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Coronavirus Today: A vaccine at warp speed?

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Tuesday, June 2. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once wrote: “Science demands patience.” In the last 25 years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved new vaccines for only seven diseases. A vaccine to protect against the Ebola virus won approval just last year, three years after the epidemic in West Africa ended.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 100,000 Americans and cratered the U.S. economy. Faced with high stakes, little time and significant pressure from the Trump administration, scientists who would normally set a slow, measured pace to develop a safe vaccine are ramping up the process for the novel coronavirus.

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The name of the endeavor is “Operation Warp Speed,” and scientists are crossing their fingers that they’ll avoid the pitfalls that may arise from moving fast and produce something that’s workable. “We may not get the best vaccine up front,” said the director of the Center for Drug Discovery at Washington University in St. Louis. “We have may just have to live with that until we get a better one.”

Meanwhile, researchers who study coronavirus transmission are criticizing a decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to drop warnings that choral singing can be dangerous. They’ve warned that choir members are particularly vulnerable to infection from airborne particles because they exhale and inhale deeply to sing, often at close quarters in poorly ventilated rooms. That could result in more “super-spreading events,” such as the choir rehearsal in Washington state that led to two deaths.

Even before the pandemic, smaller healthcare operations — independent physician practices, outpatient clinics and hospitals — were merging with or getting sold to private equity firms or large healthcare systems. That consolidation is likely to accelerate as COVID-19 slams small businesses, and California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra is asking the state Legislature to expand his authority to slow healthcare mergers. Among other things, he’s pressing for the ability to deny any sale that doesn’t deliver better access, cost or quality. His bill has support from organized labor and consumer advocacy groups, while healthcare industry players are lining up against it.

As most of the economy falters, it’s been a banner spring for plant sales in Southern California. Nursery owners are trying desperately to keep up with demand from gardeners stuck at home. “This time last year the majority of our customers came in on weekends; we’d get 300 to 500 people on a Saturday or Sunday,” said a Los Angeles nursery manager. “But now we’re getting 200 orders a day, throughout the week.”

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If you’re making plans for your summer garden, here are 10 activities you can do right now. And for advice, photos and even some goofy plant-related comics, follow @latimesplants on Instagram.

By the numbers

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

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

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The Newsom administration's roadmap to reopening California.
(Priya Krishnakumar/Los Angeles Times)

See which counties are reopening with our tracker.

Across California

Most testing sites in Los Angeles County are still closed during the ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd. Dodger Stadium and Kedren Community Health Center remain the only sites where L.A. city workers will conduct tests. Officials now say they hope to reopen all centers Wednesday.

Public health leaders on Monday reported L.A. County’s first death of a pregnant woman who had tested positive for the virus. At least 228 pregnant women in the county have tested positive for the virus and 79% of them were symptomatic. The woman who died had significant underlying health issues, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

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In addition, the county reported its first death of a person incarcerated in a jail facility. There have been 843 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the county’s jail facilities, Ferrer said. Of those, 622 cases have been among people who were incarcerated. Correctional health officials plan to finish testing all inmates in county jails by next week.

As reopening continues across the state, Butte County — one of the first allowed to relax restrictions on businesses — has reported its first death from COVID-19. In Marin County, recent tests show a spike in infections among essential workers whose jobs require them to frequently interact with the public. “This is a major concern for the next phase,” said the Marin County public health officer.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon are the latest national parks in California to start reopening with new safety rules. Park entrances, roads, parking lots, restrooms, picnic areas and trails — including paths leading to the popular General Sherman tree — will open for the first time since March 25. However, campgrounds for overnight stays aren’t expected to reopen until after the Fourth of July, and visitor centers, bookstores and restaurants remain closed.

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 CDC.
— 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 SAT may not be available this fall to all students who want to take the college admissions exam. The coronavirus crisis has limited the availability of testing sites, and efforts to develop an at-home exam have run into roadblocks, the College Board announced Tuesday. “We therefore are asking our member colleges to be flexible toward students who can’t submit scores, who submit them later, or who did not have a chance to test more than once,” the board’s CEO said.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement response to the pandemic has varied across its facilities as detainees and employees alike test positive for the virus. Officials, under orders from a federal judge, are scrambling to create sufficient space for social distancing, but those inside say it’s impossible. They add that detainees don’t have access to adequate hygiene supplies, and many people with COVID-19 symptoms aren’t being tested. “We are scared to die inside of here,” a detainee said.

Once television and film production resumes, certain restrictions will need to be put into place for the sake of on-set safety. The Times asked TV showrunners how those restrictions might change storytelling, from including diverse perspectives to the practicalities of sex scenes. “Sometimes when you have constraints placed on you, you creatively come up with something new and different,” said “Mrs. America” showrunner Dahvi Waller.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: What are the rules for religious gatherings? Reporter Sarah Parvini wrote about the most recent update to the restrictions.

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Even though religious gatherings are now allowed under California’s most recent shelter-in-place order, churches and other houses of worship remain potentially dangerous vectors for transmission of the coronavirus. For instance, more than 100 attendees of a church service in southern Germany were infected with the virus, possibly because they failed to adhere to the government’s guidelines on how to worship safely.

In California, pressure has built steadily on Gov. Gavin Newsom to ease the rules governing religious services. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected a challenge to California’s limits on religious gatherings brought by South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista. The justices voted 5-4 that, at least for now, the state can enforce its pandemic-related restrictions.

Under guidelines issued on May 25, California houses of worship must limit total attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is lower. Other key practices include:

— physical distancing to the maximum extent possible,
— use of face coverings by employees, volunteers and congregants/visitors,
— frequent handwashing and regular cleaning and disinfection,
— training employees and volunteers on these and other elements of COVID-19 prevention.

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The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has released guidelines to reopen churches for private prayer and public Mass. Parishes must receive their regional bishop’s approval for reopening after meeting safety criteria to prevent crowding and physical contact as much as possible.

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 on our coronavirus roundup page.

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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