Coronavirus Today: Quarantine’s psychological toll


Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Wednesday, April 29. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

The U.S. economy shrank at a 4.8% pace in the first quarter of 2020, faster than at any time since the Great Recession, the government said Wednesday. It’s the broadest measure so far of COVID-19’s economic toll — but its full dimension will not be visible until the second quarter, said Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. Although output could start growing again this fall, most experts foresee a halting recovery, given the magnitude of losses for businesses and consumers alike and the uncertainty over whether cases will spike again when states reopen.

The longer the quarantine lasts, the worse its impact on our psychological well-being, scientists and health officials fear. Research suggests that people forced to live in quarantine conditions are at greater risk of symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger, irritability, insomnia and post-traumatic stress. “Living in isolation and confinement with a small number of people for a long time is a psychological challenge,” said a Dartmouth medical professor, who suggested that many of the issues that emerge in isolation are sharper versions of the problems we experience in daily life. “Maybe you were already stressed about something, but you had outlets that were working for you, and now you are cut off from them.”

But as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 60,000 on Wednesday and confirmed cases 1 million — a milestone some models had predicted the U.S. would reach only by late summer — Gov. Gavin Newsom again urged Californians to stay home to avoid spoiling the progress already made in containing the spread of the disease. “Why put ourselves in that position when we are just a week or two away from significant modifications of our stay-at-home [order]?” he said.


From lost time with friends to missed milestones like prom and graduation, teenagers are feeling especially frustrated and anxious by their lack of social interaction. Many are worried about the future and what that will look like when it comes to school, summer jobs and college. One family therapist encouraged parents to validate those feelings and remind them this quarantine is temporary. Structure and predictability will help pass the time and give teens something to look forward to, she said. “This is hard, but our kids are resilient. And they will get through it.”

It’s been difficult for scientists to get a handle on the true scale of COVID-19’s spread. But some say an unlikely source could be the key to determining when a community might consider easing health restrictions: our poop. As researchers ramp up wastewater analyses to track the coronavirus, initial studies show that sewage monitoring — or “wastewater-based epidemiology” — could tell us not only how much the virus might be spreading in a community but also when it has finally gone away. The amount of virus detected in the sewage can, in essence, mirror the timing and scale of an outbreak in ways that more delayed (and more expensive) in-person testing cannot, experts say.

Still, free coronavirus testing has now been expanded to all L.A. County residents, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Wednesday. Until now, only those with symptoms as well as essential workers and those in institutional settings like nursing homes qualified. Testing is available by appointment at these sites run by the city.

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. Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Click to see the map from Johns Hopkins CSSE.

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most.

Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times.

Across California

Dirty money is piling up in Los Angeles as closed storefronts, scrambled supply chains and the crashing global economy slow the trade-based money laundering systems used to repatriate drug profits. The wholesale prices of illegal drugs have also skyrocketed; methamphetamine has soared to about $1,800 a pound, compared with about $900 a pound five months ago, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration agent based in L.A.

Nearly half of the people incarcerated in the Terminal Island prison in San Pedro have tested positive for the coronavirus in what has become the nation’s worst outbreak in a federal penitentiary, as the Federal Bureau of Prisons faces a growing chorus of criticism for its response to outbreaks at its facilities. Terminal Island inmates said a military-style medical facility was being erected in the prison yards to cope with the burgeoning number of sick patients. “If I don’t make it I’ll see you upstairs, take care of mom, my girl and the kids,” one wrote in a letter to his family.

Six Bay Area counties will allow all construction projects, real estate transactions and some types of outdoor businesses to resume operations with certain conditions on Monday, even as other stay-at-home restrictions are largely retained through May. Skate parks and other kinds of outdoor recreational facilities can reopen if they do not involve shared equipment or physical contact. In San Mateo County, trails will reopen in 13 parks with certain restrictions in effect: Visitors must carry face coverings, maintain a buffer of six feet, avoid mingling with people they don’t live with and hike single-file on narrow paths.

The Bay Area has been able to move forward with these plans because of consecutive weekly declines in the number of new cases, whereas in Southern California the pace of new cases has risen. Los Angeles County is now where half of all the state’s coronavirus patients are hospitalized, and new data out this week suggests that those who live in the county’s lower-income communities are more likely to die of the disease than those in wealthier neighborhoods. The data are complicated, however, by the fact that some of the areas with the highest death rates are home to long-term care facilities, including skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities, where the disease has spread rapidly.

Despite the crowds that swarmed the Orange County coast this weekend, the Newport Beach City Council has rejected a measure that would have closed its beaches for most weekends in May. And Laguna Beach will reopen city beaches for several hours on weekday mornings beginning Monday, allowing water activities and walking or jogging along the shore.


— For general safety, 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. Practice social distancing, maintaining a six-foot radius of personal space in public. And wear a mask if you leave home for essential activities. Here’s how to do it right.
— Watch for symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell. If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic before going.
— Here’s how to care for someone with COVID-19, from monitoring their symptoms to preventing the virus’ spread.
— If your job has been affected by the coronavirus, here’s how to file for unemployment.
— 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

In what could be a turning point in efforts to treat the disease, government researchers reported Wednesday that the antiviral medication remdesivir helped patients with advanced COVID-19 recover more quickly than a placebo treatment. The early results from a large clinical trial sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases appears to position the drug, originally developed to treat Ebola, as the standard therapy for hospitalized patients going forward — at least until something even better comes along.

With many scientists barred from their labs, however, most scientific research unrelated to the coronavirus has ground to a halt. The abrupt stoppage of a vast array of exploration and experimentation at universities and elsewhere has left researchers wondering about the discoveries that may never be made, the sick people who will miss the chance at a breakthrough cure and the careers that may never be launched. “Our first concern obviously has to be the well-being of the people we work with,” one said. “But as a scientist, it is hard to just stop cold like this.”

With the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics, the field of esports is gaining new attention from the International Olympic Committee. The head of the IOC suggested in a letter published Wednesday that even after the pandemic subsides, the economic fallout might force more cancellations of big-time sports events. He urged sports federations to be open-minded, saying they should “consider how to govern electronic and virtual forms of their sport and explore opportunities with game publishers.”

With a trained scientist at the helm, a generally rule-following public and an enviable healthcare system, Germany is becoming a case study in how to deal with a public-health crisis. The country’s COVID-19 death rate hovers at about 4%, orders of magnitude lower than in Spain or Italy, France or Britain — or the U.S. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, has been credited as “an excellent crisis leader,” particularly after a video clip of her giving a crisp, precise 98-second explanation of coronavirus transmission rates went viral (so to speak).

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: How do I decide which charity needs my help the most during the pandemic? Reporter Nicole Santa Cruz looked into some of the charitable giving options out there.

Many charities and nonprofit groups have had to cancel fundraisers and in-person events that would normally bring in revenue. According to a survey conducted this month, 83% of organizations said they were suffering financially because of the outbreak.


Experts suggest looking around your community and taking stock of how smaller organizations might be helping those in need. Groups such as Giving Compass and Charity Navigator have compiled lists of COVID-19 response funds if you’re looking to donate to organizations that are assisting with relief. Those sites also evaluate the impact and financial data of nonprofit groups so you can see whether they tend to spend their money wisely.

A marketing professor at Northeastern University who researches the effects of emotion in consumer reasoning said you’ll get the most happiness from donating to what matters to you.

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.