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Coronavirus Today: What you have in common with a superhero

Good evening. I’m Amina Khan, and it’s Friday, Oct. 23. Here’s the latest on what’s happening with the coronavirus, plus ways to spend your weekend and a look at some of the week’s best stories.

Here’s something you and your favorite superhero have in common: You both save lives when you wear a mask.

A new study finds that mask-wearing could spare more than 100,000 — and perhaps more than half a million — lives in the U.S. through the end of February. Exactly how much the death toll is reduced depends on the number who choose to wear masks and how diligent states are in establishing stay-at-home policies.

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The study in Nature Medicine offers five scenarios with varying blends of voluntary mask-wearing and government orders about shutdowns and social distancing. My colleague Deborah Netburn breaks them down:

The Do-Nothing Scenario: As states continue to remove social distancing measures, the coronavirus spreads and kills 1,053,206 Americans by Feb. 28. California would absorb an estimated 146,501 deaths in that period, more than any other state.

The Bare Minimum Scenario: States shut down their economic and social activity if the COVID-19 death rate climbs to eight per 1 million people per day, just as they did a few months back. In this case, the death toll falls by more than half, to 511,468 through the end of February.

The Ideal Scenario: Take the Bare Minimum Scenario and then have 95% of people in each state wear masks outside their homes. That could be a tall order, since only 49% of Americans surveyed a month ago said they “always” wore a mask in public. But with near-universal masking, the death toll would be 381,798. That’s saving nearly 130,000 additional lives just by increasing mask use.

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The Still-Pretty-Good Scenario: This is the Bare Minimum Scenario but with 85% of the public wearing masks instead of 95%. That would result in 415,654 COVID-19 deaths, saving about 96,000 lives. But it’s 33,856 more deaths than in the Ideal Scenario.

The “If Nothing Else, Mask Up” Scenario: This is the Do-Nothing Scenario but with universal mask use. The models suggest that nearly 563,000 American lives could be saved simply by increasing the percentage of people wearing masks in public from 49% to 95% and doing nothing else.

“The potential life-saving benefit of increasing mask use in the coming fall and winter cannot be overstated,” the researchers concluded.

In other news, Los Angeles County officials said technical glitches caused a backlog in coronavirus test results that led to a significant jump in the number of confirmed infections this week. Of the 3,600 new cases reported Thursday, for instance, roughly 2,000 were due to the backlog. The full extent of the problem is not yet known, but health officials said the underlying issues have been addressed.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a steep toll on California’s creative economy, with 284,000 lost jobs in fashion, entertainment, digital media and arts institutions, a new report finds. That led to an estimated $58.4 billion in lost labor income and $160.7 billion in lost economic output over a six-month period.

Remdesivir has became the first drug federally approved to treat COVID-19. A large study led by the National Institutes of Health found that the medication shrunk patients’ average recovery time from 15 days to 10 days. Now that it has been formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it will be sold under the brand name Veklury.

The pandemic has prompted the National Hockey League to postpone two of its marquee events, the Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend. Both were scheduled for January 2021; no new dates have been set. Elsewhere in the sports world, former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden said he was grateful he recovered from COVID-19 in time to cast a ballot in the upcoming election. “I wanted to be around to vote for President Trump,” the 91-year-old said in a letter released by his son.

By the numbers

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

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More than 899,400 confirmed cases and more than 17,300 deaths.

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 what tiers counties have been assigned under the reopening plan based on local coronavirus risk.
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A description of the four tiers California uses to determine when counties can let businesses open, based on coronavirus risk

What to read this weekend

Masked crusader: If you won’t listen to the scientific experts, maybe you’ll heed this cane-wielding Northridge man who chewed out columnist Sandy Banks for not wearing a mask as she strolled around her neighborhood. After months of watching 81-year-old Charles Dirks berate every unmasked person passing by, Banks finally struck up a proper conversation last week, and what she found surprised her: a lion of Los Angeles Mission College known as a passionate advocate for students. Dirks was part of the country’s first Peace Corps contingent and spent a year building schools in Ghana. It’s a great read that breaks stereotypes while showing how, even in our time of physical isolation, we can forge connections with the neighbors we may still hardly know.

Deadly déjà vu: When Ebola began ravaging West Africa in 2014, the epidemic seemed like something that could never wreak such havoc on a country like ours. But my colleague Emily Baumgaertner, who four years ago covered that outbreak, is seeing some disturbingly similar patterns in the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Government messaging had been haphazard and often contradictory,” she writes. “Health workers lacked adequate protective gear. The economy teetered on the brink of collapse. Still, communities refused to heed public health warnings and socially distance.” It can be hard to tell whether she’s talking about Sierra Leone or the United States. Her story is a gripping read that sheds light on the missteps that helped the coronavirus spread out of control in a so-called developed nation.

An Ebola survivor who goes by the name Mo returns to school in Freetown, Sierra Leone, after the outbreak subsides in 2016.
An Ebola survivor who goes by the name Mo returns to school in Freetown, Sierra Leone, after the outbreak subsides in 2016. He still suffers from post-infection symptoms.
(Emily Baumgaertner)
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Skipping the COVID-19 vaccine: Public health officials fear some Americans may be hesitant to take a vaccine once it’s developed, and a new poll finds that skepticism in California falls along racial lines. Only 29% of Black residents said they would definitely or probably get immunized, compared with 70% of Asian Americans, 62% of white people and 54% of Latinos. This hesitance should come as little surprise, experts say, given the long history of abuses that Black Americans have been subjected to in the name of medical research. One of the most notorious examples was the 1932 Tuskegee experiment, where doctors withheld treatment for syphilis from black men in Macon County, Ala., and allowed them to get sicker and sicker over the course of 40 years in order to study the disease. The pattern highlights the need for building trust in marginalized communities.

Pandemic bubble trouble: Pandemic life is hard enough when you’re stuck indoors with your loved ones all the time — but what if you live alone? Game Critic Todd Martens explores what it’s like to be living in a bubble of one when so many entertainment options, from haunted houses to concerts, are increasingly being designed for small groups. The experience is deeply alienating, even for someone used to moving through the world solo. “The more events that pop up, each one encouraging groups of four or five, or even takeout tasting menus that require of minimum of two orders, serve only to heighten the sense that I am on my own,” writes Martens, who speaks with psychologists about this worrisome effect.

The essential internet: Besides water and power, there’s one big necessity that Americans can no longer live without: the internet, says business columnist David Lazarus. And that’s only become more clear with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed much of our work and schooling online. With that in mind, Lazarus writes that it’s time for the government to regulate internet access just as it does these other essential utilities. That’s all the more pressing in the United States, where it’s treated as a free-market service and where Americans pay higher costs for poorer services than many other developed nations.

Foul call? A USC football receiver applied to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, meant to help those put out of work by the novel coronavirus. But soon after Munir McClain received the pandemic-related funds, he was summarily suspended by the school and later contacted by federal officials. McClain’s mother says she’s still trying to understand why.

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What to do this weekend

Get outside. Grand Park will be hosting a Dia De Los Muertos celebration, featuring 11 large ofrendas, or altars, to view. Want something creepier (and crawlier)? Head to the Spider Pavilion at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, which reopens Sunday. You can also check out Zombie Joe’s, an adult-themed outdoor horror experience staged by the Underground Theatre Group. If you’ve had enough of Halloween, consider a self-guided tour of Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo or another Los Angeles neighborhood with the help of CicLAvia. Subscribe to The Wild for more on the outdoors.

Hit the road. It may feel like we’re still in the throes of summer, but you can still catch some fall colors if you’re willing to drive to the Eastern Sierra. Brilliant golden leaves have been spotted around Lake Sabrina and South Lake in Bishop. Other spots appear to be glowing too now that some wildfire smoke has cleared. Subscribe to Escapes for more California travel ideas.

Watch something great. Our weekend culture watch list includes a Zoom presentation by the Natural History Museum that will include pumpkin carving, and storytelling and science demonstrations about slime. And in his Indie Focus newsletter’s roundup of new movies, Mark Olsen highlights the new “Borat” film, which made headlines this week for its embarrassing scene involving Rudy Giuliani.

Eat something great. Whether or not you’ve mastered the art of sourdough baking during the pandemic, here’s a new challenge just in time for Halloween: candy-making, courtesy our cooking columnist Ben Mims. We’ve got recipes for homemade Butterfinger bites and DIY PayDay bars.

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Go online. Here’s The Times’ guide to the internet for when you’re looking for information on self-care, feel like learning something new or interesting, or want to expand your entertainment horizons.

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.

The pandemic in pictures

Two penguins rub beaks on the shore of the Galapagos Islands.
Galapagos penguins rub beaks on the shore.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

My colleagues Susanne Rust and Carolyn Cole had the enviable job of going to Ecuador to chronicle how the pandemic and Chinese fishing boats are impacting the Galapagos Islands, whose diverse biota was famously documented by Charles Darwin in the 1800s.

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As a result of the pandemic, tourism has plummeted, leaving tour boats moored and shops and restaurants shuttered. It makes the vulnerability of an economy that is 90% dependent on tourism dollars abundantly clear.

But at the same time, the emptiness has highlighted the extraordinary beauty and remoteness of the islands — a magic that is lost when thousands of tourists descend daily on the fragile ecosystem.

For the first time in decades, pods of dolphins and whales are now swimming around the usually busy harbor in Academy Bay. Brown pelicans are nesting in the nearby cliffs and mangroves — a sight a local tour operator says he hasn’t seen in 60 years.

Trust me, the pictures alone make this one well worth your while.

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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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