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Coronavirus Today: A pandemic-haunted Halloween

Good evening. I’m Amina Khan, and it’s Friday, Oct. 30. 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.

With one of the most unsettling Halloweens in recent memory upon us, West Hollywood is preparing for what is typically one of its biggest parties of the year — by telling people not to show up.

The city is reminding residents that its annual Halloween festival was canceled and that it will issue a curfew as well as citations if crowds turn up anyway.

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This decision wasn’t taken lightly, officials said, especially since the pandemic already forced them to cancel the city’s annual Pride festival in June. Last year, more than 100,000 people attended WeHo’s Halloween Carnaval, and local businesses and restaurants could have used the revenue boost from all the extra foot traffic.

“Of course we love to celebrate West Hollywood’s carnaval every year and welcome people to the boulevard, but we know this year it’s just not safe to do that because of COVID-19,” said Mayor Lindsey Horvath.

It’s just not worth risking a super-spreader event amid a sharp rise in cases in Los Angeles County and elsewhere in the state. A new study suggests that Orange County’s coronavirus infections may be nearly eight times higher than the official tally suggests, and even San Francisco — the first major urban center in California to make it into the least-restrictive coronavirus risk tier — has pressed pause on reopenings after reporting an uptick in infections and hospitalizations.

Health and other government officials are also advising residents to skip trick-or-treating this year out of concern that the door-to-door Halloween tradition could fuel even more infections. Beverly Hills banned it; Los Angeles County had banned it earlier but quickly relented in the face of blowback, instead saying it’s “not recommended.” (Silver lining for parents: At least it’s an excuse to break into that candy you bought instead of raiding your poor kids’ baskets like you do every year.)

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Editorial writer Kerry Cavanaugh says her kids were determined to trick-or-treat this year but after pondering the risks decided to forgo the neighborhood candy hunt. “My kids would much rather have the coronavirus case rate come down enough that our community, and their schools, can safely reopen,” Cavanaugh writes.

Be not discouraged! Here are some activities state officials say you can safely indulge in: Have a scary movie night with spooky activities at home. Participate in online parties and contests. Or enjoy a Halloween-themed art installation at an outdoor museum. And you can always dress up and throw a Halloween party at home with members of your household. Here are some other ideas, and check out our “What to do this weekend” section below for more.

“Do something really spooky on Halloween,” WeHo Councilman John D’Amico said, “like read up on all the ballot propositions and candidates, discuss them with family and friends, fill out your ballots and make a plan to drop them off at an official drop box or polling place.”

Meanwhile, my colleague Rong-Gong Lin II explains how wholesome gatherings such as weddings, restaurant meals and making friends at college can lead to deadly super-spreader events. It’s a real-life horror story for a pandemic Halloween.

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By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 6:36 p.m. PDT Friday:

More than 928,700 confirmed cases and more than 17,600 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.

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A map showing the tiers to which California counties have been assigned for reopening based on local coronavirus risk.
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

Secret vaccinations in China: An oil company worker in China tells Beijing bureau chief Alice Su that he received a COVID-19 vaccine but was ordered to keep it a secret. He’s one of hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens who have received these vaccines, which have not yet been proven safe in clinical trials.

Chinese health authorities have said the vaccines are safe, with no severe side effects, and that this “emergency use” is justified to protect against a resurgence of the disease. They’ve also vaccinated high-profile people as a way to build trust.

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But health experts outside China are questioning the ethics and safety of this strategy — especially since China’s COVID-19 outbreak is largely contained. “It’s a huge gamble, because you’re giving the vaccine to people who are healthy,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

COVID-19 and the election: President Trump’s narrow win in Wisconsin helped him defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. The battleground state was until recently largely spared the onslaught of COVID-19 — but now, with the virus battering its small towns, many residents are turning toward his rival, Joe Biden. My colleague Michael Finnegan interviewed small-town Wisconsinites, finding many who cite the president’s handling of the pandemic — and his cavalier attitude toward it at his campaign rallies — as a factor in who they support for president.

Research seems to back up this pandemic-triggered political swing. A new study in Science Advances suggests that rising deaths from the disease will lead to political losses for the GOP. Researchers found that people in states with high COVID-19 fatalities were 3% less likely to support Trump’s reelection than people in states were the virus had little impact. They were also almost 13% less likely to favor Republican candidates for the Senate and 5% less likely to support them for the House of Representatives.

The pattern has echoes of the ballot-box losses faced by wartime presidents of years past as casualties mounted in places like Vietnam and Iraq. That’s grimly apt, as President Trump has referred to himself as a “wartime president” doing battle with COVID-19.

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Phillip Bunton standing beneath the "Never TrumPutin" sign he bolted to a tree in front of his house in Trempealeau, Wis.
Phillip Bunton, 66, stands in front of his Wisconsin home with his “Never TrumPutin” sign, which he bolted to a tree after an earlier version was stolen off the lawn. An independent who has voted for Republicans, Bunton says he has never trusted President Trump, and the pandemic has hardened his opinion. He says he was offended by Trump’s “constant hammering of the professionals who are doing a great job.”
(Michael Finnegan / Los Angeles Times)

Celebrities, coronavirus and Trump: Director Judd Apatow believes Trump “does not have the intellectual capacity to run as president.” Singer Christina Aguilera “is an Obama-supporting Democrat and a gay-rights supporting liberal.” Actor Jack Black is “known to be a classic Hollywood liberal.”

These were some of the notes in a 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by a public relations firm hired by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The agency was on the hunt for celebrities who would support Trump’s coronavirus response in a $250-million ad blitz.

Government-sponsored public health campaigns are routine — but they’re supposed to be nonpartisan, not designed to support a candidate in the midst of a political campaign, officials said. “It is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” members of Congress complained to Health Secretary Alex Azar.

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Spoiler alert: The star-studded effort came to an untimely halt because none of the celebrities ultimately agreed to participate.

Doctors ignored her brain leak — and then the pandemic hit: From writer and producer Amira Lewally comes a harrowing personal story of doctors disregarding her pleas for help as brain fluid leaked from her nose for three years. Physicians dismissed her symptoms as allergies, even though she had a known medical problem that could have triggered the leak.

If you’re shocked by her story, know this: Lewally is Black, and there is an ever-growing mountain of evidence that the healthcare system often diminishes the pain and other medical needs of Black women. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. And even though they’re less likely than white women to develop breast cancer, they’re 40% more likely to die from it.

“Black women simply are not receiving the same quality of healthcare that our white counterparts receive,” she writes. “I had been warned about the racism in healthcare, so I knew it was my responsibility to fight for my health when doctors failed to.”

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Read on to find out how she got through the ordeal, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is 2020: The NBC family drama “This Is Us” is known for its heart-wrenching twists, but its writers weren’t expecting the real-life twists 2020 had in store. They had the first six episodes of the fifth season planned out in mid-March. Then the pandemic hit, followed by a wave of protests against racial injustice.

The events triggered intense discussions over whether to rewrite the next season. “We had made the decision collectively to allow the world of COVID into our show,” creator Dan Fogelman told my colleague Yvonne Villarreal. Then the protests “forced us to kind of reconvene, as a group, and say: ‘How can we not address this on the show while we’re addressing COVID? How can we still address COVID without addressing this?’”

What followed was a turbo-charged push to shoot and produce the show and deliver it on time. You can read more of this wild behind-the-scenes ride here.

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How am I? I’m so glad you asked: First COVID came for our handshakes. Then it turned “Goodbye” into “Stay safe.” Now Stacy Leasca turns her pen to “How are you?” — a greeting that hasn’t changed on its surface but has experienced a profound shift in meaning in these chaotic and stressful times.

Pre-pandemic, the question was essentially a glorified hello, offering only a narrow window for a proper answer. Now, Leasca says, the greeting has “become a lifeline for many who have felt the real weight of loneliness, and some may feel compelled to grab this moment and spill their emotional guts.”

But with a new greeting come new social rules. When is it OK to give a real answer to “How are you?” It depends on whether you’re speaking to family, friends, coworkers or complete strangers, an etiquette expert says. You can check out this handy guide to answering the greeting properly here.

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What to do this weekend

Get outside. Check out the Things That Go Bump in the Night Scavenger Hunt at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont — and be sure to print out your list of clues before you get there. Want to get out of the city? Check out the official trail opening of the High School Loop this Saturday at Big Bear Lake. Or head to Joshua Tree and take in the view from Ryan Mountain. Subscribe to The Wild for more on the outdoors and Escapes for more California travel ideas.

Watch something great. If you’re looking to catch a Halloween-themed movie marathon, the L.A. Zoo will be presenting the 2019 film “The Addams Family” on Saturday and “Poltergeist” on Sunday. Our weekend culture watch list includes “Kristina Wong for Public Office,” a solo comedy about the performance artist’s budding political career. And in his Indie Focus newsletter’s roundup of new movies, Mark Olsen highlights “City Hall,” a documentary about the inner goings-on in Boston’s center of municipal government.

Eat something great. Like so many other aspects of life, the pandemic has turned the intimacy and immediacy of visiting a sushi restaurant into a liability rather than a luxury. But you can splurge on some fancy takeout chirashi. Here are four tasty options to choose from.

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

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Monica Ramirez feeds her newborn at Loma Linda University Children's Hospital.
Monica Ramirez feeds her newborn at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

These days, new moms typically get to hold their baby very soon after birth. But Monica Ramirez didn’t even know she had given birth until two weeks later, because she delivered her daughter while in a coma after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

It’s a terrifying story that highlights a grim demographic disparity: Of the 48 pregnant women who have been admitted to Loma Linda University Medical Center with COVID-19, 45 were Latina. They’re part of a larger pattern in which the coronavirus has killed Latinos at a disproportionate rate.

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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