Today’s Headlines: Hard cash? Hard pass

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During the coronavirus pandemic, many people are afraid to handle cash. Will it speed the transition to cashless society?

TOP STORIES

Hard Cash? Hard Pass

There’s been no specific research on the coronavirus being transmitted via cash, but that doesn’t make bills and coins any less creepy to many of the consumers and workers who handle bills these days, with no way of knowing who has touched them before.

That fear has prompted some businesses to shift away from hard currency in favor of “touchless” payment options, and some experts predict that the pandemic will accelerate a steady flight by American consumers away from dollars and cents.

While many would hail a shift to a cashless economy, others say that it raises equity concerns, because the poorest Americans have no access to digital alternatives.

Unlike many countries that have moved to assure virtually their entire populations have access to online payments, a survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation found that roughly 6% of the U.S. adult population doesn’t have a checking or savings account, and thus can’t access funds online.

L.A. Slowly Makes Progress

As large swaths of California began reopening shopping malls, restaurants and other businesses this week, the coronavirus threat in Los Angeles County remains high as the death toll surpassed 2,000 people.

More than 40 of California’s 58 counties have now been approved to expand retail operations as their virus conditions have improved, with more expected to reopen their economies in the coming days.

But officials expect the progress to be slower in L.A. County, which accounts for nearly 60% of the state’s total deaths and almost half of the more than 86,000 confirmed infections. Still, there are new signs that even L.A. is beginning to turn the corner: The coronavirus transmission rate in the county is now in its best position since the magnitude of the outbreak became clear in March.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— Law enforcement officials in Los Angeles and across the country have been overwhelmed in recent months by a surge in tips about online child sex abuse, as kids spend more time online.

— More than 2.4 million people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the outbreak.

— A new research effort seeks to learn more about how the novel coronavirus spreads and mutates on common surfaces by enlisting an army of citizen scientists in San Diego.

— One of the largest mass coronavirus testing sites in Nevada has opened in Las Vegas, thanks to the donation of more than 200,000 test kits from the United Arab Emirates.

— Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford scored a breakthrough of sorts when he got President Trump to briefly wear a protective face mask — albeit behind the scenes — during a tour of a converted factory churning out ventilators and other medical gear. “I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,” Trump said.

For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

Beijing Tightens Its Grip

As the world struggles with the pandemic, China is moving to crack down on Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests have rankled the powers that be in Beijing. The Chinese government plans to impose new national security laws on the former British colony, which is supposed to retain its semiautonomous status until 2047.

The decision is sending shock waves through Hong Kong, where past calls for national security legislation were shelved after mass protests. Many fear that new laws will suppress dissidents and further jeopardize civil liberties, destroying Hong Kong’s longtime status as a cultural and political refuge for those who would be persecuted in mainland China.

It would also further aggravate U.S.-China tensions, which already are running high amid finger-pointing over the COVID-19 pandemic.

A New Admissions Plea Deal

Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, weren’t the biggest players alleged to be caught up in the college admissions scandal, but they have drawn the most public attention and ire.

For more than a year, the couple had insisted William “Rick” Singer misled them into believing the money was destined for legitimate university purposes, not bribes to corrupt school employees. But today, the two plan to plead guilty to fraud, court documents show.

Federal prosecutors and the couple’s attorneys agreed to ask a judge to sentence Loughlin and Giannulli to two and five months, respectively, in federal prison. But there is no guarantee the judge will accept the plea agreements.

Ending the SAT as We Know It?

The long-running debate over whether standardized tests unfairly discriminate against disadvantaged students or provide a useful tool to evaluate college applicants has taken a new turn: The University of California regents have voted to suspend SAT and ACT testing requirements through 2024 and eliminate them for California students by 2025.

Under the plan, standardized test results will be optional on applications for the next two years and then eliminated for California students in Years 3 and 4. By fall 2025, the UC system is aiming to have its own assessment.

It’s a decision that could reshape the nation’s college admissions process.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Americans have recognized Memorial Day for more than 150 years. In 1868, Union Civil War veterans began a tradition of remembering their fallen by placing flowers on their graves, called Decoration Day.

The holiday later expanded to include the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII and so on. In a May 1911 edition of the paper, The Times wrote, “The ranks may thin, hair may whiten and shoulders may stoop a little under the weight of years, but the martial spirit seems immortal.”

In Los Angeles, Memorial Day has been marked by parades and public ceremonies in addition to the tradition of grave decorating with flags and flowers. See more photos of Memorial Day through the years here.

May 23, 1987: Cub Scouts rush to place additional flags for Memorial Day weekend at the Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

YOUR WEEKEND

— Memorial Day will be a bit different this year. Here are nine recipes for a small cookout with your quarantine crew. Sign up for our new cooking newsletter for more.

— Most of the time, ground turkey doesn’t work for meatballs. But it does in this recipe.

— It’s a great year for roses. Here’s how to take care of your blooms — and how to appreciate them from afar.

— Get comfortable with driving your car again.

Editor’s note: We’ll be off Monday for the holiday; the next edition of the Today’s Headlines newsletter will be in your inbox Tuesday morning.

CALIFORNIA

— Los Angeles County has ended its controversial PACE home improvement loan program. The program was dogged by years of criticism that the county enabled predatory lending and put people at risk of losing their homes.

— The coronavirus has not stopped the sea from rising. The debate over seawalls has only grown stronger, with controversial proposed legislation that would make it easier for homeowners to build them.

— This is a time of year that many rural towns in the Owens Valley usually celebrate — rodeo and fishing season, with tourists from Southern California. But “The Big Weird” has doors closed and business owners pulling decorative dollar bills off the walls for emergency cash.

NATION-WORLD

— A passenger plane belonging to state-run airline Pakistan International Airlines crashed near Karachi, the country’s civil aviation authority said. More than 100 people were on board.

— The Senate has confirmed Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence, installing a new head of the nation’s intelligence agencies at a time when Trump has ousted multiple officials.

— The FBI says a shooting at a Texas naval air station that wounded a sailor and left the gunman dead is being investigated as “terrorism-related.”

— The Georgia man who recorded cellphone video of Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting was arrested and charged with murder in his death.

— Trump said the United States intends to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty with Russia that allows unarmed surveillance flights over each other’s territories. It’s a move that marks the latest U.S. pullback from a major international arms pact and could further strain ties with Moscow and European allies.

— A new report by a Mexican activist group suggests at least three times as many people in Mexico City may have died of complications from COVID-19 than have been officially reported.

— A court in Singapore sentenced a man to death via Zoom. The decision was slammed by a human rights group as callous and inhumane.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— As Netflix prepares to release “The Lovebirds,” Kumail Nanjiani reflects on how he’s been faring during quarantine, being hyper-vigilant about the COVID-19 crisis from the very beginning and his other project affected by the global shutdown.

Carly Rae Jepsen has released a surprise album, “Dedicated: Side B.” It’s a companion piece to last year’s “Dedicated.”

— How Haim embraced chaos and made their most revealing album yet.

BUSINESS

— Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to restart filming in California next week is meeting resistance from within Hollywood. There are lingering concerns that the industry isn’t yet ready.

— Coronavirus closures were especially hard on bookstores. But reopening hasn’t been the celebration they expected, with lower sales and higher anxiety. Meanwhile, publishers are reevaluating their own strategies.

SPORTS

— The NHL is zeroing in on a return-to-play plan that would skip the remainder of the regular season and open with a 24-team playoff format played out in two hub cities without fans in the stands. That would freeze out the Ducks and the Kings.

— The NCAA‘s Division I Council has voted to lift a moratorium on voluntary workouts for football and basketball players, effective June 1.

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OPINION

— Newsom has entered his own Phase 2 of the virus war: relinquishing one-man control over the state’s battle against the bug, writes columnist George Skelton.

— Trump says a lot of idiotic things. Editorial writer Michael McGough says that taking them seriously gives him too much credit.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— A San Jose woman didn’t know who Elon Musk was until she got assigned his old number. Now she gets calls and texts for him, and they get pretty weird. (NPR)

— Joke or toy? A leather “mouse” discovered at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, south of Hadrian’s Wall, apparently shows ancient Romans’ playful side. (The Guardian)

ONLY IN CALIFORNIA

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds have crossed the nation in a campaign to salute healthcare workers and boost morale during the pandemic. On Memorial Day, an 18-plane formation of historic warbirds will fly above L.A. and Orange counties and the Inland Empire to do much the same. “We came up with the idea after seeing the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels making the rounds,” said Bill Prosser, operations manager for the Commemorative Air Force Inland Empire Wing. “We’re going to be a lot slower than the T-Birds and Angels, so people can see us better. It’s not like, ‘Boom — they’re gone.’ We’ll be doing 120 mph.”

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.

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