Coronavirus Today: Lessons from the Auntie Sewing Squad

Good evening. I’m Melody Petersen, and it’s Monday, April 5. In ordinary times, I write about healthcare and business. But these aren’t ordinary times, and for the last year, I’ve written mostly about the pandemic. Now I’ll be writing this newsletter for the next couple of weeks. Let’s get started with a look at what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

One lesson I’ve learned is to be skeptical when someone tells you they know what will happen next with the coronavirus. Another lesson: Learn from those who do extraordinary things despite the world being turned upside down.

One of those people is performance artist and comedian Kristina Wong, whom my colleague Nita Lelyveld wrote about in a must-read story.

A year ago, Wong was stuck in her Koreatown apartment, filled with uncertainty and watching the life she’d planned for herself implode. In videos, she mused that this might be a time to clean the house, organize computer files, “turn inward.” But that isn’t what she did.

Wong gathered fabric, elastic and a Hello Kitty sewing machine, all of which she used to make sets and props for her shows. She found a pattern online and made a mask.

And then she went on social media and offered to make masks for anyone in need — as long as “you don’t mind really messy stitching.”

Within days, Wong was bombarded with requests.

In search of helpers, she created the Auntie Sewing Squad, which just celebrated its first anniversary — more than 800 volunteers strong nationwide. The aunties have ranged in age from 8 to 93, and they include artists, professors, teachers, homemakers, health professionals and screenwriters. Together, they have made and donated more than 300,000 face masks.

Along the way, they’ve learned some important lessons: That sharing is more valuable than money. That their political views are worth sharing. That they can work effectively and respectively with people they’ve never met in real life. That by caring for others, they are caring for themselves.

“This is a story about how help, once offered, often sparks more help in unexpected ways,” Nita writes.

By the numbers

California cases, deaths and vaccinations as of 7:09 p.m. PT:

3,659,271 confirmed cases, up 3,416 today; 59,347 deaths, up 75 today; 33.2% of Californians at least partially vaccinated

Track California’s coronavirus spread and vaccination efforts — including the latest numbers and how they break down — with our graphics.

14 days: Cases +0%, deaths -31%. Vaccines: 33.2% have had a dose, 18.4% fully vaccinated. School: 28% of students can return

Across California

The pandemic has been especially hard on families with children, including in Los Angeles, where most have not been in a classroom for more than a year. Last week, we told you about a new newsletter from Times reporter Sonja Sharp that delves into the issues that affect California families and answers parents’ questions about school; read its first edition here and sign up to get it in your inbox every Monday evening.

In an attempt to get families comfortable with sending their kids back to school, L.A. Unified has announced that it will open 25 community vaccination centers, starting with three this week, my colleague Howard Blume reports. Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles and Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles will open clinics on Tuesday, and Gage Middle School in Huntington Park will open the third on Friday.

The limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine has made securing appointments difficult, though that is changing with more doses coming in. Health officials have also had persistent problems in reaching low-income Latino and Black communities, where providing protection from COVID-19 is especially critical to preventing serious illness and saving lives.

So far, fewer than half of LAUSD students are planning to return to their campuses when they are eligible. The new vaccine clinics on L.A. Unified campuses are just one of the confidence-building measures the district is rolling out to make a return to school more enticing. The district also has set up a mandatory coronavirus-testing operation and has installed near-hospital-grade air-filtration systems, among other upgrades.

While most classrooms are still empty, the amusement park Six Flags Magic Mountain is now open. The park, dubbed the Thrill Capital of the World, opened for annual and season passholders on Thursday, the first day it was eligible to do so under California’s reopening guidelines. The park will open to the general public on Saturday.

At first, attendance was capped at 15% of the park’s maximum capacity. But as of Monday, that increased to 25% of capacity as Los Angeles County loosened its restrictions to align with rules for the orange tier. The park has enacted a slew of safety protocols as well, Hugo Martín reports.

Other major Southern California theme parks are still gearing up to welcome back visitors. Universal Studios Hollywood is scheduled to reopen April 16. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim plan to reopen April 30. Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park is expected to open sometime in May.

Meanwhile, some Angelenos will soon lose their neighborhood supermarket. Kroger Co. is shutting down the Ralphs in Pico-Robertson, as well as another store in South L.A. and a Food 4 Less in East Hollywood, after the L.A. City Council voted in February to require large grocery stores to pay workers an extra $5 an hour for about four months. The stores will close May 15.

The pending shutdown of the store at Pico Boulevard and Beverwil Drive has sparked fierce debates on social media, with some casting Kroger as the villain. Others blame city politicians. “Government gone wrong,” wrote one Facebook user.

City leaders contend that the chain reaped record profits last year and that store employees should be rewarded with “hero pay” for working on the front lines during the pandemic. Kroger executives say the stores were underperforming before the measure passed and that it can’t afford to pay workers the pandemic premium.

And after a year of hardship and loss, L.A.’s Black churches celebrated their second pandemic Easter on Sunday. Some offered prayers via Zoom, and others opted to host services in their parking lots.

With indoor services permitted at 25% capacity, pastors wrestled with whether to invite their flock to worship in person. Most concluded the time was not right. Coronavirus cases were down and vaccinations were up, but they said they did not feel safe courting a disease that has killed Black people in disproportionate numbers.

New Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist in Willowbrook was one of the few exceptions. About 60 people came to the church for a 90-minute Easter service that was also livestreamed to worshipers at home.

Elroy Webb, chairman of the deacon board for 40 years, said there is no substitute for gathering with his peers.

“I was just thrilled to see my church family,” he said. “Online and TV are good, but ain’t nothing like this atmosphere, the warmness.”

California reopening map: Most counties are in the red tier, and Los Angeles and Orange counties are newly in the orange tier
A description of the four tiers California uses to determine when counties can let businesses open, based on coronavirus risk

See the latest on California’s coronavirus closures and reopenings, and the metrics that inform them, with our tracker.

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Around the nation and the world

More Americans say they are planning to get a COVID-19 vaccine, although 25% still say they probably or definitely won’t get vaccinated, according to a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

People who were reluctant toward the vaccine say they worry about possible side effects. They also tend to be Republican, and are usually younger and less susceptible to becoming critically ill or dying if they get COVID-19.

A similar poll conducted in late January found that 67% of American adults were willing to get vaccinated or had already received at least one shot. Now that figure has risen to 75%.

In addition to struggling to make inroads with those hesitant to get the vaccine, states have struggled to get the shots to people of color, who have been disproportionately killed and hospitalized by the virus.

Now, two states — Vermont and Montana — have prioritized communities of color for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Starting Thursday, Vermont explicitly gave Black adults and people from other minority communities priority status. It followed Montana, which in January announced that Native Americans and other people of color would be allowed to receive the vaccine because they are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.

Although the move is meant to counteract the kinds of racial disparities that have made people of color more vulnerable to the disease, some experts fear it could backfire.

“It could give some the impression that the vaccine is being rolled out to them first as a test,” said Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious diseases specialist at NYU Langone Health. “It could reinforce the fear that people of color are being used as guinea pigs for something new.”

Officials in many states are also debating whether to use so-called vaccine passports to help open the economy.

The passports are typically an app with a code that verifies whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19, thus making them unlikely to to spread the coronavirus. Israel uses the passports, which are seen as a way to rebuild the travel industry and other businesses.

But the idea doesn’t sit well with some lawmakers, especially Republicans. GOP lawmakers in a number of states have proposed legislation to stop the use of the passports, in part because of privacy issues.

Montana is one of the states where such legislation has been introduced. Republicans there voted along party lines last week to advance a pair of bills that would ban discrimination based on vaccine status or possession of an immunity passport — and prohibit using vaccine status or passports to obtain certain benefits and services.

While California is gradually reopening its economy, other countries are shutting down because of escalating cases.

On Monday, India reported its biggest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The country started shutting cinemas, restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship on Monday evening.

Infections had receded in India for several months but started to rise again in late February. Since then, new cases have increased more than 10-fold.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: What is different now that L.A. County has moved to the orange tier?

For the second time in less than a month, L.A. County has made enough progress in beating back the coronavirus to loosen its public health restrictions. Although the state reassigned the county to the orange tier last week, local officials opted to wait until today to take advantage of their new opportunity for leniency.

With a newly revised public health order now in effect, bowling alleys, indoor card rooms and indoor pools can reopen at up to 25% capacity.

Both youth and adult recreational sports leagues can apply to the county public health department for permission to hold athletic events, competitions or tournaments involving more than two teams.

Bars that don’t serve food can reopen outdoors as long as they close at 10 p.m., space tables eight feet apart and limit them to six people from up to three households. Patrons will be limited to 90-minute visits, and they’ll have to wear face coverings when they’re not eating or drinking. Counter seating and live entertainment remain prohibited.

Breweries, wineries and distilleries that don’t serve meals can reopen indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer, provided they follow the same restrictions as bars. They’ll also have to require reservations for indoor seating, make sure televisions can’t be watched indoors and limit indoor tables to six people from the same household.

Grocery and retail stores, hair salons, barbershops and personal care services will be permitted to raise capacity from 50% to 75%, although the public health department said it is strongly recommending that grocery stores continue to operate at 50% capacity until April 15. That would give more workers time to get vaccinated before encountering bigger crowds.

Other establishments also became eligible to raise their capacity, including houses of worship, museums, zoos and aquariums (from 25% to 50%); restaurants and movie theaters (from 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer, to 50% or 200 people, whichever is fewer); and indoor gyms and yoga studios (from 10% to 25%).

As previously mentioned, amusement parks can raise their capacity from 15% to 25%.

Outdoor sports and live performances, which were permitted to allow limited fan attendance starting Thursday, can now increase capacity from 20% to 33%.

For details on reopening rules in your county, check out our county-by-county reopening tracker.

We want to hear from you. Email us your coronavirus questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them. Wondering if your question’s already been answered? Check out our archive here.


Need a vaccine? Keep in mind that supplies are limited, and getting one can be a challenge. Sign up for email updates, check your eligibility and, if you’re eligible, make an appointment where you live: City of Los Angeles | Los Angeles County | Kern County | Orange County | Riverside County | San Bernardino County | San Diego County | San Luis Obispo County | Santa Barbara County | Ventura County

Need more vaccine help? Talk to your healthcare provider. Call the state’s COVID-19 hotline at (833) 422-4255. And consult our county-by-county guides to getting vaccinated.

Practice social distancing using these tips, and wear a mask or two.

Watch for symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. Here’s what to look for and when.

Need to get tested? Here’s where you can in L.A. County and around California.

Americans are hurting in many ways. We have advice for helping kids cope, resources for people experiencing domestic abuse and a newsletter to help you make ends meet.

We’ve answered hundreds of readers’ questions. Explore them in our archive here.

For our most up-to-date coverage, visit our homepage and our Health section, get our breaking news alerts, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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