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Coronavirus Today: ‘A very expensive plan B’ for wildfire evacuations

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Wednesday, Aug. 5. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Firefighters have gained ground against the Apple fire, which has been burning since Friday in Riverside County, and the thousands of residents who were forced to evacuate can return home. But Southern California’s first big wildfire of 2020 has raised serious questions about how to evacuate people safely from wildfire zones and protect them from the coronavirus at the same time.

In this case, emergency officials largely abandoned traditional congregate evacuation centers and sheltered many families in local hotels instead to avoid disease transmission. A spokesperson for the Red Cross called it “a very expensive Plan B.”

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Officials are more worried that the coronavirus may dampen the will to evacuate, particularly for those who have experienced multiple fire seasons. “People would rather be at home, especially older people who’ve lived in their communities and have seen what it goes through,” said a spokesperson for the Riverside County Emergency Management Department. “They feel like they know better than public safety officials.”

Still, both the county and the Red Cross say they have had plans in place for months for handling evacuations during the pandemic. COVID-19 is just another “wild card,” he said. “Managing multiple incidents is not uncommon for us.”

By the numbers

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

More than 528,100 California cases and at least 9,729 deaths as of 2:03 p.m. PDT Wednesday, July 5.
(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

California lawmakers have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to begin paying unemployment benefits immediately to many of the more than 1 million people whose claims have been stalled. The letter to the governor from a bipartisan group of 61 lawmakers calls for the backlog at the Employment Development Department to be cleared sooner than the end of September, which was Newsom’s target. In the interim, the letter reads, Californians with stalled claims should receive some portion of their benefits to help them make ends meet. “The assumption should be that the vast majority of claimants have legitimate claims to what they are owed,” the lawmakers wrote.

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With the school year approaching, Los Angeles parents are growing increasingly concerned about full-time online learning for their children. Parents, especially those who expect to work full-time, also say they desperately need help with child care, a full school day, supervised activities after school and real-time academic supervision. “It’s like the school’s saying, ‘Hey, we’re here for two hours and then you’re on your own,’” said a mother of five children, some of whom have special learning needs.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has not yet released a timeline for any of its more than 26,000 preschoolers or its roughly 20,000 transitional kindergartners to come back to school. Public preschools have struggled to operate amid the pandemic, while private preschools have endured less strain due to their resources and smaller class sizes. Experts say that’s exacerbating educational inequalities that existed before the pandemic. “We could create a huge chasm,” said the executive director of an educational justice advocacy group in California.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to crack down on big house parties: shutting off water and power. He announced Wednesday that starting Friday, he will authorize the city to shut those services off for repeat offenders. The Los Angeles Police Department has been investigating a string of such parties, some of which have turned violent. With bars and nightclubs shut, concern is growing that people are instead turning to private gatherings, perfect for spreading the coronavirus. “The kids are going stir-crazy, a member of the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council said.

And in San Francisco, more and more people are crowding public parks. The city’s parks and recreation team has drawn chalk circles 10 feet in diameter in the grass to encourage social distancing, but parkgoers say the circles fill up quickly on the weekends. “Some people are bursting out of them,” said an infectious disease doctor at UC San Francisco.

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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

In Washington state, the coronavirus has stricken seasonal guest farmworkers and overwhelmed rural hospitals with COVID-19 patients. At Gebbers, one of Washington’s largest apple and cherry growers, there have been at least two deaths and more than 100 positive test results among employees who stay in guest housing and work closely together in the orchards and crowded fruit-packing plants. The company is currently under investigation by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries.

Officials in Mexico have decided to keep public elementary and secondary schools closed indefinitely. Instead, the nation’s 30 million students begin the new academic year at home, learning via television broadcasts of programs designed by education officials. Authorities acknowledge that a TV is no replacement for teachers but say it is the best way to reach most of the country’s students, because 94% of Mexican families have TVs. Still, parents — especially those with one TV and multiple children in different grades — are nervous. “I’m worried this will be a lost year for them,” said a single mother of two.

Canada has made progress beating back the coronavirus, as seen in a death toll that’s half that of the U.S. That success can be traced to its tough rules and strict enforcement, according to Times columnist Doyle McManus. The country “hasn’t needed heroic or draconian measures beyond an initial lockdown to get the pandemic under control,” McManus writes. “All it needed was a set of sensible rules — and, crucially, a consensus across political parties that the rules were there to be followed.”

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Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: What kind of hand sanitizer should I be using? Science reporter Melissa Healy has the latest.

As hand sanitizer becomes Americans’ go-to defense against coronavirus infection, health officials say we need to watch out for certain alcohol-based products.

The Food and Drug Administration has recently issued a warning against hand sanitizers that contain methanol, a type of alcohol that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin as well as life-threatening when ingested. Starting in late July, the FDA began detecting what it called a “sharp increase” in hand sanitizers that claimed to be made with ethyl alcohol — which is safe — but were contaminated by methanol, which is poisonous.

Methanol is widely used in antifreeze, varnishes, cologne, copying machine fluids, paint and fuel. When metabolized by the human body, methanol makes formic acid and formaldehyde, both of which attack the nervous system and may lead to blindness, liver and kidney damage or death.

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Children are particularly vulnerable, as they weigh much less than adults but have nearly as much skin. Experts are already discouraging parents from slathering regular hand sanitizer on their kids’ faces, arms and bodies in addition to their hands, because it means much more alcohol is being absorbed through the skin. If parents are doing so while using a brand that contains methanol, their children could come to serious harm.

The FDA has posted a list of brands, marketing names and lots that it has recalled. You can read it here. And if you think you or someone else may have methanol poisoning, call the Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.

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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