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Coronavirus Today: The risk of being essential

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Friday, April 3. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

With the United States recording 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommending that Americans wear cloth face masks, the crisis has become particularly stressful for everyone who comes in direct contact with the public and faces a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Frightened flight attendants, including some stricken by COVID-19, are pushing airlines that have already slashed capacity by as much as 90% in the last few weeks to reduce the number of flights even further. About 150 flight attendants have tested positive for the virus, with hundreds more putting themselves in self-quarantine.

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For many grocery workers, assuming personal risk to perform roles now widely seen as vital to public health has given them new visibility and leverage. A number of major chains including Target, Walmart, Whole Foods, Costco, Sprouts and Kroger have offered them bonuses or temporary raises during the pandemic — but workers worried about their personal safety are protesting and pushing for better conditions as they perform increasingly difficult and dangerous jobs. “Compensation should reflect that risk,” said one Whole Foods employee.

That call has been echoed by Amazon warehouse and delivery workers across the country, who have asked for the company to do more to protect them from or compensate them for the health risks they’re taking on. Workers at six facilities in Southern California have tested positive in the last week for COVID-19. Two of the facilities handle the final stage of Amazon deliveries to customers in Los Angeles.

For many of Southern California’s small businesses, the launch of a Trump administration relief program brought more confusion than clarity. The program depends on lenders to provide them forgivable loans, up to $10 million, to cover payroll. But some of the nation’s largest banks said they weren’t ready to participate, having received information too late from the Treasury Department. Others were overwhelmed by a deluge of applications. By Friday morning, it appeared that small banks were shouldering most of the work. “Being denied access to the money is a death sentence for our small business,” said the owner of a camera store in Torrance.

Parents around the world face a dilemma: What will happen if we’re too sick to take care of our child? That scenario almost happened to one Southern California couple who while fighting the debilitating symptoms of COVID-19 had to look after their toddler without help, for fear of spreading the virus to their friends and relatives. “I cried a few times,” the father said. “I felt like I was failing.”

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Given the lack of COVID-19 treatment options, doctors are looking into any medication that shows promise in keeping people off precious ventilators. Several antiviral drugs that were developed to treat Ebola and AIDS are now the focus of a U.S.-sponsored international trial with as many as 60 sites. The World Health Organization has called remdesivir, which was developed (but failed) to treat Ebola, the most promising. It was widely used on patients in China, and the results of clinical trials conducted there should arrive in the next few weeks.

What to do this weekend

Practice social distancing by spending the weekend at home. Here are some ideas for entertainment:

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, sing karaoke, have a game night, host a watch party or meet with a book club. We’ve got technical instructions here, plus more ideas for stuff to do. Everyone’s itching for human contact, and this is the next best thing.

Work out at home. When was the last time you stretched? Try a yoga video (“Yoga With Adriene is great for beginners and vinyasa regulars alike), download the Peloton app (now free for 90 days, with workouts ranging from cycling to yoga) or search YouTube for whatever kind of class you normally take at the gym.

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Get closer to nature. Even under the new state and local orders, you’re allowed to go out for a walk, run or ride a bike — provided you stay six feet away from other people. Beaches and hiking trails are off-limits, though.

Learn to cook by watching this new video series from the L.A. Times Food team. They also have a Food coloring book.

Expand your movie list. Kenneth Turan, who is stepping down from his position as film critic at The Times after nearly 30 years, gives us one more list of movies: his “free-from-fear 14.” Want more recommendations to stream at home? Sign up for our film writer Mark Olsen’s Indie Focus newsletter.

Plus, here are lists of the 50 best TV shows to binge, 11 TV shows to occupy your kids, 10 free L.A. Times podcasts to listen to, 100 ideas for activities and the ultimate Times entertainment guide to staying at home.

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By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:30 p.m. PDT Friday:

Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

Where is the coronavirus spreading?

Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 5:30 p.m. PDT Friday, April 3. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 5:30 p.m. PDT Friday, April 3. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.

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Across California

Three more appointment-only drive-up testing locations are up and running in Los Angeles County for residents who are showing symptoms and either are at least 65 years old or have compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions such as diabetes, asthma or heart or chronic lung disease. Those who are interested in being tested must register ahead of time at coronavirus.lacity.org/testing. These new sites have been added to the existing list of testing sites:

— At Gate 17 of the Pomona Fairplex
— the South Bay Galleria, 1815 Hawthorne Blvd. in Redondo Beach
— Antelope Valley Mall, 1233 Rancho Vista Blvd. in Palmdale

As confirmed coronavirus cases rise rapidly in L.A. County, in part because of more available tests, officials are beginning to crack down on residents and businesses who disobey stay-at-home orders. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said eight nonessential businesses had been referred for criminal prosecution for staying open, although the process would take time because courts are closed. He also said one, a smoke shop, would have its power shut off. And a paddle boarder was arrested Thursday after ignoring lifeguards’ orders to get out of the ocean near the Malibu Pier, authorities said.

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Top emergency officials say they are hopeful that the spread of COVID-19 will taper off by the time fire season arrives in earnest. But the outbreak has already forced fire departments to put a hold on large training exercises, cancel controlled burns and delay inspections of fire-prone properties. And California’s recent destructive wildfires have required firefighters to travel across the state, raising the question of how to protect teams battling flames in close formations and sleeping in base camps that were notorious for outbreaks of “camp crud” even before the pandemic.

While TV audiences keep tuning in to CNN and MSNBC for national updates, they’re also relying on broadcasters closer to home. L.A.'s local news stations have had to adapt quickly to the new normal of programming news while adhering to government mandates, with journalists working remotely, using extended mikes for interviews and concentrating on stories closer to home. Many on the front lines must deal with their own vulnerabilities while projecting authority, calm and poise in front of the camera. KTTV Fox 11 and KCOP executive Bill Lamb likened the transition to “changing a tire in the middle of a highway.”

And for a very different kind of cameraman, the pandemic has brought work to a grinding halt. Hundreds of paparazzi are struggling to capture whatever celebrity glimpses they can as stars shelter at home along with the rest of us.

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. If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic before going.
— Practice social distancing, such as maintaining a six-foot radius of personal space in public.
— Consider wearing a mask if you leave your home for essential activities. A growing number of health officials, including the CDC, have endorsed the idea.
— Here’s how to care for someone with COVID-19, from monitoring their symptoms to preventing the virus’ spread.

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How to stay sane

— Was your job affected by the 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.

Around the nation and the world

About 2,000 hospitals serve more than 60 million people in rural areas, and experts say they are not equipped to handle a pandemic. Rural hospitals rely on government payments, but many are in Republican-led states that have resisted expanding Medicaid. Nearly half lost money last year, and they lack the buying power or political sway to obtain critical equipment in a chaotic open market dominated by larger hospitals and their networks. And the virus could inflict disproportionate damage on rural America for a number of reasons — including, hospital administrators say, the political climate, with Trump downplaying the threat for months.

Despite calls for a global ceasefire, conflicts in the Middle East continue even as more than 4,000 have died and almost 90,000 people have confirmed cases of COVID-19. Over the last few weeks, U.N. officials, world leaders and humanitarian groups have launched appeals to suspend hostilities so that basic medical equipment and protective materials can be distributed, to no avail. Even government restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus haven’t stopped the fighting.

Conservation groups have spent years calling for changes to China’s approach to wildlife protection, which views wild animals as essentially a commodity. After the COVID-19 pandemic exposed how wildlife breeding worsens the risk of zoonotic diseases, illnesses caused by viruses that “spill over” from animals to humans, China banned wildlife trade and consumption. But conservationists say it’s not enough to stop another outbreak, in part because it leaves a glaring loophole. Truly changing China’s wildlife industry would require not only public education and cultural shifts, but also confronting corporate interests and official corruption.

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Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Mel Berzack, who asks: Is it known if the vaccine for pneumonia has any effect on the virus? Here’s what the CDC and the World Health Organization have to say.

Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus. The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine, which researchers are trying to develop now.

Still, it’s highly recommended you get vaccinated against pneumonia to protect your health, especially to prevent you from contracting a serious respiratory illness while hospitals are short of ventilators. The CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccination for all children younger than 2 years old and all adults 65 years or older.

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.

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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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