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Coronavirus Today: What to expect from a vaccine

Email sent: Jul 30, 2020 11:29pm

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Our special-edition newsletter breaks down the latest coronavirus news, including what scientists say to expect from a vaccine and how businesses are dealing with the pandemic-driven national coin shortage.
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Los Angeles Times

Coronavirus Today

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Thursday, July 30. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

When it comes to a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, scientists say it’s unlikely we’ll get a one-time shot that prevents the disease for years, like we have for measles, polio or shingles. Instead, we should expect routine immunizations similar to the ones we get for the seasonal flu.

And the efficacy threshold for a COVID-19 vaccine, per recent federal guidelines, is 50%. That means a successful vaccine would minimize the most serious symptoms in just half of the people who receive it.

“That vaccine may or may not keep people from being infected with the virus,” said the director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland. “But it does keep people out of the hospital and the ICU.”

California’s death toll has crossed 9,000 as officials try to contain outbreaks across the state, particularly those stemming from workplaces. The Department of Public Health is investigating more than 1,000 outbreaks and getting between 2,000 and 3,000 complaints about businesses every week. “I encourage all members of the public to report suspected outbreaks,” said L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis. “Actions of individual businesses and communities have an effect on each and every one of us.”

California, Arizona, Florida and Texas have been driving much of the nation’s growth in cases, but the country’s overall upward trend appears to be leveling off, public health experts say. It’s good news, but experts caution that we don’t know how long the improvement will last. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, is worried about rising percentages of tests coming back positive in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana. “That’s a warning sign that you might be seeing a surge,” he said.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 5:59 p.m. PDT Thursday:

Nearly 492,200 California cases and at least 9,019 deaths as of 5:59 p.m. PDT Thursday, July 30.
(Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics)

Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

See the current status of California’s reopening, county by county, with our tracker.

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Across California

California’s coronavirus task force was supposed to expand access to testing statewide and manage infrastructure and supplies. But the senior health official who oversaw it has resigned, dozens of members have departed and not been replaced, and the testing shortage continues. The team’s diminished state alarms some experts and former members who say a fully staffed team is needed more than ever. “California is far from out of the water,"said a health expert from Georgetown University. “It’s probable that the worst is yet to come.”

In L.A. County, men are dying of COVID-19 at a higher rate than women, according to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. He said that of the roughly 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the county that have occurred outside institutional living facilities such as nursing homes, jails and shelters, two-thirds have been men. “Men: Mask up. Men: Wash your hands. Clean your surfaces. Men: Don’t get together with other households,” he said Wednesday. Recent polling has found that American men are less likely to wear masks than women.

At least 40 people associated with four USC fraternity houses have been infected in an outbreak the school attributed to congregate living situations and social gatherings — examples of what school officials will probably have to deal with as classes resume. “If you have three or four of our students who are living together in an off-campus apartment, all we can do is give them our best recommendation and the best knowledge,” a UCLA spokesman said. “They have to make those decisions from there.”

Another outbreak was reported at a popular San Diego gym operating in defiance of county restrictions. Supervisor Greg Cox said San Diego County is working with cities and hammering out the details of how to form teams with law enforcement agencies that would work to ensure compliance.

Resources

— For general safety, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (here’s a super-fun how-to video). Stop touching your face, and keep your phone clean. Practice social distancing, maintaining a six-foot radius of personal space in public. And wear a mask if you leave home. Here’s how to do it right.
— Watch for symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic before going there.
— Need a COVID-19 test? Here’s how to receive a free test if you’re in L.A. County. And here’s a map of testing sites across California.
— Here’s how to care for someone with COVID-19, from monitoring their symptoms to preventing the virus’ spread.
— If your job has been affected by the pandemic, here’s how to file for unemployment.
— Here are some free resources for restaurant workers and entertainment industry professionals having trouble making ends meet.
— Advice for helping kids navigate pandemic life includes being honest about uncertainties, acknowledging their feelings and sticking to a routine. Here’s guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
— In need of mental health services? Here are resources for coping during the crisis from the CDC and the L.A. County Department of Mental Health. L.A. County residents can also call (800) 854-7771 or text “LA” to 741741.
Thinking about going out? Here’s how you can assess your risk.

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Around the nation and the world

We can now put a number on the U.S. economy’s record collapse: Gross domestic product fell at the equivalent of a stunning 32.9% annual rate in the second quarter, the highest on record and a level not seen since the Great Depression. That’s despite temporary pandemic relief measures that helped buoy the economy; the effect of those initial programs is now ebbing, as businesses run out of loans and grants to pay their workers. More than 54 million Americans, about a third of the workforce, have applied for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began, after another week of rising claims, new government data show.

One of the pandemic’s more unexpected economic side effects? A nationwide coin shortage affecting small-business owners, big retailers and everyday shoppers, especially those who don’t have credit or debit cards. Coins normally circulate through the economy through store transactions, but as people stay home, so does their change. Now businesses that are especially reliant on coins, such as laundromats and vending machines, are alarmed. “If we can’t make change, we can’t make money,” said the president of a network of laundromats in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Prominent Trump supporter and former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has died at the age of 74 after battling COVID-19. Cain had been ill with the disease for several weeks and was hospitalized two weeks after attending President Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., in June. On Capitol Hill, masks will now be required on the House floor, after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who had boasted about not wearing one, tested positive. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said failing to wear one would be a “serious breach of decorum” for which members could be removed from the chamber.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: Why is it so hard to find local data on the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19?

The answer is complicated.

First of all, we don’t have a full picture of what counts as recovery and when. Does it mean testing negative? No longer showing symptoms? If you never show symptoms, is it after your period of isolation ends?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t issued guidance on recovery. It says people who tested positive but never showed COVID-19 symptoms can safely end their isolation 10 days after their positive test. People who have shown symptoms should wait until their symptoms have improved, and until they have gone at least 10 days after their symptoms first appeared and at least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication. In neither case does the CDC mention waiting for a negative test result.

Indeed, testing shortages across California have made it difficult to get a clear picture not only of the real case numbers but also of the recoveries of patients who have previously tested positive.

Public data on recoveries are available from 48 of California’s 58 counties, but not all counties are tracking recovery data the same way. In the absence of guidance on how to define recovery otherwise, different health departments have devised different methods to try to gauge the number of recoveries.

For instance, Riverside County tracks recoveries with contact tracers, per the Orange County Register. A case investigator contacts each person who has tested positive after their 14-day isolation period ends. Once they’ve gone 72 hours without symptoms, their case is closed, and they’re counted as recovered.

The Long Beach Health Department also logs what it calls recoveries, but in a different way. Health officials actively track when patients sick enough to be hospitalized are released from the hospital. For all others who test positive and are not hospitalized, the department simply assumes that they have recovered once 10 days have passed. (That means the number of recoveries is more of a guess than an accurate data set.)

Then there’s the question of what it means to have recovered, and what long-term damage to patients’ health infection may cause.

Some people have said some effects of the disease have lingered long after they first tested positive. One wrote in a Times op-ed that his lingering cough lasted two months after he left the hospital and that follow-up tests showed “decreased total lung capacity.” Parisian opera singer Veronica Antonelli struggled with lung scarring and fatigue months after she first fell ill. And even though Essential California newsletter writer Julia Wick is better, four months after she got sick, her sense of taste still isn’t quite right.

Ultimately, health officials say that because the number of hospitalizations is less likely to be skewed by factors such as testing shortages, they are a better indicator of a county’s overall health than recoveries.

Got a question? Our reporters covering the coronavirus outbreak want to hear from you too. Email us your questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them. You can find more answers in our Frequently Asked Questions roundup and on our coronavirus roundup page.

For the most up-to-date coronavirus coverage from The Times, visit our homepage and our Health section, listen to our “Coronavirus in California” podcast and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.

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