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Coronavirus Today: Did you get a stimulus check?

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Wednesday, April 15. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

Americans are starting to see the stimulus money authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act hit their bank accounts. The Internal Revenue Service is making its first round of payments this week to people who filed their 2018 or 2019 tax returns with direct deposit information, and about 60 million checks are expected to be included in this initial wave. A second round will be made soon after to Social Security recipients who did not file tax returns but provided direct deposit information in their other benefits forms, according to a Michigan congresswoman.

After that, the next round of payments will begin the first week of May, when the IRS will start mailing checks to those for whom the government does not have direct deposit information. However, reports that President Trump is demanding that his signature be added to those checks indicate that delivery might be delayed by a few days.

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Americans can speed up their up-to-$1,200 coronavirus assistance payout through a new IRS website that launched Wednesday. The site lets people provide bank account details and check when the electronic payment will arrive. But on its opening day, many people reported delays or difficulties while using the site; the IRS is investigating those complaints.

In recent days, some social media posts have claimed that the relief money comes with a catch, and that you’ll eventually have to pay it back. That is false. “This is not an advance, and there is absolutely no obligation to pay it back,” a U.S. Treasury spokeswoman said.

The stimulus package has one major exclusion: millions of immigrants who do not have legal status but who work here and pay taxes. About 4.3 million immigrants, most of them undocumented, file taxes using a taxpayer identification number, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Many say they pay federal taxes because they hope it will one day help them achieve legal residency and because they feel it’s the right thing to do. “We are left empty-handed in this crisis,” said a day laborer in Los Angeles. “I pay taxes, but the government doesn’t consider that we should get help.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced a $125-million relief effort to help Californians who don’t have legal immigration status. In addition, independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed, who otherwise would be ineligible for help, will be able to apply for unemployment insurance through a new online portal set to launch April 28, according to California’s labor secretary. “We are working to make sure that you receive your payments within 24 to 48 hours after you apply,” she said, acknowledging that many people have been frustrated by the claim process, including long delays in getting through to the agency’s hotline for help.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Wednesday:

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 4:30 p.m. PDT Wednesday, April 15. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Wednesday, April 15. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.

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Across California

While California public officials are beginning to talk about when they might relax some pandemic restrictions, they reiterated that it’s still too early to loosen stay-at-home orders. “Now is not the time for us to take a victory lap,” said Contra Costa County’s health director.

In fact, Los Angeles may hold off on allowing big gatherings, including sporting, music and cultural events, until 2021, according to an internal Los Angeles Fire Department email reviewed by The Times. And the city is continuing to crack down on businesses that violate restrictions: charges have most recently been filed against smoke shops, a car wash, a massage parlor and a beauty supply store.

Renters in much of Los Angeles County now have new tools to prevent eviction: Under a measure approved Tuesday, tenants can inform their landlords in writing that they’re unable to pay because of economic or medical hardships related to the virus as long as it is within seven days after rent is due. The new rules do not cover renters living in cities that have passed their own eviction rules, including Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Culver City and Pasadena. However, any city in L.A. County that has not already enacted such protections must abide by the county’s order. “I hope that this will help us to keep people in the homes that they’re now required to stay in 24/7,” said county supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

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Sex workers who sell their services on the streets of L.A. — by far the most vulnerable population in the industry — are finding that some customers are still seeking them out despite the risk of COVID-19. Many tell advocates they have little to no choice but to continue doing the high-risk work that has only become more fraught during the crisis. They also say some of the johns who continue to solicit services have taken advantage of the situation, seeking riskier services and demanding to pay less money.

Religious leaders across the U.S. are suing state and local governments for ordering churches to close during the pandemic. In Southern California, three churches sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials Monday, arguing that social distancing orders violate the 1st Amendment right to freedom of religion and assembly. However, a federal judge said freedom of religion doesn’t “include the right to expose the community to communicable disease.”

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. 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.

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Around the nation and the world

President Trump is suspending U.S. funding for the World Health Organization pending an administration review of its early response to the coronavirus outbreak. The move threatens to undermine the United Nations health agency as it seeks global support to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts say the funding decision fits Trump’s pattern of weakening international alliances like NATO and treating longtime American allies like adversaries, both of which have hindered efforts to mount a coordinated global response to the pandemic. “The relationship between the biggest powers has never been as dysfunctional,” said the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday released a national coronavirus testing strategy, arguing that they’re filling a void left by the Trump administration‘s failure to release a plan to scale up testing across the U.S. Health experts have reached a consensus that the first step in allowing people to return to normal life is extensive and accessible testing so that those who are infected can isolate while others go to work and school.

South Koreans turned out in record numbers to vote in parliamentary elections Wednesday, setting aside fears of the coronavirus in a democratic show of force. The turnout was 66.2%, the highest since 1992. Voters at more than 14,000 polling stations were required to have their temperature taken, wear disposable plastic gloves and line up at three-foot intervals. If it becomes clear in coming weeks that South Korea has managed to pull off a nationwide election without jeopardizing public health, it could serve as a model for others trying to protect democracy while minimizing the virus’ toll.

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The interruption to the global supply chain is devastating Cambodia, where the garment business employs more than 800,000 people, generates about 40% of the country’s economic output and 80% of its exports. Brands such as Gap and Old Navy can no longer sell the clothing and have canceled orders, leaving factory owners and workers unpaid in an industry with little financial cushion to endure weeks without business.

Your questions answered

Today’s question was shared by many readers who want to know: Will ultraviolet light kill the coronavirus? Here’s what science reporter Amina Khan found.

Ultraviolet light can penetrate the cells of pathogens and damage the DNA or RNA that contains their genetic code. There’s also some evidence that UV can damage the amino acids and proteins that either protect the virus or allow it to attach to and infect a host cell.

Hospitals are already using UV light to disinfect contaminated surfaces. However, there hasn’t been a lot of research to determine whether UV is effective at sanitizing masks and other personal protective equipment.

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Scientists at the National Institutes of Health released a report Wednesday suggesting UV light was able to disinfect N95 respirators twice — allowing the masks to be used three times in total — but after that the fit and seal began to degrade. The findings have not yet been vetted by independent researchers, the NIH noted.

It takes a very long time to disinfect anything using sunlight, the most accessible source of UV light. You’re probably better off putting a mask in a brown paper bag and hanging it off a well-aerated porch for seven days or so, according to an environmental engineer from the University of New Hampshire. By then, the pathogen ought to be dead anyway.

Warning: You absolutely should not try to use a UV device to disinfect your body. It will damage your skin and eyes, and you won’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late.

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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