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Newsletter: Break up the task force?

President Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in March.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Although the coronavirus crisis is far from over, the White House may phase out the task force guiding the federal government’s response.

TOP STORIES

Break Up the Task Force?

The COVID-19 pandemic has already killed more than 71,000 people in the United States. Leading public health experts have warned that the outbreak may flare up more fiercely in coming months. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is now forecasting a national death toll of more than 134,000 by early August.

Yet the White House says it is looking to wind down the task force that is guiding the federal government’s response and hand off responsibility to individual agencies. It’s a move aimed at distancing President Trump from potentially unpopular public health decisions as he shifts his focus to the economy and his reelection.

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Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that the high-profile task force, which has issued social distancing guidelines and directly advised the president since January, could begin to wrap up later this month or early next month. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a crucial member of the task force, appeared caught off guard by the decision.

The task force has met less often in recent days as Trump, following a sharp decline in his approval ratings, has stopped holding nightly televised briefings with Pence, public health officials and other members of the group tasked with charting the administration’s course in the coronavirus crisis.

Trump left the Washington area Tuesday for the first time since March to tour a factory in Phoenix that produces protective masks. He donned goggles for the factory tour but did not wear a mask during his visit to Arizona, which this week reported its deadliest day of the pandemic. During the factory visit, which at times resembled a campaign rally, the song “Live and Let Die” played over loudspeakers.

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President Trump participates in a tour of a Honeywell International plant that manufactures personal protective equipment.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Caution Ahead

California is seeing signs that the increase in coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations is slowing, but there remains wide debate about whether the progress is enough to dramatically ease Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order.

The state has recorded its first week-over-week decline in reported COVID-19 deaths, according to a Times data analysis. Still, there has not been a sustained 14-day decline in coronavirus cases, which the White House task force has suggested is a key criterion before easing such orders.

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Newsom announced Monday that some retailers would be allowed to reopen with modifications by Friday. Many health officials are urging caution, saying reopening the economy rapidly would cause cases and deaths to increase again.

This week, Sutter and Yuba counties allowed businesses to reopen after a similar decision in Modoc County. Officials there have argued that they are less affected. But Newsom said, “They’re making a big mistake. They’re putting their public at risk. They’re putting our progress at risk.”

A Triple Whammy

The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is slamming cities and towns across the U.S. and California. But for Taft, a city of roughly 9,300 people in far western Kern County, there have been a few extra punches to the gut.

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Main Street’s “nonessential” businesses remain closed. With prices and demand down for oil, the thousands of pump jacks that ordinarily bob on the horizon are at a virtual standstill. And another major employer, the privately owned Taft Correctional Institute, closed its doors on April 30.

Reporter Susanne Rust and photographer Carolyn Cole traveled to Taft as part of a road journey throughout California, in which they aim to give voice to those in remote parts of the state grappling with calamity.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Top Trump administration health officials repeatedly ignored warnings in January and February about the need for masks and other protective equipment to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak, according to a detailed whistleblower complaint from a senior scientist ousted from his post.

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— Hundreds of volunteers around the world are rolling up their sleeves to be injected with experimental COVID-19 vaccines in the hope that at least one will work and bring the coronavirus outbreak under control.

— Public health experts say the coronavirus could make intense heat waves deadlier, adding to the devastating death toll the country has suffered.

Antibody tests aren’t always reliable or available. But businesses are racing to use them, eager to prove they’re ready to return to normal operations.

— Video: How herd immunity will help us fight COVID-19.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

On this day in 1950, Elizabeth Taylor married hotel heir Conrad Hilton Jr. in Beverly Hills. The event required “movieland officers” and Beverly Hills police around the church to handle traffic and the crowds. According to The Times’ coverage, she wore 20 yards of off-white satin with white and pink chiffon, seed pearls and satin-lined bugle beads.

But Taylor was not only famous for her acting and beauty. She was also known for her many marriages: eight of them, to seven husbands. Hilton was her first husband and her first divorce. The couple split in January 1951.

Mar. 6, 1950: Elizebeth Taylor enters Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills for her first marriage, to Conrad 'Nick' Hilton Jr.
Mar. 6, 1950: Elizebeth Taylor enters Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills for her first marriage, to Conrad ‘Nick’ Hilton Jr.
(Paul Calvert)

CALIFORNIA

— California has sued Uber and Lyft, alleging that the ride-hailing companies have illegally treated their drivers as independent contractors.

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— The University of California could reopen just one-third to one-half of dorm rooms this fall in order to maintain safe distances among students, a top official said.

— Footage of a Los Angeles police officer repeatedly punching a man during an arrest in Boyle Heights in late April has stoked outrage and prompted the launch of an internal review of the incident.

— The state Supreme Court grappled with whether to uphold a law designed to help reduce a shortfall of hundreds of billions of dollars in state and local pension systems. The court is considering a challenge by unions to a 2012 law that forbade the practice of “pension spiking” for all government employees.

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NATION-WORLD

— The Supreme Court said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized with an infection caused by a gallstone.

— A judge has ruled that the New York Democratic presidential primary must take place June 23 because canceling it would be unconstitutional and deprive withdrawn presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang of proper representation.

— Former President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver commencement messages to the 3 million high school seniors graduating this month in a televised prime-time special.

— Trump said the U.S. had nothing to do with an alleged incursion into Venezuela that landed two U.S. citizens behind bars in the troubled South American nation.

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— Millions of people began returning to some semblance of their former lives in Italy, where officials began to loosen its lockdown.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— A new HBO documentary and a memoir from Natalie Wood’s daughter, actress Natasha Gregson Wagner, are revisiting the movie star’s life. Each is a vivid portrait separate from the lurid tell-alls surrounding her drowning.

Daniel Radcliffe, who captivated audiences as boy wizard Harry Potter for a decade on the big screen, kicked off a star-studded relay-reading of the J.K. Rowling book that started it all: “The Sorcerer’s Stone.”

— Our critics are taking another look at “The Avengers” in the #UltimateSummerMovie Showdown.

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— Welcome to the world, X Æ A-12 Musk! Elon Musk and Grimes are new parents, but good luck pronouncing the baby’s name.

BUSINESS

— The “cast members” have been sent home. Movies are stalled and there have been no live sports for ESPN to cover. Disney has weathered the economic consequences of the coronavirus, but where does it go from here?

— Former employees at NBC News have been questioned by the New York attorney general’s office about how the company handled sexual harassment allegations in the division.

Carnival Cruises plans to restart cruises from Galveston, Texas, and Miami and Orlando, Fla., on Aug. 1.

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SPORTS

— Missing Major League Baseball? Here’s Korean baseball to the rescue. And it could offer a glimpse of how American baseball will look when it returns.

— The Galaxy have permanently shuttered their elite girls’ soccer academy, leaving more than 80 girls looking for new places to play.

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OPINION

— Time for seniors to roll over and die, so younger generations can get back to work? Not so fast, says columnist Steve Lopez.

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— Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel “The Jungle” exposed the dark abuses of the meatpacking industry. The coronavirus shows us how little has changed, writes business columnist Michael Hiltzik.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Before the coronavirus, there was polio and a writer’s mother was one of the survivors. But while you can survive an epidemic, some wounds never heal. (Washington Post Magazine)

— New Zealand’s White Island beckoned Hollywood filmmakers and Instagram selfie posters. Then its volcano erupted. This is the story of the race to save those who faced the blast. (GQ)

ONLY IN L.A.

For 60 years, the Troubadour has anchored the western edge of West Hollywood with live music. It’s where Elton John gave the concerts that eventually led to superstardom. It helped guide the likes of Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Tom Waits, the Eagles and Warren Zevon into the mainstream. It served as a crucial early comedy platform for Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and the Smothers Brothers. But now, its managers aren’t sure they can make it to the end of lockdown.

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


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