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Coronavirus Today: Our masked and mail-in future

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Thursday, April 16. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

Despite early dire warnings from health officials, a sunnier outlook is emerging for California, with several epidemiological studies suggesting the state is probably at the peak number of daily new cases — provided social distancing restrictions remain in place. “Any peak, when it comes, will probably not be significantly higher than today on ICU hospitalizations and overall hospitalizations because we have done all the right things on physical distancing and staying at home,” said Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary.

Some local governments are contemplating how they might gradually reopen some workplaces next month. Los Angeles County’s public health chief, Barbara Ferrer, said strategies will need to be in place in order to begin lifting the county’s Safer at Home order, probably in late May. Those could include one-way trails and bike paths, fan-free events that can be seen only on TV, and limits on the number of people in stores.

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But the U.S. economy is still tumbling into a recession that appears to be the worst in decades, with deep job losses hitting nearly every industry. Unemployment could reach 20% this month, some economists say — which would be the highest rate since the Great Depression nearly a century ago. During the Great Recession, it never topped 10%.

And California continues to see a rising number of deaths linked to COVID-19. For the third straight day, the number of fatalities in L.A. County hit a new high Thursday as health officials confirmed 55 new deaths. One mother and daughter in Southern California died from the coronavirus on the same day in early April, hours apart in separate hospitals. The Times is writing about some of the hundreds of Californians like them who have lost their lives in the pandemic; their stories will appear on a regularly updated page on our website.

Scientists in China have shed new light on how readily the virus spreads unseen from person to person. They found that an infected person can walk around feeling fine for more than two full days while spewing virus into the air, depositing it onto door knobs and handrails, and silently sowing the seeds for future infections.

It’s just one more reminder that, even as California begins planning for a less isolated future, it’s of the utmost importance to follow social distancing measures so we can make that future a reality.

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To that end, new rules on face coverings took effect Wednesday night throughout L.A. County: Customers of essential businesses must wear face coverings while inside, and employers must give all employees cloth face coverings to wear while working with people. The order does not require wearing a mask in your own yard or while on a solo run or walk.

By the numbers

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

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

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Where is the coronavirus spreading?

Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Thursday, April 16. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Thursday, April 16. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.

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Across California

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Thursday requiring companies that employ 500 or more people to provide two weeks of extra paid sick leave for full-time food workers who need to isolate themselves because they’ve been exposed to the virus or contracted COVID-19. The leave would be in addition to any existing benefits and applies to employees of grocery stores, restaurants, fast-food chains, food processing and packaging plants, farms and delivery services.

The coronavirus is killing black Californians in disproportionately high numbers, new state data show — a trend mirrored in L.A. County and many local cities. Black people account for 7% of the state’s COVID-19 cases and 12% of its related deaths, despite making up just 6% of its population. In L.A., officials have acknowledged uneven access to testing in black communities and are working to open up services in South L.A., Willowbrook and surrounding neighborhoods.

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The University of California was hit with $558 million in unanticipated costs in March, a staggering sum as students canceled housing and dining contracts, medical centers paused elective surgeries and campus expenses soared for online learning. “As the world’s largest public research university system, UC is confronting many of the worst impacts of the virus all at once,” wrote UC President Janet Napolitano in a letter to Newsom asking for aid to cover the costs.

Political insiders think California might be headed toward its first 100% vote-by-mail statewide election in November to protect voters and precinct workers from the coronavirus, and we should all get used to it, writes columnist George Skelton. Mail-in-only elections are very likely to become the new normal for California even after the virus is subdued, he says. “It’s the safest way to vote from a health perspective,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “And it’s the easiest. A ballot comes to your home and you return it. You don’t even need a stamp anymore.”

Even though sawmills have closed in Humboldt County, loggers are still cutting down redwoods, and masked environmental activists are still tree-sitting to try to stop them. A UCLA student said being told to shelter at home during the pandemic was the trigger for her activism. “I was feeling a lot of guilt about my carbon footprint, and I felt I needed to do something radical. I just couldn’t go along with life as it was.”

L.A.’s tight-knit craft brewing community is sharing resources to survive the downturn. Though orders have been canceled and taprooms are closed, California breweries have been deemed essential businesses, allowing them to keep the lights on by selling beer to-go and hosting tastings on Zoom. “We’re basically trying to be as creative as possible to get through this,” said a Torrance brewery owner.

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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.

Around the nation and the world

Facing intense pushback on his efforts to swiftly reopen the economy, President Trump told the nation’s governors Thursday to “call your own shots” in determining how quickly to ease social distancing restrictions in their states. It marks a reversal from his dramatic claims early this week that “the president calls the shots” and has “total” authority to override state and local decisions — assertions that constitutional scholars said were not supported by the law.

More than half a dozen states, including Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee, have tried to ban abortions during the outbreak by calling them elective procedures. Meanwhile, women whose appointments have been canceled have tried to self-induce miscarriages or driven hundreds of miles to out-of-state clinics, travel that is both expensive and risky. The bans have only added to the challenges abortion clinics face during the pandemic, especially those that rely on out-of-state doctors whose flights have been limited or canceled.

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Deaf and hard of hearing patients nationwide are facing greater barriers as they try to access the accommodations that let them understand what doctors and nurses are saying. Face masks hinder those who rely on lip reading and facial expressions, and while some hospitals offer video conferencing with remote interpreters, technical issues can derail those sessions. “Most people don’t know how to deal with deaf people on a good day,” said a woman in Austin, Texas.

Months into China’s coronavirus crisis, domestic infections have slowed dramatically. But fear of a resurgence due to imported cases has heightened xenophobia. Black people have found themselves targeted with eviction campaigns, police harassment and forced quarantine. “I don’t want to take my son outside because I don’t like the dirty looks,” said a black American living in Shenzhen. “I do want to stay in China and live here, but this has been something I’ve never experienced in my life.”

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from several readers who want to know: How does the coronavirus spread inside you? Here’s an illustrated explainer from graphics reporter Jennifer Lu.

Coronaviruses store their genetic information as long strands of RNA. The RNA stores the recipes for making all the parts the virus needs to copy itself. One key feature of the virus is the collection of spike proteins that protrude from the surface and allow it to infiltrate a living cell. The spikes resemble a crown — corona in Latin.

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All illustration showing how the coronavirus uses its protein spikes to infiltrate living cells.
The coronavirus uses its protein spikes to infiltrate living cells.
(Jennifer Lu/Los Angeles Times)

Once inside, the coronavirus enlists the infected cell to produce the biological parts it needs: RNA and proteins. First, the virus commandeers the cell’s machinery into making tools that can copy its RNA in bulk. Then, specific sections of RNA tell the cell how to make viral proteins. These proteins are used to build the next generation of coronaviruses.

One virus-infected cell can produce hundreds to thousands of copies.

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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