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Coronavirus Today: Some steps forward, two counties back

Good evening. I’m Soumya Karlamangla, and it’s Tuesday, Oct. 6. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

During the pandemic, Tuesdays have become a red-letter day in California. That’s when the state releases the latest on where each county stacks up in its reopening journey. A green light from the state on a Tuesday morning could mean that shuttered businesses could reopen that very evening.

Today, state officials announced that the following counties were moving into the next stage of reopening: Ventura, Merced, Yuba and several more. Humboldt County was able to accelerate its reopening due to meeting a new state metric showing that rates of positive cases are not exceptionally high in communities hit hardest by the virus, including those that are Black, Latino, Pacific Islander or primarily low-income.

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In total, as of this week, fewer than 20 counties remain in the most restrictive, or purple, tier, compared with 38 when this reopening framework was deployed at the end of August.

But for the first time, two counties were moved backward into a more restrictive tier. That’s because Shasta and Tehama counties’ case rates have climbed above where they should be for the last two weeks, according to state data. Both counties have some of the highest rates of new cases being diagnosed statewide, according to the L.A. Times tracker.

“This slow, stringent approach we believe is carrying California well,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “We have spent quite a bit of time looking at the data, ensuring that the trends are correct over the last two weeks, and thoughtfully proposing these implementations here.”

The state’s previous reopening attempt over the summer led to a major surge in the coronavirus outbreak, and experts have said that the state’s ability to move counties forward and backward according to the data is key to avoiding such problems this time around. So it seems like the state, where coronavirus transmission continues to drop, may be on the right track.

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The reopening framework, however, has continued to pose challenges for L.A. County, which has been stuck in the most restrictive tier where gyms, restaurants and churches are closed for any indoor operations. To move out of the purple tier, the county has to keep its case rate below 7.0 new daily cases per 100,000 residents for two consecutive weeks. (We previously wrote about why 7.0 is the magic number for reopening.) It achieved a rate of 7.0 for one week, but then rose to 7.3 last week, and this week it’s up to 7.4. Looks like it will be a while before the county can take the next steps.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 7:06 p.m. PDT Tuesday:

More than 838,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 16,200 deaths in California.

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.
(Los Angeles Times Graphics)

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

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Across California

It’s now a well-recognized image: a sick person, tilting their head back so a gloved hand can insert a swab up their nose. The traditional up-the-nose test has been considered the gold standard for detecting the virus in people’s bodies. But saliva tests are becoming increasingly popular — they’re quicker, pain-free and can be self-administered. L.A. County, one of the earliest adopters, switched to saliva tests in March and now runs 10,000 a day.

Fifteen schools in Marin County received permission to open schools for in-person instruction, though parents have the option to choose whether to stick to at-home learning. For teachers, parents and students, it has been a chaotic experiment. One principal summed it up this way: “These are crazy days of temperature checks, telling third-grade Jenny she entered the second-grade gate at the wrong time, telling Xavier to use sanitizer on his elbow after he sneezes, reminding students not to touch this thing or that thing. It’s a job this school has never had to do and now we’re doing it every day, all day long.”

Surfer magazine, which helped legitimize wave-riding as a global sport through its lush photography and California-cool stories, printed its final edition and suspended operations this month because of what Editor in Chief Todd Prodanovich called “the COVID economy.” Founded in 1960 and beloved by pre-internet-age surfers from Mission Beach to Biarritz, France, the magazine furloughed staff Friday and ceased further print and online content offerings, much to to the dismay of the legions of baby boomers who once lingered at newsstands waiting for the latest issue.

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 (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or L.A. County’s hotline at (800) 978-3600. Here are more ways to get help.

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Around the nation and the world

President Trump announced Tuesday that he would halt talks on a stimulus package until after the November election, saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) was “not negotiating in good faith.” “I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump tweeted.

The president’s coronavirus infection continues to have ripple effects, though apparently not for him. Now back in the White House, the president says he is feeling better than ever. But he has not acknowledged the 210,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19, and instead has tried to turn his tale of illness into a parable about his personal strength. His challenger Joe Biden said Monday night that he was “not surprised” Trump caught the virus, given his resistance to masking and social distancing.

At least in part because of Trump’s diagnosis, Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris will debate with some extra precautions on Wednesday in Salt Lake City. The Commission on Presidential Debates had already decided to increase the space between the two candidates from seven to 12 feet, but after a Biden-Harris campaign request, the commission agreed to further separate the two with plexiglass barriers. Pence’s team, however, has apparently rejected the shields and will not be using them.

The president’s handling of the pandemic and his own diagnosis have blunted his appeal in Wisconsin, a state Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and that he badly needs to carry again if he is to remain the White House. Although many voters praise the president’s handling of the pre-pandemic economy, they say they trust Biden more to manage COVID-19 and to ease racial tensions, and the Democratic challenger has maintained a modest but steady lead against Trump.

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Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from reader Annie Chen, who asks: How risky is it to use public restrooms?

The short answer is that bathrooms are probably less dangerous than they seem for catching the coronavirus because of the oft-forgotten time element.

Falling sick with the virus doesn’t just come down to how close you are to a sick person or how infectious that person was, but how much time you breathed the same air. Spending a few minutes in a poorly ventilated room with an infected person is very different from spending three hours with them. In general, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers someone to have been exposed to the virus if they spent 15 minutes or more unmasked and within six feet of someone who was sick.

That said, there are some things you can do to make your trip to the restroom even safer. Keep your mask on, avoid crowds if they’re there, touch as little as possible and wash your hands with hot water and soap, as Times writer Jeanette Marantos wrote earlier this year. If you need to touch door handles, try to use paper towels or tissues and then throw them away on your way out. And remember, get in and get out as fast as possible.

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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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