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Coronavirus Today: Coronavirus crashes the campaign

Good evening. I’m Kelcie Pegher, and it’s Thursday, Oct. 15. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

The coronavirus keeps getting in the way of campaigning.

Two people on vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ campaign plane have tested positive for the coronavirus, upending her travel plans until Monday. Her communications director and a flight crew member were on a flight with the California senator last week, but the campaign said that they were not within six feet of her for more than 15 minutes and that all three wore N95 masks. Though she won’t quarantine, her in-person campaign events are canceled for the next three days.

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An employee of the aviation company that charters Joe Biden’s plane also tested positive, the campaign said, but medical advisors said there was no need for Biden to quarantine because he “did not even have passing contact” with the person. His schedule was unchanged, and tonight, he faced voters in a subdued, policy-centric town hall.

The Biden campaign announced it had begun the contact tracing process to notify anyone who had come into contact with the infected staff members — a response that seemed designed to draw a sharp contrast with President Trump, who came down with COVID-19 two weeks ago.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 2:30 p.m. PDT Thursday:

More than 863,400 confirmed cases, up 1,515 today, and more than 16,700 deaths, up 70 today.
(Los Angeles Times Graphics)
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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 counties with most in Tiers 1 and 2 of reopening, and some northern and Sierra counties in Tiers 3 and 4
(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

The El Segundo biotech firm ImmunityBio says it’s gotten regulatory approval to start testing its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The company — headed by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns the Los Angeles Times — said Hoag Hospital Newport Beach will begin by recruiting 35 adult volunteers for the Phase 1 trial, which will monitor for any potential side effects. If the Food and Drug Administration lets the company proceed to larger Phase 2 and 3 trials, the company could start getting a signal as to whether the vaccine is effective early next year.

At this point, more than 200 laboratories around the world are working to create a vaccine, with about three dozen advancing to human trials. “The fact that there are so many scientists around the world working on vaccines and have found vaccine candidates that are plausible and getting into clinical trials is very exciting,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University and the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

With more than 217,000 Americans dead, our minds can become calcified to the pandemic’s toll. But some people’s stories remind me of the heartbreaking losses occurring daily. Among them are Ebenezer “Ben” Fontanilla and his wife, Saludacion “Sally” Solon Fontanilla, both nurses at St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley.

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Sally worked the night shift in a unit where patients are often in critical condition and need constant monitoring. When cases started to tick up in the spring, she took some time off; as a diabetic with a history of asthma, she worried she could be at risk. But she went back to work in time — and it wasn’t long before she came home from work feeling ill. “When you go into work, you will always have a COVID patient. That’s a given,” Ben said.

Both of them contracted the virus, and both were hospitalized. They texted from separate rooms in St. Mary, and after five days, Ben returned home. But Sally’s condition worsened, and this month, after two months on a ventilator, she died at 51 in the hospital where she’d worked nearly half her life. “These cases of COVID are real for front-line workers like us,” Ben said. According to the nation’s largest nurses union, the pandemic as of last month had claimed the lives of more than 1,700 healthcare workers, including at least 213 nurses like Sally.

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 COVID-19 treatment remdesivir has no substantial effect on a patient’s chances of survival, a clinical trial by the World Health Organization found. The study, a copy of which was seen by the Financial Times, has not yet been peer-reviewed. Remdesivir, first developed as a potential Ebola treatment and used this month to treat President Trump, got partial approval for use in the U.S. after a trial by the National Institutes of Health showed it cut the time to recover from COVID-19. In July, the drug’s maker released further data suggesting it may reduce the likelihood of death, but that finding has not been confirmed in a randomized controlled trial. The only drug proved to boost COVID-19 survival rates is the steroid dexamethasone.

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Child care centers aren’t driving coronavirus infections, a new nationwide study has found. The study surveyed 57,335 providers serving almost 4 million children in two-thirds of the counties in the U.S. “This is the largest study of COVID transmission in child care programs that’s been attempted in the U.S., and I think globally,” said Yale professor Walter Gilliam, who led the team of researchers who conducted it. “Working at a child care center did not put these providers at any increased risk of COVID-19 than if they had stayed home.” The authors of the new study cautioned against extrapolating their results to K-12 schools, where larger class sizes and more group mixing make it harder to control the spread of the disease.

Two new studies suggest that since May, when the federal government’s pandemic relief for households began to fade, as many as 7.9 million Americans have drifted back into poverty, columnist Michael Hiltzik writes. Meanwhile, the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to 898,000, and if Congress doesn’t act, two unemployment programs created by the federal CARES Act will expire Dec. 31, intensifying the pain for jobless Americans. The economy is still roughly 10.7 million jobs short of recovering all of the 22 million jobs lost in early spring.

Is Europe running out of options to stem its fall coronavirus outbreak? That’s what its leaders fear, as countries impose tough new restrictions to help curb it. Infections have hit new record highs in Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy and Poland. France has implemented a 9 p.m. curfew on many of its biggest cities, including Paris, to crack down on gatherings. Britain announced new limits too, and the Netherlands ordered bars and restaurants to close.

There’s hope, though: A World Health Organization official said epidemiological models suggest that if 95% of people wear masks and practice social distancing, Europe could avoid roughly 281,000 additional deaths by February. “I know that these restrictions are difficult for people. I hate the fact that we have to bring them in,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said. “But it is essential that we do bring them in both to keep people safe and to prevent greater economic damage in the future.″

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Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Tracy Tan, who wants to know: What will Biden and Trump respectively do for small businesses (like mom-and-pop restaurants) hit hard by the pandemic?

Biden’s campaign says that to help small businesses reopen, he would provide a “restart package” to give business owners support for keeping and rehiring workers and for fixed costs; support work-sharing so small businesses can bring back all their workers, even if they’re not operating at capacity, with the federal government making up the difference; and give grants to cover the costs of safely reopening, including supplies like personal protective equipment.

Biden has also called for repurposing more than $200 billion in Treasury bailout money for small businesses and more than $100 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program that went unused. He also wants to overhaul that program.

Trump says he supports $1.8 trillion in new economic stimulus. It’s unclear how much he wants to go to small businesses.

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Trump and Senate Republicans oppose House Democrats’ proposed $2.2-trillion stimulus bill, which includes $120 billion in targeted relief specifically for restaurants. Last week, Trump tweeted that there would not be a deal on stimulus until after the election, calling the Democrats’ proposal too pricy, then reversed course and said he would immediately approve $135 billion for another round of PPP loans for small businesses. On Friday, he said he would like to see a larger package than either party was offering, and on Tuesday, he tweeted that Congress should “go big or go home.”

Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said Thursday that they are making progress in their negotiations, a big spending package could hit a wall in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he won’t allow any bill larger than $1.8 trillion to the floor — which could dash hopes of relief before the election.

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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