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Coronavirus Today: A mysterious disease in kids

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Tuesday, May 19. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Los Angeles County aims to reopen retail, restaurants and malls by July 4, officials announced Tuesday — although county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said “we have to do a lot of things right so we can actually get to that date.”

That may prove tougher than expected. A new study by researchers from USC and the county health department suggests that nearly 5% of L.A. County residents had been infected by the coronavirus by the second week of April. That works out to around 367,000 adults — hundreds of thousands more than what the confirmed case count shows, even today. The huge gap between the new estimate and the number of confirmed cases suggests that contact tracing to track the spread of the virus, a requirement for reopening California counties, could be more challenging than previously thought.

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For the most part, the coronavirus doesn’t appear to affect kids as severely as it does adults. But now doctors around the globe are identifying a mysterious condition in a small number of children: a rare disease, known as both MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome) and PIMS (pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome), that causes inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels, symptoms similar to those of Kawasaki disease. As of last week, New York state alone reported more than 100 suspected cases.

The L.A. County health department advised healthcare workers in a bulletin last week to consider testing any patients with Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome-like symptoms for signs of COVID-19. On Monday, officials said four children diagnosed with the disease have tested positive for COVID-19 through antibody testing, and nearly two dozen other cases are under investigation. So far, “there are no reported deaths,” Ferrer said. “But as people have noted, this is a very serious illness — although very rare in children.”

Months into California school closures, kids and their parents are still struggling to navigate distance learning. While home-schooling isn’t the same as distance learning, one expert says there are a few tips that parents might find helpful. For instance, she suggests finding engaging lessons from mundane items or experiences, such as identifying nature during walks. There’s also the classic experiment of combining baking soda with vinegar.

And Times columnist and former education editor Nita Lelyveld points out that the pandemic is an opportunity for students to learn about politics, economics, epidemiology and more in a way that’s directly relevant to their daily lives. “What could possibly be more educational for a teenager than living through a pandemic?” she asks. “In an ideal world, if I ran a high school, as soon as classes went virtual, I’d have made life right now their textbook.”

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By the numbers

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

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

The Newsom administration's roadmap to reopening California.
(Priya Krishnakumar/Los Angeles Times)
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See which counties are reopening with our tracker.

Across California

Californians living in the U.S. illegally can start applying for disaster assistance payments of up to $500 per person and $1,000 per household, now that California has made available $75 million to help a projected 150,000 of them weather the downturn. To qualify, applicants must show that they have endured hardship and are ineligible for federal assistance under programs such as the CARES Act or unemployment benefits. You can read the guidelines at cdss.ca.gov.

To slow the virus’ spread, California leased 15,000 hotel rooms to shelter homeless people, but a month later, only about half of the rooms are occupied, The Times found in a review of state records. Those occupied rooms are housing fewer than 5% of the 151,000 people who sleep on streets, under bridges and in emergency shelters statewide. The effort, known as Project Roomkey, has progressed so slowly that it’s unlikely to get most of those who need help indoors.

The exclusion of churches and other religious institutions from California’s second phase of reopening has prompted scrutiny from federal officials. The Justice Department issued a letter Tuesday warning that California could be violating religious freedoms in its reopening plans and questioning why religious work was not considered “essential” while other sectors were allowed to keep operating.

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Beaches may have reopened, but the pandemic may force a generation of junior lifeguards to miss out on a classic California tradition. Coastal cities are holding off on scheduling tryouts for their summer programs, and some are canceling them entirely. Seal Beach’s marine safety chief said it was “a difficult decision” to cancel its Junior Lifeguard Program. “We waited as long as possible to make this decision in the hopes things would change,” he said.

Hair salons and barbershops, along with nail salons and gyms, have been deemed nonessential and included in the state’s third phase of reopening. But even once they do get to open, owners expect continued safety measures to put a dent in their bottom lines, and some wonder whether they can last the year. “We’re swinging in the wind,” one said. In the meantime, some Californians desperate for haircuts are turning to DIY methods with mixed results. Others are asking their hairdressers to make secret house calls — and some stylists who need to pay the bills are acquiescing.

Haircuts may come sooner for dogs. On Tuesday, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said pet grooming and training services, as well as all carwashes, can reopen immediately. As with other retail, only employees will be allowed inside, and customers must drop off and pick up their pets outside. Mobile pet grooming services must also follow physical distancing protocols.

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. 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

Countries like Iceland, South Korea and the Czech Republic are opening their doors to Hollywood, touting not only their tax incentives and facilities but also their low COVID-19 numbers, coronavirus testing capabilities and measures to keep film productions safe. Major studios are eager to get their movies and TV shows “out of suspended animation,” as the British Film Commission’s chief executive put it.

But COVID-19 prevention is adding some serious costs to studio budgets. Companies will have to hire health and safety experts and sanitation crews and pay for additional equipment for cleaning sets, washing hands and checking temperatures. Work will go more slowly, and shoots will last longer. “Unfortunately we now have [a situation] that’s unavoidable, and we’re going to have to problem-solve,” said Nickelodeon’s senior vice president of production.

Practices once seen as common etiquette are now being rebranded as vectors for spreading infection, and that’s why the handshake has come under attack in sports. Even before events were canceled, the NBA advised players to avoid high-fives with the crowd, and Major League Baseball warned against using fans’ pens to sign autographs. Handshakes between competitors were suspended in soccer games, cricket matches and golf tournaments around the world. Times sportswriter David Wharton asks: Might sports be losing something important?

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: What’s the latest with vaccine research? Here’s what we know.

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An experimental vaccine from the U.S. biotechnology company Moderna Inc. has shown signs in eight people that it can create an immune-system response to fend off the coronavirus, with no major safety worries.

The vaccine trials are being conducted in stages. The first test was designed only to look at safety and whether or not the shot provoked an immune-system response that scientists could measure. Phase 2, with 600 patients, will begin shortly, according to Moderna.

But don’t get too excited, writes Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik, because there’s a lot more work to be done. The vaccine still needs to undergo many more tests, including a face-off against the coronavirus in the real world.

Then there’s the challenge of mass-producing any vaccine that wins the Food and Drug Administration’s stamp of approval and distributing it broadly enough to secure widespread immunity.

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


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