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Virologist's Advice: When Grocery Shopping This Holiday, 'Be Fast, Be Efficient'

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An employee scans items behind a protective shield at a grocery store in in Little Tokyo. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

L.A. County Public Health officials today reported more than 11,000 new cases of COVID-19, with hospitalizations soaring 500% in recent days.

Among the places seeing spikes in people testing positive: grocery stores.

An L.A. Times analysis of the county’s website found outbreaks reported in December at three Trader Joe’s locations, two Whole Foods Market stores, three Sprouts Farmers Market branches and several smaller grocery chains.

Those getting sick are mostly essential workers who must report every day — underscoring the push by some cities to offer hazard or "hero pay" for grocery store employees. For people who are shopping, the high numbers beg the question: Just how safe is it to go shopping at the market?

In short: It’s fine, but have a plan, says USC virologist Paula Cannon.

“Be fast, be efficient. Imagine you have a toddler with you having a temper tantrum. You don’t need to sort of peruse which particular produce you want. Just go in an grab stuff and get out.”

If you typically go shopping three times a week, just go once a week. And when you’re there, be respectful, Cannon told us.

“There is nothing worse than when you see people wandering around looking at their phone and they kind of bump into you," she said.

Her advice applies to holiday shopping as well.

“We’ve got very high rates [in LA County],” says Cannon. “The past 7 days, we’ve probably had 98,000 people reported as infected, and I was doing the math, and it’s basically about 1% of L.A. County’s population — think about that. They’re the cases we know about that."

But if you are going to go out and shop, do think of others. If you have an older neighbor or relative in a high risk group, offer to do their shopping for them.

“Especially at this time of year,” Cannon says. “What a nice to say to them, give me your list and I’ll do it for you — just don’t judge my choice of oranges.”

Listen to Professor Paula Cannon's complete interview with our newsroom local culture and news show, Take Two, which airs on 89.3 KPCC. A Martinez talked to her not only about grocery shopping in the pandemic, but also about the new strains of coronavirus being reported in Britain and elsewhere:

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No Help For Struggling LA — And Other Cities — In Congress' COVID-19 Deal

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Downtown L.A.(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Congress’ $900 billion COVID-19 relief package includes direct payments to many Americans, a federal boost to weekly unemployment checks, and assistance for small businesses and schools.

Missing from the bill: financial help for struggling local governments. The news dashes the city of L.A.’s hopes for further help this year with its projected $675 million budget shortfall.

Elected officials in Los Angeles blasted the deal -- the result of months of back-and-forth wrangling betweeen party leaders.

“There's nothing in this package that helps cities replace the ruinous, devastating revenue loss that we've suffered since March," said Councilmember Paul Krekorian, chair of the city’s budget and finance committee. "It's just a complete abrogation of responsibility by the federal government.”

“I’m hopeful that — as President-elect Biden said — this is a down payment. Because this is not enough,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, vice chair of the committee. “Given the very harsh realities that cities across the country are facing, we need assistance.”

Earlier this month, the city council approved a plan to bridge the gap, including cuts to nearly every department, borrowing to pay for day-to-day expenses and spending down the rainy day fund to the lowest amount allowed by the city charter.

The council also opened the door to hundreds of potential layoffs, including 355 police officers and 273 civilian LAPD employees.

Blumenfield said the city is trying everything to avoid cutting workers, but Congress sent a different message.

“What they’re telling us is they’re ok with layoffs of public safety and essential workers,” Blumenfield said. “That’s not where we should be.”

Without help from Congress, Krekorian said, L.A. must find some way to save personnel costs. The city is negotiating with labor unions on steps like delaying or reducing planned raises.

"Those sorts of things are much preferable solutions to any layoffs," Krekorian said.

Los Angeles has already used nearly all of its $700 million slice of the previous relief bill on things like rental assistance, emergency homelessness spending and direct COVID-19 response — including standing up testing sites and providing city workers with personal protective equipment.

Democrats had hoped to secure $160 billion in local aid into the new bill as part of a compromise with Republicans who wanted provisions to shield businesses from liability. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nixed the deal. He’s previously called the idea a “blue state bailout” — a characterization Blumenfield rejects as “tone deaf and ignorant of today’s reality.”

States with Republican governors are facing some of the largest budget shortfalls, Blumenfield pointed out.

There is a glimmer of hope from an unlikely source: Sacramento. The state may benefit from a $12-40 billion tax revenue windfall this fiscal year. (Why? While average workers have battled through a difficult 2020, the top earners in California with lots of money in the stock market flourished.)

“My hope is that if the feds are failing to look after cities across the country, that at least perhaps our state will look at the cities in its jurisdiction and try to lend some assistance,” Blumenfield said.

(Monday 6:10 PM: This story was updated with comments from Budget Chair Paul Krekorian)

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Nithya Raman, LA’s New City Councilmember, Breathes Fresh Air Into Homelessness Efforts

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Nithya Raman. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Marie Claire)

Nithya Raman hit the ground running as the new city councilmember for L.A.'s 4th district. Right after she was sworn in last week, she announced two motions that addressed her campaign’s biggest issue: homelessness.

The first asks city officials to identify sites in her district that could be used as “drop-in” centers for people experiencing homelessness.

“This idea of having a place where people are welcomed and where they can talk to folks who can help them, I think that is a really, really important tool in moving us further along in addressing this crisis,” she told KPCC’s Take Two on Monday.

The sites could look like free-standing, permanent structures. “Or it could be the lobby of a church that's not being used every day,” Raman said.

The councilmember also asked for a report on the function of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority, which coordinates homeless efforts in L.A. city and county. She wants to focus in particular on how the agency conducts outreach to people on the streets.

“[Outreach was] happening often in the presence of armed law enforcement,” Raman said. “These were not interactions that were designed to create relationships of trust [among] people who are experiencing homelessness.”

Raman is one of the three new icouncilmembers who campaigned on a platform of addressing homelessness.

Listen to Nithya Raman’s full interview with A Martinez on Take Two here:

READ MORE ABOUT NITHYA RAMAN:

LA County Reports 11,000 New Cases, Nears 9,000 Total Deaths From COVID-19

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A look at longer-term COVID-19 trends in L.A. County from Monday's briefing. (Courtesy L.A. County Department of Public Health)

L.A. County is nearing 9,000 total coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began. The current tally is 8,931.

On Monday, county health officials reported 56 more deaths and more than 11,000 new cases of coronavirus.

More than 5,700 COVID-19 patients are in county hospitals. The hospitalization rate has soared nearly 500% since the beginning of November.

This is the worst surge of the pandemic, said County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. And as we get closer to Christmas, she pleaded with people to stay home, warning that another post-holiday spike could stretch the hospital system to the breaking point:

"I long to visit with my grandchildren and give them their hugs. But it just isn't possible, and none of us can afford to take any risks right now."

Ferrer says at least 7,000 people could end up needing hospital care in the coming weeks, and more than 100 people could die from COVID-19 every day.

OVERALL LOOK AT LA COUNTY NUMBERS:

Here's a look at longer-term trends in the county. To see more, visit our California COVID-19 Tracker and choose L.A. County or any other California county that interests you. These numbers are current as of Sunday, Dec. 20:

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'We Have No ICU Beds': LA's Coronavirus Hospital Crisis Is Here

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LA County-USC Medical Center's ER entrance. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Public health officials have long warned of a crisis in our medical system if too many people resisted taking basic health precautions to guard against getting or spreading COVID-19.

The crisis is here.

“We have no ICU beds,” said Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer of L.A. County-USC Medical Center, one of the area’s largest hospitals. “We are just continually, 24 hours a day scrambling to move patients around. The flood just continues.”

Within a matter of days, County-USC will be forced to make its exhausted staff treat even more patients than they have been, he said.

And if that isn’t enough, Spellberg predicts we’re just weeks away from hospitals being forced to start rationing emergency care.

If it comes to that, instead of trying to save every life, health workers' goal would be to save as many patients as possible. That means those less likely to survive would not get the same kind of care they would usually receive.

READ OUR FULL STORY ON THE CRUSH IN L.A.'S HOSPITALS:

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DACA Applications Pour In As Program Opens Up For First Time In 3 Years

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DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

With the door to apply for DACA open for the first time in more than three years, hundreds of high school and college students in California are rushing to apply, fearful it will be slammed shut again.

A federal judge ordered the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services on Dec. 4 to fully restore Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that provides temporary protection from deportation and permission to work for about 700,000 young people who came to the U.S. as children.

Court battles ensued after the Trump administration attempted to end DACA in September 2017, and first-time applications have not been accepted since then. Although the attempt to end the program was described as "arbitrary and capricious" by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, the Trump administration continued denying new applications until Dec. 7, after a federal judge ordered them to begin accepting them.

Still, the future of DACA is uncertain. A hearing on a separate lawsuit, in which Texas and six other states sued to end DACA, is scheduled for Dec. 22 in a Houston federal court. Some attorneys are concerned that the agency could again stop accepting new applications sometime after that date.

READ THE FULL STORY:

California Students Rush To Apply For DACA For The First Time In Three Years

‘Please Help Us, We’re Begging At This Point’: LA County ICU Nurse Makes Plea To Public, As Beds Fill Up

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Lindsey Burrell at work in the ICU. (Photo courtesy Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center)

It's the perfect storm: the holidays are here. We all want to see family. We are tired. We are burned out. We are struggling with our mental health after such a hard year.

At the same time, cases in L.A. County are at an all-time high. Deaths are on the rise. Capacity in Southern California intensive care units has dropped to zero. And healthcare professionals are getting hit. Hard.

Lindsay Burrell, a nurse in the ICU at Providence Little Company Mary Medical Center in Torrance, made a heart-wrenching plea to Angelenos on our newsroom's local news and culture show, Take Two.

"Please help us," she said. "We're begging at this point."

She explains:

"I am asked all the time, what can we do to help you? How can we help you in the community? In the beginning, people were sending us food and cards and and just all the support that we could possibly need. And we're so thankful for that.

But here's what I'm asking from everybody: What you can do now, as a member of the public, is stay home.

I know you're tired. Trust me, I know.

To the restaurant owners: I know that you were devastated by the fact that you are trying to figure out how you are going to make ends meet when you don't have any income...Trust me. I feel for you. We all do.

But if we don't start complying, our hospitals are not going to be able to meet the demand...we simply cannot.

What you can do for us is stay home.

What you can do for us is avoid family gatherings. Friend gatherings.

You know, when I see in the public, people crammed into restaurants, in a sense of defiance of, Oh, well, it's too bad. I'm tired of this COVID, I'm tired of being isolated home, etc., you know, the mental health is getting to me.

You know, I get it. I am a human being, too. Trust me. Don't you think I'm exhausted and tired of being stuck inside of a house, you know, having to play mom and then go to work? I'm exhausted, too.

But we as healthcare providers, we're feeling this. We're putting on PPE day in and day out, you know, we're hot, we're tired. We're not drinking water. We're not really even eating normally, throughout a normal day. We're exhausted.

Please, just do your part. Please. This is what is recommended and we just, for a temporary moment in time, need to comply."

The interview with Burrell is a must-listen for anyone out there who's unsure about whether to travel this holiday...or a good thing to send to that one friend we all have who's like, I'm over it and just can't deal anymore.

READ MORE ABOUT ICUS RIGHT NOW:

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WATCH: Gov. Newsom: Southern California Stay-At-Home Order Likely To Be Extended

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Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered a press conference updating California's response to COVID-19. It comes ahead of the Christmas holiday and as the vaccine has started to be rolled out. Watch the full press conference above or read highlights below.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

The seven-day COVID-19 new case average is 43,901 per day. There were 37,892 new cases in the most recent 24-hour reporting period. Newsom said that it's too early to tell if the rate of spread is starting to slow, and warned not to read too much into weekend numbers because of lags in reporting data.

There were 83 deaths from COVID-19 yesterday, with an average of 233 deaths per day over the past week. There were 2,741 deaths in California over the past two weeks from COVID-19.

The state's positivity rate is 12% over the past two weeks — that's up 3.3% over the past two weeks. COVID-19-positive hospitalizations are up 63% over the past two weeks, with 17,190 currently hospitalized, while ICU COVID-19 admissions are up 51% over the last two weeks.

Southern California continues to have 0% ICU capacity, which means the region is relying on its surge capacity, which is approximately 20% additional capacity — the state has 2.5% capacity overall. Northern California has 28.7% available ICU capacity, Greater Sacramento has 16.2%, the Bay Area has 13.7%, and the San Joaquin Valley has 0%.

GOV. NEWSOM QUARANTINING

The governor noted that he was delivering Monday's press conference from home as he was in another 10-day COVID-19 quarantine. He is being kept separate from his family in a small room apart from his wife and their four children, and will be quarantined through Christmas. Newsom said that he will be working.

It's the second time Newsom has had to quarantine during this pandemic. Newsom was exposed to a close contact who tested positive for COVID-19, but he has continued to test negative for the virus.

STAY-AT-HOME ORDERS LIKELY TO BE EXTENDED

Right now, 98% of the state is under a stay-at-home order, including Southern California. Those orders will likely be extended, Newsom said — the Southern California order is currently set to expire Dec. 30, but that's not likely to happen. Current projections don't show any regions likely being relieved from these orders, California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.

The decisions around whether to lift stay-at-home orders will be based on projections four weeks forward from the current dates those orders are set to expire, Ghaly said. Factors the state is considering include current ICU capacity, the seven-day average of new cases, and transmission rates and how fast they are accelerating or decelerating.

CALIFORNIA NOT LOOKING TO BRING BACK USNS MERCY HOSPITAL SHIP, IS LOOKING FOR MORE STAFF

Newsom stressed the continued difficulties with health care staffing. The state has requested more federal staff to aid California as well.

The state isn't currently seeking to have the Mercy hospital ship come back to California, but Newsom said that the state is pursuing the type of staff that ships like the Mercy use.

FEWER PFIZER VACCINE DOSES COMING

Newsom said that 21 of the 30 sites set to receive vaccine doses from Moderna have started to receive them. So far, the state has received 110,000 of the 672,000 doses scheduled to come from Moderna.

The Moderna vaccine is easier to store, Newsom said, adding that it was the equivalent of freezer storage, rather than the ultra-low temperatures needed for the Pfizer vaccine. That easier storage means that the Moderna vaccine will be more accessible in rural California.

There were 70,258 doses of vaccine administered in the first week. There are 560,625 doses received so far from Pfizer, with 327,600 received in the first allocation.

The second allocation is anticipated to be 233,025 doses — 40% below the amount originally anticipated, Newsom said, but he thanked the federal government for clarifying the reasons for the miscommunication with the state and praised everyone working with Operation Warp Speed. The Pfizer vaccine has arrived in 50 locations, Newsom said.

WHO GETS VACCINATED NEXT?

The state's vaccine drafting guidelines workgroup is meeting today. The Community Vaccine Advisory Committee wll hold a public meeting on Wednesday from 2-4 p.m., which you can watch at COVID19.ca.gov.

WHAT CALIFORNIA GETS FROM THE FEDERAL COVID-19 RELIEF BILL

Newsom expressed his appreciation for the federal government's COVID-19 relief bill, worth a total of $900 billion. Newsom said that the government will need to do more in the future.

In addition to the $600 in direct stimulus checks, which includes approximately $17 billion for Californians, it also includes $300 per week for 11 weeks of unemployment, which is expected to be approximately $20 billion for Californians.

It has also extended CARES Act funding until the end of December 2021. There was $15.3 billion for California in the CARES Act.

The new bill has $325 billion in small business relief, which includes $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of the other funding in the bill includes:

  • $25 billion in rental assistance, with about $2 billion for California
  • $69 billion for testing, tracing, and vaccines; about $1.3 billion for California
  • $82 billion for education; about $8.5 billion for California
  • $10 billion for childcare; about $1 billion for California
  • $7 billion in broadband support, including $3.2 billion for low-income families
  • $45 billion for the transportation sextor; about $2 billion for California
  • $26 billion for nutrition and agricultural assistance, including $13 billion to increase SNAP benefits

The state will also have additional small business support in the proposed budget Newsom is set to put forward in the new year.

WATCHING FOR NEW COVID STRAIN FROM UNITED KINGDOM

Gov. Newsom said that the state has been having conversations with airlines and other stakeholders throughout the state about potential quarantine protocols for visitors from the United Kingdom. Newsom said that he hopes the federal government takes action in this area, but that the state will take action in the absence of that.

The state's SARS-CoV-2 Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative tests between 5,000 and 10,000 samples per day looking for any new strains in California. There is no evidence yet of this strain arriving in California, according to Newsom. However, there have been reports in South Africa and in other European countries near the U.K.

Dr. Ghaly described this variant as "more sticky" than the COVID-19 we've seen before, which seems to bind and enter cells easier than the virus seen in California and the rest of the country. An exposure to someone with the new strain may mean you're more likely to be infected — "that's why we're worried," Ghaly said. It doesn't seem to make people sicker, but the increased ease of transmission is of concern, according to Dr. Ghaly.

CALIFORNIA EXPOSURE NOTIFICATION APP

So far, 7.35 million people have activated COVID-19 exposure notifications on their phones. Newsom encouraged others to sign up, either by turning on exposure notifications in iPhone settings, or downloading the CA Notify app on Android phones from the Google Play store.

SOME HOSPITAL CAPACITIES MAY BE EXCEEDED BY END OF THE MONTH

Ghaly reminded viewers that about 12% of current cases will be hospitalized in 12 days, and about 12% of those will need to enter the ICU. Some hospitals may exceed even their current surge capacity, according to current projections. Some hospitals may also exceed their normal hospital capacity by the end of the month or early January, Ghaly said.

CRISIS PLANNING FOR RATIONING CARE

While hospitals are preparing for the potential need to ration care due to the high numbers of COVID-19 cases and patients, Dr. Ghaly said that the state is working to help avoid the need for those plans to go into effect.

ROSE BOWL GAME NOT HAPPENING IN PASADENA THIS YEAR

Newsom said that while he's a huge sports fan and loves the Rose Bowl, the state couldn't make exceptions to allow the Jan. 1 game to go forward with Southern California at 0% ICU capacity.

MORE PRESS CONFERENCES THIS WEEK

Newsom said that he will be providing further updates on both Tuesday and Wednesday, but will not be delivering an update on Christmas.

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Surge In Coronavirus Cases Seeps Into Child Care Settings

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An assistant teacher helps a student wash their hands at a Long Beach child care center in May 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

As coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths reach record levels in Southern California, the consequences are trickling down to child care providers and the families they care for.

A small fraction of the 7,256 licensed child care homes and centers currently open in Los Angeles County have recorded a confirmed case of the virus. There are currently 22 confirmed coronavirus outbreaks — that is, three or more cases at these facilities in the county — more than doubling in recent weeks the total number of cases reported since June. The state agency that licenses child care has counted 1,421 COVID-19 cases in licensed centers and homes statewide since the start of the pandemic.

But the recent increase has providers and parents anxious because even a single confirmed case can close a daycare classroom or family child care home for weeks.

“It’s a ripple effect,” said South L.A. family child care provider Micaela Walker. “Even just with one case that somebody may experience, you got to tell the families, they got to tell their families, they probably have to tell their co-workers and the co-workers have to tell their families. It really just gets bigger and bigger.”

READ THE FULL STORY:

READ MORE ABOUT EARLY CHILDHOOD:

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Morning Brief: Bearing Witness

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The Chapel of the Annunciation in San Gabriel. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Good morning, L.A.

Even as ICUs in Southern California remain completely full and coronavirus cases continue to overwhelm the medical system, L.A. County’s health department has agreed to let places of worship conduct services either outdoors or indoors.

In a statement released over the weekend, officials said that religious services could continue, “with mandatory physical distancing and face coverings over both the nose and mouth that must be worn at all times while on site.”

The announcement is a response to a decision by the Supreme Court, which held that barring or restricting religious services — even during a deadly pandemic — was in violation of the First Amendment. The decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed against the state of California by the Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church.

In their decision, the Supreme Court justices wrote: "The Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten … the restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty."

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.


What You Need To Know Today

Coronavirus Numbers: L.A. County’s Department of Public Health confirmed 13,315 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, and 58 new deaths attributed to the disease. Health officials said that “L.A. County is experiencing the fastest acceleration of new cases than at any other time during the pandemic.”

A System Overwhelmed: As calls from COVID-19 patients flood L.A. County’s medical system, the area’s ambulances and emergency rooms are being stretched to capacity. Some ambulance drivers report waiting up to six hours to unload patients at hospitals, and their standard response time to 9-1-1 calls has grown from nine to 12 minutes.

Final Goodbyes: L.A.'s civil rights community is mourning the loss of attorney Rose Ochi, who died earlier this month. She was the first Asian American woman to become an Assistant Attorney General.


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