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Coronavirus Today: What will flu season bring?

Good evening. I’m Faith E. Pinho, a breaking news reporter at The Times, and I’ll be writing the Coronavirus Today newsletter this week. I’ll do my best to keep you informed on the latest in California and beyond. It’s Monday, Aug. 31, and here’s the latest:

We’re all accustomed to the sniffly noses and coughs that come in a normal autumn, but what might flu season look like when it’s coupled with the coronavirus? The short answer: No one knows yet.

Scientists have looked for clues in countries in the Southern Hemisphere, where it’s already winter and the flu season should be in full swing. But given the coronavirus’ uneven impact across the globe, they found few conclusive answers.

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Experts say policies put in place to contain the coronavirus — including limited traveling, mask wearing and social distancing — could also reduce the typical spread of the flu. But they worry that if restrictions ease, this silver lining may not last.

Tens of thousands of Americans die during a normal flu season, many of them older than 65 — an age group that is also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. This year more than ever, experts say it’s vital to get your flu shot. It reduces the risk of getting sick or becoming seriously ill, but more importantly, it will keep more people out of the hospital, saving room and resources for coronavirus patients.

“It really behooves us to do as much as possible to prevent any flu cases we can with the traditional tools,” said one doctor in Riverside.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 7:18 p.m. PDT on Monday, Aug. 31:

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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 deadliest month of the COVID-19 pandemic in California came to a close Monday, with at least 3,707 deaths throughout the state in August. That figure is 18% higher than the death toll from July, a Times analysis found. Even so, the state is making steady progress in reducing infections, hospitalizations and deaths. And although cases here have surpassed the 700,000 mark, California’s case count when adjusted for population is dwarfed by 20 other states, including Southern hot spots such as Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

In Los Angeles, kindergarten enrollment in LAUSD schools is down by about 6,000 students — a drop about three times as large as in recent years. The steep decline may reflect the difficulties faced by many families as they try to guide their young students through the rigors of distance learning, especially in low-income communities. “I think parents are finding it extraordinarily difficult to manage their personal and professional lives while somehow keeping the tykes engaged on a device,” said the president of the union that represents school principals.

The coronavirus has changed the look of many California institutions, including recently opened aquariums and zoos. The animals at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are doing fine, but the famed tourist spot is largely devoid of humans. The aquarium has laid off or furloughed 220 of its 580 employees, and it hasn’t welcomed visitors since mid-March. Now, when workers walk past the sea otter exhibit, the animals actually perk up. “These are not dumb animals,” said the aquarium’s director of veterinary services. “They’re very aware of their surroundings. They can see people through the acrylic. They can react to people. So why wouldn’t they notice?

While COVID-19 has turned much of downtown Los Angeles into a ghost town, work on the Frank Gehry-designed mixed-use development known as the Grand has continued apace. The project is a $1-billion bet on the return of a world where COVID-19 is not a threat, but the pandemic has also sharpened the developers’ commitment to using technologies that limit visitors’ need to touch surfaces they would rather not handle such as door pulls, elevator buttons and credit card receipts.

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To an extent, the coronavirus has accelerated the modernization of the DMV, which has expanded its DMV Express program statewide and now allows more services to be completed online. “COVID was the impetus for us to speed up that process,” spokeswoman Anita Gore said. “We’re doing everything we can to push people out of the field offices, to keep everybody safe.” How it all works out remains to be seen, however, and the pandemic may have to subside before many of the changes fully take.

And in Orange County, the South Coast Plaza mall in Costa Mesa reopened for indoor shopping, with about 100 shops open. Face coverings are required, and amenities such as valet parking and stroller rentals aren’t available. The upscale mall has been operating open-air shopping suites in one of its parking structures as well as a contact-free curbside pickup program.

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

Bells rang across the Detroit area Monday as the city observed a memorial day to honor the 1,500-plus Detroiters who have died of COVID-19. Police escorted a line of hearses and mourners past a memorial garden on Belle Isle Park featuring poster-sized photos of pandemic victims. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer acknowledged the disparities among the deceased in a city where about 80% of the residents are Black: “These inequities hit people of color in vulnerable communities the hardest.”

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Across the United States, the pandemic is roiling efforts by campaigns, advocacy groups and registration organizations to reach college-aged voters, even as the November elections approach. With many campuses empty, many opportunities for campaign stops and in-person registration drives are gone. Mail-in voting is tricky, as many students don’t know whether to register to vote in their districts at home or at school. The number of young registered voters in many battleground states is up compared to 2016, but the difficulty reaching them may have an outsize impact on Democrats, since polls show they overwhelmingly support Joe Biden.

The weekend brought protests to Europe from people chafing at pandemic restrictions. In Berlin, police ordered a protest to disband after tens of thousands of people gathered at the Brandenburg Gate, saying its participants were not following social distancing guidelines. Germany, which has been praised for its handling of the pandemic, has seen an upswing in new cases recently. (Its death toll is less than one-quarter that of Britain, whose population is three-quarters the size of Germany’s.) The demonstrations were reminiscent of rallies earlier this year in Huntington Beach and elsewhere in the U.S.

Your questions answered

Today’s question is from readers who want to know: Is it safe to book travel yet? Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds has the lowdown.

While travel has started to creep up again, most decisions about trips and tours still depend on your own level of comfort with the risks of leaving home, Christopher writes. He recommends three good places to start for travel tips during the pandemic: the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health.

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Once you’ve reviewed their advice, think about the shortest trip you can take that involves the least contact with other people. Camping may be an option, if you can find a campground that’s not on fire. Or choose a day trip close to home to go whale-watching or visit a cowboy academy.

Then do your research to see how the lodgings, airlines and restaurants you’re considering are accommodating customers during the pandemic.

After all that work, you’ll need a vacation!

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.

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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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