Amid a rising death toll and infections from the coronavirus in the U.S., the number of unemployment benefit claims keeps skyrocketing.
A Tsunami-Like Economic Hit
COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have officially surpassed 16,000, with especially deadly outbreaks raging around Detroit and New Orleans. Health authorities on the East Coast say there’s been an alarming rise in cases in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington — though in New York, the state with the most fatalities, there are signs that stay-at-home orders are slowing the coronavirus’ spread.
And then there’s the economic devastation. The federal government has reported the fastest surge of layoffs in U.S. history. Nearly 17 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the last three weeks because of the pandemic. The figures suggest the U.S. unemployment rate in April will rise to 15% or even higher, a hit not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, when 1 in 4 workers were jobless.
In response, President Trump and other administration officials are renewing pressure to relax social-distancing policies to allow businesses to reopen. Yet continued high levels of infection, a rising death toll and new evidence that the coronavirus is spreading into less populous parts of the country all suggest that a quick reopening may not be feasible.
Experts have warned that relaxing restrictions too soon could prolong the pandemic and set off secondary waves of infection that would hurt the economy even more. Instead, some economists say what’s needed is more and longer-lasting help for those thrown out of work.
In California, which has accounted for a disproportionately large share of jobless claims, those who find themselves out of work will receive an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits from a federal stimulus package starting Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. The additional relief money approved by Congress means California’s average weekly benefit of $340 will be boosted to $940. The higher benefits will last for four months.
The Federal Reserve also announced it was creating a new set of programs to provide $2.3 trillion in loans to aid businesses, states and cities. But Senate Democrats blocked a Republican effort to add $250 billion to the overwhelmed Paycheck Protection Program, a relief package for small businesses, because they say they want to ensure all businesses can access it.
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The Search for Answers
It has been one of the most glaring unanswered questions of the coronavirus crisis: How much has the virus spread? A new study in Los Angeles County might help provide some answers. Starting today, county health officials will begin testing the blood of 1,000 randomly selected residents, including those with no symptoms, to see if they have or had COVID-19.
Using emerging technology that tests for antibodies to a virus, the study has the potential to shed light on the true mortality rate of the coronavirus, the efficacy of social distancing efforts and when the unprecedented clampdown on daily life could end. Health officials and researchers say the results of this effort, known as serological testing, could paint the most complete picture yet of the sweep of the pandemic in the nation’s most populous county.
At the same time, the race to find a vaccine is intensifying as the coronavirus hits Asia with a second wave of outbreaks. More than 125 organizations — including major drug companies, government laboratories and top universities — are working on a vaccine or other treatments, according to leading researchers.
‘There’s a Better Way to Do This’
When Trump told governors last month that the federal government was “not a shipping clerk,” he left states and local governments to fend for themselves in a global market for protective gear in which sellers have all the power, and confusion and chaos dominate.
Prices of surgical gowns, gloves and N95 masks have jumped up. The masks, which used to sell for between 50 cents and a dollar apiece, are now on offer for $5 or $6, state and local officials said. That not only increases the price for taxpayers but also leads to states outbidding each other in desperation, with poorer ones left behind. Shady operators also abound.
One member of Nevada’s task force said: “At some point you kind of shake your head and say, ‘There’s a better way to do this.’ ”
Meanwhile, on the Border ...
Officials say the Trump administration has quickly expelled roughly 10,000 migrants to Mexico and other countries in less than three weeks since imposing its most severe immigration restrictions yet in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
After the U.S. and Mexico closed their border to “nonessential travel,” U.S. officials began removing almost all migrants arriving at the border, with minimal processing. For the first time, those turned away en masse included people seeking asylum as well as hundreds of lone migrant children. Both groups are protected by U.S. law.
Administration officials say they’re acting to protect U.S. residents according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But this isn’t the only instance of them taking steps toward achieving some of Trump’s long-sought goals in response to the pandemic.
More Top Coronavirus Headlines
— Gov. Newsom is assuring the state will have enough ventilators to “meet the needs” of Californians after having lent out 500 of them. Meanwhile, state lawmakers are demanding details about his agreement to spend almost $1 billion on protective masks, saying there has been too little transparency in spending those taxpayer dollars.
— In hospitals, lower-paid nonclinical workers, such as janitors, food-service workers and clerks, are worried about contracting the virus and spreading it. Many say they feel like second-class citizens.
— An oral surgeon faced death once, when he survived the 2018 shooting at the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s. Then he got the coronavirus.
— Groups that work with homeless people are struggling to find food and supplies as shoppers clear out grocery store shelves: “This is so much tougher than the Great Recession.” But Shirley Raines, a 52-year-old woman from Compton, is delivering virus-fighting essentials to homeless people living on skid row.
— On his days off, an ICU nurse in South Korea sketches the heroes and fighters inside a coronavirus isolation ward.
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. And check out our new podcast “Coronavirus in California: Stories From the Front Lines”:
— Q&A: Answering teens’ questions about coronavirus, school closures, grades and college.
— How long will we be working from home? What we know — and what we don’t.
When ‘Affordable’ Housing Isn’t
How much does it cost to build an affordable housing complex in California? In the case of one project that took more than a decade to create in Solana Beach, it’s $1.1 million per apartment. That makes it the priciest affordable housing project in the state and, likely, the country.
Indeed, California leads the nation in the cost of building government-subsidized apartment complexes for low-income residents. A Times analysis of state data found that apartments cost an average of about $500,000. It’s not just the high price of land or the rising cost of construction materials that explain why it’s so expensive, The Times found. Numerous factors under state and local government control also are to blame. And it’s a situation that the coronavirus crisis will only make worse.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Belle Martel was originally a vaudeville star. But when her husband opened a boxing training facility in the garage of their Van Nuys home, she found a new career.
Martel honed her skills as a trainer, promoter and announcer in L.A.’s largely amateur boxing scene in the 1930s and ’40s. As her star rose, so did the sport’s: Hollywood friends, like actors Mae West and Barbara Stanwyck, and housewives came to watch.
Still, plenty of men weren’t thrilled to share the ring. In 1940, she passed the referee licensing test to become the sport’s first female referee in California. But her tenure was short: All five state boxing commissioners banned female referees two weeks later. Still, Martel won the long fight: She was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006.
— Rural California residents hoped distance would be enough to protect them from the coronavirus. But now Tulare County has an outbreak.
— Kaiser Permanente says it will temporarily close several medical offices and clinics throughout Southern California, citing concern over the spread of the coronavirus.
— The manager of a gun store at the Los Angeles Police Academy has been arrested on suspicion of stealing firearms and selling them to several officers and an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy, according to records and sources.
— A spring storm has brought more rain and snow to Southern California after a dry start to the year.
— It is ethical to recommend ordering takeout? Restaurant critic Bill Addison isn’t sure, but considers each order an act of support for his favorite places.
— From “The Ten Commandments” to “Uncut Gems,” here are 12 great movies for Passover and Easter as selected by critic Justin Chang.
— An animation buff picks 15 cartoons to watch if you miss life before quarantine.
— Boutique fitness studios rely on small but loyal customer bases. With doors closed, they’re getting creative to keep those clients around.
— Get our free daily crossword puzzle (with a “play with a friend” feature), sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center.
— A city under siege: Twenty-four hours in the fight to save New York amid the coronavirus pandemic.
— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition has improved and he has been moved out of intensive care where he was treated for COVID-19, his office said.
— Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stood by him through many scandals. One they can’t accept? Calling COVID-19 “a little flu.”
— Saudi Arabia and Russia have agreed on the outline of a deal to cut oil production in an effort to lift the market from a pandemic-driven collapse.
HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS
— “Saturday Night Live” will be back this weekend with a brand-new, socially distant episode.
— Merritt Wever was supposed to be on the promotional circuit for her HBO comedy “Run” this month. Instead, she’s at home and, like the rest of us, struggling to adjust to the bizarre reality of life in a pandemic.
— Is country music finally ready for Mickey Guyton, a 36-year-old black female singer who’s largely been ignored by radio?
— The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was supposed to start today until it got postponed. Many are holding out hope for a redo in the fall.
— This year, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes ceremony will be free and open to all, because it will be virtual.
— Cruises were the site of several virus outbreaks. But the industry’s biggest fans aren’t spooked — in fact, they’re already booking for 2021.
— “It’s the grittier side of renewable fuel,” but cow poop could be a promising energy source. So why isn’t everyone on board?
— The JetHawks baseball team was supposed to start a new season this week. But between the coronavirus and an MLB plan to scrap some smaller teams, L.A. county’s only minor league team may have thrown its last pitch.
— Basketball is coming back — kind of. NBA and WNBA stars will compete in televised H-O-R-S-E games on home courts.
— Fossil fuels and nativism: Trump is using coronavirus to push through his draconian agenda, The Times’ editorial board writes.
— Good Friday challenges us to confront our epidemic of misery and misplaced priorities, writes Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest.
WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING
— Rats are coming out of hiding as lockdowns eliminate their usual sources of sustenance in trash. (National Geographic)
— Covidiots and Coronaspeck: Around the world, coronavirus is changing how we speak — with new slang terms. (1843)
ONLY IN CALIFORNIA
It wasn’t supposed to be a challenging task: Transport 1,000 red-legged-frog eggs from a remote mountain in Mexico to Southern California. Biologists had spent 20 years laying the groundwork to repopulate the dwindling species. But by the time transport day arrived, so had the coronavirus, border restrictions and some dramatic weather. It took a helicopter ride, a pickup truck and a prayer, but the eggs made it to San Diego and Santa Ana. Here’s how scientists did it.
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