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Coronavirus Today: What we don’t know about deaths

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Tuesday, July 7. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Will the increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations be followed by a similar rise in deaths?

That’s the question on everyone’s minds as cases continue to soar and — more worryingly — as medical centers near their capacity. So far, California’s number of COVID-associated deaths per day has stayed relatively stable, in part because the newly infected are younger people who are less prone to falling seriously ill, and because improvements in COVID-19 treatments may help keep patients alive. In addition, outbreaks in settings such as nursing homes have slowed, and those who were most susceptible may already have succumbed to the virus.

Still, some experts predict that the death toll will soon begin to spike, especially if infected young people spread the disease to older people who have interacted with them. We’ll know in a matter of just a few weeks — the time it will take for the severely ill patients to be hospitalized, and for the most vulnerable to die. And if hospitals become overwhelmed with new patients, that increases the likelihood that the number of daily deaths will climb.

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“It’s clear that after months of quarantine, combined with the reopening of many sectors in the span of several weeks, we’ve had a lot of people disregard the very practices that allowed us to slow the spread,” said Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County’s health director.

Some people who were initially skeptical of the dangers of the coronavirus are publicly walking back their comments in the face of the mass illness and death.

Back in May, the Merced County sheriff said he would not enforce state stay-at-home orders because he considered it to be “economic slaughter” and governmental overreach. The county has seen a large spike in cases since then, and he’s now urging residents to “Wear your masks, do your social distancing, wash your hands. ... Please take it seriously.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who had dismissed COVID-19 as “a little flu” even as it devastated his nation, has come down with it. Yet he still downplayed the impact of the disease; while he cautioned the elderly to take extra precautions, he said young people didn’t need to worry and that Brazilians “need to get the economy in gear.”

While reflecting on his battle with COVID-19 in an interview on NBC’s “Today,” actor Tom Hanks had some strong words for those not taking the pandemic seriously.

“The idea of doing one’s part, though, should be so simple: Wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a mystery to me how somehow that has been wiped out of what should be ingrained in the behavior of us all.”

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Tuesday:

More than 282,200 California cases and at least 6,551 deaths as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Tuesday, July 7.
(Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics)

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

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

See which counties are reopening with our tracker.

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Across California

Los Angeles and Orange counties are among those that have reported a growing number of young people infected with the coronavirus. More than 40% of the nearly 18,000 cases in Orange County so far are residents younger than 35. By July 4 in L.A County, almost half of new cases were residents ages 40 and younger, Ferrer said.

L.A. County residents’ mental health improved at the same time as officials relaxed stay-at-home orders, according to a new survey from the county and USC. As the percentage who said they were staying home shrank, so did the percentage who said they were experiencing psychological distress. But the survey also found a growing share of people are worried that restrictions on public life are being lifted too quickly and that the reopening could spawn new outbreaks.

High school sports teams across California are running into major obstacles as they try to resume their fall workouts. The price tag for safety equipment — liquid disinfectant, electrostatic sprayers — runs into the thousands of dollars. In some counties where cases are spiking, education departments have shut down sports camps out of an abundance of caution until they receive guidance from the state.

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 there.
— Need a COVID-19 test? Here’s how to receive a free test if you’re in L.A. County. And here’s a map of testing sites across California.
— 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.
— 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.
Tempted to go out now that the economy is reopening? Here’s how you can assess your risk.

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Around the nation and the world

The Trump administration has formally filed notice that the U.S. is withdrawing from the World Health Organization, following the president’s vow in late May to exit the organization. The move, strongly condemned by health officials and critics of the administration, won’t happen until next year and could be rescinded under a new administration.

The U.S. supply of personal protective equipment is once again running low as more and more patients enter hospitals. During the early weeks of the outbreak, states were forced into bidding wars for PPE. Now health workers’ unions and industry groups are calling for a national coordinated strategy to buy and allocate the gear. “We’re five months into this, and there are still shortages of gowns, hair covers, shoe covers, masks, N95 masks,” said the president of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses union.

International students at U.S. colleges must transfer or return to their home countries if their schools offer classes entirely online this fall, per new guidelines from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The updated guidelines put added pressure on universities to offer in-person classes and increase the stress on international students who were left stranded in the U.S. when campuses closed and travel became restricted. The American Council on Education, which represents university presidents, called the new rules “horrifying,” and its president said they would “cause enormous confusion and uncertainty.”

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Morgan Songi, who wants to know: Why do some coronavirus tests provide almost immediate results and others take a couple of days?

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Most of the publicly available coronavirus tests — the ones that look for active infection, not the antibody tests — operate very similarly. A sample is taken from the inside of your nose or throat using a swab, then the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique is used to amplify the genetic material in the sample until it’s possible to detect traces of the virus.

The PCR process itself doesn’t take that long to run. The range in the time it might take to receive test results is largely due to whether or not the sample can be analyzed at a testing site; if it can’t be, it might need to be sent to a laboratory for processing.

In times of high demand, like right now in L.A. County, labs may be dealing with a backlog of tests to process. Back in March, for example, hospitals around the country were sending samples to a single lab in Southern California, significantly delaying turnaround times.

And if a hospital does have the capability to process tests on-site, patients who have severe symptoms and may require life-saving treatment are at the top of the priority list.

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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 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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