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Coronavirus Today: How do you fill a $54-billion hole?

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Thursday, May 7. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

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As California gradually eases its state stay-at-home order and tries to rekindle the economy, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new safeguards and protocols for retail stores and workplaces eligible to reopen Friday and in the weeks ahead. California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said on Thursday that counties can relax their restrictions more quickly than the state only if they have no more than one COVID-19 case per 10,000 residents and no more than one death in the last two weeks. County officials also must prove to the state that they have adequate testing and hospital capacity, as well as the ability to isolate infected people and trace all of their contacts.

The easing of restrictions comes as California faces a $54.3-billion budget deficit through next summer, according to an analysis released Thursday by Newsom’s advisors. It’s projected to be the deepest fiscal hole in state history, due to the erosion of tax revenues and the growing need for health and human services programs. The outlook for future state and local funding is dire, and the impact on K-12 education funding alone could be especially severe. Schools, which were projected to receive $84 billion under Newsom’s pre-pandemic fiscal budget, might see their funding cut by more than $18 billion.

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State lawmakers are hoping the deficit will be alleviated by the federal government. House Democrats are putting together a relief bill focused on new spending for state and local governments, individuals and testing on a bet that the public will favor their aggressive response over the more cautious approach embraced by the GOP. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) acknowledged they would have to negotiate with Senate Republicans eventually but added, “We have to start someplace.”

Under pressure to obtain masks and other critical equipment, California has committed to spend more than $3.7 billion on no-bid contracts, scores of them with businesses that have no track record with the state, a Times analysis found. While spending watchdogs acknowledge the urgent need for medical supplies, they caution that failing to adhere to accepted purchasing protocols could result in bad deals for taxpayers.

As the real estate market contracts, it’s getting harder to get a mortgage. Banks and lenders are tightening the conditions to obtain financing. Some are increasing FICO score and down-payment requirements. One type of low-documentation loan has all but dried up. So-called jumbo mortgages, which in Los Angeles and Orange counties are those for greater than $765,600, have also become more rare. Experts said lenders fear they’ll lose money as homeowners go into default.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Thursday:

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

Across California

After Yuba and Sutter counties defied Newsom and issued local orders allowing some businesses to reopen, state officials are warning that reopened businesses could lose their licenses to operate if they keep violating the stay-at-home order. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control visited multiple restaurants in those two counties this week and threatened to revoke their licenses to serve alcohol unless they closed their dining rooms. Under the statewide order, restaurants can offer only takeout service.

Los Angeles County is expected to draw about 22 million fewer visitors this year and lose more than $13 billion in tourist spending, according to a forecast commissioned by the L.A. Tourism and Convention Board. The board president called the numbers “pretty devastating” and predicted that a full recovery for the county could take as long as 3½ years. “It’s pretty bad, the hit we took,” he said.

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A law just passed by the Los Angeles City Council will soon give tenants the right to sue landlords who violate the city’s restrictions on evictions during the coronavirus crisis. Renters could potentially win penalties of up to $10,000 per violation — or $15,000 per violation if the tenant is disabled or a senior. The effort was about “giving the tenants a big stick,” one council member said.

Send Mom flowers, but don’t visit. Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities are letting florists reopen, but the director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health has told residents not to visit their moms on Mother’s Day, even if wearing masks and keeping six feet apart. He advises instead having the flowers sent by direct delivery. “The greatest gift we can give to our mothers this Mother’s Day is to stay away,” he said.

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.
— In need of mental health services? Here are resources for coping during the crisis from the CDC and the L.A. County Department of Public Health. L.A. County residents can also call (800) 854-7771 or text “LA” to 741741.

Around the nation and the world

As the pandemic closes courthouses, federal prosecutors and agents have delayed executing some search warrants, interviewing witnesses and serving subpoenas. The result, Justice Department officials said, has been a steep drop in the number of people charged with federal crimes, like wire fraud and tax evasion. It’s a sign the pandemic has altered the way the government performs one of its most essential functions.

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Sex workers in Mexico City are mourning the loss of a longtime friend and advocate who died from COVID-19 at the age of 53. Jaime Montejo and his organization helped women file police reports when they were attacked or extorted for bribes, and he opened health clinics that offered free condoms and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. During the outbreak, Montejo and his co-workers delivered meals, face masks and tarps to shelter sex workers from the rain. They also distributed pamphlets with drawings that showed how they could protect themselves while having sex with clients. “We were very discriminated against,” one woman said. “But he gave us respect.”

In a memo to all 32 NFL teams, Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday outlined the protocols for the safe reopening of facilities and said each team should have them ready to implement by May 15. For instance, each club is required to form an infection response team that includes a local physician with expertise in infectious disease principles and an infection control officer.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: Is it safe for me to go to the doctor for routine appointments?

Primary care physicians have seen steep drop-offs in visits as patients stay home, fearful of getting ill. Many physician practices and community clinics have seen in-person visits drop by 50% or even 75%.

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As the healthcare system prioritizes COVID-19 patients and tries to conserve much-needed medical supplies, public health experts are encouraging doctors to make greater use of telemedicine. One physician who was formerly skeptical of the virtual appointments says he has implemented them across his clinics after realizing how efficient they are: “We were able to minimize the risk of viral transmission not only for patients, but also for valuable members of our clinical team.”

Talk to your doctor about whether you’re a candidate for a virtual visit. If you do need to go into a hospital, follow the CDC guidelines to limit your risk of infection: Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer, wear masks and avoid touching your face or surfaces that other people may touch. And if you are having a health emergency, don’t hesitate to go to the ER — hospitals should have plans in place to reduce your risk of getting infected.

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, listen to our “Coronavirus in California” podcast and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.


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