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Coronavirus Today: When voter outreach is a lifeline

Good evening. I’m Lila Seidman, and it’s Wednesday, Sept. 23. Here’s the latest coronavirus news in California and beyond.

Canvassers aiding in a voter outreach effort in the key battleground state of Arizona found themselves taking on an unexpected role — as lifelines for people struggling to get by in the COVID-19 era.

Knocking on doors, often in Latino-majority neighborhoods, Imelda Quiroz met people of all political stripes blindsided by the pandemic and struggling to stay afloat. They were worried about paying rent, keeping the lights on and helping their children adjust to distance learning. She connected them to social services when she could, and simply listened sympathetically when she couldn’t.

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“Many had lost their jobs,” said Quiroz, of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Mi Familia Vota. “Many are hopeless.”

With the presidential election around the corner, some advocacy group leaders are worried that people of color hit hard by the coronavirus will be focused on surviving rather than whom they’re going to vote for.

Others see the crisis as a rallying cry for those disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Latinos, who are being courted by both presidential campaigns, often find themselves on the front lines of the pandemic due to their role as essential workers, and in Arizona, they and Native Americans have been hospitalized at higher rates than other groups. Nationally, the unemployment rate for Latinos is now worse than than it was during the recession of the late 2000s.

“It’s understandable that our families are very worried and focused on COVID,” said Héctor Sánchez Barba, the chief executive and executive director of Mi Familia Vota. “This is why we must organize and raise our voices.”

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 6:37 p.m. PDT Wednesday:

More than 796,600 confirmed cases and more than 15,300 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 of California showing which tiers counties have been assigned based on their local coronavirus risk level.
The tiers to which California counties are assigned based on coronavirus risk level. These determine what can reopen.

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Across California

New state guidelines let nail salons operate indoors across California. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can celebrate with a mani-pedi just yet. It’s ultimately up to individual counties to decide whether to let these businesses reopen. Los Angeles County so far has not set a reopening date for nail salons. County officials say they want to know more about post-Labor Day coronavirus infection rates before deciding when to reopen nail salons and a few other operations, including indoor malls and card rooms. “We’re of course very sensitive, and interested, to support economic sectors throughout the state.” said the director of the state’s Health and Human Services Department.

So when will we know if — and to what extent — the Labor Day holiday coincided with a spike in coronavirus infections? Likely any day now. It can take up to two weeks for COVID-19 symptoms to appear after a person becomes infected, so cases logged this week could be ones that were contracted around the holiday, which fell on Sept. 7. On multiple days last week, L.A. County reported more than 1,000 new cases, an uptick from the week prior. L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer described it as a “troubling trend” that could mirror the surges that followed Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Despite the global pandemic and unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression, homes in Southern California are selling for record-high prices. The six-county region’s median price reached $600,000 in August, up 12.1% from a year earlier, according to data from DQNews. One explanation is that people who could afford expensive homes to begin with haven’t felt much of the pandemic’s economic harm, experts said. Other factors include a tight housing supply, low interest rates and the extended work-from-home lifestyle that has fueled a desire for larger properties.

And speaking of upgrades, fresh air is increasingly becoming a luxury product in California. With the ever-present fear that the coronavirus is lingering in the air, high-end house hunters and homeowners are willing to spend big bucks on deluxe air filtration systems that keep the world and its dangers at bay. “You will not find one person in the developed world that doesn’t have some awareness of indoor air quality and the risks and challenges there, particularly with this global pandemic,” said the chief executive of a real estate wellness and technology company.

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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.

Around the nation and the world

The longer the pandemic goes on, the younger its victims get, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. The median age of Americans infected by the coronavirus fell from 46 in May to 38 in August — a decline driven by new infections among people in their 20s, who now account for more than 1 in 5 new cases. Experts say they’re more likely to work in frontline jobs where their risk of exposure is greater and less likely to be fastidious about wearing masks, eschewing gatherings and staying six feet away from others. The data suggest that in some parts of the country, young adults are playing a significant role in transmitting the virus to people who are older and more vulnerable.

A preliminary study says that college reopenings led to surge of about 3,000 new coronavirus cases a day across the U.S. Researchers tracked cellphone data and matched it to reopening schedules at 1,400 schools, along with their county infection rates. The study authors said they’re not placing blame on the colleges for reopening or the students for irresponsible behavior. Instead, the goal is to find a better way to move forward. “In order for you to open online, hybrid or meet face to face,” one researcher said, “there needs to be a different combination of strategies that allows you to catch [cases] early so you’re able to control community spread, which is the biggest problem here.”

The Republican governor of Missouri and his wife have tested positive for the coronavirus, he revealed Wednesday. Mike Parson, who is up for reelection in November, appeared maskless at a campaign event last week. He has strongly opposed mask mandates but repeatedly urged Missourians to wear them. Teresa Parson has experienced mild symptoms, including a cough and nasal congestion, but the governor says he has “no symptoms of any kind.”

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Johnson & Johnson has kicked off a huge study to see if its single-dose vaccine is effective in protecting people from COVID-19. The experimental vaccine joins a handful of others already in the final stages of testing. Johnson & Johnson’s candidate is made with slightly different technology from others in Phase 3 clinical trials. The company’s chief scientific officer said the study could yield answers by early next year. Amid pressure from the Trump administration, there are hopes that at least one candidate being tested in the U.S. could be ready for use by year’s end, if not sooner — but there have been concerns that political pressure will prompt regulators to cut corners. The director of the National Institutes of Health assured otherwise, saying, “We want to do everything we can without sacrificing safety or efficacy.”

A rash of serious injuries among high-profile NFL players over the weekend has aroused suspicion that the pandemic may be responsible. While it could be a coincidence, some have surmised that in a normal year, these injuries would have occurred before the start of official play. Instead, the coronavirus forced teams to delay hitting in practice at their training camps until mid-August, and to skip their usual preseason games. The changes meant that certain injuries that typically happen in August instead came later, even though teams have been working out since late July. “You can imagine what a mess that is,” said the team physician for the Los Angeles Rams. “It’s a recipe for disaster.

Your questions answered

Several readers have asked, Are there easy ways to screen for COVID-19?

Coronavirus tests typically involve oral or nasal swabs or a sample of saliva. But we learned of an unusual one today, involving dogs who are specially trained to sniff out the virus.

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Finland authorities recently deployed a small team of coronavirus-sniffing dogs at its main international airport in Helsinki. They’re part of a trial that will ask volunteers to rub their skin with a wipe that will be put into a jar and given to a dog to sniff. The dog will make an assessment and indicate its finding by scratching with its paw, lying down or barking.

The hope is that the unconventional system could become a quick, low-cost way to identify infected travelers. According to a Finnish professor of animal medicine, the dogs could also be deployed at hospitals, ports, elderly people’s homes, sports venues and cultural events. “It’s a very promising method,” she said. “Dogs are very good at sniffing.”

Interest in the testing method is global. A similar program was implemented at Dubai International Airport over the summer. Researchers in the U.S., Australia, France and Germany are also studying the possibility of using canines as coronavirus detectors.

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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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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