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Coronavirus Today: Voting goes viral

Good evening. I’m Amina Khan, and it’s Tuesday, Nov. 3 — election day! Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

The coronavirus has radically reframed this year’s political campaigns, with President Trump downplaying the risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and challenger Joe Biden hammering his rival for failing to treat the threat seriously.

The outbreak has caused a massive shift in how Americans have cast their votes. According to the U.S. Elections Project, a nonpartisan website run by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, more than 65 million people so far have sent in their votes by mail to avoid a potentially infectious trip to their usual polling place. And for many Americans, the virus has altered the choices they’ve made on their ballots.

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Times reporters have spoken with voters across the country about the decisions they’ve made and how they’ve been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are their stories:

Michelle Pitts, 60, owns a funeral home in Milwaukee that has served her predominantly Black neighborhood since the 1990s. The first time she was called to pick up a a COVID-19 victim, the family was too worried about contagion to have a funeral. Pitts has watched the virus spread through the neighborhood, killing bus drivers, nurses and grocery store clerks — essential workers who face a higher risk of exposure due to the nature of their jobs. It’s not lost on her that Black and Latino workers fill a disproportionate number of these jobs. In her view, Trump had responded to the pandemic with callousness, and she filled out her ballot for Biden. “I felt like a weight was kind of lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “As if it was my time to be heard.”

Jaime Vollmar, 35, thought the threat posed by the coronavirus was being blown out of proportion: Friends of hers had been infected, but no one she knew had died because of it. Then Vollmar caught the virus after she and her boyfriend had dinner with another couple and she tried her host’s new vaping flavor (watermelon strawberry bubblegum). After two weeks of feeling “like death” at home, she was admitted to a Houston hospital and wondered whether she would survive. She was released from the hospital Friday and said she planned to vote for Trump. She was impressed by all he had done on immigration, the economy and even the pandemic. “He did a great job,” Vollmar said, adding that her experience with the virus “gives me more appreciation for him.”

Marcos Sanchez, 35, is a firearms instructor in Española, N.M., who was forced to stop working for three months due to pandemic restrictions. He’s back at work in a limited capacity, but with a second child due soon, he doesn’t know whether his business can keep going. “I’m not blind or ignorant to the damage that the virus has done, but I see the damage it’s done economically and that leads to a whole lot of other problems,” he said. Sanchez plans to vote for Trump, as he did four years ago — partly due to his opposition to firearms restrictions, partly due to his objection to abortion and partly due to the pandemic. “You have to ask what’s worse,” he said. “The virus or the constant anxiety we’ve been putting ourselves in?”

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Anthony Thomas, 51, is a home health aide who said he has lost close friends to COVID-19. He cast his vote for Biden at a church in Philadelphia. “We need somebody in power to take this thing seriously, because the numbers are going up,” Thomas said. “We need a leader who’s going to guide us and listen to the doctors and the scientists.”

John DeVille, 52, said he was certain Trump would cruise to reelection. The Phoenix father of three called the president a man of peace and a positive role model for children. Although COVID-19 has killed members of his own family, DeVille called it a “fake pandemic” and “nothing more than the flu.” He did not fault Trump for his handling of pandemic, and instead blamed Democrats and the news media for trying to “shut down” the president. “I don’t believe in masks,” the building material wholesaler said, keeping his own mask around his neck as he waited outside his polling place.

Bill Whitmire, a 56-year-old former high school biology teacher who lives in Phoenix, has suffered uncharacteristic lapses in memory and reasoning. He blames them on the coronavirus, which he believes he contracted in January. His wife, Ann, was infected in June, and she still suffers bouts of nausea, body aches and exhaustion. Though Bill is a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, he kept an open mind about Trump. But the pandemic sealed his frustration with the president, who frequently contradicts his own health experts. “He acts like he’s cured the virus: ‘We’ve rounded the corner, it’ll be over soon, live your life,’” Whitmire said. “Yeah, right.” He voted for Biden.

Jay Downen, 59, cast his vote for Trump, citing a “great” economy. The Southgate, Mich., resident said he believed the administration would eventually get the pandemic under control and that “the president is doing his best.” “We need four more years — we just do,” he said.

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Dr. Lisa Random, 50, a pediatrician in Detroit, is a registered Democrat. She said some of the Republican Party’s values appeal to her, but she could not vote for Trump because of how he handled the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ripped through Michigan with around 188,000 cases and 7,400 deaths. “He does not base his information on science, and as a physician, I think that’s important,” Random said. “You’re as strong as those that you surround yourself with.”

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 3:45 p.m. PST:

More than 945,100 confirmed cases and more than 17,700 deaths.
(Los Angeles Times Graphics)

Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

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See the current status of California’s reopening, county by county, with our tracker.

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

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Across California

No matter how you feel about the election results, public health officials are worried that you’ll be tempted to either celebrate or commiserate with others in person, and in potentially unsafe ways. Cheers and high-fives are a bad idea. So are hugs, regardless of how badly you might need one.

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer warned residents to take precautions and follow public health guidance if they do plan to gather. “Simply put, you make the choice to protect other people or potentially infect other people with the actions you’re taking every single day,” she said.

It’s something to keep in mind as the weather cools and people look to meet indoors for holiday gatherings. Officials had hoped Los Angeles County would be poised for a wider reopening in time for the season, but that’s looking increasingly unlikely, judging by the average number of daily coronavirus infections. Ferrer reported 1,406 new COVID-19 cases Monday, following 1,590 on Sunday. The county’s total has passed 310,000.

San Diego County is at risk for a new lockdown thanks to a rising case rate. San Diego is currently in the red tier, but the number of new infections may have risen high enough to warrant a demotion to the purple tier. If that happens, restaurants, places of worship and other locations would have to put their indoor operations on hold once again. State health officials usually announce their tier assignments on Tuesdays, but this week they’re delaying until Wednesday because of the election.

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A Superior Court judge in Sutter County tentatively ruled that Gov. Gavin Newsom overstepped his authority when he issued an executive order in June that required vote-by-mail ballots be sent to the state’s 22 million registered voters. Judge Sarah Heckman said the order to send out the ballots, as well as put in place other precautions to suppress the coronavirus during the election, violated the state constitution because it created new law, something only the Legislature can do.

The ruling won’t affect today’s election because state lawmakers voted to enact the same policy and other safeguards. Still, Newsom’s office is expected to appeal. “We did what we thought was appropriate certainly within the framework of the constitutional authority that is invested in this office, the executive branch,” the governor said during a news conference.

Of course, the presidential election isn’t the only race on the ballot. Take Proposition 22, a measure that would cement gig workers’ status as independent contractors rather than employees:

With the pandemic going strong, many gig workers like Uber drivers face a higher risk of hospitalization and death. If Proposition 22 passes, it could limit their access to the state workers’ compensation program. The companies gig workers sign up with would have to provide some additional benefits, but they wouldn’t be as comprehensive.

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That would have a direct impact on people like the wife and children of Khaled Zayyid, an Uber driver who died of complications from COVID-19 after driving customers who refused to wear the masks he provided. Through workers’ comp, the family might be eligible for at least $320,000 in death benefits, a lawyer told the family. But if Prop. 22 becomes law, gig workers who are sickened with COVID-19 will have to work harder to prove they were sickened on the job, and they’ll need to buy their own insurance policies to cover workplace injuries, my colleague Suhauna Hussain writes.

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.

Around the nation and the world

Across the U.S., the pandemic led to an unprecedented spike in mail-in ballots and early voting as voters sought to avoid the risk of casting their ballots in potentially crowded polling places on Tuesday. Those who did turn out on election day saw a host of pandemic-related precautions: Poll workers in El Paso, hit by one of the country’s worst outbreaks, squirted antibacterial gel into people’s hands and cleaned voting machines with alcohol wipes to prevent the spread of the virus. Voters in Phoenix, Milwaukee and Philadelphia were asked to space themselves six feet apart as they lined up before sunrise and waited for polling places to open.

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the U.S. Postal Service to sweep its facilities for outstanding ballots and to rush the delivery of any that are found. The postal service had acknowledged that nearly 300,000 ballots had been scanned into the U.S. mail system since Oct. 24 but had not been scanned a second time to show they had been delivered. Among them were more than 11,000 missing ballots in Pennsylvania, nearly 16,000 in Florida and more than 6,000 in Michigan.

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In Texas, a federal judge rejected a Republican attempt to invalidate about 127,000 votes that were cast at drive-through polling centers established during the pandemic. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins opened the drive-through sites in order to expand early polling places and make them safer during the pandemic. The Republicans who sued argued the drive-through voting was offered illegally and strategically in areas with large numbers of Democrats.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: How much do people put themselves at risk by voting in person instead of by mail?

Here is an answer from L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer:

“Voting is safe. If you need to go to a voting center, please do,” Ferrer said Monday. “It’s very important that everybody feel they can go and vote and that there will be safety at the voting centers.”

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Of course, there are some precautions experts say you should definitely take if you’re still planning to vote in person in the election’s final hour:

  • Wear a face covering. Experts say that even a simple cloth mask is effective at preventing people from spreading the virus, and it can reduce the amount of virus your body will take in if you encounter an infectious person.
  • Practice physical distancing in line and at voting booths, and stay at least six feet away from people you do not live with.
  • Bring hand sanitizer and use it whenever you touch a surface that others may also have touched.
  • Drop off a completed ballot at official drop boxes, which are open until 8 p.m.

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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