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The renewed shutdowns and restrictions ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom this week may not be as far reaching as the March stay-at-home measures, but they will be no less devastating to a state still reeling from the first round of pandemic closures.
Nevertheless, Newsom took the correct approach for the moment.
Who's to blame for our retreat back into lockdown? Everyone and no one, perhaps. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that allowing hot spots like Los Angeles to reopen in May wasn't a good idea, especially because it suggested to a public desperate for release that the coronavirus was in retreat and we could start getting back to normal. It wasn't, and our collective complacency paved the way for a resurgence of COVID-19.
Indeed, infectious disease experts had warned all along that social distancing measures might have to be revived periodically to keep the coronavirus under some sort of control until a vaccine and effective medical treatments became widely available. The pandemic is like being in a boat with a leak. You can take a breaks from bailing and maybe even contrive ways to slow the problem. But eventually the water level will rise again and threaten to sink the boat.
Thankfully, we know a lot more now about how the SARS-Cov-2 virus is transmitted than we did in March. We know that family gatherings are a major source of spread, as are nursing homes, prisons and factories. We know that crowded indoor spaces are a problem and outdoors is less so. Just a few months ago, it wasn't clear that face masks were an effective protection from the infection. We now have good data that a mask protects the wearer from spreading and contracting COVID-19.
In short, we have learned through experience how to better control the virus. So for heaven's sake, let's do it and get this second shutdown over as quickly as possible. That means everyone must avoid gathering with people indoors, employers must adapt their operations to provide a safe distance between workers, and we all must wear face masks in public places. Period. No grousing about constitutional rights. The Constitution confers many invaluable rights upon Americans, but not the right to infect others with a deadly disease.
At the same time, state and county officials must get serious about enforcing pandemic-related restrictions. Recalcitrant local officials shouldn’t be allowed to endanger the public’s health by refusing to follow or enforce the law. Businesses that flout the rules should be fined or have their business licenses pulled. And individual scofflaws must feel the force of the restrictions as well. It shouldn't be up to grocery store employees to enforce state public health laws. Meanwhile, state and local governments cannot flag on testing and must double down on contract tracing.
We have to get better at living with the coronavirus, which seems to be here for the long haul. Our vigilance must be as well.