Coronavirus Today: The cases we couldn’t catch

Good evening. We’re Diya Chacko and Sam Schulz, and it’s Friday, May 15. Here’s the latest on what’s happening with the coronavirus, plus ways to spend your weekend and a look at some of the week’s best stories on how our lives have changed and what’s to come.

For California schools, the billions of dollars in budget cuts proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom could be “devastating,” triggering layoffs and leaving some campuses struggling to safely reopen come fall, officials and educators say. “And if schools don’t reopen, our economy can’t fully reopen,” said Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez, president of the California School Boards Assn. Higher education has also taken a hit, destabilizing state colleges. And USC, which just held its first-ever online graduation ceremony, still plans to hike tuition by $2,000, even if it holds fall classes online.

Weeks after a San Jose woman was confirmed as the nation’s earliest known coronavirus victim and state health authorities told coroners to look for more missed cases, there is little evidence it’s happening. Some coroners don’t know whether they have the autopsy samples they’d need; others aren’t sure they have the legal authority to reopen closed cases. And cases examined by The Times illustrate how easily the virus slips past the medical system, leaving its victims to die at home. Researchers believe there is a large undercount of COVID-19 deaths.


But there’s encouraging news when it comes to treating the disease: Taking antibody-rich blood plasma from people who have recovered from coronavirus infections and transferring it to patients who are severely ill appears to be safe, initial results of a nationwide clinical trial show. Those results also offer an early hint that convalescent plasma treatment may save lives. The hope is that antibodies might offer a temporary vaccine-like protection — and unlike a vaccine, which is not expected to become available until next year at the earliest, the supply of plasma is growing daily.

On Friday, President Trump outlined an ambitious effort to develop, produce and distribute a fully approved vaccine by the end of the year, but even those in charge of the project — which aims to coordinate the work of government agencies, private industry and the military — acknowledge that timeline is highly unlikely. And although Trump and other conservatives blame China for trillions of dollars worth of economic damage linked to the virus, legal experts say their efforts to sue Beijing will almost certainly fail, due to a federal law from 1976. Their true audience, one said, “is probably Congress.”

“What the hell does ‘stay alert’ mean?” The British aren’t quite sure, but that’s the new coronavirus slogan from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, weeks after his own bout with COVID-19. The government has begun easing lockdown measures. But as in the U.S., there’s widespread alarm and confusion as to the risks of reopening the economy in a country that now has Europe’s highest death toll, and Johnson has struggled to chart a course through the crisis.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 3:50 p.m. PDT Friday:

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

What to read this weekend

Cleanup on aisle everywhere. Thrust into the role of front-line soldiers, grocery store employees have had to manage panic attacks, cursing, near-fights and counseling sessions at the checkout stand. They’ve been threatened by customers who are angry about having to wear masks. Here’s what a day in a Vons supermarket looks like.

Miyoshi Lampkin, who has worked at Vons for 40 years, cleans and sanitizes her checkout lane.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)


How a notorious COVID-19 misinformation video went viral. If you haven’t seen “Plandemic,” the video whose wild coronavirus claims have been widely and exhaustively debunked, picture the sort of ominous conspiracy-theory video that would pop up on your paranoid uncle’s Facebook feed or in the darkest recesses of Reddit, then stir in the worst global health crisis in a century. The man behind it? An Ojai dad making low-budget movies at home.

Like “Little House on the Prairie,” only fancy. Sourdough bread was only the beginning. As Americans endure a second month of sheltering at home, some are pursuing anachronistic activities they might never otherwise have considered — from making candles to using washboards to do laundry to making their own butter in $200 churns.

“I’m borne down.” As COVID-19 tears through black communities in Detroit, one woman has lost more than 30 friends and acquaintances. Playwright and poet Marsha Music has poured her heart into tributes posted to her Facebook page: tender goodbyes, praise-filled shout-outs, local color and memories of brighter days. Posting them has also given her a way to reflect on what it means to be spared.

The loncheras of Santa Ana. Santa Ana is the only city in Orange County with a bona fide taco truck scene, one created by loncheros who successfully sued in 2006 for the right to park in one spot all day. Most of the trucks are quiet now. One owner’s Latino clientele has dropped dramatically, reflecting how the pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinos’ finances nationwide. “But I have faith in God that we’ll get through this,” he says, “because we’ll always need tacos.”

The scene at the Alebrijes taco truck in Santa Ana. Owner Albert Hernandez has been at this location for more than 15 years, and although he has seen a drop in business, he has managed to remain open and keep his employees.
The scene at the Alebrijes taco truck in Santa Ana. Owner Albert Hernandez has been at this location for more than 15 years, and although he has seen a drop in business, he has managed to remain open and keep his employees.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

How do you get remote learning right? “Sesame Street” figured it out 50 years ago. In the 1970s, creative people came together not in pursuit of fame or money but to enrich the lives of children, especially those of limited means. The Times talked with David Kamp, author of “Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America,” about educational screen time in a pandemic, how “Sesame Street” led to hip-hop and why the ‘70s were better.

“I’m terrified to go in there.” On probation for a 2012 burglary conviction and a subsequent shoplifting arrest, Johnny Madero must either accept a plea deal for six years in state prison on a DUI or risk a sentence of 12 to 27 years if convicted at trial. He fears that the six years, which he plans to accept, could prove to be a death sentence if he contracts the coronavirus: “This could be the last time I see my family.”

Re-imagine California. The Times’ Opinion team is trying to envision what Southern California, the state and the nation should look like after the pandemic. As we grapple with these issues, we want you, our readers, to help shape our vision for a revived California. How do you think our society and our daily lives should look as the stay-at-home orders are lifted and we try to return to work? Please share your thoughts with us.


We asked, you answered. We asked you, via Instagram, to tell us in one sentence about a change you’ve made that you hope to keep up. Here are 44 life-changing habits readers want to stick with after the pandemic.

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most.

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What to do this weekend

Get outside. Descanso Gardens is opening Saturday, as are popular trails and campgrounds in Angeles National Forest. Most L.A. County trails have reopened, and beaches are now open with many restrictions. Here’s what’s open and what’s closed.

Pick a book from our essential end-of-the-world reading list. When the seas of life get rough, some readers look for escape, while others dive right in. Here are some apocalyptic fiction recommendations from “Station Eleven” author Emily St. John Mandel, who will discuss her work at the next L.A. Times Book Club event on Tuesday, May 19. For more information, sign up for the Book Club newsletter.


Watch something great. Are you participating in The Times’ Ultimate Summer Movie Showdown? This week, it’s “The Empire Strikes Back” versus everything else. For under-the-radar movie recommendations, get film writer Mark Olsen’s Indie Focus newsletter. Plus, here are the 51 best TV shows to binge.

Get cooking. Our Food team has you covered with its new weekly newsletter and video series, plus this easy salted caramel-chocolate tart. Or if you want an escape from cooking (or just need some inspiration), our cooking columnist recommends watching these classic cooking shows.

Let somebody else do the cooking. Times restaurant critic Bill Addison rounds up L.A.'s best pizza, pasta and other Italian takeout (and if you’re the sort of person who plates your takeout, consider these tips for how to do the dishes faster). Sign up for his and fellow critic Patricia Escárcega’s Tasting Notes newsletter for more.

Host a virtual meetup — happy hour, karaoke, game night, book club or anything else. We’ve got technical instructions, plus more ideas.


Work out at home. When was the last time you stretched? Try our 10 ways to exercise in your living room, from video yoga to free on-demand classes.

Listen to a podcast. Try “Coronavirus in California” for dispatches from the front lines — or for a break from the crisis, hear your TV favorites discuss their TV favorites on “Can’t Stop Watching.” Here are eight more great podcasts.


Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (here’s a super-fun how-to video), and keep your phone clean. Practice social distancing, maintaining six feet of space. And wear a mask if you leave home. Here’s how to do it right, and here are the rules around Southern California.
— Watch for symptoms like fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. If you think 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 pandemic, here’s how to file for unemployment.
— We’ve got free resources for restaurant and entertainment industry workers having trouble making ends meet.
Helping kids navigate pandemic life means being honest, acknowledging their feelings and sticking to a routine.
— 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.

A pandemic in pictures

Quinn Comer and Alyssa Anzalone walk to the end of Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz to jump into the surf on Friday, May 8. Times photographer Gary Coronado went to the idyllic seaside town to give us this visual report on one of the state’s beautiful areas in the time of the coronavirus.
Quinn Comer and Alyssa Anzalone walk to the end of Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz to jump into the surf. Times photographer Gary Coronado went to the idyllic seaside town to give us this visual report on one of the state’s beautiful areas in the time of the coronavirus.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)


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 over the weekend, visit our homepage and our Health section, listen to our “Coronavirus in California” podcast, sign up for our breaking news alerts, and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.