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Coronavirus Today: ‘We don’t have a lot of time’

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Thursday, July 16. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

“Why are the governors not using a tool like instituting fines for not wearing masks?”

“Is panic and hysteria part of the equation?”

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“Too many people, especially young, don’t care at all.”

Those are some of the frustrations our readers have voiced about the state of the pandemic. The first shutdown was bad enough, but at least we largely weathered it together. Now, however, having spent four long months mostly at home and facing another round of restrictions, more Californians are turning on one another.

Those who don masks are furious with those who refuse to wear them. The debate over whether schools should reopen campuses has turned deeply political. And small-business owners ordered to close their doors again are angry with Gov. Gavin Newsom for what feels like punishment, even after they followed state orders during the first shutdown.

What needs to happen, though, is this: The spread of COVID-19, currently rampaging through California, must be dramatically slowed. Statewide, more than 6,700 patients who’ve tested positive are hospitalized — a new high, according to the latest numbers. And because the virus can take weeks to incubate, most of the current case surge involves people who were exposed in June. In Los Angeles County, people between the ages of 18 and 40 are also being hospitalized at a significantly higher rate than in previous weeks, data show.

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The big question now is whether Californians have changed their behavior enough this month to reduce infection rates. “It’s kind of in everybody’s hands right now,” said Barbara Ferrer, health director for Los Angeles County. “We don’t have a lot of time, though. At some point, you turn that corner where you’re actually expecting hospitals to provide way more care than is possible.”

At least those who lost work during the pandemic may see another round of economic relief. After initial resistance from some Republicans, Congress is inching closer to an agreement to extend at least some of the $600-a-week federal unemployment insurance subsidy, which is set to expire at the end of the month. “We should have [a bill] before the expiration of the unemployment insurance,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:00 p.m. PDT Thursday:

More than 356,800 California cases and at least 7,404 deaths as of 4:00 p.m. PDT Thursday, July 16.
(Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics)
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Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

See the current status of California’s reopening, county by county, with our tracker.

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Across California

Many of the newest cases in Southern California are from workplace outbreaks. L.A. County health officials on Thursday reported a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases at food processing plants, manufacturing facilities, garment factories and wholesale warehouses. (The Los Angeles Apparel outbreak is one such example.) In Ventura County, farmworkers account for 7% of the county’s nearly 5,000 cases after an outbreak at a farmworkers housing complex.

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In many workplaces that have seen outbreaks, often physical distancing is not being enforced, face coverings aren’t being properly worn and sanitation is inadequate, said Muntu Davis, L.A. County’s health officer. “We’re not seeing the compliance that we need with the public health directives,” he said.

Workers’ rights advocates have accused California’s Division of Occupation Safety and Health of mostly abandoning in-person inspections since the pandemic began, in part due to the agency’s large number of inspector vacancies. Funding cuts at Cal/OSHA have worsened under several administrations, critics say. “Cal/OSHA used to be so much better than federal OSHA,” said a former investigator, saying the state agency has since been “starved to death.”

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.
Thinking about going out? Here’s how you can assess your risk.

Around the nation and the world

Coronavirus-related hospital data from around the U.S. will no longer be collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, the Trump administration has ordered the data be sent to a private technology firm “in order to streamline reporting,” the CDC director said Wednesday. Some experts expressed suspicion about the decision, worrying it would further sideline the CDC. Collecting and reporting public health data has always been a core function of the agency.

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The U.S., U.K. and Canada have accused Russian intelligence of trying to steal valuable private information about a coronavirus vaccine. In a public warning to scientists and medical companies, they said the hacking group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear and blamed for U.S. election interference four years ago, is attacking academic and pharmaceutical research institutions involved in vaccine development. The accusations come at a tenuous time for relations between Russia and both the U.S. and U.K., especially as the 2020 election looms.

Speaking of which, the Republican convention will sharply restrict attendance on three of its four nights in Jacksonville, Fla., next month. In recent weeks, Florida has seen significant increases in confirmed cases, and “adjustments must be made to comply with state and local health guidelines,” said the chair of the Republican National Committee.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp is banning local mask requirements. The move nullifies mask orders in place in at least 15 local districts, including the city of Atlanta, and arrives as rising hospitalizations have the state seeking new hospital beds to accommodate its record-setting number of patients.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: What happens when California’s eviction moratorium expires in September? Reporter Liam Dillon has the latest.

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Currently, nearly all evictions in California are on hold because the state court system is not processing cases except for those deemed urgent. Those provisions are set to expire three months after the coronavirus state of emergency ends, but may end sooner. That means tenants will have to navigate protections that vary by city.

The city of Los Angeles is planning to spend $100 million on subsidies for low-income tenants affected by the pandemic. That program is open to all renters, regardless of immigration status, but the deadline for applications is Friday at almost midnight. Those interested can apply at hcidla.lacity.org or call the city’s hotline between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. at (844) 944-1868, or (844) 325-1398 for those with speech or hearing impairments.

Beyond tenant-specific relief, the federal unemployment subsidy has gone a long way toward keeping some renters in their homes, experts say. If those benefits are renewed, they may provide more relief for many of those who could otherwise face eviction — although tenants without legal immigration status would probably again be barred from receiving stimulus checks. California lawmakers are also looking into developing a program that would let tenants defer rent without fear of being evicted, as the state would assume financial responsibility; that bill, SB 1410, is currently in committee.

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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