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Newsletter: Coronavirus testing under scrutiny

 Protective masks are sold out Thursday at a CVS Pharmacy in Oakland.
Protective masks are sold out Thursday at a CVS Pharmacy in Oakland.
(John G. Mabanglo / EPA/Shutterstock )

Experts are questioning the adequacy of coronavirus testing efforts in the U.S.

TOP STORIES

Coronavirus Testing Under Scrutiny

A four-day delay in testing a Northern California patient who appears to be the first in the United States to contract the coronavirus from community contact highlights questions about the federal government’s testing policies and protocols as the virus continues to spread.

More and more experts have said problems with the test process — including ineffective test kits and restrictive rules on who gets tested — could be fueling the undetected spread of the virus. Because the symptoms are frequently mild, people could be spreading it unknowingly.

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Amid these concerns, senior Trump administration officials have told Congress they are speeding distribution of testing kits. But the political backlash has continued to multiply, as lawmakers contend that the administration has failed to adequately prepare — and as the White House has moved to channel all public comments by federal health officials through the vice president’s office.

Several Democrats have also raised concerns that the Department of Health and Human Services did not adequately train or provide necessary protective gear to health workers sent to assist Americans who were flown back from coronavirus hot zones in China and elsewhere last month and quarantined at Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base in California.

Meanwhile, U.S. stocks continued to drop yesterday in response to the outbreak, pushing the market into a correction — that is, down 10% or more from a recent peak.

What a Difference Four Years Makes

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When South Carolinians vote in the Democratic presidential primary on Saturday, former Vice President Joe Biden is still looking for his first win of the season. But as Sen. Bernie Sanders enjoys front-runner status in the overall race so far, he has gained traction among Democrats in South Carolina too — a far cry from four years ago when he got crushed in the voting.

Sanders could even pick up some support from President Trump fans on Saturday. In South Carolina, where registered voters can vote in either party primary, Republican activists have urged GOP members to choose Sanders. Trump has stepped up his efforts to boost Sanders’ campaign and to sow doubts among Sanders’ supporters about the fairness of the nomination process, in an update of the disruptive strategy he believes helped him win the White House four years ago.

Looking ahead to Super Tuesday, Sanders has taken a commanding lead in California, ahead of his nearest rival by 2 to 1 and on track to win a majority of the huge trove of delegates at stake in the March 3 primary, according to the final UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll of the contest.

‘I Don’t Recognize My Country’

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Poland was once hailed as a post-Soviet success story in democracy. These days, there is fear that story is ending. Lawmakers in the nationalist government have imposed restrictions on news outlets and museums, called for closing the borders to Muslim refugees and railed against gay rights as a foreign “threat to Polish identity.” The judges in Poland who have dared to speak out against the government are facing harassment and even death threats. “I don’t recognize my country,” says one judge who’s been called a traitor, thief and disgrace to his country.

The Final Journey Home

When the day comes, where would your final resting place be? For some Mexican immigrants, the answer to that deeply personal question would be back in the motherland — even if they have spent decades building their lives in the U.S. The Mexican government does not publish comprehensive data on remains sent from abroad, but the consulate that authorizes all such shipments from L.A. County provided statistics showing that over the last five years it approved transport for 6,740 bodies or sets of cremains.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

In 1938, a series of storms flooded L.A. over three days in late February and early March. Bridges were washed away, neighborhoods flooded and dozens of people died. The Times reported in 1999 that the situation was further complicated when “hysterical radio reporters described catastrophes that never occurred,” like Calabasas being wiped off the map.

But the flood’s biggest legacy was in how it forever altered the Los Angeles River. A population boom had put entire communities in the path of flood runoff, and so crews of workers transformed the natural river into a flood control system with dams and concrete channels.

March 2, 1938: Los Angeles River floodwaters destroy a Southern Pacific railroad bridge. This photo was taken from North Figueroa Street bridge.
(Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

— The University of Southern California must change how it handles sexual harassment and face three years of federal monitoring, per an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education. The sanctions cap an investigation into USC’s handling of complaints about gynecologist George Tyndall, whom The Times revealed had been accused of harassing multiple patients over the years.

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L.A. County sheriff’s deputies shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others, according to two public safety sources with knowledge of the events.

Proposition 13, the $15-billion bond measure to improve school facilities, has been endorsed by schools across California, but not Los Angeles Unified School District. Of concern in L.A.: reductions in developer fees and how the state would distribute the money.

— California’s snowpack is far below what it normally is this time of year, and it’s down significantly from last month’s measurement. Blame a record-dry February.

— For West Hollywood therapist Amie Harwick, a recent red-carpet run-in was the beginning of the end, say authorities and her friends. Her ex-boyfriend has been arrested and charged with her murder.

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— This week’s fire at Marathon Petroleum in Carson, the West Coast’s largest oil refinery, was sparked in a section inspectors recently cited for workplace safety violations.

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YOUR WEEKEND

— Some of Southern California’s best-known gardens are pricey. But these beautiful gardens, from Palm Springs to Santa Barbara, won’t break your budget.

— If you’re willing to venture a little farther and spend a little more, Filoli is Silicon Valley’s century-old hidden haven.

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— Get your eyebrows touched up. Or find out why other people do.

— Want to shop like a chef? Here’s what the names behind L.A.'s biggest restaurants buy.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— Before “American Dirt,” there was “Famous All Over Town.” Here’s how a 1980s literary hoax tested the limits of authenticity in publishing.

— As presidential candidates complete campaign tours, Hillary Clinton has been on one of her own: to promote “Hillary,” a new documentary series on Hulu. And coming soon via Vice: a new documentary on Meghan Markle.

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Musical instruments are maimed on airplanes with tragic regularity. But there are some things musicians can do.

— Is it theater? Is it film? It’s “Cages,” a new show in Los Angeles’ Arts District. Just don’t call it a musical.

NATION-WORLD

— Notes in the college admissions scandal show the scheme’s mastermind had written that his FBI handlers wanted him “to bend the truth” and tell clients that payments to his charity were bribes, not donations to college athletic programs. What they thought they were is at the heart of the case against Lori Loughlin and other parents charged with defrauding USC, and they’ll go on trial starting Oct. 5.

— Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has been sentenced to three years in prison for arranging fraudulent sales of her self-published children’s books to nonprofits and foundations to fund her run.

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— The Trump administration is ready to end Chevron’s access to oil from Venezuela as the U.S. tries to squeeze the Maduro regime.

Swamp rats are invading California and other states. Lawmakers in Washington have a plan to eradicate them.

BUSINESS

— Flippy’s chicken tenders come out perfect every time, he accepts only $3 an hour, and he never takes a day off. He’s part of a new generation of robots designed for the food industry.

Facebook, Microsoft and Epic Games have canceled plans for conferences in the San Francisco Bay Area as coronavirus spreads.

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Walmart is developing its own membership program to rival Amazon Prime.

SPORTS

— It might be an unpopular conclusion in Dodgertown, but new analyses of the Astros’ 2017 season by baseball’s corps of unofficial statisticians indicate the team’s cheating may have hurt them more than it helped, columnist Michael Hiltzik writes.

NASCAR returns to Southern California this weekend a bit rattled, a bit nostalgic and with its top drivers eager to race again at Auto Club 400.

OPINION

— One group is tarring an L.A. City Council candidate as both a socialist and a conservative in different mailers, showing that ours is a world where dirty politics and disinformation are the rule, writes editorial writer Kerry Cavanaugh.

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— The current Supreme Court is driven not by freedom or justice but by cruelty, argues author Adam Cohen.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

TikTok is turning kids into celebrities faster than ever. What happens when the viral party is over? (Vox)

— Spy satellite images show how the Himalayan glaciers are rapidly melting from climate change. (The New Yorker)

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

Each year, a handful of stranded or orphaned sea otter pups are placed into a sort of fuzzy foster care. At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, rescued babies are paired with female otters, who take them in, care for them and show them the ropes. While officials say the surrogacy program has been effective, there’s one significant hurdle: capacity. That’s where Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific comes in. The two institutions have announced a partnership to expand the service. Monterey Bay Aquarium officials say the original program came about somewhat by chance in the 1990s when they came into possession of a female otter that had just lost a pup, and a pup that had been orphaned: “We said, ‘Hey, we have peanut butter and we have chocolate here, can we make a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup?’”

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


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