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Newsletter: A scramble to prepare as coronavirus cases grow

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, right, listen as Navy Adm. John Gumbleton speaks in front of the hospital ship Mercy that arrived in the Port of Los Angeles on Friday.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, March 30. I’m Laura J. Nelson, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The top infectious disease expert in the United States warned Sunday that the pandemic will get far worse before it gets better. Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country could see a death toll of 100,000 to 200,000 people, and “millions of cases” of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, as federal social distancing guidelines were extended to April 30.

In California, the number of patients in intensive care by Saturday had doubled overnight. More than 130 people have died. Now at slightly more than 6,300, the state’s confirmed cases will skyrocket with aggressive new testing, officials believe. On Sunday, Los Angeles County recorded five more coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 37, and 300 confirmed cases for a total of 2,100.

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Officials are now scrambling to prepare for waves of patients who are critically ill and struggling to breathe. The goal is to avert a crisis like that in New York, where an estimated 900 police officers have the virus and a convention center is being converted into a 1,000-bed makeshift hospital.

Federal officials sent 170 more ventilators to Los Angeles County last week, but the lifesaving devices didn’t work, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. A Silicon Valley company is working to fix them, he said. The state has procured 4,252 ventilators toward a goal of 10,000. Meanwhile, the Navy hospital ship Mercy is docked at the Port of Los Angeles to accept non-coronavirus patients in an effort to take pressure off hospitals on land.

Sailors assigned to the Navy hospital ship Mercy treat one of the first patients from Los Angeles medical facilities on Sunday.
Sailors assigned to the Navy hospital ship Mercy treat one of the first patients from Los Angeles medical facilities on Sunday.
(Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erwin Jacob Miciano / U.S. Navy)

The weekend brought one ray of good news: The Federal Drug Administration approved a coronavirus test that can process results in five minutes, and the medical device company that makes the kit plans to supply 50,000 tests a day starting Wednesday.

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Have a question about the coronavirus? We’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequent questions in the latest issue of Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

L.A. STORIES

The “Grim Sleeper” has died. One of California’s most prolific serial killers, Lonnie David Franklin Jr. preyed on young and black women in South Los Angeles and dumped their bodies in alleyways and garbage bins. Many were prostitutes or drug addicts whose deaths received scant media attention. Franklin was convicted of killing 10 people, but detectives believe he may have killed at least 25 women. Los Angeles Times

One man and his support dog began living at LAX on Christmas Eve, when he fell asleep and missed a connecting flight. His efforts to get back on his feet were complicated by the coronavirus shutdown. Los Angeles Times

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Goodbye — for now: The legendary Jewish delicatessen Nate ‘n Al’s closed Sunday, at least for a while. The historic restaurant has served pastrami sandwiches, matzo ball soup and platters of smoked fish since 1945. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

The opposition party’s foil to President Trump: Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, were somewhat of a footnote in national politics earlier this year after declining to seek the White House in 2020. Now, their profiles are growing exponentially as they grapple with the coronavirus. Los Angeles Times

The Pentagon is struggling to prevent widespread virus infections on bases and ships. Officials have already canceled or reduced several large-scale training exercises, closed recruiting offices nationwide and halted domestic and international troop movements. Los Angeles Times

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Cash in envelopes, now a guilty plea: Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander reached a plea agreement in a federal obstruction-of-justice case that centered on his acceptance of money, hotel rooms and other gifts during trips to Las Vegas and the Palm Springs area. He was charged in a widening federal investigation of corruption and pay-to-play practices at Los Angeles City Hall. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

“Everyone’s on top of each other. I’m scared.” Civil rights advocates and inmates say social distancing in Los Angeles County’s jail system, the nation’s largest, is impossible when some bunks are three feet apart and inmates can go days without critical cleaning supplies. Los Angeles Times

Crime in Los Angeles has fallen sharply in March, with robberies down 22% and aggravated assaults down 11% from the same time last year. Los Angeles Times

A Manhattan Beach surfer received a $1,000 citation after he ignored numerous warnings by police and lifeguards and went into the water, police said. “It was just that one guy,” a police officer said. “Everyone else has been pretty cool.” Orange County Register

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

A two-and-a-half-hour choir practice, then two deaths: In the first week of March, leaders of the Skagit Valley Chorale in Washington state decided to go ahead with choir rehearsal. The members who showed up avoided hugs and handshakes, and washed their hands. Dozens have since fallen ill, and two have died. Los Angeles Times

A $100 ventilator that can be mass produced? Two U.S. Army veterans say it’s possible — if they could figure out the manufacturing. Los Angeles Times

California once had mobile hospitals and a ventilator stockpile. Then came the Great Recession and a $26-billion state deficit. Reveal

Coronavirus comes to the Navajo Nation. Politicians and health officials are frantically trying to curb the spread of the virus on the largest Native American reservation, fearing it could devastate an extremely rural area. Los Angeles Times

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“An unremitting, 24-7 incredibly stressful job”: Public health officers are at the forefront of the coronavirus fight. Some have contracted it themselves. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Pilot season in limbo: Springtime is usually a boom time in Hollywood, with thousands of workers writing, shooting and editing the first episodes of proposed TV shows. This year, the five broadcast networks ordered 56 pilots; only one finished shooting before the pandemic halted production. Los Angeles Times

The bubonic plague reshaped the art world. Could the coronavirus do the same? Los Angeles Times

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are back in L.A. after being hospitalized with COVID-19 in Australia. Los Angeles Times

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Color me mine: Tap into your inner Bob Ross with these coloring book pages made from the covers of the L.A. Times Food section. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 72. San Diego: partly cloudy, 68. San Francisco: partly cloudy, 61. San Jose: partly cloudy, 65. Fresno: sunny, 70. Sacramento: partly cloudy, 64. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn (March 30, 1952), Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (March 31, 1952), Rep. Tony Cardenas (March 31, 1963) and L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz (April 3, 1955).

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

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Laura by email. Follow her on Twitter: @laura_nelson.


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