Covid-19 News Briefs for Friday, July 31, 2020

July 31, 2020

• Global social distancing rules targeting coronavirus have pushed influenza infection rates to a record low, early figures show, signaling that the measures are having an unprecedented impact on other communicable diseases. In China, reports of diseases including mumps, measles, and some sexually transmitted diseases, have declined significantly, though influenza cases have seen the sharpest drop-off of over 90%, from an average of 290,000 cases a month to 23,000. Canada’s flu surveillance system also reported exceptionally low levels of influenza as did other countries that report weekly flu statistics including the UK and Australia. In its most recent weekly report, South Korea reported a 83% decrease in cases from a year earlier. The WHO estimates there are some 3-5 million severe cases and up to 500,000 deaths annually linked to seasonal influenza globally. Experts did add that there is concern that the unprecedented drop in cases could have a negative impact on immunity levels in following seasons

• From the US and Canada to Western Europe and parts of Asia, agriculture in developed nations is dependent on migrant farm workers who arrive from poorer nations to work the fields. The coronavirus outbreak has underscored that reliance, leaving farmers and governments scrambling for stopgap measures to fill the need

• A coronavirus outbreak among 18 – 25 year-olds at a French seaside resort was uncovered by contract tracers who reported 72 infections that originated at an illegal party on the Brittany coast. Although authorities insist the outbreak is under control, infection rates are going up as people are disregarding common sense safety precautions during the summer vacation period

• In Mexico, fiestas are crucial to the nation’s culture — elaborate quinceaneras, weekend carne asadas, religious festivals honoring patron saints — are all critical and cathartic rituals that bind family and community. Their absence is deeply felt amid the stress of the pandemic and while some have tried to adapt, social distancing is antithetical to most celebrations here. For the most part, people are cancelling or postponing their events. The International Monetary Fund forecasts Mexico’s economy will contract 11% this year, more than anywhere else in Latin America and the UN estimates half a million Mexican businesses could close in the next 6 months

• French drug maker Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline will receive $2.1 billion to supply the US government with 100 million doses of an experimental coronavirus vaccine — the largest such deal to date. The arrangement brings the White House administration’s investment in coronavirus vaccine projects to more than $8 billion for the multi-agency effort known as Operation Warp Speed. Dr. Fauci said the US would most likely have a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2020 or early 2021

• A small study released Thursday found that children under the age of 5 have as much viral material in their noses and throats as adults, and perhaps as much as 100 times more. The research doesn’t prove that children spread the virus, but experts say it’s highly suggestive that they might

• A new study looked at how the virus exploded among the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship where 700 of the 3,711 passengers and crew test positive for the virus in January. The researchers concluded that 60% of infections were spread via aerosols. The study argued that we need to pay more attention to ventilation since epidemiologists are finding that this disease stalks us indoors through the air so windows need to be opened and filters in air-conditioners and heaters need to be upgraded, along with keeping your distance, wearing a mask, and avoiding crowds

• Medical charities have long relied on black-tie galas, golf tournaments and other fundraisers to fund their operations. But as with so many other in-person events, Covid-19 has cancelled those plans this year, leaving nonprofits with a funding shortfall that has forced some to cut staff, end grant funding, scale back activities, or shut down entirely. Nonprofits focused on patient support and medical research are being hurt by the same forces that are devastating the nonprofit sector at large. Some wealthy donors are diverting their charitable contributions to the Covid-19 response and donations and monies from small donors are impacted because of lost jobs as well as being more frugal in an uncertain time

• A Labor Department report Thursday showed that new unemployment claims rose last week to 143 million. It was the second straight week of increase — following about 3 months of steady declines — and brought the total number of people who have applied for jobless benefits since mid-March to more than 54 million, which is about a third of the American labor force

• Education officials in New York City, 1 of the few large districts in the country that are still planning to open schools in the fall, laid out a plan today for what would happen in the event that cases of Covid-19 are confirmed in a classroom. The protocol means it is likely that at many of the city’s 1,800 schools, some classrooms or even entire buildings will be closed at points during the school year. NY City is currently planning to reopen its schools on a hybrid model starting September 10, with students reporting to classrooms 1 to 3 days a week to allow for social distancing. Mayor de Blasio said that school openings would proceed only if the city’s test positivity rate — currently between 1% and 2% — stays below a 3% threshold

• California Pizza Kitchen has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, becoming the latest restaurant chain to try to cut its debt as it grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic. The company operates more than 200 restaurants in the US and abroad

• The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a coin shortage, and it’s hitting small-business owners, big retailers and everyday shoppers — especially those who don’t have credit or debit cards. The main ways coins circulate through the economy is via store transactions and coin recyclers, according to the US Mint. But as the coronavirus spread, stores closed and visits to essential retailers plunged

• Across California, county probation officers and others on the front lines of the release of as many as 8,000 inmates by the end of August have complained that prisoners were recently freed with little notice to local authorities, and without appropriate transportation or quarantine housing — and in some cases, no clear indication they were virus-free. County officials also have expressed alarm about potentially infected inmates who were released and allowed to ride on public transportation and mingle with the public. Recently established protocols now require testing to be done no more than 7 days before release and those found positive will be isolated, according to the corrections department. Early-release inmates in quarantine status are referred to Project Hope, a voluntary initiative that provides free hotel rooms and food and those who decline to participate will remain in prison for the 14-day quarantine

• California lawmakers lashed out Thursday at a state plan that would take 2 months to resolve a backlog of nearly 1 million unemployment benefit claims, and workers left unemployed by the Covid-19 pandemic also voiced frustration during the Assembly hearing. The EDD call center operates from 8 am until noon to resolve problems for claim filers and is staffed by 100 of EDD’s more than 7,500 employees. A second phone line has been set up with 1,100 workers assigned to it with 700 more on the way, according to the EDD director

• California health officials today confirmed that a Central Valley teenager is the youngest person to date in the state whose death has been linked to Covid-19 — the unidentified teen did have an underlying health condition. Officials said the death is the state’s first coronavirus-related fatality of a young person since the pandemic began. As of today, California has recorded more than 493,500 cases of Covid-19 and 9,005 deaths

• 500 staffers at the Los Angeles Public Library have responded to a call to participate in the Disaster Service Worker Program which calls on public employees to drop or expand their usual job duties to help agencies or organizations with emergency relief. The workers are assigned jobs within their scope of training, skills and abilities, and 75 librarians and staffers are now contact tracers. Others are volunteering at cooling centers, Covid-19 testing sites, shelter sites for people experiencing homelessness, meal distribution sites, or have worked as translators for dozens of languages

• The LA County health department is investigating more than 1,000 outbreaks of coronavirus and receiving 2,000 to 3,000 weekly complaints about businesses. People are encouraged to come forward with information about work places that may be in violation of the health orders by calling (888) 700-9995

• Many experts agree that economic life is not going to get back to normal until contact tracing dramatically improves so officials can gain a better sense of how Covid-19 is spreading. The LA County’s program, designed for swift identification of those with Covid-19, have been throttled by slow turnaround times for test results from labs, language barriers, uncooperative employers, as well as patients who provide inaccurate or incomplete information to the contact tracers, most significantly about their workplaces, officials said. Many of those getting sick are low-wage workers who fear financial ruin if they stop working and are too afraid of retaliation to report unsafe work conditions.

• USC has reported 40 positive Covid-19 cases involving individuals living on 28th Street, where many fraternity groups associated with the university are based. To date, around 150 USC students and employees have tested positive. On Wednesday, UCLA’s 153 coronavirus case total was similar to USC’s count

• LA County reported an additional 2,651 cases and 69 deaths. Total are now 188,481 cases and 4,621 deaths. City Breakouts (Cases/Deaths): City of LA 76,656/2,128; Long Beach 8,099/176; Carson 1,259/39; El Segundo 97/0; Gardena 851/34; Hawthorne 1,379/29; Inglewood 1,975/76; Lawndale 458/9; Lomita 167/7; Manhattan Beach 264/4; PV Estates 74/2; Rancho PV 222/12; Redondo Beach 391/9; Rolling Hills 5/0; Rolling Hills Estates 31/2; Torrance 1,028/59

Compiled by Charlene Nishimura

Media Sources: Los Angeles Times; New York Times; Washington Post; Wall Street Journal; Forbes Magazine; Business Insider; USA Today; CBS News; CNN; KTLA; OZY; ABC World News Tonight; Spectrum News 1; The Hill.com; WebMD; AP, Politico, Newsweek, Reuters, televised briefings from the White House, Governor Newsom, LA County Health Department, Mayor Garcetti; City of Torrance press releases; Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce press releases