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Coronavirus Today: Are we ripe for a repeat?

Good evening. I’m Faith E. Pinho, and it’s Thursday, Sept. 17. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Good news about the coronavirus in California keeps rolling in. The number of COVID-19 patients being admitted to hospitals is the lowest it’s been since April, and the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive is lower than ever. We must be succeeding in beating back the coronavirus … right?

Not so fast. A host of shifting variables could push California’s coronavirus rates back into dangerous territory.

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Businesses that have been forced to close or scale back their operations are growing antsy: This week, a group of gyms from around the state sued to resume indoor operations. Disneyland, Universal Studios and other theme parks have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom for new guidelines that would let them reopen; now Orange County politicians, union leaders and tourism promoters are urging the same. Cities around Disneyland have lost $1.3 billion in taxes and other revenue since the pandemic closures began, according to the president of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.

Health officials insist restrictions can’t be relaxed until they’ve seen how Labor Day weekend affected coronavirus case counts, and those data aren’t in yet. (The state’s track record from Memorial Day and the Fourth of July isn’t pretty.) Wildfire evacuations pushed many families into crammed quarters where the virus can spread more easily. And flu season is about to start.

Put it all together, and the circumstances are ripe for a repeat of the state’s biggest blunder: rapid reopenings after initial signs of progress, followed by a surge in cases and deaths that led to more closures.

But state officials are hoping that the new tier system will prevent history from repeating itself. This time, progress is likely to be more gradual. To progress to a more permissive tier, counties must meet the criteria for two weeks straight. In the meantime, they’ll need to be patient.

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“We are still very much on the edge of moving in one direction or the other,” said Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County’s public health director.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 3:07 p.m. PDT:

More than 773,100 confirmed cases and more than 14,700 deaths.
(Los Angeles Times Graphics)

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 shows most counties in California in the first tier of reopening due to widespread coronavirus transmission
The tiers to which California counties are assigned based on coronavirus risk level. These determine what can reopen.

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Across California

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two bills into law Thursday to protect workers during the pandemic — one that will extend family leave protections to employees of small businesses, and another that will make it easier for police, firefighters and some other essential employees who contract COVID-19 on the job to collect workers’ compensation benefits. The family leave law will go into effect Jan. 1. The workers’ compensation law, which takes effect immediately, makes it easier for essential workers with COVID-19 to qualify for benefits by presuming that they became sick at work if there was an outbreak there.

Just as it was getting into the swing of online learning, one L.A. County school district suffered a ransomware attack this week that forced a shutdown of online learning for 6,000 elementary school students. Newhall School District hired an outside forensics team to investigate, survey the damage and offer an estimate of when normal online learning could resume. In the meantime, the district is posting lesson plans on its website for students to complete at home.

Independent Shakespeare Co. had planned this summer to mark its 10th year performing in Griffith Park. Instead it’s livestreaming a part-live, part-recorded production of “Romeo and Juliet.” The company felt the play’s themes made it a perfect pandemic fit. “The classic image is someone standing on a balcony and the other person underneath, and the two not being able to connect but really wanting to,” said David Melville, the company’s managing director. “It speaks to the moment.” Performances can be streamed for free at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays through Sept. 27.

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

To boost public confidence in the safety of an experimental coronavirus vaccine, one drugmaker offered a rare detailed look at its trial results so far. Moderna, the company behind one of the top vaccine candidates, said more than 25,000 participants have enrolled in its study, out of an anticipated 30,000, and more than 10,000 have received two doses of the vaccine. At that rate, preliminary efficacy data will likely come in November, said Chief Executive Stephane Bancel — but even if the vaccine is found to be effective, it probably would not be available for every American who wants it until the second half of 2021.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week, but at 860,000, it’s still far more weekly new jobless claims than the U.S. had seen before the pandemic hit — more even than during the depths of the Great Recession. The economy’s recovery from the shock of the pandemic has been painstakingly slow, as hope for another round of unemployment stimulus that would put $600 in people’s pockets each week dims and Washington stalls on passing another economic rescue package.

Some 70 million Americans are also feeling financial pressure from their credit card companies, which are quietly reducing their customers’ limits and even canceling accounts. Banks are trying to limit how much debt customers might rack up and never pay back. The problem for consumers is that even if their spending doesn’t change, when banks cut their credit limit, their debt-to-limit ratio suddenly soars. That, in turn, can hurt their credit score and their ability to borrow money. Since most banks won’t be proactive in offering help, it’s up to consumers to reach out and see what their banks can do, columnist David Lazarus writes.

New projections from the Federal Reserve reflect a slightly rosier economic outlook for the near future — though Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell cautioned that the expectations assume there will be more fiscal support from Congress. In keeping with its major policy shift last month, the Fed is likely to hold interest rates near zero until at least 2023, projections released Wednesday show.

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Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know: Can a recovered COVID-19 patient go out in public without a mask and bring the virus home to his family, even if he doesn’t get sick again? How long does immunity last?

This question is at the heart of a lot of research being done: If a person has been infected with the coronavirus, will her immune system’s antibodies protect her from becoming infected again? If so, how long does that protection last?

It’s one of the big mysteries about the coronavirus that scientists are exploring, and recent research involving more than 30,000 people from Iceland offers some encouraging findings.

Antibodies that people produce to fight the new coronavirus seem to last at least four months after diagnosis and do not fade quickly, according to a study published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine. Smaller studies published earlier had suggested that antibodies might fade quickly and that some people who experienced few COVID-19 symptoms might not make many antibodies at all. The new report offers hope that antibodies can offer more lasting protection, which is good news for COVID-19 survivors and for those working on vaccines.

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In the meantime, as our understanding of immunity continues to develop, there are still important steps to take to keep our communities healthy. Even a person who has recently recovered from COVID-19 should continue to wear a mask, not only to comply with regulations but also to protect herself, her family and others with whom she may come in contact.

And even if a person has protection from antibodies, it’s still important to keep surfaces clean and to wash one’s hands regularly to prevent transmission of the virus. Even if you can’t become infected yourself, you can still spread the virus around, just as any other surface can.

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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