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Science

Coronavirus Today: We’re starting to reopen

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Monday, May 4. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

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After seven weeks of closures and restrictions, this week California will start down the path to reopening its economy. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that some retail stores can open with modifications by Friday, as the state proceeds from Phase One of his plan, keeping essential workers as safe as possible, to Phase Two, relaxing store closures. “This is a very positive sign, and it’s happened only for one reason: The data says it can happen.”

Although the number of cases has yet to subside, California has started to see a week-over-week decline in deaths. Between April 26 and May 2, there were 497 coronavirus deaths reported in California, down from 547 the week before.

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The governor’s plan also expands decision-making at the local level, giving some communities the authority to open more businesses at their own pace, instead of adhering to a uniform statewide policy. But if counties want to do more, they must first meet certain requirements for hospital beds, testing kits and the ability to track infected people and trace their contacts.

Newsom is letting two cities in Orange County reopen their beaches after closing them ahead of the weekend to stem the crowds. Under plans approved by state officials, Laguna Beach and San Clemente will allow access for active recreation such as swimming, surfing and running, taking a range of measures to avoid crowding and allow safe distancing.

So when might California be ready to really loosen up its stay-at-home order? One UCLA epidemiologist suspects Phase Three — reopening higher-risk places like salons, gyms and movie theaters — could start in August or September, with the continuation of social-distancing measures, like wearing face coverings and limiting the number of customers.

In other words: We have a ways to go, but we’re starting.

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By the numbers

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

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

Across California

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the school year will start Aug. 18 as scheduled, but no decision has been made on whether campuses will reopen for in-person classes by then. An expanded summer school session will begin online in mid-June. The timing for reopening campuses is complicated, Supt. Austin Beutner said, because “it will be the science, and only the science, which can provide a foundation for the safe return of our school community.”

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Ridership on Los Angeles County buses has fallen by 65% since the outbreak began, but some lines are still so full that social distancing is impossible. Drivers say too many riders are defying California’s stay-at-home orders by making nonessential trips. In addition, there are periodic shortages of masks, hand sanitizer and other protective gear at Metro’s bus yards. “It is very, very scary,” said a driver who works on the Silver Line. “I have a big bump on my face because I’m wearing my mask so tight. I’m wearing long sleeves in the heat. My hands are cracked, I’m washing them so much.” County Supervisor Janice Hahn says a mask should be mandatory for anyone who wants to board a bus or train.

As the center of the global music business, Los Angeles’ professional recording studios employ thousands of sound engineers, back-line workers and IT experts. They’re now watching from home as artists adapt to a world without soundstages, engineers, mixing consoles or echo chambers, joining fans absorbed in acoustically insulting bedroom concerts. “It’s like we’ve become a world of retirees,” said a producer.

The Times is releasing a new podcast from our entertainment team, with the first episode dropping on May 5. Hosted by television reporter Yvonne Villarreal, “Can’t Stop Watching: Your TV Faves on Their TV Faves” features conversations with TV stars — the first guest is David Harbour from “Stranger Things” — about their most fascinating roles, how their characters would handle the coronavirus and what they’re watching on television right now.

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 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 pandemic, 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

Masks are a new battleground in the pandemic as more and more people see orders to wear them as government overreach. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine backtracked on an order requiring masks in stores, as too many Ohioans found it “offensive.” In Miami, more than 8,000 warnings were handed out for not using masks, prompting the city to close the popular South Pointe Park — again. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who issued a mandatory mask order April 15, said Monday he believes local governments should have the right to enforce it, “because you could literally kill someone.”

The U.S. is seeing the worst oil bust in a lifetime under the combined forces of the pandemic and a weakening market. Thousands of energy sector workers have been laid off in Texas in recent weeks, and more than half of oil and gas workers worry they could lose their jobs, according to a University of Houston survey. “People outside of Texas don’t realize how much revenue, how much lifeblood, oil brings,” one worker said.

They kept a low profile before the pandemic. But these days, Chinese ambassadors are attacking foreign officials on social media and peddling misinformation — amplified by the state-controlled press — to deflect blame for the virus coming from all corners and especially President Trump. “Other countries shouldn’t blame China for mistakes they have made themselves, particularly the U.S.,” tweeted the Chinese ambassador to the Netherlands.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Nivaldo Meneghetti, who wants to know: If we have mild COVID-19 symptoms, can we take cough syrup? Science reporter Melissa Healy spoke to experts to find out.

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If you’re experiencing coughing as one of the symptoms of an infection due to the coronavirus, cough syrup may do more harm than good, new research suggests. Dextromethorphan, a common active ingredient in dozens of over-the-counter cough syrups, capsules and lozenges, appeared to boost replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus when tested under laboratory conditions.

Dextromethorphan stifles signals in the brain that set off the reflex to cough and is a key ingredient of virtually all over-the-counter cough and cold formulations, including those sold as Robitussin, Benylyn, DayQuil/NyQuil, Delsym, Triaminic, and Theraflu. In tests conducted at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, researchers found that when dextromethorphan was introduced into the cells of African green monkeys growing in petri dishes, the subsequent addition of SARS-CoV-2 resulted in more prolific viral growth.

While that one study is a long way from concluding that cough medicines containing dextromethorphan will worsen the condition of COVID-19 patients, researchers said the findings are concerning enough for them to advise those infected to avoid these medications.

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


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