As Governors Rollback Reopening, Confusion Remains

Image: AP/KGO

As coronavirus cases are once again surging across the country, it’s evident that our leaders do not have total control of this pandemic. This week, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s issued a dire warning that daily new cases could surpass 100,000 new infections per day if the outbreak continues on its current trend. 

While some states have rolled back plans to reopen, are current restrictions stringent enough to quell this latest surge? In the most populous state, Governor Gavin Newsom initially had a good handle on the virus that’s drastically slipped in the past two weeks. Yesterday he announced increased restrictions in 19 California counties as well as the closure of beaches in Southern and Northern California for the July 4th weekend.

Newsom also placed emphasis on “doing the right thing” by wearing a mask as it’s a “sign of toughness”. Yet despite similar calls to action previously, people tend to relax distancing practices once official rules are relaxed.

Why This Matters: As Vox explained, “the general rule is every time we expose ourselves to more people, we increase our risk to ourselves and to the people we come into contact with. This is why health directives have specifically said to minimize nonessential trips and contact with other people.” So long as non-essential establishments remain open, people will flock to them.

A Peek Into History: In the summers leading up to the polio vaccine being available, public spaces were essentially put on lockdown. Beaches and public pools were closed as a precautionary measure. As historian Dr. David Oshinsky explained,

For reasons that are still not fully understood, polio would hit certain areas harder than others, and the following year it would show up in other areas. There was no rhyme or reason, and no one knew how polio was contracted, although many believed it traveled through the water. Beaches and swimming pools were closed. Bowling alleys and movie theaters closed. Families left the city.

Today, we do know how COVID-19 is spread and crowded public places like beaches, parks, and restaurants can create a perfect storm for transmission. Governors have the ability to close these places for the summer season, but they haven’t done so uniformly. For instance, Governor Gavin Newsom previously closed California state beaches as massive crowds gathered and the local death toll continued to climb. But if beaches are reopened after the July 4th holiday there’s nothing to indicate people desperate to enjoy the summer weather won’t flock back to them.

Preparing for Disasters: While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has worked with FEMA on an altered emergency response plan for an Atlantic hurricane season during the pandemic, on the West Coast there has been little guidance issued to people living in the path of wildfires.

While CAL FIRE has worked on preventative measures for wildfires, residents have not been issued guidance on what they should do in the event of an evacuation. Since Californians are being urged to stay home, there might be added confusion about how to handle an evacuation should a wildfire break out. It’s truly uncharted territory, but confusion during emergencies costs lives.

  • Residents in wildfire-prone areas should be given information about where they should go in an emergency.
  • Safety measures and guidelines for evacuation centers should be set in place and communicated to the public. (People need to know the new rules of evacuation centers in the time of COVID.)
  • If residents are recovering from coronavirus, they must know the specific actions they must take if they’re forced to evacuate.

We need our leaders to make clear and consistent decisions to ensure public safety. Gov. Gavin Newsom faced concern that he opened California’s economy too soon. During his press conference yesterday he revealed that there were 5,898 new cases of COVID-19 on June 30th, with a positivity rate of 6% over the past 2 weeks — 6.4% over the past week (an increase from 4.6% just two weeks ago). Coronavirus hasn’t gone anywhere just because it was out of the news for a few weeks, relaxing guidelines should be based purely on data, not pressure from industries.

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