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Newsletter: Holding out a distant hope

As coronavirus cases rise in the U.S., experts are looking to the West Coast for signs that social distancing is making a difference.

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Holding Out a Distant Hope

With all eyes on the sharply rising curves showing the dramatic growth in coronavirus cases in the U.S., experts are looking to California and Washington for signs that social distancing is making a difference.

For both states, the coronavirus triggers came early — and pushed them to take measures earlier than the rest of the country.

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To be sure, the epidemic could get dramatically worse on the West Coast.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had doubled since Friday, while the number in intensive care units had nearly tripled. A San Francisco nursing home with more than 700 beds is contending with an outbreak that has infected two patients and nine staff members. There are signs of the contagion at 11 Los Angeles County nursing homes too.

Meanwhile, a study has found that social distancing is reducing transmission of the coronavirus in the Seattle area, but not enough to contain it.

Given how the virus and the disease it causes work, it can take weeks for the effects of stay-at-home orders to become evident — and they must be sustained. A lack of widespread testing continues to hurt efforts to slow the coronavirus’ spread. And there are a number of things that can still go wrong for California and beyond, including people flouting the order to stay at home as much as possible and keep at least 6 feet away from others.

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Mixed Messages

More than three years into President Trump‘s term, it’s a familiar story: It can be difficult to know what the White House will do.

With the coronavirus pandemic unfolding, Trump has stood in front of TV cameras as much as any president in history the last two weeks, holding forth with meandering, frequently testy, near-daily news briefings that often go 90 minutes or longer.

The mixed messages from a mercurial president have left state and local leaders, as well as corporate chief executives and others, unsure what medical supplies and other support the federal government will provide as they attempt to survive the double-barreled public health crisis and economic shutdown.

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The Digital Divide

Forced into distance learning by the coronavirus, the L.A. Unified School District is having trouble making the switch. The district says 15,000 high school students are absent online and have failed to do any schoolwork, and more than 40,000 have not been in daily contact with their teachers since March 16.

Supt. Austin Beutner says many families with students in the district are not connected to the internet, and he hopes that more take advantage of free computers provided by L.A. Unified and free internet through community hot spots.

Construction Workers’ Dilemma

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SoFi Stadium, the $5-billion future home of the NFL’s Rams and Chargers, is scheduled to open in late July with a Taylor Swift concert. Not even the coronavirus outbreak is stopping construction.

Over the weekend, an unidentified worker tested positive for COVID-19 and another on Monday was said to be “presumed positive.” But an estimated 3,000 people — carpenters, crane operators, electricians, iron workers, painters and tile layers — remain on the job. Some of them, though thankful for the opportunity while unemployment skyrockets, worry that the project could expose them and their families to the virus. They’re far from alone.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Gov. Newsom has issued an urgent call for healthcare workers to join the state in caring for an expected surge of COVID-19 patients. Newsom said he believes the state can add 37,000 healthcare workers by asking recently retired providers, those in the process of getting a medical license and students to apply to the newly created California Health Corps.

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— Health officers in six counties of the San Francisco Bay Area will soon extend the shelter-in-place order until at least May 1. Those counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara — were the first in California to issue sweeping restrictions on social movements.

— L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that landlords would not be allowed to increase the rent for hundreds of thousands of apartments in the city. He also said all farmers markets have been temporarily suspended; any market wishing to reopen will need to submit a physical distancing plan.

— Testing is expanding, so why is it taking so long to get coronavirus test results? Hospitals, doctors and governments across the country were all sending tests to the same Southern California lab as testing companies struggle to scale up.

— As she lay dying of the coronavirus, her family said goodbye through a window. New hospital policies prevent people from saying goodbye to their loved ones in person.

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Plus, here are some tips on getting through the days ahead. For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter that will help you understand more about COVID-19. As with all our newsletters, it’s free:

— FAQ: Your top questions answered.

How to care for someone with COVID-19.

— Lose your job over the coronavirus? Here’s how to avoid eviction if you can’t pay rent.

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— For newbie chefs, this is the easiest way to stir-fry vegetables.

Fueling Discord

Even amid a public health and economic crisis, the Trump administration plans to release rules on fuel efficiency for new cars and trucks as soon as today that would, according to the administration’s own experts, lead to dirtier air and potentially cost the auto industry tens of thousands of jobs.

The proposal would be among the biggest steps the administration has taken to reverse an existing environmental policy and is a move that has pitted California’s government against the Trump administration. Even many automakers have come out against the new rules.

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So who is in favor of them? The oil and gas industries have praised the plan, which is expected to lead to higher gas consumption, as have groups that downplay or deny climate change.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On this day in 1927, Cesar Chavez was born in Yuma, Ariz. His family became migrant laborers when their finances were destroyed in the Great Depression, according to The Times. His experiences would mold him into the civil rights and labor leader he became later in life. The son of a farmer, he helped organize the United Farm Workers union and famously staged a massive grape boycott in the late 1960s, among other actions to demand better conditions for farm workers. He died in April 1993 at age 66.

March 31 is celebrated as Cesar Chavez Day in California, Colorado, Texas and Washington, plus other cities, counties and towns throughout the West.

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Feb. 2, 1979: Cesar Chavez speaks to members of the United Farm Workers during a rally in the Imperial Valley. During the bitter UFW strike against lettuce growers, one striker, Rufino Contreras, was killed.
(Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

L.A.'s homeless worry about the coronavirus. But with gyms and community centers closed, they’re also worried about finding their next shower or sink to wash their hands.

— Amid shades of the Great Recession, California’s day laborers are struggling to find work during coronavirus pandemic.

— California pot dispensaries are open during the coronavirus crisis. Some want them closed.

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— For decades, the replica ship Pilgrim was a Southern California field trip destination. It sank over the weekend in Orange County’s Dana Point Harbor.

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NATION-WORLD

— Doctors in India are being infected, trolled and evicted as they battle COVID-19 on the front lines of the pandemic.

Wuhan, China, is slowly returning to normal as restrictions lift, stores open and public transit resumes.

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Hungary’s parliament approved a bill giving Prime Minister Viktor Orban‘s government extraordinary powers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and setting no end date for them.

— Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is being chided for shaking hands with the 92-year-old mother of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman during the coronavirus outbreak.

— Dozens of cities across the nation are considering legislation to decriminalize peyote and an array of mind-bending plants. Why are some Native Americans fighting those efforts?

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

TV pilots, which typically inject an estimated $500 million in annual spending into the entertainment economy, are in limbo because of the coronavirus. Some industry veterans say pilot season may never be the same.

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— The noir novel came out of the Depression era. Is the coronavirus era poised for new crime stories? The jury is still out.

— Some production companies have switched from building tents, used for staging and facilities for music festivals such as Coachella, to building triage facilities.

— Singer-songwriter John Prine still hospitalized with COVID-19 but is now stable, his wife says.

— Disney’s Bob Iger will forgo his salary starting in April as the company deals with the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis. His annual base salary was $3 million during the company’s most recent fiscal year, while his total compensation was $47.5 million.

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BUSINESS

— A long-awaited sale of 51 acres of prime waterfront real estate in Redondo Beach has been finalized. And it means a coastal gas plant will shut down by 2023, as fossil fuels dry up in California.

— More people than ever are ordering food to go. That means better business for delivery drivers and couriers, right? Not quite. Instacart workers went on strike over safety concerns.

Macy’s will furlough a majority of its 125,000 workers, cutting staff to an “absolute minimum workforce” as its stores sit empty.

SPORTS

— The Tokyo Olympics have a new date: July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021, almost exactly a year after the Games were scheduled to be held this year.

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— The towel that Lakers legend Kobe Bryant wore over his shoulders after playing in the final game of his NBA career sold for more than $33,000 at auction.

OPINION

— Conducting a census during the coronavirus crisis won’t be easy, but we have to get it right, The Times’ editorial board writes.

Migrant children shouldn’t be detained, but especially not during a pandemic.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Why was Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder, at Monday’s White House coronavirus briefing? Besides touting his company to make cotton face masks, he has told associates that Trump would like him to run for governor of Minnesota in 2022. (Politico)

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— Dystopian dramas such as "Westworld” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” were created to explore humanity’s darkest what ifs. What happens when the nightmare becomes real? (New York Times)

— Do you feel guilty if you see people on social media being uber-productive? This professor who’s worked under war conditions says you should ignore that, tune into your feelings and build a sense of security first. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

ONLY IN L.A.

For some people faced with staying at home amid the pandemic, a glass of wine might be the perfect way to take some of edge off. But under the current stay-at-home restrictions, customers can no longer enter wine shops. What to do? As restaurant critic Bill Addison found out, wine store owners are working out how to best bring their shops to the people. Tilda, a wine bar and shop in Echo Park, features a contactless buying experience behind glass.

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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