As we approach the middle of April, I hope Governor Newsom and his staff are crafting plans to reopen California’s economy.
Each day we delay means another small business will never reopen and even more jobs will disappear. This economic loss will be magnified by heavy social cost in terms of mental health, child abuse and a marked increase in suicides. While largely unreported, this is already occurring. The shutdown orchestrated by Newsom and the president has been successful to flatten the curve—even though it was based on a deficient model from the University of Washington, a model that has proven to be wildly inflated. After accounting for social distancing, the model initially predicted coronavirus deaths at 240,000. Our country’s need for ventilators and hospital beds, and the length of the shutdown, was based on these predictions. The revised projections now indicate 60,000 dying from the virus. This compares to a death toll of 61,000 in 2016 from the normal flu.
A number of health experts, academics and political leaders (none of whom will lose their paycheck) have suggested we cannot reduce the stay-at-home regime until we have a vaccine. This is absurd. Think of your annual flu shot. In a typical year it is maybe 40 percent effective. While vaccines for diseases such as polio were effective, COVID-19 is more like the annual flu. Fortunately, our health experts are developing and testing a number of treatments.
But if we do not begin to craft measured policies to reopen our economy—and this means starting May 1—the consequences will be unimaginable. We could see 30 percent unemployment. This will sink not only private businesses but state and local revenues. We risk creating a years-long depression. Images of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression encampments will become common.
This does not mean lifting all restrictions, but carefully metering out what can be opened. How can we open restaurants while maintaining social distancing? What about baseball games? Does it mean allowing only 10,000 people instead of 40,000? Certainly, by May 1 we should reopen our parks and beaches in some limited way, perhaps by reducing parking to every other spot. We need a widespread advertising campaign starting immediately to prepare our citizens for the new reality of social distancing and best practices.
We can hope that LA already has a herd immunity as some recent studies suggest. But keeping people who are immune in lockdown is untenable. And we can be thankful that Los Angeles has never embraced the public transportation and endless high-rise apartment buildings of New York that some elected leaders keep pushing.
We all must come together and drop the extreme partisanship of the last three years. Our city and our state have risen to a level of bipartisanship in this time of crisis not seen since 9/11. We must now move forward in a very different world than the one we left in January.