Coronavirus Today: The costs of herd immunity
Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Tuesday, Aug. 11. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.
Herd immunity can be achieved when so many members of a population have become immune to an infectious disease that it can’t find new people to infect. There are two ways to get there: by exposing a large percentage of the population to a virus so they can develop antibodies on their own, or by vaccinating enough people to interrupt its transmission.
The story of the coronavirus outbreak at San Quentin State Prison offers a cautionary tale for those who say the first option would be the best way to bounce back from the pandemic.
The virus spread unchecked across California’s oldest prison in ways that stunned public health experts. Despite concerted efforts to control its transmission, it has infected more than 2,200 people and caused 25 deaths among a population of roughly 3,260 people. If it were equally dangerous across the state as a whole, that would translate to a death toll of 300,000 — nearly 30 times what we’ve seen so far. And if the virus were to cause an equivalent amount of damage nationwide, a staggering 2.5 million Americans would lose their lives.
Sweden, whose light-touch coronavirus strategy drew international attention and speculation about the possibilities of herd immunity, now has one of the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in Europe — one that’s worse than that of the United States. Plus, it appears to be nowhere near reaching herd immunity, with only 7% of the population testing positive for coronavirus antibodies. “In light of these findings, any proposed approach to achieve herd immunity through natural infection is not only highly unethical, but also unachievable,” wrote two virologists in the journal the Lancet.
By the numbers
California cases and deaths as of 1:57 p.m. PDT Tuesday:
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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California is in the midst of clearing its massive backlog of coronavirus test results, with results now flowing into the state database and bumping up the reported daily totals. “New cases attributed to the backlog will be reported over the next few days,” according to a statement from the Department of Public Health.
Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti authorized the city to shut off water and power at homes playing host to large gatherings and parties. However, the police union, which has clashed with Garcetti over reforms he’s pushed for in response to a national reckoning over police abuses, says it’s not interested in enforcing the crackdown. “He should send his civilian staff to turn off people’s electricity & cut off their water,” the Police Protective League said on Twitter.
The latest major event to go virtual is Los Angeles’ AFI Fest, held by the American Film Insitute in venues such as the TCL Chinese Theatre. Other than moving online, the festival, an important showcase for movies that could be awards season contenders but weren’t quite ready or willing to show up at earlier festivals, will remain “very similar to what we’ve done in the past years,” its director said.
— 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 the race for a coronavirus vaccine, Russia says it has developed a shot that is ready for use, despite the fact that it hasn’t been subjected to a Phase 3 clinical trial — the universally accepted prerequisite for wider use. Epidemiologists have cast doubt on the vaccine’s true efficacy, and analysts called the announcement a transparent move by Russian President Vladimir Putin to shore up his sagging domestic political fortunes and burnish Russia’s global prestige.
For the roughly 3.4 million Americans with diabetes, becoming infected with the coronavirus means being more likely to experience severe symptoms of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research has found the risk of death especially high for people who have trouble controlling their blood sugar. But the economic crisis has put costly insulin out of reach for many newly unemployed diabetes patients who no longer have health insurance or money in their pockets to pay for the treatment. Some have been forced to ration their supplies. “It’s really stressful,” said a stay-at-home mother in Lakewood. “And that doesn’t help your blood sugar.”
The coronavirus is spreading among workers at indoor mushroom farms around the country. Unlike most produce, mushrooms are grown indoors — the very place that research increasingly indicates the virus is most apt to spread — and U.S. growers have been erecting large, state-of-the-art facilities to keep up with demand. Such an operation “may be cutting-edge for growing mushrooms, but it has not been developed with the safety of workers in a global pandemic in mind,” said an organizer for United Farm Workers.
Baseball in a bubble? Major League Baseball is considering moving the postseason into a coronavirus safety bubble, according to a person briefed on the matter. An outbreak sidelined the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies for a week; if more were to occur, the resulting shutdowns might not be tenable for the other teams in the playoff field or for the league’s television partners. On the other hand, letting a team advance simply because its opponent was disqualified by an outbreak might not work, either. “Now you’re basically starting to talk about a ‘Hunger Games’ scenario,” said a pandemic specialist.
Life for those inside the NBA’s bubble in Orlando includes stringent protocols and near-constant surveillance. Players must wear plastic wristbands called MagicBands — originally used by tourists visiting Walt Disney World to access their hotel rooms and pay for things, but now used as medical trackers that record tests, temperatures and even oxygen levels.
We’re asking you
Today, we’re the ones asking readers: How has the pandemic affected your commute?
Los Angeles, the Bay Area and some other parts of California are infamous for long commutes thanks to traffic jams, inadequate public transportation and a lack of affordable housing. The typical Los Angeles driver spent 103 hours stuck in traffic in 2019, according to traffic analytics company Inrix.
The pandemic has forced tens of thousands of employees to adjust quickly to remote work. We want to know: How has the pandemic changed your commute? Will your employer keep some of those changes in place permanently?
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.