Newsletter: The struggle to keep our distance

Thousands of beachgoers enjoy a warm, sunny day in Huntington Beach amid California's stay-at-home restrictions.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Health experts say social distancing should remain for several months, while politicians around the U.S. look to ease stay-at-home orders.


The Struggle to Keep Our Distance

White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx says social distancing measures must continue through the summer in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has killed close to 55,000 people in the U.S. That’s the highest reported fatality total for any country, and nearly equaling the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War.


Still, several governors have outlined plans to ease stay-at-home orders in the days and weeks ahead, and states including Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alaska and Georgia have begun moving to do so.

With the backing of health experts, other governors, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, warn that abandoning restrictive guidelines too soon could trigger a deadly resurgence. But that didn’t stop people from flocking to the beaches in Orange and Ventura counties over the weekend, while beaches in Los Angeles County remained shut.

As the nationwide debate over when and how to reopen the economy plays out, experts are reiterating something indisputable: Don’t ingest or inject disinfectants. After President Trump suggested last week that doctors should look into the idea of disinfectant or light being used to fight off coronavirus infection — then later claimed he was being sarcastic — governors and mayors have pointed to an increase in people calling poison-control hotlines.

‘An Error Has Occurred’

California’s Employment Development Department is no stranger to problems in processing unemployment insurance claims. It has a history of computer glitches and other technical issues dating back nearly 20 years. But at no time are they being felt as acutely as now, despite efforts by officials to roll out fixes.

Many of those who’ve been seeking jobless benefits in recent weeks have found phone lines jammed and had their calls disconnected before they could talk to a live service representative at the agency. Others said their attempts to file applications online were met with error messages and frozen screens.


On Tuesday, the system will come under added strain when the state begins accepting millions of claims from those previously excluded, including independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed.

No Early Jail Releases Here

Overcrowded jails and prisons in the U.S. have become hotbeds of infection among inmates and staff. In California prisons, 166 people have tested positive and one has died. To combat the spread, authorities have sped up the release of some lower-level offenders and those with medical conditions.

But Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco says he won’t let inmates in his jails out early despite having one of the largest jail outbreaks of COVID-19 in the state. “I feel very strongly that the inmates we have remaining in custody pose a much greater risk to public safety than the risk this virus poses to them while they are in custody,” he said.

Civil rights advocates, on the other hand, have described the department’s efforts to protect people who live and work in the jails as woefully inadequate. Inmates said they fear their jail terms could turn into death sentences. And deputies worry about bringing the virus home to their families.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

Black and Latino Californians ages 18 to 64 are dying more frequently of COVID-19 than their white and Asian counterparts relative to their share of the population, a Times analysis of state health department data shows. And in L.A. County, officials say those who live in lower-income communities are three times more likely to die than those in wealthier communities.

Grocery stores seeking masks for “essential” workers are running into shortages and, they say, interference from the federal government.

Digital contact-tracing through cellphones could help ease lockdowns, but many experts and lawmakers are worried the data could be misused without stronger data privacy laws.

Indonesia was late to respond to the coronavirus. Now, researchers say the world’s fourth most populous country could see 140,000 deaths by May.

Hospital emergency departments in California are quiet. Physicians are now concerned that people with heart attacks, strokes and other urgent problems are too afraid to seek treatment.

— Could a “controlled avalanche” of deliberate coronavirus infections end this pandemic faster, and with fewer deaths?


On this date in 2002, Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel and created the Barbie doll, died at age 85.

In the 1950s, she had a hard time persuading male Mattel executives to create the doll. “Barbie, a teenage doll with a tiny waist, slender hips and impressive bust, became not only a best-selling toy with more than 1 billion sold in 150 countries, but a cultural icon analyzed by scholars, attacked by feminists and showcased in the Smithsonian Institution,” Handler’s obituary in The Times stated.

A breast cancer survivor, Handler “devoted her later years to a second, trailblazing career: manufacturing and marketing artificial breasts for women who had undergone mastectomies.”

Ruth Handler with Barbies in 1999; she also made prostheses for breast cancer patients.
(Los Angeles Times)


— Speculation about how dense neighborhoods may have contributed to the coronavirus’ spread could affect how the state grows for years to come. Before the outbreak, many politicians emphasized density as a housing crisis solution.

— Beverly Hills Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli has announced her retirement. The city has paid out millions to settle lawsuits alleging she had made racist remarks to subordinate officers and engaged in acts of harassment.

— As the price of oil falters, an unusually high number of oil tankers remain anchored off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as this video shows.

— Lt. Col. Sam Sachs, a World War II veteran who turned 105 in Lakewood, got thousands of birthday cards and celebrated with a parade of well-wishers in cars, military vehicles and even an appearance from a Los Angeles County sheriff’s helicopter.

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— The U.S. Census Bureau needs more time to wrap up the once-a-decade count because of the coronavirus, opening the possibility of delays in drawing new legislative districts.

— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is returning to work after recovering from a coronavirus infection that put him in intensive care, with his government facing growing criticism over the deaths and disruption the virus has caused.

— In Ecuador, corpses no longer litter the streets of Guayaquil, but the pandemic is hitting the country with disproportionate force.

Spain’s government lifted a home-confinement rule for children younger than 14, ending one of the most restrictive measures of its national lockdown after 44 days.


— Dr. Anthony Fauci got his wish: Brad Pitt portrayed the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on “Saturday Night Live.”

Virtual reality to the rescue? Our video games critic was never a fan, until the coronavirus lockdown forced a reassessment.

— The real star of the new Showtime series “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” is L.A.’s neglected Mexican and Chicano history.

— Actress Carmen Electra recalls her wild romance with Dennis Rodman after watching ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the series about Michael Jordan‘s last championship season with the Chicago Bulls.


— At a time when many Hollywood productions have been shelved and workers are losing their jobs, Spotify is continuing to see rapid growth in its podcast business.

— The growing threat of a meat shortage is helping to lift shares of plant-based protein manufacturer Beyond Meat Inc.


— NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell discussed what he learned from the league’s first virtual draft, in an exclusive interview with The Times’ Sam Farmer.

— The Dodgers’ Kiké Hernández has dabbled in a bit of everything the last six weeks. That includes swinging at different colored golf-sized plastic balls for vision drills.

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— California no longer has one-party rule in Sacramento. It now has one-man rule in Gov. Gavin Newsom, writes columnist George Skelton.

— Whom do we save from coronavirus and whom do we let die? Take wealth, race and disability out of that brutal equation, The Times’ editorial board writes.


— With the coronavirus, big government is returning, just as it did in previous crises. (Wall Street Journal)

— Revisiting Joan Didion’s California with David L. Ulin, onetime L.A. Times book editor and critic. (Boom California)


Did a student nurse from Bakersfield invent hand sanitizer? With the coronavirus among us, the legend of Lupe Hernandez has gained new life. Most accounts give 1966 as the year of the breakthrough and say Hernandez was female; some say Hernandez did it at Bakersfield College, prompted by a lack of soap and hot water, and that Hernandez was male. Who knows if any of it is true? For some, having a folk hero in this time of need is enough.

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