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Coronavirus Today: Of minks and men

Good evening. I’m Amina Khan, and it’s Wednesday, Nov. 4. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Folks, it’s been a tough week — and we’re barely halfway through. Election results are still trickling in. If you’re like me, you’ve been obsessively checking the L.A. Times’ presidential election map for updates. But take your finger off that refresh button for a just a minute or two for a quick, distracting detour into the inner workings of the Hollywood party scene.

This story involves young artists and influencers throwing an illicit bash in the Hollywood Hills. The hip-hop duo and streetwear designers known as Wav3Pop put together a huge Halloween party at a rented mansion with a guest list made up of “young clubbers, OnlyFans camgirls, TikTok clout-chasers and shutdown-bedraggled Gen Zers,” as my colleague August Brown put it. The hosts sold 500 tickets to the event, which they named “Verified.”

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This being a newsletter about the coronavirus, you might be anticipating the problem: Partygoers largely went mask-free and many chose to mosh and sing indoors rather than stay in the outdoor areas, where the risk of virus transmission would be lower.

Before we go further, it’s worth noting that such large indoor parties and mask-less gatherings run directly counter to local regulations and public health recommendations. A Los Angeles County public health order in October gave the green light for small private gatherings of three or fewer households, provided they were held outdoors, attendees wore face coverings and people from different households maintained at least six feet of physical distance, among other requirements.

Those guidelines were put in place to help halt the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 950,000 Californians and resulted in more than 17,700 COVID-19 deaths. The partygoers, by and large, appear to have disregarded the official advice.

“With COVID-19, we’re put in this situation where we had to make one of two choices,” said Great Wav3, 23, half of Wav3Pop. “We made a decision to figure it out. We don’t believe in losing.

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Many Angelenos have been making the same choice this fall. There were celebrations after the Lakers won the NBA championship and the Dodgers won the World Series. Such potentially super-spreading events likely contributed to an increase in the county’s case rate, officials say.

The Hollywood Hills party stood in stark contrast to another music event held a few miles away in Echo Park that employed workarounds to abide by health codes, producing an event with roughly the same risk as dining outdoors. Promoter Jahmal Walker’s company Millennium Age has thrown “silent” parties in L.A. with music beamed in on wireless headphones. His Halloween event took place in the parking lot of a music venue with a full kitchen. Guests sat at tables set apart from one another while DJ sets were livestreamed from inside the empty club.

“We’re not trying to run away from COVID, but we still want a place to have fun,” Walker said. “People told me, ‘This is the funnest party I’ve ever been to all year,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, because there aren’t any parties this year.’”

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 3:42 p.m. PST:

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More than 950,100 confirmed cases and 17,799 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 showing the tiers to which California counties have been assigned for reopening 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

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Across California

A little welcome news for small businesses, which will now have some recourse for mask-eschewing customers: The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to authorize businesses to refuse to admit or serve patrons who aren’t wearing a face covering.

“Small-business owners and their employees are risking their lives to stay afloat in the midst of this economic and public health crisis,” Councilman Herb Wesson said in July when he introduced the proposal. “Wearing a mask saves lives, and this simple, common-sense law will save lives and allow us to beat this virus sooner rather than later.” The council adopted the ordinance unanimously, with no discussion.

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Masks have been mandatory in the city since May, and residents of this deeply Democratic city largely took to the order. But businesses haven’t had a way to deal with noncompliant (and sometimes belligerent) customers until now. One taco restaurant had to close its two locations temporarily after employees were harassed by customers over its “no mask, no service” policy.

With Thanksgiving coming up this month, we may be planning visits to see loved ones cross the country. But Bay Area residents who intend to leave the state over the holiday season may face a 14-day quarantine advisory when they come back home.

The proposal comes from a dozen Bay Area counties plus the city of Berkeley. Their reasoning: When it comes to coronavirus gains, the area has a lot to lose. Once a hot spot for infections, the Bay Area now is in much better shape than most of the country and has mostly avoided the dreaded “third wave” of infections hitting other states. Despite having a population density second only to New York City, San Francisco had the lowest coronavirus positivity rate among the 20 largest U.S. cities, coming in at 0.8% at the end of October. It also had the lowest COVID-19 death rate.

Speaking of flying, there’s another reason you might want to reconsider your travel plans, courtesy of the Transportation Security Administration. More than 130 TSA agents at California airports have come down with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March — and most of those cases have occurred at LAX, according to data from the federal agency.

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Authorities have found it increasingly difficult to shield TSA agents and travelers from the virus as Americans begin to fly more often. LAX isn’t the only airport with a coronavirus problem. Airports in Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Newark, N.J.; Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla.; and JFK in New York have recorded more TSA cases than LAX. Through Nov. 3, a total of 2,425 TSA employees have tested positive, and eight have died. Check out the exact number of cases at several California airports here.

“The more officers that are infected, the more passengers that can get infected,” said Dr. David O. Freedman, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and founder of the university’s Travelers Health Clinic.

In sports, the San Francisco 49ers have shut down their facility after a player tested positive for the virus on Wednesday and immediately went into isolation. Officials said the team is “working with the league on contact tracing to identify high-risk individuals.” The team is still scheduled to host the Green Bay Packers on Thursday. This would be the 49ers’ first positive coronavirus test since the start of the regular season. The preseason saw three players diagnosed with COVID-19: receiver Richie James Jr., running back Jeff Wilson Jr. and linebacker Fred Warner.

The Packers, meanwhile, have their own coronavirus problems: Running back AJ Dillon tested positive on Monday, and running back Jamaal Williams and linebacker Kamal Martin made the reserve COVID-19 list on Tuesday as “high-risk” contacts of Dillon.

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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.

Around the nation and the world

Columnist Steve Lopez asks readers to consider the mask — a modest piece of fabric with ear loops that somehow has come to occupy an outsize space in this unprecedented election year. This simple, potentially handmade accessory is meant to cut down the risk of spreading the coronavirus to others, public health officials say. But it has become a flashpoint for voters across the political spectrum.

Lopez thinks that President Trump could have easily sealed a reelection victory if he had “been big enough to quit the tough-guy act for a while and behave like any competent leader” — a decision that would have included encouraging Americans to wear masks. Obviously, that’s not what happened.

Meanwhile, Washington columnist Doyle McManus writes that even with close to a quarter-million U.S. deaths and 100,000 new infections per day, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t “our most durable problem … a vaccine can solve that.” Instead, he said, the biggest challenge Americans face is a high level of political polarization that has made the country increasingly ungovernable — regardless of who is in charge.

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In some ways, because both sides of the aisle want to help Americans get through the COVID-19 pandemic, it could offer an opportunity to bringing warring factions together. For example, it could revive bipartisan deal-making in Congress and produce another coronavirus economic relief bill.

Americans would surely welcome the relief. Patricia Jordan of Van Nuys lamented that Trump recently speculated that a plane crash that killed 500 people wouldn’t generate as much news coverage as the pandemic. But the COVID-19 death toll has been far higher, with the equivalent of two such crashes occurring every day for 230 days in a row, “with no end in sight.”

“Would he let the airlines continue to fly if this was how Americans were dying?” Jordan asks in a letter to the editor.

In Europe, Denmark wants to cull all 15 million minks in Danish farms to limit the risk that the animals will transmit the new coronavirus to humans. Of 783 COVID-19 cases in northern Denmark, half “are related” to mink, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said. And a government agency report says 12 people in the region have been infected with a mutated version of the virus that came from minks, according to Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

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“It is very, very serious,” Frederiksen said. “Thus, the mutated virus in minks can have devastating consequences worldwide.”

Denmark is one of the world’s main mink fur exporters, and killing the country’s 15 million minks could cost the equivalent of $785 million. But officials said the culling should happen “as soon as possible,” since 207 out of the country’s 1,139 fur farms have been infected — up from 41 last month.

Humane Society International, an animal welfare group, praised the “essential and science-based step to protect Danish citizens,” and said it hoped that losing so many mink to the coronavirus would cause fur farms to go out of business.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from a reader of our restaurant critics’ newsletter, Tasting Notes, who wants to know: How do I deal with telling family I don’t want to join them for a holiday dinner without insulting or alienating them?

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This reader, who says she is older and thus at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if infected, says her relatives haven’t changed their lifestyles during the pandemic. They work in a clinic and a factory, have college kids coming home from coronavirus hot spots and live in a cold climate, where gatherings would likely be indoors, where they are more dangerous.

I spoke to lifestyle and etiquette expert Elaine Swann, who says it’s best to decline an invite graciously and — this is key — to be brief about it.

“One of the things that we’re doing is putting too much thought into it and thinking that we have to have a detailed explanation as to why we’re not going to attend,” she said. “I think we should err more so on the side of brevity.”

People often feel obligated to give a long explanation for why they can’t come, but this can open up their decision for more discussion, and there’s a risk the host may take their reasons personally, Swann said. That’s why it’s best to keep your reasons to yourself.

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“The best thing to do is to be very brief and say, ‘Thanks for inviting me, I really hate that I’m going to miss you all this year, but I won’t be able to attend — but I’m looking forward to the next time we can get together,’ and leave it at that,” Swann said.

Of course, if your host follows up with “why?,” then it’s all right to explain. If that happens, your response should focus on yourself rather than them, she said.

“So you would say, ‘Right now, I want to do everything I can to protect you all,’ and leave it at that,” she said. With any luck, “that will squash any further questioning from there.”

For more on handling the holidays during the pandemic, read the latest edition of Tasting Notes. You can sign up to get it in your inbox here.

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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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