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Coronavirus Today: Just how bad is the beach?

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Friday, May 1. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond, plus ways to spend your weekend.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday that he will make an announcement as early as next week about his plans to begin to ease restrictions on Californians, “as long as we continue to be prudent and thoughtful.” The pressure on the governor to reopen California is intensifying following his decision to force the closure of Orange County beaches and rumors that he would do the same statewide. Beaches have become a flashpoint in a way that other parts of life — such as shopping, working and cheering the Dodgers and Lakers — have not, as many in the state see a day at the beach as a birthright.

Orange County officials decried the closures as government overreach and argued that they had made progress in flattening the coronavirus curve, especially compared with neighboring L.A. County. Some even argued that a trip to the beach might do more good than harm. “Medical professionals tell us the importance of fresh air and sunlight in fighting infectious diseases, including mental health benefits,” said Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, though scientists pushed back on some of those claims.

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The Huntington Beach City Council voted Thursday night during an emergency session to seek an injunction against Newsom’s order, and other Orange County cities were also weighing their legal options before a Superior Court judge denied the injunction request. More than 500 protesters converged on Huntington Beach on Friday to express their displeasure; though some wore face coverings, most of them neither wore masks nor followed social distancing guidelines by staying six feet from one another.

The sentiment behind the protests is certainly understandable, but scientists say there’s no question the lockdown is working and shouldn’t end prematurely. Though there are significant health risks associated with the stay-at-home orders and the economic devastation it has caused, they cannot compare with the massive loss of life that would occur if officials decide to throw up their hands and fast-track herd immunity. “As a country, we are certainly talking about at least a million deaths if we just reopen and do nothing else,” one biostatistician said. “You can try to do a cost-benefit analysis, but it’s hard to put a dollar value on death.”

Whatever their frustrations, Californians have considerable confidence in their state government and say they want to move slowly on ending stay-at-home orders, according to a UC Berkeley poll. The statewide poll also found that 70% of respondents approve of how Newsom is doing his job, including a growing number of those who identified as Republicans and moderates. In contrast, confidence in the Trump administration has fallen over its response to the pandemic.

The Times is tracking closures of the more than 1,500 beaches across the state’s 15 coastal counties. You can search for specific beach restrictions in your area.

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What to do this weekend

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

Feeling anxious and stressed out? L.A. County residents can receive a free subscription for the mindfulness and meditation app Headspace.

If you’re missing the sand, consider building your own backyard beach with these tips from columnist Chris Erskine. All you really need, he says, is sand, a beach chair and umbrella, and a good playlist.

Listen to The Times’ 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.

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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.)

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 from other people and, in some cases, wear a mask (more on that below). Remember, beaches and hiking trails in L.A. County are off-limits.

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Learn to cook by signing up for this new weekly newsletter from the L.A. Times Food team and watching their video series. They also have a food coloring book.

Expand your movie list. From “Star Wars” to “Independence Day,” entertainment columnist Glenn Whipp and film critic Justin Chang debate the best summer movies ever made. Want more recommendations? 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 p.m. PDT Friday:

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

Across California

A growing number of California tenants are turning their economic hardship into a mass protest, demanding that legislators at all levels of government pass laws to cancel rent until the public health crisis is over. The rent strike is just one tactic marking a dramatic new escalation in the long-running fight over affordable housing in a state where more than 9 million tenants — more than half of those in the state — were already burdened by high rents.

The growing calls for the rent strike come as a wave of labor unrest sweeps the state, with unions harnessing the momentum to organize protests, rally media coverage and pressure public officials such as Newsom. In Los Angeles, Glendale and Long Beach, thousands of laid-off janitors and hotel workers besieged elected officials with petitions seeking future job guarantees. From Oakland to Monterey Park, employees at dozens of fast-food outlets, including McDonald’s, Domino’s and Wendy’s, walked off their jobs to protest a lack of social distancing measures.

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Nurses took to the streets in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Irvine and Oceanside to shame hospitals for failing to protect them against the coronavirus. A 32-year-old nurse at an upscale dementia care center on Los Angeles’ Westside died of COVID-19 complications after telling relatives that her employer had instructed her to admit a new resident showing signs of illness, even though the facility was under lockdown.

In light of the health risks of being out in public, the California Air Resources Board has halted field inspections to help enforce clean-air rules since mid-March. The hiatus means that an array of pollution sources, from soot-belching diesel trucks and cargo ships to methane-leaking landfills and oil and gas sites, now face far less scrutiny than is typical.

California’s indigenous Mexicans and Guatemalans are missing vital pandemic information because of language barriers. Los Angeles is home to Mexicans who speak languages such as Zapotec, Mixtec and Triqui, as well as Guatemalan Maya who speak languages like K’iche’ and Q’anjob’al. Many have only a basic grasp of Spanish. “There’s this concern, are these people really understanding, is there a lack of accurate information in their language?” said the director of an indigenous community advocacy group.

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 outbreak, 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Around the nation and the world

As calls grow for scaled-up contact tracing to help chart the path of the virus’ spread, many have pinned their hopes on programs powered by Google and Apple. The rival companies are working with public health authorities and university researchers to make it possible for apps on mobile devices to notify people if they were recently in proximity to someone who was infected. But some health officials worry about leaving this delicate job in the hands of tech companies known for privacy violations. “I find it hard to believe an undocumented patient would be comfortable with an app that alerts you to someone next to you that has been exposed to COVID,” said the director of a nonprofit health clinic.

The Trump administration won’t disclose how it is distributing medical supplies brought to the U.S. at taxpayer expense, instead allowing the six medical supply companies doing the importing to block public release of the data, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The lack of disclosure effectively hinders any public accounting of which states are getting the most help and what formulas are being used to distribute the equipment, despite a public investment of tens of millions of dollars in the airlift operation. The administration also won’t give details on the financial terms the White House struck with the six companies, which together reported more than $2 billion in profits last year.

Warning that the supply chain of the North American free-trade zone could be permanently crippled, the U.S. is pushing Mexico to reopen factories that were closed because of the country’s social distancing guidelines. Under pressure from the Trump administration and American CEOs, some Mexican officials have begun to cave, despite warnings from Mexican health authorities that reopening factories too soon could lead to widespread death. “They are criminals who are only interested in their capital,” said a worker at a factory owned by Wisconsin-based Regal Beloit Corp.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Brenda Reismann, who wants to know: Will banks suspend mortgage payments? Business reporter Andrew Khouri has the latest on navigating mortgage relief.

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Under the federal CARES Act, a borrower with a federally backed mortgage is entitled to cease paying their mortgage for six months as part of forbearance programs, as long as the homeowner has faced financial hardship from the pandemic. If you want to take advantage, you must request relief from your mortgage servicer, the company to which you make your payment each month.

There isn’t a threshold as to the level of hardship you must face. And you don’t have to submit documentation proving your hardship. After six months, if you want, you can request an additional six-month break from paying, bringing your total forbearance period to a year. According to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there should be no additional fees, penalties or additional interest charged to you because of your forbearance.

Remember though, the payments are postponed, not forgiven. You’ll have to make up the payments after the forbearance period is over, but you won’t have to pay it all back in a lump sum if you can’t afford to do so. Other options include paying a higher mortgage payment each month until all your missed payments are accounted for, or extending the length of your loan and keeping your monthly mortgage payment the same or even lower than before the forbearance.

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, our Health section and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.


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