Good evening. I’m Thuc Nhi Nguyen, and it’s Wednesday, May 5. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.
It’s been several months since the pandemic nearly overwhelmed Southern California hospitals. Although COVID-19 has loosened its grip, doctors here are contending with another deadly consequence of the outbreak: gun violence.
Bloodshed has surged as the economy faltered, leading to Los Angeles’ deadliest year of violence in a decade, my colleague Kevin Rector reports. Surrounding areas of L.A. County also experienced similar increases in gun violence.
The shootings rose as the coronavirus spread, but the progress against the pandemic hasn’t translated into calmer streets.
According to LAPD data, the city saw 465 shootings between Jan. 1 and May 1 — an almost 67% increase over the same period last year. Police officials across the country have noticed similar trends in their cities.
Gangs and disputes at homeless encampments are major factors in L.A., but the pandemic is the common thread for the nationwide uptick. COVID-19 wreaked havoc on social safety nets, torpedoed the economy and disrupted violence-prevention efforts like allowing intervention workers to sit with shooting victims or their family members to prevent cycles of retaliation. Some stimulus checks could have funded guns for isolated, angry youth, said Skipp Townsend, a gang interventionist.
“It’s frankly too many guns in too many hands,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the civilian Police Commission.
The trauma spreads to the doctors caring for gunshot victims, who beg for surgeons like Dr. Brant Putnam to keep them alive.
After 20 years as a surgeon, a 24-hour shift is a weekly occurrence for Putnam at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. But the pandemic combined with gun-related bloodshed has “definitely been one of the most stressful times in my entire career,” he said.
By the numbers
Simmzy’s restaurant in Long Beach doesn’t need Los Angeles County to further relax its pandemic rules to have its highest sales ever. The Belmont Shore gastropub was racking up record sales as the county progressed through the orange tier. Now in the yellow tier, the bar can be even higher.
The bar that serves alcohol, that is, which Simmzy’s will be able to reopen as soon as tomorrow.
County officials are on the cusp of issuing a new health order that will let restaurants and bars serve more customers in more ways. Indeed, L.A.’s graduation to the yellow tier brings hope for businesses trying to get back on their feet, my colleagues report.
“People just want to get out of the house. They want to get out, they want to eat, they want to be around other people,” Simmzy’s manager Rachel Gerdeman said. “It’s awesome.”
For some, getting out means going on a trip. The tourism industry is rebounding, with occupancy in Los Angeles hotels already topping 50% after falling to 20% at the worst part of the pandemic. The number is on track to approach 70% by mid-2022.
The looser rules may also bring people back to offices, but with many companies mixing remote and in-person work, businesses that cater mostly to office workers could struggle.
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., said many of his members aren’t ready to return to the office in full force yet.
Ensuring that employees are comfortable returning is key as we figure out our new normal, said Maria Salinas, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. “You can have all the safety measures in place, but part of what is going to make it is the psyche of feeling comfortable walking into a space.”
The yellow tier allows for increased capacity for indoor dining, gyms and sports venues, but that doesn’t mean everyone is throwing open their doors. In fact, the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers and Angels have no immediate plans to increase capacity at their home games, my colleague Steve Henson reports.
The reason: social distancing requirements that make it impossible to add more fans while keeping them six feet apart. Dodger Stadium can be two-thirds full under the new guidelines, but the team had no way to sell enough tickets to reach even the 33% limit under the orange tier because of distancing requirements. Staples Center can fill 50% of its seats in the yellow tier if everyone provides proof of full vaccination or a negative coronavirus test, but likely won’t approach that limit.
To bypass some social distancing requirements, the Dodgers introduced a 500-seat section for fully vaccinated fans where people can stand shoulder to shoulder. The team plans to expand the section to 1,000 on May 11. The Lakers and Clippers are working to follow suit, but need approval from the county and the NBA.
Violating distancing rules cost Amazon.com Inc. $41,000 after the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found numerous violations of COVID-19 protocol at a Rialto warehouse facility, my colleague Suhauna Hussain reports.
Amazon was hit with the fine after Cal/OSHA investigators found that the company failed to record coronavirus infections at the facility and to generally protect workers against potential exposure to the virus.
The months-long inspection revealed that LGB7, an Amazon fulfillment center in Rialto, didn’t implement adequate physical distancing, face coverings and physical barriers such as plexiglass screens that would help block infectious particles. There were also 217 unrecorded coronavirus infections among employees from April to October 2020.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company follows regulations, takes the health and safety of its employees seriously, and will contest the citation. “We believe our health and safety programs are more than adequate,” she said.
See the latest on California’s coronavirus closures and reopenings, and the metrics that inform them, with our tracker.
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Around the nation and the world
This week, California recorded its lowest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began, and experts expect that positive trend will spread across the country soon.
Projections from six research groups anticipate that coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths will drop dramatically by the end of July and continue to fall through September, even if vaccinations slow down.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a paper detailing the good news, but the experts also cautioned that a “substantial increase” in hospitalizations and deaths could occur if unvaccinated people don’t follow precautions like wearing a mask and distancing. And emerging coronavirus variants are a “wild card,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
Right now, the CDC is reporting an average of about 350,000 new cases each week, 35,000 hospitalizations and more than 4,000 deaths. By the end of July, the new weekly national cases could drop below 50,000 by July, hospitalizations to fewer than 1,000, and deaths to between 200 and 300.
The best-case scenario timeline lines up with President Biden’s goal of vaccination 70% of U.S. adults by July 4.
Weekly cases will still drop if vaccinations don’t keep pace with the president’s expectations and people ditch their masks too early, but they could number in the hundreds of thousands. Tens of thousands of people would still be hospitalized, and thousands of people could die every week.
“Something I am asked often is when will the pandemic be over and when can we go back to normal,” Walensky said. “The reality is: It all depends on the actions we take now.”
The CDC has played a prominent role in many areas of American life during the pandemic, but a federal judge is ordering the agency to stand down on one thing: its nationwide eviction moratorium.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled Wednesday that the eviction ban “must be set aside” because the CDC exceeded its authority when it put a temporary stop to evictions across all rental properties.
Despite the ruling — the third from a federal judge saying the CDC didn’t have power to ban evictions — renters could still be covered by other state or federal laws.
In California, residential tenants with a pandemic-related hardship cannot be evicted over nonpayment of rent until July at the earliest. A Los Angeles rule gives such tenants within city limits extra time to pay the rent they owe.
In science news, researchers are getting closer to understanding why COVID-19, which is best known as a respiratory disease, can also trigger an array of problems including memory lapses, fatigue and a certain sluggish, fuzzy feeling often referred to as “brain fog.”
A team from Louisiana State University Health Shreveport has shown that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is capable of infecting two types of brain cells — neurons and astrocytes, my colleague Amina Khan reports.
The work involved multiple steps. The researchers had to figure out whether cells of the central nervous system have the receptors the coronavirus needs to gain entry. They also needed to know whether the virus could sneak past the barrier designed to keep harmful pathogens and particles out of the brain, among other things.
There’s still plenty more to learn, said study leader Diana Cruz-Topete, a molecular endocrinologist. She said her team plans to look at samples of brain tissue, and eventually move on to examine the behavior of COVID-19 survivors.
“We want to see if there is an association between the changes we have seen and actual changes in behavior in people who have suffered the disease,” she said.
Your questions answered
Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: How can I persuade my loved ones to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Public health officials have stepped up their efforts to reach vaccine-hesitant people, and your conversations with friends and family could be positive steps to helping increase the vaccination rate. But the first step isn’t talking.
“First, it’s important to listen to what their hesitation is,” said Dr. Rita Burke, an assistant professor of clinical preventive medicine at USC Keck School of Medicine. “Why are they hesitating about getting the vaccine?”
Getting the precise answer to that question is important because the vaccine-hesitant umbrella is expansive. Concerns about safety and long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccines are some of the biggest roadblocks Burke encounters in her discussions. Some may decline to get vaccinated for political reasons. Others, especially people of color, may take a pass because they don’t trust the government or the healthcare system.
Understanding the reasons for your loved one’s hesitancy is the most important thing. Only after you meet them where they are can you move forward together.
A positive message that may help is one that emphasizes the benefits of vaccination. For example, you can talk about how the vaccines are allowing people to return to some normal activities, like socializing without masks.
But be wary of turning it into a good-versus-bad conversation where the compliant group gets a reward and the other group is punished.
“If something becomes stigmatized, people become reluctant to admit that they’re part of that ‘problem’-causing group so the situation actually becomes exacerbated,” said Dr. Chandra Ford, a professor of community health sciences at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
Ford recommends trying to make appropriate resources available for your loved ones based on their specific concerns and letting them make their own informed decision. It’s not about coercion, guilt or bribing them with invitations to vaccinated-only get-togethers. That may solve the problem temporarily, but it doesn’t do much to move the needle for future public health messages.
“It’s better to lay the foundation,” Ford said, “one of respect, that allows them to build on the possibly that people will be more open across the long haul in ways that they’re not right now.”
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