Coronavirus Today: The uncertain future of festivals

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Friday, March 6. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

The spread of the coronavirus has prompted the cancellation of the massive South by Southwest festival, which was to have been held March 13 to 22 in Austin, Texas. Major participants — including the Concord record label group, Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Amazon — had already dropped out. It’s the first time in 34 years that it won’t happen, organizers say. Last year’s event drew 73,000 people.

Even before SXSW was canceled, the outbreak was already projected to inflict billions of dollars’ worth of losses in the biggest hit to the travel industry since the Great Recession, thanks to cancellations, travel restrictions and a deep drop in demand, just as we head into the spring festival season. And no, we haven’t heard anything about Coachella yet.

And although Walt Disney Co. has closed theme parks in China and Japan, in Anaheim visitors are still pouring into Disneyland. Park officials say they are taking precautions to keep visitors safe, with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I heard there was no coronavirus on Batuu,” joked one Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge visitor.

By the numbers

As of 4 p.m. Friday, there were:

    — At least one dead and 69 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in more than 12 California counties— 14 deaths nationwide, most in the greater Seattle area
    — More than 100,000 cases reported globally and just under 3,500 deaths
    — $8.3 billion in emergency aid approved by President Trump (more on that below)

    Numbers reported by the California Department of Public Health and Johns Hopkins CSSE.


    Where is the coronavirus spreading?

    Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4 p.m. Friday. Click to see the interactive map.
    Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4 p.m. Friday. Click to see the interactive map.

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    Across California

    The test kits needed to help stem the spread of the coronavirus remain in short supply. In California, the total testing capacity is limited to only 7,400 through the weekend, state officials said. Without testing, they don’t know where the virus is spreading and where to focus their efforts to contain it. The shortage is also complicating things for doctors and nurses as they try to triage a flood of incoming patients.

    On the Grand Princess cruise ship that has been held offshore near San Francisco, 21 people so far have tested positive for the coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence said Friday. The announcement, and the fact that it was delivered with no advance warning for those on board, left some passengers frustrated. “I’m not going home anytime soon,” said one passenger contacted by The Times.

    While children don’t seem to be the group most vulnerable to the disease, school officials statewide are racing to educate students and their families, and slow the spread of germs, while also preparing contingency plans if they are forced to shut their doors. At L.A. Unified schools, overtime pay is being made available to allow for deeper cleaning. But Seattle’s public health director has said closing schools could make the outbreak worse by putting kids in closer contact with more vulnerable family members.

    One U.S. senator wants major gig-economy companies like Uber to make it easier financially for on-demand workers to take time off. Santa Clara County health officials want residents to postpone large gatherings and employers to let employees to work remotely. But as anyone who’s ever been on a conference call knows (“Can everyone please mute?”), going fully remote has its own unique issues.

    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.

    Around the world

    Trump signed a bipartisan $8.3-billion aid package aimed at developing a vaccine for the coronavirus and helping states deal with the spread. The funds will be used to develop vaccines and diagnostic tests, to purchase drugs and medical supplies for hospitals and clinics, to conduct lab tests and trace the contacts of infected people, to reimburse state and local governments and more.

    The package also includes money to evacuate embassy personnel, international humanitarian aid and subsidies for affected small businesses. It does not address efforts to expand access to healthcare.

    In Asia, where the coronavirus has dominated life for months now, the COVID-19 disease has inspired songs, surrealist art, political cartoons, comics and TikTok memes that are simultaneously a coping mechanism and a darkly humorous nod to the strain on families and government missteps. Credit legions of bored teens stuck at home while school is closed.

    Your questions answered

    Today’s question comes from reader Brenda Krepps:

    Is the coronavirus worse than the flu?

    That question was explored in an article by veteran science reporter Deborah Netburn.

    About 32 million Americans have come down with influenza since this year’s flu season began in late September, and about 18,000 have died, according to the CDC. The number of Americans infected with the coronavirus is far smaller — more than 300 confirmed cases and 14 deaths.

    So why is everyone so concerned?

    “I think a big part of it is fear of the unknown,” said Dr. Otto Yang, an infectious disease expert at UCLA.

    We’ve had a long time to study the flu and develop vaccines. The coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 has been in existence for only about three months, so there is no natural immunity in the population. And unfortunately, there isn’t yet a vaccine that can pick up the slack.

    We also don’t yet have all the information about how it spreads — although we do know it spreads quickly. That’s why public health officials are so focused on containing the coronavirus. We just don’t know that much about it yet.

    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.