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Coronavirus Today: The census situation

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Tuesday, Aug. 4. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Just yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a steep decline in the proportion of California’s coronavirus tests that indicated actual infections. But on Tuesday, the state’s top health official said technical problems that caused delays in analyzing coronavirus test results may have interfered with the accuracy of state data.

The actual change in the state’s seven-day average rate for positive infections remains unclear, according to California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

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The delays do not affect data on hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, Ghaly said. That means the good news from Monday — that the number of hospitalizations is no longer increasing — still holds true.

But it doesn’t mean we’re out of danger. The virus roars back as soon as we relax, as we learned the hard way earlier this summer. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths skyrocketed just as the state rolled back stay-at-home orders and lifted restrictions on businesses.

Public health experts have said the only way to prevent surges is to learn from our mistakes. That means that no matter how much the numbers improve, it’s unlikely the state will open back up as quickly as it did before. The first time around, too many Californians resumed social gatherings and did not wear masks, Newsom said, thus bringing on the resurgence of COVID-19. “Let’s not relive that experience again,” he said.

Nationwide, continued coronavirus outbreaks have seriously complicated the U.S. Census Bureau’s efforts to count the country’s population. Knocking on millions of doors and attempting to reach difficult-to-count populations — such as homeless people and those living in rural areas — is a particular challenge in a time of social distancing.

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The bureau’s director said Monday that this year’s count will end on Sept. 30 — a month earlier than planned — raising questions about how accurate the tallies will be. Conducted once every 10 years, the national headcount is used to determine representation in Congress and state legislatures. It’s also the basis for major policy decisions such as how much federal money states and cities receive and how many teachers a school district should hire.

California census workers say their attempts to reach historically undercounted groups have been more successful than usual. Surprisingly however, residents of more affluent areas, including Malibu and Beverly Hills, have fallen far behind in their response rates compared to 2010. Wealthy Californians may have left their primary residences to wait out the pandemic in their vacation homes, said a USC demographer who calls it “the Manhattan effect” because it mirrors the flight of the rich when COVID-19 hit New York City.

“The [U.S.] Census Bureau put a lot of effort into the hard-to-count areas, but they didn’t plan on this other thing happening,” he said. “How could they?”

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 2:32 p.m. PDT Tuesday:

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More than 523,200 California cases and at least 9,605 deaths as of 2:32 p.m. PDT Tuesday, Aug. 4.
(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

State officials on Monday announced a strict waiver system that would allow some elementary schools to reopen for in-person learning even if they’re in counties where the coronavirus is still spreading. However, critics say that smaller schools — especially private and parochial campuses — will probably find it easier to meet the waiver’s detailed requirements to be exempted from full-time distance learning, and that could widen gaps in educational equity. Citing high local case rates, Los Angeles County said Tuesday it will not consider any applications for waivers.

A party thrown at a Hollywood bar for “first responders” last Friday — seemingly in violation of local coronavirus restrictions — has prompted an investigation by the L.A. County Health Department. Videos taken at the Sassafras Saloon indicated that attendees may have been members of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, although the department has denied it had anything to do with arranging the event. “There is really zero tolerance for having indoor parties at your business places,” said Barbara Ferrer, county public health director.

The San Diego County district attorney has filed five misdemeanor charges against the owner of a gym that continued to operate despite restrictions. It’s the first time criminal charges have been brought against a business owner for violating the state’s public health orders. Each misdemeanor carries a possible sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000, according to the complaint.

San Francisco currently leads the state in the rate of coronavirus testing, according to county Public Health Director Grant Colfax, and its number of hospitalizations has dropped. The director urged residents to remain vigilant about wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing — and that masks need to cover the mouth and nose. “For some people, it is just not a habit yet,” he said.

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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 Mental 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

The coronavirus has resurfaced in many places that had seemed to contain it, including Hong Kong, Vietnam, Australia, Spain, Germany and Norway. While lockdowns have helped slow the spread of COVID-19, many countries are struggling to keep the disease in check as they attempt to reopen. The new outbreaks underscore the challenges facing the United States, which has yet to develop a a cohesive plan to fight the virus.

Most U.S. child care facilities did not cease operating during the pandemic — and the number of outbreaks they have reported has been low. Experts say this could weigh in favor of parents who want to let their healthy younger children return to school. However, there are no guarantees, as seen with the weeklong overnight camp in Georgia that saw an outbreak despite taking several measures to mitigate risk. The key, experts suggest, is to factor in whether the schools are in a coronavirus hot spot.

Tennis champion Rafael Nadal says he won’t compete at this year’s U.S. Open because of the risks of international travel during the pandemic. The tournament is scheduled to be played Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 without fans in the stands and with other safety-related modifications in effect. “The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing,” Nadal said. “It looks like we still don’t have control of it.”

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Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: How do I report a business ignoring coronavirus safety orders? The Times’ Business team addressed this in its most recent newsletter.

If you see a business that’s not in compliance with local safety orders, it might be worth checking in with them first. Rules vary by jurisdiction and industry, and since they’ve been changing rapidly, the business might not be aware it is doing anything wrong. Ask the manager whether the owner is aware of the rules, and gently encourage compliance.

If the business continues its risky behavior, you can choose to get officials involved. Document the hazard you see. Include the date, time and location, a detailed explanation and/or photos.

If the business is in the city of Los Angeles, you can report it through the city’s online complaint form. If it’s in L.A. County, you can report it through the Environmental Health Online Complaint System, call (888) 700-9995 or email ehmail@ph.lacounty.gov.

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However, the city and county are processing thousands of complaints. If you want to escalate the matter, it might be worth contacting your local elected officials or teaming up with local organizations to pressure the business to follow safety protocols.

For more advice and stories about the economy, personal finance, labor issues and workplace safety during the pandemic, sign up for our weekly Business newsletter.

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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