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Coronavirus Today: A revised death forecast

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Monday, May 11. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his counterparts in Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Colorado have asked Congress for $1 trillion in pandemic relief for all states and local governments, saying the funds would be critical for public health programs, law enforcement and schools. Newsom’s budget team forecasts a $41.2-billion drop in tax revenue compared to their estimates from just four months ago, with state revenue from personal income taxes, sales taxes and corporate taxes — the state’s main sources of revenue — plummeting by roughly 25%.

But even as California restarts its economy, there’s a growing worry among health officials and researchers that we haven’t yet seen the worst of the pandemic. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the state has hit a stubborn plateau, and the number of new illnesses has not begun a sustained week-over-week decline, a Los Angeles Times analysis has found.

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The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now forecasts a California death toll of more than 6,000 by early August, up from its forecast of 4,600 issued a week ago. The revision of more than 1,400 additional deaths is “a result of a combination of updated daily death and case data, recent actions to ease previously implemented social distancing measures and steadily rising levels of mobility in many places,” the University of Washington researchers said. They also revised the total U.S. deaths forecast up to 137,000 by Aug. 4; the current total is nearly 80,000.

More data about coronavirus victims in Los Angeles County show extensive racial and economic disparities, and officials attribute the trend in part to systemic inequities and institutional racism. Rates of 89 deaths per 100,000 people have been reported among native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, as well as 18 deaths per 100,000 among black people. The rate was 15.5 deaths per 100,000 Latinos, 12 per 100,000 Asians and nine per 100,000 white people.

“Although some of the numbers are small, they are still very concerning,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. She added that people who live in areas with high poverty rates have COVID-19 death rates that are nearly four times higher than for people in areas with low poverty rates: 29 deaths per 100,000, versus eight.

For some, California’s racial and class disparities have also been on display in the protests over stay-at-home orders. That the protesters have been overwhelmingly white has not been lost on people of color, some of whom see it as an overt display of privilege. “We’d automatically be labeled as instigators, agitators or trying to start a riot instead of trying to exercise our free speech,” said a community activist for a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Huntington Beach. “Because they’re white people, they’re patriotic.

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By the numbers

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

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

Across California

Veteran LAPD officers who have seen it all — riots, earthquakes, the HIV epidemic on skid row — are still getting accustomed to the new normal. Donning a mask has become second nature when pursuing a fleeing suspect or pulling over a reckless driver. Elite detectives are guarding homeless shelters. Police cruisers patrol alone on streets normally teeming with traffic. House parties, picnics in the park and restaurant dining are not only illegal but also downright dangerous. “In addition to the work that policemen do that’s stressful on a daily basis, now you have to worry about this? It’s hard,” a police sergeant said.

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As L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva reduces the population in crowded jails to prevent the spread of disease, he said inmates are trying to infect themselves with the coronavirus to get early release. Some were captured on video drinking from a container contaminated by an inmate infected with COVID-19, then hiding it, Villanueva said Monday. “It is dismaying to realize anyone would intentionally infect themselves.”

The pandemic is threatening to roll back progress at the L.A. Department of Animal Services , which has brought down the euthanasia rates of its shelter animals over the last decade. Officials are bracing for an influx of pets they expect will be dropped off at animal shelters by people facing financial hardship after losing jobs or homes. That hasn’t started yet, but the department is asking people who call in to report a lost dog, for instance, to try to find the owner themselves or to foster the animal, if appropriate. “We do not want to go back to the days that the shelter is so crowded that we’re having to kill animals because of lack of space,” said the department’s general manager.

Going virtual has become the crucial new strategy for L.A.'s professional dance companies as they fight for survival in the face of a calendar of canceled shows, lost income from studio space rentals and rejected applications to the federal small-business loan program. They’re pivoting to community fundraising and digital projects, including online classes, dance films and performances on Zoom. “This is the time to gather an incredible group of people and give all the knowledge some of these people have to pass on that’s beyond just giving a workout,” said L.A. Dance Project Artistic Director Benjamin Millepied.

Although most of the real estate market has ground to a halt, the pandemic has done little to slow the sales of luxury homes in L.A. County. The number of homes sold for $5 million or more in March and April is comparable to the same time period in 2019.“A buyer buying a $40-million home isn’t worried about COVID-19,” said a mortgage advisor with celebrity clients.

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Major League Baseball team owners approved a proposal Monday that envisions an 80-game season beginning in early July, to be presented to the players’ union Tuesday. However, Newsom declined to promise the California teams could play in their home ballparks pending the status of social distancing guidelines that limit the number of people who can gather. That could mean the Dodgers, Angels, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics have a season out of state.

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

Under fire for inadequate testing across the country, President Trump insisted Monday that enough tests are available to allow more Americans to safely return to work — even as the White House, perhaps the world’s most secure workplace, scrambled to stem further infections in the West Wing. The president announced a plan to distribute $11 billion approved by Congress last month to support testing efforts by states, with an emphasis on residents and staff of nursing homes, which have suffered the brunt of deaths. “If someone wants to be tested right now, they will be able to be tested,” he said, although public health experts say the roughly 9 million tests conducted in the U.S. so far are not enough to track and contain the coronavirus.

With many beaches still closed, Californians looking for freedom and a respite from the heat have flocked to Lake Havasu in Arizona. Locals are grateful for the tourism dollars amid a global downturn, but some are worried that the crowds could cause a rise in coronavirus cases and overwhelm the city’s only hospital, which has just 16 ICU beds for its 55,000 residents. “I really wish they would stay away right now,” a resident said.

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Stay-at-home orders have kept Las Vegas at a standstill since the mid-March closure of casinos, hotels, shows and restaurants. As the city ponders reopening, its business model luring throngs of carefree tourists packed inside sweaty nightclubs and shows, or pressing the buttons on frequently touched slot machines — seems particularly fraught. “The thing that worries me is how slow it will be for a while ... I worry for those that won’t be working if it’s slow,” a casino floor supervisor said.

New York plans to start reopening its economy in some upstate regions Friday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying the state is “now on the other side of the mountain.” However, with its high rate of infections and overwhelmed emergency rooms, the New York City metropolitan area is unlikely to see nonessential business resume until June at the earliest.

In many countries, the coronavirus was initially seen as a high-class import, hitching a ride with travelers returning from business trips in Asia, studies in Europe, and ski vacations in the Rockies. It gave the impression that COVID-19 mainly affected the wealthy. However, with the spread of the virus to poorer and working-class people, it‘s now clear that it disproportionately harms those with preexisting illnesses and without access to healthcare.

And to make matters worse, the economic devastation the pandemic wreaks on the planet’s ultra-poor could ultimately kill more people than the virus itself. The United Nations predicts that a global recession will reverse a three-decade-long trend of rising living standards and plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $2 a day. As for the 734 million people already there, the economic fallout will make it harder for them to ever climb out. “I feel like we’re watching a slow-motion train wreck as it moves through the world’s most fragile countries,” said the president of the nonprofit U.S. Institute of Peace.

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Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: How can I spot fake coronavirus news on social media? Audience engagement editor Jessica Roy has a few tips.

Fake news and misinformation about the coronavirus has been spreading on social media since the start of the pandemic. Here are some steps you can take to verify information before you share it.

First, look at the account that’s posting the information. Check its age and how many followers it has. Is it verified on Twitter or Facebook (i.e., does it have a blue check mark next to the name)? Take note of how the news is being presented to you — just in the tweet? Is there a link to a longer story somewhere? A screenshot of an email, text message, Google Doc or Notes app is unlikely to be good information. Is the account attributing the information to an organization, a politician, a news outlet or “a friend of a friend”? Good information will have a reputable name to back it up.

Second, check the site that the information is coming from. A website you’ve never heard of is unlikely to be the first and only source for major breaking news, no matter how slick it looks. Keep an eye out for strange spelling and anything weird in the URL. If the information is shown in an article with a byline, click through to the author’s bio page. Does it sound real? Does the author have social media accounts where you can verify that he or she is an actual reporter?

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Third, verify the information itself. Are other reliable news outlets reporting the same thing? You can count on news organizations like the Los Angeles Times to do more digging to verify things before we share them on social media. We don’t always get it right, but there’s a better chance that something is true if it’s tweeted by your local newspaper than by a random person with no accountability to anyone.

Ultimately, trust your gut. If there’s a nagging voice in the back of your head saying, “Wow, that sounds kind of far-fetched, but who knows?” it’s better to hold off on sharing it.

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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