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Coronavirus updates: Burr leaves Intelligence role amid inquiry into pandemic-time sale of stocks

A boy outside a classroom in a school in Strasbourg, France
A boy waits outside a classroom Thursday in a corridor of a school in Strasbourg, France. French authorities say 86% of preschools and primary schools are reopening this week.
(Jean-Francois Badias / Associated Press)

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

Coronavirus updates for May 13 are here

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Tensions rise in Texas: Governor readies to lift more rules as coronavirus cases climb

Two weeks into the reopening of Texas, coronavirus cases are climbing. New outbreaks still crop up. And at Guero’s Taco Bar in Austin, which offers the occasional celebrity sighting, a log of every diner and where they sat is begrudgingly in the works.

“It seems like a huge invasion of privacy,” said owner Cathy Lipincott, who is nonetheless trying to comply with Austin’s local public health guidelines by asking, but not requiring, customers to give their information.

Few states are rebooting quicker than Texas, where stay-at-home orders expired May 1. With cases still rising, including single-day highs of 1,458 new cases and 58 deaths Thursday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has defended the pace by emphasizing steadying hospitalization rates and pointing out that Texas’ 1,200 deaths are still behind similarly big states, including California and Florida.

But on the cusp of even more restrictions ending Monday, including gyms cleared to reopen, a political confrontation is growing over attempts by big cities to keep some guardrails. The dispute underscores the gulf between Democrats who run city halls and GOP leaders who call the shots in the capital in Texas, where unlike in other states, the governor’s orders supersede all local mandates during the pandemic.

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Mexico reports 2,409 new coronavirus cases, largest 1-day rise

Mexico reported its largest one-day rise in coronavirus cases, with 2,409.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said Thursday the country is at “the most difficult” moment in the pandemic. It was the first time in Mexico that the number of new cases exceeded 2,000 in one day.

In percentage terms, the 6% increase was not the biggest one-day jump.

Officials also reported 257 more deaths from COVID-19, for a total of 4,477 since the pandemic began. There have been higher one-day death tolls this week.

López-Gatell said there are “tendencies of decline” in some parts of the country. But there also are signs that hospital capacity is nearing its limit in Mexico City, the country’s hardest-hit area.

The increase in cases comes four days before Monday’s scheduled partial reopening of key industries such as mining, construction and automobile assembly.

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L.A. city attorney sues maker of radish paste advertised as protection against COVID-19

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office filed suit Wednesday against an herbal remedy specialist, accusing the store of trying to pass off an untested radish paste as a safeguard against the coronavirus, officials said.

The civil lawsuit accuses Insan Healing in Koreatown of touting the item as a “must-have product for the protection and prevention” of coronavirus contagion, even though it has not been tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, court filings said.

The radish paste costs $99.95 per bottle and is made from a combination of “white radish harvested during frost,” garlic and ginger that can enhance a person’s immune system, according to the Insan Healing website.

References to the coronavirus and COVID-19 had been taken down by Thursday afternoon after the lawsuit was filed, but the city attorney’s office provided screenshots showing the claims that the paste could help with coronavirus prevention.

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LAPD training academy outbreak: 17 recruits infected with coronavirus

Los Angeles Police Department recruit officers graduate at the LAPD Parker Center Headquarters.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

An outbreak at Los Angeles Police Department training center has seen 17 trainee officers and jailers infected with the coronavirus, and officials say they are now implementing weekly testing for academy classes and instructors.

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department documented the outbreak at the Ahmanson Recruit Training Center in Westchester. The training center is one of several non-nursing home and medical facilities identified by county public health officials as having multiple people infected with the coronavirus.

Nine police officer recruits in one academy training class and eight jailer trainees have tested positive, leading to the brief suspension of those classes to allow recruits to recover, said LAPD Cmdr. Ruby Flores.

“With the support of the mayor, we are implementing testing for new people coming in and weekly testing for all those in the academy,” Flores said.

With a thermal body scanner that reads one’s temperature upon entry to the Westchester training center, along with strict hygiene and social distancing protocols, the academy had operated virus-free until April 18, she said.

“We knew it would happen at the academy sooner or later,” Flores said of an outbreak.

Flores said a trainee officer whose class was in its fifth week of the six-month academy tested positive.

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Controversial Travis McCready concert canceled by Arkansas officials

The first high-profile concert of the quarantine age will not go on as planned Friday, according to the Arkansas venue where it was scheduled to take place.

Mike Brown of Temple Live, a 1,100-seat theater located in a former Masonic temple in Fort Smith, said at a news conference Thursday that the state government had ordered the venue to call off a highly publicized performance by Travis McCready, frontman of a roots-rock band called Bishop Gunn. Brown said state officials had also suspended the venue’s liquor license, Arkansas’ KARK reported, even as the venue was working on ways to keep fans socially distant during the show.

“We’ve been punished for thinking about doing something, or considering while we were evaluating,” Brown said. “It’s very ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Westworld,’ which I thought were pieces of fiction but are now reality in this country and state.”

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Nearly a third of California counties have contained coronavirus enough to allow more reopenings

SACRAMENTO — Nearly a third of California’s 58 counties have certified to the state that they have contained the spread of COVID-19, which allows them to reopen restaurants to dine-in service, as well as shopping malls and other businesses, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

The 19 counties that have attested to meeting state standards for containment are mostly in rural areas of Northern California with small populations. They represent about 4.5% of the state’s population and do not include urban centers such as Los Angeles and San Francisco that remain largely on lockdown.

“As of today, the attestations are up and those counties -- 19 now -- are moving deeper into the second phase of reopening large sectors of their economy,” Newsom said during a news conference where he announced a revised state budget in response to the pandemic.

The state is continuing talks with other counties that are trying to meet state standards for testing, hospital availability and numbers of cases.

“We are doing what we can to move forward as we committed in that space,” Newsom said.

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Coachella and Cathedral City vote to mandate face coverings

Coachella and Cathedral City officials voted Wednesday to require residents to wear face coverings in certain public settings, joining such other Riverside County cities as Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and La Quinta.

The regulation comes less than a week after the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to rescind several public health orders implemented by the county’s public health director Cameron Kaiser. Following the vote, face coverings were no longer a requirement but were “strongly recommended whenever practical and within reason.”

Though the county rescinded this order, individual cities can impose stricter regulations, just not more relaxed ones, according to Coachella spokesperson Chris Parman.

“Unfortunately, Coachella and the rest of the eastern valley remains a hot spot for coronavirus cases,” Mayor Steven Hernandez said. “Until we can get this virus under control, our city will continue to require these reasonable measures to protect the health and safety of people living and working in Coachella.”

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Elliott: Bauer’s line shift from hockey equipment to medical face shields is inspiring

Brooke Macri, a nurse at the Elliot Hospital in Manchester, N.H., wears a Bauer medical shield.
Brooke Macri, a nurse at the Elliot Hospital in Manchester, N.H., wears a Bauer medical shield.
(Courtesy of Bauer)

By now, nearly two months after the coronavirus outbreak shut down professional sports and leading hockey equipment manufacturer Bauer was inspired to pivot from making skates, sticks and helmets to producing medical-grade face shields for healthcare workers, the company had hoped to look at phasing out production of its new line and get back to its normal operations.

The compassion of Bauer’s workers, many of whom saw the struggles of doctors, nurses and first responders among their family members, and the inventiveness of its designers had allowed the company to respond swiftly to the sudden need for protective equipment. It was accustomed to making visors for NHL players, but producing single-use shields for medical use posed different problems.

Led by Dan Bourgeois, Bauer’s vice president of product innovation, and Wim Fream, senior director of product design and development for sister company Cascade, the project leaped from discussions about ways to help to devising a concept, creating a design, making a certified prototype and then getting it into production in about four days, all the while mindful of Canadian and American regulations governing employees’ safety.

“They’re the real heroes on our team,” said Mary-Kay Messier, vice president of global marketing for Bauer. “They’ve really taken this and led their teams through an extraordinary mission.”

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California faces ‘jaw dropping’ unemployment, requiring more federal loans, Newsom says

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom says that unemployment in California amid the COVID-19 pandemic has far exceeded what it was during the peak of the Great Recession, with 4.6 million people filing for jobless benefits, requiring the state to borrow billions of dollars more from the federal government to cover claims.

At a news conference Thursday to present a revised state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, Newsom said the state will need $43.8 billion to cover unemployment claims in the new year, a 650% increase over what was originally proposed.

The state will have to borrow much of that money from a federal trust fund that helps states cover jobless benefits in times of recession.

“These unemployment numbers are jaw dropping,” Newsom said. “We are at a time that is simply unprecedented.”

Some 4.6 million Californians have filed claims for unemployment benefits since March 12, compared to 2.2 million in the third quarter of 2010 at the height of the Great Recession.

The state’s unemployment rate is expected to peak at more than 24.5% this year but the rate for the year as a whole will be 18%, which is still higher than the 12.3% peak rate during the third quarter of 2010, Newsom added.

“These are not normal numbers,” Newsom said. “These are simply without precedent in modern times.”

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U.S. homelessness could increase 45% because of coronavirus unemployment, study says

With the coronavirus-induced shock to the economy crippling businesses of all sizes and leaving millions of Americans out of work, homelessness in the United States could grow as much as 45% in a year, according to a new analysis conducted by a Columbia University professor.

That would mean an additional 250,000 or so people would be without permanent shelter compared with the 568,000 who were homeless in January 2019, according to government data.

California is likely to see a smaller increase in homelessness than the nation overall — up 20% from about 150,000 to 180,000 people. The analysis relies on the largely constant rise in unemployment across the United States. Therefore, states with fewer homeless people are likely to see bigger percentage increases than California, which is already home to a quarter of the nation’s homeless population.

Dan O’Flaherty, the professor who conducted the analysis and has studied the economics of homelessness for decades, says the downturn is exacerbating what’s already a public health crisis on many American streets.

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Battle over coronavirus rules and reopenings across the U.S. is increasingly partisan, and bitter

Urged on by President Trump, Republican officials in several swing states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, are ramping up pressure on Democratic governors to move faster on reopening their economies, despite experts’ warnings of a surge in infections and deaths.

The mounting pressure comes as the number of jobless Americans continues to grow across the nation. Nearly 3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to new figures released Thursday by the Labor Department, bringing the total number of claims to 36 million since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Meanwhile, the death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continues to climb. More than 85,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. And more than 1.4 million people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the university reports.

The battle over stay-at-home orders and the pace of allowing businesses to reopen has taken an increasingly partisan bent.

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California high court won’t stop transfer of inmates to ICE during coronavirus crisis

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to order the state to stop transferring immigrant inmates to federal immigration centers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a 6-1 vote, the state’s highest court said attorneys for the inmates could still file lawsuits in county courts to stop the transfers and could later return to the Supreme Court “raising similar claims if circumstances warrant.” The order did not specify which circumstances might warrant a second review, citing only “the dynamic nature of the pandemic.” Trial judges, the court said, should act expeditiously on such suits.

Two groups of lawyers sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra on April 24 for allowing state prisons and county jails to transfer immigrants to five crowded immigration detention centers in California.

The associations of criminal defense and immigration lawyers called the Immigration and Customs Enforcement centers “virulent incubators of the virus” with no ability to keep people six feet apart or provide inmates with protective gear such as masks and gloves.

On May 6, a detainee at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego became the first in immigration custody nationwide to die of COVID-19.

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Postponing Tokyo Games will cost IOC as much as $800 million

International Olympic Committee leaders now say that postponing the Tokyo Games because of the coronavirus outbreak will cost their organization as much as $800 million.

IOC President Thomas Bach offered the detailed estimate of added expenses after a remote meeting of his executive board on Thursday.

“The Olympic movement is facing an unprecedented challenge,” Bach said in a statement. “We shall all need to make sacrifices and compromises.”

The IOC’s announced total does not include costs incurred by organizers in Tokyo, who could see their budget swell by an estimated $2 billion to $6 billion.

The $800 million does take into account $150 million earmarked for national Olympic committees and the international federations that govern each sport, many of which have suffered losses because of canceled or postponed events.

Those organizations also depend on significant payments received from the IOC at the time of each Olympics.

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L.A. traffic deaths surge back to pre-pandemic levels

Despite a precipitous drop in traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people killed in car collisions this year in Los Angeles is now about the same as it was in 2019, officials said Thursday.

After a steep drop in deaths during the last two weeks of March, when the city’s stay-at-home order took effect, the Los Angeles Police Department is seeing an “alarming increase” in traffic fatalities on city streets, Deputy Chief Blake Chow said.

The increase in deaths is connected to a surge in speeding on streets that are emptier than usual, and a higher number of people walking and biking in their neighborhoods, police said.

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Coronavirus shutdown means less money for schools, healthcare in California budget, Newsom says

With California’s economy hobbled by the coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked lawmakers to sharply curtail spending on public schools and an array of government services, and he warns that additional cuts could be necessary by year’s end.

Newsom says his budget plan is designed to preserve what it can for public health, safety and education. But the proposal leaves few programs unscathed. It also lays the groundwork for deeper cuts that would be triggered if President Trump and Congress fail to provide billions of dollars more in pandemic assistance.

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Hundreds protest stay-at-home order outside Michigan Capitol

Protesters with rifles demonstrate Thursday at Michigan's Capitol against the governor's stay-at-home order.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Hundreds of people angry or frustrated over Michigan’s stay-at-home order protested again outside the state Capitol on Thursday, braving heavy rain to call for a loosening of restrictions and for businesses to reopen in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The demonstration was smaller than previous rallies. It was led by Michigan United for Liberty, a conservative activist group that has sued the Democratic governor and organized or participated in several protests since early April.

People in the crowd of roughly 200 held signs declaring “Every worker is essential,” “Make Michigan work again” and “Stop the tyranny.”

“We can get some businesses back open,” said David Saxton, a 40-year-old IT specialist from Alma, in central Michigan. He said he lost his job and was receiving unemployment benefits. Saxton noted that a COVID-19 vaccine might not be ready for a year and a half. “Staying shut down that long is not practical. You will kill the state. You just will.”

Though state police and Michigan’s attorney general had warned of enforcing prohibitions on brandishing guns or ignoring potential directives to stay six feet apart, there were no arrests. Some protesters still stood close together.

Some carried guns even though lawmakers from both parties criticized certain demonstrators for intimidating and threatening tactics two weeks ago. At that protest, they openly carried assault rifles into the Capitol, including the Senate gallery, sparking calls by Democrats to ban guns from the building.

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San Bernardino County reports another 18 coronavirus deaths, biggest daily increase in fatalities

San Bernardino County reported 18 additional deaths related to the coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the county’s toll to 138. It was the highest jump in the number of deaths the county has reported to date, jumping 15% from the previous day’s total of 120.

According to San Bernardino Public Health Department information officer Lana Culp, about 60% of the deaths reported in the last 14 days have been linked to facilities where large numbers of people are living, such as nursing homes.

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After nearly two weeks with no coronavirus deaths, Ventura County reports 5

After nearly two weeks with no coronavirus-related deaths, Ventura County reported five fatalities in the last two days, bringing the death toll to 24.

On Wednesday, Ventura County reported three deaths. The county had announced two others Tuesday. Most of the county’s victims — 17 of them — were at least 65 years old. Five were ages 45 to 64, and the other two were 25 to 44.

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Large workplaces vulnerable to coronavirus super-spread as economy reopens, experts warn

Even as the economy begins to reopen, the coronavirus will remain a threat for some time to come, experts say.

And of particular concern are large workplaces.

Experts say so-called super-spreading events could become a leading cause of virus transmission. Having people clustered together at work could set the stage for large numbers of people falling ill, as happened when 52 workers became infected at a Safeway distribution center in the San Joaquin Valley.

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Sen. Richard Burr steps aside as Intelligence Committee chief as FBI probes stock sales

WASHINGTON — The GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Thursday he would temporarily step down from his committee post after the FBI seized his cellphone Wednesday evening in its investigation into whether he sold a significant portion of his stock portfolio because of information he learned in the course of his Senate position.

Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.) said the investigation was a “distraction to the hard work of the committee and the members, and I think that the security of the country is too important to have a distraction.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he and Burr agreed that his decision to step aside “would be in the best interests of the committee” and would take effect Friday evening.

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In poor and overcrowded camps, refugees contend with another threat: Coronavirus

There's little social distancing in the open-air market on Sabra Street in Beirut.
(Nabih Bulos / For The Times)

BEIRUT — Stroll along Sabra Street and you enter a time before COVID-19 and quarantines.

The open-air market running its half-mile length is a scrum of hollering merchants, dilapidated cars and scooters swerving around pedestrians and gaping potholes. The road dribbles into the nearby Shatila camp for Palestinian refugees, where restaurants, sidewalk water-pipe joints, barbers, garages are all open, even crowded, in what feels these days like an almost obscene display of social proximity.

But it’s less a matter of indifference to the coronavirus than desperation, said Ali Fayyadh, security head for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, one of several factions that administer the Shatila camp.

“We’re already immune to corona. Thank God we have sewage and trash all over the place,” he said, grimacing as he skipped over a pool of dank water.

“Even if they threw a biochemical weapon on us, we’d be fine.”

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Trump to name former pharma exec to lead vaccine effort

WASHINGTON — President Trump is set to name a former pharmaceutical executive to lead his administration’s all-out effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.

Moncef Slaoui, a former GlaxoSmithKline executive, will lead Operation Warp Speed, Trump’s push to accelerate the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, according to an administration official. Slaoui is to serve in a volunteer capacity and will be assisted by Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the head of U.S. Army Materiel Command.

The move comes as the president and White House aides hope to produce vaccines for the coronavirus more quickly than what many scientists believe is realistic. The administration is aiming to have 300 million doses to distribute to Americans by the end of the year, believing a reliable vaccine is the only way to promote an economic rebound.

Operation Warp Speed is operating largely independently of the existing White House coronavirus task force, which is also shifting its focus toward vaccine development.

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Chaos, and praise from Trump, follows Wisconsin court ruling scrapping lockdown

MADISON, Wis. — A court ruling tossing Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order threw communities into chaos Thursday as some bars opened immediately and were packed with customers while other local leaders moved quickly to keep strict restrictions in place amid the coronavirus crisis.

The conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court late Wednesday afternoon ruled that the “safer at home” order from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was invalid and threw it out, effective immediately. The order forces Evers to work with the GOP-controlled Legislature on a new plan, a process that could take weeks.

Evers and Republican leaders scheduled a Thursday morning meeting to discuss next steps.

The court ruling drew praise Thursday from President Trump, who referenced a victory earlier in the week in the state by a Republican congressional candidate in a special election.

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As Las Vegas starts to reopen, bet on lower room rates and smaller crowds

After a forced hibernation that has lasted about two months, the sleeping giant that is Las Vegas is beginning to stir.

About 35 properties, including the Sahara and Treasure Island, will begin accepting reservations May 22, hoping to snare guests eager to get away for Memorial Day weekend. Wynn-Encore is hoping to open May 26, the day after the federal holiday, but that date is subject to change, based on when Gov. Steve Sisolak allows hotel-casinos to reopen.

A very different experience will await in a city that saw 42.5 million visitors last year.

“I would say that it’s going to be quite a diminished experience for the first few weeks, if not several weeks going into July,” said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor, a newsletter for frequent visitors. Others echo his sentiments.

“I think it will take some getting used to,” said David Schwartz, a gambling historian at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “It’s just going to be a different kind of experience, I think, where you’re not standing shoulder to shoulder at the craps table.”

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Reading dark materials in COVID-19 quarantine

Back in March, during the earliest days of the shutdown, I could not bring myself to read. Everything seemed inchoate, irrelevant or out of date. What I wanted was a guide for living. What I wanted were tips on how to make it through. What I wanted were assurances, a sense that everything was going to be OK. This, however, is not the purpose of narrative, which insists on a more rigorous perspective. We don’t read or write to be reassured — at least I don’t. We read and write to reckon with all the things we cannot know.

“There is a kind of uniform monotony in the fate of man,” Natalia Ginzburg observes in her essay “Winter in the Abruzzi.” She is referring not to our time but to hers. In 1941, Ginzburg’s husband was sent into internal exile in Italy because he was an anti-fascist; she and their children accompanied him. I had never encountered “Winter in Abruzzi” until I read about it in “The New Calm,” a recent New Yorker piece by Maggie Nelson about her experience of the pandemic. What Ginzburg is evoking is the futility of empty hope, which seems especially appropriate now.

I experienced the Nelson and Ginzburg pieces during a binge some weeks ago that broke the logjam in my reading. All of a sudden, I was ready — not to be distracted but to engage. Unsurprisingly, I turned first to essays, that interrogatory genre in which we confront a consciousness in conversation with itself.

I don’t mean to be glib when I suggest this represents its own form of contagion: The writer’s voice and situation infiltrating ours.

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What you can do around L.A. this weekend

Yes, there’s a pandemic on, and we have rules to follow. But as authorities loosen the reins, every day seems to bring new chances to change things up. Among this weekend’s options: roses and poppies at Descanso Gardens, lift rides on Mt. Baldy, a drive-through meal at the Grove or an old-fashioned hike in Griffith Park.

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Watch live: Ousted director testifies that Trump administration was unprepared for pandemic

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Ousted vaccine director Rick Bright testifies before Congress.

The Trump administration was unprepared for the coronavirus crisis and could face “unprecedented illness and fatalities” next winter unless it imposes additional protections, a government whistle-blower who alleges he was ousted from his job is telling Congress this morning.

Rick Bright is testifying before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee after he filed a whistle-blower complaint last week alleging he was removed from his post in retaliation after warning repeatedly in January and February about the need for masks and other protective equipment to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak.

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See the new coronavirus as you’ve never seen it before

The Death Star. The Flowered Planet. The Devil’s Gobstopper.

The coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 is, to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Scientists have mapped its contours and measured its structures to atomic-level precision. They have come to understand its genetic ancestry with a precision that leaves 23andMe in the dust. They have watched it go to work on human cells in a lab.

But after close to six months among us, this coronavirus continues to startle and confound. Why does it kill some and barely graze others? Will it wane through the summer months and surge come fall? Once we understand its behavior, could it just … change?

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Homeowners who can’t make mortgage payments get a new deferral option

Many struggling homeowners who are delaying their mortgage payments through so-called forbearance programs will get a new repayment option, allowing them to make missed payments when the home is sold or the loan term is over, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Wednesday.

The deferral option applies to homeowners who have a mortgage backed by the two government-controlled mortgage companies that the FHFA oversees: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Under the CARES Act stimulus law, borrowers with government-backed loans — through the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac — have the right to delay their mortgage payments for up to a year if they have a financial hardship tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

Most homeowners have a government-backed loan and millions have signed up for forbearance. But there has been mass confusion about how borrowers will make up for the payments they miss.

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Nearly 3 million more sought jobless aid last week, 36 million since the virus struck

WASHINGTON — Nearly 3 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week as the viral outbreak led more companies to slash jobs even as most states began to let some businesses reopen under certain restrictions.

Roughly 36 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the two months since the coronavirus forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Still, the number of first-time applications has now declined for six straight weeks, suggesting that a dwindling number of companies are reducing their payrolls.

By historical standards, though, the latest tally shows that the number of weekly jobless claims remains enormous, reflecting an economy that is sinking into a severe downturn. Last week’s pace of new applications for aid was still four times the record high that prevailed before the coronavirus struck hard in March.

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Column: Don’t be taken in by stem cell firms offering unsubstantiated therapies for COVID-19

“If you think this can help you,” Austin Wolff said earnestly into the camera, “it’s worth a shot....It can only help.”

Wolff was speaking on a YouTube video produced for the Novus Center, a Studio City business run by his mother, Stephanie, selling stem-cell-related products said to treat chronic pain, sexual performance issues and the effects of aging.

In recent weeks, Novus has begun directing its pitch at potential customers fearful about the effects of the novel coronavirus, implying that its “stem cell exosome vapor” — the supplies for which can be shipped overnight to customers’ homes — can improve lung strength, the immune system and “ward off viruses and disease.” (Exosomes are a form of cellular secretion.)

Novus’ videos bristle with formal disclaimers. “It’s not going to cure anything,” Austin Wolff says on one video. “You should only do this if you want to try it.”

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We’re churning butter and making our own candles. What has coronavirus done to us?

For years, consumers have been seeking out anything that can save them time: coffee pods, meals in boxes, and voice-activated virtual assistants with the answer to any question — no matter how inane or mundane. Now, with many Americans confined to their homes amid the coronavirus crisis, some buyers are looking for the opposite.

At Lehman’s, a Kidron, Ohio, hardware and appliance store, butter churns have quickly gone from a slow seller to a hot commodity. Sales of the company’s large Dazey churn have increased 250% since the beginning of March, the company said, and the $199.99 model is now sold out. Purchases of two smaller churns are up threefold, too.

Galen Lehman, chief executive of the family business, attributes the increase to the COVID-19 pandemic, which he believes is causing people to seek out things that are “creative, satisfying, comforting and restorative when [they’re] worn out.”

“I think our soul craves a simpler life,” he said.

Many people in recent months have taken up wholesome around-the-house hobbies such as baking or gardening — the kind of unsurprising things you’d ordinarily do if you had a bit more time. But churning butter?

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L.A. requires face coverings outdoors to slow coronavirus, help lift stay-at-home restrictions

Los Angeles County beaches reopened Wednesday and more businesses were given the green light to provide curbside service to customers, but officials made clear the region still has a ways to go before a major lifting of stay-at-home orders is possible.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Wednesday evening that all Angelenos, except for small children and those with certain disabilities, would be required to wear face coverings outside. That marks a significant increase in the city’s rules, but the mayor said it was a necessary step help slow the spread of coronavirus and eventually reopen the economy in a bigger way.

“Bring your mask with you whenever you leave your home,” Garcetti said. “That will help us get more freedoms.”

Garcetti and other officials said they remain optimistic that more aspects of the stay-at-home order could be lifted as the county saw declines in the number of deaths and new coronavirus cases.

But at the same time, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department extended the order indefinitely even while easing some of the conditions.

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With the U.S. looking to reopen, Canada seeks to prolong border closure

While parts of the United States rush to open restaurants, stores and public places, Canada — fearful of the high coronavirus contamination rates to the south — is rushing to keep the 5,525-mile border closed for nearly six more weeks.

Under a likely agreement between the two countries, Canada and the U.S. will continue to permit a portion of the trade that ordinarily accounts for more than $1 million a minute and supports nearly 1.2 million jobs in California. But since border restrictions were put in place, the traffic that in normal times accounts for 200,000 border crossings a day has ground to a virtual halt; 24 of the top 25 border gateways to Canada, for example, had no wait times for automobiles Wednesday.

Canada, which for more than a dozen years has been California’s second-largest outside market, accounted for more than $16.6 billion in exports in 2019. At the same time, according to the California Chamber of Commerce, the state imported $26.8 billion from Canada last year.

The U.S. and Canada began their border restrictions nearly eight weeks ago and then extended them until next week. But concerns about American rates of COVID-19 cases prompted Ottawa’s desire to keep the frontier closed until June 21.

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Japan lifts state of emergency for most of the country

TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister has announced the end of the state of emergency for most regions of the country, but restrictions are being kept in place in Tokyo and seven other high-risk areas, including Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday lifted the measure ahead of schedule in 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures, effective immediately.

Abe declared a month-long state of emergency on April 7 in Tokyo and six other urban prefectures, later expanding it to the whole country through May 31.

With signs of the infections slowing, Abe is seeking to relax restrictions while balancing disease prevention and the state of the economy.

“Today is the new beginning for our daily lives, a new normal,” Abe said. But he warned of a likely resurgence of infections and urged people to keep their guard up.

He said experts would meet again next week to decide if the emergency decree in the remaining areas could be lifted.

Japan now has more than 16,000 confirmed cases, with about 680 deaths. The number of new cases has significantly decreased nationwide.

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Pennsylvania governor tries to contain GOP coronavirus revolt

HARRISBURG, Pa. — By many accounts, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has helped mitigate his state’s coronavirus outbreak and avoided the full-blown disasters seen elsewhere. His success in the next challenge — containing the growing resistance to his efforts — is to be determined.

The Democrat at the helm of one of the premier battlegrounds in November’s presidential election is struggling to fight a Republican revolt over his stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns. Egged on by state GOP lawmakers, counties have threatened to defy his orders, and at least a few business owners have reopened despite his warnings.

The chief instigator behind the Republican strategy, President Trump, is set to visit the state Thursday. Ahead of the trip, Trump stoked the conflict, tweeting that Pennsylvanians “want their freedom now.”

The mild-mannered Wolf has had to decide how far to go in enforcing his orders, mindful of criticism that he’s nothing short of a tyrant.

Behind the rhetoric is a political fight as much over people’s well-being and public health — federal health officials are aligned with Wolf’s cautious approach — as it is over who will be blamed for the state’s economic devastation if it is not repaired by Election Day.

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British authorities approve antibody test, say scientists have found it to be 100% accurate

LONDON — British health authorities have for the first time approved an antibody test that shows whether people have previously been exposed to the new coronavirus.

The test, manufactured by Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche, has already been approved for use in the United States and the European Union.

Public Health England said government scientists found the test to be 100% accurate. It shows whether people have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and have developed antibodies against it, which may provide some immunity.

The British government says it is working on plans to offer antibody tests to healthcare workers and the public.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who overcame a serious bout with COVID-19, has said an antibody test could be a “game changer” in allowing the Britain to end its national lockdown. But finding a reliable test was proving difficult. Some 17.5 million tests ordered from various suppliers all failed to meet British standards.

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News analysis: California’s $54-billion deficit, fueled by coronavirus, will test a decade of preparations

SACRAMENTO — The warnings had been sounded in Sacramento for years: California was long overdue for an economic downturn, one in which tax revenues would evaporate and leave lawmakers with a series of painful choices in balancing the state budget.

“The next governor’s going to be on the cliff,” then-Gov. Jerry Brown said as he unveiled his final state budget plan in January 2018, pointing to a horizontal line on a chart showing California’s record-breaking economic expansion. “That big red line is what I’ve had. What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline and recession. So good luck, baby!”

But few thought Brown’s doomsday warning would come true so soon. On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom will offer the Legislature his ideas on how to eliminate a deficit that could total $54.3 billion between now and July of next year, fueled by the coronavirus crisis. No economic collapse in modern times has ever happened so fast. Government cash receipts were $1.3 billion above projections through March with only three months left in the fiscal year; now revenues are projected to miss the mark by $9.7 billion through June 30.

“The United States, every state in this nation, will be struggling with unprecedented shortfalls that happened in such a very short period of time,” Newsom said May 7. “And California is no different.”

But California is in a different position — at least in comparison to where it used to be, when the wounds of one crisis were rarely healed by the time the next crisis arrived.

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Citing Hungary, EU says it’s monitoring whether governments remove emergency powers enacted to fight coronavirus

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top rule-of-law official says the bloc is monitoring whether governments remove emergency powers enacted to combat the coronavirus, amid deep concern about such measures in Hungary.

EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova said Thursday that as countries ease confinement, “the general states of emergency with exceptional powers granted to governments should gradually be removed or replaced by more targeted and less intrusive measures.”

Jourova told EU lawmakers that “the case of Hungary raises particular concerns” and that “on a daily basis, we are assessing whether we can take legal action.”

In late March, Hungary’s parliament endorsed a bill giving Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government extraordinary powers during the pandemic, including a measure against the spread of false information about the virus, and setting no end date for them.

Orban was invited to take part in Thursday’s debate but declined. The assembly rejected an offer to hear Hungary’s justice minister instead.

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As Europe reopens, key coronavirus protections remain elusive

Italy’s reopening was supposed to be accompanied by a series of measures to limit infections in the onetime epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus crisis: the distribution of millions of inexpensive surgical masks to pharmacies nationwide, a pilot project of 150,000 antibody tests and, eventually, the roll-out of a contact-tracing app.

None of these is in place as Italy experiments with its second week of loosening restrictions and looks ahead to next Monday’s reopening of shops and, in some regions, bars and restaurants.

Italy’s commissioner for the emergency, Domenico Arcuri, has gone on the defensive to respond to mounting criticism of his Phase II roll-out. He insists “Italians know well what to do” to protect themselves, even if they don’t have the tests, masks, contact-tracing or other measures that public health authorities deemed necessary for Italy to reopen in safety.

“Sometimes I make mistakes for which I expect criticism and, if necessary, reprimand from Italians,” Arcuri said Tuesday. But he directed the blame at others and repeated that he was working solely in the public’s interest.

Italy is by no means alone in emerging from lockdown without all its infection-prevention pillars in place. But its problems epitomize the challenges many countries face as they seek to balance economic and healthcare needs while reassuring worried citizens.

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Key Putin aide is fourth senior Russian official to contract coronavirus

MOSCOW — Dmitry Peskov, a key aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s official spokesman, says he has been diagnosed with double pneumonia caused by COVID-19. Peskov says he hasn’t met in person with Putin for a month.

Peskov is the fourth senior Russian official to test positive for the coronavirus. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced April 30 that he was infected. Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev and Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova subsequently tested positive as well.

With more than 242,000 reported cases, Russia now ranks second only to the U.S. in total confirmed infections. The country has reported 2,212 virus-related deaths, though critics say the real number is probably far higher.

Peskov, 52, first revealed Tuesday that he had been hospitalized with COVID-19 but didn’t give details about his condition. His wife, Olympic ice-dancing champion Tatiana Navka, also was infected and said she felt OK.

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Australia to push for an inquiry into origins of coronavirus, despite warning from China

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia says it will continue to push for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, even if it hurts trade relations with China.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been accused of playing “deputy sheriff” to the United States after calling for the inquiry. On Thursday, he brushed off the criticism.

“We have always been independent, we have always pursued our national interests, and we always will,” he told reporters. “We will always be Australians in how we engage with the rest of the world, and we will always stand our ground when it comes to the things that we believe in and the values that we uphold.”

China has suspended beef imports from four Australian meat-processing plants and plans to impose tariffs on Australian barley after warning that the demand for an inquiry could harm bilateral trade ties.

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Strong typhoon slams into pandemic-hit Philippines

MANILA — A strong typhoon slammed into the eastern Philippines on Thursday after authorities evacuated tens of thousands of people while trying to avoid the virus risks of overcrowding emergency shelters.

The first typhoon to hit the country this year rapidly gained force as it blew from the Pacific, then barged ashore in the town of San Policarpo in eastern Samar province around noon, weather agency administrator Vicente Malano said.

The typhoon came as the Philippines was trying to fight COVID-19 outbreaks largely by requiring Filipinos to remain in their homes and prohibiting gatherings that could set off infections. More than 11,600 infections, including 772 deaths, have been reported in the country.

Typhoon Vongfong, which was packing maximum sustained winds of 93 mph and gusts of up to 115 mph, was forecast to blow northwestward and barrel across densely populated eastern provinces and cities before exiting in the north Sunday.

Overcrowding in emergency shelters is a common scene in the archipelago, which is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms annually and regularly experiences volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

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Washington state allows bunk beds for farmworkers despite coronavirus risks

Fruit growers prevailed over unions Wednesday as Washington state issued regulations intended to protect farmworkers from the coronavirus.

Unions wanted the state to ban the use of bunk beds in housing that growers provide for as many as 30,000 temporary laborers who work in the state each summer. State officials acknowledge that bunks may increase the risk of contagion because they pack more workers together in tight quarters.

But growers argued that a loss of the top beds would leave half their workers without housing and wreck the state’s $4.5-billion fruit industry, leading to shortages of apples, pears and cherries and price hikes for consumers.

In the final rules issued Wednesday, state health, labor and industry agencies relented, letting growers keep the bunk beds — with some conditions.

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Chula Vista church sues Newsom, San Diego County over stay-at-home orders

Another church has filed a lawsuit in San Diego federal court alleging the stay-at-home orders of Gov. Gavin Newsom illegally deprive them of their religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution because the orders prohibit communal services.

The suit filed by the South Bay United Pentecostal Church of Chula Vista last week contends that the orders issued by Newsom and essentially duplicated by San Diego County officials discriminate against religious institutions. It seeks an injunction stopping enforcement of the ban on religious gatherings and a ruling saying the orders violate constitutional rights of speech, assembly and religious expression, among others.

The claims are similar to those filed by another San Diego County church, Abiding Place Ministries, in April, as well as suits filed by other congregations around the state. A hearing is set for Friday in front of U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant.

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The whole world is spending to fight coronavirus. In Mexico, the leftist president is making cuts

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is one of the world’s most powerful leftists — a longtime champion of the poor who delivers scathing indictments of neoliberalism and the global elite.

Yet his approach to government spending — even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout — might best be compared to that of conservative icons Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

López Obrador has eliminated entire government departments, slashed the salaries of officials and canceled Christmas bonuses. Those cost-cutting measures come on top of steep cuts enacted early on in his administration that targeted everything from the country’s Olympic training program to public hospitals.

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Rise in hate incidents toward Asian Americans during crisis, head of L.A. County commission says

Hate crimes and incidents directed at Asian Americans have surged during the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, whose director said Wednesday that civic groups and police departments had fielded more than 100 reports of hate incidents tied to the pandemic from February through April.

Many of these incidents were “acts of hate-motivated hostility” that did not amount to hate crimes but were no less jarring, the commission’s director, Robin Toma, said in a virtual town hall.

He described several reported incidents: A man spewed racial and misogynistic epithets at an Asian American woman walking her dog. A resident of an apartment complex, assuming an Asian tenant had contracted the coronavirus, tried to get that tenant evicted. A bomb threat targeted “a major Asian American institution,” which Toma didn’t identify by name.

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Riverside County adopts alternative plan to reopen the local economy

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this week to approve a “Readiness and Reopening Framework” that outlines alternative benchmarks toward reopening the local economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The document addresses the criteria that Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out last week in his reopening plan but proposes alternatives to the metrics, which local officials call unrealistic for an urban county as large as Riverside County. The county has about 2.5 million residents.

Rather than waiting until the county has fewer than one new COVID-19 case per 10,000 residents and zero deaths for 14 days, the locally approved framework offers a less rigid plan.

Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said the new plan was an effort to establish balance between the county and the state, rather than reopening against Newsom’s wishes like Yuba County. He said he hoped Newsom would negotiate with Riverside County.

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California community colleges sue U.S. for denying COVID-19 funds to undocumented students, others

The nation’s largest community college system is suing the federal government for denying coronavirus relief funds to more than half a million California students, including DACA recipients and many of those from low-income families.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley and the system’s Board of Governors filed suit this week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos over eligibility restrictions placed on the use of federal aid money for students, arguing that the restrictions are unconstitutional.

“The Department of Education ignored the intent of the CARES Act to give local colleges discretion to aid students most affected by the pandemic, and instead has arbitrarily excluded as many as 800,000 community college students,” Ortiz Oakley said in a statement.

The CARES Act, approved by Congress March 27, set aside $14 billion for higher-education relief. At least half of the money must go directly to students in the form of emergency grants.

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Coronavirus piles new pressures on foster children and caretakers

NEW YORK — Jessica Overstreet first entered foster care at age 14, separated from her siblings and knowing very little about what her new life meant aside from what she had seen in the popular musical “Annie.” So for a while, at the beginning, she kept her status a secret.

Her case manager was “a very good person,” she said, but overwhelmed, and Overstreet wished for more one-on-one time to share how hard it was to be separated from her family.

“We had Zoom, we had Skype and stuff like that. But it wasn’t utilized at all,” Overstreet, now 26 and living on her own in Tampa, Fla., recalled in a video interview.

Foster children have enormous challenges in the best of times. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens them with even greater turmoil, isolating them from adult supervisors and friends and making it harder to move on to new lives — either with biological or adoptive families, or as newly independent adults.

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