I sat in on the 5/29/2020 conference video call hosted by the County on Covid-19. A bit over 30 minutes of the hour-long session was a report by Dr. Scott Morrow, the County’s health officer who has been taking the lead on formulating the County’s emergency health regulations.
Regulations Relaxed to State Level…
Dr. Morrow announced the County, effective 12:01 AM Sunday, would be fully-aligned with the State of California regulations and guidelines. While parts of the State emergency regulations are mandatory other parts can either be adopted voluntarily or made more restrictive by each county depending on local conditions and judgment. In addition the beach restrictions (e.g., closed parking lots) imposed by the County were rescinded effective immediately.
The biggest impact of these changes are to allow all non-restaurant retail businesses to re-open provided they follow social distancing, masking, cleaning, etc., requirements. Restaurants are still limited to take-out only. That was a State restriction and is still in force.
“Gatherings are the best way to have the virus explode.”Dr. Morrow, 5/29/2020
Worship services are also allowed to re-start, again subject to general safety restrictions. However, Dr. Morrow said he will be urging religious leaders not to “re-open” under the current circumstances because of risk factors specific to religious group activities that he believes are still significant. He will be doing outreach to local religious leaders about this request over the next week.
The general ban on public gatherings outside of one’s “family unit” (i.e., the people you live with and interact with closely) is still in force. That, too, is a State restriction.
…But the Infection Situation Is Worsening
All of this news was offset by a significant warning Dr. Morrow gave: R0 (“r naught”), the number of infections the average infected person “spawns” by transmitting the virus to someone else who then comes down with Covid-19, has risen.
The more stringent restrictions imposed previously by the County brought R0 down to 0.9. That meant the disease was in the process of fading out in the population: each infected person, after recovering or, sadly, dying, had infected less than one other person while they were contagious.
R0 is now 1.3. That means the average infected person is infecting more than one other person during the contagious period.
When R0 is greater than 1 infectious diseases can spread exponentially through a population, causing many people to get sick and putting many people at risk of dying.
Why Relax Now?
This raises the obvious question of “why relax our regulations now?” Granted, we have made progress on ramping up care facilities so we won’t be in as bad a situation regarding medical care and hospital capacity as we were back in March. But we haven’t added enough health care capacity to deal with a big surge of seriously ill people.
Reading between the lines of Dr. Morrow’s comments the answer appears to be this: everyone is tired of the stricter regulations and anxious to get back to some more normal way of life. Which means more and more people would likely start violating stricter regulations if they were kept in force. Such rule-breaking behavior can spread more rapidly the more restrictive the rules are so relaxing the rules may make things, if not better, at least less bad than they’d otherwise be..
“It is now the community’s responsibility to make personal decisions to keep R naught down.”Dr. Morrow, 5/29/2020
So the health authorities are taking a calculated risk: relax the rules and rely on individuals using good judgment to reduce the infection rate, R0, back below 1.
Can this approach work? Sure…if enough people use enough good judgment.
“This virus is really/super transmissible. It will require a very large proportion of a community having been exposed to get herd immunity.”Dr. Morrow, 5/29/2020
It will be more of a challenge than one might expect, I believe, because the consequences of poor choices are neither immediate nor necessarily personal. If you get infected by someone — who themselves may not yet know they’re contagious — from an interaction out in public you won’t know it for days. And the consequence to you could range anywhere from “I never realized I came down with Covid-19” to your friends and family grieving at your funeral.
But there are things we can do to help each other get through this. Here are a few thoughts:
- Follow the social distancing guidelines and protocols. Including wearing a mask when interacting with others in public.
- Get tested if you believe you’ve become infected. The County’s capacity to do testing has risen dramatically in the last couple of months.
- Seek treatment quickly if you start feeling ill.
- Encourage everyone to do the same.
That last point is actually the most important one. A highly-contagious virus with a significant rate of death is not just an individual problem, it’s a community problem. It can only be solved by community action, whether that’s through our governing agencies or us acting as individuals or both.
There are reports (sadly, even in The City of Good Living) of people yelling at passers-by who are wearing masks, following the recommended social distancing protocols, etc. That’s not helpful. In fact, it’s dangerous.
As individuals if we see such behavior we need to push back against it. Similarly, if you see lapses in the social distancing protocols at businesses (or wherever you happen to be), say something. Or, at the very least, stop patronizing such places until the lapses are cured.
It’s always been up to us to help us all get through this. But now that’s more true than ever.
Stay healthy. Stay safe. Help others do the same.