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Coronavirus Today: Ensuring a fair recovery

Good evening. I’m Deborah Netburn, and it’s Thursday, Oct. 1. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

For the record:

8:19 PM, Oct. 02, 2020A previous version of this newsletter listed high blood pressure among factors that are not known to be associated with a greater risk of complications from the novel coronavirus. That passage should have said that high cholesterol is not known to be associated with higher risk. As correctly stated in another instance, high blood pressure is associated with a greater risk.

As the state of California fights the COVID-19 pandemic, it has to do more than reduce the total number of people who are sickened by the coronavirus. It also has to make sure that any improvements are shared by everyone.

That’s the idea behind the state’s new requirement for reopening the economy. Beginning on Oct. 6, larger counties will not be able to progress to a less-restrictive tier unless they reduce coronavirus infections in the hardest-hit places where the poor, Black people, Latinos and Pacific Islanders live, my colleague Maura Dolan reports.

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“The measure is designed to ensure that test positivity rates in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods do not significantly exceed a county’s overall rate, a disparity that has been widespread during the pandemic,” she wrote.

Health inequities have existed in the United States since its founding, of course. Now, thanks to the coronavirus, they have become impossible to ignore.

Here in Los Angeles County, health officials say Latino residents have tested positive for the virus at twice the rate of white residents. (According to The Times’ coronavirus tracker, as of Thursday there have been 6,375 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in East Los Angeles, for instance, but only 3,793 cases in Glendale, which has a bigger population.) Black residents were also more likely to become infected than white residents, but the gap was significantly smaller.

In San Francisco, at least half of the city’s infections stem from the Mission District, which is heavily Latino. And throughout the state, the census tracts in the lowest quartile for socioeconomic opportunity are home to 24% of Californians but account for 40% of COVID-19 cases, officials said.

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Allowing outbreaks of the virus to fester in communities where many residents are not able to work from home and may have difficulty accessing healthcare puts all Californians in danger, they added. For many reasons, addressing this disparity is the right thing to do.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 6:42 p.m. PDT Thursday:

822,550 confirmed cases and 15,990 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 what tiers counties have been assigned based on their local levels 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

Earlier this week Disney said it would lay off a staggering 28,000 workers at its parks, cruises and products division because of the pandemic. While these cuts will affect employees nationwide, its executives specifically blamed California’s “unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.” In a sign of the growing tensions, its executive chairman Bob Iger has resigned from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 economic task force.

Once again, state leaders face what feels like an impossible choice: protect people’s health by containing the coronavirus outbreak, or protect people’s health more indirectly by stabilizing the economy and preserving their jobs. Both are essential.

And it’s not just people who work for Disney that have been affected. Hotels and restaurants in Anaheim have also been hit hard by Disneyland’s months-long closure.

“The virus hasn’t changed,” said Bradley Pollock, a public health expert from UC Davis. “When you have people who can gather physically closer together, you increase the risk. Is it worth it?

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Answers may be found in Florida, where Walt Disney World reopened in July. The park is operating with strict capacity limits and social distancing requirements, and there hasn’t been a spike in new cases. Theoretically, the same thing could happen in California, Pollock said.

We may find out soon. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s Health and Human Services secretary, said officials expect to release guidance this week for the safe reopening of theme parks across the state.

Elsewhere on the labor front, Newsom has vetoed a bill designed to provide sweeping new labor protections for workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The bill would have required hotel, airport and janitorial companies to give hiring priority to workers who were laid off. But Newsom said the bill could hurt the already devastated hospitality industry by robbing employers of needed flexibility.

As parents, teachers and students in L.A. Unified near the end of their seventh week of remote learning, my colleague Howard Blume takes a closer look at Supt. Austin Beutner’s high-stakes decision to rely on a start-up company called SummerBio to help him implement his ambitious coronavirus testing plan.

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Under the $48.9-million contract, LAUSD is slated to get next-day, early morning results for up to 40,000 tests per day at a price well below what competitors could offer, Beutner said. However, several district insiders are concerned that the deal was made outside the normal contracting process. Beutner used the emergency powers he has invoked since March because of the pandemic to get the deal done quickly.

And finally, my colleague Roger Vincent reports that more white-collar workers have been returning to in-person work in the past few weeks as employers conclude that socialization is key to productivity.

One property manager who oversees 20 million square feet of offices for different landlords estimates that occupancy has grown from 10% of building capacity after the shutdown to as much as 25% today. That still leaves areas such as downtown Los Angeles’ financial district barren of life compared with pre-pandemic days, but marks a trend toward partial reoccupancy.

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

An ambitious humanitarian project to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest people is facing a growing number of hurdles that threaten its success.

The project, called Covax, was conceived as a way of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccines regardless of their wealth. It is being led in part by the World Health Organization.

Rich countries have locked up most of the world’s potential vaccine supply through 2021, and the U.S. and others have refused to join the project. And that’s just one of the obstacles facing Covax.

If the effort does indeed fall apart, as many fear, citizens of poor countries probably will not get vaccinated until 2022 or 2023, one global health expert predicted. The “window is closing” on making Covax workable, she said.

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Elsewhere on the vaccine front, the head of Pfizer sent a note to his U.S. staff Thursday saying the company would “move at the speed of science” and not bend to political pressure in its quest to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, may have been responding to a comment Trump made Tuesday night during his debate with Joe Biden. “I’ve spoken to Pfizer, I’ve spoken to all of the people that you have to speak to, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and others,” the president said. “They can go faster than that by a lot. It’s become very political.

Pfizer has said that it expects to have data from its late-stage trial that could show whether the vaccine is safe and effective sometime this month. However, no vaccine can be delivered until the Food and Drug Administration reviews the data and grants an emergency use authorization.

There’s another kind of vaccine that will be easier to find in the coming weeks: the flu shot. Global health officials have ordered a record number of doses this year, including at least 194 million in the U.S. alone. Their goal is to prevent influenza from complicating their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In Washington, Hope Hicks, a counselor to the president, has tested positive for the coronavirus, one day after she traveled with him to a rally, an administration official said.

Although other staffers have tested positive, Hicks is the closest aide to Trump to have done so yet. She flew with him aboard Marine One, the presidential helicopter, Wednesday for a rally and aboard Air Force One on Tuesday for the debate. Trump, the White House and his campaign have flouted a number of CDC guidelines and largely refused to wear masks.

It’s unclear when Trump was last tested for the virus, or whether he and others who spent time with Hicks this week will be asked to quarantine.


Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Sharon Smith, who says: I often read that COVID-19 hits people especially hard if they have preexisting conditions such as high cholesterol, low thyroid, and so on. Does this hold true even when a person with these conditions is appropriately medicated?

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To answer this question, I reached out to Dr. Otto Yang, an infectious disease specialist at UCLA. He said that not all preexisting conditions have been linked to higher risk of getting very sick with COVID-19. High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are associated with a greater risk of complications from the virus, he said — but high cholesterol and thyroid issues are not, “as far as we know.”

As for whether adequate treatment reduces risk, he said the science is not totally clear. There is some evidence that when diabetes is properly treated, risk is improved. Whether the same holds true for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease is not yet clear.

“We still have a lot we are learning about this disease,” he said.

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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