Coronavirus Today: COVID-19 and the climate crisis


Good evening. I’m Sammy Roth, an energy reporter for the Times, and it’s Tuesday, May 5. I’m taking over the top section of this newsletter today to talk about the coronavirus and what it can teach us about the climate crisis.

If you haven’t been thinking much about climate change recently, I don’t blame you. There’s a lot of other stuff going on. But we can’t completely forget about it, either.

Even with much of the economy on lockdown, we’re still burning fossil fuels, and global temperatures are still rising. This year is shaping up to be one of the hottest on record, according to researchers at Carbon Brief, a climate science website. Drought conditions in Northern California may prompt an early start to the 2020 wildfire season — and as Californians have learned in recent years, climate change is fueling more devastating droughts and fires.

So what does this have to do with the COVID-19 pandemic? A lot, actually.

Research has found that Americans living in areas with worse air pollution — caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels — are at greater risk of dying from COVID-19. Across the U.S., public health experts are warning that the death toll from summer heat waves could rise as millions of people self-isolate in homes they can’t keep cool. There are also economic implications, including more than 100,000 job losses in the clean energy sector and the worst oil bust in a lifetime, with prices briefly falling below zero.

The pandemic may also create new opportunities to confront climate change. Public investment in the clean energy sector, for instance, is one option for policymakers looking to rebuild the battered economy after the pandemic is over.

I asked experts what lessons from the coronavirus response might apply to climate change. Their answers included creating a health and economic safety net for communities affected by pollution, offering financial support for fossil fuel workers who lose their jobs and perhaps a renewed willingness to change our lifestyles to help others.

One more connection between coronavirus and climate change? The importance of listening to scientists, especially when they’re using their hard-won expertise to offer advice on the steps we must take to protect our health and our planet.


That’s why we’re launching Boiling Point, a weekly newsletter about climate change and the environment that will help you navigate the news and understand how it might affect your life, your community and the landscapes you love. It will feature reporting from myself and L.A. Times colleagues — including Rosanna Xia, who was just named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her deep dive into the choices we face as California’s coastline is reshaped by the rising sea.

We’ll send the first edition of Boiling Point this Thursday, May 7. I hope you’ll sign up here or at our newsletters center.

Now, back to Diya Chacko on what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:00 p.m. PDT Tuesday:

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

Across California

With Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing that some stores could open with restrictions by the end of the week as the state enters Phase Two of his plan to relax stay-at-home orders, California communities are considering what to do next.

Rural, less populated regions may reopen faster than harder-hit urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco. The number of infections in some rural and suburban counties is dramatically lower, with four counties having seen no cases at all, and more than a dozen reporting no deaths from the illness. Newsom on Tuesday criticized Sutter and Yuba counties for letting businesses reopen Monday against state orders as officials there argued that they were less affected. “They’re making a big mistake. They’re putting their public at risk. They’re putting our progress at risk,” Newsom said. He did not say if the state would take any action to enforce the stay-at-home order and other statewide restrictions in those counties.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday that he did not expect retail businesses to be able to offer curbside delivery by Friday. The city’s Safer at Home order remains in effect until May 15, and Garcetti said he hoped steps restricting commerce could begin to be rolled back by then.


More Orange County beaches have been granted permission to reopen with limitations, after Newsom closed them last week to prevent weekend crowding. Under plans approved by state officials, the cities of Dana Point, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach can now open up access to their shorelines, with a range of measures to ensure safe physical distancing.

The pandemic has effectively brought much of Walt Disney Co., the world’s largest entertainment company and one of California’s biggest private employers, to a halt. Until recently, it was riding high on its dominant box office performance, packed themed parks and a fast-growing new streaming service. But Disney now says its parks segment missed out on about $1 billion in operating income in the second quarter due to coronavirus closures.

The shuttered parks could have serious implications for California’s economy because of the number of people temporarily out of work and the amount of economic activity the parks attract to the area. There are also questions about what Disney will look like when the outbreak subsides. Executive Chairman Bob Iger doesn’t “think we’re ever going to see a return to business as usual.”


— 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.

Around the nation and the world

Top Trump administration health officials repeatedly ignored warnings in January and February about the need for masks and other protective equipment to prepare for the coronavirus outbreak, according to a detailed whistleblower complaint from a senior scientist ousted from his post last month. The scientist also said his skepticism about hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug touted by President Trump as a COVID-19 treatment, angered senior administration officials.

Public health officials are using antibody tests to get a more accurate picture of the virus’ spread, but businesses are also beginning to seek them out in order to bring people back to work. The tests have been touted as a way to give people so-called “immunity passports” that would allow them to work without the risk that they are contagious. But the reality is that the tests aren’t readily available, can be inaccurate and don’t tell us how much protection antibodies even provide — or for how long.


While trust in governments around the world is rising, trust in businesses — and their leaders in particular — has fallen sharply during the pandemic, according to a new report by communications firm Edelman. The survey reflects agitation among low-wage workers, including grocery store employees and delivery workers, who see too few safety protections and say their pay isn’t in line with the risk they face. “Businesses actually haven’t performed well in the minds of respondents. There’s a feeling they haven’t gotten the right products and they haven’t protected their employees — that profits are still being put over people, and more should be done to prepare for the next phase,” said Edelman’s chief executive.

As hospitals in Mexico become overloaded with patients, families are losing patience with long wait times for care and a lack of communication from medical officials. Tales of hospitals mixing up bodies have circulated on social media, leading relatives to demand to see the corpses of their loved ones to ensure they’re identified correctly. “We wanted to be sure it was my brother,” said the sister of a patient who died of COVID-19 the day after she and her family brought him to the hospital.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Joseph Rys, who wants to know: Do our cars need to be disinfected? Travel editor Catharine Hamm looked into it as part of a story about what our future road trips might look like.

In order to make your car as safe as possible — whether or not you’re traveling — you should clean it. About a third of drivers clean the inside of their car only about once a year, said a futurist at Ford Motor Co. She added that the steering wheel is generally four times dirtier than a restroom.

The suggestions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers for cleaning your home can also be applied to your vehicle. Besides the steering wheel, focus on disinfecting high-touch surfaces like safety belts, door handles and even the fob you use to start the car.

Escalate the frequency of your checks on tires, oil and any equipment that could leave you stranded if it fails. That way you’re not dependent on outside rescue, which might be a vector for virus transmission. It’s also a good idea to keep a supply of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes at the ready. Remember, the virus is transmitted by respiratory droplets and can last for hours to days on some surfaces.


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