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Coronavirus Today: For the wealthy, private tests and bunkers

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Monday, March 23. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

It wasn’t a weekend at home for many Californians after all. Across the state, people ignored social-distancing measures and crowded beaches and parks, leading Monday to crackdowns and closures to keep people from congregating.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom is shutting parking lots at state parks. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti scolded Angelenos, ordered golf courses and parking lots near beaches to close and said law enforcement would “not be shy” about approaching people seen violating quarantine orders, a misdemeanor. Numerous trails and their access roads are closed, and organized group sports at parks are banned. You can see a roundup of what’s closed so far around California at this link.

In San Francisco, officials warned that a surge in COVID-19 cases is expected within a week or two. “It is a matter of life or death,” said Mayor London Breed. “This is not the time for a party, for a play date.”

Panic-buying of N95 masks and other critical protective gear has reduced available supplies, with reports that surgical masks and hand sanitizer have even been stolen from clinics. On social media, health workers are begging for supplies under the hashtag #GetMePPE. If you have protective gear to donate, check the website getusppe.org, which lists hospitals nationwide with specific instructions for donating to each. Several California-based companies such as Apple say they’re working to produce or source more medical supplies.

And amid an ongoing test shortage, L.A. County officials announced Monday they have secured 20,000 new coronavirus tests, with a processing capacity of 5,000 tests per day. The kits will be free, and healthcare workers and first responders will be given priority for testing. So far, only about 25,000 tests have been conducted in the entire state since the beginning of the outbreak.

The Medical Board of California is looking into private physicians and “concierge” doctors offering tests to wealthy patients at high prices, sparking outrage as people without symptoms get tested while others of lesser means wait. And as the rich prepare to ward off the disease, they’re investing heavily in lavish bunkers with amenities usually reserved for mega-mansions. “We built one in California that has a shooting range, swimming pool and bowling alley,” said a manager of a Texas-based bunker company.

The pandemic is even casting its shadow on previous events in the news cycle. Two parents imprisoned in the college admissions scandal for conspiring to slip their children into USC as bogus water polo stars asked a judge to release them early. One, a Los Angeles executive, was denied; the other, a Napa Valley vintner, was released. And fresh off his conviction in New York, Harvey Weinstein has tested positive for the coronavirus in state prison, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

By the numbers

Cases as of 4 p.m. PDT Monday:

— At least 40 deaths and more than 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California.
— More than 400 deaths nationwide, most in Washington.
— More than 330,000 cases reported globally and close to 14,700 deaths.
(Official COVID-19 numbers reported by the California Department of Public Health and Johns Hopkins CSSE.)

Track the latest numbers and how they break down by county and by state with our graphics.

Where is the coronavirus spreading?

Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 6, 2020.
Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins CSSE, California Department of Public Health and reports from county public health officials.
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Across California

Garcetti has issued an emergency order barring landlords from pulling any rental units off the market under the Ellis Act, a state law that lets owners of rent-controlled buildings evict tenants in order to get out of the rental business. Advocates, economists and politicians say pandemic-related job losses and depressed tax revenue will only worsen the existing shortage of affordable homes.

The L.A. City Council’s meetings have been canceled until next month, in a move that drew immediate alarm from labor unions, nonprofit groups and community activists. Council members had said over the weekend they would pursue new emergency proposals, including a rent freeze, and were widely expected to take up proposals that had already been drafted, including rules on layoffs.

L.A. Unified school campuses will remain closed until May 1, and the district has contracted with Verizon to provide internet access to students who don’t have it at no charge to them so learning can continue, Supt. Austin Beutner announced Monday.

Butcher shops have seen a dramatic rise in sales in the last week, as customers stock up on cuts that lend themselves well to freezing and long cooking times. California’s hotel industry isn’t so lucky. An industry group expects it to shed more than 125,000 jobs in just the next few weeks, more than any other state.

The Salvation Army is now in talks with the L.A. Homeless Services Authority to determine if any of its facilities would be useful for housing homeless people — either to prevent them from being exposed to the virus or to quarantine those who may come down with COVID-19. But it’s a long shot.

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.
— Wondering whether you should self-quarantine? Here’s our guide.

How to stay sane

— Here are all the ways to stay virtually connected with your friends.
— Need groceries? Here’s how to stock up for staying home. 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

In Washington, Republicans and Democrats grew visibly angry and emotional on the Senate floor as negotiations over a financial rescue package appeared to stall over the scope of a fund to help large businesses. Democrats said there were too few requirements on the businesses that would get help — such as a ban on stock buybacks — and too little transparency on which companies would get it.

The governors of Texas and Florida have resisted imposing stay-at-home orders, despite mounting criticism, as local officials complain a patchwork of policies has made it nearly impossible to limit the disease’s spread. Hawaii’s governor meanwhile has ordered a strict 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving in the islands. Hawaiian Airlines will operate a reduced inter-island schedule and once-daily flights between Los Angeles and Honolulu starting Thursday.

Olympic leaders pushed back Monday against reports that they had decided to postpone the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, saying they are still in talks with organizers, Japanese officials and public health experts. Cancellation is not on the table, said International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

Until now, Britain has eschewed the tough stay-indoors approach in countries like Italy, Spain and France. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans for the U.K. to go into lockdown as of Monday night after many Britons flouted social-distancing recommendations. Public health experts say without swift action, Britain’s chances of averting an Italy-style trajectory are dimming.

Your questions answered

Today’s reader question comes from Anoja Karunaratne, who wants to know: Are there drugs such as chloroquine now being given to patients who have the virus, and have those drugs helped? Science reporter Amina Khan has this story about drugs researchers are now exploring that may help in the fight against COVID-19.

Medicines developed for malaria, HIV and rheumatoid arthritis have shown some early promise against COVID-19, the respiratory illness at the center of the pandemic. For instance, researchers have hypothesized that the malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could help patients by essentially slowing down the virus inside the body.

Clinical trials have begun in China and several other places to test many of these drugs on patients with the disease. However, we likely won’t have real results on their effectiveness for a couple of months.

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.

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


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