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Two weeks ago, leaders in the Bay Area ordered residents to shelter in place and leave their homes only to buy food, get medicine or perform other “essential tasks,” making the region the first to venture into a life-altering experiment.
The idea, they said, was to slow the spread of Covid-19, and prevent infected patients from overwhelming hospitals and health care systems.
Days later, on March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the directive to all of California, home to almost 40 million people.
[See which states and cities have told residents to stay home.]
It would be days more before Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York put the state “on pause,” a different label for a very similar order.
It’s much too soon to say why New York has been hit harder — and whether early containment measures by California officials are paying off.
Testing has been significantly less available here than in New York, and public health officials have repeated that as testing becomes more widespread in California, it’s likely to reveal many more cases.
But The Associated Press noted that California’s shortage of tests in the early weeks of the crisis doesn’t alone explain the differences between the states.
[Read more about debates over how much the public should know about the state’s coronavirus cases.]
Certainly, as my colleagues have reported, New York City’s density hasn’t helped keep people apart. (Although, as my colleagues have also reported, density will also be a source of resilience in the difficult recovery.)
And over the weekend, Mr. Newsom and other California officials got some tentative thumbs up from experts who said that California’s restrictions — provided that they continue and that residents adhere to them — may help the state’s biggest urban areas avoid the kind of devastating scenes playing out in New York City.
“When history is written,” California leaders including Mayor London Breed of San Francisco and Mr. Newsom, “should get credit for saving hundreds of lives,” Dr. Bob Wachter said on Twitter. He is a professor and chair of the University of California, San Francisco’s department of medicine.
Nevertheless, officials across the state are scrambling to meet demand for hospital beds and health care. And they’re still pleading with residents to stay home.
“Only time will tell us if that time you didn’t go out saved a life,” Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said on Sunday as he laid out plans to add more hospital beds at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “We’re racing against time.”
[Read more about the arrival of a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship at the Port of Los Angeles.]
Here’s what else you may have missed this weekend
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Mr. Newsom on Friday announced a statewide halt of evictions until May 31 for those affected by the outbreak in a long-sought move that activists have said would at least temporarily help newly unemployed Californians stay in their homes. But that rent will have to be paid eventually, which is troubling for those who were already living paycheck to paycheck.
Read more about bills due this week and what that means for the economy. [The New York Times]
The U.S. tried to build a new fleet of now desperately needed ventilators. Here’s how the mission failed. [The New York Times]
Also, Los Angeles got 170 broken ventilators from the federal government. So a Silicon Valley company is fixing them. [The Los Angeles Times]
Instacart workers, who shop for and deliver groceries, are set to go on strike today, saying they haven’t been given adequate protection from infection at supermarkets. [The New York Times]
Also, here’s what to know before you go to the grocery store. [The New York Times]
And Finally …
My colleague Emma Goldberg wondered about the impulse to make art to reflect troubled times. Here’s her dispatch on art in the coronavirus era:
Making art amid a pandemic can raise thorny questions. David Goodsell, a computational biologist by day and amateur painter by night, has spent years making watercolors of viruses — Ebola, Zika, H.I.V. — to show their cellular structures.
When he tweeted his image of the coronavirus, he was surprised by the outpouring of responses it provoked, some critical of his decision to glamorize something so deadly.
“You have to admit, these viruses are so symmetrical that they’re beautiful,” said Mr. Goodsell, an associate professor at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. “Are bright colors and pretty stuff the right approach? The jury’s still out. I’m not trying to make these things look dangerous, I want people to understand how they’re built.”
Seeing the infection count rise, Mr. Goodsell said he worried about the health of his aging parents in Los Angeles. But he hopes his painting can quell fears about the novel coronavirus by educating people on the virus’s workings: “I want people to think of viruses as being an entity that we can learn about and fight. They’re not nebulous nothings.”
Across the country, artists, sellers and buyers are wrestling with the ethics of crafting virus-themed works. Earlier this month, Etsy removed all products mentioning Covid-19, which affected hundreds of items, including “I Survived Coronavirus 2020” T-shirts and crochet models of the virus.
An Etsy spokesperson said that its ban aimed to ensure no one would “exploit the developing coronavirus situation.”
The decision rankled some artists who, like Mr. Goodsell, view their works as educational. One Etsy seller, Sydni Rubio, who had posted Covid-19 stickers for $4 a piece, wrote a petition protesting the ban; she said virus art “brings awareness to the epidemic.”
But for some creatives, Covid-19 works are more personal. In early March, Duyi Han, a designer in Los Angeles, was messaging daily with his grandparents quarantined in their Wuhan home, two miles from the seafood market where the outbreak began. He thought mournfully of the city he visited as a child, whose cherry blossom-lined streets had been deserted.
So Mr. Han created an oil painting and mural design, called “The Saints Wear White,” that depicts a chapel in Hubei province filled with coronavirus medical workers in decontamination suits.
“When I work on it, it’s kind of a spiritual experience,” Mr. Han said. “When I paint those figures I really put my faith in them.” More than 3,000 Chinese health care workers have been infected from the outbreak.
To Mr. Han, seeking beauty from crisis is a timeworn tradition, one he’s thought about since studying Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica.” He comforted his family in Wuhan by sending them photos of his art; in return, they sent pictures of food and masks to assure him they were safe.
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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.