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Coronavirus Today: A new phase of the pandemic, and of this newsletter

Good evening. I’m Russ Mitchell, and it’s Friday, June 11.

First, a quick programming note:

We told you last week that with the pandemic entering a new phase in California and much of the state reopening, we were rethinking how this newsletter could best serve you. So many of you shared your thoughtful feedback in response to our survey — we truly appreciate it, and we’re mindful of it as we embark on this next chapter.

Starting next week, this newsletter will be in your inbox twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, rather than every weekday, and will be written by my colleagues Karen Kaplan and Deborah Netburn. (It will look a little different too, thanks to them; stay tuned for that.) That means you’ll next be hearing from us on Tuesday — the day California officially reopens.

Now, here’s the latest on what’s happening with the coronavirus, plus ways to spend your weekend — as well as a couple of COVID-19-related editorials The Times published recently that look at where we need to go from here.

For California, the good news on COVID-19 keeps getting better. New coronavirus cases have hit their lowest levels in 14 months, and we still boast one of the lowest infection rates in the country.

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That’s especially good news so close to California’s big reopening, when anyone who’s been vaccinated will get official permission to remove their masks in most places.

A big reason for good numbers on new cases is another set of numbers: state residents getting vaccinated. California has one of the highest rates of vaccinations in the nation, with 56% of residents of all ages — and 71% of adults — having received at least one dose of vaccine. The lingering immunity of many people who survived COVID-19 during the devastating surges in the last 15 months, especially in Los Angeles, is another factor.

The last time case counts were this low was March 31, 2020 — when it finally became clear that the pandemic was spreading fast and demanded to be taken seriously.

Still, the danger of future outbreaks has not disappeared, especially with 44% of Californians still not even partially vaccinated. But the number of people who have gotten their shots gives public health experts reason to believe any new coronavirus outbreak will be easier to control.

Not to dampen the recent mood of celebration, but a different respiratory virus could be another matter, as officials warn it may be making a comeback this summer. It’s called respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that it’s begun to spread across the southern U.S. This one can cause grave harm to babies and little kids. On an annual basis, RSV leads to 58,000 hospitalizations in children under 5, resulting in 100 to 500 deaths. It affects adults too, with symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, headache, fatigue and fever.

Keep in mind that if RSV hits California, masks and social distancing — those trusty habits we developed over our last year and change — can help keep you safe from it too, not just from COVID-19. If you have kids, them too.

Speaking of masks and kids, L.A. Unified School District students and staff will probably have to wear masks at school this fall, and coronavirus testing will continue, under a tentative deal agreed to by the teachers union and the district.

The mask mandate would apply whether or not an employee or a student is vaccinated, with rare potential exceptions for students with disabilities. Testing would take place once every two weeks. Screenings, including temperature checks, would be required for anyone entering a school campus.

“The agreement maintains the necessary COVID-19 protocols that have proven to keep students, staff, families, and the education community safe,” United Teachers Los Angeles said in a release.

What’s the future of telemedicine in California? As the state reopens and in-person physician visits become more common, lawmakers are debating how much to keep spending on doctor appointments conducted by phone. Through the Medi-Cal low-income health program, doctor payments for telephone visits, which hadn’t previously qualified for reimbursement, were allowed during the pandemic. They’re costly; Medi-Cal paid for 2.4 million appointments from March 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021.

Phone appointments are convenient, but their effect on patient health, thus far, is unclear. But many Democrats want to keep the payments going, at current rates, under a bill working its way through the Legislature.

By the numbers

California cases, deaths and vaccinations as of 6:57 p.m. Friday:

Cases: 7-day average 973, 14-day change -42.7%. Deaths: 7-day average 27, 14-day change -45%. 56.1% at least partially vaxxed

Track California’s coronavirus spread and vaccination efforts — including the latest numbers and how they break down — with our graphics.

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

California reopening map: 24 counties in yellow (including San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo), 31 orange and 3 red

A description of the four tiers California uses to determine when counties can let businesses open, based on coronavirus risk

Where do we go from here?

With the COVID-19 pandemic in retreat, it would be a big mistake to return to life as usual without taking a serious look at what went right and wrong and preparing ourselves for the next pandemic, which most public health experts believe is inevitable.

In two recent editorials, The Times’ editorial board — which is separate from and editorially independent of its newsroom — lays out some of the key issues we face and offers advice for the road ahead, not just for public health but for society at large.

In the face of the tragedy, it’s important first to spotlight dramatic successes in fighting the pandemic. Most important: the development of mRNA vaccines that saved countless lives, their swift authorization and their deployment under Operation Warp Speed, and ultimately the distribution of vaccines to any American over 12 who wanted shots.

But to move forward, the editorial board writes, Americans must recognize the fractures, weaknesses and inequalities in many of our systems and move from toxic individualism toward collective uplift. That means recognizing the role genocide and slavery played in perpetrating systemic racism. It means pursuing policies that help the kind of vulnerable families who disproportionately bore the brunt of the pandemic. We must also renew faith in expertise and science, the board writes.

And we must, the editorial board writes in another editorial, investigate how the coronavirus originated, yes — but also how the outbreak was handled afterward.

“We may never be certain of the true origins of COVID-19, but we can be sure that this isn’t the last time humanity will be faced with a deadly virus,” the editorial board writes. “We may not be able to stop nations or nature from letting loose deadly diseases, but we can and should do a better job responding to them.”

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What to do this weekend

Celebrate Pride. Celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month with visits to Los Angeles landmarks that highlight the work Angelenos have done for decades to fight for the right to exist, to love and to live in peace, including the Wall Las Memorias AIDS Monument, the Tom of Finland House, the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round and 17 more. Consult our interactive map with notes on what makes each site important.

See a movie. “In the Heights” premieres as the big movie of the weekend — and maybe the big movie of the summer. The screen adaptation of the feel-good musical from “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel-Miranda is that rare Latino blockbuster, our culture writers say. “Summer movies don’t get much more summery than this movie,” Times movie critic Justin Chang said on public radio’s “Fresh Air.” Read Chang’s review in The Times, and read our Indie Focus newsletter for more new movies.

Make reservations, then eat a fried chicken sandwich. Phenakite, the new Minh Phan fine dining creation, was just named The Times’ Restaurant of the Year, and Guelaguetza, the Oaxacan restaurant in Koreatown, just won the Times’ 2021 Gold Award. For something quicker, this video seeks, and finds, the best fast food chicken sandwiches in town. You’ll probably be able to just walk in and order some of that.

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

A smiling man in a graduation cap and gown hugs his mother and father.
Paywand Baghal, graduating from UCLA with a degree in dance and biology, hugs his parents.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

After being off campus the entire academic year due to the pandemic, UCLA’s class of 2021 got the rare chance to return — for graduation.

Although they had to have specific time slots, graduates got to walk through Drake Stadium with their names announced and images shown on a monitor as part of a graduation celebration. More than 9,000 students over six days were expected to participate. Some 14,000 undergraduates and graduate students are expected to receive their degrees from UCLA this year.

Resources

Need a vaccine? Sign up for email updates, and make an appointment where you live: City of Los Angeles | Los Angeles County | Kern County | Orange County | Riverside County | San Bernardino County | San Diego County | San Luis Obispo County | Santa Barbara County | Ventura County

Need more vaccine help? Talk to your healthcare provider. Call the state’s COVID-19 hotline at (833) 422-4255. And consult our county-by-county guides to getting vaccinated.

Practice social distancing using these tips, and wear a mask or two.

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.

We’ve answered hundreds of readers’ questions. Explore them in our archive here.

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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