Coronavirus Today: The other education divide
Good evening. I’m Faith E. Pinho, and it’s Tuesday, Sept. 15. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.
Six months after the pandemic shuttered schools, tens of thousands of students in Los Angeles County still don’t have adequate access to the technology they need for distance learning. Districts are without nearly 50,000 computers and WiFi hotspots, and many districts that have fully supplied students with equipment are sometimes struggling with dropped calls, choppy audio and unstable Internet connections that interrupt students’ learning.
The need for technology that works is greater now than it was in the spring, when the pandemic forced campuses to close with little notice. This fall, schools have higher standards for online learning; there are full schedules, mandatory attendance and heightened expectations for students. But without the right equipment for students to even access their lessons, the academic gap risks widening.
In the Palmdale School District, for example, about 2,000 kindergarteners still need iPads for their lessons, and many of the district’s Chromebooks need to be replaced. Compton Unified School District is short about 3,500 computing devices and 1,500 hot spots. In El Monte, the Mountain View School District superintendent said her students “have access but it’s very fragile.”
L.A. Unified, the state’s largest district, says it has enough supplies to meet students’ needs, though nearly 8,000 students have yet to connect to their online classes. The L.A. County Office of Education approved $14.9 million in spending Tuesday to help close the digital divide, with $12.8 million allocated to the purchase of computers and hotspots for students.
In yet another development that will disproportionately impact low-income students and students of color, Los Angeles community colleges will stay online for the rest of the year, following the lead of the Cal State, the largest public university system in the country. Online learning has been a challenge for community colleges; roughly a quarter of students lacked reliable access to both a computer and the internet during the spring, and even more went without a quiet place to study. Students often rely on their campuses for food, healthcare, childcare, libraries and other support services too. As a result, more than 30,000 students withdrew from spring classes, and enrollment this fall is about 10% lower than it was last year.
School closures have contributed to food insecurity from coast to coast. In New York City, Sharawn Vinson is one of an estimated 2 million residents who have struggled to keep their families fed, a number the mayor estimates nearly doubled during the pandemic. When schools closed in March, her kids lost the free breakfasts and lunches they had relied on in normal times. “You never realize how important schools are until you don’t have them,” she said.
By the numbers
California cases and deaths as of 6:57 p.m. PDT Tuesday:
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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With Latinos already at disproportionate risk of catching the coronavirus, the organizers of El Grito didn’t want to add to the suffering by cancelling Los Angeles’ annual celebration of Latino heritage and Mexican independence. Instead, they moved the event online. All performances for Tuesday night’s telethon and concert were recorded ahead of time, including a reenactment of the historical Cry of Dolores, the ringing of a bell that served as a call to arms and triggered the Mexican War of Independence. Proceeds will go to a fund for undocumented indigenous people that was established early in the pandemic when it became apparent they were particularly hard hit by COVID-19. “When you think about what El Grito represents: It was a call to action and a call to arms amongst average people, everyday people,” said L.A. Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who served as madrina for the event. “That same moment exists for all of us today: to take that ringing of the bell and that moment as a reminder that we are not powerless.”
A group of California gyms is suing over state restrictions requiring their closure. In Tier 1 counties like Los Angeles, where infections are still “widespread,” gyms can only operate outdoors. If the county were to move into Tier 2, gyms could reopen for indoor activities, but only at 10% of capacity. Even in Tier 4, the least restrictive, gyms can only operate at 50% of their pre-pandemic capacity. The group says the state hasn’t given evidence that gyms contribute to the spread of the virus, notes that equipment can be spaced out and masks are worn and says that with air quality plunging, Californians need options for exercising indoors.
San Diego County is at risk of dropping from Tier 2 back to Tier 1. The rate of positive coronavirus tests per 100,000 residents has reached 7.9, the county’s public health officer said Tuesday. In order to remain in Tier 2, that rate must not exceed 7.0 when averaged over an entire week. State health officials reported Tuesday that the county’s latest adjusted 7-day average had gone all the way up to 8.1 for the week of Aug. 30, the same as for Los Angeles County. However, San Diego retained its Tier 2 status for now after state health officials considered the county’s test results for the week of Sept. 8. If it were to be downgraded, restaurants, houses of worship, museums and gyms — all of which have been welcoming visitors inside at partial capacity — would only be allowed to operate outside.
— 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 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or L.A. County’s hotline at 1-800-978-3600. Here are more ways to get help.
Around the nation and the world
Investigators at the National Institutes of Health want more information from AstraZeneca about a person who received its experimental coronavirus vaccine before U.S. officials let the company resume its clinical trial. AstraZeneca, which developed the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, halted the trial after the participant developed severe inflammation of the spinal cord. The person is no longer hospitalized, but it is still unclear whether the vaccine itself caused the condition. NIH officials say they’d like to obtain blood or tissue samples from the patient but have yet to receive either. British regulators have allowed the vaccine trial to resume there, but the Food and Drug Administration will decide when it’s safe to restart the trial in the U.S. The decision won’t be easy, according to an official at the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Strokes, a division of the NIH. “Everyone’s hopes are on a vaccine, and if you have a major complication the whole thing could get derailed,” he said. “The last thing you want to do is hurt healthy people.”
Major League Baseball has finalized its plan for postseason games with a schedule intended to maximize the odds of getting to — and finishing — a World Series. The pandemic-shortened season will end with 16 teams in the playoffs. First-round games will be played at the home stadium of the higher-seeded team. The American League’s division series and championship series games will be played in Dodger Stadium and San Diego’s Petco Park. Both the Dodgers and the Padres are heading for the playoffs, but since they’re in the National League, their division series and championship series games would happen in Texas. The World Series will be played in the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark in Arlington. Though spectators still aren’t allowed in Dodger Stadium, Dodger fans would likely be welcome in Texas, albeit in limited numbers.
Black women are up to four times more likely than white women to to die during childbirth or due to complications afterward. That disparity was nudging more Black women away from hospital settings and toward home births instead. Then COVID-19 came on the scene, and midwives who cater to Black clients say they are busier than ever. Home births reduce exposure to the coronavirus and connect Black women to a venerable, if long-forgotten, tradition. “Every midwife I’m talking to has seen their practice double or sometimes triple in the wake of COVID,” said Jamarah Amani, a Florida midwife and co-founder of the National Black Midwives Alliance.
On a lighter note, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo enlisted the help of actor Paul Rudd to encourage young people to wear masks. In a goofy video PSA, the apparently ageless but actually 51-year-old Marvel star assumes all sorts of “young person” stereotypes — beatboxing, performing a TikTok dance and slinging internet slang — to encourage viewers to mask up. The 2-minute video has been viewed more than half a million times since it was posted yesterday.
Your questions answered
Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know: Is it sufficient for me to wear a face shield and not a mask? My friend said she read that I have to wear a mask with the shield.
Your friend is right; face shields can offer added protection when worn in addition to a mask, but health officials don’t recommend them as a substitute for masks because there hasn’t been enough research on whether they keep an infected person from spreading viral droplets to others.
Early in the pandemic, our own reporters talked to two UCLA experts about face shields. They said that while face shields can help prevent you from, say, rubbing your eyes and are particularly helpful for essential workers who might be exposed to lots of people passing by, masks should also be used to prevent the inhalation of droplets.
The available research so far indicates that the best face shields are hooded or wrap around the sides and bottom of the face, according to the CDC. They leave less space for droplets from sneezing, coughing and talking to escape.
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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