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Coronavirus Today: California moves to make testing affordable

At least a dozen people have died nationwide, including at least one in California. Expectations of a sustained outbreak have disrupted travel plans, major events and the global economy. Officials are declaring states of emergency in an effort to focus their resources where they’re most needed.

The flood of news is overwhelming, and there’ll only be more as we learn about the virus and how it spreads.

That’s why we’re marshaling the resources and expertise of Times journalists to launch a daily report on the coronavirus outbreak and its effects on California and beyond. Our goal is to keep you informed of what’s happening and what it means for you, and the best practices for keeping yourself and your family safe.

I’m Diya Chacko, a Times audience engagement editor and former health reporter and editor, and I’ll be sending you the day’s most important stories with added context, updates on the virus’ spread and links to public health resources and guides. Anything you’re confused about or eager to know? Email us your questions, and our journalists will try to answer them.

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This special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter will arrive in your inbox weekday evenings, and as news happens. If you’re not interested, you can unsubscribe by clicking the link at the bottom of this email.

Let’s begin.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara are ordering all public and commercial insurance plans to cover the entire cost of coronavirus testing and medically necessary screening. State officials recommended that Californians without insurance contact their county public health departments.

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The move could be a big step in helping to contain the coronavirus. As Michael Hiltzik noted in a column last week, millions of Americans don’t have access to healthcare without shouldering significant bills, which could discourage them from seeking care, and a huge proportion of workers simply don’t have the economic power to stay home.

Healthcare costs aside, officials across the country are doing their best to contain the spread, including trying to find sites where people who test positive can be isolated from the general population. But in Washington state, efforts to set up a coronavirus quarantine site in a county-owned motel in a lower-income community near Seattle have set off clashes with neighbors and raised questions around housing equity.

By the numbers

As of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, there were:

  • At least 1 dead and more than 50 people sickened in 12 California counties
  • 12 deaths nationwide, including eight residents of a nursing home in the Seattle area
  • More than 95,000 cases reported globally and more than 3,000 deaths
  • $8.3 billion in emergency aid approved by the U.S. Senate on Thursday

Numbers reported by Johns Hopkins CSSE.

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Where is the coronavirus spreading?

Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 5. Click to see the interactive map.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 5. Click to see the interactive map.

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Across California

The first Californian to die of the coronavirus was an elderly Placer County man with multiple underlying medical conditions who had recently been a passenger on a Grand Princess cruise that set sail out of San Francisco; the ship is being held offshore as officials test the other passengers. Santa Clara County officials say another man who had been on that ship might have been the state’s second death linked to the virus.

Soon after Placer County officials announced the first death Wednesday, Newsom declared a public health state of emergency, a largely procedural step that will let cities and counties ask the state or other counties for aid if they’ve exhausted their own resources. For instance, L.A. County will increase its capacity for virus testing at its local public laboratory, offer daily radio briefings and send “technical assistance teams” to temporary housing facilities, including homeless shelters.

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Earlier this week, Santa Clara County public health officials advised seniors and those who are medically vulnerable to avoid large gatherings, since they are more at risk of experiencing severe symptoms. “It is important to remember that, for about 80% of the population, this disease will be mild,” said George Han, the county’s deputy health officer.

In Los Angeles, coronavirus concerns prompted the cancellation of the colorful Nowruz festival that was supposed to take place Sunday at UCLA to celebrate the Iranian New Year. “It was a no-brainer,” said the head of the nonprofit group that organizes the event, which drew more than 25,000 people last year.

L.A. County officials are also discussing limiting or banning spectators from sporting events to contain the spread. A “worst-case scenario,” according to one L.A. Football Club spokesman, would be a cancellation of the season. But for now, the L.A. Marathon is still scheduled to go ahead on Sunday, officials say.

How to stay safe

  • Wash your hands for at least 40 to 60 seconds. It’s a better protective measure than a mask.
  • Stop touching your face, and keep your phone clean.
  • Watch for these symptoms of possible infection: fever, cough, shortness of breath.
  • If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic.
  • Experts still aren’t sure if pets can get the coronavirus. Pet owners who contract the coronavirus should isolate themselves from their pets out of an abundance of caution.
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Around the world

Rome empty? The outbreak has rendered the Italian capital, normally crammed with tourists, a virtual ghost town. It has also decimated tourism in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia with travel restrictions and canceled trips.

International travel restrictions have also taken their toll in the U.S. The Korea Times Music Festival at the Hollywood Bowl has been postponed. Music industry professionals are preparing for the possibility of the virus — or even just fears of it — having a deep impact on the concert business. And in Las Vegas, even though the risk hasn’t fazed the gamblers, the casino workers aren’t feeling quite so lucky.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from reader Chris Lafrenz:

What are the actual symptoms of the coronavirus?

First, let’s talk about the difference between the coronavirus and COVID-19.

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COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Serious cases of infection can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure, according to the World Health Organization.

It is also possible to contract the new coronavirus and not have any symptoms.

Got a question? Our reporters covering the coronavirus outbreak want to hear from you. Email us your questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them here and in our daily coronavirus briefing streaming live at 1 p.m. PDT on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

For the most up-to-date coronavirus coverage from The Times, visit our live updates page, visit our Health section and follow our reporters on Twitter.


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