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Coronavirus Today: Guns, germs and fear

Good evening. I’m Deborah Netburn, and it’s Monday, Oct. 19. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Back in March, as the country started to shut down in response to the coronavirus outbreak — slowly at first, and then all of a sudden — my husband went into full “prepper” mode. He bought toilet paper, of course, but also canned beans, cold medicine, ramen, bottled water and more red meat than we’d eaten in years.

One thing he didn’t buy: a gun.

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Should a firearm have been part of our family’s coronavirus arsenal? Tens of thousands of Californians apparently thought so. In the five months after the pandemic radically altered our world, about 110,000 went out and purchased a gun, according to new study from researchers at UC Davis.

Although the majority of those people already owned at least one firearm, 43% were first-time gun buyers. That means that since schools closed down, sports arenas emptied out and in-person concerts became a distant memory, about 47,300 new gun-owning households have emerged in our state.

Perhaps you are wondering what motivated this buying spree? After all, you can’t stop a virus with a bullet.

The researchers were curious too. When they asked the gun buyers what concerns had factored into their purchases, 76% of those who cited the pandemic said they worried about lawlessness of some kind. Specifically, 56% said they were concerned about the release of prisoners as a result of coronavirus outbreaks behind bars, 49% said they were worried about the government “going too far” and 38% feared a “government collapse.”

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This pandemic-inspired gun purchasing is not unique to California, my colleague Melissa Healy reports. An earlier study by some of the same researchers found that firearm sales throughout the country surged 64% between March and May.

The result: An additional 2.1 million firearms entered the homes of private citizens in the United States.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:29 p.m. PDT Monday:

More than 877,600 confirmed cases and 16,980 deaths.
(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 showing the tiers to which counties have been assigned under the reopening plan based on 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

California is on the cusp of having lost 17,000 lives to the coronavirus. To help you visualize that number, consider that at full capacity, the Hollywood Bowl holds 17,500 people.

That’s a lot of Californians who have died since March. Too many.

As of now, the Golden State ranks behind only New York and Texas in total deaths linked to the coronavirus, according to data compiled by The Times. However, if you adjust that number for the size of the population, the state is in the middle of the pack nationally. Twenty-six other states have seen more COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents than California, including much-smaller ones like North Dakota, Delaware, Rhode Island, Louisiana and Iowa.

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Fortunately, the state currently seems to be on a good trajectory. California has averaged roughly 57 daily deaths over the last week, a far cry from late July and early August, when daily death tolls regularly exceeded 150.

Scientists, physicians and public health workers have been clear since the start of the pandemic that we will not get out of this mess until there is a vaccine. In the last few months, however, the conversation around vaccines has become deeply politicized, with some Americans fearing that President Trump’s push to get vaccines out as soon as possible could compromise their safety.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom weighed in on Monday by announcing the creation of a new work group of physicians and scientists that will “independently review” all vaccines approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. “Of course, we don’t take anyone’s word for it,” he said. “We will do our own independently reviewed process with our world-class experts that just happen to live here in the state of California.”

It often feels like you could fill a whole newspaper with heart-wrenching stories of how the pandemic has decimated different industries. Today, my colleague August Brown shines a spotlight on music clubs that have been shuttered for months with no end in sight.

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Several L.A.-area venue operators said they’re giving it until the new year to make existential decisions about whether even to stay in business. They said they’re starting to feel like they’re in an airplane with a blown-out engine, he wrote — suspended in midair, waiting for the drop.

“I call it a crapshoot from hell,” said Christine Karayan, general manager of the famed Troubadour in West Hollywood. “You can make a couple dollars from merch and livestreaming, and that’s better than nothing. But you can’t sustain a venue on that.”

Many had pinned their hopes on the federal Save Our Stages bill, which aims to provide $10 billion in grants to local music venues to pay expenses such as rent, utilities and insurance not covered under the Paycheck Protection Program. However, the bipartisan congressional effort has been put on hold.

In related news, Margot Roosevelt reports that California is slowly gaining jobs but has still suffered tremendous losses compared with last year. According to the latest report from state officials, the unemployment rate was 11% this September — down from 11.2% in August but way above the 3.9% rate in September 2019.

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“Across the state, the unemployment rate correlates with the prevalence of COVID-19,” said Fernando Lozano, a Pomona College economist. The five counties with the highest joblessness are among the 10 counties with the most cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants, he added.

And finally, UCLA football coach Chip Kelly explained Monday how the Bruins will be training differently to withstand potential roster shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safeties have to be able to play cornerback and vice versa. Outside and inside linebackers need to be interchangeable. Offensive linemen must be capable of manning all five positions. The Bruins previously have trained cross-positionally under Kelly, but they are enhancing their efforts this season given the challenges presented by a virus that has forced the postponement of dozens of games across college football.

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

Anyone else weary of the phrase “a grim milestone”? I’m going to employ it anyway: The world reached another grim milestone with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the globe exceeding 40 million Monday morning, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Pause for a second, and let the reality of that number sink in: Forty million people across the planet have now been infected with a virus that was completely unknown to humanity less than one year ago. And then consider this: Experts say the real number of infections is almost certainly much higher if you count all the people who didn’t have symptoms and/or never took a test.

Johns Hopkins has reported the total number of deaths so far as more than 1.1 million worldwide. The U.S. tops the list with the most reported deaths of any country, followed by Brazil and India.

Speaking to campaign staffers on Monday, Trump said that people are tired of hearing from Dr. Anthony Fauci “and these idiots” who are urging a more aggressive response to the coronavirus.

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The president also called Fauci a “disaster” but said he’d create bigger issues for himself if he fired the doctor, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and is a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

The critique came the same day Fauci became the first person to receive a second citation from the National Academy of Medicine for his “outstanding service as a trusted advisor to six presidents” and “firm leadership” in the COVID-19 crisis.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate health committee, praised Fauci as well, saying, “If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of COVID-19, and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat.”

The Midwest and Plains states remain coronavirus hotspots, with rural counties across Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana leading the nation for new cases per capita for the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

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A doctor in South Dakota’s rural Jerauld County has watched with increasing despair as roughly one in every 37 people test positive for the virus. Only six people have died, but the county, with just 2,000 people, has a death rate roughly four times higher than the nation as a whole.

“One or two people with infections can really cause a large impact when you have one grocery store or gas station,” said Misty Rudebusch, the medical director at a network of rural health clinics in South Dakota. “There is such a ripple effect.”

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from Annie Chen, who wants to know: How risky is it to use a public restroom?

Just a few months ago my sister, her husband and their 20-month-old toddler traveled by car from Washington, D.C., to rural Colorado to visit family. They quarantined for two weeks before leaving on their trip, camped in friends’ backyards and bought a camping toilet so they wouldn’t have to use a public restroom.

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It turns out that last part wasn’t necessary, says Dr. Paul Pottinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

Pottinger said public restrooms are perfectly safe from a coronavirus perspective, as long as people continue to follow the pandemic protocols we’re all familiar with: Cover your face, give others their personal space and thoroughly wash your hands when you’re done.

“People catch it from respiratory droplets from another person, not the toilet,” he said. “We have not found that using a restroom is an important clinical way that people get sick.”

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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