Coronavirus Today: No mask, no problem at California’s polls


Good evening. I’m Deborah Netburn, and it’s Wednesday, Oct. 21. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

We’ve all well seen heated arguments erupt between the masked and the maskless. Filmed by onlookers with cellphones, they’ve occurred in coffee shops, dog parks and big-box stores. As millions of people head to the polls on election day, however, the state of California is determined to stop those confrontations before they start.

Despite clear state rules requiring face coverings in all indoor public spaces, unmasked people will be welcome at polls across the Golden State. The official guidance put out by Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office is unequivocal: “Election workers must not turn a voter away for lack of face covering. The right to vote takes precedence.

If an unmasked person does arrive at an indoor, in-person polling station, the guidance suggests election workers practice additional physical distancing but also hold their tongues. “Confrontation of any kind is not advisable,” the guidelines state. “Intense conversation and shouting increase the volume of exhalations and may increase risk.” (Yikes!)

Legal experts say the state could have the right to restrict in-person voting for public health reasons, as long as other options — like mail-in ballots — are available. But Sam Mahood, a spokesman for Padilla’s office, said officials decided months ago to create guidelines that ensure safety while allowing everyone to vote in person. “The Secretary of State’s office views voting as a foundational constitutional right for citizens,” he said in a statement.

Across the state, election officials have already put plans in place to protect citizens who choose to vote in person, but they differ from county to county. Voters who show up in Los Angeles County without a mask will be escorted to an outdoor area, where a poll worker will hand them a ballot. In Orange County, they will be put in a booth away from other voters. And poll workers in San Bernardino and Riverside counties will offer face shields to the voters around an unmasked person while they wait to cast their ballot.


Nowhere in California will a voter who refuses to wear a mask be turned away. And remember, you can always vote by mail.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 1:57 p.m. PDT Wednesday:

More than 885,900 confirmed cases and more than 17,100 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 shows most counties in Tier 1 and 2 of reopening with some northern and Sierra counties in Tiers 3 and 4
The four tiers for California reopening, from widespread to substantial, moderate and minimal risk of transmission

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Across California

California has largely avoided a third wave of coronavirus cases that has sparked alarm in other parts of the county. Hospitalizations rose in 42 states last week compared with the previous week, but California was not among them, according to the COVID Tracking Project. In fact, California has seen its coronavirus hospitalizations fall for 12 consecutive weeks, a Los Angeles Times analysis shows.

And here’s another significant achievement: The state has managed to reopen key parts of its economy over the last two months without seeing a repeat of the surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths that occurred over the summer.

But even as we celebrate this positive development (and we must celebrate the wins), public health workers remind us that as long as the virus is out there, we cannot let our guard — or our masks — down.

Officials are particularly concerned that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas could encourage super-spreader events if people start socializing again without proper precautions. “This is the year, unfortunately, to have a low-key Thanksgiving and winter holidays,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of UC San Francisco’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “The challenge of understanding viral transmission is the exponential rate that it grows. So when things are low, if we are not vigilant, they can go high very quickly.”

Massage, anyone? State officials announced Tuesday that in all counties, personal care services — including massage, hair removal and tattoo parlors — will be allowed to resume modified indoor operations, regardless of their county’s position within the state’s four-tier reopening framework. Similar establishments, including barbershops and hair and nail salons, were previously cleared to reopen their doors, though their customer capacity may be limited depending on which tier they’re in, and they still must adhere to coronavirus prevention measures.

The decision to allow additional businesses to open indoors was “based on a number of conversations, our looking at the data and the evidence,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a weekly briefing. He also stressed that “we must not let our guard down.” However promising recent data may be, the coronavirus is still widespread, and California is certainly no stranger to the ferocity with which a seemingly plateaued pandemic can rocket to new heights.

On that note, state officials announced plans to devote additional resources to help Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties curb transmission of the virus. All three of those counties are in Tier 1, the purple tier, which indicates widespread risk of local infection. The state’s support “will take many different forms, but will really be tailored around the needs identified by our local leaders and public health officials,” Ghaly said. It could include increased testing capacity, additional assistance for those who have to isolate and education efforts.

Another place in the state will be getting some attention from corrections officials: San Quentin prison. The facility must release or transfer more than 1,000 inmates after showing “deliberate indifference” to the health of prisoners, an appeals court ruled late Tuesday. It said the Bay Area prison can house “no more than 1,775 inmates.” About 2,900 people are incarcerated there, though there used to be closer to 3,500.


At least 28 inmates have died since the virus reached the prison in the spring, and more than 2,200 have been infected. “By all accounts, the COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin has been the worst epidemiological disaster in California’s correctional history,” Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline wrote in the 45-page ruling.


— 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

After health officials determined that a 20-year-old corrections officer in Vermont contracted the coronavirus after multiple, brief encounters with infected prisoners, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is adjusting its definition of a “close contact.”

Previously, the term was reserved for someone who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes at a time. However, the officer in Vermont had only short interactions with the prisoners (and he wore a mask and goggles on those occasions). A review of video footage revealed that those meetings added up to 17 minutes over the course of his 8-hour shift. The case underscores that the virus spreads more easily than many people realize, one infectious-disease expert said.

After that grim news, you deserve a break. So please, do yourself a favor and read this amazing deep dive into how the pandemic will affect the candy-industrial complex.

The future of the candy industry may not directly affect your life. Reading about it may not help keep you safer in the months to come. It won’t alter the outcome of the election. It doesn’t matter. The story is a joy. And it’s almost Halloween.

The writer and editor of Candy Industry Magazine, who once tromped through cocoa fields in Africa, supplies much of the context in the story. You’ll also hear from a spokesperson for the National Confectioners Assn. who calls Halloween the industry’s “Super Bowl, Olympics and World Cup wrapped into one.” And you’ll learn that the candy industry has traditionally been recession-proof and that candy sales during the pandemic have generally been robust — especially chocolate — but that gum and mint purchases are down nearly 30% as people stay six feet apart. (This has led Hershey Co. to run TV ads urging folks to eat Ice Breakers mints before putting on face coverings, “because mask breath? It’s real.”)

I won’t ruin the rest for you. Just read it. And keep your eyes out for the part about the Chucky doll tin filled with knife-shaped cherry candy and the Turkey Dinner Candy Corn coming soon.


Moving on from candy to games, The Times’ video game critic Todd Martens writes about 51 new COVID-19 games that emerged from a video game competition called Jamming the Curve. Participants were challenged to build a game from scratch that somehow reflected the pandemic as well as the data and science that seek to understand it.

Perhaps you think you spend enough time obsessing about the coronavirus in real life, thank you very much, and there’s no need to immerse yourself in it in the virtual world. That’s what Todd thought too. But the games changed his mind.

Todd writes that the best of the 51 games felt as if they were opening a dialogue, allowing him to communicate digitally about topics he wasn’t always vocal about — or even desired to be vocal about — in his daily life. “Play in this instance became a much-needed exhale, whether I was entering the headspace of someone stubbornly wearing a mask below their nose, trying to stop the spread of disease on an alien planet, witnessing the life of a nurse, or seeing how attempts to control an outbreak among a species is akin to herding cats,” he wrote.

Intrigued? You can play or download any of the 51 games by going to the Jamming the Curve submissions page.

Finally, my colleague Victoria Kim explores how the pandemic is affecting plastic recycling in South Korea in this thoughtful and unexpectedly moving story.

It turns out that South Korea was a world leader in recycling, keeping 60% of its trash out of the garbage stream by the mid-2000s. That’s one of the highest rates around the world.

Its current recycling crisis began in 2018, when China stopped importing most plastics, but it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. As oil prices have tumbled, new plastic is becoming much cheaper to make. In addition, once the virus hit, plastic use ballooned thanks to increased demand for disposable containers to transport restaurant food, groceries and household goods.


“Everything we’ve been striving for for years has been wiped out in one blow,” said one activist.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from acne-prone readers (and writers!) who want to know: Is mask acne a thing?

My own experience suggests that after several hours in a mask, increased acne around the mouth and chin is 100% a real thing. But I reached out to Dr. Lisa Chipps, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, to be sure.

Chipps agreed that mask acne — sometimes dubbed “maskne” — absolutely can occur, especially since most of us are not used to wearing masks every day. She notes that acne starts as plugged-up pores and can be caused by anything that blocks those pores, such as bacteria.

“It could be that bacteria are accumulating on the skin from the mask,” she said.

Chipps didn’t have a magic bullet to prevent this seriously annoying side effect of our diligent mask-wearing, but she did have a few suggestions. Wash your face day and night, don’t wear a lot of makeup, and make sure to wear only clean masks.

Good luck!

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.