Good evening. I’m Kiera Feldman, and it’s Wednesday, May 12. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

This week, my first as a fully vaccinated person, has been a flurry of jubilant pandemic-era firsts — hugging an old friend, meeting new people, dining in Koreatown. Life after vaccination feels to me like the flipping of a switch. One day it was off; the next it was on.

For many, the concept of “normal life” seems closer at hand than ever. And yet, the pandemic isn’t over. The march of death continues apace.

My colleagues Hayley Smith and Soumya Karlamangla offer a heartbreaking look at the Californians who are still dying in the pandemic.

There’s Claudio Arturo Diaz, who worked four different jobs and was only one year away from his planned retirement. But not long after his 64th birthday, he began to feel ill. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 and, within a month, was hospitalized and put on a ventilator. He died April 4 — three days after he would have became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

An average of 50 Californians a day are still dying from the virus. About 13 of those daily deaths are in Los Angeles County, according to data from the last seven days.

Those numbers are vastly better than they used to be. During the worst days of the pandemic, California was seeing an average of nearly 600 people dying per day.

But for families losing loved ones, the pain of loss is compounded.

It’s so unfair,” said Diaz’s daughter, Lin-Yu Diaz. “Now we’re getting phone calls about setting up the vaccination, but it’s too late.”

Many of these deaths are the result of infections that took hold during the surge in January and February, explained Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Dying from the coronavirus can be a long process.

What comes next will be hard. It will be upon all of us to remember that those who’ve lost friends and family members throughout the pandemic are still grieving.

Americans are already starting to celebrate “having a life they recognize more and more,” said Yvonne Thomas, an L.A.-based psychologist whose specialties include grief and loss. “Yet those people who have lost loved ones to COVID … are still stuck trying to breathe. It’s going to be an extremely confusing time for them.”

By the numbers

California cases, deaths and vaccinations as of 5:58 p.m. on Wednesday:

3,738,667 confirmed cases, up 1,441 today. 119 deaths, up 50 today. 49.7% of Californians at least part-vaccinated

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

14 days: -8% cases, -16% deaths. Vaccines: 49.7% have had a dose, 36.8% fully vaxxed. School: 48% of students have returned

Across California

California, get ready to breathe a little easier. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the state could lift most of its COVID-19 mask requirements by June 15.

State health officials have not offered details about what the relaxed mask mandates might look like, but they are expected to apply only to the great outdoors. In all likelihood, masks will still be required indoors June 15, the day the state is slated to reopen its economy. “But we hope, sooner than later, that those will be lifted as well,” Newsom said.

Vaccines deserve much of the credit for getting California within striking distance of returning to pre-pandemic ways of life. There’s still a lot of work to be done, however, to make sure the benefits of vaccines are shared equally across racial and ethnic lines.

Only about one-third of Latino and Black Californians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a Times analysis found. By comparison, at least half of white and Asian American or Pacific Islander Californians have received a dose.

People living in California’s most disadvantaged areas were also less likely to have received a shot, according to the analysis. Only about 39% of people in this group had begun the vaccination process, compared with 62% of Californians in the state’s most advantaged areas.

Age is a big factor, too: The older you are, the more likely you are to have received a shot. Though 80% of seniors and 70% of people ages 50 to 64 have received a vaccine, only 53% of adults ages 18 to 49 have done so.

How will Californians attest to these vaccinations when businesses and public institutions require proof? This seemingly simple question strikes at the heart of the contentious debate over so-called vaccine passports.

To some, making one’s immunization record easily accessible via a smartphone or other device is a commonsense alternative to carrying around a white card issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (I am surely not the only American who worries that the CDC vaccination record in their wallet is getting more and more crumpled each day.)

But to a vocal set, the passports look like a way for government officials to keep tabs on members of the public, gain access to their private health information and favor some people over others. In some cases, opposition to the passports has been led by people who last year battled against mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions.

The showdown came to a head in Orange County, where hundreds of protesters descended on a Board of Supervisors meeting this week to oppose a pilot passport program. They urged officials to reject the plan, invoked conspiracy theories and, in some cases, declared the pandemic a hoax.

“I will not be bullied, coerced, harassed in any way, shape or form … into participating into a massive human experiment in order to fit in,” said one woman who did not provide her name.

Several detractors compared vaccines to “gene therapy” and said requiring people to have the passports was akin to forcing Jews to wear yellow during the Nazi regime. “You’re not going to brand us with a barcode like we are cattle,” another woman said. “The Nazis looked like they were winning, too, for a little while.”

After nearly four hours of public comment, the Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 to pause any further work on developing a vaccine passport. Supervisor Katrina Foley cast the sole dissenting vote.

“We are appeasing a very small faction of our community who actually are not going to get vaccinated,” Foley said. “They’ve already told us they don’t believe in vaccines.”

California reopening map: 9 counties in the yellow tier (with Mono and San Mateo joining), 38 orange (Madera joining), 11 red
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

A panel of independent experts issued a report Wednesday that says the World Health Organization should have more power to stop pandemics. The panel reviewed the WHO’s response to COVID-19 and concluded the U.N. health agency should be given “guaranteed rights of access” in countries if needed to investigate emerging outbreaks.

The panel faulted countries worldwide for their sluggish response to the coronavirus, saying most had a wait-and-see approach until it was too late to contain the outbreak.

“The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented,” said former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who co-led the panel.

As critical as the report was, some observers felt it didn’t go far enough. Lawrence O. Gostin, a global health professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, said the panel “fails to call out bad actors like China, perpetuating the dysfunctional WHO tradition of diplomacy over frankness, transparency and accountability.”

An investigation by the Associated Press last year found the WHO repeatedly praised China in public while complaining in private that Chinese officials delayed the release of critical outbreak information.

Meanwhile, scientists in India are racing to study a potentially worrisome coronavirus variant as cases soar. Designated a “variant of concern” by the WHO, it may spread more easily than its viral predecessors. But India is far behind where it needs to be in terms of genetic sequencing tests that would help officials respond to it.

That’s a big problem because viruses mutate constantly, and the surge in infections in India means more opportunities for new variants to emerge. India was slow to start the genetic monitoring needed to see whether those mutations were happening and whether they were making the virus more infectious or deadly. Indian scientists say they’re been hindered by bureaucratic obstacles and have struggled to get vital data from the government.

But it’s too soon to blame India’s COVID-19 surge solely on variants, officials caution. The government’s decisions to continue allowing religious gatherings and crowded election rallies were likely factors in catalyzing the virus’ spread.

And, finally, a panel of advisors to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Wednesday that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be given to children as young as 12. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, adopted the recommendation as official policy shortly after.

In effect, the moves were an endorsement of the Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to authorize the shot for emergency use in adolescents ages 12 to 15. Now, many middle schoolers and virtually all high school students will be able to get vaccinated before the next school year starts.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is already available in the United States to everybody 16 and older. Expanding eligibility to 12- to 15-year-olds means 18 million more people can get vaccinated.

L.A. County will begin offering the shots to adolescents in this age group at its vaccine sites starting Thursday. (Anyone younger than 18 will need to be accompanied by a parent, guardian or responsible adult, and present photo identification and verification of age, county officials said.)

Though children generally experience milder cases of COVID-19, experts believe vaccinating adolescents will help protect their families and the broader community. Plus, vaccinating more people quickly will drive down the likelihood that new variants will emerge.

“The higher the level of immunity in the population, the less spread of virus there will be — and, more importantly, less disease and death,” said Dr. Paul Spearman, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

If that’s not enough of an incentive to get vaccinated, how about a shot at winning $1 million?

When vaccines were scarce, getting a jab felt like winning the lottery. Now the state of Ohio will make that literally true for a select few by offering adults who have received at least one dose a shot at a seven-figure payday. Winners will be drawn every Wednesday for five weeks, with the jackpot financed with federal pandemic relief funds.

For Ohioans under the age of 18 who get vaccinated, prizes include five four-year scholarships to an Ohio public university, including tuition, room and board, and books.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from our own Kelcie Pegher, and it’s for you: Are you holding a grudge against COVID-19 scofflaws?

As coronavirus cases continue to plummet across California and Los Angeles County officials say herd immunity is in sight, we’re starting to rekindle our in-person relationships with family members and friends we’ve been physically isolated from during the pandemic.

For the most part, these reunions — made possible by COVID-19 vaccines — have been welcome. But in some cases, they are accompanied by awkwardness as we come face to face with people who made decisions during the pandemic that we didn’t agree with.

Have you been holding grudges against loved ones who, in your view, took irresponsible risks or acted in ways that went against your own moral calculus? Alternatively, have you struggled to hold your tongue when you’ve felt others judging you unfairly?

And have any of those feelings changed now that coronavirus restrictions are loosening up?

Please send us your thoughts via email, and thank you in advance for sharing your stories!

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.

Resources

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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.

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