BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down California a month ago based on bad data, and now he needs to expedite the reopening of the state before more damage is done.
Newsom incorrectly predicted the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in California — it came weeks earlier than he had said.
The surge that was supposed to overwhelm our hospitals didn’t happen. A pop-up a hospital built by the National Guard in San Mateo hasn’t been used.
And now new research shows the original estimates about the death rate of COVID-19 were overestimated.
Originally, the World Health Organization said the death rate was 3.4%.
A Stanford study of Santa Clara County residents published Friday said the death rate is somewhere between 0.12% and 0.2%, close to the seasonal flu.
I’m not saying COVID-19 is less serious than the flu. Those who have survived severe cases of COVID-19 say they feel like they were hit by a truck. But the vast majority of those with COVID-19 recover without ever knowing they were infected.
Now, four weeks into the stay-at-home order, we know more about how to prevent the spread of this disease.
What we know is that vulnerable populations such as the elderly or those with other serious underlying conditions need to be isolated from anyone who might have the disease.
Once that has been done, it’s time to carefully reopen society. Not in one fell swoop, but in stages that are crafted to ensure there isn’t a flare up in COVID-19 cases.
Moving the goalposts
One of Newsom’s objections to reopening is that more testing needs to be done. But that wasn’t the original justification for the lockdown. The stay-at-home order was intended to “slow the spread” of the virus to avoid overwhelming hospitals with COVID-19 patients. That goal has been accomplished. We’re flattening the curve. It’s not fair to move the goalposts and impose a new condition for reopening.
The numbers and rules associated with this shutdown seem to be changing every day, suggesting the government health experts are winging it. Remember the original prediction of 2.2 million Americans dying from COVID-19? Remember how they said this virus had an unusually high death rate and spread more readily than other viruses? Now they’re backing off of all of that and admitting their models were wrong because of bad data.
Locally, health officers in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties on Friday told residents they should start wearing masks in public. If masks were necessary, why didn’t they give this advice four weeks ago when the shutdown began?
The damage the stay-at-home order is having on the economy and society in general is overwhelming. Businesses are permanently closing. Employees who had good-paying jobs have been fired. A Pew Research Center survey found that one third of Americans have either taken a pay cut or lost their job due to the shutdown.
Lines for food are growing. The people in line aren’t the poor we’re accustomed to seeing — they’re driving to the food closets in recent model cars suggesting they were well off just a few weeks ago.
Poverty and COVID-19 both kill
Poverty is deadly. A 2011 Columbia University study found that poverty accounts for 4.5% of all deaths in America, about 300,000 a year. Poverty had been decreasing before the shutdown. The shutdown will likely send poverty deaths soaring.
Suicides will increase as people lose everything they have. Think back to the Great Depression and the suicides that occurred then.
Supporters of continuing the shutdown will say that those who want to reopen society are trading lives for dollars. But lives will be lost either way, from the virus or from poverty and suicide.
You’ll also hear people say that they’re in favor of keeping the shutdown if it will save just one life. If you feel that way, then we should ban driving because about 37,000 Americans die in car crashes every year. While we’re at it, we should ban bathing and showering because the National Safety Council says that one person dies every day from slipping in a bathtub or shower.
You might ask — aren’t local businesses eligible for money from the Small Business Administration’s new Paycheck Protection Program? That money will only cover eight weeks of payroll. What happens on Week 9 when you have no sales revenue and all of your employees need to be paid?
And what about the businesses that didn’t get a piece of the initial $350 billion from the program, which ran out of money on Thursday? The House went home before replenishing the program.
The public is beginning to wake up to the idea that the stay-at-home order was too broad, and that it’s time to reverse course and carefully reopen society. That it needs to start happening now.
Newsom’s list of conditions for reopening is vague. There’s no benchmarks or numbers California has to hit before meeting his requirements. He’s left it open-ended, allowing him to determine if each requirement has been met. It may be easy to reach his requirements or impossible. He left that to our imaginations.
One way to reopen society quickly would be to start laying off state and local government employees. Once they start feeling the heat everybody else is experiencing, they’ll work quickly to reopen everything.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.