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Coronavirus Today: Coming off the watch list

Good evening. I’m Soumya Karlamangla, and it’s Monday, Aug. 24. I’m a public health reporter at The Times, and I’ll be writing the newsletter this week. I’m excited to keep you informed with what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond. Here’s the latest:

California’s coronavirus watch list has become something like a crystal ball for determining when a county can return to normal(ish). The reopening of businesses, schools and more will be allowed only if a county has met standards set by the state. If not, the county ends up on “the list.”

Under state rules, a school may invite students back to campus if it’s in a county that’s been off the watch list for 14 consecutive days. Rural Trinity County has never been on the list, and its school year just began with in-person instruction, a rarity in California this fall.

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Now more counties are taking steps toward that goal. Since Sunday, five counties have come off of the monitoring listOrange, Napa, Calaveras, Mono and Sierra. If they are able to maintain their low numbers for two weeks, K-12 students could resume in-person classes after Labor Day weekend. Orange County officials have already expressed their plans for some schools to do so.

Two weeks ago, 42 of California’s 58 counties were on the state monitoring list. Now there are 35. That certainly looks like progress. Whether it can hold when reopening begins again remains to be seen.

Being taken off the list, however, doesn’t mean a county can immediately allow indoor operations at nail salons, barbershops and fitness centers. Those businesses, which Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered closed in high-risk counties last month, must stay shuttered until further notice from the state.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:00 p.m. PDT Monday:

More than 673,678 California cases and at least 12,189 deaths as of 5:00 p.m. PDT Tuesday, Aug. 24.

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 start of a new school year isn’t the only end-of-summer ritual that’s been complicated by the pandemic. The wildfire season is presenting challenges, too. The major fires burning in Northern California have sent thousands fleeing from their homes, but many evacuees are not being sent to shelters due to the risk of the coronavirus, Newsom said Monday.

Of 2,211 sheltered evacuees, 1,480 are staying in hotels, where they can stay separate from others, he said. For those being housed in more traditional shelters, the state has implemented additional safety protocols, including health screenings and assessments prior to entry, making masks and social distancing practices mandatory and installing air purifiers to reduce the risk of the virus’ spread.

Newsom said he visited four shelters over the weekend and, after being subjected to the protocols himself, feels they are very safe. “We continue to battle historic wildfires, but we’re also battling this historic pandemic, COVID-19, that has not gone away,” he said. “That makes some of our wildfire efforts a little bit more challenging, but we are up to the task.”

Just one week into fall semester, USC is reporting a concerning spike in COVID-19 cases among students. The university said 43 cases have been identified in the last seven days, and more than 100 students have been placed in a 14-day quarantine due to exposures. Nearly all of USC’s classes are being taught online, but thousands of students live off-campus, where they are unlikely to follow public health guidelines and large parties have already been reported. One expert called it “a recipe for disaster.”

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Meanwhile, classes are beginning for 480,000 Cal State University students across California. The Cal State system was one of the first to announce, in May, that it would begin the fall semester almost entirely online, but the circumstances vary from campus to campus. At Cal Poly Pomona, for instance, just 2.5% of course sections will offer in-person components, including courses held off campus. Fewer than 500 students will live on campus. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, in contrast, will offer 13% of sections in person, and as many as 5,980 students — 70% of capacity — will live on campus.

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

A new study of 11,000 COVID-19 patients from around the country found that although Black Americans were more likely than their white counterparts to seek treatment at a hospital, once they got there, their chances of survival were the same. That was also true of the sickest patients in the study — those who were admitted to an intensive care unit and those who had to be put on ventilators. Experts said the results suggest that the racial disparities seen with COVID-19 are not inevitable and could be overcome with more equal medical care, among other changes.

Another study has found that social distancing varies widely by income level. UC Davis researchers found that America’s wealthiest residents, who are typically the country’s most mobile, became its most stationary as the coronavirus spread. Meanwhile, poorer people went from being least mobile to most. Wealth provides people the flexibility to work from home as well as the extra cash to stock up on groceries and other supplies to reduce trips outside the house, the study found.

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On Sunday, President Trump touted research results about convalescent plasma therapy that he said could reduce mortality from COVID-19 by 35%. But that statistic greatly exaggerates the documented benefit of the treatment, writes Times columnist Michael Hiltzik. Instead of saving 35 out of 100 patients, as Trump claimed, the most one could say about the data is that it saves five out of 100 patients, Hiltzik writes.

The number of coronavirus cases in India jumped 50% in just three weeks, crossing 3 million Sunday. The alarming rise is partially the result of increased testing, but it also reflects the rapid spread of the virus throughout the country, which already has the world’s third-highest case load.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: Given the double threats of smoke and COVID in many parts of the state, what kind of mask should I be wearing?

Cloth face coverings that reduce the spread of the coronavirus don’t do much for preventing smoke inhalation, Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary, said in a news conference Monday. Likewise, masks with valves or vents can keep out smoky air but are not effective at preventing the spread of the virus to others, he said.

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“We’re sort of at this crossroads where we have two different issues,” he said.

Ghaly said the state is providing both surgical masks and N95 masks to the shelters set up for fire evacuees. Those kinds of masks are best for simultaneously protecting against both threats, he 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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