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Science

Coronavirus Today: Masks become mandatory

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Tuesday, April 7. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that stay-at-home orders are slowing the spread of the coronavirus in California, and the curve — the growing number of positive COVID-19 cases — “is bending, but it’s also stretching.” In other words, the graph of the curve is flattening, showing a gradual rate of increase in the number of positive cases instead of a sharp spike. He expects tougher days ahead but said California’s efforts appear to be helping. To that end, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has ordered all residents to wear face coverings when visiting essential businesses starting Friday.

Epidemiologists question the reliability of any prediction model, in light of issues such as spotty testing. State officials expect the outbreak to peak in mid-May, with high infection rates lasting into summer. But an influential health research center now predicts that 4,000 fewer Californians will die than its earlier models projected, based on new data from Spain and Italy. It now forecasts the number of hospitalized patients to peak April 15 and deaths to peak two days later.

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Preventing a spike of COVID-19 patients from overwhelming the healthcare system is of the utmost importance as long as the resources to treat them, such as ventilators, are in short supply. To reduce the demand for precious ventilators and the stress on the workers who operate them, scientists are now testing the use of artificial intelligence to identify patients who might recover with less aggressive treatments and devising other new ways to help patients breathe.

Although the Bay Area suffered one of the nation’s earliest outbreaks of COVID-19, growth in cases from Southern California is outpacing it, The Times found in its analysis of county health data. Cases in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties are now taking about four to five days to double, while the Bay Area counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Solano are taking six to seven.

Cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia have reported stark racial disparities in coronavirus cases and fatalities, but until today, California counties had not provided racial breakdowns. In L.A. County, black people are more likely to die from COVID-19, new but still partial data show; they make up 9% of the population but 17% of deaths. The finding, some experts said, could be bad news for local efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, as it suggests testing disparities along the lines of race, income and immigration status that could be obscuring potential hot spots.

Officials reiterated Monday’s plea for the public to stay home and to try to avoid shopping this week. “Any of us might already have it and be asymptomatic, or presymptomatic,” writes The Times’ Julia Wick, the author of our Essential California newsletter, in an essay recounting her own experience with COVID-19. “Act at all times as if you already have the virus. Because you very well might.”

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Around the world, people are finding ways to celebrate religious holidays while staying home. With Passover beginning on Wednesday, The Times has some suggestions for safe ways to participate, including finding or creating a Zoom version of a Seder, coming up with meaningful activities for your kids and representing symbolic foods with the ingredients you have at home. And on Easter Sunday, Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli will perform in Milan’s empty Duomo cathedral, currently closed to the public. The event will be livestreamed on YouTube at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

If you need some beauty before then, you can start with our list of 10 great songs from the late, great singer-songwriter John Prine. Prine died of complications from COVID-19 after being hospitalized with symptoms in Nashville last month.

By the numbers

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

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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 Tuesday, April 7.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 5:30 p.m. PDT Tuesday, April 7. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.
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Across California

Millions of California gig economy, contract and furloughed workers who were supposed to qualify for unemployment benefits are in limbo as the federal government and states scramble to implement that part of the $2.2-trillion relief package. The inclusion of furloughed employees in the package aimed to encourage businesses to keep their staffs employed so they could reopen quickly once the economy picks up — but officials are discouraging them from even applying yet.

Coronavirus cases have steadily risen this week in the Inland Empire, with Riverside County seeing an uptick in the number of people infected even as it implements unprecedented rules to stop the spread, such as ordering all residents to cover their faces when leaving home. San Bernardino County is collaborating with hospitals and emergency management officials to create a task force to “assess readiness for COVID-19 at nursing facilities,” following a spate of outbreaks in them. L.A. officials have advised families to consider pulling their loved ones out of nursing homes.

An effort to install dozens of hand-washing stations and portable toilets to prevent the coronavirus from spreading among Los Angeles’ homeless people may come to a halt, after an incident in which a contractor emptying wastewater was stabbed by a syringe, possibly used, jammed in the water hose. The company said it would remove all 50 hand-washing stations it was contracted to install, but in court filings, the city said they were working to keep the facilities available.

As more immigrant detainees test positive for COVID-19, California lawyers are trying to get their clients freed on humanitarian grounds, pointing out that jails and prisons are already moving to release inmates early to stop the virus from spreading. In the last week, a federal judge has ordered at least 10 people held in a center 80 miles east of L.A. to be released. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants their “immediate return to custody” after the pandemic subsides.

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Although the real estate industry has been devastated by the pandemic, some Californians are still searching for a home, feeling their way through rapidly changing rules along with their agents. Sales are continuing, albeit at a much slower pace and in a more complicated fashion, with virtual tours, drive-by valuations and home inspections conducted over video calls. But while sales have fallen, home prices, while dropping, might not be following quite the same track.

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.
Wear a mask if you leave home for essential activities, the CDC now says. Here’s how to do it right.
— 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 the coronavirus? Here’s how to file for unemployment.
— Here are all the ways to stay virtually connected with your friends.
— 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

The Trump administration is quietly seizing orders of key medical equipment and not publicly reporting the acquisitions, despite the outlay of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, and the president’s repeated admonition that states and local health systems cannot rely on Washington for supplies.

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Hospitals and health officials who’ve had materials seized say they’ve received no guidance from the government about how or if they will get access to the supplies they ordered, stoking concerns about how public funds are being spent and whether the Trump administration is fairly distributing scarce supplies. “To have this happen, you just sit there wondering what else you can do,” said the head of a Texas clinic group. “You can’t fight the federal government.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Bureau of Prisons are stocking up on the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which Trump has aggressively touted as a possible COVID-19 “game changer” despite experts’ warnings that it is risky and unproven, federal contracting records show. The Indian government has just lifted a ban on the drug’s export after Trump spoke to Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi and said he had threatened “retaliation.”

The pandemic is moving the U.S. toward a cold war with China, and the toll it takes on the two superpowers’ economies won’t help. They have heaped blame on each other to divert attention from their own missteps, with Trump frequently referring to the “Chinese virus” and a Chinese official suggesting the U.S. military started the epidemic. Meanwhile, Trump’s tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods and Beijing’s counter-tariffs remain in place, affecting the procurement of badly needed protective medical gear such as face masks, gloves and goggles.

Determined Wisconsin voters lined up six feet apart to defy a stay-at-home order and vote in the Democratic presidential primary and other races. An effort to postpone the election was overturned by the Republican majority on the state Supreme Court; separately, a divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked extending the deadline for voting by mail, in an order Democrats said would effectively disenfranchise voters. The dispute reflected a partisan power struggle: On the ballot is a seat on the state Supreme Court, and low turnout was thought to benefit the conservative incumbent.

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A weeks-long quarantine has caused violent crime in El Salvador to plummet, with an unexpected twist. The street gangs that have long terrorized the country have turned their attention from extortion and killing to a more pressing matter — enforcing social distancing rules, often with threats and baseball bats. “We don’t want to see anyone in the street,” says one circulated recording. “If you go out, it better be only to the store, and you better be wearing a mask.”

Normally a divisive figure, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is receiving support even from opponents as he battles COVID-19. The first major world leader to be hospitalized with the coronavirus, Johnson remained in an intensive-care unit overnight but was in stable condition, was not on a ventilator and wasn’t suffering from pneumonia, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Your questions answered

A number of our readers want to know: If I contract the coronavirus, how sick will I get? Here’s what science reporter Deborah Netburn found.

The new coronavirus is not an equal-opportunity killer. We know it’s more dangerous for older people (recent research shows just how sharply the fatality rate rises with age) and for those with chronic lung disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, weakened immune systems and other underlying health issues.

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“It may not be so much an issue of age as overall health because there are 20-, 30- and 50-year-olds who, despite their relatively young age, are getting very sick,” said one infectious disease expert. “Older people tend to accumulate more health issues.”

And some new scientific studies that suggest as many as 20% of people who are infected — and possibly many more — never develop any symptoms, which is why health authorities now want people to wear masks when they leave home.

Long story short: We don’t really understand the predictors for who gets critically ill, mainly because we still know so little about the coronavirus.

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 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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