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Room with a view: Is it safe yet to come out of lockdown?

Governor Gavin Newsom shot from the hip when he declared a hard shutdown of only Orange County beaches after a hot weekend.

One of about four dozen demonstrators on the southwest corner of Katella Avenue and Los Alamitos on Saturday, May 2, 2020. They were (politely) calling for Governor Gavin Newsom to ease the lockdown in response to COVID-19. Photo by C.E.H. Wiedel.

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.

Horror!

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:

  1. never infected or exposed and therefore possibly vulnerable to infection
  2. currently actively battling COVID-19
  3. recovered from COVID-19 and therefore likely immune
An UNRELIABLE analysis of the US population based on current data, for the sake of discussion about easing lockdown restrictions.

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.
With the blessing of the Chamber of Commerce, we have replaced an outdated and broken link to CDC guidance with a link to a Chamber guide.

4 Comments

  1. I have read much about how the virus is transmitted and how many people would be in favor of ‘reopening’, for obvious reasons.. I am older and feel my risk of serious infection and death is exponentially increased. I have heard nothing about recommended ways to clear the air (periodically) of aerosol(s).. just moisture from breathing.. a spray bottle to put a fine mist in the air of an alcohol and water or bleach and water mixture. I’ve been in a few stores.. no wipes, no bleach, no sanitzer/hand or spray for contact surfaces.. no system in place to protect me from someone asymptomatic or newly infected.. no mandatory weekly or daily saliva testing (which is acceptable to me) provided anywhere or by anyone, including prospective employers.. no early and proven treatment if test would be positive.. yet expecting me to go back to work.. forget it..

    1. Author

      JPowell,

      Thank you for reading Orange County Breeze.

      I understand and sympathize with your reluctance to expose yourself to possible infection. You should be able to make that decision for yourself. Employers should be as flexible as possible, indeed more flexible than is easy.

      Regarding a fine mist of water/bleach: I believe that could be dangerous to your lungs and eyes.

      Regarding a fine mist of alcohol: isopropyl alcohol used for disinfecting is poisonous when ingested. Ethanol (as in liquor) can lead to drunkenness. Neither sounds like a good way to go.

      To remove pathogens from air: look for an air purifier with a HEPA filter. Versions exist for commercial and home use.

      Regarding testing: availability just isn’t wide enough — yet. Saliva testing shows whether a person has an active infection, not whether a person has recovered, and these tests take time. Many places are testing for fever when employees arrive for work, since thermometers are easily obtained. But that won’t catch an asymptomatic individual.

      Again, the decision should be yours to make. But keeping you safe should not require blocking everybody else from leaving their house given reasonable precautions. I have not been in many retail establishments since the lockdown began — mostly grocery stores and hardware stores and plant nurseries. The grocery stores had “clean teams” for wiping down surfaces, and had installed “sneeze guards” at cashiers. The hardware store wiped down self-checkout between each customer. Everybody wore masks. Many wore gloves. I thoroughly wash my hands whenever I come home from such an excursion.

      So far, so good. (Fingers crossed, knock on wood…)

      Again, thank you for reading Orange County Breeze.

      Stay safe, stay healthy!

      Shelley Henderson
      editor, Orange County Breeze

      1. I really liked your article. For one thing, it was not bambastic– it held a very reasonable and objective tone while being understanding.
        I agree with your conclusion and I sure hope our fellow California citizens do too!

        1. Author

          Julie,

          Thank you for reading Orange County Breeze, and for your kinds words on my article.

          Governor Newsom announced today that portions of the State may ease lockdown restrictions even while some portions keep stricter lockdown restrictions. See:

          https://www.gov.ca.gov/2020/05/04/governor-newsom-provides-update-on-californias-progress-toward-stage-2-reopening/

          The decision on lockdown restrictions will be made at the county level.

          So at least on the surface and at first glance, he is being flexible. That is to be applauded.

          I want to repeat that each person should assess his own circumstances and make a prudential decision on how to rejoin civil life.

          In any case, each and every one of us needs to continue in vigilance and take care with personal and public hygiene and social distancing guidance.

          Again, thank you for reading Orange County Breeze.

          Stay safe, stay healthy!

          Shelley Henderson
          editor, Orange County Breeze

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