Coronavirus Today: Lessons from Little Saigon

Good evening. I’m Lila Seidman, and it’s Tuesday, Sept. 22. Here’s the latest coronavirus news in California and beyond.

Respect for authority. Esteem for elders. A willingness to make individual sacrifices for the sake of the community at large.

Throw in a little luck and some free coronavirus tests, and you may have a recipe for stemming the COVID-19 pandemic.


This lesson comes courtesy of Orange County’s Little Saigon, which spans the cities of Westminster and Garden Grove, as well as parts of Fountain Valley and Santa Ana. Unlike other parts of the country, the community has experienced relatively low numbers of infections and deaths.

“The mentality of the mainstream public, there’s some faction of the population thinks the coronavirus is a hoax,” said Michael Vo, mayor pro tem of Fountain Valley. “The mentality of the Vietnamese is, ‘I should do this to protect myself and my family.’”

Mask wearing is prevalent, and stay-at-home orders are not taken lightly, according to those who live and work in Little Saigon. In many families, only one person ventures outside the home for shopping trips and other errands. A project to test 1,900 members of the Vietnamese American community has helped too.

Orange County doesn’t keep statistics specific to Little Saigon, but the available data suggest it has lower infection rates relative to its population. Westminster, with a population of about 91,000, had 940 coronavirus cases as of Sept. 1. Nearly half of the city’s residents are of Asian descent, primarily Vietnamese. However, Asian people accounted for only 141 of the city’s cases, or about 15%.

“One reason our community is ahead is that we listen to the experts,” Vo said. “The Vietnamese have a deep respect for people in the medical profession.”

The same cultural values seen in Little Saigon may have also served as a protective force in the Vietnamese homeland. As of mid-September, Vietnam has seen fewer than 1,100 confirmed infections and 35 deaths in a country of 100 million people.

It might behoove the rest of us to take note. The U.S. is home to about 330 million people, and today, the number of COVID-19 deaths here passed the 200,000 mark. About 1 of every 13 of those deaths occurred in California, which has lost more than 15,000 lives to the coronavirus.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:48 p.m. PDT Tuesday:

More than 792,800 confirmed cases and more than 15,100 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 the tiers to which counties have been assigned based on their local coronavirus risk levels.

The tiers to which California counties are assigned based on coronavirus risk level. These determine what can reopen.

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Across California

Nearly a third of the school districts in Orange County are slated to open by the end of the month, but not all teachers are eager to return. Teachers from two districts in the county — Newport-Mesa Unified and Irvine Unified — have banded together to protest the reopenings, voicing concern about the safety of returning to in-person instruction in the midst of the pandemic. Among other things, teachers want students to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to school, and they want more details about who will supervise kids who are sick, especially on campuses that lack a full-time nurse. “We want to go back to school,” said the president of the Newport-Mesa teachers union. “We just want to go back safely.”

Riverside County will set its own reopening agenda, apart from the state’s timeline — although it still may not be fast enough for one county supervisor and his constituents. County supervisors on Tuesday approved draft language of Supervisor Jeff Hewitt’s plan for Riverside-specific guidelines, but will wait two weeks instead of implementing it immediately. Although the county’s infection and death rates have remained high, Hewitt argued that the state’s approach has devastated the local economy.

After a difficult negotiation process, Hollywood studios and unions have agreed to safety protocols and paid sick leave for TV and film crews if they become infected with the coronavirus while working. Under the deal, union employees are eligible for up to 10 days of COVID-19 paid sick leave, per production. They are also guaranteed to be reinstated once they’re cleared to return to work. If local laws for a production require workers to be quarantined or isolated for a period of time, employers will be responsible for “quarantine pay” as well. One entertainment industry union leader said the protections “will translate into tangibly safer workplaces.” The terms will run through April of next year.


— 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

With deaths due to COVID-19 now above 200,000, the U.S. has the highest death toll of any country by far, according to data from researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Brazil is a distant second, with about 137,000 deaths, followed by India with roughly 89,000. At this point in the pandemic, the U.S. is responsible for about one out of every five recorded COVID-19 fatalities around the world. The same goes for coronavirus cases, which number 6.9 million in the U.S. and 31.5 million globally — this despite the fact that the U.S. accounts for about 4% of the world’s population.

In Africa, the coronavirus surge has been leveling off. The continent of 1.3 billion people has suffered just over 34,000 confirmed deaths, and its 54 nations are being praised for their response to the pandemic. Health experts credit quick lockdowns and the virus’ relatively late arrival as reasons that COVID-19 hasn’t taken a larger toll. Africa’s youthful population is another factor, since the risk of death rises steadily with age. “Africa is doing a lot of things right the rest of the world isn’t,” said a former administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development. It’s “a great story and one that needs to be told.”

The pandemic has fueled skyrocketing sales of protective gear like masks and gloves. But where are those items coming from, and who is making them? In the case of disposable gloves, the vast majority are produced in Malaysia. While the surge in sales has created job opportunities and enriched some business owners, it is also shining a light on how tens of thousands of employees face dismal working conditions in sweatshop-style factories. A reckoning is underway, and it’s coming from an unlikely source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The agency has resurrected a century-old trade law to block imports from glove companies it suspects of using forced labor, leading several to promise change.

Your questions answered

With holidays nearing, we’ve heard from a lot of readers who are wondering: Will it be safe to travel and visit my family?

The Centers for Disease Control issued new advice on this topic this week, and Times staff writer Christopher Reynolds has distilled it into seven factors to consider before booking a flight or hitting the road:

Community levels of COVID-19: The prevalence of the virus in a family member’s point of origin and in their destination will shape the overall risk level of the event.

Location of the gathering: Spending time indoors is riskier than outdoors, and indoors with poor circulation is the worst of all.

Duration of the gathering: Long ones are riskier than short ones.

The number of people at the gathering: Having fewer people is safer. In many jurisdictions, there are limits on how many people may gather in public.

The locations attendees are traveling from: “Gatherings with attendees who are traveling from different places pose a higher risk than gatherings with attendees who live in the same area,” the CDC says.

The behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering: The less people tend to wash their hands, wear masks and observe social distancing rules, the greater the risk.

The behaviors of attendees during the gathering: See above.

These factors should supplement — not replace — the laws and rules of the place where you’re thinking about going, the CDC notes.

There are also certain people who should not travel, during the holidays or otherwise, according to the CDC. That list includes people with high risk for a serious case of COVD-19 as well as those who have tested positive for the virus, are awaiting test results or are experiencing potential symptoms.

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.