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Coronavirus Today: A new rent-relief experiment

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Tuesday, May 12. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

To help people weather the pandemic-driven economic downturn, the California Senate has unveiled plans for two bold experiments that have never been tried before.

One of the proposals is meant to help struggling renters. It would ask landlords to forgive rent payments in exchange for equally sized tax credits spread out over a 10-year period starting in 2024. The tax credits would be transferable, meaning the property owner could sell them to an investor and get cash in hand immediately.

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The other proposal would create a $25-billion economic recovery fund by asking people to voluntarily prepay the state income taxes they’ll owe in the future — essentially giving Sacramento a cash advance on tax revenues. The money would fund short-term relief programs, which could include help for small businesses and local governments. “You have to rethink, reshape and be willing to adjust and consider new options, because the world is different,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). “The world has been upended.”

Cities around the state will collectively lose at least $7 billion in revenue over the next two years as a result of the pandemic, and they could lose billions more if the stay-at-home orders extend into the summer and beyond, according to an estimate from the League of California Cities, a group that advocates for cities at the state Capitol. Nine out of 10 cities reported that their shortfalls would lead to service cuts or furloughs and layoffs, mainly due to retail sales falling off a cliff.

As California moves toward reopening its economy, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday issued new rules for dine-in service at restaurants and pickup services at outlet and strip malls. The rules include specifics such as providing disposable or digital menus and suspending the use of shared condiments. However, before they can reopen restaurants, counties must first meet certain standards for testing and for reducing the number of new cases, including completing risk assessments and developing plans to train employees on how to reduce the spread of the virus. “None of this means anything if customers don’t feel safe,” Newsom said.

Even with the new protocols, restaurant owners worry their dine-in operations will remain at a near standstill. “I understand that normal, as it was a couple months ago, is not gonna happen,” said one in Los Angeles.

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In the U.S., there’s still a ways to go to implement widespread testing and contract tracing, both of which are considered essential prereqisites for safely reopening economies. But governors are facing armed protesters and death threats as they struggle to ease restrictions without creating new outbreaks. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned that if states move too quickly, “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.”

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:30 p.m. PDT Tuesday:

The Newsom administration's roadmap to reopening California. See which counties are reopening with our tracker.
The Newsom administration’s roadmap to reopening California. See which counties are reopening with our tracker.
(Priya Krishnakumar/Los Angeles Times)
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Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

Across California

As Americans start planning summer vacations, California health officials are urging the public to resist the urge to take leisure trips, including weekend trips. “It’s best for people to limit their travel to essential travel. This is not the time to go on a trip for recreation or vacation, even to visit family and friends,” said San Francisco’s director of public health.

Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for Los Angeles County, said stay-at-home orders might stay in place well into summer, although the extension is not official. “We are being guided by science and data that will safely move us forward along the road to recovery in a measured way,” she said. “Our hope is that by using the data, we’d be able to slowly lift restrictions over the next three months.”

However, the county still does not have widely available testing, and confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise. An audit of 410 businesses permitted to reopen this weekend found 162 in violation of restrictions “because they were allowing customers into stores, not following physical distancing measures and not requiring customers to wear cloth face coverings.”

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Still, Manhattan, Redondo and other L.A. County beaches are set to reopen Wednesday. Running, walking, swimming and surfing will be allowed; picnicking, sunbathing and group sports like volleyball will not. Face coverings will be mandatory for anyone on the sand (but not for people in the water), and beach parking lots, bike paths, piers and boardwalks will stay closed.

Following a controversial vote to rescind Riverside County’s stay-at-home orders, officials on Monday reported 150 new coronavirus cases and 12 deaths there. That means the county now has the second-highest number of cases in the state behind Los Angeles County.

Shasta County in northern California is delaying its reopening after crowds flouted social distancing rules at a rodeo in the town of Cottonwood. The county health officer accused the rodeogoers of potentially infecting not just themselves but vulnerable people who did not attend but came into contact with them later, and setting back progress against the disease. “I am not happy, and the state isn’t happy,” she 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.

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Around the nation and the world

The Trump administration is violating orders to protect migrant children held in detention during the pandemic, two federal judges have ruled in recent weeks. The government is required to hold the children in “safe and sanitary” conditions and to make “prompt and continuous” efforts to release them and reunify families. But lawyers say administration officials are not releasing kids to sponsors ready to house them, instead ramping up secretive operations to deport them.

The coronavirus outbreak has put new emotional and safety burdens on people with underlying health conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Outings to get medicine, blood draws or dialysis treatments pose risks for those who are more likely to be hospitalized and suffer adverse outcomes if they contract the virus, and stay-at-home guidelines have caused many surgeries and in-patient treatments to be postponed. “It makes me anxious,” said a woman awaiting a kidney transplant. “I’m like, OK, how much longer do I have to wait?”

Thousands of employees at meat processing plants have become infected with the coronavirus, disrupting the supply chain that links ranches to grocery stores. The bottleneck created as plants shut down is forcing feed yard operators to keep cattle longer, raising their expenses for food and maintenance. That’s pushing up prices for consumers, even as the supply of meat shrinks.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: Why is the rule for social distancing to stay six feet apart? Reporter Ron Lin has more information.

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When a person sneezes, coughs or talks, they emit respiratory droplets into the air. Droplets from a sneeze or cough can fly about three feet before they drop to the ground. If the cough or sneeze is “very forceful,” they can go as far as six feet, according to an infectious disease specialist at Stanford University.

If droplets from an infected person are inhaled, or if they touch someone’s eyes, nose or mouth, the recipient could become infected as well. An infected person can therefore spread the coronavirus to anyone within six feet — what scientists and health officials are referring to when they use the term “close contact.”

However, scientists have found that the virus can be aerosolized, meaning it could survive in saliva particles much smaller than droplets that can remain airborne for hours. In other words, even if you’re maintaining a distance of six feet, it’s still possible for you to be infected if the concentration of aerosolized particles is high enough. That’s why it’s necessary for healthcare workers and people who regularly come into contact with infected people to wear N95 masks or respirators designed to filter out 95% of small airborne particles.

And if you’re not a healthcare or essential worker, that’s why it’s important to stay home as much as possible to limit transmission.

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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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