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World & Nation

Newsletter: Coronavirus testing remains a weak spot

Experts say a coordinated national strategy on coronavirus testing is key to getting the U.S. back on track, yet that hasn’t happened.

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Coronavirus Testing Remains a Weak Spot

Six weeks after President Trump and other senior officials promised that any American would soon be able to get a test for coronavirus, testing continues to lag, prompting a growing call from leading medical centers, lawmakers and others for the administration to put in place a coordinated national strategy.

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Effective testing is considered essential before state and local governments can lift restrictions on Americans’ movements, reopening schools and businesses and allowing the nation’s faltering economy to recover. Public health experts say ending disarray in the nation’s testing is perhaps the single most important step to returning the country to normal activity. But multiple, persistent problems continue to sharply limit the number of tests that can be done.

Labs remain short of supplies, ranging from simple cotton swabs used to take samples from patients to complex chemicals, known as reagents, needed to carry out the tests. Some laboratories report shortages of trained workers. Little coordination exists to shift samples from busier labs, which have backlogs, to others that have surplus capacity.

Senate Democrats plan to outline their own national testing strategy today. They are expected to propose additional money to fix supply shortages and to build up public health departments. That would allow more extensive tracing of infected people and those they’ve been in contact with, another key step in reopening the country.

Trump, who in recent days has been urging a swift return to normal activity, suggested last week that more widespread testing wouldn’t be necessary and this week indicated he might try to force state and local officials to lift restrictions soon. On Tuesday, however, as governors pushed back, the president appeared to shrink from a confrontation with states while minimizing federal responsibility for testing failures. “The governors are supposed to do testing,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “It hasn’t been up to the federal government.”

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Six Steps to Recovery

Testing is indeed one of the key factors in California’s plan to gradually return to a sense of normalcy in conjunction with Oregon and Washington state.

On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom highlighted six key indicators for altering his stay-at-home mandate: the ability to closely monitor and track potential cases; prevent infection of high-risk people; increase surge capacity at hospitals; develop therapeutics; ensure physical distance at schools, businesses and child care facilities; and create guidelines for when to ask Californians to stay home again if the virus surges.

Newsom also gave Californians a glimpse of what their “new normal” might look like when the rules are eventually loosened, noting that face coverings could become a mainstay, schools might stagger start times for students, restaurants may reopen with fewer tables and large gatherings would remain off limits.

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Still, the governor did not offer a specific timeline. But we spoke with Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, a UCLA medical epidemiologist and infectious disease expert, to see what a possible timeline for reopening the state might look like.

Left in the Dark

As the novel coronavirus continues to claim hundreds of lives across California, a secondary victim of the crisis is emerging: government transparency. Much of what we know about COVID-19 in nursing homes and senior facilities has not come from public agencies. Instead, it’s been from private sources such as relatives, staff members and administrators.

Information about the availability of personal protective equipment is also lacking, increasing the anxiety of healthcare workers. Coroners aren’t releasing information about deaths. Until recently, California was not releasing information about the racial breakdown of people who were infected and killed.

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Some health and civil liberties experts contend that government confusion has undermined public understanding of the crisis and has potentially compromised California’s response. But there are few rules for what cities and counties must disclose and little direction from California’s top officials, including Newsom, on what must be communicated in an urgent moment.

From ‘Gold Standard’ to ‘Explosion’

Just weeks ago, Singapore — a nation in an area about half the size of the city of L.A. — was a coronavirus success story. It efficiently pinpointed infected patients and isolated their contacts, with minimal disruption to an economy that was the envy of Asia.

Now, Singapore is battling to control an enormous outbreak spreading among a population that officials had mostly overlooked: the migrant workers who live in crowded, airless dormitories on the edges of the modern, manicured city-state they’ve helped build.

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More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Trump said he is suspending U.S. funding for the World Health Organization pending an administration review of its early response to the coronavirus outbreak in China. That threatens to undermine the WHO, the United Nations agency for international public health, as it seeks to coordinate governments in the battle against a pandemic that already has left more than 125,000 people dead in about 200 countries.

Los Angeles County health officials confirmed 40 more deaths linked to the coronavirus, the highest number reported in a single day. The county’s death toll stood at 360 as of Tuesday.

— In Seattle, Dr. Ryan Padgett spent his days caring for COVID-19 patients. Then he became one, and it took an experimental treatment to bring him back from the edge of death.

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— Three Southern California churches want to keep their doors open during the coronavirus outbreak. They’re suing Newsom and other officials, arguing that social distancing orders violate their 1st Amendment rights.

— Trump once again touted hydroxycloroquine, an unproven COVID-19 treatment, this time during a meeting with people who had recovered from the infection. Actor Rita Wilson doesn’t know if chloroquine helped her in her COVID-19 fight; she only knows how it made her feel on her road to recovery: not good.

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:

— How to make your own hand sanitizer at home, if you can find the ingredients.

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— The complete guide on how to stay sane during the outbreak: a 13-step process.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Today is Jackie Robinson Day. On April 15, 1947, he started a game for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black player in Major League Baseball. It was a historic day for not only baseball, but professional sports. Football and basketball wouldn’t break their color lines until 1948 and 1949.

Though Robinson left the Dodgers before their move to Los Angeles, the team and Major League Baseball have celebrated his debut and his perseverance in the face of racism for years. There may not be baseball to watch this year, but you can still watch Robinson’s highlights.

April 11, 1987: Dodgers President Peter O’Malley accompanies Jackie Robinson’s wife and daughter, Ra
April 11, 1987: Los Angeles Dodgers President Peter O’Malley with Rachel Robinson, center, wife of Jackie Robinson, and daughter Sharon Robinson during ceremonies honoring Jackie Robinson’s 1947 breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier. O’Malley is carrying second base with Robinson’s number on it.
(Hyungwon Kang / Los Angeles Times)
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CALIFORNIA

— The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has set up L.A.'s first temporary tent city in four decades. It’s to help veterans without homes get through the pandemic.

— A federal judge says Los Angeles must stop seizing and tossing out homeless people’s bulky belongings like mattresses, carts and dog kennels based solely on their size.

— With all field offices closed to the public during the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Motor Vehicles is extending drivers licenses that are expiring for residents under age 70 until May 31.

— The Glendale-based nonprofit Mending Kids had to stop sending volunteer medical teams overseas to perform surgery on children in need. So, as columnist Steve Lopez reports, it donated its unused medical equipment close to home.

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NATION-WORLD

— Former President Obama formally endorsed Joe Biden for president, a big step in helping the Democratic Party continue to unify.

South Korea is going ahead with its hotly contested parliamentary elections today — with masks, thermometers and lots of hand sanitizer. North Korea fired missiles from the ground and fighter jets ahead of the vote in the South and a key state anniversary in the North.

— Construction crews are back on the job in Spain, but rebuilding work life won’t be simple.

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— Russia, Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries agreed to cut back on oil output. But the U.S. isn’t likely to see the benefits of the plan.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Ann Sullivan, a retired Disney animator, has become the third resident to die of COVID-19 complications at the Motion Picture and Television Fund skilled-nursing facility in Woodland Hills, where staff are battling an outbreak among residents and their own ranks.

— It seemed like a bold plan when Universal said it would offer “Trolls World Tour” online on the same day of its planned theatrical release. And it paid off: It was the biggest digital debut ever for an original title.

Streaming is up and so is the number of services viewers are trying, according to a new poll.

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— Like the rest of TV, “Survivor” was forced to postpone production on its upcoming season due to the coronavirus outbreak. But the “Winners at War” reunion show must go on.

BUSINESS

Hedge fund managers are claiming coronavirus bailouts as small businesses, or at least filing the paperwork to try.

— Some people are buying up flour and yeast for stress-baking. Others are getting their relief elsewhere: sex toy companies report sales are up and stigma is down.

SPORTS

— The ESPN and Netflix docuseries “The Last Dance,” about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, is ambitious sports storytelling that establishes Jordan’s place in the broader cultural firmament.

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— After weeks of organizers holding out hope the Tour de France would be able to go ahead as planned, the race has been canceled.

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OPINION

— Trump has a lot of influence over the country’s response to COVID-19. But one thing he doesn’t get to control is when the economy restarts, The Times’ editorial board writes.

— It’s clear that the agricultural workers who harvest our food are essential workers. That’s why Marcela Celorio, consul general of Mexico in Los Angeles, says they need PPE and coronavirus tests.

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Unprecedented: The Treasury Department has ordered Trump’s name be printed on stimulus checks the Internal Revenue Service is sending, a process that could slow their delivery by a few days, senior IRS officials said. (Washington Post)

Anthony Fauci is the national face of coronavirus response. Here’s how he became America’s doctor. (The New Yorker)

— For years, office dress codes have been on the decline. Now we’re all working from home in loungewear. Is this the official end of formal workplace attire? (The Atlantic)

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

Golden Gate Park’s Hippie Hill, known for its pungent and pervading aroma of marijuana, won’t be nearly as green this 4/20. The coronavirus has canceled the traditional pot celebrations that can draw thousands of smoky revelers to the famous San Francisco knoll. Instead, the mayor offered this advice in a Facebook post: “Order food. Watch Netflix. Stay home and stay safe.”

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For the record: An item in Monday’s newsletter about Sidney Poitier winning the lead actor Oscar for “Lilies of the Field” stated he received the award in 1963. It was April 13, 1964.

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


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