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Coronavirus Today: ‘This ought to be reassuring’

Good evening. I’m Soumya Karlamangla, and it’s Wednesday, Sept. 9. Here’s the latest from California and beyond.

In any other time, the brief pausing of a clinical trial for a vaccine would barely make the news. But in a pandemic, nothing is normal.

AstraZeneca’s announcement late Tuesday that its COVID-19 vaccine trial is on hold while the company investigates a participant’s illness quickly became a talking point across the country. While vaccine skeptics claimed it illustrated the danger of vaccines, medical experts said it’s actually a sign that scientists are conducting these important trials carefully and cautiously.

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This ought to be reassuring,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told a Senate panel Wednesday. “When we say we are going to focus first on safety and make no compromises, here is Exhibit A of how that is happening in practice.”

The delay also serves as a reality check for President Trump, who has recently been promising a vaccine as early as October — before the election. But Trump’s timeline doesn’t take into account the roadblocks that are to be expected in a clinical trial, writes Times columnist Michael Hiltzik.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford, is one of three candidates undergoing Phase 3 trials in the U.S. and elsewhere. Though there is no indication that the pause will be prolonged or will affect tests of other vaccines, delays are typical and normal in such trials — especially when they comprise as many as 30,000 subjects, as this one does, Hiltzik writes.

In fact, most drugs that show promising results in early-stage trials never make it to market. The AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines all performed well in Phase 2 trials but are just now starting Phase 3. “Disappointment is the default outcome of clinical drug development,” he writes.

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And Trump’s single-minded push for early approval of a vaccine could actually undermine its success once a safe option is available, Hiltzik explains. If approval of a vaccine appears to be based on politics instead of science, even rigorous research may not be enough to overcome the public’s doubt.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:15 p.m. PDT on Wednesday:

Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

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See the current status of California’s reopening, county by county, with our tracker.

A map of California showing counties by what tier they've been assigned, based on the status of their coronavirus outbreak.
A description of the four tiers to which California assigns counties based on the severity of their coronavirus outbreak.

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Across California

The state has seen a major drop in coronavirus cases in recent weeks and now boasts its lowest positivity rate since late May — a good sign as reopening accelerates in many counties. But Gov. Gavin Newsom warned that the consequences of people socializing over Labor Day weekend have yet to show up in the numbers and could erase any progress. Previous holiday weekends, including Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, precipitated a surge in cases in the state.

Newsom signed a trio of bills Wednesday aimed at helping small businesses survive the economic downturn wrought by the pandemic. One effort will ensure coronavirus loan funds that are forgiven aren’t treated as taxable income. Another offers up to $100 million in tax credits for small businesses that have suffered during the pandemic but also agree to hire new or laid-off workers.

The number of San Diego State University students infected with the coronavirus reached 400 on Tuesday. The county is barely holding on to its lowered case levels that allowed it to move into the so-called red tier, the second-most restrictive along the path toward a full reopening.

Halloween is canceled — well, kind of. That’s what Los Angeles County officials ordered Tuesday, before softening their statements today. Instead of prohibiting traditional holiday activities, they are now “recommending” that people don’t trick-or-treat. Carnivals, haunted houses, parades and other large gatherings — indoors or outdoors — are still not allowed under the revised guidelines. “This year, it’s just not safe to celebrate in the ways we usually do,” said one official.

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The majority of households in Los Angeles are reporting serious financial problems, with Latino and Black residents bearing the brunt of the economic toll, according to a new poll conducted in the nation’s four largest cities. In L.A., 61% of households include someone who has either lost a job, been furloughed or had wages or hours reduced since the start of the outbreak, the survey found.

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.
— For domestic violence victims, the pandemic can pose a “worst-case scenario,” advocates say. If you or someone you know is experiencing such abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or L.A. County’s hotline at (800) 978-3600. Here are more ways to get help.

Around the nation and the world

President Trump came under fire on Wednesday after taped interviews were released revealing that he deliberately downplayed the danger of the coronavirus early this year despite knowing it posed a deadly threat to Americans. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said in an interview with veteran journalist Bob Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

The pandemic has driven Mexico into its deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, with 12 million jobs already lost, 150,000 small businesses closed and the economy expected to contract by as much as 12.8% this year. The crisis, spurred by declining demand for manufactured goods, the collapse of tourism and plunging oil prices, is eroding decades of slow but steady progress in building up the middle class.

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The pandemic will reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions by 4% to 7% this year, thanks to reduced industrial activities and travel. It sounds like a silver lining, but it wasn’t enough to steer the planet away from catastrophic global warming. A United Nations report released Wednesday said that in the next five years, the world has a nearly 1-in-4 chance of experiencing a year hot enough to pass a key temperature limit included in the Paris climate accords. “It’s very likely to happen in the next decade if we don’t change our behavior,” the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization said.

Your questions answered

Today’s question is from readers who want to know: With so many wildfires, how do you differentiate between symptoms of smoke inhalation and COVID-19?

This question says so much about what California has been suffering through. I hope no one ends up needing to put this information to use, but here it is just in case.

Since both COVID-19 and wildfire smoke affect your lungs, both can cause dry cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing. If you’re experiencing other symptoms, such as fever, chills, body aches or diarrhea, then something other than smoke is ailing you and it could be COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can input your symptoms into this tool from the CDC, and it will tell you what you should do.

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One important thing to note is the way these two plagues interact. The pollutants in smoke can irritate your lungs and make you more susceptible to COVID-19. And if you already have the disease, exposure to smoke can make your symptoms worse and your recovery more difficult.

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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