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Los Angeles: We’re staying in Lockdown until September, maybe longer

If you think you’re going around the twist at home now, be thankful (for maybe the first time in your life) that you don’t live in sunny California, with its lovely weather and scenery and friendly bears wandering around the place:

“Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home orders will “with all certainty” be extended for the next three months, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer acknowledged during a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

Ferrer later added that even if the orders remain in place through the summer, restrictions will be “gradually relaxed” under a five-step plan.

“We are being guided by science and data that will safely move us forward along the road to recovery in a measured way—one that allows us to ensure that effective distancing and infection control measures are in place,” Ferrer said, adding that the county is counting on the public’s compliance with the orders to be able to relax restrictions.

Testifying before the Board of Superviros, Ferrer stressed further progress will be guided by efforts to contain the virus. Los Angeles County is now the Calfornia epicenter of the coronavirus, with more than 1,300 deaths so far.”

The number of deaths is in bold there because it’s relevant to Ireland. The population of LA county is 10.4 million people. That’s more than twice the population of Ireland, with a much higher population density, significantly less access to healthcare, and much more poverty than we have. And yet, they have fewer deaths than we have. How? LA county should, in theory, be heaven for a Coronavirus.

In fact, though, Los Angeles county has fewer deaths per head of population than almost any other major population centre in the US. New York, with 2 million fewer people, has four times that number of deaths.

We can’t say for certain what the reason for this is (and nobody can) but Los Angeles certainly thinks that it’s because of their very aggressive lockdown. And California Governor Gavin Newsome is not in any rush to re-open:

Newsom said the ability to fully reopen the state was predicated on six criteria:

Expand testing and doing contact tracing for those who test positive

Being able to protect California’s most vulnerable populations, including seniors, homeless individuals and those with compromised immunity

Ensuring medical facilities are equipped to handle potential surges

Working with research hospitals and other research partners to pursue therapies for the virus

Making sure businesses, schools, and other public spaces can continue physical distancing

Being able to return to more strict measures, as needed

“Because you have practiced physical distancing … you have bent the curve in the state of California,” said Gov. Newsom. “The models have changed because of your behavior.”

Newsom echoed the sentiment of Santa Clara County Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody, who also said earlier in the day, “We are not out of the woods yet.”

On Tuesday, Newsom declined to give an exact date when stay-at-home orders might be lifted, but said he would re-evaulate progress on the six outlined criteria in two weeks and address the issue of timing then.

“We talk about what the new normal will look like. As I said, normal it will not be. At least until we have herd immunity and a vaccine.”

The two bits in bold stand out. First, that might be the first open acknowledgement that we’ve seen that a Government is basically preparing for a situation where we might have rolling lockdown orders as a part of daily life for the foreseeable future. Second, the phrase “herd immunity AND a vaccine” is relatively new, because previously it’s been presented as one or the other.

But is all of this economically, and politically, sustainable? In California, it’s probably politically sustainable for a little while – a popular liberal Governor standing up to that bad man in the White House and saying “we won’t risk Californian lives by re-opening too soon” can probably swing another few months out of lockdown without too many revolts. His approval rating, by the way, has shot up to 89% during the crisis. For the next little while, at least, he can do what he wants.

But economically? Even the very worst economic projections are factoring in some kind of return to normal life by the middle of the summer. California by itself would be the world’s fifth largest economy. We’re not talking about some little backwater in Wyoming here, we’re talking about the global capital of the movie, software, and tech industries.

And what are the implications for the rest of us if one of the places that’s been most successful in fighting off the virus says “we’re locking down until September”?

Because there’s one guarantee in all of this: When we open up, people will die because we opened up. And politicians will get the blame. Sure, the public might be chafing at the bit for a bit of freedom now, but does anyone really think that we won’t have people in Ireland in August saying “the Government caved to pressure and opened up too soon”?

Anyway, since about ten of you come here to read my opinion on this, it’s this: California is waiting much too long to open up. Ideally, we need to see the impact of opening up on virus cases before children are due to go back to school so that we can make a determination on whether it is safe. That’s why we talk about a “phased” return to normal: So we can see what happens in each phase.

If California stays in Lockdown until September, then children won’t be in school this autumn either, and this thing will start to go from “interesting moment” in the history books to “a crisis that changed the world forever”.

And not, probably, for the better.


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