Growing Chorus Says Time to Reopen Areas with Few to Zero COVID-19 Cases
When is California going to lift the shelter-in-place orders? As temperatures soar and people gain cabin fever after weeks of being stuck inside, it’s the question on everyone’s minds these days.
In his April 28 press conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that “we believe we are weeks, not months away, from making meaningful modifications” to the state’s stay-at-home orders.
One question on many people’s minds is why the entire state is subject to the same restrictions when COVID-19 has not affected the entire state with the same severity.
Southern California and the Bay Area have incurred the brunt of the crisis. According to the state’s COVID-19 update website, there were 21,029 cases in Los Angeles County as of April 29 with nearly 600 positive patients in ICU care, along with 3,504 cases in Riverside County, and 2,130 in Santa Clara County. For communities on the front line of the fight against COVID-19, restrictions imposed by public health officials have been measured and appropriate.
But what about for Modoc County, which has had zero positive cases, or Colusa County with three positive cases? What about El Dorado County, with zero positive cases in ICU care as of April 29, or Placer County with one case in the ICU?
Asked about how decisions to loosen restrictions will be made, Gov. Newsom said in his April 29 press conference: “It won’t be on the basis of political considerations. It won’t be on the basis of pressure . . . And what we need to do . . . is listen to the public health experts . . . look at data, make the data make the determination to guide our decision-making.”
Given this, why should the communities above still have to shelter in place when the data shows that there are zero or very few cases and they have likely turned the corner?
A growing chorus is advocating more a more regional approach to these measures and more local input. Last week, a group of North State local elected officials representing Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Tehama, and Yuba Counties led by Asm. James Gallagher and Sen. Jim Nielsen made the case in a letter to Gov. Newsom that their communities should be allowed to reopen.
“We believe that the local public health data, in addition to our area’s ability to continue monitoring cases, should allow our counties to soon begin a science-based, thoughtful reopening of our economy, consistent with national guidelines, which would allow our residents to get back to work,” they wrote.
On April 28, El Dorado County public health officer Dr. Nancy Williams announced that she was letting the county’s stay-at-home order expire on April 30, citing “the low number of cases in our County (and) the preparations of our health care providers for a surge in patients should it occur.” Restrictions on non-essential travel to Lake Tahoe remain in place and residents still must follow the Governor’s order.
Modoc County is also letting shelter-in-place orders expire on April 30 but is taking things a step further – saying their ordinance complies with the Governor’s phased-in approach to reopen the economy including social distancing measures and testing capacity.
County Supervisor Ned Roe told the San Francisco Chronicle, “at some point, there needs to be a beginning of the reopening process and, quite honestly, what better county for it to occur in . . . we got a small population and we’re COVID-19 free.”
And Politico reports that Sutter and Yuba counties are following Modoc’s lead and opening up some sections of their local economies today, including “restaurants, malls, gyms, salons, massage parlors and tattoo shops” as long as they modify their operations to practice social distancing.
As evidenced by Newsom’s controversial announcement on April 30 to close Orange County’s state beaches and parks after press reports of big crowds the prior weekend, expect that Newsom will continue to act as a strict father and resist any local efforts to loosen restrictions. It remains to be seen if he will take legal action to stop the actions of these counties.
Whether for political reasons, concern for “equity” (a popular subject at Newsom’s daily noon press conferences), or something else, it’s clear that Newsom is not listening to public health experts or looking at data when deciding to keep these largely rural communities with relatively few COVID-19 cases closed.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.