Governor Gavin Newsom shot from the hip when he declared a hard shutdown of only Orange County beaches after a hot weekend.
Feeling badly treated, a lot of people reacted badly.
Actually, considering everything, a lot of people politely reacted badly.
We’ve been in isolation for six weeks, closely closeted with those we used to dearly love, subjected to bloated blatherings by politicians from President Trump to Governor Newsom to Mayors Garcetti and Garcia.
No narco baddie blasted by rock’n’roll has been treated worse.
The weather turned hot — Spring in California. More surely than swallows return to Capistrano on St. Joseph’s Day, residents trekked from hotter inland valleys in search of cool beach breezes and cold ocean water. According to lifeguards and local police and beach-city electeds, family clusters followed social distancing guidelines.
Subsequently, Governor Newsom — reportedly without talking with anybody from, you know, an Orange County beach city — wore a grim face and shook his head reluctantly while issuing the shutdown order for all Orange County beaches. Bad boys and girls! Bad, bad boys and girls!
His constituents responded on Friday, May 1 by demonstrating at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street, at the foot of Huntington Beach Pier. Lots of photogenic mounted police sitting quietly on patient horses. A fair number of people in the great outdoors enjoying the sunshine. Some wore masks. Some didn’t. Some waved signs. Some didn’t. Not a lot of social distancing. The demonstration at the iconic surfer’s locale made it all the way to national news.
Another, smaller demonstration took place on the so-called Fourth Corner at Katella Avenue and Los Alamitos Boulevard. (The southwest corner is in unincorporated Rossmoor. The other three are in the City of Los Alamitos.) No photogenic mounted police, but several cruisers from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Los Alamitos Police Department.
Most everybody enjoyed themselves. The demonstrators held up signs and waved flags and smiled and marched from corner to corner (within marked crosswalks and with the traffic signal). Lots and lots of those driving past honked and waved and smiled. The police officers and Sheriff’s deputies were relaxed and smiling, talking with passers-by.
While there covering the demonstration, we noted only a single negative comment or action: from across Katella Avenue, a man yelled, “Stand closer together!” Meaning: “Catch COVID-19 and die!”
Population analysis in support of whether to ease the lockdown
Right up front, you have to confront the bedrock issue that all the numbers are guesses, even the overall population of the United States. By the time analysis goes through three or four steps, we are handling estimates based on best guesses grounded in likely assumptions — a grain or six of salt and common sense in application are needed!
To analyze our situation, let’s travel back to elementary mathematics class and use Venn diagrams. First, consider the entire population of the United States: 329,600,000 according to the current estimate by the United States Census Bureau.
In order to decide whether to ease lockdown restrictions, we would like to be able to divide the population among three populations that require different conditions:
- never infected or exposed and therefore possibly vulnerable to infection
- currently actively battling COVID-19
- recovered from COVID-19 and therefore likely immune
According to current numbers published by the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 map:
- 7,053,366 COVID-19 tests have been administered in the United States
- 1,158,341 COVID-19 infections have been confirmed
- 180,152 confirmed COVID-19 patients have recovered
- 67,686 confirmed COVID-19 patients have died
Immediately, we run smack into a brick wall. The tests are for active infections and are given to people who are already showing symptoms, or to “first line” workers like EMTs, doctors, nurses, and police officers. Further, not every person showing symptoms has been tested.
And as of today, only a non-representative 2% of the population has been tested for an active infection. Of those tested, only 0.3% showed positive for a current infection by COVID-19, including those who went on to recover, and those who later died.
In order to move forward at all, let’s assume that 0.3% of the entire population of the United States is currently infected by COVID-19 and showing symptoms — that’s 988,800 people spread unevenly across the country. A lot in the Northeast, a lot in Los Angeles County, not so many in the Dakotas. Not all are in the hospital.
Antibody tests for those who don’t show symptoms, or who had a nasty case of the flu in January or February that was actually COVID-19, are not yet widely available, and are not uniformly reliable. We simply don’t know right now what portion of the asymptomatic population has immunity but doesn’t know it.
Within that population of 320,000,000 Americans are obviously high-risk individuals (and those around them) who obviously need higher protection — but there are also people who are not so obviously at risk, where “at risk” includes not only dying from COVID-19 but also suffering through a severe weeks-long bout. The only thing worse than waking up from an induced coma feeling like COVID-19 road kill is not waking up from an induced coma and actually becoming COVID-19 road kill.
So you can yell, “Re-open!”
Or you can yell, “Stay safe, stay home!”
Or you can whisper, “Can’t we all just get along?”
And it turns out… everybody is right.
Suggestions for easing the lockdown
An important aspect of any attempt at easing the lockdown should be flexibility. Each person’s circumstance is his own while sharing aspects with others. As a whole and individually, from the top of civil society to the bottom, left to right, we should be polite, considerate, and charitable towards one another. We need to encourage each person to find a safe harbor from which to operate rather than imposing conditions top-down.
Here is an altogether inadequate first cut at suggested ways to ease up on the lockdown in California:
- Ditch AB 5
- Allow elective surgeries
- Trash re-usable (germ-laden) grocery tote bags. Return to single-use plastic and paper bags.
- Allow attendance at churches and synagogues and mosques with reasonable preventative measures — for instance, close every other pew, wipe down between services.
- Seriously plan for re-opening schools in the Fall. Get guidance out to local districts, charters, and private schools as soon as possible.
- Get on top of antibody testing to gain an understanding of who is likely not in danger any longer from COVID-19.
- As an employer, allow workers as much leeway as possible to work from home, or work alternate hours, or any other way that you can dream up.
- As a business welcoming the public or a venue welcoming group gatherings, follow guidance from the Chamber of Commerce regarding re-opening and get liability insurance to cover the possibility of a lawsuit.