Coronavirus Today: Technology and tears

Good evening. I’m Lila Seidman, and it’s Thursday, Sept. 24. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

There are so many ways that the pandemic has brought us to tears. For school-age children, those emotional breakdowns are happening on the quasi-public online stage afforded by distance learning.

It makes sense: It’s harder to hide the tears when Zoom has you looking directly into the eyes of your teachers and classmates (and maybe even their parents). And indeed, the technology is often a cause of the frustration that can give way to waterworks.


When 6-year-old Ezra Karpf of Silver Spring, Md., clicked the “unmute” button on his computer screen so he could ask his teacher a question, it didn’t work. His frustration boiled over, and soon he was sobbing on the floor. He felt like no one could hear him, he said.

In other cases, routine technology hiccups have spiraled into an overwhelming sense of fear. When 9-year-old Priscilla Guerrero of Boyle Heights was unable to log into her class’s Zoom meeting, she was so afraid her teacher would be mad that she was driven to tears.

“She kept telling me, ‘Mommy, I’m gonna be late, I’m gonna be in big trouble,’” Guerrero’s mother said. “I had to talk her down from her complete panic attack.”

Of course, it’s not just tech woes weighing on young minds. The whole reason for distance learning — the COVID-19 pandemic — produces its own anxieties and stressors that kids have picked up on but aren’t always equipped to handle.

“Most schools aren’t teaching emotional literacy,” said Carolina Valdez, a professor of elementary and bilingual education at Cal State Fullerton. “They’re not teaching kids how to name their feelings, how to be present with their feelings, how to process this in a healthy way.”

Yalda T. Uhls, an assistant adjunct professor of psychology at UCLA, advises parents be open with their children about what’s going on, albeit in an age-appropriate manner. That will help them learn how to cope with their emotions. Parents can tell their kids, “Yes, this is a strange time, and sometimes Mommy and Daddy get worried, but we’re taking care of you and you’re going to be safe,” she said.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:02 p.m. PDT Thursday:

More than 799,200 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.

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

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Across California

A recent uptick in coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County could slow the city’s reopening, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti warned: “This virus is still here, and it’s still very dangerous.” Hospitalizations and the virus’ transmission rate are up as well, he said. The increases, which could be tied to the Labor Day holiday, arrived after a month of steady progress. However, if new case counts get back on track and the positivity rate remains low, the county can take more steps toward normalcy, as permitted by state guidelines. Currently, the city’s schools and many businesses remain closed.

In Orange County, which has seen a decline in coronavirus cases, five school districts serving 76,000 students opened their doors for in-person classes Thursday. Joy mixed with anxiety as teachers readied supplies like desk dividers and gallons of hand sanitizer. It marks the first wave of openings in the 29-district county, and is being closely watched as a harbinger of what may lie ahead throughout the state. To maintain social distancing, the district implemented hybrid schedules that will bring some students back to campus while others remain at home, learning online.

Disney officials are joining a group of business and political leaders to push Gov. Gavin Newsom to let Disneyland and its sister park California Adventure open with safety precautions in place. One Disney official said about 80,000 jobs in and around Anaheim are dependent on the reopening of the theme parks. Disney’s Florida parks reopened in July with safety rules, but those properties are bigger and use more advanced technology, including electronic wristbands that allow guests to make purchases without having to touch anyone.

The Pac-12 presidents and chancellors voted Thursday to attempt a fall football season. Seven weeks after deciding to postpone until 2021, the conference plans to start games Nov. 6-7 and play a seven-game season that will culminate with the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 18. The conference’s hope is that its deal with Quidel Corp. for daily antigen testing for the coronavirus will allow for it to complete an abridged season without built-in bye weeks and crown a champion in time for playoff consideration.

Men’s and women’s basketball also got Pac-12 approval to begin their seasons on Nov. 25. And players on UCLA’s women’s basketball team are finally able to practice together after about six months of separation due to the pandemic. The eight players spent a week in quarantine and were then split into two socially distant training cohorts. Some team members are still missing, including a few international students who are contending with travel restrictions.


— 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

Pay cuts are becoming permanent for many American workers. Most people who saw their earnings cut as the economic crisis unfolded are still making less than they were early in the pandemic, according to a Pew Research Center study released Thursday. Meanwhile, unemployment claims rose slightly last week to 870,000 — a historically high figure. Some workers are facing delays in getting aid as state agencies struggle to root out alleged fraud; California has said it will stop processing new applications for jobless benefits for two weeks as it seeks to reduce backlogs and prevent improper claims.

Canada is experiencing a second wave of the coronavirus that could be worse than what it experienced in the spring, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says. On the day Canada went into lockdown in mid-March, it had 47 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19. On Tuesday, it had over 1,000. Trudeau urged Canadians to wear masks and download the government’s COVID-19 app, which lets a person know if they’ve come in close contact with someone who has tested positive. “We can’t change today’s numbers or even tomorrow’s — those were already decided by what we did, or didn’t do, two weeks ago,” he said.

Saudia Arabia is lifting its ban on one type of pilgrimage to Mecca. Beginning Oct. 4, Muslims will be allowed to perform the umrah — a smaller, year-round pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site — though restrictions will apply. Only Saudi citizens and residents will be able to participate in the first phase of the reopening, and they must reserve a visitation time in advance. Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 330,000 coronavirus cases and more than 4,500 deaths. Earlier this year, the annual hajj was limited due to the pandemic.

Top athletes have the power to spotlight important social and political causes by leveraging their celebrity status. But they can also abuse that platform by promoting ill-informed points of view. In an op-ed for The Times, former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar takes a critical look at how some athletes are using their voices to undermine the importance of wearing masks. “While it’s true that everyone has the freedom to be ignorant, the ignorance of mask resisters threatens the health and lives of others, making them a major public health hazard,” he writes.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know: How do I fly safely? And how do I navigate an airport safely?

First things first: Flying is certainly not the safest thing you can do right now, for yourself or others. The coronavirus is still infecting people and claiming lives, and you’re more likely to contract or spread it in a crowded airport or on a plane than if you stay home.

But if you have to fly for one reason or another, there are ways to reduce the risk. My Times colleague Jessica Roy talked to travel and health experts to find out how to fly as safely as possible. Here are some of her tips:

  • Under no circumstances should you fly if you have COVID-19 or symptoms of it. Many airlines allow you to change your flight without penalty, and when you book travel, you should consider choosing one of them since it’s hard to predict what the pandemic will bring.
  • Check the airline’s seating policy before booking. It’s safest to fly with a carrier that leaves seats free between passengers.
  • Observe the three Ws: Wash or sanitize your hands frequently, wear a mask, and watch your distance from others at all times. This holds true not only on the plane but also at the airport and en route to the airport.
  • Skip the preflight cocktail or snacks at an airport bar or restaurant.
  • When it’s time to board, don’t hurry to get in line. Check the seat map of your plane online while you wait, and if there’s an emptier area, ask the gate agent to reassign you to one of those seats.
  • Since the jet bridge may have little ventilation, don’t be afraid to ask people to keep their distance, or wait and be the last person to board.
  • Bring sanitizing wipes and clean your seat belt, arm rests, video screen and tray table before you settle in.
  • Take advantage of the plane’s air filtration system by turning it on and pointing it directly at your face. Bring a jacket if you think this will make you cold.
  • When others remove their masks, keeps yours on. For example, wait for others around you to finish eating and drinking on the plane before taking yours off to do the same. If possible, wait to eat until after the flight.
  • Resist the temptation to remove your mask in the bathroom.

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.