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Today: The contact tracer’s struggle

Los Angeles County contact tracer Levonn Gardner works from his home in Azusa.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Contact tracers tell people they’ve tested positive for the coronavirus or warn they’ve been exposed to it. The work is vital — and emotional.

TOP STORIES

The Contact Tracer’s Struggle

Contact tracing is key to slowing the coronavirus’ spread, but the work can be difficult, time-consuming and surprisingly intimate.

California has put more than $27.3 million into contact tracing efforts. According to the state’s Department of Public Health, about 10,600 city, county and state employees are trying to track the disease.

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In Los Angeles County, which reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations ever experienced during the pandemic on Tuesday, tracers face immense pressure. When a backlog in cases has been reported, the window narrows to contact someone before the potential incubation period is over. Some have been overwhelmed; others have given up.

As three contact tracers shared with The Times, much of the job relies on an intuition shaped by cultural and familial ties — bonds that make the work personal.

“I understand hardship,” said Levonn Gardner, a 39-year-old Marine Corps veteran who is a contact tracer with the L.A. County Department of Public Health. “I understand what it means, especially, because it is primarily the Black and Latino communities that are dying from this and getting sick. It’s people from my community.”

He didn’t need to see the numbers or be told by officials to understand the reality he was hearing on the phone: that marginalized communities, such as Latinos in the San Fernando Valley, were disproportionately hit by the virus. “I’m a Black dude from Watts, so my view is: Anything bad that happens hits the poor communities harder.”

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Britain has become the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine following large-scale clinical trials, after its regulator authorized the shot developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech for emergency use.

— A lawsuit alleges California has failed during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide a free and equal education to all students, violating the state Constitution and discriminating against Black, Latino and low-income families.

— After outcry over the cancellation of coronavirus testing at Union Station to make room for a movie shoot, the city scrambled to ensure that the facility was open and accepting patients.

— With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations already at record levels and expected to get much worse quickly, here’s a look at what could be coming, and what can be done.

— Our obsession with disinfecting everything for fear of the coronavirus can be overkill, experts say.

For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

Trump’s Evidence of Fraud? Not Here, Either

Atty. Gen. William Barr told the Associated Press that the U.S. Justice Department has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.

The comments from Barr, one of President Trump‘s most ardent allies, contradict the persistent, baseless efforts by Trump to subvert the results of last month’s voting and block President-elect Joe Biden from taking his place in the White House. Not surprisingly, the remarks drew immediate criticism from Trump attorneys.

More to Trump’s liking, Barr said that in October he had appointed U.S. Atty. John Durham as a special counsel, giving the prosecutor the authority to continue to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe after Biden takes over and making it difficult to fire him.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating whether there was a secret scheme to lobby White House officials for a pardon as well as a related plot to offer a large political contribution in exchange for clemency, according to a court document unsealed Tuesday.

‘We’re Not Alive, We’re Not Dead’

Hoping to escape conflict and poverty in the Horn of Africa, tens of thousands of migrants have attempted to cross Yemen in hopes of seeking a better life in Saudi Arabia. Instead, they find themselves trapped in Yemen, which is going through a multi-sided civil war and humanitarian crisis of its own.

Times reporter Nabih Bulos traveled to Ataq, Yemen, where thousands wait in limbo, eking out a threadbare existence on the streets.

“We’re not alive, we’re not dead. We’re just sitting here,” said Ahmad Ali Abdo, 40, who had come from Somalia nine months ago and now offers carwashes to passing motorists. “I know there’s a war here, but I want Saudi Arabia. At least there, if they catch me, they’ll send me back to Somalia,” he said.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Col. William N. Selig, a former traveling magician, arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago in 1909 with plans to make movies. After starting a studio in Silver Lake, he found he needed more space for filming, so he bought 32 acres of land adjoining Lincoln Park. Selig transformed the property into a private zoo with ornate arches and stone lionesses guarding the entrance.

By 1915, he had opened the Selig Zoo and Amusement Park to the public — which was really a home for animals that were featured in Selig’s films and available for rent. The zoo shut down in the 1920s, but the statues stood their ground until sometime in the 1950s, when they were removed and relegated to storage — and one man’s frontyard.

Eventually, the statues would wind up at the L.A. Zoo.

November 1955: Lionesses on archway of the entrance to the Selig Zoo that closed in the 1920s.
(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)

CALIFORNIA

— California has received more than $1.3 billion in federal wildfire aid to rebuild after the 2017 wine country wildfires, the 2018 Camp fire and other disasters from those years. But victims haven’t gotten a cent. Blame years-long bureaucratic delays.

— The captain of the Conception, the dive boat that caught fire last year off the coast of off Santa Barbara, killing 34 people on board, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter.

— Investigators looking into California’s massive prisoner unemployment fraud have so far identified $400 million paid on some 21,000 jobless benefit claims improperly filed in incarcerated people’s names, officials say, as lawmakers call for hearings.

— A Silicon Valley engineer left paralyzed by a Placer County deputy in a shooting at Lake Tahoe will be paid $9.9 million in a settlement.

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NATION-WORLD

— Many Taiwanese Americans support Trump’s tough rhetoric on China. Can Biden win them over?

— The Los Angeles Times has sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, seeking the release of records detailing allegations of widespread sexual abuse and harassment at immigration detention centers.

— A huge, already damaged radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico that has played a key role in astronomical discoveries for more than half a century has collapsed, stunning scientists. “I don’t have words to express it,” said one who lives nearby. “It’s a very deep, terrible feeling.”

— In Germany, a driver plowed an SUV into a pedestrian zone in Trier, killing at least five people, including a baby. Authorities said the driver had been living in the borrowed SUV and had drunk a “not insignificant” amount of alcohol before the attack.

— Dozens of bandits armed with assault rifles invaded a city in southern Brazil in a well-planned operation and took control of the streets as they burglarize a bank, authorities say.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— A group of SAG-AFTRA members has sued the union’s health plan and its board of trustees for breach of fiduciary duty and other claims, alleging that changes to the plan will make it harder for thousands of actors and performers to retain their medical insurance.

— Actor Elliot Page, who was nominated for his lead role in “Juno” and more recently starred in “Umbrella Academy,” has come out publicly as transgender.

— Artist Alex Prager’s sculptural installation at LACMA memorializes the office holiday party. But the hidden truth behind it is really part of a national advertising campaign, critic Christopher Knight writes.

Mariah Carey’s essential reading list includes, of course, her own memoir.

BUSINESS

— Corporate software giant Salesforce has agreed to buy workplace chat platform Slack for $27.7 billion in cash and stock, in one of the biggest technology deals of the year and in a move to compete more aggressively with Microsoft.

— Soon, companies listed on the Nasdaq may have to have at least two “diverse” directors, including at least one woman and one person of color or LGBTQ director, or face being kicked off the exchange. The proposed rule underscores the extent to which opposition to such diversity pushes has evaporated, writes columnist Michael Hiltzik.

SPORTS

— Among the five questions facing the Lakers heading into training camp: When will Anthony Davis re-sign, and what’s the plan for LeBron James’ workload?

— Longtime Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, 93, is out of intensive care and doing rehab at an Orange County hospital.

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OPINION

— Biden’s first task as president should be working with China to combat climate change, former Gov. Jerry Brown writes in an op-ed, saying his own efforts — including a 2017 meeting with Xi Jinping — showed cooperation is “eminently feasible.”

Restaurant owners and employees are desperate. But the virus is out of control. Columnist Steve Lopez asks: Where’s Washington with some relief when we need it?

— To reverse Trump’s disastrous immigration policies even without cooperation from Congress, Biden can wield the same tool Trump did — executive action, writes University of Chicago law professor Nicole Hallett.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Trump has reportedly discussed whether to grant preemptive pardons to his children, to his son-in-law and to his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. (New York Times)

Stephen Colbert says he is ready for a little less excitement in the post-Trump years. (Vanity Fair)

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

The Fresh Prince of ... Thousand Oaks? A few years back, tech entrepreneur and Indiana native Andrew Lee found out he was related to Yi Seok, a royal descendent of the Joseon dynasty, who went on to name Lee crown prince in 2018. Now, the crown prince and his wife, Princess Nana Lee, have paid $12.6 million for a 20-acre estate in the Hidden Valley community. The sale takes the crown as the priciest home sale in Thousand Oaks this year, according to the Multiple Listing Service. But you can take a peek for free.

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


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