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Coronavirus Today: The COVID-19 blues

Good evening. I’m Soumya Karlamangla, and it’s Tuesday, Aug. 25. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

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In what felt like a matter of days this spring, the coronavirus pandemic stripped away the parts of our lives that typically provide security and comfort. Months later, life still feels far from normal.

We now move through the world afraid of contracting or spreading a deadly disease, one we may not even know we have. We see our loved ones far less often, and when we do, the specter of the virus looms over us. A historic recession has threatened our jobs, or already made them disappear. Those of us still going to work must contend with the risk of catching the virus there. The threat couldn’t be more real — nationwide, more than 178,000 of our friends, co-workers, siblings, parents and grandparents have died.

If all this pain has done a number on your mental health (like it has mine), know you’re not alone. In late July, more than 41% of adults in the U.S. reported levels of worry and sadness typically associated with an anxiety or major depressive disorder, according to survey data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. At the same time last year, that figure was just 11%.

The numbers were worse in California — where 44% reported those high levels of anxiety and depression — as well as in other states in the West and South, where coronavirus cases surged in the summer. The pattern suggests anxiety levels may rise alongside the spread of the virus. Time will tell whether reducing the virus’ spread also helps reduce mental health issues.

Californians with lower incomes also reported higher levels of anxiety or depression in the survey. And perhaps surprisingly, younger Californians expressed far more anxiety and depression than older Californians, even though people in older age groups are far more likely to fall severely ill from the virus. While 73% of Californians between 18 and 29 said they were “not being able to stop or control worrying,” just 42% of those over 80 agreed with that statement. The results echo those of another recent survey that found elevated levels of mental health challenges among Americans, particularly young adults.

By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Tuesday:

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

As the spread of the coronavirus slows across the state, counties are coming off of Newsom’s watch list, which theoretically means they can move forward with reopening. But there’s a lot of confusion about what exactly can open, and when. Last time around, Newsom gave the counties some leeway, and the results were disastrous. This time, he’s insisting that more decisions be made at the state level instead. But local officials say the tight leash leaves them unable to help struggling local businesses prepare for a reopening or provide clear information to their residents.

There’s greater clarity on schools. As of Tuesday, Los Angeles County has met the threshold to reopen elementary schools. To do so, schools must file applications to open for in-person instruction; if OK’d by the county, the requests will go to the state for further approval. The requirements for reopening middle and high schools are stricter than for elementary schools because younger children have greater difficulty with online learning and are believed to be less likely to transmit COVID-19.

At the San Ysidro border crossing, a move by the U.S. has led to a miles-long traffic jam to get from Mexico into the U.S., with waits exceeding 10 hours. The backup was caused by an effort Customs and Border Protection announced Friday to slow traffic to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and make people “think twice” about crossing the border.

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 CDC.
— 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.

Around the nation and the world

After facing criticism from medical experts, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn apologized Tuesday for overstating the benefits of treating COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma. On Sunday, the FDA authorized the treatment, which uses antibodies taken from the blood of patients who have recovered from COVID-19, for emergency use, meaning it hasn’t gone through the rigorous studies typically required for approval. The World Health Organization warned Monday that it’s experimental, and there is no conclusive evidence that it is effective. But Hahn, echoing President Trump, had made the false claim that it reduced mortality by 35%.

The number of Americans testing positive for the coronavirus each day has fallen by 21% since early August. Experts credit increased understanding of the virus, more mask-wearing and even the possibility of more immunity among the population. Deaths, however, remain high, although they are expected to drop as well as case numbers continue to fall.

Olympic track star Usain Bolt has tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a large party where most people were not wearing masks, according to video of the event. Bolt is asymptomatic and quarantining at his home in Jamaica. The party is believed to have been a celebration of the gold medalist’s 34th birthday.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: What happens if schools reopen for in-person classes and someone gets COVID-19? Times reporters Nina Agrawal and Paloma Esquivel have some answers in their latest story.

If a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, those considered close contacts will be sent home to quarantine for 14 days, according to California state guidelines. Close contacts are defined as people who came within 6 feet of the infected person for more than 15 minutes. Since ascertaining who meets that criteria would be difficult in a school setting, it’s more than likely that an entire classroom would be considered exposed and sent home for 14 days.

Closing an entire school would be a little more complicated. State guidelines say it would depend on how many teachers and staff have tested positive as well as what the local health officers recommend. It “may be appropriate” if there are multiple clusters of cases within a school, or if 5% of people on campus test positive within a 14-day period, according to the state.

If a school is closed due to an outbreak, it could reopen after 14 days have passed, the school has been disinfected, and the public health department has investigated the incident.

Our reporters covering the coronavirus outbreak want to hear from you. 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 in our reopening tracker.

For the most up-to-date coronavirus coverage from The Times over the weekend, visit our homepage and our Health section, sign up for our breaking news alerts, and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.


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