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Coronavirus Today: L.A. turns to pay cuts

Good evening. I’m Faith E. Pinho, and it’s Wednesday, Sept. 2. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Thanks to COVID-19, the city of Los Angeles’ costs have increased as its tax revenue has plunged. Now city elected leaders fear L.A.'s finances could soon fall off a cliff. So the City Council hatched an economics savings plan with a one-two punch: pay eligible employees to retire early, and cut the salaries of those who remain by 10%.

When the buyout plan first came up two months ago, council members hoped that paying workers up to $80,000 to leave would be enough to salvage the city’s coffers. But fewer than half the hoped-for number of people applied for the buyouts, sending the council back to the drawing board.

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Its solution was to declare a fiscal emergency — the city’s first since 2012 — and seek to furlough more than 15,000 employees, who would have to take one unpaid day off every two weeks. Police officers, firefighters, nurses, sanitation workers, librarians and employees at the Department of Building and Safety would be exempted. But the furloughs are expected to save the city more than $100 million between October and June.

On Wednesday, the council approved that declaration, voting to seek those furloughs for civilian employees — tantamount to 10% pay cuts — despite warnings that the move would harm critical city services and push police officers out of patrol cars and into desk duties.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who cast the lone vote against the furloughs, said that before they go into effect, the city should first start meeting with the LAPD officers’ union with a proposal to delay their scheduled raises and bonuses. The LAPD is the “big kahuna,” he said, since it consumes more than half the city’s unrestricted funds. The council rejected that proposal.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:47 p.m. PDT:

More than 719,800 cases and more than 13,200 deaths.
(Los Angeles 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.

A map of California showing counties by which tier they're in under the state's system of coronavirus reopening rules.

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California counties are divided among four tiers, based on local coronavirus risk levels, that determine what can reopen.

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Across California

You can get a haircut indoors in L.A. County once again. Hair salons and barber shops in the state’s most populous county can move back inside from the parking lots and alleys where they’ve been operating as long as they limit themselves to 25% of their capacity and employees follow rules on social distancing and masks, officials announced Wednesday.

In San Francisco, you’ll have to wait at least another month before getting a haircut inside. The city’s rules didn’t stop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from going to a salon Monday, however. Security-camera footage the salon provided to Fox News showed her with her hair in a towel and her mask around her neck, prompting a torrent of criticism. She called it “clearly a setup.”

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The state’s Employment Development Department is investigating possible widespread unemployment fraud in its benefits system. On Wednesday, lawmakers in Sacramento requested an emergency audit of the agency after dozens of reports of residents receiving mail from the EDD regarding claims in the wrong name. In one case, a resident received 116 EDD letters addressed to 33 people the person didn’t know, said State Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore). In addition, the audit would look into computer glitches, long phone wait times and other issues that have frustrated nearly 1 million jobless Californians since March.

Los Angeles’ dance studios already had trouble staying afloat. Now, pushed out of their spaces by public health and economic forces, dancers are cultivating creative spaces online through virtual classes and performances. Letting their leases go may be the rational response to the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy call to make. “As much as I loved what we were able to do with that space and the energy of the community that grew around it, at a certain point it just would not have been feasible to continue,” one studio owner said.

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 COVID-19 vaccine could become available earlier than expected if at least one of the three trials underway in the U.S. right now returns an overwhelming signal that it is “safe and effective,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

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The independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board would make that call, as it does in all clinical trials. But critics say that stopping trials early could rob scientists of the chance to detect dangerous side effects, recruit more Black and Latino volunteers and understand the full results before the vaccines are rolled out for wide use. Some public health experts are concerned President Trump will push for the trials to end, ready or not, before election day. But Fauci said he trusts the independent monitoring board, composed of non-government scientists, to be transparent with its recommendations. Trial results may be available as soon as mid-October.

But is the U.S. ready for a vaccine? An early rollout may make life even more difficult for the state and local agencies that will be tasked with getting one out to their communities. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told them to be ready to go by Nov. 1, “the earliest possible release” of one. But decades of funding shortfalls have left them struggling to confront the pandemic already; handling the vaccine will require millions of dollars more. “There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to be prepared for this vaccination program,” said an official with the Immunization Action Coalition. “States will need more financial resources than they have now.”

In the meantime, several new studies have found that some steroid drugs are an effective treatment for people with severe cases of COVID-19. Multiple steroids, such as dexamethasone and hydrocortisone, reduced the risk of death in the first month by about one-third for seriously ill patients who needed extra oxygen. In new recommendations issued Wednesday, the World Health Organization advised using steroids, which are typically inexpensive and widely available, for critical cases. “I’m delighted,” said one researcher. “It’s the most solid news we’ve had yet on how to take care of patients with COVID-19.”

In Washington, the Trump administration has canceled its ventilator orders, saying the national stockpile of nearly 120,000 machines has reached capacity. The administration rushed to spend nearly $3 billion for ventilators in the spring, prompting House Democrats to open an investigation into one of the country’s most expensive contracts.

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Your food and financial questions answered

We’ve been answering your questions about the coronavirus in this newsletter. But what about questions you might have about how you’re spending all this time at home? With so many people learning to cook and trying to get a handle on their finances during this crisis, The Times wants your questions on those subjects, too.

Our Business newsletter author Rachel Schnalzer would love to hear what you‘d like to know about getting by during the pandemic, whether it concerns your rights at work or your money at home. You can email her at californiainc@latimes.com.

And if you need help in the kitchen, ask our Cooking newsletter authors Genevieve Ko and Ben Mims. In addition to sharing irresistible recipes, they’re offering cooking tips, handy tricks and lessons on the science of food. Send your queries to cooking@latimes.com.

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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