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Coronavirus Today: The pandemic and gun violence

Good evening. I’m Faith E. Pinho and it’s Wednesday, Sept. 16. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Remember the early days of the pandemic, when the coronavirus got the credit for a sharp drop in crime? If you’re feeling nostalgic, there’s a reason: The emotional and economic toll of the seemingly endless outbreak appears to have fueled a rise in gun violence and killings in Los Angeles, according to Police Chief Michel Moore.

A restless July and August have bled into September, with homicides up 13.7% compared with the same period last year, city data show. In addition, the number of shooting victims rose 8.2%, and incidents in which shots were fired increased by 11.9%.

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“What we’re sensing is a lot of stress, a lot of communities that are on edge, a certain amount of depression,” Moore said.

In normal times, anxious or sad residents might blow off steam in a bar or club. But with these venues closed because of the pandemic, nighttime gatherings have moved into neighborhoods and party houses, which are ripe for “some type of spontaneous violence,” he said. Making matters worse, the pandemic has interrupted the violence prevention efforts that normally support crime victims and help prevent retaliatory attacks.

Aside from gun violence, many other types of crime are lower now than they were this time last year. Overall violent crime has fallen 5.6%, with gang-related shootings down 14.4% and homicides linked to gangs down nearly 2%. Property crime dropped 9.3% — despite a 35% jump in vehicle thefts.

The uptick in violence has corresponded with a decline in arrests. Through Sept. 5, LAPD arrests in violent crimes were down 10.6% compared with the same time last year, and total LAPD arrests were down more than 25% compared with last year. Calls for service were down just 3.9%.

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By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:21 p.m. PDT Wednesday:

More than 769,800 confirmed cases and more than 14,650 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.

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A map shows most California counties in Tier 1 of reopening based on coronavirus transmission rates
The tiers to which California counties are assigned based on coronavirus risk level. These determine what can reopen.

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Across California

The rate of positive coronavirus tests in L.A. County has fallen to record lows, offering a glimmer of hope that progress is being made. But health officials said it would be premature to loosen any restrictions until they understand how celebrations over Labor Day weekend affected the county’s infection rate. Case counts jumped after residents let their guards down around the Memorial Day holiday, touching off a second surge that swamped the initial outbreak. Pressure to reopen the economy is mounting, but the county still has too many new cases each day to move into a less restrictive tier.

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L.A. city and county officials had hoped to enlist hotels that receive taxpayer assistance or are built on city-owned sites to house people living on the streets. Yet only about 4,100 people have received shelter through Project Roomkey — far short of the program’s goal of housing 15,000 people. So what went wrong? A new report offers some answers. Omni Hotels & Resorts declined to participate for fear it would tarnish its brand, the report said. The Millennium Biltmore was close to a deal until a large customer threatened to pull its business. Hotels that remained open to the public or were serving medical personnel weren’t eligible to participate.

California’s wildfires are making it more difficult for doctors to tell whether their coughing patients might have COVID-19 or are simply being sickened by the unhealthy levels of smoke in the air. Smoke and ash have spread hundreds of miles away from the flames, putting millions at risk of smoke inhalation. When patients arrive at one of six CommuniCare clinics in Northern California, for example, the first order of business for healthcare workers is to don their personal protective gear and try to rule out COVID-19. “Any time someone comes in with even some of those symptoms, we ask ourselves, ‘Is it COVID?’” said the doctor who serves as CommuniCare’s chief executive. “Clinically speaking, I still want to rule out the virus.”

Pancho’s Mini Market was a neighborhood treasure near USC. Teenage boys stopped in for soda and Takis, seniors swung by for help with their utility bills, and neighbors of all ages adored owner Francisco Gonzalez, or Pancho. But the pandemic cost customers their jobs. Sales plummeted. Then, in mid-July, the coronavirus came for Pancho, his wife, his daughter and his granddaughter. His family recovered quickly — but Pancho faces an extended recovery in a nursing facility, and his mercadito has closed for good. Stories like his are playing out across California, and they illustrate why Latinos seem to be “fated to cross paths with the coronavirus,” Gustavo Arellano writes in his debut column for The Times.

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 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or L.A. County’s hotline at 1-800-978-3600. Here are more ways to get help.

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Around the nation and the world

Contradicting one of his administration’s top scientists, President Trump announced Wednesday that widespread distribution of a coronavirus vaccine would begin as early as next month, rattling experts and stoking critics’ claims that he can’t be trusted. Hours earlier, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, testified to Congress under oath that large-scale vaccine distribution would not begin until late spring at the earliest. Trump told reporters he called Redfield and said the director had misspoken. The inconsistencies threatened to exacerbate many voters’ worries that a rushed vaccine could be unsafe, and Joe Biden seized on that anxiety Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday, the federal government released a broad plan for eventually giving free vaccines to all Americans. Health agencies and the Pentagon said they would begin by vaccinating health workers, other essential employees and vulnerable people before offering the vaccine to any American who wants the shot — or shots, since the initial vaccines will require two doses a few weeks apart. Experts say that more than 70% of Americans will need to be vaccinated or develop immunity as a result of a coronavirus infection in order for the nation to achieve so-called herd immunity and block the spread of the virus. However, polls show that only about half of Americans want to get a vaccine when it’s available; others cite safety concerns.

A report published this week from the CDC examined COVID-19 deaths among U.S. children and adolescents and found a pattern strikingly similar to what’s been seen in older adults. In both cases, victims were more likely to be dealing with serious health problems before they became infected. They were also more likely to be Latino or Black. On a positive note, the report counted only 121 coronavirus-related deaths among Americans younger than 21 through the end of July. That works out to less than 0.08% of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths during that period.

A Trump administration health official who claimed that scientists battling the coronavirus were conspiring against the president is taking a leave of absence. Michael Caputo had served as top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services despite having no experience in healthcare. His accusation appeared in a video on his personal Facebook page, for which he apologized Tuesday. Caputo has also accused Democrats of wanting to suppress a vaccine until after the election.

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Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know: Is it safe and legal to attend a sibling’s backyard wedding?

“Only 19 people are attending and all will be seated 6 ft apart with masks required and hand sanitizer given out,” the reader explains. “No reception, no dancing, just the ceremony.”

According to the most recent L.A. County guidelines, it is legal to attend an outdoor wedding if social distancing and “infection control requirements” are posted and obeyed. The guidelines also say parties of any size are not allowed, so your brother is following the rules by not holding a reception. (He’s not alone — many other Angelenos have creatively adapted to the times by saying their vows in nontraditional venues and communing with friends and family via livestream.)

Some people have flouted such rules, with dire consequences for others in their communities. A wedding in Maine sparked an outbreak that sickened at least 175 people and led to seven deaths. The Aug. 7 celebration broke state guidelines to limit indoor gatherings to 50 or fewer people.

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Experts say small gatherings are hotbeds for coronavirus spread. A recent study published in the journal BMJ Global Health found that “transmission of COVID-19 within families and close contacts accounts for the majority of epidemic growth.” So if the wedding party wants to stick around after the ceremony for photos, be sure to say cheese from six feet away.

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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