Your No-Panic Guide To The Coronavirus In LA

A street art mural by artist Pony Wave on Venice Beach (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

UPDATED: March 23, 2020


So, here's where we are: All Californians are under orders to stay home unless they are working in essential jobs or seeking essential services. Similar orders now are in place in other states and more states are issuing these mandates every day.

The number of confirmed cases continues to rise locally, nationally and internationally. The coronavirus pandemic is spreading at a rate that continues to alarm health experts. They warn we are still woefully unprepared in the United States. We don't have enough hospital beds, respirators, masks and other protective gear to keep up with what's coming.

Bottom line, life has been fundamentally changed.

It's a lot. It really is. We're right there with you. If you're not even sure what day it is, we can relate to that too.

There is progress.

Manufacturers big and small are pivoting quickly to fill gaps in supplies from hand sanitizer to masks, ventilators, surgical gowns and more.

California is rapidly expanding hospital capacity and housing for the state's massive and extremely vulnerable homeless population. In Los Angeles, dozens of new shelters are being opened.

Millions of people here and around the nation are heeding orders to practice social distancing -- critical to "flattening the curve" so huge numbers of people don't become critically ill at the same time. Physical schools are closed but distance learning is underway and grab-and-go meals for students are being provided, following safety protocols.

One important way we can all combat fear is to be prepared and to be knowledgeable.

That's what we are here to help you do. So here's our promise to you -- we will:

  • Do our best to bring you the most recent and accurate information
  • Explain what's happened so far, using language we hope you understand (but let us know if we are falling short)
  • Continue to update this comprehensive explainer as new information becomes available
  • Answer your questions

Here's what we know so far:

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THE NITTY GRITTY

A "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" was declared on Jan. 30, 2020 by the World Health Organization over an outbreak of a new, deadly, novel coronavirus which began in Wuhan City, China.

The virus was identified as SARS-CoV-2, which causes a disease called COVID-19 (which is an abbreviation of "coronavirus disease 2019").

On March 4, L.A. County declared a local and public emergency, and Gov. Gavin Newsom made the call to declare an emergency for the state of California on the same day.

On March 11, WHO made it official: COVID-19 is a pandemic.

On March 19, California, the nation's most populous state, ordered its nearly 40 million residents to stay home and practice social distancing (yes, there are exceptions).

There are now more than 16,000 deaths and over 367,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, and the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. continues to climb.

You can track the global scope and spread with this map and list from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. And these U.S. numbers from the CDC are updated daily.

The map below also shows cumulative confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries. It's updated in near real-time throughout the day. Zoom out to see more of the world.

The data is maintained by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, which pulls from: World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, National Health Commission of the People's Republic of China, local media reports, local health departments, and the DXY.

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WHAT IS SARS-CoV-2?
A CDC illustration. (Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM)

SARS-CoV-2 is in the family of coronavirus pathogens that usually cause short-lived illnesses.

They get their name because of how they look, which is spiny around the edges, like a crown. And some coronaviruses are scarier than others. Scientists are still trying to figure out how dangerous this new (or "novel") coronavirus is.

"Most people get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms may include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, runny nose, and headache. But they can vary in severity. Thousands of people have died, but "other patients have had milder illness and been discharged," the CDC said.

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WHAT'S THE WORD FROM L.A. OFFICIALS?

The main message from local health officials is: don't panic. But L.A. is taking significant precautions.

A local public health emergency was declared by county officials on March 4.

The first possible community spread case -- meaning the source of infection was unknown -- was announced on March 9.

L.A. County announced the first death from COVID-19 on March 11.

Confirmed cases and deaths are being tracked on the public health department's website.

On March 15, L.A. County officials said they were closing all offices to the public, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a moratorium on evictions, and an executive order banning dine-in restaurants and entertainment facilities went into effect at midnight.

L.A. County followed with a similar list of actions, closures, and restrictions the following day, including strongly discouraging gatherings of more than 50 people.

The "Safer at Home" emergency order was issued by L.A. County and city leaders on March 19. It includes the following directives:

  • Residents should remain at home.
  • Do not gather in enclosed spaces with more than 10 people.
  • Close all non-critical businesses (that can't operate remotely) until further notice.

"I want to be clear about this," said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti during the announcement, "that the only time you should leave your home is for essential activities and needs -- to get food, care for a relative or a friend or child, get necessary health care," and the like.

Jobs that are critical to safety, health, and the security of city, as well as an "economy of recovery," are exempt. Examples Garcetti cited:

  • Emergency personnel
  • First responders
  • Government employees
  • Medical personnel
  • Vital infrastructure workers
  • Health care providers
  • Transportation services
  • Grocery stores
  • Restaurants (but for take-out or delivery only)
  • News outlets
  • Hardware stores
  • Gas stations
  • Banks and financial institutions
  • Plumbers, electricians
  • Dry cleaners and laundromats

But social distancing must be enforced in all of these cases.

You are allowed to go outside, take a walk, and enjoy an open space. But some of nature is closed now too because of crowding on beaches, parks, and hiking trails.

"This weekend we saw too many people packing beaches, trails and parks. So we are closing sports and recreation at @LACityParks and closing parking at city beaches. That doesn't mean gather elsewhere. This is serious. Stay home and save lives," L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted on March 22.

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WHAT'S THE WORD FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA?

On March 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for far stricter guidelines in the state. He asked all seniors and people with underlying conditions to isolate at home, restaurants to operate at diminished capacity, and wineries, bars, and brewpubs to close.

In a March 18 letter to President Trump, Newsom projected that more than half of the population of California will be infected with the virus over an eight-week period. He asked for $1 billion in federal funding and requested the hospital ship USNS Mercy be sent to Los Angeles.

On March 19, about an hour after the L.A. County orders were announced, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all residents of California to stay home or otherwise remain at their place of residence in order to slow the spread of the virus. There are exceptions for people who maintain critical infrastructure in 16 key sectors, including:

  • Chemical
  • Commercial Facilities
  • Communications
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Dams
  • Defense Industrial Base
  • Emergency Services
  • Energy
  • Financial Services
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Government Facilities
  • Health Care and Public Health
  • Information Technology
  • Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste
  • Transportation
  • Water and Wastewater Systems

On March 23, Newsom said the state needs 1 billion gloves, 595 million masks, and two million shields for three months. California also needs 50,000 more hospital beds, he said, and that there's a partial plan.

Newsom also announced that millions in emergency grants are also being distributed to cities and counties for hotels to house the homeless, that 1,000 ventilators provided by Elon Musk had arrived in L.A., and that all state parking lots were shutting down.

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WHAT'S THE WORD FROM THE WHITE HOUSE?

Voluntary, nationwide guidelines were announced on March 16, initially set to last for 15 days.

President Trump and the White House coronavirus task force asked Americans to close schools, avoid groups of more than 10 people, homeschool kids where possible, avoid discretionary travel, and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, and food courts.

Please keep in mind that while these were voluntary, some restrictions issued by the city, county, and state are mandatory.

Trump said that the outbreak could last until July or August, and that no national quarantine was planned, but hotspot quarantines and restricted domestic travel were being considered.

On March 18, the border between the U.S. and Canada was closed for "non-essential" travel. On March 20 came an announcement closing the U.S. and Mexico border to non-essential travel.

Meanwhile, a Level 4, "Do Not Travel" global health advisory was issued by the U.S. State Department advising all citizens to "avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19."

At a March 23 briefing, Trump said the REAL ID deadline will be postponed and that millions of surgical and N95 masks are being distributed by FEMA. An executive order was announced by Attorney General William Barr making certain items illegal to hoard.

Trump also said businesses will be open "much sooner" than three to four months from now. "If it were up to the doctors," he said, "they may say let's keep it shut down -- let's shut down the entire world."


Note: Some of President Trump's comments in past briefings have later been contradicted by information provided by other officials. He has also repeatedly used stigmatizing language to describe COVID-19

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HOW DOES IT SPREAD?

This photo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a microscopic view of a coronavirus. (CDC/Getty Images)

Coronaviruses generally jump from person to person on the droplets from coughs and sneezes.

The CDC's current best guess is that the incubation period for novel coronavirus -- that's the time from exposure to when symptoms first start showing up -- is somewhere between two and 14 days.

Federal health officials are stressing the importance of good hand hygiene.

Locally, the L.A. County Department of Public Health has guidance for travelers, health care workers, school administrators, colleges and universities, employers, parents of young kids, ships, congregate living, faith-based organizations and more (and it's also stressing the importance of hand washing).

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HOW LONG DOES IT LIVE?

One study -- not yet peer-reviewed -- has found that COVID-19 can live up to three hours in the air, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two-to-three days on plastic and stainless steel.

That doesn't mean anyone has contracted the coronavirus through breathing it in the air or touching a contaminated surface, scientists involved in the study said.

The research does show that "aerosolized transmission" is "theoretically possible," study leader Neeltje van Doremalen of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told the Associated Press.

A team from the National Institutes of Health, Princeton, and UCLA conducted the study. Its findings were published March 9 on a site where researchers can quickly share their work before it's published.

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WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19?

Common symptoms can include: low-grade fever, body aches, coughing, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat.

Severe symptoms can include: high fever, severe cough, shortness of breath, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion, bluish lips or face.

These Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. However, some people infected with the virus have no symptoms.

And there also may also be additional symptoms beyond what we've listed above.

The CDC and Harvard Health have additional details.

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WHAT DO I DO IF I THINK I MIGHT HAVE IT?

If you think you might have been exposed, or have COVID-19 symptoms, call your doctor for next steps. If you experience severe symptoms, get immediate medical attention.

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IF I HAD CORONAVIRUS CAN I GET IT AGAIN?

Here's the bad news. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, told us: "We don't have conclusive evidence on that."

She said that "in general you can be protected when you've had an infection, but not always. We're just going to have to wait for the researchers and the scientists to let us know what they're finding out about that."

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IS THERE A VACCINE?

No. Not yet anyway. But there are several companies working on varying approaches to a vaccine.

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IS IBUPROFEN SAFE TO TAKE FOR A COVID-19 FEVER?
(Twitter/@WHO)

There's currently no established link between ibuprofen and coronavirus complications, but there is a lot of conflicting information being circulated.

The World Health Organization officially weighed in on Twitter on March 18 with this guidance, in all its double negative glory:

Based on currently available information, WHO does not recommend against the use of of ibuprofen.

The CDC has issued no coronavirus-related guidance regarding the use of anti-inflammatories as of March 20.

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DO MASKS HELP?

They might. The problem is that most surgical masks are loose-fitting, and respiratory droplets can slide through the gaps. The N95 surgical mask is probably the most effective. But there is a shortage.

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WILL HOSPITALS ACCEPT HOMEMADE MASKS?

It depends on the hospital, but more are starting to.

There's a list of U.S. facilities accepting donations, created by students at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, that includes a number of SoCal hospitals. The list has specifics about quantity, patterns, delivery instructions, and more.

"Go ahead and do it," the chief medical officer at Keck Hospital of USC told us. "If we need to use it, we'll use it."

None of the hospital officials we spoke with said their personnel have started using homemade masks, but they worried that day will come.

Casual stitchers and sew shops around L.A. have been responding to the need.

At Suay Sew Shop in Frogtown, the goal is to make and distribute 10,000 masks in a week -- and then continue that pace. A first-grade teacher we spoke to said that even if hospitals didn't want her homemade masks they could be used by pharmacy technicians, grocery employees, or delivery people.

The CDC has issued guidance on homemade masks, saying they can be used while treating patients as "a last resort," and ideally under a plastic face shield similar to what you'd see on a welder.

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WHICH DISINFECTANTS CAN I USE AGAINST SARS-CoV-2?

The EPA released a list of products "qualified" for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Clorox Multi Surface Cleaner + Bleach is on the list. So is Lysol Brand Clean & Fresh and dozens of other consumer products.

Here's what the EPA says:

"Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses, meaning they are one of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product. Consumers using these disinfectants on an enveloped emerging virus should follow the directions for use on the product's master label, paying close attention to the contact time for the product on the treated surface (i.e., how long the disinfectant should remain on the surface)."

As far as keeping your hands virus-free, the CDC says handwashing for at least 20 seconds is still your best bet. If that's not possible, it recommends using an "alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol."

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HOW ARE LOCAL HOSPITALS RESPONDING?

Officials are urging people to stay at home, even when they're sick, unless they believe they need hospital-level care. L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said on March 16 that the county is working to set up telemedicine services.

Meanwhile, local hospitals are preparing for a surge in patients.

  • LAC+USC Medical Center officials have been running emergency triage drills
  • Keck Hospital of USC is preparing to install temporary "triage" tents
  • Cedars-Sinai announced it'll be putting up tents in two locations
  • Kaiser Riverside has been hosting training refreshers on how to use protective equipment

But some health care workers are concerned for their safety, and don't think enough is being done to protect them. "Right now, there's a lack of supplies -- specifically protective equipment, PPE's -- so we're not feeling too safe because we still have to go home to our families," a health care worker at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center told us.

Spokespeople for California's nursing homes said supplies are dwindling there too, and they're at risk of running out of protective masks and gowns within a week.

The U.S does have an $8 billion emergency medical stockpile that contains items such as anti-flu drugs, generic medical supplies like gloves and needles, and even quick-to-assemble medical centers complete with beds.

This stockpile is meant to fill gaps in supply chains or respond to sudden surges in demand caused by emergencies. It is not, however, intended to or big enough to replace private sector supply chains.

Our friends at ProPublica let us republish their analysis on how ready L.A. hospitals are, based on nine scenarios of the rate of spread over six, nine, and 12 months.

Here's a look at how many hospital beds found would be available depending on what percentage of L.A.'s more than 10 million residents are affected. Keep in mind that 12% of residents here are over the age of 65. The experience in other countries has shown that elderly patients have significantly higher hospitalization and fatality rates from the coronavirus.

(Courtesy of ProPublica)

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HOW SCHOOLS ARE RESPONDING

All 80 public school districts in L.A. County are closed, including the second largest K-12 district in the United States, and the third largest district in California

Some preschools and day care centers are still open, however. The state left the decision up to individual providers, and L.A. County will allow it if kids are cared for in small groups that stay separated.

On March 13, Los Angeles Unified School District canceled all in-person classes, sending half a million kids home -- effective Monday, March 16 -- with coursework moved online.

LAUSD teachers received an email from Superintendent Austin Beutner saying the district would be closed for two weeks "while we evaluate the appropriate path forward."

In the email, Beutner also announced a plan to open 40 family resource centers to provide weekday care for children, starting Wednesday, March 18, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. "with trained professionals."

The closures followed an earlier LAUSD emergency declaration, and efforts by schools across the region to increase cleaning efforts.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said on March 17 it's "unlikely" that schools will reopen before summer break. State officials have promised to suspend K-12 standardized testing this year.

On March 23, Beutner announced a revised timeline for LAUSD: schools will stay closed until at least May 1.

Many families depend on schools for meals, child care, and special needs services. We've been compiling a list of resources for families who may need help now, including places that will provide food while schools are closed.

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SHOULD I STILL TRAVEL?

No. You should not travel right now.

But also, you're not allowed to travel right now if you live in L.A.

Mayor Garcetti's "Safer at Home, Stay at Home" order went into effect on March 19 at 11:59 p.m. prohibiting all travel, with some exceptions.

There's a city order.

And a county order.

And Gov. Newsom's similar, statewide order is also in effect.

All the orders require that you stay in your place of residence.

You are allowed to leave if your job, or the thing you need to do, is categorized as "essential." For example: picking up food is OK; planned vacations are not.

This is what "essential" means, according to the city, county, and state orders.

Or you can read our crib sheet: Here's What You Can And Can't Do Under The Stay At Home Order.

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WHAT ARE THE OFFICIAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PREPPING AT HOME?

Here's what the L.A. County Department of Public Health is recommending:

  • Have provisions that will last a few days (water, food, essential hygiene, etc.)
  • Get immunized against the flu. This will relieve what could be a highly stressed health care system
  • Stay home when you're sick (don't wait until you are VERY sick)
  • Make sure you are using a robust, regular cleaning schedule for frequently touched surfaces
  • Wash your hands frequently

At a press conference on March 4, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she was recommending simple "social distancing" measures.

"Use verbal salutations in place of handshakes and hugs," Ferrer said. "Don't share utensils, cups, and linens. And whenever possible, try to keep six feet between you and other people that you don't know at large events."

It's also a good idea to have acetaminophen on hand to help with fever (ibuprofen TBD, scroll up to that section). See our shopping list and prep guide.

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ARE ALL EVENTS CANCELED IN CALIFORNIA?

Basically, yes. That's why we just struck through all this earlier guidance.

Not all, but many (and counting).

Below is the official mandate from Gov. Gavin Newsom's office, and the recommendations from state health officials and Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, as of March 12 through the end of the month.

  • Events with 250 or more people should be canceled or postponed.

  • Smaller events should be canceled or postponed if the venue can't accommodate social distancing.

  • Avoid gatherings or places where you can't keep a 6-foot distance from other people.

  • Avoid gatherings or places where there will be 50 or more people.

  • Avoid gatherings or places where there will be 10 or more people if you are pregnant, immunocompromised or elderly.

L.A. County strongly discouraging gatherings of more than 50 people, during a press conference on March 16. Both the city and the county have enacted new closures and restrictions -- some mandatory.

And remember, President Trump now says 10 is the maximum number of people you should spend time with in person.

The goal is to slow the spread of COVID-19 by "flattening the curve" and not overwhelming the medical infrastructure.

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IS STREET SWEEPING STILL HAPPENING?

L.A.'s Department of Public Works is still operating street sweeping, but street sweeping parking tickets are not being issued in residential areas.

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IS PUBLIC TRANSIT STILL OPERATIONAL?

Public transit keeps on truckin'.

L.A. Metro is still operational for people working essential jobs or seeking essential supplies/services. Some bus and rail service will be cut because of plummeting ridership. Check Metro's service advisory webpage and rider alerts Twitter feed for changes.

For safety, Metro has moved to rear-door boarding for all its buses (riders who need wheelchair ramp access can still use the front door), and required the transparent barrier up front be closed as a layer of protection. At rail stations, custodial staff are disinfecting touch points.

Elsewhere in municipal transit:

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CAN I STILL RIDE AN ELECTRIC SCOOTER OR BIKE?

Lime is pulling its scooters off the streets and has suspended service across California.

Bird, Lyft, and Jump previously said they've increased cleaning and disinfecting of their respective scooters and e-bikes. They're also encouraging riders to clean scooters and e-bike handles with disinfecting wipes before and after riding.

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WHAT ARE L.A. EMPLOYEES DOING TO FLATTEN THE CURVE?

City and county leaders announced new rules for themselves at a press conference on March 12. The changes were framed as precautionary steps designed to protect the community and the most vulnerable among us.

New protocols include:

  • No more than 50 visitors in city buildings at a time

  • Events and conferences held on city property must have fewer than 50 people.

  • Non-essential travel by city and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department employees is canceled

  • City Hall is closed to all non-city employees

  • Hand-washing and sanitizing facilities available at all city properties

  • 911 operators will screen callers about COVID-19 exposure to help reduce the risk to first responders

  • County Emergency Operations Center moved to Level 1 (which means it will be fully staffed with leaders and experts from every county department, as well as with outside experts)

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WHAT'S HAPPENING AT THE COURTS?

Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile announced March 16 that the largest unified trial court system in the United States will shut down for three days due to the coronavirus. The Superior Court was already scaling back, but this is a full stop.

  • The trial courts are scheduled to reopen March 20 for "essential or emergency matters"
  • All civil and criminal trials are suspended through April 16
  • No jurors should report (and no additional prospective jurors will be summoned) for jury service until April 16

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THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT THINGS YOU CAN DO TO KEEP PEOPLE SAFE

  1. Stay home if you're sick (or think you might be, even if you only have mild symptoms)
  2. Wash your hands frequently
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WHAT IF I CAN'T PAY MY RENT BECAUSE OF CORONAVIRUS?

If you live in L.A. County, you are protected for now. There is a countywide eviction moratorium in effect through May 31 (retroactive to March 4).

The order prohibits residential and commercial evictions for nonpayment of rent, late fees, and related costs due to a loss of business or household income caused by COVID-19.

It applies to all no-fault evictions other than those "necessary for health and safety reasons," according to L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who made the announcement at a March 17 press conference.

But keep in mind it is an extension, not rent forgiveness. The current order says you would be expected to repay the back rent within six months of the order ending.

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CAN I GET HELP FOR MY SMALL BUSINESS?

Possibly. The City of Los Angeles's Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD) will offer low- to no-interest loans, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

The loans will be offered without interest for up to a year, or at 3-5% interest for up to five years. To qualify, businesses must:

  • Be located within the city of L.A.
  • Have a good credit history
  • Demonstrate that they have been affected by the coronavirus
  • Show that their past profits are sufficient to pay back the debt
  • Be aligned with the city's broad goal of retaining jobs

The loans will help anywhere from 550 to 2,200 L.A. businesses.

In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest disaster loans for small businesses impacted by COVID-19 in certain states, including California.

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A RUNNING LIST OF ORGANIZATIONS OFFERING ASSISTANCE

There have been rapid, historic changes to daily life.

If you're struggling to get your basic needs met as a result, please see our list.

There's a growing number of organizations offering loans, grants, and other types of financial assistance.

There's food.

Some places are offering breaks on medication delivery.

And there are resources for rent and eviction issues.

We'll be updating it regularly.

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WHAT'S THE NEW DEADLINE FOR TAXES?

You now have until July 15 to file your California and federal tax returns.

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HOW ARE WE HELPING OUR HOMELESS NEIGHBORS?

On March 18, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti activated an emergency power granted to him by the city charter in order to provide special assistance to the homeless population.

The power he cited is known as the Disaster Service Worker Program, a measure which gives the mayor the ability to redeploy any city employee to combat a crisis, including to house the homeless.

Garcetti laid out several steps the city will take to ramp up the opening of emergency shelters, including:

Garcetti said the city will follow the social distancing guidelines required by public health officials, and not try to house more people in the shelters than they can contain.

On March 22, the CDC weighed in on the practice of clearing of homeless encampments, or "sweeps." Its guidance is: don't -- unless individual housing units can be provided.

CDC: "Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread."

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THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN QUARANTINE, ISOLATION, AND SOCIAL DISTANCING

All are actions designed to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease. Here's how they differ, according to the CDC and Harvard Health:

  • Quarantine: a separation for people who have a contagious disease, have symptoms consistent with a contagious disease, or were exposed to a contagious disease. A person's movements are restricted when they are quarantined
  • Isolation: a less restrictive separation that keeps people who are sick away from people who are not sick
  • Self-Isolation: a voluntary action to stay at home by people who are sick (or are likely to be sick) and are experiencing mild symptoms
  • Self-Quarantine: a voluntary action to stay at home by people who may have been exposed but are not experiencing symptoms
  • Social Distancing: keeping your distance from other people. The distance reduces the risk of breathing in droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or (in some cases) breathes. It can also mean cancelling events or gatherings

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THE TEST

On March 13, President Trump announced at a news conference that millions of tests were expected to be available within a month, including at drive-thru test sites. (But note, some of the president's comments in past briefings have later been contradicted by information provided by other officials.)

The same day, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it will fund two companies to develop 1-hour diagnostic tests: DiaSorin Molecular and QIAGEN. DiaSorin's test, the department says in a press release, could be ready in six weeks; QIAGEN's could be ready in 12 weeks.

The president also announced that Google was going to quickly develop a coronavirus screening website to direct people to testing locations.

According to a tweet that followed from Google Communications, it's Verily (a division of Google's parent company), not Google, that's building something. And the thing it's building is a tool to help triage people for COVID-19 testing in the Bay Area. The company said it was in the early stages of development.

Meanwhile, L.A. County has started piloting drive-thru testing at three locations.

State health officials said on March 20 that they're waiving all co-pays for COVID-19 testing, no matter which insurance plan you're on (and if you don't have health insurance, the window for enrolling was extended to June 30).

L.A. City announced on March 23 it will also offer testing, beginning with people most at risk. To schedule a test, start by answering the questions on the city's eligibility form. If you qualify, you'll be asked for your contact information for next steps.

Also on March 23, officials announced that the county has secured an initial 20,000 new tests from South Korea-based company Seegene Technologies, Inc., and the promise of 100,000 tests a week for the L.A. area.

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WHO SHOULD BE TESTED FOR CORONAVIRUS?

Providers have been encouraged by the L.A. Department of Health to use their checklist when evaluating people for COVID-19.

Here's the exact testing criteria -- a combination of "Clinical Features" and "Epidemiologic Risk Factors" -- for the L.A. County Department of Public Health Laboratory, as of March 22:

Fever *or* signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g. cough, shortness of breath) AND Any person healthcare worker (defined as a person providing direct clinical care to patients) who worked while symptomac in an acute or long-term care facility OR A resident of a long-term care facility OR Paramedic personnel and Emergency Medicine Technicians (EMTs)

Part of a cluster of 2 or more cases of a presumed infecous acute respiratory illness within a 72-hour period AND Any congregate living setting (e.g. senior assisted-living facility, homeless shelters).

L.A. City is also scheduling testing, beginning with people most at risk. There's an eligibility form online to see if you qualify. Here's the city critera:

  • Those with symptoms who are 65 and older
  • Those with symptoms who have underlying chronic health conditions
  • Those who are subject to a mandatory 14 day quarantine period due to a confirmed COVID-19 exposure (with more than 7 days of quarantine remaining)

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IF I'M AN ASYMPTOMATIC CORONAVIRUS CARRIER, HOW LONG AM I CONTAGIOUS?

You could be contagious for up to 14 days, according to Dr. Shruti Gohil, University of California Irvine Medical Center.

However, Gohil said, since asymptomatic carriers may not know when Day 1 was, it's "encouraging to know ... their ability to spread the disease is far less than those who are actively symptomatic."

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CAN MY JOB ASK ME TO STAY HOME AND NOT PAY ME?

Unless you have a collective bargaining agreement or contract, employers can change employees' work hours without notice.

If you've been asked to self-quarantine because you or a family member is sick, you should be entitled to use your sick time for at least part of it, though your employer cannot force you to do so.

Also, on March 18, President Trump signed into law a coronavirus relief bill that requires employers with less than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid, virus-related sick leave and family leave.

The California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has more answers related to workplace laws in the age of coronavirus.

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CAN I GET UNEMPLOYMENT BECAUSE OF CORONAVIRUS?

In California, there are now expanded unemployment resources due to COVID-19. If you have to temporarily stop working, you can file a claim due to cut hours, unpaid leave, or termination due to the coronavirus. See EDD's website for available services.

There's also the possibility you might get a $1,000 check from the federal government -- or potentially more, the president alluded to in a later press conference. But that's TBD.

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IS IT SAFE TO TOUCH TAKEOUT & DELIVERY FOOD CONTAINERS?

"There is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food," according to the CDC, but the virus can live on surfaces. To reduce risk, go contactless when getting meals delivered.

In whatever app you're using (or on the phone), ask your driver to leave your food outside your door. You might have to leave the message as a note.

Once you've brought it in, put the food on your own plates, throw out the packaging and wash your hands for 20 seconds before eating.

And tip well.

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SHOULD I GET A GUN?

We've researched this question in a number of contexts, most recently while working on The Big One podcast.

We know people are buying guns, but we also know that most people aren't trained to use them, much less in high stress situations. And that can have disastrous consequences (even for people who are trained).

With a gun in the home, you're more likely to do something unjustifiable than to use it properly in self-defense. And while you're here imagining what you might need to defend against, keep in mind that people don't typically react to disasters like they do in the movies.

"We tend to come together as humans and work together and help each other," sociologist Joseph Trainor told us previously. During an earthquake, for example, it's much more likely you'd be rescued from a fallen building by a fellow victim than by an emergency response team, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva's take: "Buying guns is a bad idea." And "particularly, now that you have a lot of people home," he said during a news conference on March 16. "Cabin fever sets in. You've got a crowded environment. ... Weapons are not a good mix."

There might also be anxiety, depression, existential dread, or suicidal thoughts to navigate as the pandemic evolves and a possible global recession plays out.

Here's more on the case for not panic-buying a gun.

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IS THIS CORONAVIRUS LIKE SARS OR MERS?

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) are two members of the coronavirus family that tend to make people sicker. "About 3 or 4 out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died," according to the CDC. And SARS was responsible for a global outbreak in 2002-2003 that killed 774 people.

"The novel coronavirus is more genetically related to SARS than MERS," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier.

But scientists don't know yet if novel coronavirus will act the same way as SARS or MERS; they're using information from both pathogens to guide their research.

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DID NOVEL CORONAVIRUS COME FROM... A BAT?

Dr. Messonnier said the novel coronavirus "does look like it may be somewhat similar to a bat coronavirus." But she said researchers will need to conduct more genetic sequencing before she can be confident of how the virus started.

Some researchers think pangolins might have transmitted the new coronavirus to humans. But we just don't know for sure yet.

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AND A LOT OF OTHER QUESTIONS, ANSWERED

Will I Get Paid If Coronavirus Puts Me Out Of A Job?

Am I Doing Social Distancing Right?

Yes, Cannabis Shops Stay Open

I Can Sew Homemade Masks. Will Hospitals Use Them?

Will My Child's Day Care Center Or Preschool Close?

What Does Coronavirus Do To Your Cells?

What Do I Need To Buy To Prep For Coronavirus?

Why Aren't There Enough Tests?

Can The Coronavirus Be Transmitted On Paper, Coins, Or Mail?

What Do I Do If I Can't Find Any Hand Sanitizer?

How Much More Cautious Should I Be About Coronavirus If I Have An Underlying Condition?

Is It Safe To Take LA Metro In The Age Of Coronavirus?

What's The Cost Of A Coronavirus Test If I Have Medi-Cal?

So, When Is Coachella Now?

What Is LAX Doing To Protect People From Coronavirus?

How Should I Talk To Little Kids About Coronavirus?

Which Local Colleges Have Shifted To Online Classes Because Of Coronavirus?

If I'm An Asymptomatic Coronavirus Carrier, How Long Will I Be Contagious?

What To Know About California's 'Lockdown' Of Seniors And The Chronically Ill

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WHAT ELSE? SEND US MORE OF YOUR QUESTIONS.

Edited and skippered by Lisa Brenner. With contributions from Robert Garrova, Paul Glickman, Lisa Brenner, Megan Erwin, Brian Frank, Megan Garvey, Kyle Stokes, Adriene Hill, Mike Roe, Matt Tinoco, Stephanie Ritoper, Elly Yu, Libby Denkmann, Elina Shatkin, Ryan Fonseca, Jackie Fortier, Jacob Margolis, Josie Huang, Jessica Ogilvie and the entire KPCC/LAist newsroom.

This story has been updated dozens of times as news continues to break on this national emergency. It was originally published on January 28, 2020.