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Coronavirus Today: A rent freeze and a Health Corps

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Monday, March 30. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak.

As new patients flood emergency rooms and California’s hospital system strains under the pressures of the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom moved to address a healthcare worker shortage by recruiting recently retired providers, as well as those in the process of getting licensed and medical and nursing students, to apply to the newly created California Health Corps. He said he hopes to add 37,000 healthcare workers who can help ease the state’s already overburdened hospitals.

Commercial labs have been viewed as a crucial component in the COVID-19 testing process, but many have been unable to quickly ramp up processing as more and more tests are sent in, delaying turnaround times for results and leaving tens of thousands of patients waiting to hear whether they’re infected. There are signs, however, that testing is accelerating.

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As testing capacity increases, expect California’s new cases and deaths to keep rising for the next few weeks, experts say. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at several sites to house another 50,000 hospital beds state models predict will be needed by mid-May, and Newsom said the state is working to obtain 10,000 more ventilators.

If COVID-19 cases keep spreading exponentially, networks of hospitals, waste haulers and treatment centers could be overburdened by a surge of regulated medical waste from masks and gloves to bed linens. Industry leaders are worried that the overload may spread infections among their workers.

As more people stay home to avoid catching or spreading the coronavirus, grocery-delivery workers are in higher demand, and making demands of their own. On Monday, Instacart workers went on strike, calling for hazard pay, better sick leave and protective supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, citing their own risks of exposure. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York went on strike over safety concerns too.

By the numbers

Cases as of 4 p.m. PDT Monday:

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

Where is the coronavirus spreading?

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.
(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

Los Angeles is freezing rent hikes for all of the city’s 624,000 rent-stabilized apartments, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Monday. The freeze covers the vast majority of apartments in the city and will last until the state of emergency over the pandemic ends. He also announced a temporary suspension of all farmers’ markets and said that to keep operating, they must submit a plan to ensure physical distancing.

Nursing homes in Los Angeles County saw a sharp rise in new outbreaks over the weekend. In such facilities they could prove catastrophic, like the one that claimed 37 lives in Washington state. Administrators are especially concerned by federal guidance to accept residents without proof they are virus-free. A UC San Francisco expert said families with loved ones in nursing homes should seriously consider pulling them out if it’s at all feasible to care for them at home.

About one-third of some 120,000 LAUSD high school students have not logged onto online classes every day, and 15,000 are absent from all online learning as efforts to continue distance learning fall short, according to school district figures released Monday. “This will take some time and a good bit of trial and error to get it right,” Supt. Austin Beutner said.

Some Bay Area counties will soon extend their shelter-in-place orders until at least May 1. At one large long-term-care facility in San Francisco, conditions are deteriorating amid an outbreak that’s infected nine employees and two patients.

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Hospitals and local governments need temporary facilities to treat patients. So the companies that usually erect tents and stages for massive music festivals like Coachella are pivoting to build them, finding new purpose in the wake of canceled concerts.

Now that California has temporarily eased regulations, restaurants, bars, and wine and liquor stores can sell alcohol via carryout and delivery — and Los Angeles wine merchants are responding to changing needs with virtual tastings, curbside delivery and curated food and wine packages. And the state’s decision to let pot shops stay open, classifying them as essential, has offered a reprieve to dispensaries struggling to compete with the black market.

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 symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath (and possibly the loss of smell or taste). If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic before going.
— Practice social distancing, such as maintaining a 6-foot radius of personal space in public.
— Only wear a mask if circumstances warrant it. For instance, if you must be in close contact with people in public.
— Here’s how to care for someone with COVID-19, from monitoring their symptoms to preventing the virus’ spread.

How to stay sane

— Was your job affected by coronavirus? Here’s how to file for unemployment.
— 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.
— Here are some free resources for restaurant workers and entertainment industry professionals having trouble making ends meet.
— 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.

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Around the nation and the world

Early this month, a choir in Skagit County, Wash., debated whether to go ahead with a scheduled rehearsal. The virus was killing people around Seattle, about an hour away — but in Skagit County, no cases had yet been reported and no bans on large gatherings announced.

They decided to go ahead with it. The 60 or so people who attended used hand sanitizer and refrained from handshakes and hugs, and no one was coughing or appeared ill.

Yet three weeks later, 45 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are ill with the symptoms, at least three have been hospitalized, and two are dead. And stunned county health officials have concluded that the virus was almost certainly transmitted through the air as choir members sang.

On the Navajo Nation, politicians and health officials are mounting a frantic effort to curb the virus’ spread, fearing it could be especially devastating there because the area is so rural, with some residents lacking running water. Many on the largest Native American reservation have remained wary of messaging around the pandemic, due to a long-standing distrust of the U.S. government and a painful history of loss from earlier epidemics brought in from the outside world.

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Life at many of Florida’s retirement villages has come to a standstill, with complaints from some and calls for additional safeguards from others. “I don’t want to get sick,” said one retirement community resident. “But if I die, I die.”

India’s hospitals are grappling with too few health workers and essential supplies. Medical staff have threatened to strike over a lack of equipment, and experts worry others will stop working due to illness, quarantine or fear of being infected. “Because we know we are exposed to the virus, we are always insecure,” one doctor said. “I need to protect my family.”

And in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the outbreak in China, authorities have now lifted many of the antivirus controls that had kept tens of millions of people at home for two months. Shops have reopened, and bus and subway service has resumed. “After two months trapped at home, I want to jump,” one resident said. “I want to revenge-shop.”

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Ellen Cole, who asks: If you have the virus, how many days will it take for you to have recovered?

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If you’ve tested positive for the coronavirus, or if you’re experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19, you should be self-isolating. If you think you’ve recovered, the Centers for Disease Control has guidelines on when to end your self-isolation.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, and will be tested again to determine whether you’re still contagious, you can leave home when you no longer have a fever, your other symptoms (coughing, shortness of breath) have improved, and you receive two negative COVID-19 tests in a row, 24 hours apart, as administered by your doctor according to CDC guidelines.

If you think you might have COVID-19 but have not been tested, you can end your self-isolation after you’ve had no fever for three days, your other symptoms have improved, and at least seven days have passed since your symptoms first appeared.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 but are not showing any symptoms, you can end your self-isolation when at least seven days have passed from the date of your first positive test.

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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 more answers in our Frequently Asked Questions roundup, and in our morning and midday briefing.

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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