BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
When the coronavirus shutdown began on March 19, I was among many people who expected it to last for a few weeks as we stayed at home like good citizens in order to “flatten the curve.”
I’m surprised this order has remained in place for six weeks and that it will likely continue through the end of the month.
We flattened the curve three weeks ago. In San Mateo and Santa Clara counties there have been no new deaths over the past few days.
Yes, new cases are going up, but that’s because testing has been expanded, so it’s expected that those tests will find people who have the virus. A large percentage of people who get the virus show no symptoms.
And only last week did Gov. Gavin Newsom unveil the rules businesses have to follow to get to the second stage of reopening. Rules about disinfecting, maintaining social distance, screening of employees, etc.
Why did this take six weeks? Businesses are anxious to implement these rules so they can reopen.
And now we’re hearing that testing needs to increase if we’re ever going to lift the shelter-in-place order. This wasn’t part of the original plan six weeks ago.
Are they winging it?
Are they just throwing this together in Sacramento, improvising as they go along?
Let’s review the things they got wrong about this virus.
First Newsom told us that there would be this surge in cases that would overwhelm hospitals. Didn’t happen. Maybe that’s because keeping people at home, social distancing and other measures were successful. Or maybe Newsom overreacted?
Newsom told us that there was a critical shortage of respirators. That was wrong too. In fact, California has so many respirators, we’re giving them to other states.
When Santa Clara County imposed its own shelter-in-place order on March 19, it didn’t require masks or face coverings. Were the county health people unaware that COVID-19 was contagious? The county says it was following CDC guidance. Well, the CDC recommended on April 3 that everyone should wear a cloth face covering when out in public places. The county waited until April 17 to issue its own face covering recommendation.
A lack of accountability
This is the kind of blunder the county board of supervisors should be investigating. But there’s a quirk in the law that says the county health officer reports to the state, not the county.
There’s no local accountability when it comes to county health officers.
Testing is the next hurdle we need to overcome before reopening.
The state has increased testing in the past few weeks from under 20,000 a day to nearly 30,000, but that’s short of the 80,000 tests a day that Newsom has set to safely lift stay-at-home orders.
Why weren’t these tests available earlier? They had six weeks to get it going.
State officials blame the federal government — and the feds blame the states. The CDC’s original test kits had manufacturing errors. The Food & Drug Administration was so frustrated that it told the CDC to stop making the tests and send the work to an outside lab. Both the CDC and FDA were slow to recognize the demand for the tests.
Meanwhile, private labs and even a student at Stanford were making their own tests. But clinics turned down the offers of these tests because the creators didn’t have proper certification or lacked compatible health-record software.
But those problems diminished greatly in the past few weeks. In fact one company, Abbott, came out with a machine that does tests in 5 minutes and can do hundreds in a day. Abbott began distributing thousands of the machines in late March.
Testing isn’t the only obstacle we need to overcome before reopening. Although it was never mentioned six weeks ago when the shelter-in-place began, the state wants the counties to do “contact tracing.” That’s when a county employee or volunteer obtains a list from a COVID-19 positive person of everybody they’ve been in contact with in recent days. Then the contact tracer finds these people and tells them to quarantine at home.
Privacy violations seem to be a big problem here. Am I required to tell the government everybody I’ve been in contact with? Do they think people will be honest about that? What if a married COVID-19 victim has a girlfriend or boyfriend on the side? And how do you do contact tracing of a person who rode a public bus?
Santa Clara County said it will need 1,000 contact tracers, roughly double the size of its health department. Some will be government employees who, because our local governments are refusing to do layoffs, have some time on their hands and can be reassigned. The others will be hired off the streets. I worry that the busybodies attracted to such a job might not keep things as confidential as county officials have promised.
One of the talking points that pro-shutdown people like to give is that when when reopen, we will be sacrificing lives for dollars. The CDC says 79,400 people died from the flu in the 2017-18 season. If you believe in the lives-for-dollars argument, then why weren’t you complaining in 2017 and 2018 when the economy remained open?
By the way, if you adjust for today’s U.S. population, the 1957 flu outbreak killed the equivalent of 230,000 Americans and 1968’s pandemic killed 165,000. We didn’t shut down the country and destroy our economy either time.
So far, COVID-19 has killed about 80,000 in the U.S.
How long is a moment?
The main question I think people want to know is: When does the shelter-in-place order end?
Newsom, in his near daily televised announcements, likes to say that the state is “meeting the moment.” But the dictionary doesn’t define how long a moment is. I’d like to know when this moment ends.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.