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Coronavirus Today: The threat of a second wave

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

Across the country, local officials are battling with governors over stay-at-home orders. Mayors of major cities in Georgia and Texas are protesting their states’ easing of restrictions, saying plans to reopen now are “reckless.”

In some California communities, it’s the reverse: Some local officials are beginning to relax their orders and seek Gov. Gavin Newsom’s permission to let business activity resume. Orange County leaders agreed to allow golf courses to reopen, the Mt. Baldy ski resort in San Bernardino County is operating in a limited capacity, and the city of Ventura eased hard closures this week to give residents access to beaches, the pier, the promenade and parks as long as they keep their distance and stay active.

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Yet even as California flattens its coronavirus curve, a rise in the number of new cases and deaths and concerns about a new wave of the outbreak are reasons to stay vigilant, officials say. Newsom and others have said that California and the nation have not necessarily seen the worst yet and that lifting stay-at-home rules could be disastrous. “If we all pull back, we could see a second wave that makes this pale in comparison,” Newsom told CBS News. “I don’t anticipate that normalcy that many of us wish for happening anytime soon.” Even if stay-at-home policies are lifted swiftly, the economy probably won’t come roaring back, writes business columnist David Lazarus.

As more Californians lose their jobs, children in rural areas are dealing with hunger and isolation. Some bus drivers are traveling hours to deliver meals to families who can’t afford to drive into town. “We’re very isolated,” said a school superintendent in Siskiyou County. More families are relying on school-provided meals, she said. “Families can’t just walk around the corner to the grocery store. Food insecurity was already a pretty big concern in our county.”

Doctors who oversee hospital emergency departments worry that widespread public fears of the virus are scaring away people who need immediate lifesaving treatment. They say the number of people who visit emergency rooms has dropped by a third to half during the pandemic. “Where are the strokes and the heart attacks?” said an emergency physician at Antelope Valley Hospital. “These cases didn’t just vaporize with the virus. I worry people are suffering at home because they’re afraid our emergency rooms are radioactive.”

But here’s some good news to leave you with: The Amens, a Corona del Mar couple married for 70 years, beat COVID-19 together in the same hospital room. Their lively presence sent a positive vibe throughout Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, said the doctor who treated 88-year-old Dolores and 90-year-old Louis. “You could just see that it gave everybody that extra needed boost of energy and some hope that we’re all going to come through this together.”

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Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, when around 20 million Americans poured into the streets in 1970 to demonstrate their anger over the Santa Barbara oil spill and images of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River on fire.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, environmentalists had been planning for a breakout moment for a new phase of climate campaigning, writes Bill McKibben in an opinion piece for The Times. Still, activists are adapting, and Earth Day events are proceeding virtually with watch parties, online demonstrations and even kids’ activities. Here are some ways you can participate from home.

By the numbers

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

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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 Wednesday, April 22. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 5:30 p.m. PDT Wednesday, April 22. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.

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Across California

Until now, the first COVID-19 fatality in the U.S. was believed to have occurred in Kirkland, Wash., on Feb. 29. However, two people who died in Santa Clara County on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17 were infected with the coronavirus, the county’s medical examiner revealed late Tuesday. That would make them the first documented COVID-19 fatalities in the country, and it aligns with data that suggest the virus was spreading in Silicon Valley long before health officials started looking for it.

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L.A. County’s overcrowded housing could play a role in accelerating the spread of the disease, according to public health officials and researchers. The county is home to five of the 10 ZIP Codes considered the country’s most crowded, with more than one person per room, an analysis of census data shows. Some of the most cramped living conditions nationwide are found in lower-income neighborhoods such as Historic South-Central, Westlake and Pico-Union. County health director Barbara Ferrer said data are being gathered to determine whether more crowded neighborhoods are seeing more cases.

There’s also growing concern around California about congregant homeless shelters, where multiple people bunk down in a large communal space. Though L.A. officials say homeless people are safer sharing space in shelters than on the streets, critics of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to open more such shelters say they may speed the spread of the virus. “This is a cruise ship without walls between the bedrooms,” said a Stanford physician. “In a nursing home, at least people are in their own rooms. Big shelters like this for outbreaks are probably the worst thing.”

As the pandemic turns normally bustling locales and highways into yawning, vacant stretches, some people are taking advantage to indulge in street racing. From Southern California to the Bay Area, daredevils have been challenging one another to races on surface streets or rushing intersections to perform burnouts and other dangerous vehicle stunts, police investigators say. “They’re under the assumption that law enforcement is busy with the whole pandemic situation, that we’re too busy to deal with them,” said one official.

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.

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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.
— 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

Although President Trump said Tuesday that he would suspend green card applications for immigrants seeking permanent residence, the very different immigration order he signed Wednesday does not do so. Instead, it restricts some people from entering the country over the next 60 days, and it has broad exemptions for some foreign workers and employers and their families. A senior White House official acknowledged that because of the sharp reduction in travel and immigration already prompted by the coronavirus, it’s impossible to ascertain how many people the order would affect.

For health professionals, expectations are starting to fall over the use of antimalarial drugs to treat COVID-19 symptoms, writes columnist Michael Hiltzik. Late last week, a group of controlled studies testing chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine failed to impress doctors, and a subsequent study of cases at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals showed that patients who received hydroxychloroquine died at higher rates than those who didn’t. The researchers wrote that the findings “highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs.”

Each year, immigrants in the U.S. collectively send hundreds of billions of dollars to relatives in their home countries. The cash is often a lifeline for families and for some national economies, accounting for a fifth of the gross domestic products of El Salvador and Honduras and more than a third of Haiti’s. But as the pandemic wipes out service and construction jobs commonly held by immigrants, economists say the cash flow will dry up, dealing a gut punch to developing countries’ GDPs and straining their local safety nets. For families, it could be catastrophic.

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Millions of Muslims around the world are about to mark Ramadan, the holy month of fasting that begins Thursday at sunset. But as mosques close under social distancing orders, many Muslims are resigned to what they see as incomplete worship. The closures are also disrupting business for the restaurants used to serving crowds after evening prayers. “We wait all year for Ramadan, our customers too. It’s a matter of heritage,” said a board member of a Lebanese dessert shop.

The slew of pandemic-inspired hate incidents against Asian Americansis reminding us that our belonging is conditional,” actor John Cho writes in an opinion piece for The Times. “One moment we are Americans, the next we are all foreigners, who ‘brought’ the virus here.”

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from multiple readers who want to know: Would herd immunity help people who have not been exposed to the virus? Here’s what reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen found.

Herd immunity describes a situation in which almost everyone is protected from a virus because enough of the population is immune, said Dr. David Eisenman, director of UCLA’s Center for Public Health and Disasters. If someone who has never come in contact with the virus and has never received a vaccine lives in a population that has herd immunity, their chance of contracting the virus is still low because they are surrounded by people who are protected from it. The virus can’t establish a chain of transmission.

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“The idea of herd immunity is you don’t have to immunize everybody,” Eisenman said. Herd immunity is vital to protect those who are unable to be vaccinated, like the immunocompromised or those who are allergic to the vaccine itself.

However, Eisenman said, without a vaccine, the only way to develop herd immunity is to allow millions of people to contract the virus. “It would mean that a lot of people have gotten infected and sick, and if that were to happen over a short period of time, that would be devastating,” he said. “It would mean we couldn’t reopen our economy. It’s just not really feasible to get it if we want to protect ourselves.”

When it comes to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, we also don’t yet know how effectively antibodies, found in the blood of recovered patients, grant immunity against possible reinfection.

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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