Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Friday, March 20. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond as we head into a weekend at home (plus a list of ways to spend it).
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California public health officials repeatedly warned over the last decade that millions of dollars in federal budget cuts were weakening their ability to respond to a widespread health crisis, a Times investigation found. Those cuts reduced the number of medical workers — including epidemiologists, whose expertise is critical in an outbreak — and jeopardized their ability to do lab tests, officials said.
The budget woes have left California desperate for more resources. Intensive care beds at Los Angeles County‘s emergency-room hospitals are already at or near capacity, even as those facilities have doubled the number available for COVID-19 patients. Because of the continuing shortage of test kits, the county health department has instructed doctors not to bother testing symptomatic patients if a positive result won’t change their treatment decisions.
Health workers will have to make choices about which patients receive scarce resources like hospital beds and ventilators. “We have to decide who must die and whom we shall keep alive,” said one doctor in Italy, where the death toll has already passed 3,400. Besides navigating wrenching ethical dilemmas, doctors, nurses and other hospital workers say their anxiety levels are rising as they hear about medical workers falling sick not just in Italy and China, but in the U.S. as well. “We’re going to start dropping like flies,” said one urgent care nurse in Los Angeles.
With a vaccine as far as 18 months off and effective treatments still unidentified, some scientists are investigating convalescent plasma, a little-known therapy with ancient roots. Scientists believe antibodies in the blood of recovered patients have the potential to prevent reinfection, and possibly even act like a vaccine. “This is not a proven treatment,” said U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, but he called convalescent plasma “a pretty exciting area.” A coalition of more than 20 research institutions is investigating its possibilities.
Beware of misinformation about the pandemic; it’s spreading like wildfire via social media, email and text messages. “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom.
If you’re looking for ways to spend the weekend at home, here are some ideas compiled by Times audience engagement editors Adrienne Shih, Jessica Roy and Fidel Martinez.
Set up virtual get-togethers with your friends. If you can set up a Skype call or a Google Hangout, you can do happy hour, karaoke, game night, watch parties, or book club. We’ve got technical instructions here, plus more ideas for stuff to do. Everyone’s itching for human contact — this is the next best thing.
Work out at home. When was the last time you stretched? Do a yoga video (“Yoga With Adriene” has great stuff for beginners and vinyasa regulars alike), download the Peloton app (now free for 90 days), or search YouTube for whatever kind of workout class you normally do at the gym. You can also work out outside — more on that below.
Get closer to nature. Even under the new state and local orders, you’re allowed to go out for a walk, run, hike or bike ride — provided you maintain 6 feet of distance from everyone else. L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said on KPCC’s “Air Talk”: “I encourage people to have as much outdoor activity as they can.”
Plus, here are lists of the 50 best TV shows to binge, 11 TV shows to occupy your kids and 10 free L.A. Times podcasts to listen to. In our latest podcast, “Asian Enough,” The Times’ Jen Yamato and Frank Shyong invite celebrity guests such as John Cho and Lulu Wang to share their personal stories and unpack their Asian American identity on their own terms.
By the numbers
Cases as of 6 p.m. PDT Friday:
Track the latest numbers and how they break down by county and by state with our graphics.
Where is the coronavirus spreading?
Small businesses spent Friday considering their options and wondering whether they would be able to survive under the Los Angeles emergency orders closing all nonessential businesses. “I can hold for about a month or two, but not more than that,” one flower shop owner said.
California fisheries are suffering under the one-two punch of collapsing export markets and restaurant shutdowns. Environmentalists suggest adding American-caught seafood to your supply list as you hunker down.
With almost all television and film production now shuttered, and hundreds of thousands of cast and crew without jobs, Netflix said Friday it was creating a $100- million fund to provide emergency support to workers on its productions, including electricians, carpenters and drivers.
The chancellor of UCLA has walked back his earlier decision to cancel traditional graduation ceremonies, apologizing to students for not consulting with them first and pledging to work with student leaders to jointly plan an alternative course of action.
With its domestic theme parks closed, cruise ship sailings suspended and a high-profile movie release pulled, the Walt Disney Co. said Friday it plans to seek $6 billion in a debt offering.
How to stay safe
— Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds! Here’s a super-fun how-to video.
— Stop touching your face, and keep your phone clean.
— Watch for these symptoms of possible infection: fever, cough, shortness of breath.
— If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic before going.
— Be sure to practice social distancing, such as maintaining a 6-foot radius of personal space in public.
How to stay sane
— Wondering whether you should self-quarantine? Here’s our guide.
— Here are all the ways to stay virtually connected with your friends.
— Need groceries? Here’s how to stock up for a self-quarantine. You can also watch our video guide on YouTube.
— Visit our free games and puzzles page for daily crosswords, card games, arcade games and more.
— The restaurant industry has been devastated. If you’re having a tough time, here are some free resources that may help.
— Advice for helping kids navigate pandemic life includes being honest about uncertainties, acknowledging their feelings and sticking to a routine. Here’s guidance from the CDC.
Around the nation and the world
The U.S. and Mexico have agreed to restrict all nonessential travel across their shared border, President Trump said Friday. But even a partial closure of the border is likely to affect Mexico’s struggling economy, which appears headed for a recession.
Activists are pleading with officials to take preventive measures to protect incarcerated people, saying prison and jail overcrowding is a life-or-death issue. The American Civil Liberties Union has called for the immediate release of inmates who are over the age 65 or have an underlying medical condition and whose sentences would be completed within the next two years.
Miami Beach, usually swarmed this time of year with budget-minded students seeking cheap hotel rooms and plentiful booze, has been shut down, leaving the city almost unrecognizable. “Spring break is canceled,” Mayor Dan Gelber said.
Celebrities are taking to social media to denounce racism toward Asian Americans. “Please, please stop the prejudice and senseless violence against Asian people,” said “Lost” and “Hawaii Five-0" star Daniel Dae Kim. In a video, he called out “certain political leaders,” such as President Trump, who have falsely dubbed the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.”
To Asian nations that have largely corralled their outbreaks, the shambolic U.S. response to the pandemic has elicited confusion, horror and even a measure of pity. This week, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma sent a shipment of 1 million masks and 500,000 coronavirus test kits to “our friends in America.” One American in Singapore said, “It feels very strange to say that I feel safer here than in my home country.”
Your questions answered
Today’s reader question comes from Renata Ooms, who wants to know: What extra precautions should pregnant women in the first and second trimesters be taking? Reporter and expectant mother Hannah Frye interviewed doctors and health experts for this first-person column.
There is little data available on how the coronavirus affects pregnant women. But so far, doctors said that researchers have not seen early signals suggesting an increased risk of complications or birth defects associated with pregnant women and fetuses exposed to the coronavirus.
“These are scary times, and I think a lot of people, including pregnant women, are afraid,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, chair of the department of gynecology and obstetrics at the Emory University School of Medicine in Georgia. “Luckily this is not a virus that seems to disproportionately affect pregnant women. They can take solace in that.”
In any case, health officials are urging pregnant women, along with the elderly and others with weakened immune systems, to do their best to avoid exposure to the coronavirus. Doctors suggest staying home as much as possible, avoiding crowds — including long lines at supermarkets and other stores — and staying away from emergency rooms. And, of course, frequent hand washing.
Women should reach out to their doctors to see if routine labs or physical assessments can be done without a visit to clinics or hospitals to limit their risk of exposure. And if you have to visit the office in person, “get in and out quickly,” one nurse said.
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. You can find answers to other common questions in our morning and midday roundup.