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Coronavirus Today: The harm in isolation

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Tuesday, Aug. 18. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Of all the burdens the pandemic has laid upon us, isolation from family, friends and the outside world might be the most difficult to contend with as we try to contain the spread of COVID-19. For some people, that isolation is causing mental and physical harm.

Experts on intimate partner violence had warned that domestic abuse would worsen as a consequence of months of stay-at-home orders, job loss and escalating family stress. Sure enough, as the pandemic left many victims isolated for extended periods of time with their abusers and without other social contact, new research has found evidence that reported abuse became increasingly physical and inflicted worse injuries. “Victims may be so fearful of COVID-19 that they aren’t reaching us until the abuse is severe,” one of the study authors said.

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For people with dementia, the pandemic has brought on a new dimension of isolation from the friends, family and communities they depend on for help, including adult day care centers, memory stimulation programs and support groups. People with dementia may not understand why family members aren’t visiting anymore or why, when they do visit, they don’t come into the house, said the chief executive of the National Assn. of Area Agencies on Aging. “Visitation under the current restrictions, such as a drive-by or window visit, can actually result in more confusion,” she said.

The burden of caring for these patients in the midst of a pandemic has left primary caregivers feeling more isolated as well. Callers to the Alzheimer’s Assn.’s 24-hour help line need more emotional support, their situations are more complex, and there’s a greater “heaviness” to the calls, according to a program director for the organization. Dementia and caregiver support organizations are expanding their offerings to include virtual wellness activities, check-in calls from nurses and online caregiver support groups. “Caregivers are lonely, too,” said a psychiatrist who specializes in memory disorders.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:22 p.m. PDT Tuesday:

More than 638,100 California cases and at least 11,499 deaths as of 5:22 p.m. PDT Tuesday, Aug. 18.
(Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics)
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Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

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Across California

A new era of distance learning officially began today as hundreds of thousands of students served by the Los Angeles Unified School District kicked off what’s sure to be an unusual school year. Around 30,000 teachers will be educating their pupils according to a new daily schedule — the first to be put in place since campuses closed abruptly in mid-March. “We have had months to prepare for online school in the fall,” said the dean of USC’s Rossier School of Education. “The question is: Are we ready?”

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L.A. County’s recently released rules for colleges and universities are more stringent than the state’s guidance: Virtually no in-person classes are allowed, and on-campus housing will be extremely limited. Officials have instructed institutions of higher learning to limit on-campus activities because the coronavirus’ high community transmission rates are being driven, in large part, by the 18-to-30-year-olds who account for 25% to 30% of new infections. The rules are sure to be disappointing to students, L.A. County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer acknowledged, but “the very nature of the way that colleges and universities operate creates a significant risk of outbreaks of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff.”

As the virus continues to rage in prisons, California’s Office of Inspector General is blaming vague testing guidelines, faulty thermometers and inadequate training for the deaths of at least 54 incarcerated people and the infection of more than 9,500 others. In a report released Monday, the watchdog agency cited one visit to California State Prison Sacramento where it said OIG staffers “walked all the way through the administration building and met with the warden” without being screened.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who refused to test people detained at a Bakersfield immigration detention center for the coronavirus have been ordered to do so by a federal judge in San Francisco. Of the 104 people now detained at the facility, at least 54 were infected as of Saturday. The judge cited the “deliberate indifference” of ICE and GEO Group, the private company that manages the facility, saying, “There’s no question that this outbreak could have been avoided.”

Looking ahead to fall and winter, California’s health officer Mark Ghaly is reminding Californians to prepare for flu season. Getting a flu vaccine would help reduce the strain on hospitals already under pressure from treating patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms. “We know that additional movement in the ER and urgent care centers might create an exposure risk to COVID-19,” Ghaly 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 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

Just days into the new semester, universities across the U.S. are scrambling to contain coronavirus outbreaks linked to student housing, off-campus parties and packed bars. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has canceled classes and said it will switch to remote learning starting Wednesday after reporting 130 confirmed infections among students and five among employees over the past week.

The SEC has released its 2020 college football season schedule, which will move ahead this fall even as the Pac-12 and Big Ten postpone their games. To prepare for the unique season, the SEC is working to find a “third-party entity” to help support testing capacity for the schools and have uniform testing protocols across the 14 teams, according to the conference’s commissioner.

As the coronavirus spread rapidly in the South and parts of the West this summer, nursing homes saw a nearly 80% jump in the number of reported cases of COVID-19 in just over a month, according to a new industry report. Researchers have been warning that once a community anywhere experiences an outbreak, it’s only a matter of time before the virus enters its nursing homes — likely carried in by staffers who don’t know they’re infected.

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Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: Why was there a sudden drop in the number of daily coronavirus cases in L.A. County? Reporter Alex Wigglesworth has more information.

California is continuing to fix a massive data backlog that was skewing state case numbers. As the new tests are processed, numbers in some regions have been surging.

However, some counties have seen less progress in clearing the bottleneck of cases — including Los Angeles.

It’s unclear just how much of the data backlog included test results from L.A. County that haven’t been analyzed. Still, health officials cautioned that the numbers reported Sunday were likely too low as the county awaits the addition of cases still being processed.

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Fortunately, data on deaths and hospitalizations, which were not affected by the backlog, are showing a steady decline, according to Ferrer. Daily hospitalizations in Los Angeles County have fallen 37% over a month — from 2,219 cases per day in mid-July to 1,388 cases in mid-August — and the average number of daily deaths has fallen from 43 to 30 over the same time period, she said.

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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