospitals, morgues and cemeteries across Brazil as Latin America’s largest nation veers closer to becoming one of the world’s pandemic hot spots.

Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities have warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse, or already too overwhelmed to take any more patients.

Health experts expect the number of infections in the country of 211 million people will be much higher than what has been reported because of insufficient and delayed testing.

Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro has shown no sign of wavering from his insistence that COVID-19 is a relatively minor disease and that broad social distancing measures are not needed to stop its spread. He has said that only Brazilians at high risk should be isolated.

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Bay Area likely to extend stay-at-home order, San Francisco mayor says

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Mayor London Breed said it was likely the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order would get extended beyond the current expiration date of May 3.

“People are asking about this: Will the public health order get extended? The likelihood that that will happen is very likely. And what that means is another few weeks, or even a month, of asking you all to comply and to remain at home and to continue to follow the social distancing orders that we put forth,” Breed said.

Her statements echoed what Gov. Gavin Newsom and others have said — that stay-at-home must be maintained until it’s clear that easing restrictions won’t cause greater illness and economic disruption in the battle against the coronavirus..

“How we reopen is going to be important to ensuring that we do it responsibly so that we don’t go backward,” he said.

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San Diego County eases restrictions on ocean access, mandates face coverings

SAN DIEGO — San Diego County officials Friday announced that restrictions limiting ocean access will be lifted, paving the way for cities across the region to reopen beaches as soon as Monday.

The decision was made as the county logged 183 more cases of COVID-19 and two more deaths. The higher case total was partly attributed to a higher number of tests conducted the day before. Officials said 3,122 tests were conducted Thursday — 867 more than the day before.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher stressed that individual jurisdictions will need to decide for themselves when and how they open their beaches. Cities can also choose to be more restrictive.

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U.S. states build stockpiles of malaria drug touted by Trump

SALT LAKE CITY — State and local governments across the United States have obtained more than 30 million doses of a malaria drug touted by President Trump to treat patients with COVID-19, despite warnings from doctors that more research is needed.

At least 22 states and Washington, D.C., secured shipments of the drug, hydroxychloroquine, according to information compiled from state and federal officials by the Associated Press. Sixteen of those states were won by Trump in 2016, although five of them, including North Carolina and Louisiana, are now led by Democratic governors.

Supporters say having a supply on hand makes sense in case the drug is shown to be effective against the pandemic that has devastated the global economy and killed nearly 200,000 people worldwide, and to ensure a steady supply for people who need it for other conditions like lupus.

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No fair! California cancels state fair; some county ones still up in the air

California, still deep in the fight to fend off the coronavirus, has canceled its state fair, which was to run July 17-Aug. 2 in Sacramento.

Organizers of the California State Fair and Food Festival said Friday that the event, which goes back 166 years, would resume in 2021. The event typically employs about 800 seasonal workers and last year drew more than 600,000 visitors. Organizers said pandemic health risks were too great.

Cal Expo’s general manager and chief executive, Rick Pickering, said in a statement that the event’s venue, Cal Expo, is already part of the fight against the virus, “serving as a drive-through testing site, as well as a temporary emergency isolation trailer facility for homeless individuals who have been exposed or infected.”

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Trump’s message to Central America: Want ventilators? Help us with immigration

WASHINGTON — When it comes to supplying ventilators and other coronavirus aid to Central America, Trump administration officials say they are not playing favorites.

But countries that have been more cooperative on immigration and other issues seem to have moved to the front of the line.

The presidents of El Salvador and Honduras have both promised to try to keep their citizens at home and away from the trails of migration toward the United States.

And on Friday, Trump promised that both countries would receive ventilators.

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Alaska allows some businesses to reopen, with coronavirus limitations

JUNEAU, Alaska — Businesses in parts of Alaska cautiously began reopening Friday, as part of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to restart segments of the economy affected by coronavirus concerns. Signs of the times were everywhere: Barbers wore face masks, and notices warned of limits on customer numbers.

In Juneau, whose downtown core is typically humming this time of year, there was little foot traffic Friday afternoon. Many storefronts remained dark. The capital city earlier Friday urged businesses to wait to commit to reopening until the Assembly on Monday considers whether to “moderate” Dunleavy’s reopening approach.

In Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz outlined plans for reopening Monday largely consistent with Dunleavy’s approach.

Alaska is among the first states in the West to begin reopening, allowing restaurants, retail shops, personal care services and other businesses that were classified as nonessential to operate, with limitations. Dunleavy, a Republican, has maintained that health considerations must come first and that officials feel good about the state’s COVID-19 numbers, healthcare capacity, equipment and ability to track cases.

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Nearly 100 residents and staff at Huntington Beach nursing home test positive for the coronavirus

Almost two-thirds of the patients at a Huntington Beach nursing home have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to numbers provided Friday by its owner.

At the direction of Orange County health officials, Huntington Valley Healthcare Center will test all of its patients at the facility.

As of Friday, 62 of the facility’s 100 patients and 34 of its 100 staff members had tested positive for the virus, according to the company. Sixteen patients and two healthcare workers from the facility are in hospitals.

The other patients remain in Huntington Valley’s COVID-19 isolation unit, which the facility created about two weeks ago. Workers who tested positive are isolating at home.

This last week, the facility saw two patients die from COVID-19, a 77-year-old man who died Monday night at a hospital, and a 79-year-old man who died at the facility Tuesday.

Staff members who worked alongside their colleagues who tested positive are continuing to work as long as they don’t have symptoms and haven’t tested positive themselves.

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National Guard sent to L.A.-area nursing homes in battle to slow coronavirus outbreaks

Medical teams from the California National Guard have been dispatched to five nursing homes in Los Angeles County, bolstering staff and resources in facilities that are especially hard-hit by coronavirus outbreaks.

It’s part of a larger effort by state and local officials to slow the spread of coronavirus in nursing homes. In Los Angeles County alone, 40% of the more than 800 deaths have been at these facilities.

The teams arrived at nursing homes earlier this week, and the sites include Pasadena Meadows Nursing Center in Pasadena and the Motion Picture and Television Country House in Woodland Hills, as well as nursing homes in Hollywood, Gardena and El Monte, according to Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma, public affairs director for the California National Guard.

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Small-business loan program restarts Monday with fresh hopes and $320 billion

The U.S. Small Business Administration will restart a government coronavirus relief loan program for small businesses next week with an additional $320 billion, after the first round of funding was exhausted in just 13 days.

The SBA will resume accepting applications for its Paycheck Protection Program at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time on Monday, the agency and the U.S. Treasury Department said in a joint release.

“We encourage all approved lenders to process loan applications previously submitted by eligible borrowers and disburse funds expeditiously,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza said in the statement.

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This is what it will take for L.A. County to lift stay-at-home orders, officials say

Los Angeles County officials are developing a plan to slowly ease stay-at-home orders, but four key benchmarks must first be met in the battle against the coronavirus.

“We don’t want to undo all the good we’ve done and accomplished so far,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Friday. “We are not yet on the other side of this pandemic and we don’t want to prematurely ease restrictions.”

She said that the county will first need to make sure that its hospitals maintain capacity to treat both people who are sick and those with standard medical needs. That includes ensuring the hospitals are adequately staffed, have enough resources to perform testing, and have a sufficient number of ventilators and other medical supplies to handle routine care as well as possible influxes of COVID-19 patients.

Second, the county will need to make sure that protections are in place for those who are most vulnerable, including the elderly, homeless people and those who live in institutional settings or don’t have access to services.

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Emergency cooling centers open, with COVID-19 restrictions

Los Angeles County officials opened emergency cooling centers at noon Friday as a respite for residents who need a safe place to go to escape this weekend’s hot weather.

In their news release Friday, officials stressed that the cooling centers are for vulnerable populations, including older residents and those without air conditioning.

“Emergency cooling centers are free of charge and intended for people who urgently need relief from the heat,” officials noted.

Visitors are required to bring and wear a face covering at the centers. Centers will be open from noon to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

While everyone visiting the centers is required to practice social distancing, remaining six feet from staff and other guests, they are allowed to sit closer to members of their household.

Visitors who have COVID-19 symptoms — cough, fever or difficulty breathing — or are actively following isolation or quarantine orders are not allowed in the centers. Hand sanitizer, soap and water, or other disinfectant will be available at each location. Get more information here.

Locations:

  • Whittier Community Center (7630 Washington Ave., Whittier)
  • Jocelyn Center (210 N. Chapel Ave., Alhambra)
  • Buena Vista Library (300 N. Buena Vista St., Burbank)
  • Robinson Park Community Center (1081 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena)
  • Lincoln Heights Senior Center (2323 Workman St., Los Angeles)
  • Mid-Valley Senior Center (8801 Kester Ave., Panorama City)
  • Robert M. Wilkinson Multipurpose Center (8956 Vanalden Ave., Northridge)
  • Sherman Oaks East Valley Adult Center (5056 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks)
  • El Cariso Community Regional Park (13100 Hubbard St., Sylmar)
  • Col. Leon Washington Park (8908 S. Maie Ave., Los Angeles)
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Does cooking food kill the coronavirus? An expert weighs in

Since writing about how to wash produce during the pandemic, I’ve gotten questions from readers asking if cooking food kills any possible coronavirus on it. I also have received requests for “100%-certain facts.”

Given the novelty of this outbreak, research is ongoing and information evolving, so to find answers to readers’ queries, I reached out to an expert in infectious disease, Dr. Stephen Berger. Berger is board-certified in both infectious diseases and clinical microbiology and is a co-founder of GIDEON, the Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network.

Here are his insights into the connections between coronavirus and food.

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UCLA coach Mick Cronin is confident coronavirus won’t jeopardize next season

With more than six months buffering the scheduled start of UCLA’s basketball season from the novel coronavirus outbreak, coach Mick Cronin is hopeful that the show will go on inside Pauley Pavilion.

“I’m confident that we’re going to play our season,” Cronin said Friday during a live Facebook chat from the living room of his Encino home. “I don’t know where that goes with fans [being allowed to attend games], but I think it goes hand in hand. I don’t think you see games without fans. I’m a positive guy, so I’m on the positive side.”

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Millions have received electronic stimulus payments. When will checks be mailed?

After a first wave of stimulus payments topping out at $1,200 hit bank accounts mid-April, many were left wondering when — or if — their piece of the federal government’s $2-trillion coronavirus relief package would arrive.

More than 88 million people already received payments totaling $125 billion in the program’s first three weeks, according to an IRS statement Friday. A total of 150 million payments are expected to be made.

Beginning Friday, the IRS is slated to send out its first paper checks to millions more Americans for whom the government didn’t have direct deposit information, according to an IRS timeline reported by the Washington Post.

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Latin pop star Becky G on life in quarantine: ‘I’m in survival mindset’

Pop singer Becky G earned some of her earliest success with 2013’s “Becky From the Block,” which celebrated the specifics of her Inglewood roots through map-point shout-outs. “Yo, first grade, Oak Street Elementary / A few blocks from the Inglewood Cemetery.”

In the seven years since, the artist born Rebecca Gomez has become one of the city’s most bankable musical exports. Mixing Latin American pop, reggaeton and dance-pop, the 23-year-old singer, who is signed to Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe imprint, has charted both as a solo artist and in collaboration with superstars such as Bad Bunny, Pitbull, Zayn, Kane Brown and David Guetta.

In 2019, she issued her debut album, “Mala Santa,” which peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Latin albums chart. She’s hit No. 1 twice on Billboard’s Latin airplay chart, starred in the movie “Power Rangers” and guest-starred on Fox’s “Empire” series.

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Staggering shutdown in the meat industry raises concerns of a global shortfall

It’s no longer just the U.S. that’s facing a meat scare. With shutdowns spreading in the world’s biggest exporters, serious questions are being raised over global shortfalls.

Brazil, the top supplier of chicken and beef, saw its first major closure after local authorities ordered a halt of a poultry plant owned by JBS SA, the world’s top meat company.

That comes amid more shutdowns in the U.S., which is also a key shipper. Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s No. 1 pork producer, said Friday it was closing another pork plant, this one in Illinois. That news hit less than an hour after Hormel Foods Corp. said it was idling two of its Jennie-O turkey plants in Minnesota.

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Texas coronavirus cases increase 3.9%

Texas coronavirus cases rose to 22,806, up 3.9% from Thursday. The 862 new cases represented the first daily decline this week. Harris County, which includes Houston, continued to report almost double the number of COVID-19 cases than any other county in the state.

The daily death count rose a fourth straight day to 32, bringing total fatalities to 593.

The push to expand testing showed up in Friday’s numbers, which jumped by 17,469 tests — more than double the day before — to 242,547. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to lay out his plans for reopening the state’s economy on Monday.

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Florida cases accelerate as governor plans reopening

Florida reported 30,174 cases on Friday, up 4.7% from a day earlier. Deaths among Florida residents reached 1,012, an increase of 5.4%. The increase in cases marked a slight acceleration over upticks in previous days. From Wednesday to Thursday, the increase was about 1.8%.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Reopen Florida Task Force has been meeting all week, as it considers the best time to restart the economy.

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Italy looks at new spending

ROME — The Italian government is asking Parliament to authorize staggering sums of new spending, drastically driving up the national public debt, after the COVID-19 outbreak made the country one of the most stricken by the pandemic.

Premier Giuseppe Conte’s Cabinet has decided on a revised budget for this year, one that calls for $60 billion in debt, $27.5 billion next year, and similarly high debt for several more years. The budget must be approved by parliament.

The government says it must beef up the national health system, whose intensive care units were sorely tested by huge numbers of coronavirus patients, as well as provide additional funds for law enforcement and civil protection agencies to deal with the emergency. More funds will also be earmarked for private and public economic sectors and to provide safety measures for workers heading back to work after the national lockdown, now in its seventh week.

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Navy recommends reinstatement of fired carrier captain

WASHINGTON — The top Navy officer has recommended the reinstatement of the aircraft carrier captain fired for sending a fraught email to commanders pleading for faster action to protect his crew from a coronavirus outbreak, officials familiar with the investigation said Friday.

Adm. Mike Gilday recommended that Navy Capt. Brett Crozier be returned to his ship, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the results of an investigation that have not yet been made public.

If approved, his recommendation would end a drama that has rocked the Navy leadership, sent thousands of Theodore Roosevelt crew members ashore in Guam for quarantine and affected the fleet across the Pacific, a region critical to America’s national security interests.

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MGM Studios lays off 7% of staff

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, the entertainment company behind the James Bond franchise, is making permanent cuts to its workforce as the coronavirus crisis continues to hit employment in Hollywood.

Executives at Beverly Hills-based MGM disclosed the cuts in a Friday memo to staff, citing the COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered film and TV productions and forced studios to delay movie releases as theaters remain shut down.

MGM is cutting 7% of its 750-person workforce, resulting in roughly 50 layoffs across multiple divisions, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to comment. Variety first reported the cuts.

“We are reconfiguring certain divisions of the studio to allow MGM to operate more effectively in a changing media landscape, both during this pandemic, and beyond,” MGM’s leadership wrote. “Unfortunately, these changes necessitate some permanent reductions of our workforce.”

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Coronavirus shut-ins give NFL draft coverage a record TV audience

The first round of the NFL draft telecast Thursday was the closest thing to live sports in a month, and viewers showed their appreciation.

An average of 15.6 million watched the selection of college players across ABC, ESPN, NFL Network and ESPN Deportes, topping the previous high of 12.4 million in 2014.

The economic shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak has darkened stadiums and arenas in all professional sports. There is no guarantee the National Football League season will open on time. But the draft — sans the celebratory red carpet ceremony that has become an event in itself in recent years — offered hope and an escape from the current health crisis.

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Here’s when stay-at-home orders are expiring in each of California’s 58 counties

While all Californians are currently living under a statewide stay-at-home order implemented in response to the coronavirus outbreak, some counties have also crafted additional or more-targeted local regulations aimed at stemming the disease’s spread.

The county-level orders vary, as do their expiration dates. Some of the measures are in place until a specified date, others until further notice.

Generally, local health officials can issue guidance that’s stricter, but not more lenient, than the state’s.

As COVID-19 continues to spread in California, some communities are itching to open things back up and allow residents to resume some semblance of pre-pandemic activity.

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Trump wonders if injecting bleach kills coronavirus, but Cristina Cuomo bathes in it

One more time for President Trump and Cristina Cuomo: Cleaning fluids should not be used on — or in — your body to fight COVID-19, according to medical professionals.

In a recent post on her Goop-esque wellness blog, Purist, Cuomo echoed Trump’s widely criticized comments Thursday about treating the coronavirus with chemical disinfectants. On Friday, Trump walked back those remarks, saying he had made them “sarcastically.”

“I added a small amount — 1/4 to 1/2 cup ONLY — of Clorox to a full bath of warm water (80 gallons),” Cuomo wrote Wednesday.

Cuomo, the wife of CNN anchor and COVID-19 patient Chris Cuomo, said she was following the advice of her doctor, energy medicine and homeopathic physician Linda Lancaster, who suggested she “take a bath and add a tiny amount of bleach, and I mean a 1/4 cup of bleach which in an 80 gallon water tub is a ratio of 1:5000.”

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California effort will employ restaurant workers to provide meals for seniors

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state will launch a far-reaching program to provide three meals a day to California senior citizens in need during the coronavirus pandemic, employing out-of-work restaurant workers and funded largely by the federal government.

“It’s not just about the meals,” Newsom said during his midday news briefing. “It’s about a human connection, about someone just checking in as they’re delivering those meals and making sure people are OK.”

The program will provide $66 a day in funding for the daily meals. Newsom said the effort will launch immediately, focused on seniors who are either at risk for COVID-19 or have limited income. He said payments for the food will generate sales tax revenues to help support local government budgets that have been hit hard by the closure of retail businesses and restaurants.

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Trump’s improvised medicine show prompts frantic health warnings

WASHINGTON — A slew of federal and state agencies — and the makers of laundry bleach — rebuked President Trump on Friday, warning the public that his off-the-cuff medical advice and off-the-wall musings in his nightly White House briefings could endanger even more lives as the country’s coronavirus death toll passed 50,000.

A day after Trump sparked a furor when he incorrectly suggested that common household disinfectants could be used as “injection inside or almost a cleaning” to kill COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the makers of Clorox bleach warned Americans not to use cleaning products as medicine.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a similar warning against ingesting products such as bleach.

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China reports no new deaths for ninth straight day

BEIJING — China on Friday reported no new COVID-19 deaths for the ninth straight day, and just six new cases of the virus.

Two of those were brought from overseas, with three domestic cases in Heilongjiang on the Russian border and one in the southern business hub of Guangdong.

Hospitals are still treating 915 cases, 57 listed as serious, while 999 people are being isolated and monitored as either suspected cases or for having tested positive without showing symptoms. The country’s death toll from the global pandemic first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year remains at 4,632 among 82,804 cases.

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Column: As coronavirus devastates state budgets, conservatives target public worker pensions

Apparently on the principle that one shouldn’t let a crisis go to waste, conservatives are using the coronavirus crisis to take aim at a favorite target: public employee pensions.

That was the explicit subtext of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s broadside against bailing out state and local governments, which he set forth during an interview Wednesday on right-winger Hugh Hewitt’s radio program.

But McConnell (R-Ky.) is not alone. Conservative commentators Andrew G. Biggs and Eileen Norcross wrote on April 13 that “financial support for key services such as health, welfare and public safety should not be allowed to morph into a more generalized bailout of state and local pension plans. ... Any future federal aid packages that might be used to meet pension plan obligations should be conditioned on structural pension reforms.”

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Amazon asks workers sheltering at home to return or seek leave

Amazon is asking warehouse workers who have stayed away from work during the pandemic to return for scheduled shifts beginning May 1, or request a leave of absence.

As Amazon worked to contain outbreaks of COVID-19 cases within its ranks, it said workers who weren’t comfortable coming in could take unpaid time off without penalty through the end of April. Amazon also offered hundreds of thousands of hourly warehouse staffers an additional $2 an hour in hazard pay.

In a blog post published Friday, Seattle-based Amazon said it would extend the raise through May 16 but made no mention of unlimited unpaid time off. Amazon said it was “providing flexibility with leave of absence options, including expanding the policy to cover COVID-19 circumstances, such as high-risk individuals or school closures.”

An Amazon spokeswoman didn’t immediately offer more details about changes to the leave policies, or which employees were eligible. Amazon has previously said that employees diagnosed with COVID-19, or quarantined because of exposure to someone with the disease, were eligible for two weeks of sick pay.

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Nation’s largest egg producer accused of price gouging up to 300% during pandemic

HOUSTON — Texas’ attorney general has accused the nation’s largest egg producer of price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic.

A lawsuit filed Thursday by Republican Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton alleges that Cal-Maine Foods raised generic egg prices by 300% even though the pandemic hasn’t disrupted its supply chain, the Houston Chronicle reported. Texas is seeking more than $100,000 in damages.

Cal-Maine denies the allegations, saying its prices are based on independent market quotes.

“We have been consistent in our pricing practices whether we sell at a profit or at a loss,” a spokesman said in an email.

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More than 50,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Friday as states and municipalities increasingly are starting to reopen their economies, many over the warnings of public health experts.

In Atlanta, protesters drove around the governor’s mansion on Friday, honking their horns in protest of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to aggressively reopen the state’s economy. Kemp made the move over the objections of health experts, the White House, the NAACP and some of his state’s mayors.

Gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons and bowling alleys were allowed to reopen Friday. Restaurants and movie theaters will follow suit on Monday. More than 890 people in Georgia have died from COVID-19, according to the state’s Department of Health.

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In a poor corner of the Bay Area, pandemic has yet to rage. Is that due to little testing?

RICHMOND, Calif. — By all accounts amid this pandemic, the city of Richmond should be sitting at the precipice of disaster.

Situated between the Berkeley Hills and the San Francisco Bay, Richmond is a densely populated community predominated largely by people of color, high unemployment and a large transient population.

Its roughly 110,000 residents have limited access to emergency healthcare, and they live in the shadow of a Chevron refinery and just down the road from four others — increasing their chances of respiratory distress, a risk factor for people sick with COVID-19.

So far, however, Richmond hasn’t seen the kind of outbreaks documented in other parts of Contra Costa County. Community advocates think there is a reason for that. There’s been little testing in Richmond and other economically challenged, isolated cities and towns around the state.

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France keeping new ICUs ready for second wave

PARIS — France plans to keep thousands of newly built intensive care units ready for a second wave of coronavirus cases, even though the first wave is now receding.

Health authorities say France doubled its number of intensive care beds to more than 10,000 as the virus raced across the country.

“We need to keep the beds in case of a return of the epidemic,” national health agency director Jerome Salomon says. “We need to maintain a vigilant posture.”

Now fewer than 5,000 people are in intensive care with the virus, but people with other severe illnesses also need the beds.

France has reported more virus deaths than any country but the U.S., Italy and Spain. Salomon has announced more than 22,000 virus deaths so far in French hospitals and nursing homes.

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Reports of child, elder abuse fall by nearly half, L.A. City attorney says

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said reports of child and elder abuse have fallen by nearly half amid the coronavirus pandemic, expressing concern that attacks on some of the city’s most vulnerable populations are going unseen as residents follow state and county orders to stay home.

Feuer and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey described the data while announcing an awareness campaign aimed at increasing reporting of domestic violence, called “Behind Closed Doors.” The partnership with the California Grocers Association will include the distribution of fliers and information about aid hotlines and shelters for victims.

“We in law enforcement are especially concerned right now with protecting the people who live, work and visit Los Angeles County from domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse,” Lacey said in a statement. “It’s up to all of us to make sure that our family, friends, neighbors and colleagues get through this public health emergency without becoming a victim of crime.”Feuer said Friday that reports of physical child abuse to the Los Angeles Police Department had fallen 47%. Reports of sexual abuse against children were down 67%, according to Feuer, who also said elder abuse reports were down about 50%.Earlier this week, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva offered similar concerns and said reports of child abuse to his agency were also down as much as 50%. He said the drop coincided with stay-at-home orders, and Villanueva plans to have deputies conduct welfare checks at the homes of high-risk children.

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