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Coronavirus Today: When it’s too hot to stay home

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Monday, Aug. 17. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

This weekend saw record-setting heat and rolling blackouts across California, complicating life for people barred from the kinds of indoor public spaces where they might once have sought refuge.

With offices, movie theaters and shopping malls still closed, overall demand for air conditioning at home has risen dramatically. That added strain on power supplies prompted the state to initiate rotating blackouts Friday and Saturday nights, and more widespread power shutoffs could come today, affecting up to 3 million people, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

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That means many more people could suffer from dangerous heat conditions while self-isolating in homes they can’t keep cool — something health officials have been warning about since early in the pandemic.

Local officials have been forced to revamp the operation of public cooling centers, which often attract the elderly and people with underlying health conditions who are particularly susceptible not only to the heat but also to the virus. In Los Angeles, the centers’ staff must wear protective gear, and masks and temperature checks are required to enter. And in the Inland Empire, officials had to limit the number of centers they could safely operate without risking disease transmission.

Newsom has signed an emergency proclamation aimed at freeing up additional energy, including temporary changes to regulations on the use of backup energy sources. But residents “should be prepared for likely rolling outages during the late afternoons and early evenings through Wednesday,” according to an alert from the California Independent System Operator, which runs the electrical grid for most of the state.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 3:53 p.m. PDT Monday:

More than 629,400 California cases and at least 11,296 deaths as of 3:53 p.m. PDT Monday, Aug. 17.
(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

The state has updated its coronavirus monitoring list for the first time since the discovery of a massive data backlog that skewed the case numbers. Four counties — Amador, Mendocino, Inyo and Calaveras — have been added to the list of those that must close hair salons, gyms and other businesses. Santa Cruz County is now off the list, and San Diego County has made enough progress against the virus that it could be removed as early as this week, Newsom said.

The coronavirus response in Kern County, one of the nation’s worst hot spots as the virus spreads rapidly in agricultural communities, has been hindered by confusion and political fights between local and state officials. The sheriff told The Times that although he encourages masks and social distancing, his department is not enforcing state orders, and the county’s public health director said navigating the state agencies had been complicated by mixed messages and red tape.

The Los Angeles Unified School District announced Sunday that it was launching an ambitious coronavirus testing and contact-tracing program for all students, staff and their families. The plan, which has the potential to become one of the most detailed yet for a U.S. school district, aims to build a widespread case database that would help signal when it might be safe to reopen campuses.

Los Angeles’ influencer houses — lavish homes where social media stars live together — are a rising focus of attention for their potential for disease transmission. Popular TikTok video creator Bryce Hall threw a birthday party in the Hollywood Hills over the weekend with a massive crowd of people who didn’t appear to be wearing masks or social distancing, according to online videos.

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“Is fear of getting sick enough to stave off the party circuit? I don’t think so,” writes Times columnist Sandy Banks. “Education instead of enforcement is a nice sentiment, but maybe it’s time to raise the stakes for those determined to flout public safety rules.”

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 CDC.
— 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.

Around the nation and the world

At least 2,045 Mexican citizens have died from COVID-19 in the United States, more than a third of them in the New York area. For their families, many of whom had not seen their loved ones in years, the process of having their ashes brought back home has been complicated by months-long delays from pandemic-related restrictions. Behind the urns are vanished dreams of immigrants who hoped to retire in their homeland.

As they campaign for the presidency, former Vice President Joe Biden is offering a different vision of how to confront the coronavirus than the one embraced by President Trump. Biden has repeatedly said he would give priority to advice from public health experts to drive the national response, including “masking; clear, science-based guidance; dramatically scaling up testing” and “giving states and local governments the resources they need to open schools and businesses safely.”

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This year’s Democratic National Convention, driven online by the pandemic, kicks off this evening and goes through Thursday. Here’s how to watch.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: How do we persuade our family and friends to wear masks? Science editor Karen Kaplan has some suggestions.

There’s increasingly overwhelming evidence that masks are perhaps the best protection we have against the coronavirus. Still, a vocal minority has turned mask-wearing into a political issue, jeopardizing public health and the path back to normal life.

So what will it take to convince people who don’t want to wear masks? Focus on their moral obligation to avoid putting other people in danger, psychologists say.

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Health messages that emphasize the benefits to others have been known to work before. For instance, smokers who haven’t been able to quit for their own sake are more likely to succeed if their goal is to protect their partners or children from the effects of secondhand smoke.

Similarly, recent research found that people who were asked to consider the health of others were significantly more likely to see social distancing as a moral issue. That’s important, because “the more people moralized public health, the more persuasive they found their assigned message,” the scientists from Ball State University and Ohio State University wrote.

Ultimately, “messages highlighting the benefits of social distancing for the health and well-being of others may be more influential than messages highlighting social distancing’s benefits for one’s own health,” they concluded.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it: “Your mask may protect them. Their mask may protect you.”

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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 in our reopening tracker.

For the most up-to-date coronavirus coverage from The Times over the weekend, visit our homepage and our Health section, sign up for our breaking news alerts, and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.


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