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Science

Coronavirus Today: What antibody studies show

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Friday, April 17. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond, plus ways to spend your weekend at home.

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In the weeks since the coronavirus began remaking daily life in America, researchers have struggled to assess its true spread. On Friday, initial results from a Santa Clara County study suggest the virus has circulated much more widely there than previously thought. Though the county had reported roughly 1,000 cases in early April, Stanford University researchers who looked for coronavirus antibodies in blood samples from 3,330 residents estimate the actual number of infected people was between 48,000 and 81,000.

Much is still unknown about what the presence of antibodies means and whether it indicates that someone has immunity to the virus. Still, antibody tests — also known as serology tests — are on the rise. The tests are not yet widely available to the public; only a handful have been allowed by the federal government, and others are approved for research use only.

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One key takeaway from the preliminary Santa Clara County results is that a large number of people who are infected with the coronavirus never show any symptoms, said a UCLA epidemiologist. The fact that infected people could unknowingly be contagious means that some level of physical distancing needs to remain in place. On Friday, the number of deaths in California surpassed 1,000 — nearly half of them in Los Angeles County.

As President Trump calls for easing social distancing measures, some Republican governors are doing just that, citing the economy. Texas is opening parks and letting retailers offer to-go sales, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was criticized for letting spring breakers crowd shores, is letting local officials reopen beaches. Amid nationwide demonstrations organized by conservative groups, more than 100 people converged on Huntington Beach on Friday to protest California’s stay-at-home rules. The protesters, some with Trump banners and American flags, mostly did not wear masks or stay six feet apart.

Meanwhile two daytime television hosts, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, have come under fire for their own statements questioning stay-at-home restrictions. Neither is an expert on infectious diseases or epidemiology.

San Diego Comic-Con has been canceled for the first time in its 50-year history, and Taylor Swift has postponed all her concerts for the rest of the year, including those at the opening of SoFi Stadium. With so many major California festivals and events scuttled this year, fans and music industry workers are asking what it will take to get back to normal. “For all of us who love concerts, it’s hard to see how to do that without a vaccine,” said a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist. “Is there is a better place for spreading disease?”

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The longer the pandemic goes on, the more profound its mark on American life will be. Already the climb out of the deep economic hole looks to be long and slow. “Because of the psychological shock that we have experienced, we are going to be more cautious, and we will probably spend less and save more,” one economist predicts.

What to do this weekend

Practice social distancing by staying at home over the weekend. Here are some ideas on how to spend it:

Listen to The Times’ new daily podcast. “Coronavirus in California: Stories From the Front Lines,” hosted by Gustavo Arellano, brings listeners dispatches from Californians in the thick of the crisis.

Celebrate a special occasion with Times restaurant critic Bill Addison’s suggestions on where to order exceptionally good takeout. (Sign up for his and fellow critic Patricia Escárcega’s Tasting Notes newsletter for more.)

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Set up virtual get-togethers. 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 some of our 10 ways to exercise in your living room, from video yoga to fitness apps to free on-demand classes.

Get closer to nature. You’re still allowed to go out for a walk, run or ride a bike — provided you stay six feet away from other people and, in some cases, wear a mask (more on that below). 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.

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Expand your movie list. Here are our critics’ recommendations for 15 movies to watch at home this weekend. Want more? Sign up for film writer Mark Olsen’s Indie Focus newsletter.

Plus, here are lists of the 51 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.

By the numbers

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

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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 Friday, April 17. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 5:30 p.m. PDT Friday, April 17. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.
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Across California

As unemployment climbed and millions of Californians sought financial support, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday tapped politicians and executives including Apple’s Tim Cook and Disney’s Bob Iger to guide the economic recovery. A new task force headed by his chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, and billionaire former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer will make recommendations for how to create jobs and help Californians get back on their feet.

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The job losses include devastating cuts at local newspapers that rely on local businesses, not big-dollar national ones, as advertisers. “The irony is that interest in the product is skyrocketing,” said a Hermosa Beach newspaper’s owner. “There is an urgency to the situation, but the financial basis for the newspaper has just evaporated.” On Thursday, the company that owns The Times announced it would close three of its community newspapers, the Burbank Leader, the Glendale News-Press and the La Cañada Valley Sun.

Facing precipitous drops in tax revenue and transit ridership, L.A. Metro will make major cuts to bus and rail service starting Sunday. The scaled-back service plan of the county’s busiest transit agency will resemble its usual Sunday schedule, meaning passengers may face longer waits than they usually would on weekdays.

While crime is down dramatically across Los Angeles, police say some “porch pirates” are taking advantage of the increase in home deliveries to steal packages from residences. And since delivery drivers have been instructed not to touch doorknobs, gate latches or other surfaces, more packages are being left near sidewalks or in other exposed and visible locations.

Here’s another group whose business the pandemic has upended: social media influencers. That’s true especially in L.A., which has one of the country’s largest concentrations of them. With digital advertisers curtailing their spending, many influencers are rethinking how they engage with fans while sequestered in their homes.

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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

Initially, the malaria drugs chloroquine and its close relative hydroxychloroquine looked like they might benefit patients with COVID-19. But the drugs, widely touted by Trump, largely failed to deliver when evaluated in rigorous research. “My own impression so far is that these medications are a colossal ‘Maybe,’” said a professor of medicine at New York University. “Is there enough possible benefit that we could use these on a wing and prayer until something better comes along? I’m underwhelmed,” he added.

The tobacco and vaping industries are seizing marketing opportunities to offer freebie protective gear, doorstep deliveries and pandemic-themed discounts — even as scientists warn that people with lungs damaged by smoking or vaping are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. “Because it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape,” warned the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, in a statement.

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In the border town of Mexicali, home to Mexico’s largest Chinatown, the pandemic has fueled discrimination and racist attacks against Chinese Mexicans. Before schools shut down, students stopped socializing with their Chinese classmates, especially if they sneezed or coughed. “When we arrived at an event to show our lion and dragon dances, as soon as they saw our dragons, we’d get comments like, ‘Oh, they’re bringing the coronavirus,’” said a dance instructor for the Chinese Assn. of Mexicali.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from several readers who want to know: Should I wear a mask every time I leave my house? Here’s what experts told our reporters.

Beverly Hills, Glendale and Riverside County now require people to wear masks whenever they go outside, including for walks in their neighborhoods, and some health experts say it doesn’t hurt to take the extra precautions.

Masks aren’t intended to protect the person wearing them but to block the transfer of saliva to another person, which could lead to an infection, said a Torrance physician. Now that it’s common to see people using sidewalks as their new exercise venue, it might not always be feasible to stay at least six feet away from one another.

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Also, “cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and washing hands and staying home when ill,” said the California Department of Public Health.

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.

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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