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Coronavirus Today: How we meet and eat in a pandemic

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Thursday, March 12. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom called late Wednesday for canceling gatherings of 250 or more people across California — the first time the state has asked all Californians to adopt “social distancing” measures. But the advisory, which does not carry the force of law, stops short of asking people to change their work, travel or even some leisure habits.

In light of the announcement, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are scheduled to close Saturday through the end of the month. While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at the parks, according to a spokesman, they draw tens of millions of visitors per year. In 2015, a measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland eventually spread beyond U.S. borders.

Speaking of leisure habits, food editor Peter Meehan did some digging into common questions concerning going out to eat during the outbreak. One expert he spoke to had this advice for restaurant-goers: “Wash your hands before eating, use clean silverware, don’t eat off of common serving pieces or use your silverware to take food from common bowls or plates, and keep your hands out of food that other people might be eating.”

Restaurant owners and chefs in Los Angeles are adopting strict measures to prevent the spread of germs — and to keep business running as normally as possible. However, establishments across Los Angeles say business has declined in the last several weeks. To support local restaurants, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has suggested ordering delivery from them instead of going out to eat.

In his column, Meehan urges readers to remember that food service workers, whether at a cheap buffet or a fancy restaurant, don’t want to get sick, either.

As the coronavirus spreads and many employees, especially those who don’t work in offices, must go to their workplace as usual, the lack of paid sick leave for restaurant workers is also gaining new attention. Many low-wage service industry workers do not have access to paid sick days, as federal law does not require employers to provide them.

Olive Garden said this week that it would permanently provide paid sick leave to all of its hourly employees, not just the ones in states such as California where it’s the law. California employees who meet certain requirements are entitled to at least three days of paid sick leave, and several California cities provide additional sick time.

Preparing to cook at home? Cooking editor Genevieve Ko has some tips to maintain a clean kitchen, including having a plan for your trash, cleaning as you cook, preventing cross-contamination by switching cutting boards and not double-dipping while tasting. And though we don’t know for sure if the coronavirus can be transmitted through food, it doesn’t hurt to wash your produce after you go grocery-shopping.

By the numbers

As of 4:00 p.m. Thursday, there were:

— At least four dead and just under 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California.
— Close to 40 deaths nationwide, most in the greater Seattle area.
— More than 127,000 cases reported globally and more than 4,700 deaths.

The U.S. stock market saw its biggest drop since 1987, triggering an automatic 15-minute halt to trading for the second time this week.

Official COVID-19 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. Tuesday, March 31, 2020.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4:00 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Click to see the L.A. Times COVID-19 tracker.
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Across California

Newsom released a sweeping executive order on Thursday that lets the state commandeer hotels and medical facilities to treat coronavirus patients. The order also extends the state tax filing deadline and waives a one-week waiting period for people to apply for unemployment or disability insurance in relation to the virus.

Testing for the novel coronavirus continues to face severe limitations — so far, just over 1,000 Californians have been tested out of several thousands likely infected — as health officials lack key components to conduct laboratory analysis. Newsom likened the federal test kits to “printers, but without ink.”

Can L.A. nightlife survive the outbreak? With more and more shows and events canceled, musicians, fans and venue owners are beginning to grasp the dark season ahead of them. “The scariest thing is that I need people here,” said Derrick Pipkin, owner of Pip’s on La Brea. “Now more than ever, we need our neighborhood.”

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 animal companions out of an abundance of caution.

Around the nation and the world

The NCAA is canceling the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments over the pandemic, an unprecedented development in the history of a men’s tournament that has crowned a champion in every year, even during U.S. involvement in World War II.

Live Nation Entertainment and AEG Presents, the leading promoters of massive events such as Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio as well as hundreds of shows annually at sports arenas, theaters and clubs, both said they would halt events beginning this weekend at least through the end of March.

Mt. Everest is normally so packed with climbers that people have died in the traffic jam. But expedition operators now say Chinese mountaineering officials won’t allow spring climbs from their side of the mountain. On the Nepal side, operators say cancellations have been pouring in.

In a campaign year that has careened around one hairpin turn after another, the coronavirus crisis has whipsawed the 2020 presidential contest. Joe Biden delivered a speech Thursday that hammered on what he called “the severe shortcomings of the current administration” in dealing with the outbreak. The lack of easily accessible tests has become a major line of attack from critics and has generated rising bipartisan frustration.

The outbreak has revealed large gaps in America’s unusually decentralized public health system. Spending on public health varies dramatically between states, as does insurance coverage and access to the Medicaid safety net. But ultimately, even the best public health system may be swamped by an outbreak of COVID-19.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from several readers want to know how the coronavirus spreads. Let’s break it down:

The virus is thought to spread mainly through person-to-person contact. It can also spread between people who are less than 6 feet apart, via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, which are then possibly inhaled. Tests have found that the virus can live on some surfaces for up to three days, although surface contact is not thought to be the main way it spreads.

We also know that the spread of the virus is exponential until it reaches its peak. Emergency room physicians nationwide are preparing for a surge in the number of infected patients as more people are tested.

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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