When it comes to COVID-19, don’t let the good news become the bad news

By Jessica Levinson | CalMatters.org | 

There is good COVID-19 news, and some potential bad news.

In many counties, including Los Angeles, indicators of how we are handling the COVID-19 virus indicate that the state is doing better. Daily deaths, hospitalizations and infection rates are trending down.

With the predictability of proposals for stricter ethical laws following a scandal in the capitol, calls to “reopen” California or at least relax restrictions are following good news about COVID-19 numbers.

This makes little sense. Imagine going out in the middle of a rainstorm. You have an aversion to umbrellas so you go outside without one. No one can tell you, you freedom-loving rebel, that you must use something as constricting as an umbrella to stay dry. You wear a thin jacket that helps a bit, but soon you are soaked to the bone. You finally give in and grab an umbrella. You stay dry.

“Time for celebration,” you think to yourself. “I’m dry, so I no longer need my umbrella.”

We all know what is going to happen as soon as you ditch the umbrella. You’ll get soaked again. The rain never stopped, you just used some protection against it. At the risk of sounding like a party pooper, the rain is the virus. The umbrella is common-sense restrictions to slow its spread.

So here we are again, celebrating. 

And unless we change our behavior, we are all but assured that numbers will go back up. This is what happened last time around when a few months ago our numbers started to decrease. We pushed, cajoled and strong-armed our elected officials into largely ignoring their own standards for safe reopening. “We won,” some thought. “Freedom is ours.” Until deaths, hospitalizations and infection rates went back up.     

There is a way to break this endless cycle of easing of restrictions, increased cases, tightening of restrictions and decreased cases. But we must act now. We can stay the course; we can continue to limit indoor gatherings – yes, in the short-term this means restaurants, hair salons, offices, and more.

This type of commitment to bringing COVID-19 numbers under greater control is possible. In fact, much of the rest of the world did.

We do not need to wonder why our friends and family in Europe and other parts of the world are enjoying more freedoms than we currently have in America. Take a maddening look at European kids returning from summer camps and getting their backpacks ready to return to school. Take perhaps an even more enraging look at the families safely gathering, the friends happily visiting each other and the people back to work in offices. They had more patience. So did their leaders.

Generally speaking, European nations began easing restrictions once cases, deaths, hospitalizations and transmissions rates were much lower than they currently are in California. Our neighbors abroad recognized something that we didn’t, short-term restrictions lead to long-term freedoms.

But what about the economy? Indeed. The economy is an immediately pressing issue. People must be able to earn money to support themselves and their families. An economic crisis can quickly become a public health crisis. We know all too well that poverty has tragic health consequences.

We have done ourselves a disservice by creating a false dichotomy between our health and the economy. This is not an “either-or situation.” The way to restore the economy is to keep the virus under control.

This is not a battle between forces to see which is stronger. The economy cannot simply muscle its way to the top. We are not watching boxers duke it out in the ring.

The way to stimulate economic activity is to create an environment that allows us to resume economic activity. As it turns out, there is in fact a magic formula for this. Physical distancing, mask-wearing and the avoidance of indoor gatherings.

Simply put, more restrictions now mean more freedom later.

Let’s not screw this one up. And let’s talk about whose responsibility it is to stay the course. Spoiler alert – all of us. Our elected officials must lead, even if they face enormous short-term pressure. 

This is the moment to listen to experts and heed the advice of scientists, even though there will be understandably frustrated constituents. This is the time for each of us to focus on an achievable goal. Our health and economy depend on our perseverance.

Jessica Levinson is a professor at Loyola Law School and the director of the Public Service Institute at Loyola Law School,  jessica.levinson@lls.edu. She is the host of the “Passing Judgment” podcast. @LevinsonJessica. Levinson has also written about the news that Gov. Newsom reopened California too soon, the Electoral College, and Republicans versus the right to vote.


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