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Coronavirus Today: Masks mandatory in California

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Thursday, June 18. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Masks are now mandatory across all of California. An executive order issued Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom calls for residents to wear face coverings while in public or high-risk settings, including when shopping, taking public transit or seeking medical care.

The order comes as health experts grow increasingly concerned that a rise in the number of coronavirus cases is due to residents failing to take that precaution voluntarily as businesses reopen. California reported 4,297 new coronavirus cases Wednesday — a new single-day record and the first time the state has broken the 4,000 barrier since the pandemic began, according to The Times’ tracker.

L.A. County is letting bars, nail salons, tattoo parlors and some other businesses reopen starting Friday, provided they implement required safety measures. But farther south, San Diego County is now dealing with community outbreaks, one of three immediate red flags that require health officials to reexamine — and probably modify — its reopening status.

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A vocal minority has been pushing back on local mask orders, with some people rallying outside the homes of public health officials. Last week, Orange County rescinded its face covering mandate over anger from residents; county health officer Dr. Nichole Quick resigned her post upon receiving death threats. For public health officials, personal attacks “are becoming more and more of an issue,” said the former president of the San Diego County Medical Society. “I know this is a difficult time for everyone, but we should separate the science from the panic and the fear, and trust in science.”

The Newsom administration has not said how the new requirement will be enforced. But as we discussed in Wednesday’s newsletter, health experts are finding more and more evidence that universal mask-wearing is the best protection we have right now. “California’s strategy to restart the economy and get people back to work will only be successful if people act safely and follow health recommendations,” Newsom said.

The new rules call for masks to be worn inside, or in line to enter, any indoor public space, as well as in offices, elevators, parking facilities and workplace hallways. All food service employees must wear masks when serving customers or any member of the public. People who drive buses, taxis, ride-hail vehicles or any other service that accepts passengers are required to wear masks; passengers must as well.

Most people are exempt only when they’re eating or drinking in restaurants or engaged in recreational activity outdoors and able to follow social distancing rules. The order also exempts people who are hearing impaired or communicating with them; children 2 years old and younger; and people with a medical, mental health or developmental disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering.

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By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 3:30 p.m. PDT Thursday:

More than 165,300 California cases and at least 5,316 deaths as of 3:30 p.m. PDT Thursday, June 18.
(Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics)

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.

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Across California

Despite anti-eviction rules passed in response to the outbreak, some Los Angeles landlords are still trying to oust tenants illegally, including by locking them out or turning off their utilities. Police responded to more than 290 instances of potential illegal lockouts and utility shutoffs citywide in the 10 weeks after Mayor Eric Garcetti issued the moratorium on evictions in mid-March, The Times found in its analysis of LAPD data. The largest share of those police calls was in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in South L.A. — the same communities that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus.

Stress from the pandemic on Southern California’s housing market sent home sales plunging during the month of May. However, the region’s median home price rose 2.7%; experts say sellers are generally reluctant to drop prices until they’re forced to. Many sellers have also pulled their homes from the market, further restricting supply and making price drops less likely.

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Coronavirus cases keep rising among construction workers at SoFi Stadium, less than two months before the Rams and Chargers are scheduled to play their first games there. Eighteen people at the 298-acre development are known to have contracted COVID-19, and the L.A. County Department of Public Health says it has opened an investigation.

The plan for Disneyland to reopen July 17 has drawn a chorus of opposition, including from its workers. A dozen unions that represent about 17,000 Disneyland employees have written a letter to Newsom saying conditions are still unsafe despite the protective measures being put into place. In addition, a widely circulated petition on Change.org calls for a delay to the park’s reopening. “Safety and health are top priorities,” said a Disneyland worker who signed it. “Opening not only affects the state of California but the guests that visit us worldwide.”

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.

Around the nation and the world

Now that the steroid dexamethasone has shown promise in clinical trials as a treatment for COVID-19 patients on mechanical ventilators, critical-care physicians are assessing the drug to understand whether its use is appropriate in their hospitals. Dexamethasone is widely thought to suppress the abnormal — and dangerous — inflammatory responses in some patients with severe symptoms of the disease, but by what precise mechanism it does so is still unclear.

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The Paycheck Protection Program, part of the much larger COVID-19 relief package enacted by Congress, has to date loaned more than $512 billion to struggling small businesses. The initiative, meant to keep workers on payrolls, has helped salvage millions of jobs across the U.S. But it is set to expire soon, and neither President Trump nor congressional Republicans have shown much interest in renewed aid.

Between the pandemic, the economic fallout and recent protests against police violence and racial inequality, it’s been a very busy few months. The Times politics team wants to know: How have these tumultuous times affected your thoughts about the election? You can share your thoughts with our journalists via this form.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: Is it safe to go shopping and eat at restaurants yet? Reporter Deborah Netburn has a guide to assessing the risks of going out.

Even as coronavirus infections and deaths grow, some experts say it is safer to venture out into the world today than it was when most stay-at-home orders first went into effect. As one epidemiologist put it, “We have a lot more information about the enemy.”

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All the research into treatments and investment in ventilators and personal protective equipment has left hospitals better equipped to treat COVID-19 patients. And we know now that wearing masks can drastically reduce the spread of the virus, as can social distancing and washing your hands. California’s mandatory mask order is expected to help to reduce the risks of transmission further.

For your personal risk, here are things experts say you should consider:

— What are the daily coronavirus case counts in your region? If the numbers are going down, it’s probably safer than if they are going up.

— Do you have underlying health issues that could put you more at risk if you were to contract COVID-19? Do you live with someone who does?

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— What steps are the businesses you want to visit taking to protect you?

A rule of thumb is to think critically about what activities are necessary — such as grocery shopping — and what would just feel really good, one public health expert said. “The risks I’m willing to take to access a luxury are fewer than the risks I would take in other arenas,” she said.

Also, going out less and staying home more supports the health of essential workers who do not have that privilege, she said.

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.

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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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