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Coronavirus Today: ‘Lives are in the balance’

Good evening. I’m Amina Khan, and it’s Friday, Dec. 4. 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.

The deeper we get into the winter holiday season, the worse California’s coronavirus numbers get. The state has averaged 17,007 new cases per day over the last week, according to data compiled by The Times. That’s 61.6% higher than just two weeks ago, and it far outstrips the worst points of the summertime surge, when the average never climbed above 10,000.

More than 119,000 Californians have tested positive for the coronavirus in the last seven days, including 21,185 on Thursday alone. That was the second-highest figure ever recorded for a single day. The only day higher was Monday, when there were 21,848 new cases (though it was somewhat inflated due to Thanksgiving weekend reporting delays).

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These numbers aren’t spiking just because more people are being tested. The rate at which those tests come back positive has jumped to 7.7%, up from 5.2% two weeks ago.

A particular point of concern is whether all these infections will result in so many serious cases that they overwhelm the hospital system.

Some 8,831 Californians were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, another all-time high and nearly double the number from two weeks ago. There are also 2,066 coronavirus-positive patients in intensive care — more than ever before.

After a months-long decline, the number of Californians dying of COVID-19 has begun to climb in recent weeks. California logged 148 additional deaths on Thursday, marking the highest single-day total since Sept. 29.

More than 19,600 Californians have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began back in March — and if current trends continue, that death toll will pass 20,000 by early next week.

That is why state leaders instituted a sweeping new stay-at-home order, which takes effect Saturday. Many businesses and public establishments in the affected communities would be required to close, and retail businesses would be limited to 20% of their indoor customer capacity at any one time. Store officials would also be required to ensure there’s no indoor drinking or eating.

“This is the most challenging moment since the beginning of this pandemic,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “This is the time ... to put aside your doubt, to put aside your skepticism, to put aside your cynicism, to put aside your ideology, to put aside any consideration except this: Lives are in the balance. Lives will be lost unless we do more than we’ve ever done.”

The new restrictions, characterized as an “emergency brake,” will be implemented on a regional basis when critical care services there are stretched dangerously thin. The five regions in the order are: Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, the Bay Area, the Greater Sacramento area and rural Northern California.

Under this new rubric, restrictions — such as closing hair and nail salons, museums, aquariums, playgrounds, zoos and wineries; and requiring restaurants to return to takeout service only — would be implemented when a region’s ICU capacity falls below 15%.

None of the five regions has dipped below the state-set threshold yet, though officials say they expect all of them will meet that mark soon. Once they do, the restrictions kick in the next day.

Five counties in the Bay Area said they wouldn’t wait for ICU capacity to fall below 15% and would start implementing the new restrictions as early as Sunday.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:11 p.m. PST Friday:

More than 1,302,500 confirmed cases, up 15,734 today, and more than 19,700 deaths, up 135.

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.

California tiers map 12-01

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

The pandemic’s blade cuts unevenly across race. You’ve probably heard that the pandemic has been taking a disproportionate toll on historically disadvantaged groups in the U.S. If you’re wondering what that gap means on a personal scale, here’s a tale of two families — one Black, one white — living just 15 miles apart in St. Louis.

Let’s start with Mitchell and Crystal Simmons Hughes, who are Black. When Mitchell came down with COVID-19, the 52-year-old janitor had to drain his $4,000 savings just to keep up with the mortgage and other bills. He and his wife, a 53-year-old nursing assistant who cares for the elderly, were left financially depleted and anxious.

Now consider Scott and Kristin Ladewig, a white couple living just a short drive away. They’ve maintained well-paying IT jobs from the relative safety and comfort of their home. They’re also worried, particularly for Kristin’s mom, who is in an assisted living home. But Scott, 51, and Kristin, 49, have actually saved money on car expenses, gas, lunches and other regular living costs from the Before Times.

What’s true for both of these hardworking, homeowning families is true across the nation, my colleague Don Lee writes. The pandemic has only deepened the economic and racial divide between households across the United States.

A shot in the arm for vaccine nationalism. Britain’s first-in-the-world approval on Wednesday of a stringently tested vaccine, with large-scale inoculations set to start next week, is good news for Britons, who have faced one of the highest mortality rates in Europe so far with 60,000 dead.

But it may be an example of “vaccine nationalism”— a concerning phenomenon in which countries tout their efforts to fight the pandemic, sometimes at the expense of worldwide cooperation, my colleague Laura King writes.

While it’s normal for world leaders to prioritize the interests of their own countries, experts say vaccine nationalism can become dangerous when public health decisions are driven by domestic political concerns, or when the lifesaving vaccine is wielded as a geopolitical weapon. Officials with the European Union suggested that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government may have put speed ahead of safety. Meanwhile, Russia and China have rushed to vaccinate their populations before advanced clinical trials were completed.

“Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a September briefing in Geneva.

Don’t be a “pandejo.” That’s the message from columnist Gustavo Arellano, who scolds Latino “truthers” who have not been taking the pandemic seriously. Pandejo, in case you’re wondering, is a portmanteau of “pandemic” and “pendejo,” a Mexican Spanish term for a blockhead, and “an uncharitable — but sadly accurate — word to describe Latino covidiots who proudly flout coronavirus protocols,” Arellano writes.

Arellano, while irate, is writing from a place of concern, because the coronavirus has hit Latino communities particularly hard. Latinos make up about 39% of the state’s population but 59% of all coronavirus cases and 40% of COVID-19 deaths.

He points to many SoCal Latinos who contracted the coronavirus after ignoring the danger it poses. Many, right before they became seriously ill or even died, often made a desperate plea to others to take it seriously. Among the victims: comedian Joe Luna, a.k.a. Joe El Cholo, who said “this COVID [thing] is no joke” on Instagram a week before he died in Palmdale.

“It’ll happen again,” Arellano writes. “It’ll happen until we, like these three people bravely did during their reckonings with the dreaded disease, begin to truly call out pandejo behavior.”

Cesar Moran of San Francisco waits in line to receive a coronavirus test
Cesar Moran of San Francisco waits in line to receive a coronavirus test at a site administered by the Latino Task Force and the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Black herbalists offer healing in pandemic times. An immunity builder made with elderberry. Stress-fighting reishi. Flower essences meant to imbue patients with the bloom’s specific positive energy. These are some of the offerings put into a care package to Black people by Jamesa Hawthorne in an effort to help them cope with the physical and mental toll of the pandemic as well as the extrajudicial police killings of Black Americans.

Hawthorne is a gender-nonbinary Black herbalist and L.A.-based owner of online apothecary Jam Haw Herbals, one of the purveyors of natural healing practices that young folks have been flocking to online via hashtags such as #BlackHerbalist.

There’s a reason for this new interest in Black herbalists like Hawthorne, who by virtue of their identity and practice have a keen understanding of what Black people and other people of color need to heal in these unprecedented times, my colleague Julissa James writes.

“Herbalists started to become who people felt safe with and relied on for healing,” says Brooklyn-based herbalist Karen Rose.

Should people in nursing homes get the vaccine first? A key expert panel that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that the roughly 3 million Americans who live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other group-care communities should be given high-priority access to some of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine available in the U.S.

According to the panel, these Americans — most of them elderly and many frail — should be first in line, alongside the nation’s 21 million healthcare workers. The two groups made the cut for different reasons: Healthcare workers earned their spot because they face a high risk of exposure and the country can’t afford to lose them, while nursing home residents were prioritized because their medical fragility makes them especially vulnerable to severe illness if they become infected.

But some people, including one member of the advisory committee, have expressed doubt about whether the vaccine will work in the elderly. Others fear it could provoke too strong an immune response, leading to medical workups, hospitalizations and treatments that are risky and unnecessary.

“We don’t know all that information, and in an ideal circumstance we would not make recommendations without it,” said Dr. Robert Atmar, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine and panel member who voted in favor of prioritizing residents of long-term care facilities. “But we’re not in an ideal circumstance. We’re in the middle of a raging epidemic, and lot of us were moved by the suffering we’ve seen in long-term care facilities over the past eight months.”

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What to do this weekend

Get outside. Take a night walk through GLOW at South Coast Botanic Garden, where you can marvel at the color-shifting Banyan Grove Rain Storm or take in the sounds of the band Train at the centerpiece Rose Garden. Or join a volunteer effort to restore Joshua trees to the Cima Dome area of Mojave National Preserve, which was ravaged by fire this August. Subscribe to The Wild for more on the outdoors.

Go for a drive. Check out the Dodgers’ drive-through holiday festival, complete with faux snow, a light show and LED video displays honoring the team’s championship victory this year. Here’s where else to see L.A.'s best holiday lights.

Watch something great. Our weekend culture watch list includes a benefit performance of “The Night of the Iguana,” with Dylan McDermott and Phylicia Rashad starring in Tennessee Williams’ dark drama set in Acapulco. And in his Indie Focus newsletter, Mark Olsen features the new David Fincher film “Mank,” which tackles the story of how Herman Mankiewicz came to write the first draft of what would become “Citizen Kane.”

Cook in the holiday spirit. Bake some holiday cookies; try our recipes from L.A. chefs, for everything from giant ginger molasses cookies to vegan chocolate-chip tahini cookies. (Our cooking columnist has tips for perfect cookies.) Or move on to the savory comfort of latkes.

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.

The pandemic in pictures

Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park, in July.
Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park, in July.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Whether it’s an international flight to Peru or a road trip to a national park, many of us are missing the freedom to travel that we once took for granted.

One of them is my colleague and veteran travel writer Christopher Reynolds. So he’s offering listless travel bugs a photographic salve: panorama-style images of gorgeous landmarks and natural wonders taken mostly on his smartphone (and mostly before the pandemic hit).

Among the images: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Ofu Beach in American Samoa and the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.

“For all who are staying close to home this week and helping the country heal, I hope these images help,” Reynolds writes. “Someday, this will all be yours again.”

Resources

Practice social distancing using these tips, and wear a mask. Here’s how to do it right.

Watch for symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. Here’s what to look for and when.

Need to get tested? Here’s where you can in L.A. County and around California.

Americans are hurting in many ways. We have advice for helping kids cope, resources for people experiencing domestic abuse and a newsletter to help you make ends meet.

For our most up-to-date coverage, visit our homepage and our Health section, get our breaking news alerts, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.


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