California’s social distancing rules are credited in part with the state seeing far fewer deaths from the coronavirus outbreak than other hot spots like New York and New Jersey.
But as the state begins to bend the curve, there is growing pressure to loosen the rules. A few corners of California have eased some of the most restrictive rules, and some local politicians are beginning to push for a clearer timetable. Some conservative activists held protests this weekend calling for easing the rules.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday he would not be swayed by public protests in deciding when to reopen the state, noting that his decision would be based on science and the public health. Many top leaders agree.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed last week told the media she was well aware of the premature celebrations before the end of the 1918 contagion. She described how the illness “came back with a vengeance.”
With her eye on the present day, she added: “The fact is, it’s not over. … We will get through this. But it is going to require time, and it’s going to require patience, like never before.”
San Francisco city officials last week said they were ramping up a contact tracing project they hope eventually will be deployed throughout the Bay Area. City officials said that so far, 50 librarians, city workers and medical students have been trained to do the tracing. The project will deploy an app developed by Dimagi Inc., a for-profit software company that has been working with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Breed said that when the time comes to consider relaxing some shelter-in-place restrictions, contact tracing will be crucial to protecting public health.
“We need this contact tracing program in place so that we’re equipped to respond to new cases and keep the virus from spreading out of control,” she said.
The Newsom administration highlighted six key indicators for altering his stay-at-home mandate and said the state must develop guidelines for when to ask Californians to stay home again if the governor modified the order and the virus were to surge.
Experts have said that lifting social distancing rules will be a long and deliberate process, with some businesses coming back before others. For example, restaurants might be able to reopen with strict social distancing, but big events would be harder to restart anytime soon.
Here are examples of what’s going on at the local level:
The Northern California city has not lifted any stay-at-home measures. But the City Council last week voted to send a letter to Newsom asking when the council could reopen. City leaders argued their town should able to reopen before bigger cities that have been hit harder by the outbreak.
“The city needs to advocate [for opening stores sooner] because we have a very low infection rate — even though I got it,” Vice Mayor Dennis Thomas told the Mountain Democrat. Thomas recently recovered from COVID-19.
Members of the Board of Supervisors have also reached out to Newsom, urging him to allow rural areas like theirs the ability to reopen sooner than big cities.
“We’d like the governor to know that we expect to be treated somewhat differently than Los Angeles and San Francisco since they are in a little different situation than we are,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Ron Sullenger told CBS-13.
Over the weekend, the county modified some of its orders:
The updated order, which is in place through May 15, allows some businesses that don’t serve the public to operate using no more than 10 employees. Gatherings of up to five people are now permitted, as are gatherings in vehicles.
Golf courses and bike shops can reopen, and in-person sales of vehicles are now permitted. Officials also reopened county-run parks at 5 p.m. Friday.
Residents are still required to stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing when visiting essential businesses. Leaving home to exercise is permitted, but gyms will remain closed.
Santa Cruz County
The county reopened beaches and some parks last Wednesday but is still urging social distancing.
Amid these changes, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, made an emotional appeal Monday to government leaders and citizens across the globe, saying national unity and global solidarity are essential to keeping the deadly coronavirus pandemic in check.
“Without the two, without national unity and global solidarity, the worst is yet ahead of us,” he said.
Tedros warned that the virus exploits the cracks in society that can emerge along party lines.
“I have spoken to many leaders from many countries, from incumbents to the opposition, and my message to them is please work together, don’t use this virus as an opportunity to fight against each other,” he said. “It is dangerous. It is like playing with fire.”