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Coronavirus Today: ‘I call it COVID shaming’

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Monday, July 20. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Imagine contracting COVID-19 and enduring the symptoms: fever, coughing, breathing issues and, in severe cases, hospitalization. Imagine being totally isolated from family and friends to protect them.

Now imagine — after you’ve faced down this deadly disease and survived — being stigmatized, excluded and even targeted because people suspect you might still be contagious.

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That’s what some recovered COVID-19 patients say they’ve experienced, according to Mayo Clinic staff members and officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I call it COVID shaming,” said a San Diego reverend who recovered from the disease. “It happened to me for weeks after my healing.”

Some people have been shunned because they belong to a particular group; for instance, “people of Asian descent have been treated with suspicion and blamed for COVID-19, even though they’re no more likely to spread the virus than is the general population,” the Mayo Clinic says.

Healthcare workers, emergency responders, people with underlying health conditions that exhibit symptoms associated with the disease (such as coughing) and homeless people have reported social exclusion as well. “Stigma can also make people more likely to hide symptoms or illness,” according to the CDC. “This means that stigma can make it more difficult to control the spread of an outbreak.”

That’s increasingly apparent when it comes to the roadblocks Los Angeles County contact tracers are running up against. Tracers have said that upon conducting phone interviews with roughly 57,000 people who tested positive, only 57% of them provided information on their close contacts and employers. Many cited fear that such information could affect their housing, job status or relationships.

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Pacific Islanders in L.A. County suffer the highest infection rate of any racial or ethnic group, with more than 2,500 cases per 100,000 such residents. Community leaders say the stigma associated with a positive diagnosis may be facilitating the spread of the virus. “The shame factor of it is real,” said Dr. Raynald Samoa, who recovered from COVID-19 and is now urging Pacific Islanders to heed health guidelines. “People are not getting their families tested. They’re not speaking out, they’re not getting identified.”

When it comes to who can contract the disease, it’s important to remember that everyone is vulnerable. In fact, the idea that young people were not as likely to be affected has been turned on its head by the rising number of 18- to 34-year-olds who have been hospitalized. “Right now, young adults are being hospitalized at a rate not seen before,” said Los Angeles County health director Barbara Ferrer. “No matter how young you are, you are vulnerable to this virus.”

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 6 p.m. PDT Monday:

Nearly 395,000 California cases and at least 7,745 deaths as of 6:00 p.m. PDT Monday, July 20.
(Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics)
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Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

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Across California

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that hair salons and barbershops could begin offering services outdoors. It’s some relief for salons forced to close last week if they were located in counties on the state’s monitoring list. The new guidance says patrons and stylists must wear masks and meet other safety requirements for services including skin care, cosmetology, nail services and massage therapy. Electrology, tattooing and piercing services are not allowed indoors or outdoors.

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The relaxing of restrictions comes as L.A. County reported another record-breaking day for hospitalizations, with 2,232 people hospitalized — the highest single-day number reported and the sixth consecutive day that hospitalizations surpassed 2,100. On Sunday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said L.A. opened too quickly and again warned that the city was close to imposing some type of new stay-at-home order.

Tests of raw sewage at Yosemite National Park have confirmed the presence of the virus there, and dozens of people are believed to have been infected. The health officer overseeing testing in the Yosemite area attributed the emergence of the coronavirus to the region’s many visitors, but said no policy changes are expected because the park already follows local and state health orders.

As schools prepare to start classes mostly online, California’s high school athletes will see their sports season delayed until December or January, the California Interscholastic Federation announced Monday. High school football practice was scheduled to begin Aug. 3, with games Aug. 21; workouts are now delayed until Dec. 14, with games beginning on Jan. 8. Other sports that will have their seasons postponed include girls’ volleyball, cross country, boys’ water polo, girls’ golf, girls’ tennis and field hockey. Of the new schedule, parents, coaches and athletes say they’re ready to “make the best of it,” as a Woodland Hills volleyball coach put it. “It will be challenging. It’s something different. I feel like it’s going to work,” he said.

While theater is still on hold, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) professionals are calling for profound structural changes to deal with institutional racism and widespread inequities in the industry. That could include an examination of programming, representation and even funding sources. “Because the theater has to be on pause, it should be a time for reinvention,” said the artistic director of Boston Court Pasadena.

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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

As coronavirus cases in the U.S. continued their sharp rise over the weekend, lawmakers from the House and Senate returned to Washington on Monday to resume discussion on the next round of economic relief. The political stakes are high for all sides before the November election, but even more so for the nation, which now has more COVID-19 infections and a higher death count than any other country.

President Trump announced Monday that he would restart his regular briefings, three months after he stopped them following a backlash over his suggestion that injections of disinfectant could be used to kill the virus. Republicans have been pushing for the administration to take a more visible role in battling the pandemic, and the decision to start holding briefings again reflects Trump’s scramble to reverse his slide in the polls, where he’s trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by double digits.

Before the pandemic, Black Americans faced the greatest housing insecurity — as measured by paying unaffordable rent and mortgages — compared with white people, according to census data. Now, along with Latino workers, they face the greatest job losses. Disparities driven by past and present racism have left them more vulnerable to high housing costs and economic downturns, especially one that’s disproportionately affected people who can’t work from home.

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Celebrities including Jennifer Aniston and John Oliver are working to combat coronavirus misinformation and promote the wearing of masks. Aniston on Sunday shared an Instagram photo of a hospitalized friend whom she said had no underlying health conditions. “This is Covid. This is real,” she wrote. “We can’t be so naive to think we can outrun this.”

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: Does wearing masks lower my oxygen levels? Reporter Ron Lin spoke to an expert about common mask myths.

There have been a number of social media posts claiming that wearing a mask lowers oxygen and increases carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Those are incorrect, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UC San Francisco professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist. If you’re wearing them correctly, masks provide adequate airflow.

“Just like oxygen can get in, carbon dioxide can safely get out,” he said.

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Dr. Megan Hall showing her oxygen saturation levels with and without masks.
Pediatrician Dr. Megan Hall shows her oxygen saturation levels remain consistent with and without masks.
(Courtesy of Megan Hall)

Tests using a device called pulse oximeters have confirmed that masks cause no decline in blood-oxygen levels. Masks are even safely used by patients suffering from severe lung disease.

This piece of mask misinformation is one of several floating around on social media. Audience engagement editor Jessica Roy has suggestions for steps you can take to verify information on social media before you share it.

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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