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Newsletter: Trump’s coronavirus blame game

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As states band together to make plans to ease coronavirus lockdowns, President Trump insists on his “total” authority over them and keeps pointing the finger at others.

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Trump’s Coronavirus Blame Game

Repeatedly declaring that his authority over states is “total,” President Trump let loose a tirade of grievances and accusations Monday, even as governors on the West and East Coasts made clear they weren’t following the White House’s cues and began making plans to ease coronavirus restrictions on a regional basis.

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After a weekend fuming and tweeting about what he saw as negative news coverage, Trump staged one of the strangest yet of his almost daily White House briefings. It included a White House-produced campaign-style reel of selectively edited video clips of officials effusively praising his efforts. Trump laced his comments with inaccurate claims, insisting that “nobody” had asked for ventilators, although numerous governors had repeatedly requested them in the month since he declared a national emergency.

He also called Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, to the lectern to walk back his comment on a Sunday TV talk show that earlier U.S. efforts to fight the coronavirus “could have saved lives.”

Trump insisted that he, not governors and mayors, will decide when to “open up the states,” a claim at odds with reality but in line with his effort to claim credit for positive developments while blaming others — the media, China, the World Health Organization, former President Obama, Democrats, among many others — for problems.

Asked during the briefing which provisions would authorize him to override local officials, Trump was vague. “Numerous provisions,” he said. “We’ll give you a legal brief if you want.”

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“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said. When another reporter asked him why he believed that to be true, he quickly shushed her: “Enough!”

States Map Out the Future

Several governors are taking a different view of executive authority. California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his counterparts in Washington state and Oregon said they will work together on a plan to lift restrictions and reopen economies along the West Coast. In the Northeast, several states have announced a similar plan to coordinate.

The announcements came as the nationwide death toll surpassed 23,000 people, but as signs of progress continued to grow in the battle against the coronavirus.

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Barring some unforeseen circumstances, life is still a long way from returning to pre-pandemic norms. In California, the most optimistic models see a major drop in the number of infections occurring in early May, but others, including a model from the state Department of Public Health, predict it happening sometime in summer. But some scientists believe some parts of the economy could return in the coming months under the right circumstances.

“Is it wearing masks? Probably. Is it continuing to restrict large gatherings? Yeah, probably,” said Dr. George Rutherford, epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco. “Is it continuing to have older people stay home more than they would otherwise? Yeah, probably.”

An Epicenter of the Outbreak

Long-term care facilities have become an epicenter of the coronavirus throughout the nation. Their concentration of elderly people with underlying health problems makes them exceptionally vulnerable to outbreaks. But how prepared were nursing homes and regulators to deal with the pandemic?

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A Times analysis of nursing home data finds that the vast majority of skilled nursing facilities battling outbreaks of the coronavirus in Los Angeles County have been cited in recent years for violating federal safety rules on preventing infections. The review found that 89% of facilities with the virus had previous infection control violations that ranged from mishandling patients with highly contagious bacterial infections to not properly cleaning ventilators and other equipment.

Even the most highly rated homes can fall prey to the virus: The Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., had a five-star rating — the highest possible — from Medicare yet wound up with two-thirds of its residents and 47 workers falling ill, and more than three dozen people dead.

Scammers Choose Their Mark

If you get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Medicare, be on high alert. It’s just one of the many scams that have cropped up or been retooled to take advantage of people during the coronavirus crisis. Other schemes involve identity theft, fake remedies for COVID-19 and fraudulently seeking investment in treatments that don’t exist or aren’t recognized by government scientists.

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“There is no shortage of people trying to cash in on this crisis, unfortunately,” Nick Hanna, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

Spain has begun easing parts of its coronavirus lockdown, and other Western European countries such as Italy and Austria appear poised to follow suit. Will it prove to be a beacon of hope or a cautionary tale?

— The Trump administration is asking Congress to give it four additional months to complete the 2020 Census, blaming the COVID-19 pandemic.

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— Despite assurances from government leaders about adequate personal protective equipment supplies, nurses and doctors in California say hospitals are conserving gear by forcing staff to re-wear masks, endangering their health.

— Scientists are dusting off some decades-old vaccines to see whether they can provide a little stopgap protection against COVID-19 until a more precise shot arrives.

— A member of the crew of the coronavirus-infected Theodore Roosevelt warship has died of COVID-19 complications. Meanwhile, a Navy official says seven crew members of the hospital ship Mercy, which is docked in the Port of L.A., have tested positive for the coronavirus.

— The Los Angeles Unified School District says no student will receive a failing grade on their spring report card. All Los Angeles campuses will also be closed through the summer.

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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. As with all our newsletters, it’s free:

— Is Zoom safe to use? Here’s what you need to know.

— How to care for someone with COVID-19.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

From 1989 to 2017, the distinction of L.A.’s tallest building went to the First Interstate World Center, aka the Library Tower, on 5th Street downtown.

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The 73-story building — now known as the U.S. Bank Tower — cost $350 million to build. Workers described to The Times “the eerie mornings they had spent working high enough to be in the clouds.” Of course, not everyone was happy to see it ascend. The final beam was signed by a variety of people, one of whom scribbled: “We love LA. But we hate this building.”

April 14, 1989: The Library Tower, under construction, center, surpasses the First Interstate Building (now the Aon building), left, as the tallest building in downtown Los Angeles.
April 14, 1989: The Library Tower, under construction, center, surpasses the First Interstate Building (now the Aon building), left, as the tallest building in downtown Los Angeles.
(Robert Durrell / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

— Since Alex Villanueva took office in December 2018, the L.A. County’s sheriff and the board of supervisors have been locked in a power struggle. The coronavirus is only the latest front.

Yosemite National Park is mostly human-free, and the animals are embracing the extra space. “The bear population has quadrupled,” one park worker said.

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— A new poll finds 95% of L.A. supports stay-at-home orders. But for how long?

— Inside a laboratory at UC Berkeley, a volunteer operation aims to produce hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer for Bay Area’s most vulnerable.

— The coronavirus continues to move through the ranks of law enforcement in Southern California as officers and jail inmates struggle to maintain social distancing.

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NATION-WORLD

— Sen. Bernie Sanders has formally endorsed Joe Biden for president, marking a major step toward unifying the Democratic Party in its drive to defeat Trump. Biden also emerged as the overwhelming winner of the Wisconsin primary.

— Sanders may have exited the race, but his supporters haven’t. Inspired by his approach, young progressives are headed to a political seat near you.

— The Supreme Court announced it will hear oral arguments over the telephone for the first time ever and provide a live audio feed for journalists. Meanwhile, members of Congress are also trying to learn to work from home.

— As entire countries shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sweden has positioned itself as an anomaly: Swedish leaders are sticking to “low-scale” lockdown, even with a rise in coronavirus deaths.

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HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— A group of performers won roles and representation at the CBS Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase. Then the coronavirus put their careers on hold, just when they were getting started.

— As his band releases a new album into a post-coronavirus world, the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas reflected on staying home (not too bad) and the state of our democracy (really bad).

Burning Man ticket holders can no longer gather in Black Rock City due to the coronavirus crisis. So organizers are bringing Black Rock City to them.

— Napster cofounder Sean Parker’s video-on-demand startup Screening Room, which roiled the film industry four years ago when it first emerged, is staging a comeback amid widespread disruption in Hollywood due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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BUSINESS

— Almost 4% of mortgage borrowers have stopped making their payments as the coronavirus pandemic has put millions of U.S. homeowners out of work, according to a survey.

— Social distancing is impossible, and even slow days require intense concentration. Here’s how air traffic controllers are coping with the coronavirus.

— Orange County’s Suavecito Pomade was built out of the 2008 recession. In the face of a new crisis, its founders are pivoting to fight the coronavirus.

SPORTS

— Poker player Chris Hunichen wants to raise coronavirus awareness. So he bet on death.

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— The WNBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, announced in January, made headlines for significant salary increases. But it was also progressive in another way: It expanded maternity benefits.

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OPINION

— Our lives depend on immigrants to get us through the coronavirus crisis: At least one in six of our healthcare professionals were born in other countries, writes Scott Martelle.

— Expectations were low for L.A. schools chief Austin Beutner, and he’s performing admirably under the circumstances, writes columnist Sandy Banks. But what comes after coronavirus?

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— No matter how many times officials debunk them, coronavirus conspiracy theories keep spreading. Inside the spread of one of the internet’s pervasive myths about the virus. (Vanity Fair)

Cities around the world are closing streets to make room for pedestrians and bikers during the coronavirus outbreak. Might that be a permanent change for the future? (Wired)

ONLY IN L.A.

Last spring, a dispute between neighbors culminated in an usual face-lift for a Manhattan Beach home: a hot-pink facade with two sassy emoji faces. It was a bold statement after neighbors alerted the city that owner Kathryn Kidd was illegally renting out the two-bed, two-bath house. The paint went up after the city fined Kidd, and so did a for-sale sign. It sold last month for $1.55 million, $200,000 more than Kidd purchased it for in 2018.

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


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