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Coronavirus Today: Orange County beaches close

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Thursday, April 30. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

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Don’t plan any visits to Orange County beaches this weekend. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered them closed after thousands of Californians flocked there last weekend in defiance of the statewide stay-at-home order.

A memo sent to police chiefs Wednesday evening had said the governor’s order would go further and close all state and local beaches, but that plan appears to have been abandoned. Officials across the state opposed the move, saying it would send the wrong message to beachgoers who practiced responsible social distancing. “It is not OK to punish Northern California for Southern California’s mistake, and I hope [Newsom] hears that loud and clear,” the Humboldt County sheriff said.

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During his daily COVID-19 briefing, Newsom commended other counties, including Los Angeles, for keeping people off their beaches during last weekend’s heat wave, and he called viral images of crowded coastlines “disturbing” — although some Orange County officials said they painted a distorted picture of what conditions were actually like. County Supervisor Don Wagner disparaged the idea of closing beaches, saying he worried it could “undermine that cooperative attitude and our collective efforts to fight the disease, based on the best available medical information.”

But the trouble with that information is that our understanding of COVID-19 keeps shifting. California’s total deaths during the pandemic are more than 9% above historical averages, according to new federal statistics — and that suggests California’s COVID-19 death toll could be hundreds or thousands more than what’s been attributed to the disease thus far. More extensive research is needed to reveal its true impact, statisticians say. But the new figures, which were drawn from an analysis of official death certificates, are an important early indicator.

We’re also still learning about how long the coronavirus lingers in patients — critical knowledge as governments in the U.S. and around the world begin to reopen their economies. While the virus typically lasts about two to three weeks in the body, medical researchers have found that it sometimes appears to last longer even in relatively young, healthy people. In the case of one symptom-free 42-year-old patient in Singapore, the virus stayed in his body for 40 days.

To better understand the virus’ spread, some states are seeking to hire armies of contact tracers to help patients recall everyone they had close contact with when they were most infectious. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state would need between 6,400 and 70,000 contact tracers, depending on the outcome of projected cases. “It’s not rocket science to do it on an individual basis,” he said. “The problem is the scale that we have to do this at.”

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Millions of people are competing for a shrinking number of jobs as the pandemic upends the economy, shuttering businesses and forcing mass layoffs. People who spoke to The Times about what it’s like to job-hunt right now said similar things: They miss the human interaction that comes with meeting prospective employers and clients, and the job-searching process today is like nothing they’ve ever experienced before.

In better news, graduating high school seniors who won’t get to don a cap and gown have this to look forward to: Lakers star LeBron James has organized a virtual graduation ceremony featuring Bad Bunny, Pharrell Williams, the Jonas Brothers and more, to air at 5 p.m. PDT on May 16 on major TV networks and streaming platforms. “While this won’t be the graduation experience they were supposed to get, we hope we can still give them something special because they deserve it,” James said.

By the numbers

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

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

Across California

Three million protective masks bought from a Chinese company by advisors to Gov. Gavin Newsom arrived in California over the weekend — the first shipment following a still-confidential deal costing taxpayers almost $1 billion. Newsom has said BYD, a company known for building electric vehicles, agreed to make 200 million masks a month for California under a contract that runs through the end of June. Most of those are supposed to be N95 masks, which are highly sought by healthcare workers. The ones that arrived Saturday are traditional surgical masks.

In a major expansion of coronavirus testing, state public health officials now recommend that all people in high-risk settings — including grocery store employees, bus drivers and law enforcement officers — get routine screenings for the virus. The latest guidance, which calls for essential workers to get priority access even if they don’t show symptoms, signals officials’ growing confidence that laboratory testing capacity is increasing enough to handle a bigger share of the population.

With Newsom so far refusing requests from local officials to ease stay-at-home orders, one remote county in the northeast corner of the state may flout those orders and reopen on Friday. Modoc County, home to fewer than 9,000 people, intends to let all businesses, schools and churches reopen, as long as people stay six feet apart, officials say, calling their plan “in the best interest of residents’ physical, mental and economic health.”

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While sheltering at home, one Mar Vista neighborhood has embraced riddles, jokes and brain teasers to interact with each other, posting them on signs on their front lawns. And stir-crazy residents have organized their daily walks around visiting the displays, often meeting neighbors they had never met before.

“We were like, let’s not get upset about things we can’t control,” one said. “Let’s focus on the things we can control, and make that our best world.”

Here’s a riddle for you: What are the best kind of jokes during a quarantine? The answer’s at the end of the newsletter.

As Californians figure out socially distant ways to have fun, shuttered theme parks have become ghost towns. At Magic Mountain, Disneyland and Universal Studios, wild animals are exploring the empty paths and birds are making their homes on roller coasters hundreds of feet high. Here’s what these theme parks look like from the air.

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Aerial views of the New Revolution and Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain, closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Aerial views of the New Revolution and Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain, closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Resources

— 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

Republican lawmakers and other U.S. officials, determined to punish China for concealing early data on the coronavirus outbreak, are proposing numerous measures to retaliate, from suing Beijing to ending U.S. military cooperation with Hollywood studios that censor their films for Chinese consumption. The efforts reflect the Trump administration’s eagerness to deflect blame for its handling of the pandemic as well as a growing contempt for Chinese policies that many officials believe cost lives.

The Trump administration’s program to dispense emergency assistance for medical providers in the most recent aid package is leaving behind the Medicaid safety net — the pediatricians, mental health providers and hospitals that serve the poorest patients. The formula used to allot the aid is based on hospitals’ total revenues, which tips the scale in favor of those that care for patients with the commercial health insurance plans that typically pay much higher rates than either Medicare or Medicaid. “The bigger your Medicaid business, the worse you do,” said North Carolina’s health secretary.

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As states begin to reopen, there are still no clear answers on when and how production could resume on Hollywood’s scripted movies. But many documentary filmmakers have been able to continue working by equipping their subjects with cameras, conducting audio interviews and delving into archival footage. “Yes, I want to do original reporting — and I will — but I can build a lot without it,” said one director.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: I’m worried about getting the coronavirus at work. What can I do? Reporters Samantha Masunaga and Thuc Nhi Nguyen looked into it.

For millions of Californians with jobs considered essential, going to work may mean coming into contact with co-workers and the public. For some of them, it’s nearly impossible to practice social distancing, and many workers are worried about keeping themselves and their families safe. Here are a few options to pursue:

Getting personal protective equipment: The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide workers with personal protective equipment to keep them safe on the job. If your employer isn’t providing the equipment, they should reimburse you for the gear that you purchase.

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Voicing workplace concerns: If you feel your safety is being compromised, worker advocates say you shouldn’t approach your employer on your own. It’s best for workers to approach their supervisor in a group so they can make clear that the issue is a collective problem. Workers who speak out to their employer about health and safety concerns as a group have some legal protection against retaliation, said the director of the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley. Employees who are not represented by a union can reach out to worker centers or community advocacy groups, such as the Garment Worker Center, the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, the Los Angeles Black Worker Center and the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, for advice and connections to resources.

Filing official complaints: Workers have the right to file a confidential complaint with the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA. Once the agency receives it, an inspector typically goes out to the work site to investigate and interview employees there to hear more about the working conditions. If there’s enough evidence, Cal/OSHA could issue a citation, which includes a fine. However, the process could take months, especially because the division has seen a flood of COVID-19-related complaints recently.

Some other options: If you believe your workplace is not operating safely, you can also file a report with your county’s department of public health. You can also contact media organizations; The Times has an encrypted tip line set up at latimes.com/tips.

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.

And the answer to the riddle above: Inside jokes


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