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Coronavirus Today: Challenge upon challenge

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Wednesday, Aug. 19. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

When the pandemic began, the city of Los Angeles opened up more than two dozen of its gyms and recreation centers to homeless people in order to help prevent coronavirus transmission among those living on the street. By May, however, the facilities stopped taking in new admissions — and now, there are just seven sites still open.

Local outreach workers and activists said they felt left in the dark about why so many had stopped serving as shelters, and they’ve been left to worry where homeless people would land. “We are in the middle of a viral pandemic,” said one homeless advocate. “This pulls people away from the medical care and support they were getting.”

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It’s a vivid example of the gaps in infrastructure made glaringly obvious by the pandemic — especially now, as California struggles with extreme heat, massive wildfires and power shortages. Homeless workers have pivoted to providing immediate aid such as food and water delivery and testing stations for COVID-19. One worker told Times columnist Steve Lopez he had never put in longer hours or dealt with more stressful challenges.

As Lopez writes, “Los Angeles had a big enough challenge as it was, trying to address the needs of a growing population of homeless people. It did not need the coronavirus on top of that, nor did it need this wretched, blistering heat wave.”

And the situation could soon get much worse. In less than two weeks, courts in California will resume processing eviction and foreclosure cases after a months-long pause. The most recent episode of “Gimme Shelter,” The Times’ podcast on the housing crisis, features a discussion of the ways elected officials are trying to avert what’s been called an “eviction cliff” that could result in millions of California tenants losing their homes over the next few months. Here’s where you can listen.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:31 p.m. PDT Wednesday:

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More than 645,100 California cases and at least 11,656 deaths as of 2:03 p.m. PDT Wednesday, Aug. 19.
(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

Almost two dozen major wildfires are raging across the state, forcing evacuations in Northern California and stretching resources at a time when they’re already burdened by the pandemic. The threat posed by the virus is requiring the state to reconfigure emergency evacuation centers and fire camps to lessen the risk of spread — and then there’s the additional problem of the power outages affecting hundreds of thousands of people. “We’ve put out every resource we have,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

Bottlenecks in Sacramento’s coronavirus testing system have dramatically reduced testing capacity and slowed results. Amid the surge of cases earlier in the summer, appointment time slots filled quickly, five testing sites run by the county temporarily closed, and some healthcare providers limited testing to patients who were visibly sick. The heavy burden on commercial labs that processed tests dramatically delayed the return of results. “Results should come in 24 to 48 hours, ideally,” said the county’s public health officer. “It impacts our ability to take action and do contact investigations.”

Authorities have accused 21 people of operating a fraud ring, run out of a San Mateo County jail, that stole $250,000 by submitting bogus claims for jobless benefits on behalf of people incarcerated there. It’s the first major unemployment fraud case in California since coronavirus-related shutdowns forced millions out of work. The unprecedented number of claims filed and the decision early on to temporarily suspend some security measures during the pandemic has caused a rise in such fraud, experts say. “I expect it is not localized to San Mateo County,” said an assistant district attorney there.

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.

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Around the nation and the world

Doctors treating those with severe symptoms of COVID-19 have been baffled to find that, in many cases, the sickest patients don’t get enough oxygen even when they’re on ventilators. A neurologist at New York’s Mount Sinai Health System may have figured out why. She used a robotic headset to track trails of injected microbubbles in patients and found evidence of another effect the coronavirus might have on the human body: dilated blood vessels, which prevent oxygen from being absorbed properly.

With more than 20,000 confirmed COVID-19 fatalities, Iran has the highest death toll of any Middle Eastern country to date in the pandemic. The nation of 80 million people has struggled to contain the virus’ spread, initially beating it back only to see it spike again beginning in June. And researchers in the Iranian parliament have suggested that, because of undercounting, the death toll is likely nearly double the officially reported figures.

The pandemic has curtailed access to contraceptives and abortion services for millions of women and girls across the planet, and the U.N. Population Fund is warning of up to 7 million unintended pregnancies worldwide. Lockdowns, travel restrictions, supply chain disruptions, the massive shift of health resources to combat COVID-19 and fear of infection have prevented those who need care from getting it. It’s also leading many to seek out unsafe options. “The impact in some cases is like what used to happen to young women during communism, to get an abortion from somebody who claims to be a medical provider ... and pray,” said one member of an international reproductive justice group.

Story spotlight

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Californians are required to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — but to what extent are people are complying with the state’s order?

The Times decided to conduct informal observations over the course of a week in Los Angeles and Orange counties. What we found: Many people aren’t wearing masks, some of those who are wearing them aren’t doing it correctly, and enforcement of the mask order is lax.

So how many people really wear masks? What we found wasn’t pretty. Consult our graphics for more details on the breakdown by gender and location, and use our tool to conduct your own informal study.

Only 42% of the people we tracked were wearing masks correctly, 10% wore them incorrectly and 47% were not wearing masks.
(Casey Miller / Los Angeles Times; illustrations by Jennifer Lu / Los Angeles Times)
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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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