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Coronavirus Today: A pandemic and what comes with it

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Wednesday, March 11. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

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President Trump has suspended travel to the U.S. from much of Europe, the NBA has suspended its 2019-20 season, and the World Health Organization has now declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic. It‘s the first time the body has declared a pandemic since 2009, during the outbreak of the H1N1 strain of influenza known as swine flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a pandemic as an outbreak that has spread to several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people. The severity of illnesses is not a consideration, nor is the number of deaths. Based on those criteria, COVID-19 has been a pandemic for quite some time.

“This does not mean it’s more severe today than it was yesterday,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, who led the CDC during the Obama administration. “It’s a warning: every country needs to prepare for coronavirus.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the decision to use the word “pandemic” stemmed from the organization’s deepening concerns over the spread and severity of the coronavirus and from the “alarming levels of inaction” so far. He added that the pandemic classification does not change the WHO’s strategy for slowing the outbreak

“There has been so much attention on one word, and let me give you some other words that matter much more, and are much more actionable,” Tedros said. “These are ‘prevention,’ ‘preparedness,’ ‘public health,’ ‘political leadership’ and, most of all, ‘people.’ ... We’re in this together to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world.”

At this point, rather than simply try to prevent the virus from spreading freely, experts say public health officials are trying to space out the inevitable infections so that the healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed with patients — a practice they call flattening the curve. If it works, the outbreak will take longer to run its course, but the number of people who are sick at any given time will be greatly reduced, and ideally low enough not to swamp hospitals and clinics. That’s why officials are encouraging social distancing measures like remote work and avoiding mass gatherings.

By the way, if you’re avoiding mass gatherings and you want to learn more about pandemics, here’s a movie rental recommendation: “Contagion,” starring Kate Winslet, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow. Nine years after its release, it has become the movie du jour, likely due to screenwriter Scott Z. Burns’ months of in-depth research into the science of pandemics and recruitment of epidemiologists to edit the screenplay and train the cast. If you do watch the movie, just remember that the “Contagion” virus and the coronavirus are very different.

By the numbers

As of 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, there were:

    — At least 3 dead and 177 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California.
    — At least 36 deaths nationwide, most in the greater Seattle area.
    — More than 125,000 cases reported globally and more than 4,500 deaths.
    — The Dow Jones industrial average sank more than 1,400 points Wednesday, putting the index in a bear market.

    Official 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 4:00 p.m. Friday, March 27, 2020.
    Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4:00 p.m. Friday, March 27, 2020. Click to see the L.A. Times COVID-19 tracker.
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    Across California

    The L.A. County Public Health Department on Wednesday confirmed its first coronavirus-related death, a woman older than 60 who had underlying health issues. She was not an L.A. resident but had been visiting after extensive travel, including a long layover in South Korea.

    A big concern as the coronavirus spreads is the safety of first responders, since infections could reduce the number of people able to handle emergency service. The Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies are rolling out new guidelines and procedures aimed to help prevent officers from becoming infected, such as issuing kits with gloves, masks and goggles and disinfecting workstations and vehicles.

    Los Angeles’ Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, the gaming industry’s largest event in North America, is one of the latest gatherings to be canceled.

    Bringing the pandemic home to Hollywood in a dramatic way, actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson announced Wednesday they have tested positive for the coronavirus, which they said they contracted in Australia, where Hanks is currently filming Baz Luhrmann’s untitled Elvis Presley biopic.

    In L.A., some producers have voluntarily modified filming schedules, but projects shooting on location have mostly gone forward. Spotted at LAX: Naomi Campbell in a mask, gloves, plastic safety glasses and head-to-ankle white Tyvek coveralls.

    Analysts are predicting a dent in the U.S. advertising market, which exceeds more than $150 billion. Hollywood is already feeling the effects at the international box office — especially in China and Italy, where theaters are closed — and movie studio executives are still bracing for at least some drop-off domestically. But with more people staying home, streaming businesses may see a boost to their bottom lines.

    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 nation and the world

    The NBA’s season cancellation announcement came Wednesday after a bizarre scene in Oklahoma City, where a game between the OKC Thunder and the Utah Jazz was halted seconds before tipoff, after results returned showing a player for the Jazz had tested positive for the coronavirus.

    The NCAA announced the monumental decision to keep fans out of its annual signature March Madness event. That means the men’s tournament scheduled for late March at the Staples Center may be played to empty seats.

    In his remarks from the White House, Trump also called for payroll tax relief to help the struggling economy and for nursing homes to stop all non-medical visits. He also proposed a $50 billion increase in federally backed small-business loans. In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee banned gatherings of more than 250 people in the Seattle area, the most stringent measure in the country.

    Italian soccer club Juventus says one of its players, defender Daniele Rugani, has tested positive for COVID-19. In a first-person editorial from Italy, where 60 million are under quarantine orders, journalist David C. Unger called the situation “a national tragedy of incomprehensible proportions.”

    As governments from Iran to the U.S. come under fire for disjointed and delayed responses to worsening outbreaks, Singapore has mobilized a system of state control that is one of the most efficient in the world. “From a Singaporean perspective, we see the U.S. as No. 1 in tech, the leader of the free world and all that,” said Zhi Peng Lee, the designer of a coronavirus tracking website. “So it’s surprising to see the U.S. so messed up.”

    Your questions answered

    Today’s question comes from several readers who are worried about flying. Our reporter Ron Lin has the latest on how you can protect yourself:

    If it’s a short trip, don’t eat on the plane. Wipe down the area where you’re sitting with bleach-based wipes and solutions with at least 60% alcohol. And if you’re seated next to a person actively coughing, ask to be relocated.

    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.

    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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