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Coronavirus Is Putting LA Metro Deep In The Hole

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(Photo Courtesy Steve Hymon/L.A. Metro via Flickr)

The coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on public transportation services across the Los Angeles.

LA Metro already scaled back weekday bus and rail services due to the outbreak – in recent weeks, ridership has plummeted by 70 to 80%.

That's put a big dent in farebox revenue. Ordinarily, Metro would expect $23 million from riders each month.

The agency is also contending with a steep drop in sales tax revenue from L.A. County, its largest source of funding. The county shortfall is projected at more than one billion dollars from March through the end of August. Metro CEO Phil Washington told our public affairs show AirTalk today that the agency is banking on federal stimulus dollars through the CARE Act:

"All of that is in the mix, if you will. But our losses will exceed anything we get from the federal government."

Washington says he wants to avoid furloughing staff to balance Metro's budget, adding that the revenue situation is being reviewed on a day-by-day basis. The agency is calculating the overall cost of providing face masks and other personal protective equipment to its drivers, rail operators, and other staff.

MORE ON TRANSPORTATION

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Tom Hanks Gives His Blood Plasma To UCLA For Coronavirus Research

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Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson attend the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland February 9. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Actor Tom Hanks made waves as one of the first celebrities to contract coronavirus. Now, he's donating his plasma to UCLA researchers to help in the broader fight against COVID-19.

Hanks shared pictures on Twitter today of the bag of plasma he donated, saying that the process was "as easy as taking a nap."

He also personally thanked UCLA infectious disease epidemiologist, Dr. Anne Rimoin.

Hanks and his wife, the actress Rita Wilson, contracted COVID-19 last month while shooting a movie in Australia. They have since returned to Los Angeles.


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Riverside County Extends Face Masks And Social Distancing Into June

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A sign advertising tests for COVID-19 is seen on April 9, 2020, in Indio. (Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Face coverings and social distancing will remain in effect until June 19 in Riverside County.

That revised order came Wednesday from the county's top health officer who also said stay-at-home orders will follow those from the state.

Riverside County Health Director Dr. Cameron Kaiser says pandemic measures should be considered the "new normal."

“We expect there to be sporadic outbreaks throughout the summer. And since there will still be virus in circulation, there is a decent chance that it will be back in the fall. And when it is, it will be very hard to get that genie back in the bottle.”

Bruce Barton, who heads the county's emergency management, says more than 4 million meals have been given to students from the county's 23 school districts.

“Over 210 sites, as well as along bus routes for those that have limited transportation so that they can pick up meals at those bus stops,” he said.

There are nearly 4,000 cases of COVID-19 in Riverside County and 142 people have died.

Testing is being offered to anyone, regardless of their symptoms, at its four drive-through facilities.

The map below comes from the JSK Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University and the Big Local News group, in partnership with the Google News Initiative.

NOTE: The confirmed case and fatality totals below may not be updated as frequently as the totals you see above. You can explore other counties, states and the U.S. on the whole at COVID-19 Case Mapper.

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Parts Of SoCal Have ‘Unhealthy’ Air Right Now

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SCAQMD's hourly Air Quality Index, at 3:30 on April 29, 2020 (Southern California Air Quality Management District)

It feels like yesterday that we were celebrating Southern California’s great air quality – with lots of caveats – thanks to reduced traffic due to the shutdown.

But look up at the sky and you’ll see it’s smoggy in some places. It’s not your imagination, the air quality is getting worse even though things are still shut down.

READ FULL STORY


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Some Laid-Off Workers In LA Will Be First In Line For Their Old Jobs

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A worker at Burbank Airport. (File photo by Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Some Los Angeles workers who were laid off as businesses were closed during the coronavirus pandemic will get first dibs on getting their jobs back when the city reopens.

The L.A. City Council has passed a worker recall ordinance that covers businesses like hotels, airports and performance venues and aims to help workers like maids, janitors and security guards.

Reopened businesses must give laid-off workers the opportunity to return to their jobs. If an employee doesn't respond or claim their jobs, then businesses can hire new workers.

Council Member Paul Koretz says this rule is needed to protect experienced workers.

"In some cases, without that, a company will decide that this is a great opportunity for them to bust their union, basically leave everybody fired from their current workforce and hire all new employees."

A second ordinance requires places like hotels to retain workers when a business is sold to new owners. Both ordinances exclude smaller businesses like hotels with fewer than 50 rooms.

Koretz said the council tried to balance the needs of both businesses and workers, and that this could simplify the rehiring process for businesses when they reopen.

"Everybody's harmed in this pandemic, so we try to help as much as we can without overdoing it, and I think in this case it does exactly that. I don't believe this ordinance will do any harm to employers, but it helps guarantee that longtime, loyal employees get hired back."

Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week he would sign both ordinances.

MORE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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LA Becomes The First Major City In The US To Offer Free Testing To Every Resident, Even Those With No Symptoms

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L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti in his Wednesday, March 25, 2020 press conference. via Eric Garcetti's Youtube channel

Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti announced today that all Angelenos, even those without symptoms, can now get tested for COVID-19, at no cost.

"Los Angeles will become the first major city in America to offer wide-scale testing to all of our residents, with or without symptoms," he said in his daily press briefing, adding that those with symptoms wil always have first priority.

The mayor said this policy will start tonight.

An example of someone who might benefit from this new policy is a person who isn't showing any symptoms, but knows they were exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. It could also be helpful for determining who is safe to go back to work, when the economy starts to gradually re-open.

The mayor empahsized that these tests will be free for everyone in L.A. County:

"You can't put a price on the peace of mind knowing that you can't infect somebody around you."

He urged anyone who would like a test to sign up as soon as possible (while capacity lasts) via the city's coronavirus information page https://corona-virus.la/.

"It's not going to be 4 million people rushing to the testing centers overnight," he added, saying that the extra capacity of tests would, however, allow folks to get tested multiple times, if needed. He discourage people from going to get tested everyday, though, saying "that's nobody's advice."

Note: A spokesperson from the mayor's office confirmed that the testing website is moving slowly due to increased traffic following the mayor's announcement. Crashes have been fixed, as of 6:50 p.m., and it should be up and running again now.

UPDATES ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

In response to an increase in domestic violence emergency calls to LAPD, the city is launching a program called Project Safe Haven, which will offer housing to 900 domestic abuse survivors over the coming months. The program is being funded by a 4.2 million dollar donation from Rihanna and Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter.

The project will also include wraparound services and case management for survivors.

The mayor urged anyone experiencing domestic abuse who is in need of help to call 9-1-1 or visit coronavirus.lacity.org/resources to learn how to sign up for assistance.

UPDATES ON JOB PROTECTION

The mayor also announced that he signed, today, an ordinance that will protect workers in the hardest-hit industries, who have lost their jos as a result of COVID-19, by guaranteeing that they will be first in line to get their jobs back, once the economy re-opens.

OTHER UPDATES:

In response to a question from a reporter about other cities like Austin, Oakland, Denver and San Francisco blocking off streets from traffic to make walking on them safe for social distancing, the mayor said he supports the idea and is open to it, but probably won't make a move to do anything similar until May 15, when the city begins to take small steps to re-open.

He said he wants to make sure he does it right, without causing large numbers of people to flock to the same spot, which could potentially spread the virus.

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Santa Monica Task Force Will Try To Get City Back On Its Feet ASAP

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The view to Santa Monica pier on a very quiet beach on March 25. (Taylor Coffman / LAist)

Like other cities across Southern California, Santa Monica is organizing a task force dedicated to helping the local economy get back on its feet as soon as the state and L.A. County relax stay-at-home orders.

The plan would allow city officials to collaborate with local businesses and community groups as they formulate plans to reboot the city's economy.

Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta says the task force would also look at ways to make it easier for businesses to get certain permits, relax zoning rules when appropriate, and connect those who have lost work or income with new jobs:

"What this work is really about is getting our businesses open, and helping them set up - be set up, for success - the businesses that are at the heart of what has made Santa Monica such an attractive and vibrant place to live, work, visit, and play."

Among the 98,000 businesses in Santa Monica, only about 255 are considered "essential services," though many — like restaurants — are running under limited operations.

Like cities across the state and nation, Santa Monica is facing a painful loss in revenue.

Santa Monica's City Manager Rick Cole stepped down earlier this month, citing the city's projected budget shortfall and concern that he was not in the best position to negotiate with the unions.

In a farewell letter posted on the city's blog, Cole, who served for five years, said he was voluntarily taking the city's lump sum offer of $10,000 to $15,000 for employees who resign. The offer was made by council to address lost city revenue.

Cole said he believed "the need to deal with a projected $300 million dollar shortfall over the next 26 months puts us all in a nearly impossible situation."

MORE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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Chill Out For Free — LA County Residents Can Get Headspace Plus Meditation Subscriptions For $0

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A screenshot from the Headspace signup page for L.A. County residents. (Via Headspace)

Has your mind had a lot on it lately? You know, because you're a human, who's aware of the world and the struggles we're all going through right now?

Well, if you live in Los Angeles County, help may have arrived. The L.A. County Department of Mental Health announced a partnership this week with local company Headspace to give free premium access to the popular meditation/mindfulness app for the rest of the year.

But it's only for L.A. County residents, and when you sign up, the website will be checking your location to make sure you qualify. You can sign up at Headspace.com/LACounty.

It's part of the County Mental Health Department's response to coronavirus.

"Managing radical change over a short period of time can be difficult and may trigger anxiety, panic, frustration and depression," the department said in a press release. "Taking the time to care for your physical and mental health is especially important right now."

The County notes that you'll be able to get your ohmmmms on with hundreds of guided meditations in both English and Spanish. Headspace Plus also had mindful workouts and sleep exercises meant to help with stress and anxiety.

"The world is an increasingly stressful place these days, and amid the uncertainty of this public health crisis, it’s crucial to provide support and equip people with the tools to help decrease stress, anxiety and loneliness," Headspace's chief science officer said in a press release.

If you've already got a Headspace Plus subscription... you don't qualify. Sorry if that adds to the stress you're using that subscription to address.

But if you're outside L.A. County, Headspace also has a free collection in the app with meditations meant to help deal with the current coronavirus crisis, called "Weathering the Storm." They're also offering free access to health care workers in public health, K-12 teachers, and other school support staff.

So find somewhere comfortable to sit for a few minutes and take some deep, socially distanced breaths — right after you sign up. You can also find more resources from the Mental Health Department to help cope with coronavirus-related stress here.

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Bored At Home? Take A Trip To The Geffen Stayhouse

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A screenshot from Kathryn Hahn and her family performing an excerpt of "Glengarry Glen Ross" using dolls, as part of The Geffen Playhouse's Geffen Stayhouse video series. (Photo from The Geffen Playhouse)

Theater-going is among the many, many things we can’t do anymore.

But that doesn’t mean the stage is completely off-limits. The Geffen Playhouse, Westwood's non-profit theater company, run through UCLA, has launched a YouTube series called The Geffen Stayhouse. It's an attempt by the theater to bring its community of audiences and performers back together, in these trying times.

“I want to stay in contact with our patrons, who we miss dearly,” said artistic director Matt Shakman on KPCC’s Take Two. “And I want to stay in contact with our Geffen artists.”

Each short video featured in the "stayhouse" includes a Geffen alum doing a performance of their choice.

Our top pick? A profanity-laden excerpt from the play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” performed by actress Kathryn Hahn and her family, using American Girl dolls.

The series also includes some powerful music performances by people like Zonya Love, who brings down the house (in her own house) with the gospel song, “Hang On Just a Little While Longer.”

A new video comes out every Wednesday.

“How do I create intimacy through an internet world? We’re trying to do that in small steps forward,” said Shakman.

It’s the first step, of many, for the theater community -- which is now faced with the task of figuring out how to perform in our stay-at-home world.

In a few weeks, the Geffen will debut a new kind of show called, “The Present,” which will be performed live, with a twist -- viewers wil get a surprise present in the mail, to open as the play unfolds. Right now, it might just be one of the hottest things in town: tickets for the 5-week run sold out in less than an hour.

Listen to the full interview with Matt Shakman below:

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Coronavirus Cases, Death Rate 'Extremely High' Among Native Hawaiians And Pacific Islanders In LA County

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Notices remind library patrons to wash their hands. Chava Sanchez/ LAist

Los Angeles County officials reported 1,541 new confirmed cases of coronavirus today, bringing the total to at least 22,485 cases countywide. Of those cases, Long Beach reported 602 and Pasadena reported 383 (both cities operate their own health departments).

L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer also reported 56 new deaths of COVID-19 patients. The total number of deaths countywide now stands at 1,056.

Of the people who have died so far, 92% had underlying health conditions, Ferrer said. That statistic that has not changed for two weeks.

Ferrer also provided a racial breakdown of the confirmed deaths, based on information confirmed for 977 of the victims. According to the latest available information:

  • 13% African American [9% of county residents]
  • 18% Asian [15.4% of county residents]
  • 38% Latino/Latina [48.6% of county residents]
  • 28% White [26.1% of county residents]
  • 1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander [0.4% of county residents]
  • 1% identified as belonging to a different race or ethnicity

The rates of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 are "extremely high" among native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in L.A. County, Ferrer said.

According to U.S. Census data, native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders make up less than half a percent of L.A. County residents but account for about 1% of COVID-19 deaths right now, according to the county's estimates.

Regarding the socioeconomic disparities that have emerged in infection and fatality rates, she added:

"Rates of cases and deaths are also higher among people with less income while the rate of testing increases as income increases. These trends are troubling and of great concern, and they suggest that more affluent residents may have better access to COVID-19 testing and to health treatment services — even as the rates of infection appear to be higher among lower-income communities and many communities of color."

Ferrer added that there's an urgent need "to expand access to culturally competent testing, treatment and prevention strategies" for African Americans, Latinos and Latinas, and native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in L.A. County.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, who oversees the county's Department of Health Services, presented a series of slides to show county-level modeling. One thing public health officials have learned: COVID-19 patients are staying in hospitals longer than originally projected.

(Courtesy L.A. County)

"We're still learning about the clinical treatment and the course progression of those with COVID-19 and are learning directly from the experience of real patients in Los Angeles County who have the disease and are receiving care across public and private hospitals," Ghaly said. "Despite this increase in the length of stay, we are still well within the hospital system's capacity to meet our anticipated demand for beds."

Ghaly also noted that L.A. County continues to have "a sufficient supply of ventilators" for patients who need them.

The countywide effort to flatten the curve through social distancing and the stay-at-home order has been working, Ghaly added, but she offered this warning, based on the current projections:

"The model continues to show that we must maintain physical distancing, and that if we were to pare that back suddenly to pre-order levels, the situation would be dire, with the vast majority of virtually all of the county... infected by summer."

Here are some other key figures being reported today:

  • More than 139,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 and had the results reported to county health officials. Of those tests, 14% have been positive.
  • There are currently 1,940 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those individuals, 28% are in the ICU, with 17% on ventilators.
  • In total 4,715 people who've tested positive for coronavirus in L.A. County have "at some point" been hospitalized, Ferrer said, which represents 22% of all positive cases.
  • The death toll at the county's institutional settings, particularly nursing homes, continues to climb. Ferrer reported that 498 residents at those facilities have died and all had underlying health conditions. That number represents 47% of all deaths countywide.
  • The large increase in cases reported today was due in large part to increased testing at institutional facilities, Ferrer said. The county health department is currently investigating 329 institutional facilities where there's at least one confirmed case of COVID-19. Those sites include nursing homes, assisted living facilities, shelters, treatment centers, supportive living and correctional facilities.
  • Ferrer said there are now 4,950 confirmed cases in those institutional settings — 3,041 residents and 1,902 staff members.

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MORE ON CORONAVIRUS:

Why ‘Trolls’ Scares Theaters As Much As Coronavirus

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"Trolls World Tour" was set to premiere in theaters on April 10. Then the pandemic hit. (Universal Pictures)

The animated musical “Trolls World Tour” was supposed to be a harmless little family movie. But its release has sparked an internecine industry war over how movies might be released in the future.

Threats, boycotts, angry letters — all because of some brightly colored furry creatures?

READ JOHN HORN'S TAKE ON THE BREWING BATTLE:

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Orange County Supervisor Makes Surprise Appearance During Gov. Newsom Phone Q&A

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Gov. Gavin Newsom chuckling as a reporter put an Orange County supervisor on the phone with him during his daily coronavirus press conference. (Via Gov. Newsom's Facebook page)

Gov. Gavin Newsom was clear this week that he wasn't exactly thrilled by the images of the crowded beaches in Orange County over the weekend.

Then yesterday, Orange County supervisors voted to adopt their own set of guidelines on when businesses can reopen. And Newport Beach leaders voted 5-2 to keep their beaches open, after saying they'd consider shutting down after seeing the crowds.

So it wasn't surprising at today's briefing with Newsom to hear Good Day L.A. journalist Hailey Winslow ask the governor a question about the issue. She told him, in fact, that she was in the middle of interviewing Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner.

"I can't help you with the interview," Newsom interjected, chuckling. But as he was responding, Winslow put Supervisor Wagner on the line.

"The Orange County order satisfies Orange County — the sheriff will not come and ticket you — but the state orders and any local city orders remain in place," Wagner said to the governor.

Newsom responded, noting that conditions are different in various parts of California.

"I will say, about Orange County, it's important — the supervisor is well aware of this — Orange County is the fourth highest number of people, of all 58 counties, hospitalized in the state of California. I'm concerned about that," Newsom said.

The governor also expressed concern about neighboring L.A. and San Diego counties being No. 1 and 2 in hospitalizations.

READ MORE ABOUT TODAY'S BRIEFING

MORE ON ORANGE COUNTY BEACHES

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Gov. Newsom: California 'A Week Or Two' From Loosening Stay-At-Home Orders; Farm/Food Bank Assistance Program Announced

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The governor said that California is a week or two away from modifying its stay-at-home orders, as long as coronavirus numbers remain stable. This follows Gov. Gavin Newsom laying out the four phases for loosening California stay-at-home restrictions yesterday. Read highlights below or watch the video above.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

There were 78 coronavirus-related deaths in California today, Newsom said — while still down from last week's peak, the number of deaths has risen each day this week. The number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus went up 1.2%, while the number of patients in ICU beds increased 0.4%. Newsom said these numbers are still within the range of stability, though they still want to see those numbers moving down.

"I can't impress upon folks more that, just because we're at a stage of exhaustion and frustration, and a little bit of cabin fever, that this virus [is] behind us — it simply is not," Newsom said. "Take the medical professionals' word for it. We can undo our progress in a very short period of time. What's taken us almost two months to produce, in terms of getting stable numbers, could be unwound in just a week or two. Why put ourselves in that position when we are just a week or two away from significant modifications on our stay-at-home order?"

The state managed to hit its goal of conducting more than 25,000 tests per day by the end of the month yesterday, though the average has been just over 20,000 per day, Newsom said. There have been 603,000 coronavirus tests conducted so far in California.

ORANGE COUNTY SUPERVISOR MAKES SURPRISE PHONE APPEARANCE

A journalist from Good Day L.A., asking a question by phone, said that she was interviewing Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner and put him on the line as well during her question, following Orange County supervisors adopting their own set of guidelines on when businesses can reopen.

"The Orange County order satisfies Orange County — the sheriff will not come and ticket you — but the state orders and any local city orders remain in place," Wagner said to the governor.

You can read more about Newsom and Winslow's exchange here.

The governor also expressed concern about neighboring L.A. and San Diego counties being number 1 and 2 in hospitalizations.

SUPPORTING FARMERS AND FOOD BANKS

The governor announced a new initiative to help farmers and food banks, with food not being bought from farms and people in need for food from food banks. The program is designed to connect farmers and ranchers with food banks to help them provide food to those in need, while supporting farmers and farmworkers as well. It keeps food from being thrown away by farms, and provides farmers with a 15% tax credit.

The program sends food boxes that can provide familes with food for three to four days, Newsom said.

The farm/food bank program is aiming to provide 21 million pounds from farms to food banks every month, and they're hoping to extend the program through the end of the year, Newsom said. The program is made possible through parternships with the federal government and philanthropy, according to the governor.

UNEMPLOYMENT APPLICATIONS

Since March 12, 3.7 million Californians have applied for unemployment, Newsom said. So far, more than $6 billion in benefits have been distributed, including $1.2 billion distributed yesterday, he added.

There was a spike in applications Tuesday, Newsom said, including those applying for the PUA pandemic assistance program that opened yesterday that gives unemployment assistance to freelance/gig workers. A few months ago, there were 2,500 applications per day for unemployment in California — yesterday, that was 235,000 applicants, Newsom said.

PAYING RESTAURANTS TO DELIVER MEALS TO SENIORS

Newsom provided an update on government paying restaurants to deliver meals to seniors, noting that it is up to cities to work with the restaurants and get them set up. He noted that Los Angeles is one of the cities already taking the lead in this area.

MORE UPDATES

The CalFresh program previously didn't allow participants to purchase groceries online, but the federal government has given California a waiver allowing CalFresh participants to buy groceries online, Newsom said. Currently, the 2.2 million households in the program can purchase groceries online from Amazon and Walmart.

Another waiver is making up to $1.4 billion from the CARES Act available to provide meals for the 3.8 million children eligible for reduced-cost or free meals that had been provided by schools, Newsom said, with an additional $365 each available under the pandemic EBT program to help those families.

The state has acquired 12,603 rooms for the homeless so far as part of its coronavirus response through Project Roomkey, Newsom said.

WHAT'S NEXT

Newsom said that more details on testing and contact tracing will be announced Thursday.

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Long Beach Wants Residents To Weigh In On How To Reopen Businesses

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A couple walks by the sea in Long Beach late last month. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)

Long Beach residents and business owners: Your government wants to hear your thoughts on how to reopen the city.

City officials have released an online survey called ReopenLB to get a sense of how comfortable people are with certain businesses reopening once the stay-at-home orders lift, and what barriers still exist to safely return to work.

Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement:

"Our economic recovery survey gives every resident and local business an opportunity to weigh in on how to reopen the Long Beach economy in the safest way possible. We think the best ideas and most innovative ideas are going to come from the small business owners who know their business and customers."

The survey gives respondents a long list of businesses and activities — including gyms, libraries, large gatherings, parks, movie theaters, retail and more — and asks which ones they feel could reopen safely. It also asks how people plan to return safely to work, and what obstacles city leaders could address.

"We think that small business owners are going to have the best and most innovative ideas on how to reopen their small businesses," Garcia said at today's news briefing. "We want you to take this survey - we've already had six thousand people that have signed up."

Ultimately, it's up to city leaders to decide when and how to modify the stay-at-home order, but they say they will consider community feedback in their roadmap for reopening. Officials will continue to collect responses until 5 p.m. on Monday, May 4.

DO YOU HAVE INPUT?

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How Will Kids Go To School After Coronavirus? State Official Offers Ideas

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A sign outside of Kettering Elementary School in Long Beach announces that school will be closed until April 20th. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist

Yesterday, Governor Gavin Newsom threw public schools a curveball. He announced he’s “considering” asking schools to start the new school year earlier than normal — perhaps as soon as July.

How would that work? We really don’t know for sure. We’d really like to know. So would a lot of teachers.

During a legislative hearing yesterday, State Board of Education Chair Linda Darling-Hammond gave some indication of how California officials envision schools reopening, whenever that happens. Some highlights:

  • Newsom suggests students might have to ‘stagger’ their schedules — what does that mean? Would there be a morning shift and a night shift? Would it be like the bygone days in Los Angeles Unified, when students attended overcrowded schools year-round? On Tuesday, Darling-Hammond suggested students might attend a physical classroom every day, spending half their time in distance learning at home. This would make it easier to maintain physical distancing on campuses.
  • Keep kids with the same teachers — for a while: It’s a practice known as “looping,” and Darling-Hammond says research on “continuity in student-teacher relationships” supports her suggestion. She suggested schools might pass students on to their next grade-level teacher after the first quarter of next school year.
  • Schools may have to close campuses again and should be prepared to “toggle between being open and closed” if coronavirus cases spike, Darling-Hammond said.

When will schools reopen? Also unclear — and it’s not even clear how eager local school officials are to run with the governor’s suggestion.

But all of the uncertainty is beginning to fray nerves.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said he has been disappointed by what he called a lack of clear guidance from the state’s Department of Education on distance learning:

If this is the way things are going, why don’t we just do a red-shirt year? Let’s just take off next year! Let’s just call it what it is — if there are no guidelines and every teacher for him or herself … I thought that as a parent, I would feel reassured after this panel, and I’m even more concerned afterwards.

MORE COVID-19 EDUCATION COVERAGE:

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They're Combating Domestic Violence With Food And Toys

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(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

With domestic violence calls in L.A. County up 8% over this time last year, the Violence Intervention Program started calling people to see what might reduce their stress while cooped up at home during the pandemic.

The answer: Food, care packages with toys, and help finding ways to get some rent relief.

READ OUR FULL REPORT

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More Than Half Of Inmates At Federal Prison In San Pedro Have Coronavirus

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(Erik Mclean/Unsplash)

More than half the inmates at the low-security federal prison on Terminal Island in San Pedro have tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported on its website that 570 inmates and 10 staff had tested positive. Two inmates have died. There are 1,055 prisoners at the facility.

In response to the pandemic, the prison has suspended inmate use of telephone and email stations until May 18. Visiting has also been suspended “until further notice.”

The Bureau of Prisons said it would modify operations at its facilities to increase social distancing. “Such actions will include consideration of staggered meal times and staggered recreation times, for example, in order to limit congregate gatherings,” according to the BOP’s website.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-LA) said the high case count at Terminal island indicates the Bureau of Prisons is “violating the Constitution.” He tweeted:

“I believe forcing prisoners to be in settings where they have high exposure to a life-threatening virus constitutes Cruel and Unusual Punishment.”

MORE ON DETENTION FACILTIES

UPDATE:

1:45 p.m.: This story was updated to reflect the latest case numbers reported by the Bureau of Prisons.

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How Coronavirus Could Devour LA County's Social Safety Net

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A man rides a bicycle in front of a row of homeless tents above a freeway on April 7, 2020 in Los Angeles. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

As L.A. County leaders confront the large holes that the coronavirus crisis has carved into tax revenues, they're expressing fear that social safety net programs could be endangered without a new round of federal help.

Extended foster care, substance abuse beds and hotels rooms for homeless Angelenos are just a few programs Los Angeles County supervisors invoked while they discussed the upcoming 2020-21 budget on Tuesday.

So far the county has dipped into reserves to cover a $1.3 billion shortfall for the current fiscal year, primarily due to lost sales taxes while the region is mostly at a standstill. The new budget kicks in July 1 — and it brings another billion-dollar gap to fill.

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Key Step To Reopening California For Business? Child Care

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Two children playing in a Santa Monica preschool classroom. (Priska Neely/LAist)

Before California reopens for business, we’ve got to find someone to watch the kids.

Right now, child care providers can only take care of children whose parents are essential workers, but that could change in the coming week.

“Child care is foundational to getting people back to work,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at this daily briefing Tuesday. “If they cannot get the kind of quality child care that they deserve, they are less likely to get back to work and jump start this economy.”

Meanwhile, thousands of essential worker parents are still in the process of applying for new state subsidies to pay for child care and providers that are open are waiting for supplies including cleaners, facial coverings and gloves.

“I think the individual providers by themselves need help,” said Eileen Friscia, the resource and referral director at the Child Care Resource Center. “Where does that come from?”

READ THE FULL STORY

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Meet Some Of The People Who Make LAUSD's Food Relief Efforts Possible

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Food service workers at Dorsey High School pack over 3,000 meals a day. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Yesterday, we explained how the Los Angeles Unified School District is using its existing school nutrition operations to provide food relief to kids and adults in need during the coronavirus school closures.

Now, we want to introduce you to some of the more than 2,900 workers who make that effort possible.

Essential workers like principal stock clerk Willie Harris:

Willie Harris has been an employee at LAUSD for 25 years. He works with a team of six to pull thousands of cases of frozen food every day. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Class A Commercial Truck Driver Danny Medina:

Danny Medina stands near his truck after finishing all his safety checks. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

And Virgil Middle School cafeteria manager Rocio Villanueva:

Cafeteria manager Rocio Villanueva (center) poses for a picture with the other grab-and-go workers at Virgil Middle School. (Courtesy of Rocio Villanueva)

While LAUSD figures out how it will cover the $78 million still needed to provide food to children and adults "no questions asked," the work of Harris, Medina, Villanueva, and more than 2,900 other workers and volunteers allow the nation's second largest school district to hand out more than half a million meals every weekday.

"We understand that the kids – this might be their only meal," Harris told LAist. "So we try to do our best every day to make sure that these kids get exactly what they need."

"This is what we do," Villanueva explained. "We serve."

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When Life Gives Your Restaurant Lemons, Use Them To... Make Hummus?

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Assorted hummus and dips at Hummus Labs in Pasadena. (Courtesy of Hummus Labs)

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This is the latest dispatch in our series focusing on how restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley are coping with the coronavirus. Previously...

Joseph Badaro was raised in Temple City but he likes to say he grew up in his mom's kitchen. Standing at her side, he learned how to roll grape leaves and soak, boil and blend garbanzo beans. He knew that one day, he would open a restaurant. He loved cooking and experimenting with food too much to do anything else. In 2013, at the age of 27, Badaro launched a catering business. After six years of feeding people at weddings and office parties, he was finally ready to open his own place. He had spent months planning the menu, designing the space and securing the permits to open Hummus Labs in Pasadena. What he didn't account for was the timing.

"It was November, everything looked awesome. The economy was booming. I saw this location by accident and it was for lease. It was exactly where I wanted to be," Badaro says.

Chicken and beef kababs on the grill at Hummus Labs in Pasadena. (Courtesy of Hummus Labs)

He signed a lease for the approximately 900-square-foot storefront blocks from the heart of Pasadena’s Financial District, an area filled with offices and the promise of robust lunch crowds. Badaro was hoping many of the same companies he had served as a caterer would patronize Hummus Labs, which sells Mediterranean cuisine and specializes in homespun hummus flavors such as roasted tomato habanero and brown butter sage garlic.

By December, as renovations for the space were in full swing, Badaro started hearing about coronavirus in China. He wasn't worried. But by early March, his catering business had tanked.

"All the offices that I used to go to were basically banning anyone from coming in. That's when I realized this was not going to end well," Badaro says.

He got on the phone with his landlord, who wouldn't budge on the rent. For a moment, Badaro thought about calling off the whole thing but his family eventually talked him into staying the course. The only way he could make the financials work, Badaro figured, was if he went solo. As long as he could make rent, he could go another month. So he let go of the five people he had lined up to help him, scaled back his menu and vision (the fresh hummus tasting bar would have to wait) and focused on the restaurant's soft opening on April 1 — nearly two weeks after the L.A. County ban on dine-in restaurants went into effect.

"I had this soft opening in mind where people were going to be there and we were going to have champagne for friends and family," Badaro says.

Hummus Labs owner Joseph Badaro on the day in late March 2020 when his Pasadena restaurant passed its health inspection. (Courtesy of Hummus Labs)

Instead, Badaro spent the day alone, on his feet, filling a stream of take-out orders placed by friends and family members.

The 33-year-old native of Temple City, where he still lives, has deep roots in the San Gabriel Valley. Those people have been among the biggest supporters of his restaurant. A buddy of his drove up from San Diego, ordered a bunch of food, then drove back down. His mom showed up for the big day but not his 83-year-old dad, who has been strict about observing the stay-at-home order.

"He hasn't been to the [restaurant] yet so it's been really hard. Every day he calls me and says, 'How's it going? Did you make enough to pay rent?'" Badaro says.

Badaro is confident he will make enough to pay May's rent. Before his soft opening, he started a GoFundMe campaign. The donations are sort of like a prepaid gift card. Whatever amount you give, you can use toward meals at the restaurant, provided it's still open.

A friend donated $200 with the request that Badaro use the money to feed frontline hospital workers. Hummus Labs has so far provided food for workers at five local hospitals.

To Badaro, the pandemic is only one of many obstacles blocking his path to success.

He hopes to bring Hummus Labs to different locations throughout Los Angeles and to eventually franchise the company. Forget the stuff that comes in prepackaged plastic containers at the supermarket, Badaro dreams that one day, Hummus Labs will be to chickpea dip what Intelligentsia is to a cup of coffee.

"I'm hoping in 10 years from now, when things are different and I've accomplished the dreams and goals I've had for this," Badaro says, "I'm going to go back and look and say, 'Wow, I opened during a 100-year pandemic,' and it's going to be something I'll never forget."

READ MORE OF OUR CORONAVIRUS & FOOD COVERAGE:

Morning Briefing: Making Millions Of Meals For LAUSD Kids

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Since the coronavirus forced schools to close in mid-March, LAUSD has served over 13 million free meals to students and adults. It’s a service that the district has been providing steadily and without much ado – under normal circumstances, many of the students picking up those meals would have been getting them during their school day.

But these aren’t normal circumstances. Carla Javier and Chava Sanchez followed a meal to find out what goes into getting it to one of the district’s 63 grab and go spots. Tommy Medina, a truck driver for the district, who frequently begins his day at 4:00 a.m., summed it up thusly: “It is hard work. It is back-breaking work.”

It’s not clear how much longer the grab and go locations will need to stay in existence. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that California schools could re-open as soon as July, but didn’t specify which counties would be included.

Either way, L.A. is lucky to have staff members at our school system who are committed to ensuring the health of our city’s kids – no matter what.

"It is a privilege and honor to be a part of it,” said Medina, “to be able to help get food to the people who need it.”

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, April 29

California’s leaders have encouraged child care providers to stay open, and offered resources to do so. Mariana Dale looks at whether these initiatives are making a difference, and how essentia workers are taking care of their kids, in the meantime.

Following our feature on the logistics behind the LAUSD food distribution machine, Carla Javier talks to some of the 2,900 people providing hundreds of thousands of meals for students every weekday.

One of L.A. County's largest domestic violence intervention programs has seen an expanding caseload. Robert Garrova reports that the program is also offering food assistance and resources for rent and utility support, with the hope of reducing economic stress.

What’s it like to open a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic? Hummus Labs in Pasadena opened its doors during the dine-in restaurant ban. Owner Joseph Badaro tells Fiona Ng that at this point, the only way for things to go is up.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

L.A., California, The World: There are now at least 20,976 coronavirus cases and 1000 deaths in L.A. County. There are over 46,000 cases and 1,800 deaths in California. Worldwide, there are over 3.1 million cases and nearly 217,000 deaths.

California Kids: We look at each step of the planning, packaging and distribution process that makes LAUSD’s free meal system happen. Newsom may ask California’s K-12 schools to begin the 2020-21 school year as soon as late July. Cal State and UC students filed federal class-action lawsuits demanding refunds for unused portions of fees for campus-related services.

The Road To Recovery: Local governments are using lighter traffic as an opportunity to speed up planned road repairs. State officials laid out the plan to move to the next phase of loosening stay-at-home restrictions. California's Economic Development Department is now allowing gig workers and other self-employed people to apply for unemployment insurance, although the system is not working as smoothly as many hoped it would so far.

Protecting The Vulnerable: The rapid spread of the coronavirus through nursing home staff has led the California National Guard to plug those staffing holes. L.A. County representatives will work with state officials to mandate extra pay and sick leave for nursing home workers and ban retaliation against staff who request PPE. L.A. County will add construction workers to the list of critical workers now eligible for coronavirus testing.

The 2020 Vote: County officials voted to require mail-in ballots to be sent to all registered voters in the county for the November election.

Today, In Science: If it's called a red tide, then why does it create glowing blue waves? We explain the bioluminescence that's going on right now in SoCal’s ocean.

The Arts: In a fundamental rewriting of its eligibility rules, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said films don’t have to be released theatrically to qualify for next year’s Oscars. In what looks like a big win for talent agencies, a district court judge has thrown out several key claims the WGA made against CAA, WME and UTA. The creator of the hit show "One Day At A Time" says making the show (or any shows) in front of live audiences won't happen any time soon.


Your Moment Of Zen

KPCC/LAist's visual journalist Chava Sanchez captured this homage to health care workers outside a senior living facility in Hollywood.

A nursing home pays homage to its health care workers. (Chava Sanchez / LAist)

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The news cycle moves fast. Some stories don't pan out. Others get added. Consider this today's first draft, and check LAist.com for updates on these stories and more. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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