Newsletter: Inside one effort to save COVID-19 patients


Dr. Joseph Varon is fighting COVID-19 as Texas reopens and admissions increase.

A Houston hospital isn’t just battling the coronavirus. It faces patients who, convinced they’re not infected, leave before treatment is finished.


Inside One Effort to Save COVID-19 Patients

“This is a real war,” said Dr. Joseph Varon, the chief of staff and chief of critical care services at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston.

A lung doctor specializing in intensive care, he’d managed emergency rooms at larger hospitals, and worked in clinics around the world. When SARS erupted in Asia, Varon flew to Singapore to learn how to treat it. Now he was pulling 20-hour shifts, phoning medical students late at night to scan the latest research.


As he noted in a research paper, being a “COVIDologist” means “No days off, no time for family. No time for anything else other than COVID-19.”

“This,” he said, “is what I’m meant to do.”

Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske and photographer Carolyn Cole prepared as they would to go to a war zone to document what it’s like inside this COVID-19 hospital unit, which has had a surprisingly successful record of treating patients with a small team of nurses and medical student volunteers.

California Faces Budget Cuts

With California’s economy hobbled by the effects of the coronavirus shutdown, Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked state lawmakers to sharply curtail spending on public schools and an array of government services while directly appealing to President Trump and Congress for help to prevent billions of dollars in additional spending cuts.

“The federal government has a moral and ethical and economic obligation to help support the states,” Newsom said. “After all, what is the point of government, if not to protect people, our safety and the well-being of citizens?”

Absent that additional help, far beyond what California has already received in pandemic assistance, the governor said state officials have few options in the face of a projected $54.3-billion deficit through early next summer. The cuts envisioned recall many of those made during the depths of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.


If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the state’s main cash reserves were near record levels when Newsom declared a statewide emergency in March.

A Whistleblower Testifies

A federal whistleblower told Congress that the Trump administration’s timetable for developing a coronavirus vaccine is probably too optimistic and has no plan in place for mass production and distribution of such a vaccine.

Rick Bright, a senior vaccine expert at the Department of Health and Human Services until his ouster last month, said plans to develop a vaccine by early next year required “everything to go perfectly” and “we’ve never seen everything go perfectly.”


The administration has dubbed its effort to prepare a vaccine Operation Warp Speed, and Trump claimed in an interview on Fox Business that a vaccine could be available by the end of the year. He also dismissed Bright as a discontented employee.

Even if a vaccine is developed, the federal government still lacks a plan to produce tens of millions of doses, Bright told the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Stepping Aside

Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina said he would temporarily step down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee after the FBI seized his cellphone in its investigation into whether he sold a significant portion of his stock portfolio because of information he learned in the course of his Senate work.


The move marked a significant escalation of law enforcement’s investigation into potentially millions of dollars’ worth of stock trades that Burr made as the coronavirus first struck the United States. Burr has previously denied any wrongdoing.

As Intelligence Committee chair, Burr has often found himself crosswise with more-conservative Republicans because his work has put him at odds with Trump. Last month, the panel released a report based on three years of investigation that backed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behest.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Urged on by Trump, Republican officials in several battleground states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, are ramping up pressure on Democratic governors to move faster on reopening their economies, despite experts’ warnings of a surge in infections and deaths.


Los Angeles County residents must now cover their faces whenever they go outside. “Masks are, in fact, mandatory across the entire county when you’re outside of your home, not with members of your household and in any kind of contact with other people,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

— Newsom says that unemployment in California has far exceeded what it was during the peak of the Great Recession, with 4.7 million people filing for jobless benefits.

— Experts say large workplaces are vulnerable to so-called super-spreading events as the economy reopens.

Hate crimes and incidents directed at Asian Americans have surged during the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.


— What does the coronavirus physically look like? Biomedical visualization studio Visual Science re-created the virus in three-dimensional detail.


In 1939, a ballot initiative banned pinball machines in Los Angeles. According to The Times, the games, plus “marble boards, scoop claws and similar devices,” were declared a public nuisance and linked to gambling. The city and police said the problem was “so widespread that the police are totally insufficient in number to enforce the law.” Voters approved the ban with about 161,000 votes for and 113,000 against

In this Times photo from May 15, 1940, Urban F. Emme, chief clerk of the city marshal’s office, smashes confiscated pinball and marble machines. The law was overturned in 1974.

May 15, 1940: Urban F. Emme, chief clerk of the city marshal's office, wields a sledgehammer on confiscated pinball and other marble machines ordered destroyed by Municipal Court judges.
(Los Angeles Times)



— In mid-March, seven Bay Area counties worked in unison to submit some of the nation’s first and most restrictive coronavirus orders. But now they’re lifting them individually, sowing confusion among residents and business owners.

— Despite a precipitous drop in traffic during the pandemic, officials say the number of people killed in car collisions this year in Los Angeles is now about the same as it was at this point in 2019.

— For the first time since World War II, the Los Angeles County Fair has been canceled. It’s yet another cultural touchstone lost because of the coronavirus outbreak.

— But you can’t keep a good Reuben down. (Well, you know what we mean.) Beverly Hills delicatessen Nate ’n Al’s is reopening.


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— Yes, there’s a pandemic on, and we have rules to follow. But here’s a look at what you can do around L.A. this weekend, now that things are starting to reopen.

Candle making and butter churning are the new baking and gardening. And if you’re thinking about buying a washboard, expect competition.

— Want to get cooking? We have a brand-new recipes database and weekly newsletter from Times cooking editor Genevieve Ko and columnist Ben Mims. Check out the first edition and sign up.


— And when you’re done, wash your dirty dishes better and faster.


— When Michael Flynn’s case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in 2017, Flynn’s allies were ecstatic. But Sullivan has been hard on Flynn every step of the way, and now he’s pushing back on Atty. Gen. William Barr’s extraordinary attempt to dismiss the case. The result is an unusual, perhaps unprecedented, legal tug-of-war involving one of the most high-profile prosecutions from the Russia investigation.

— While parts of the U.S. rush to open restaurants, stores and public places, Canada — fearful of the high coronavirus infection rates to the south — is rushing to keep the 5,525-mile border closed for nearly six more weeks.

— Lockdown measures began easing across Britain this week, but, as in the U.S., there’s widespread alarm and confusion as to whether efforts to restart the battered economy are putting people in too much peril.


Las Vegas is beginning to stir. About 35 properties will begin accepting reservations May 22, hoping to snag guests eager to get away for Memorial Day weekend.
A very different experience will await.

— In Copenhagen, Noma, one of the world’s best restaurants, will reopen next week — as a burger and wine bar.


Television is the medium of our coronavirus plague year. Here are six reasons why, plus a look at (almost) every show coming to TV this summer.

Bravo, a kingpin in the reality TV space, is among the networks finding ways to adapt its programming to the coronavirus without sacrificing drama, from virtual Real Housewives reunions to video conference confessionals.


— The #UltimateSummerMovie Showdown is underway. Times film critic Justin Chang and columnist Glenn Whipp reflect on how “Bridesmaids” broke comedy rules, on its own terms.

Soledad O’Brien, the former CNN anchor who now runs her own New York-based production company, is keeping her journalism peers in line.


— A coalition of child and consumer privacy advocates filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging TikTok is unlawfully collecting children’s personal information despite a prior agreement to stop.

— Struggling homeowners who are delaying their mortgage payments through so-called forbearance programs will get a new repayment option.



Major League Baseball isn’t ready to start up its season, but if the owners and the players union can reach an agreement, California teams might play in Arizona, where daily high temperatures average 106 degrees in July. (But it’s a dry heat.)

UCLA says its search for a new athletic director is down to two finalists. The school may make a decision this week.

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— Just how dirty is Los Angeles City Hall? The guilty pleas are piling up in the ongoing federal pay-to-play corruption investigation, The Times’ editorial board writes.


— The government needs to make bailing out child-care providers a priority, the editorial board writes. That would actually help the economy.


— The prophecies of Q: a new age of American conspiracy theories. (The Atlantic)

— Since the 1600s, pandemics have had one thing in common: People have tried to count the dead and they’ve squabbled over how best to do it. (Wired)


Tom Capehart was a four-sport, four-year USC student-athlete until he couldn’t afford to finish, a few credits shy of graduating. Now, he “will be the literal definition of a graduating senior this week when he passes a two-credit course and completes his pursuit of a USC degree,” columnist Bill Plaschke writes. After all, Capehart is 85 years old and started at USC 64 years ago. “The epitome of old school will graduate with a transcript of classes that no longer exist, mostly earned on a scholarship that has long since expired, and one ageless cheer. ‘I’m out of there!’ he said.”


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