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Newsletter: Deaths, warnings and the push to reopen

President Trump is interviewed during a Fox News virtual town hall in Washington on Sunday night.
President Trump is interviewed during a Fox News virtual town hall on Sunday night at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
(AFP via Getty Images)

President Trump has sharply revised upward his projected toll of U.S. coronavirus deaths to 100,000 people, even as he and many states push to lessen restrictions.

TOP STORIES

Deaths, Warnings and the Push to Reopen

Leading public health experts from inside and outside the government are warning that the coronavirus outbreak may flare up more fiercely in coming months, even as many U.S. states are moving to ease stay-at-home restrictions.

Scott Gottlieb, a former Trump administration FDA commissioner, said that there were rising numbers of new cases in about 20 states, suggesting that the outbreak is not yet being tamped down to the degree that officials had hoped — and that autumn may bring larger outbreaks.

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So far, most states are falling short of the minimum levels of testing suggested by the federal government and recommended by a variety of public health researchers, an Associated Press analysis has found.

Yet as the U.S. death toll surpassed 66,000 people on Sunday, President Trump defied warnings from leading public health experts and renewed his calls for a quick reopening of businesses across the country. The president said fatalities could reach 100,000; only two weeks ago, he was saying 50,000 or 60,000 Americans might die.

Earlier Sunday, White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said the administration continued to operate on the assumption that the more likely scenario called for “between 100,000 and 240,000 American lives lost” — even with the shutdown measures taken to date.

Meanwhile in California, pressure to reopen parts of the state continued to build over the weekend, with more rural counties vowing to ease restrictions, protesters marching against the closure of Orange County beaches and even some nonessential businesses reopening in defiance of stay-at-home orders — even though polls show most Californians support those rules.

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Coronavirus as Cash Cow

The nursing home industry has been devastated by the coronavirus, with outbreaks killing thousands of elderly residents and probably setting the stage for increased regulations and huge legal liabilities. But the health crisis presents operators with a potential financial upside.

Under a new Medicare reimbursement system, patients with COVID-19 could be worth more than four times what homes are able to charge for long-term residents with relatively mild health issues.

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Some patient advocates and industry experts fear the premium pay could tempt home operators to bring in more lucrative COVID-19 patients, despite the obvious health risks to residents and staff.

The Hard-Hit Healthcare Industry

Healthcare workers have been hailed as heroes during the COVID-19 crisis. But the industry has also been hit hard by the economic fallout from the pandemic.

In California, thousands of nurses, doctors and other medical staff have been laid off or have taken a pay cut. Across the nation, job losses in the healthcare sector have been second only to those in the restaurant industry, according to federal labor statistics. Hospitals and doctors’ offices lost billions in revenue when they canceled elective surgeries. Patients also began scheduling fewer appointments and avoiding the hospital if possible.

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Experts say the healthcare industry is unlikely to bounce back quickly, because people struggling to make ends meet may continue to put off medical care.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

Los Angeles County public health officials have reported 21 additional coronavirus-related deaths and 781 new cases overall, pushing the county’s total number to more than 25,000.

— Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hauling senators back to Washington this week even as the city reports record numbers of new coronavirus cases and the two parties are mired in a stalemate over the next bill to respond to the pandemic. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee said that the White House has blocked Dr. Anthony Fauci from testifying at a hearing on the coronavirus outbreak.

— The Trump administration is refusing to disclose how it is distributing medical supplies that were brought to the U.S. at taxpayer expense through a White House initiative known as Project Air Bridge.

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Trump lashed out at former President George W. Bush after Bush issued a message calling for national unity amid the coronavirus crisis.

Our weekly business newsletter has a new focus: how you and your finances can weather the pandemic and prepare for whatever the economy may bring. Check out today’s edition here and sign up.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Today is “Star Wars” Day. (“May the Fourth be with you.”) Back in 1977, before the first movie premiered on screens across the U.S., George Lucas sat down with The Times to talk about his “space opera.”

“In a way this film was designed around toys,” Lucas said. “I actually make toys. I’m not making much for directing this movie. If I make money, it will be from the toys.”

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During the interview, he also said, “I think of this as a movie Disney would have made when Walt Disney was alive.”

Decades later, the “Star Wars” franchise would indeed become part of the Disney empire.

Sir Alec Guinness, left, listens to George Lucas on the set of the original "Star Wars" film.
(20th Century Fox)

CALIFORNIA

— Elite private schools, including Brentwood School in West L.A., drew criticism from Trump, who said through a spokesman that those with “significant endowments” should consider returning money they have received from a federal coronavirus aid program.

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— The Santa Barbara News-Press lost its editor in chief this weekend after the newspaper published an editorial by owner and co-publisher Wendy McCaw that accused Democratic lawmakers of using the coronavirus for their own political agenda and compared stay-at-home orders to Nazi Germany.

— Expanding and intensifying drought in Northern California portends an early start to the wildfire season.

— Authorities say a Los Angeles police officer has been booked on suspicion of attempted murder after allegedly shooting another off-duty officer while camping in Apple Valley.

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NATION-WORLD

— While millions of people took advantage of easing coronavirus lockdowns to enjoy spring weather, some of the world’s most populous countries reported worrisome new peaks in infections, including India, which saw its biggest single-day jump yet.

— Israel’s Supreme Court began discussions on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form a new government while facing criminal indictments.

— Officials in Venezuela say they foiled an attempt by a group of armed men to invade the country by boat, killing eight attackers and arresting two more.

— Six months from the election, these six states are poised to decide the presidential race in the U.S.

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Bird-watching has taken flight as Americans head back outdoors during the pandemic.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— Like most scripted TV series, the CBS legal drama “All Rise” was on hold for the coronavirus outbreak — until producers hatched a plan for a virtual season finale.

— Searching for hope? Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow” is an anthem for the pandemic era.

— There are plenty of promising Oscar contenders this year, if the Oscars actually happen.

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Kerry English was the ultimate L.A. theater fan; he sometimes took in more than five shows in a week. When he died last week, the community paid tribute.

BUSINESS

America’s oil patch has been hit in recent weeks by a double economic whammy: a global pandemic amid an already weakening market, resulting in the worst oil bust in a lifetime.

Elon Musk capped a strange week Friday by suggesting Tesla’s stock price should fall. So it did. Now, the SEC could be looking at him again.

SPORTS

— “Mike, can you take off the sunglasses?” Inside Michael Jordan’s infamous gambling interview with Ahmad Rashad.

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— The “Ultimate Garden Clash” featured three champion pole vaulters squaring off by video from their backyards on separate continents.

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Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

OPINION

— Most Los Angeles County supervisors seem to enjoy their low-tech world where the coronavirus emergency is an excuse to keep the public quiet, The Times’ editorial board writes.

— How can film and television production safely resume in a COVID-19 world? In an op-ed, Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, offers up what his company has learned so far.

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WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— How the Kent State shootings, which happened on this date 50 years ago, still shape Ohio’s colleges. (Cincinnati Enquirer)

— The Department of Defense officially released UFO videos last week, but it’s not saying aliens exist. (Wired)

— How old is retired baseball player Don Mattingly? Fifty-eight or fifty-nine? The answer was surprisingly hard to figure out. (ESPN)

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

When the coronavirus outbreak appeared likely to rage through the Bay Area weeks ago, residents of Bolinas, a hermit-like beach community in west Marin County, tried to protect themselves by doing what they do best: keeping out strangers. Some shouted at the outsiders who showed up. Others put up a handmade sign: “Bolinas closed to visitors for duration of pandemic. Residents, deliveries only.” One, a venture capitalist, organized a testing program for all willing residents: “I was getting scared,” he said, “because frankly this is a town of aging hippies whose idea of social distancing is not to hug each other as much.”

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


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