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Coronavirus Today: A new pandemic battle

Good evening. I’m Amina Khan, and it’s Friday, Nov. 6. 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.

While the election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia and other battleground states have resulted in some nail-biting twists and turns, one thing has been very clear: Voters are sharply divided in how they see President Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But even that fact has a twist: In the places currently hit worst by the virus, Trump enjoys enormous support.

Out of 376 counties with the highest number of new coronavirus infections per capita, a whopping 93% went for Trump, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Most of these were rural counties in Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin. These also happen to be the kinds of areas where people put less stock in protective public health measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing.

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Perhaps that comes as no surprise; columnist Steve Lopez lamented earlier this week that masks have morphed from a simple infection-prevention tool into a potent political symbol. Still, this stark divide is giving public health officials pause. COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are still rising, and officials hope to find a way to reset public sentiment and reframe their message now that voting is over.

“Public health officials need to step back, listen to and understand the people who aren’t taking the same stance” on mask-wearing and other control measures, said Dr. Marcus Plescia of the Assn. of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Polling shows that Trump supporters and Biden supporters had sharply differing views of the country’s response to the pandemic and whether it is under control. Of Trump voters, 36% said the pandemic is completely or mostly under control, and 47% said it is somewhat under control, according to a survey conducted for the AP by Norc at the University of Chicago. In contrast, 82% of Biden voters said the pandemic is not at all under control.

Trump voters said in interviews that they value individual freedom and thought the president was doing as well as anyone could under the circumstances.

Take Michaela Lane, a 25-year-old Republican from Phoenix. “I feel like the most important issue facing the country as a whole is liberty at large,” Lane said. “Infringing on people’s freedom, government overrule, government overreach, chaos in a lot of issues currently going on and just giving people back their rights.”

Roughly half of Trump voters called the economy and jobs the nation’s top issue, the AP survey found. That’s about twice the share who said the pandemic was the country’s No. 1 concern. On the other hand, six out of 10 Biden voters said the pandemic was the most important issue.

The election comes just as cooler weather begins to push Americans indoors and brings holidays that will tempt people to gather with friends and family from outside their households. This all raises the risk of transmission and creates “a really pivotal moment” in the pandemic, said Sema Sgaier, executive director of the Surgo Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

We really need to get our act together. When I say ‘we,’ I mean collectively,” she said.

One thing that could help with finding that common ground is a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.

“The vaccine provides the reset button,” Sgaier said.

Another potentially unifying force? Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whom Trump earlier this week suggested he would fire after the election. The Norc survey found that 73% of voters approve of the way Fauci has handled the pandemic. More than half of Trump voters approve of Fauci’s performance, along with about nine in 10 Biden voters.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:36 p.m. PST Friday:

More than 962,650 confirmed cases and more than 17,900 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.

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

Snakebites and viruses: An emergency-room doctor’s search for a snakebite drug may have turned up a potential treatment for some of the worst cases of COVID-19.

In 2001, a renowned herpetologist, Joseph Slowinski, died after he was bitten by a highly venomous krait in Myanmar and couldn’t get to a hospital in time.

His death weighed on Dr. Matthew Lewin, who went in search of a snakebite drug that was both compact and versatile. Now, the company he founded is nearing a promising oral treatment — one that could help with the nearly 140,000 snakebite deaths suffered around the world each year.

As it happens, the drug may also be useful for COVID-19 patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, a condition in which air sacs in the lungs fill with fluid and breathing becomes difficult. Patients with ARDS produce an enzyme called sPLA2. Snake venom produces an even deadlier version of the same enzyme.

If the drug can work on snakebites, it may be effective against severe cases of COVID-19 as well. Next year, Lewin’s company plans to conduct human trials to test that theory, thanks to $9.9 million in funding from the Army.

Dr. Matthew Lewin holds up a vial a drug being tested for snakebite treatment
Dr. Matthew Lewin holds up a vial containing varespladib, a drug being tested for snakebite treatment that may also treat patients with severe cases of COVID-19.
(Daniel Z. Lewin / Kaiser Health News)

How to celebrate safely: Public health officials have expressed worry that the holiday season could lead to a fresh wave of coronavirus cases. But fear not: Whether you’re carving a turkey, cooking up some latkes or opening presents under a well-trimmed tree, there are ways to have a relatively safe and socially distanced holiday gathering, officials say.

The California Department of Public Health and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recently released mandatory guidelines for conducting safe celebrations. The big takeaways: Gatherings should include members of no more than three households (including the hosts); they should take place in an outdoor, socially distanced space for no more than two hours; guests should wash their hands often and wear masks when not eating or drinking; and buffet setups, passed plates and punch bowls should be avoided in favor of single-use disposable containers and utensils.

The Times has several useful tips for setting safety expectations with your guests, as well as how to deal with alcohol at your party and whether to post photos of your gathering on social media.

And, as always, virtual gatherings are the safest way to avoid the risk of spreading the virus among your loved ones. If you need helping finding the words to decline an invitation to an in-person gathering politely, check out our advice from Wednesday’s edition of this newsletter.

The coronavirus and customer service: Business columnist David Lazarus has a bone to pick with companies that refuse to show longtime customers a little flexibility amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He spoke to 76-year-old Barbara Ashton, a Southwest Airlines customer of more than 40 years who asked the airline to extend about $156 in unused travel credit past a Sept. 17 deadline. Ashton has an autoimmune disorder, and when the pandemic hit, she and her husband decided to cancel flights they booked in March and to use the funds later, expecting that the pandemic would end by the deadline.

Of course, it didn’t. But that reality didn’t stop a service representative from turning down the couple’s extension request, saying the airline had to “protect the integrity” of its processes. “This isn’t about a refund,” Lazarus writes. “It’s about allowing a customer to use a credit she’s already earned amid extraordinary circumstances.”

After Lazarus began asking Southwest about Ashton’s case, the airline restored the credit. While Lazarus said he’s glad it worked out, he was troubled by the extraordinary effort it took to get a business to do the right thing.

“Customers will remember who was there for them when times were tough,” he said. “And who wasn’t.”

A painful Día de los Muertos: This week began with a celebration of Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. It’s a deeply held tradition meant to honor and remember those who have died with flower-covered altars bearing images of the departed — but this year, its characteristically bright colors were muted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

My colleague Daniel Hernandez spoke to celebrants who paid painful tribute to loved ones taken too soon by the pandemic. They include Martha Jimenez, whose brother Pedro Robles, a doctor in Mexico, died after being diagnosed with the disease in late September.

“You look at him and say, ‘It wasn’t his time,’” said Jimenez, a florist in East Los Angeles, as her eyes welled with tears.

The day was all the more wrenching in light of the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on Southern California’s Latino community. In Los Angeles County, officials said this summer that Latinos were about twice as likely to die from the virus as their white peers. The virus has claimed the lives of more than 3,400 Latinos in in L.A. County, many of whom are either essential workers or the family members of essential workers.

Visual artist Consuelo G. Flores, who installed an ofrenda honoring the pandemic’s victims at Self Help Graphics & Art in Boyle Heights, said this year’s celebration is more significant than ever.

“Where there has not been that opportunity to attend a funeral, to have an end-of-life ceremony, the altar for Day of the Dead becomes the sort of ritual that a lot of people are holding onto and really participating in, so they can have that closure,” she said.

Consuelo G. Flores next to an altar she designed for Dia de los Muertos
Consuelo G. Flores next to an altar she designed for the Día de los Muertos exhibition at Self Help Graphics & Art. “The Roots of All Resistance, 2020" is for Black and Latino COVID-19 victims and has six sets of roots, with 13 photos on each set.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Must be nice: Here’s a dispatch from the lives of the wealthy during the pandemic: Rich New Yorkers are commuting to work by helicopter.

Yes, you read that right. Many well-heeled Manhattanites have fled to summer homes in the Hamptons and the Hudson Valley, where they and their families have more space to work and play. But it seems they haven’t committed to staying away from the city, even if they’re not ready to move back.

Rob Wiesenthal, co-founder of a private helicopter and seaplane business, said many of his planes are filling up with executives who want to keep working in the city. Some come in for three days at a time; others fly in and out the same day, sans luggage. And for those who gave up expensive leases in the city for cheaper digs in the suburbs, it means they have extra cash with which to buy those frequent flights.

This exodus has created what Wiesenthal calls “synthetic suburbs” in areas that are normally not accessible for daily city commutes. He has tweaked his offerings to appeal to a pandemic clientele; a $965 monthly pass between Manhattan and the Hamptons will allow you to book one-way flights for an additional $295 each. September’s 200 passes sold out in a day, and October’s went fast, too.

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What to do this weekend

Get outside. Walk all or part of L.A.'s newly completed 13-mile Park to Playa Trail connecting Baldwin Hills and the Pacific Ocean. Or give your feet a rest and go horseback riding in Topanga. Subscribe to The Wild for more on the outdoors.

Get out of town. Head to the desert for the annual Art Exposition at Joshua Tree National Park, which opens Saturday with 60 park-centric works of art. Or check out the “Field of Light at Sensorio” outdoor exhibit in Paso Robles, which takes the experience of visiting a field of wildflowers to another level with 58,800-plus Technicolor lights. (Timed tickets must be purchased ahead of time.) Subscribe to Escapes for more California travel ideas.

Watch something great. Our weekend culture watch list includes a livestreamed concert by Australian dance-pop diva Kylie Minogue. And in his Indie Focus newsletter’s roundup of new movies, Mark Olsen highlights “Proxima,” a film about an astronaut struggling with the isolation of her work while trying to maintain her responsibilities to her young daughter.

Eat something great. If you’re looking for the kind of culinary strength that got us through the Great Depression, check out this rich compendium of savory meatloaf recipes courtesy of the L.A. Times food crew. If you’re craving comfort food but feeling kinda fancy, one of the best chefs in the world has just opened a hot chicken take-out and delivery restaurant in Glendale, Tokyo Hot Chicken. Sign up for our Tasting Notes newsletter for more.

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 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

Kieran Wright's miniature creations celebrate buildings unique to Los Angeles, such as the Tail o' the Pup hot dog stand.
Kieran Wright’s miniature creations celebrate buildings unique to Los Angeles, such as the Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

If there’s one thing most Angelenos have in common, it’s the love of the “find” — that special coffeeshop, dive bar or rust-stained hot dog stand that you hold dear among the myriad options this sprawling city has to offer.

Shops and eateries like these anchor the neighborhoods they inhabit, and the pandemic has forced some of them to close their doors for good. Kieran Wright has paid homage to them by making exquisite miniatures in his mid-city home. Check out the story to see more of these tiny, lovingly detailed creations.

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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