Coronavirus Today: The peak infectiousness problem

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Tuesday, July 21. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

COVID-19 has been compared to the seasonal flu on a number of occasions — most notably at the start of the pandemic when we just didn’t know much about the novel coronavirus.

By now, scientists have figured out one major way that COVID-19 differs from the flu: peak infectiousness, the time when the virus is most transmissible. With the seasonal flu, infectiousness reaches its peak about one day after the onset of symptoms. But with the coronavirus, that can occur even before an infected person starts showing symptoms.


That’s why scientists say it’s so important to wear masks even if you don’t think you might be sick.

California has surpassed 400,000 overall cases, and its death toll is approaching 8,000, according to The Times’ coronavirus tracker. But there’s some good news: the rate at which coronavirus tests are coming back positive might be stabilizing. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, said if the positivity rate and other key numbers remain stable, it could be a sign that the reclosure of some businesses is working to help control the spread of the disease. We should gain more knowledge about the effects of those closures right around now, he said.

Hoping that the numbers will keep improving, officials are keeping a close eye on Southern California, home to some of the state’s hardest-hit communities. In fact, Los Angeles may soon become the biggest U.S. city to issue a second stay-at-home order. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he will decide in the next week or two whether to issue another one, and his decision will depend on the outcome of this round of closures.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 6:41 p.m. PDT Tuesday:

More than 409,300 California cases and at least 7,889 deaths as of 7:15 p.m. PDT Tuesday, July 21.
(Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics)

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

Orange County now has California’s second-highest number of total confirmed coronavirus cases, just behind L.A. County. O.C. has drawn nationwide attention for pushing back against some of the restrictions meant to help stymie the disease’s spread, but that attitude might be shifting in some places. For instance, the city of Costa Mesa is instituting a $100 fine for anyone caught in public without a facial covering.

Just next door, San Bernardino County has the state’s third-highest number of coronavirus hospitalizations, according to the California Department of Public Health. As of Monday, the county had also reached a new record for the number of hospitalized patients in intensive care units.

In San Francisco, Latinos account for 15% of the population but make up nearly half of all COVID-19 cases. Many are essential workers — those more at risk of exposure — who say they’re reluctant to get tested on a regular basis for fear they could lose their jobs with a single positive test result. A new citywide wage replacement program aims to encourage people to stay home and quarantine if they test positive.

The Rams announced Tuesday that all season tickets will be deferred to the 2021 season, and that stadium capacity for games this season, if fans are allowed, would be about 15,000. “We anticipate that the NFL will cancel preseason games,” the Rams said in a letter to season ticket holders. That means the first possible game at the new SoFi Stadium, where a number of construction workers have tested positive, would be the Sept. 13 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.



— 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

On Tuesday, in his first briefing since late April, President Trump urged all Americans to wear face masks “whether you like the mask or not,” conceding that the pandemic would “get worse before it gets better.” His remarks indicated a sudden shift in rhetoric as polls show him trailing Joe Biden by double digits less than four months before the election. Moments later, however, Trump delivered his familiar refrain, saying eventually “the virus will disappear.”

The National Institutes of Health have launched a series of studies looking into the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latino Americans. Researchers say the goal of this part of the “All of Us” project is to get a better sense of how socioeconomic factors such as income, family structure, diet and access to healthcare affect disease outcomes. They see it as an antidote to medical research that traditionally has skewed heavily white, male and well-off.

Senate Republicans say they are on board with Democrats when it comes to including a new round of stimulus payments to Americans in the upcoming pandemic relief bill, marking a thin area of agreement in the negotiations. However, talks are likely to take some time before an agreement is reached. Republicans have not said how much the payments should be or who should be eligible.


Worldwide, lockdowns on a local level are becoming an increasingly common way to deal with coronavirus hotspots. The city of Leicester is the first in Britain to have a lockdown reimposed, and for its residents, the renewed injunctions are a bitter blow as they watch many of their fellow Brits reclaim some of the normality they used to enjoy. One coffeehouse owner compared it to “The Simpsons Movie,” “where they put a glass dome over Springfield.”

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: Is it true that children are less likely to get infected with the coronavirus and spread it to others? Here’s what we know, from Science editor Karen Kaplan.

That’s the main question on the minds of parents and educators as schools prepare to start back up for the fall. However, scientists don’t have definitive answers to questions like these — and they probably won’t for quite a while.

“There is insufficient evidence with which to determine how easily children and youth contract the virus and how contagious they are once they do,” according to a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest children do seem to be less susceptible to the virus. That’s especially true for younger children.

However, that doesn’t mean kids can’t get sick. A small number of pediatric patients — including 15 children in L.A. County — has developed a serious disease called multi-system inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C. And there’s a difference in how the virus affects different age groups of children; infection rates are lower for elementary school children than for teenagers in high school.

As for spreading, there’s evidence that kids aren’t transmitting COVID-19 at the same level as adults. Infection-tracking studies have shown that adults are far more likely than kids to bring the virus into their homes and transmit it to family members.

In fact, parents leaving the house to work, shop or socialize while their children are isolated at home might be one reason infection rates have been lower in kids than adults, some experts say.


That means once kids are back in school, they might start to catch up.

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.